David Margolis’s Whitewashing
I don’t have much time, but it’s important to note that although David Margolis may be a career attorney, he has made a career out of preventing government officials from being held accountable for their misconduct. From Scott Horton:
But “Yoda” Margolis also knows the “dark side” of political intrigue. He was long the man to whom political appointees could turn for protection and guidance when the going got rough, in both Democratic and Republican administrations. For instance, Bloomberg reported that both Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling turned instinctively to Margolis for protection and support when the U.S. attorney’s scandal erupted.
What this means in practice can be seen in dozens of cases involving seriously unethical conduct by political appointees. Margolis has a one-size-fits-all solution for these cases: sweep them under the carpet.
In “Prosecutorial Ethics Lite,” I reviewed what Margolis did when confronted with a case in which a U.S. attorney used all the powers she could assemble to destroy an insurance executive who had commenced a law suit against her husband. Ethics rules clearly required her recusal. But in the face of a compelling mass of evidence, Margolis concluded that everything was just fine. He allowed the U.S. attorney to pass nominal control of the matter to the head of her criminal division. The abuse of office pressed forward, with Margolis’s blessing.
Justice Department insiders also note that Margolis single-handedly blocked efforts to secure a meaningful review of the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman, after more than 90 attorneys general from around the country advised the Justice Department of a series of gross irregularities. Instead, with Margolis’s apparent knowledge, the Department fired a member of the prosecution team who had blown the whistle on some of the misconduct. (“What the Justice Department is Hiding.”)
Jeff Kaye collects a number of other occasions on which Margolis’s machinations have made their way into the media.
In a July 6, 2008, Los Angeles Times story, Margolis is cited as leading an effort to avoid publication of the Department’s internal ethics reviews. Margolis told the Times that his opposition to publication of OPR reports was driven by concerns about “unnecessarily or gratuitously… publicly humiliating our line attorneys as individuals.” But it may well be that Margolis’s desire to keep his own role in those cases secret was a more pressing concern.
There is little mistaking Margolis’s brief in all these matters. None of his critics fault Margolis’s own conduct as a lawyer. But they express concern that he is too quick to let political appointees off the hook and note that this has severely damaged the culture of the Justice Department. Ironically, Margolis is clearly driven by a desire to protect the Department’s reputation.
Margolis’s decision to override the OPR’s lead investigator is just more of the same.
P.S. For a nice critique of Margolis’s conclusion that Yoo did not act recklessly, see Brian Tamanaha’s post here.