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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Comstock Load of Crap

Charles Carreon has an intriguing post up at his blog regarding the propriety of Barbara Comstock, former high level employee in John Ashcroft's DoJ now working on behalf of Scooter Libby. According to Comstock's own bio information on the Blank Rome Government Relations, LLC, website, she was:
chief spokesperson and communications strategist for Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as the spokesperson for the entire Department with responsibility for all public affairs and communications matters. Comstock also oversaw the public affairs offices of the Justice Department components including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service. (emphasis mine)
Sound like just another government drone to you? Not on your life -- this is a woman who would have been intimately involved in crafting the Ashcroft press conference strategy throughout the whole of his involvement in the Traitorgate investigation -- and she had her hands on information from the FBI as well.

And according to Charles Carreon, Comstock engineered her exit from the DoJ only four days after Fitz was appointed to be Special Counsel in the matter. How convenient.

Carreon cites the DC Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.9, regarding not representing any client whose claims may be adverse to that of a previous client. According to her Blank Rome bio, however, Comstock is a Virginia Bar Member.

The Virginia Bar Association also has requirements for attorney members to avoid even an appearance of impropriety in client representation, DR 9-101.
DR 9-101. Avoiding Even the Appearance of Impropriety.

(A) A lawyer shall not accept private employment in a matter upon the merits of which he has acted in a judicial capacity.

(B) A lawyer shall not accept private employment in a matter in which he had substantial responsibility while he was a public employee unless the public entity by which he was employed consents after full disclosure.

(C) A lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body or public official.
This rule is pretty standard conflict of interest rule for bar associations around the country. There is a potential out for Comstock if, indeed, the DoJ granted her some sort of exemption in representation for Libby under (B) -- but I would argue that such exemption might have to come directly from Fitzgerald, since he has been granted extraordinary powers in his supervision of the Traitorgate investigation, or potentially by Margolis, who is his direct supervisor at the DoJ.

Both Ashcroft and now Gonzales are compromised by ethical conflicts on this issue, and should not be allowed to grant any waivers for ethical purposes. Has anyone asked the Administration about this? Not that I can find.

Doesn't the public have a right to know if the DoJ gave consent for an employee who worked on a substantial matter of public interest -- the investigation of the outing of a covert CIA agent -- to work for a man who lied to investigators to obstruct that very investigation?

For whom is Comstock now providing a firewall -- Libby or others in the Bush Administration or both?

When I switched hats from defending criminals to working in the prosecutor's office, I had to go through every single file of every single client I had ever represented for all the years I was in private practice and make list after list of due diligence names that I could not touch in any way in a case.

It conflicted me out of a lot of work in our office (criminals tend to be repeaters, after all), because I had been a busy private attorney. It was a pain in the ass, but I did all of this because it was the right thing to do -- for me, sure, but especially as a professional ethics matter for the prosecutor's office and the judicial process overall.

You do not serve the cause of justice by playing fast and loose with the rules to suit your own agenda. And that is exactly what Barbara Comstock is doing.

You can't tell me that she didn't have intimate involvement in crafting message and response on the Traitorgate mess for Ashcroft. This was a huge open sore for the Administration and Ashcroft was "Mr. Press Conference," so you know Comstock was in charge of crafting a "tough on crime, but we'll take care of you Karl, wink wink" public message for Ashcroft on a daily basis.

Comstock's conduct is beyond shameful -- it is exactly the sort of bullshit that gives all attorneys a bad name, and she needs to be publicly shamed for it. It's a cardinal rule that you do not touch things over which you had some control when you were on the other side because it substantially taints the process.

Especially when you are exiting a public service job for the private sector -- big no no. The Virginia Bar Association ought to take active notice of this.

She's going to argue that all she is doing is fundraising -- but we now know that to be utter crap, since "Clarice" got her "press release" (read strategy memo) about the Jeffress strategy straight from Babs. If she is disseminating Team Libby's talking points (or at least some segment of Team Libby, anyway, because I refuse to believe that Cline signed on to that dreck given his strong defense counsel background), then she is working with them at a much higher level than simply "fundraiser."

Disseminating memos for the team is "getting the message out to the Wurlitzer," pure and simple and, after all, that's been Comstock's stock in trade for years, as Jane and Digby pointed out last night.

Whether or not it is "just fundraising," it is still wrong. Comstock would have been privy to high level meetings about the information gathered by the FBI, how the DoJ could best publicly respond to questions about Rove, Libby and other members of the Administration and their conduct -- and to do so, she would also have likely had contacts with the FBI investigators heading up the search for information. Think that kind of information wouldn't be valuable to Team Libby?

A way to look at it is this: if you were a corporate defense counsel, working for Corporation X, and you left the firm to work as plaintiff's counsel, you ought to be barred from participating in any way in any cases involving Corporation X. You would have intimate, behind-the-scenes knowledge not only of how your former firm operates, but also what kind of advice they have given on settling claims, what sort of risk averse or risk positive strategy your former client has, what they do in terms of investigation, etc., etc.

In Comstock's case, she would have intimate insights into how investigators approached the Traitorgate case from the outset. And how the DoJ managed crisis issues internally. And how the communications went between DoJ and the WH in those early days. And...well, you get the picture. This just screams "appearance of impropriety," doesn't it?

Lawyers police themselves in terms of conduct. Where I am, this sort of ethical question would raise eyebrows immediately and a lot of questions would be asked by the state bar association's ethics enforcement division.

Perhaps in DC they are so used to looking the other way, they just don't take this sort of smarmy crap seriously. But they should. Perhaps they just need a nudge? The fact that the Virginia bar covers the entire state, and not just DC, ought to count for something.

Can you tell this sort of thing pisses me off? Barbara Comstock is a smarm merchant, and she ought to be ashamed of herself (if she actually had any scruples at this point, which I sincerely doubt). But even if she feels no shame or no compulsion to follow the rules (sound like an Administration you know?), the Virginia Bar Association has an obligation to the profession and the public to look into this matter of conflict.