News & Politics

If You’re the Law, Look Out

The furor over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has prompted some Democrats to wax nostalgic about Cabinet posts and how the keeper of law and order should be the most pristine.

Nice theory. The first US attorney general, Edmund Randolph, was forced out of his next post by scandal. Ever since, the position often has been filled by political hacks and criminals. Warren Harding’s Harry Daugherty had to resign over kickbacks from bootleggers. Woodrow Wilson’s James McReynolds was overtly anti-Semitic.

More modern attorneys general have been indicted or prosecuted than any other top Cabinet post. Two—John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst—were convicted of crimes, and a third, Edwin Meese, was the subject of a special prosecutor’s investigation. He was cleared.

No attorney general has gone on to attain the presidency, although some have been respectable enough to land on the Supreme Court. The latest to do so was Tom Clark in the Truman administration—nearly 60 years ago.