Attorney General Mukasey has a new definition of the word “crime.”

For almost 41 years now I’ve been operating under the apparently mistaken assumption that if you break a law you’ve committed a crime, but according to the U.S. Attorney General, speaking recently on the abuses in the Department of Justice in hiring and firing decisions, I am apparently wrong in my assumption:

In a speech Tuesday morning to the American Bar Association in Manhattan, Mr. Mukasey condemned the political abuses in his most forceful language to date, saying “the system failed.” He also acknowledged that some critics and commentators had called on the Justice Department to take what he called “more drastic steps,” including prosecuting those at fault and firing those hired through flawed procedures. But he rejected both those approaches.

“Where there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we vigorously prosecute,” he said. “But not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.”

This is going to make things a lot more confusing. If it’s true that not every violation of the law is a crime, something I thought was more or less inherent in the definition of the word crime, then how are we to know when breaking any particular law is in fact criminal? Is there a list I can get hold of that will tell me which violations of the law aren’t a crime? Wouldn’t it make more sense to remove any laws that aren’t crimes from the books so as to avoid confusion? What’s the point in having laws that aren’t crimes to violate?

As last month’s report from the inspector general acknowledged, the hiring abuses by former Justice Department officials represented a violation of federal Civil Service law, but not of criminal law, he said.

You mean it isn’t a crime to violate Federal Civil Service laws? Then why have them at all?

Don’t worry, though, Mukasey assures us the folks who broke the law, but didn’t commit any crimes in doing so, aren’t getting off easy:

“That does not mean, as some people have suggested, that those officials who were found by the joint reports to have committed misconduct have suffered no consequences,” Mr. Mukasey said. “Far from it. The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity.”

“Their misconduct has now been laid bare by the Justice Department for all to see,” he said, adding that “I doubt that anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people.”

Oh yeah, I’m sure they all had trouble finding replacement jobs for a whole day or two after they stepped down what with all that negative publicity. They’re probably laying in a gutter somewhere with a half-full bottle of Mad Dog wine covered in their own vomit as a result of their disgraceful fall from power. Good thing we’ve got such an upstanding Attorney General making sure people are held accountable for their actions!

4 thoughts on “Attorney General Mukasey has a new definition of the word “crime.”

  1. I’m sorry Les, but you have indeed been operating under a false assumption. A crime is a crime only if there’s a law saying that it’s a crime. That indeed does mean that you can break some laws without being a criminal.

    Laws are of course intended to be followed, so there are usually other means of upholding non-criminal laws, for example by firing officials who break the law.

  2. And, now folks, the real reason for laws: to keep money coming in for the lawyers who write said laws. Follow the buck.  mad  zipper

  3. You can do the same in your everyday life, by committing civil fraud. Yes, its a violation of the law, but its not a violation of criminal law. Violate a patent? No one will show up to arrest you, they’ll just take your shirt in court for it if they catch you with a civil suit. Not every violation of the law is a violation with criminal penalties.

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