A lively and highly informative look at the modern Justice Department's criminal division, by two veteran Washington...


MAIN JUSTICE: The Men and Women Who Enforce the Nation's Criminal Laws and Guard Its Liberties

A lively and highly informative look at the modern Justice Department's criminal division, by two veteran Washington reporters. Most Americans see the Justice Department and its nationwide corps of lawyers and law-enforcement agents through the unflattering lens of highly public scandals like the Aldrich Ames affair. McGee (an investigative reporter at the Washington Post) and Duffy (investigations editor at U.S. News & World Report) are clearly out to reverse that perception by showing the dedicated people within the organization. Throughout, they offer larger-than-life profiles of officials, like longtime federal prosecutor David Margolis and the department's ethical watchdog Mary Lawton. The book sometimes threatens to get bogged down in these portraits of officials, to whom the authors are at times overly deferential, but they rescue themselves by chronicling several important anti-drug and violence campaigns. These episodes, including the war against the Cali Drug Cartel, and the undercover operation against the Bottoms Boys, a ruthless gang based in Shreveport, La., read like real-life thrillers. Ultimately, the authors have a more important agenda: examining the ""price of power"" and demonstrating that the Justice Department, like any other large organization, ""is not immune to excessive zeal, personal ambition or political malice."" To illustrate that point, later chapters describe the ill-fated battle against pornography distributors, waged for political purposes by the Reagan administration, and the case against Ames, nearly compromised by an FBI investigation that may have overstepped constitutional boundaries. One particularly complex tale recalls the bungled prosecution of Miami S&L lawyer Kenneth Treadwell; general readers may find the legal maneuvers here difficult to follow. Still, in the end the authors have skillfully portrayed a Justice Department that is intrinsically honest, but plagued by growing pains as it struggles to adapt to new threats and rules.

Pub Date: July 19, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996