Lichtblau Defends Obama Nominee Who Shares His Anti-Bush Views

Eric Lichtblau is the Times' Justice Department reporter who has twice turned national security secrets into front-pagescoops and wrote a book, "Bush's Law," that foamed with hostility towards Bush's war on terror. And he is clearly unhappy with scattered conservative criticism of Harold Koh, Obama's choice to become the top lawyer at the State Department and a fierce opponent of Bush's war on terror philosophy.

Lichtblau did his best to spin the criticism away in a Thursday analysis, "After Attacks, Supporters Rally Around Choice for Top Administration Legal Job."

The controversy began with a short article in The New York Post and soon mushroomed into an all-out attack by conservative commentators. The charge was that Harold Hongju Koh, the outspoken Yale Law School dean now tapped for a top legal slot in the Obama administration, was ready to put international law on a pedestal above American justice.

"Once we sign our rights over to international law, the Constitution is officially dead," the Fox News commentator Glenn Beck bemoaned Monday in a scathing critique of Mr. Koh.

Unfortunately for Mr. Koh's critics, his academic record does not fit into quite so neat a sound bite, and his supporters have been quick to rally to his defense.

Lichtblau then quoted two supporters of Koh while detailing how this apparently unworthy story traveled up the right-wing food chain:

At the center of the dispute is a statement that Mr. Koh was said to have made in 2007 at a Yale alumni event in Greenwich, Conn. One guest at the event wrote in a blog item on a conservative Web site at the time that Mr. Koh had made a "favorable reference" to Shariah, or Islamic law, and had said it could be used to "govern a controversy" in an American court.

Conservative commentators like Mr. Beck and Web sites like Jihad Watch quickly focused on the alleged statement after The New York Post carried an article featuring it.

But Robin Reeves Zorthian, who organized the Yale event in Greenwich, said Mr. Stein "was totally mischaracterizing what Dean Koh said." Ms. Zorthian said Mr. Stein had initiated an animated series of questions with Mr. Koh about international law and raised the issue of Shariah and its place in American law. She said Mr. Koh had said that there were "common underlying concepts" in many legal systems around the world but that he never voiced support for allowing Shariah to be used in American courts.

The mysterious "Mr. Stein" is never given a first name (probably an editing hiccup) but is evidently Steven Stein, a New York lawyer who attended a function at the Yale Club in Greenwich, CT in which Koh was present. His claims were magnified in a New York Post op-ed by Meghan Clyne.

In the 12th paragraph of his 18-paragraph story, Lichtblau raised some controversial on-the-record statements by Koh comparing the U.S. to Iraq and North Korea:

In 2004, for instance, he wrote in The Berkeley Journal of International Law that the United States' disregard for international law after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had earned it a place along with North Korea and Iraq as "the axis of disobedience."

Lichtblau quoted no opponents of Koh directly, only forwarding their arguments second-hand while putting his own spin on the. By contrast, he got Koh's supporters on the record.

Ed Whelan at National Review Online was not impressed with the article's unsubstantiated claim of "an all-out attack by conservative commentators."