At some point, it all becomes unbelievable.
President George W. Bush has not made many moves more unethical than offering Noel L. Hillman, the Abramoff prosecutor, a federal judgeship. Hillman has apparently been talking with Bush's representatives since last year, and on last Thursday, he publicly announced he was accepting the appointment.
Let me make this perfectly clear. At the same time that Mr. Hillman was conducting a grand jury and submitting evidence aimed at Bush's allies and perhaps Bush himself, he was meeting with Bush, who was, in effect, offering him a bribe.
Mr. Hillman, Bush is saying, leave the job, let me put someone else in your stead, someone I want. Forget, says Mr. Bush, that you have been in charge of the investigation for two years, that you have been involved on a day-to-day basis, and that your leaving seriously impedes the investigation.
All this had been kept quiet until Thursday, January 26, 2006. Neither the Bush administration nor Mr. Hillman thought it appropriate to let anyone know what was going on until the deal was done. Secrecy, the modus operandi of this administration, kept the information from the public.
President Richard Nixon was the last one who tried something like this, but he didn't get away with it. In 1971, he invited a California federal trial judge, Matthew Byrne, then sitting on the criminal prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg for his release of the Pentagon Papers, to Nixon's San Clemente home, to offer Byrne the job of heading the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Byrne accepted the invitation. A limousine sent by Nixon picked Byrne up after the court. The next morning, at 7am, John Ehrlichman sent a limousine to Byrne to get his answer.
Neither Nixon nor Byrne nor Ehrlichman released information about any of the meetings. But secrecy, the modus operandi of that administration, did not work.
That day, the story leaked. Leonard Weinglass, one of the attorneys for the defense, virtually cross-examined the judge in the courtroom. The judge confirmed the meetings and then turned down the job.
Byrne then denied a recusal motion, continuing with the case. Byrne, then totally aware of his impropriety, ultimately dismissed the case, in part, because of the storm created by his secret Nixon meetings.
Both Matthew Byrne and Noel Hillman have good reputations. Byrne recognized that he was offered a bribe and turned it down.
I do not personally know Mr. Hillman. Thus far, his public actions seem to warrant only applause. But Hillman's boss is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Neither has said a word about the offer and its acceptance. The public is entitled to know more.
But Bush is getting away with it. There's been very little press coverage. Alito, Hamas, Iraq, and Oprah Winfrey have buried the story.
The Democrats should insist on the appointment of a special prosecutor to fill Mr. Hillman's position. Attorney General Gonzales should not be permitted to designate Hillman's successor.
This, unlike the botched up Alito hearings, is a war we can win. We should not let Bush appoint his own person, someone like Harriet Miers, Samuel Alito, or the man Bush's father said was the best person qualified for a Supreme Court seat, Clarence Thomas.
It is nearly impossible to have faith in any of America's governing personnel or institutions. This administration's total disregard for law and ethics continues to shock even though we thought we were by now unshockable.