By Matt Friedman | January 15th, 2008 - 8:55am
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Former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach thinks that former Attorney General John Ashcroft is a good man – but not necessarily deserving of a federal monitoring contract worth up to $58 million.

“He’s a pleasant enough man. I doubt that he was an editor of the law review or a Supreme Court clerk or something of that kind -- those are the kinds of standards I have,” said Katzenbach, who lives in Princeton and served as Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson between 1965 and 1966.

The contract in question is a position Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey’s United States Attorney, gave Ashcroft, his former boss, monitoring Zimmer Holdings, a medical implant company that admitted paying kickbacks to doctors to use its products. By agreeing to take on a federal monitor and pay a $311 million settlement, the company avoided prosecution.

Although Katzenbach acknowledged that there could be circumstances to the appointment that he’s unfamiliar with, to him it looks political -- especially considering that the Justice Department should appear the most free of political considerations.

“When you give people government contracts, there’s usually a bidding on the contract, or if there isn’t a bidding on it, you’ve got a reason why there isn’t,” Katzenbach told PolitickerNJ.com. “…If Interior wants to go give a former Interior Secretary some big job, people can say that’s just politics and maybe it’s not that serious. But when the Department of Justice starts doing it, it suggests other political things, and that seems to me to be as wrong as it can be.”

Katzenbach said that he can’t remember how common the appointment of federal monitors was when he held the office, and could only recall assigning monitors to oversee the sale of American subsidiaries of German companies that were seized when World War II broke out.

And as a former Attorney General, Katzenbach said that he would not accept such a contract.

“I suppose like any human being, I would be tempted, but I would think it was inappropriate,” he said.
Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach with President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach with President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

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