"ABOVE THE LAW: Secret Deals, Political Fixes and Other Misadventures of the U.S. Department of Justice" by David Burnham

"ABOVE THE LAW: Secret Deals, Political Fixes and Other Misadventures of the U.S. Department of Justice"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

America's Justice Department overkilled. Having previously taken aim at the IRS (A Law Unto Itself, 1989, etc.), investigative reporter Burnham turns his guns on the elusive, unaccountable, deeply political institution comprised of some of the nation's most potent players, including the attorney general, the FBI, the DEA, the INS, the Antitrust Division, and 93 US attorneys. According to the author, the Justice Department has functioned primarily to advance the president's political agenda and to conduct covert operations. Headed by the attorney general (frequently the president's crony), the department busies itself with PR makework (such as Nixon's ""big, bad, dumb"" war on drugs) while failing to prosecute environmental criminals and corporations that endanger health and safety. Burnham convincingly argues that the sleazy symbiosis between the president and the Justice Department has not been limited to ""ethically challenged"" administrations: Along with the predictable tales of Nixon's anti-antitrust policy, he explores LBJ's use of the FBI to tail Martin Luther King, Carter's firing a federal prosecutor investigating a Democratic congressman, and Robert Kennedy's squelching an investigation of the Mafia's hold on Philadelphia's federal judges. He assembles impressive-looking charts to illustrate how the FBI distorts crime statistics and how federal prosecutors are misallocated across the nation. But too often the author concedes that he has found no smoking guns, inviting the reader to share his ""suspicions"" about Justice Department injustice. He blasts all attorneys general of recent memory except Edward Levi, neglecting to consider the contributions of such officeholders as Nicholas Katzenbach, Elliot Richardson, and Janet Reno. The book's strident tone, overbroad scope, and strenuous avoidance of gray areas also detract from the analysis. Sprawling, unsubtle, given to rhetorical excess--like the Justice Department itself.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Scribner