Wednesday, March 14, 2007
"St." Pete Makes "Wildly Inappropriate" Phone Calls
Politics, Pure and Cynical
We wish we’d been surprised to learn that the White House was deeply involved in the politically motivated firing of eight United States attorneys, but the news had the unmistakable whiff of inevitability. This disaster is just part of the Bush administration’s sordid history of waving the bloody bullhorn of 9/11 for the basest of motives: the perpetuation of power for power’s sake.
Time and again, President Bush and his team have assured Americans that they needed new powers to prevent another attack by an implacable enemy. Time and again, Americans have discovered that these powers were not being used to make them safer, but in the service of Vice President Dick Cheney’s vision of a presidency so powerful that Congress and the courts are irrelevant, or Karl Rove’s fantasy of a permanent Republican majority.
In firing the prosecutors and replacing them without Senate approval, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales took advantage of a little-noticed provision that the administration and its Republican enablers in Congress had slipped into the 2006 expansion of the Patriot Act. The ostensible purpose was to allow the swift interim replacement of a United States attorney who was, for instance, killed by terrorism.
But these firings had nothing to do with national security or officials’ claims that the attorneys were fired for poor performance. This looks like a political purge, pure and simple, and President Bush and his White House are in the thick of it.
Earlier, the White House insisted that it had approved the list of fired United States attorneys after it was compiled. Now it admits that White House officials helped prepare it. Harriet Miers, the White House counsel whom Mr. Bush tried to elevate to the Supreme Court, originally wanted to replace all 93 attorneys with Republican appointees.
The White House still says Mr. Bush was not involved in the firings, but newly released documents show that he personally fielded a senator’s political complaint about David Iglesias, who was fired as United States attorney in New Mexico. The papers suggest that the United States attorney in Arkansas was fired just to put a Rove protégé in his place, and a plan was mapped out by administration officials to “run out the clock” if lawmakers objected.
Among the documents is e-mail sent to Ms. Miers by Kyle Sampson, Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, ranking United States attorneys on factors like “exhibited loyalty.” Small wonder, then that United States Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego was fired. She had put one Republican congressman, Duke Cunningham, in jail and had opened an inquiry that put others at risk, along with party donors.
More disturbing details have come out about Mr. Iglesias’s firing. We knew he was ousted six weeks after Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, made a wildly inappropriate phone call in which he asked if Mr. Iglesias intended to indict Democrats before last November’s election in a high-profile corruption scandal. We now know that Mr. Domenici took his complaints to Mr. Bush.
After Mr. Iglesias was fired, the deputy White House counsel, William Kelley, wrote in an e-mail note that Mr. Domenici’s chief of staff was “happy as a clam.” Another e-mail note, from Mr. Sampson, said Mr. Domenici was “not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool” before getting his list of preferred replacements to the White House.
Given what’s in those documents, it was astonishing to hear Mr. Gonzales continue to insist yesterday that he had no personal knowledge of discussions involving the individual attorneys. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, was right on the mark when he said that if Mr. Gonzales didn’t know what Mr. Sampson was doing, “he doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on” at his department. Fortunately, last year’s election left Democrats like Mr. Schumer in the majority, with subpoena power. Otherwise, this and so many other scandals might never have come to light.
Mr. Gonzales, who has shown why he was such an awful choice for this job in the first place, should be called under oath to resolve the contradictions and inconsistencies in his story. Mr. Gonzales is willing to peddle almost any nonsense to the public (witness his astonishingly maladroit use of the Nixonian “mistakes were made” dodge yesterday). But lying to Congress under oath is another matter.
The Justice Department has been saying that it is committed to putting Senate-confirmed United States attorneys in every jurisdiction. But the newly released documents make it clear that the department was making an end run around the Senate for baldly political reasons. Congress should broaden the investigation to determine whether any other prosecutors were forced out for not caving in to political pressure or kept on because they did.
There was, for example, the decision by United States Attorney Chris Christie of New Jersey to open an investigation of Senator Bob Menendez just before his hotly contested re-election last November. Republicans, who would have held the Senate if Mr. Menendez had lost, used the news for attack ads. Then there was the career United States attorney in Guam who was removed by Mr. Bush in 2002 after he started investigating the superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. The prosecutor was replaced. The investigation was dropped.
In mid-December 2006, Mr. Gonzales’s aide, Mr. Sampson, wrote to a White House counterpart that using the Patriot Act to fire the Arkansas prosecutor and replace him with Mr. Rove’s man was risky Congress could revoke the authority. But, he wrote, “if we don’t ever exercise it, then what’s the point of having it?”
If that sounds cynical, it is. It is also an accurate summary of the governing philosophy of this administration: What’s the point of having power if you don’t use it to get more power?
As I said earlier, some who wander onto this blog can't seem to see the connections of national disasters to their local catastrophes. One can hope that they will calm down, begin using spell-checkers, and gradually start the painful process of thinking critically for themselves. Patience, dear Readers. There will come a time of enlightenment for many of these wanderers.
--Pat, the Dog who can sniff out the connections between the dots
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
The Hubbell Standard
Hillary Clinton knows all about sacking U.S. Attorneys.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007 12:01 a.m.
Congressional Democrats are in full cry over the news this week that the Administration's decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys originated from--gasp--the White House. Senator Hillary Clinton joined the fun yesterday, blaming President Bush for "the politicization of our prosecutorial system." Oh, my.
As it happens, Mrs. Clinton is just the Senator to walk point on this issue of dismissing U.S. attorneys because she has direct personal experience. In any Congressional probe of the matter, we'd suggest she call herself as the first witness--and bring along Webster Hubbell as her chief counsel.
As everyone once knew but has tried to forget, Mr. Hubbell was a former partner of Mrs. Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock who later went to jail for mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also Bill and Hillary Clinton's choice as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department when Janet Reno, his nominal superior, simultaneously fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys in March 1993. Ms. Reno--or Mr. Hubbell--gave them 10 days to move out of their offices.
At the time, President Clinton presented the move as something perfectly ordinary: "All those people are routinely replaced," he told reporters, "and I have not done anything differently." In fact, the dismissals were unprecedented: Previous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, had both retained holdovers from the previous Administration and only replaced them gradually as their tenures expired. This allowed continuity of leadership within the U.S. Attorney offices during the transition.
Equally extraordinary were the politics at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was investigating then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, and was "within 30 days" of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski, who was shepherding the Clinton's economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.
Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons' Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint "Friend of Bill" Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to "politicizing" Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons.
And it may be this very amateurism that explains how the current Administration has managed to turn this routine issue of replacing Presidential appointees into a political fiasco. There was nothing wrong with replacing the eight Attorneys, all of whom serve at the President's pleasure. Prosecutors deserve supervision like any other executive branch appointees.
The supposed scandal this week is that Mr. Bush had been informed last fall that some U.S. Attorneys had been less than vigorous in pursuing voter-fraud cases and that the President had made the point to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Voter fraud strikes at the heart of democratic institutions, and it was entirely appropriate for Mr. Bush--or any President--to insist that his appointees act energetically against it.
Take sacked U.S. Attorney John McKay from Washington state. In 2004, the Governor's race was decided in favor of Democrat Christine Gregoire by 129 votes on a third recount. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other media outlets reported, some of the "voters" were deceased, others were registered in storage-rental facilities, and still others were convicted felons. More than 100 ballots were "discovered" in a Seattle warehouse. None of this constitutes proof that the election was stolen. But it should have been enough to prompt Mr. McKay, a Democrat, to investigate, something he declined to do, apparently on grounds that he had better things to do.
In New Mexico, another state in which recent elections have been decided by razor thin margins, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias did establish a voter fraud task force in 2004. But it lasted all of 10 weeks before closing its doors, despite evidence of irregularities by the likes of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn. As our John Fund reported at the time, Acorn's director Matt Henderson refused to answer questions in court about whether his group had illegally made copies of voter registration cards in the run-up to the 2004 election.
As for some of the other fired Attorneys, at least one of their dismissals seemed to owe to differences with the Administration about the death penalty, another to questions about the Attorney's managerial skills. Not surprisingly, the dismissed Attorneys are insisting their dismissals were unfair, and perhaps in some cases they were. It would not be the first time in history that a dismissed employee did not take kindly to his firing, nor would it be the first in which an employer sacked the wrong person.
No question, the Justice Department and White House have botched the handling of this issue from start to finish. But what we don't have here is any serious evidence that the Administration has acted improperly or to protect some of its friends. If Democrats want to understand what a real abuse of power looks like, they can always ask the junior Senator from New York.
Copyright © 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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I love how the WSJ, Dow Jones, can get all bent out of shape about Democrats, while exhibiting a massive blind spot about Republicans. A level playing field would fix that, and they know it, but they don't have any follow-through for such a thing, now, do they?
The Clintons were amateurs at political shenanigans compared to the Bush/Cheney crowd; no one on the Left can begin to compare with Karl "Turd-Blossom" Rove, the champion of Political Dirty Tricks.
(He and Bush and Domenici are in so thick into the muck on the US Attorney firings, that it makes one's head spin. The 8 that were "chosen" for firing were either too fast in pursuing massive Republican fraud or, in New Mexico, too slow on nailing Democrats, where the cases were too weak to pursue -- by an Hispanic Republican US Attorney!) No other President -- apart from Cheney/Bush -- has EVER managed to piss on the US Constitution for over 6 straight years: warrantless wiretaps, people held without charge, abuse of surveillance by the FBI, CIA overseas "rendering," Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the list goes on and on ...
But the "Big Bidness Boys" at Wall Street Journal don't seem to care about that little detail.
Can we get this back on track?
--30 years and barely hanging on to sanity