Friday, March 16, 2007

U.S. Attorney Scandal

As we all know, there are two sides to every story, and getting at the truth can be a challenge. Right now there's a lot of spin from both Democrats and Republicans regarding the firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys. Some wonder what on earth the problem is. It's the Bush Administration's right to fire and reappoint whom they choose; U.S. Attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the President." And firing U.S. Attorneys is hardly a new thing. Clinton did it; so did George Bush's father (Bush I) when he took office. In short, why is there even a scandal?

Now, this is my opinion. It is naturally subject to change as more information comes to light. But in my mind, this "purge" of U.S. Attorneys is actually quite different from Clinton's and Bush I's. In these two cases, both men came into office, canned all 93 or however many there were of the Attorneys, and replaced them with whom they wanted. But in the case of George W. Bush, these were 8 U.S. Attorneys who were singled out to be fired during Bush's second term.

Of course, Bush is still free to fire whom he pleases, or to direct his Attorney General to do so--that fact is not the problem. (It is, however, odd that Gonzales and crew felt they had to lie to Congress about the White House's hand in the firings. Why lie if what they did was above board?)

Here's a short description of each of the fired Attorneys.

What is amazing to me is that of the 8, 6 were Republicans and 2 were Independent. No Democrats in the bunch, folks! These people were okay with Bush & Co. during his first term. I think two furthermore had beyond stellar records, and no one had been caught up in any scandals or anything like that. They weren't incompetent, in other words. So why were they fired?

Well, it appears that they irked certain key Republicans. For example, Carol Lam teed them off by prosecuting another Republican, Duke Cunningham (whom, as we know, now sits in jail for taking bribes). Meanwhile, there were allegations of voter fraud on the part of Democrats in New Mexico, yet the U.S. Attorney there (Iglesias) found there was no means to pursue it. This teed off Senator Pete Domenci for some reason (perhaps he didn't like whatever Democrat it was that ended up winning the vote). But as I understand it, there were three separate recounts-- that's THREE--and I also understand Iglesias put together a bipartisan group to examine whether there was voter fraud. This group found there was not. I'm not sure what else Iglesias could've done, short of making up charges of voter fraud (which is what Domenci apparently wanted him to do?)

In short, it's looking awfully like these 8 U.S. Attornies weren't aggressively helping political campaigns or Republican members of Congress and were simply doing their job of being impartial jurists. And they were fired for being impartial, for refusing to be harpies. I think that's wrong; prosecutors should uphold the law regardless of political party.

Then there's the issue of how these U.S. Attorneys were replaced. The Bush Administration used the Patriot Act to put in as their replacements their own handpicked people instead of going through the usual process of a Senate confirmation for a U.S. Attorney. I think maybe this is the thing that bugs me the most.

So it's not that Karl Rove or anyone else in the Bush Administration made a recommendation for a replacement. That's a red herring. The issue is that the Senate didn't get a chance to confirm that person, as is the usual process. The way it was all done was just underhanded.

And I have to ask why.

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