Topic: Government & Politics
Thanks to the reminder pointedly provided by witness John Ashcroft, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is under fire for having a supposed “conflict of interest” that impedes her ability to assist in the commission’s inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the infamous terrorist attack in New York City and Washington, D.C. Gorelick’s critics maintain that as the author of an official memo that helped raise the so-called “wall” between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering, Gorelick is being called upon to provide unbiased analysis of problems that she participated in creating. Her response is that she is only required to recuse herself from Commission activities deliberations on matters flowing directly from her participation; accordingly, she did not participate in the Commission’s grilling of her former boss, Janet Reno. In a well-reasoned op-ed piece published in the Washington Post, Gorelick argued that she is affirmatively not conflicted when it comes to the over-all purpose of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States (its official name), in her words,
“to help our nation understand how the worst assault on our homeland since Pearl Harbor could have occurred and to outline reforms to prevent new acts of terrorism.”
Let’s cut through all the conflict of interest gobbledygook. Gorelick is a D.C. lawyer, and Rule 1.11 of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits a former government lawyer from subsequent involvement in a matter in which he or she was personally and substantially involved. Strictly speaking, this prohibition only applies to advocacy representations, not activities like fact-finding commissions, but as an articulation of what qualifies as an unacceptable conflict, the 1.11 prohibition is instructive. She actually has a second conflict too: her law firm, Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, is defending the Saudi government and members of the Saudi royal family in lawsuits brought by the families of 9/11 victims.
But, as Trent Lott like to say,” let’s get real.” Focusing on Gorelick’s technical and theoretical conflicts is a strange obsession indeed on a Commission assembled, not to avoid bias, but to balance biases. The commissioners, many of them anyway, have taken a decidedly partisan approach to what is supposed to be a non-partisan exercise (witness Richard Ben-Veniste’s antagonistic grilling of every testifying Bush administration official), and it seems willfully perverse to attack Gorelick for having a potential bias when open bias is the Commission’s MO.
The ethical problem is not Gorelick’s employment history, but rather the Commission’s perversion of its charge. Were it actually pursuing the purposes described by Gorelick, the purported conflicts would be irrelevant. But the Commission has turned what is supposed to be an analytical role into one of assigning blame and scoring political points for each Commission member’s favorite presidential candidate. Gorelick’s position as one who may have a share of the blame is harder to ignore in such an environment. Nevertheless, finger-pointing ill-serves the American public, and Gorelick’s critics should re-focus their concern on the conflict of interest that really matters: the Commission’s proven desire to use their influence not to make America safer, but to secure partisan support. That is a blatant and objectionable conflict of interest.