Mary Beth Buchanan, A U.S. Attorney That Just Won’t Quit

Mary Beth Buchanan -- 'I am open to considering further service to the United States.' (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)

Mary Beth Buchanan -- 'I am open to considering further service to the United States.' (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)

Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, has announced that she will forgo the customary courtesy of handing in her resignation when President Obama takes offices, saying “It doesn’t serve justice for all the U.S. Attorneys to submit their resignations at one time.” A mild blogospheric uproar has ensued at the nerve of this woman.

Faiz Shakir, for one, seems to be irritated about the whole thing, for reasons which should be obvious.  (They must be, since he doesn’t bother to explain.)

Barbara O’Brien isn’t surprised.  “Once again, we see that Republicans don’t think the rules apply to them.”  Granted, none of the other 92 Republican U.S. Attorneys have followed suit.  But, still, this is just the way Republicans are.    This Republican plot to undermine the Republic will have dire consequences: “If she doesn’t resign that doesn’t mean she can keep her job. If a new Attorney is appointed and confirmed by the Senate for her position, she’s out, whether she resigns or not.” Steve Benen agrees: “I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the Obama administration will replace her very quickly if she refuses to step down.”

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, Radley Balko figures this is a calculating move: “My guess is that this is a stunt to force Obama to fire her, at which point she’ll make a public stink, play the martyr, then attempt to parlay the resulting controversy into a run for the Senate, or perhaps for governor of Pennsylvania.”  Of course, that would require a plurality of the voters of Pennsylvania to decide she’s the least bad candidate for the job.  And it’s going to be mighty hard to be a martyr when the other 92 Attorneys resigned on cue.

Digby fears a palace coup.

This is a Republican soldier and if Obama attempts to fire her, she will become a martyr to the cause. And she’s not alone. They are all over the Justice Department.

When the US Attorney scandal broke, you’ll recall that there was a lot of wingnut chatter saying that because Bill Clinton had asked for the resignations of all US Attorney’s at the beginning of his term, Bush had a perfect right to fire US Attorneys who refused to do political dirty work. They set the stage for this at the time. It was entirely predictable that the new administration would be held to a completely new standard — he would not be allowed to fire any US Attorney who had been appointed by Bush for any reason at all or risk being accused of using the Justice department for partisan gain. It’s how they roll.


If she stays, she will be working against the Obama administration from within. There are probably many others like her at all levels, some burrowed very deeply.

Is Buchanan a political hack?  Apparently.   Should she resign like everybody else?  You betcha. Is it a big deal if she doesn’t?  Nope.

The idea that there’s going to be a major uproar at the replacement of political appointees is absurd.  O’Brien’s questioning of his legal bonafides and intelligence notwithstanding, Steve Bainbridge is right: “Either the US Attorney job is a political one or not.”  It is and we all know it.  U.S. Attorneys are appointed rather than being career employees because it’s inevitable that the Justice Department, also headed by a political appointee (the Attorney General) will have differing priorities based on the views of the president.  (That’s not to excuse the abuse of government power to advance partisan political interests, but a recognition that resources are limited and have to be prioritized in some manner.)

Obama will need to appoint replacements for Buchanan and her 92 cohorts.  I’m guessing he’ll make her seat an especial priority.  Once the Senate has confirmed a new USA for the Western District, she’s out.  And if she refuses to leave then, she’ll be politely escorted out by a federal marshal.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Really? You believe Mary Beth Buchanan is merely a political hack? I have a funny feeling that you haven’t really looked into this, beyond noting the Memeorandum blog activity (and I would suggest that either your dictionary has a very bad definition of “uproar” else you used the wrong word).

    Buchanan hired Monica Goodling for starters. But it’s really her work in opening up whole new avenues of attacks on various civil liberties in new and innovative ways that sets her apart from mere political hacks, and raises her adjectival level to “Nixonian.”

  2. markm says:

    …well if she’s going to play the martyr she aughta cut back on her carrot intake or skip the spray on tan…she’s friggin’ orange.

    Seems silly to me.

  3. Patrick T McGuire says:

    The idea that there’s going to be a major uproar at the replacement of political appointees is absurd.

    You mean unlike the investigations the Democrats did, including calling for the firing of Karl Rove and attempting to subpoena Dick Cheney, when Bush fired some federal attorneys?

  4. andrew says:

    So let me get this straight, the Left invents a “scandal” out of nothing and is now afraid that Republicans will do it back to them based on nothing. The level of irony, hypocrisy and projection here is out of control.

  5. Wait a minute – because she won’t resign it means she won’t step down when replaced? It means there’s a grand conspiracy to outlaw the firing of all U.S. Attorneys for any reason? She’s conspiring as part of a coup? Maybe Barack should force everyone to hand over their voting history as a test of loyalty? Can it be that Joe McCarthy has become the new hero for Obama followers? Has the left totally lost their minds?

    It’s a rhetorical question – of course they’ve lost their minds. Nothing but abject groveling will suffice for our new overlords, and anyone who doesn’t jump at their orders is a threat. They’re afraid the right will be as maliciously deranged as they were for the last eight years. Can you smell the fear? It smells like Pachouli oil.

    She’s a smart one – it’s a clever political move to gain attention. I’ll be keeping an eye on her…

  6. anjin-san says:

    Can you smell the fear?


    Yes we can. Hit the showers dude, you reek of it.

  7. caj says:

    What is her point, is she like Sarah Palin and not wanting to be out of the limelight.
    God, we just can’t get rid of these Republicans when it’s their time to go…we are so sick of them already.

  8. Franklin says:

    Someone’s going to have to clue me in on any laws regarding the Justice Dept. While all the attorneys are political appointments, my understanding is that the DOJ is meant to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans” (according to Title 28 of the United States Code).

    Personally, I don’t think fair and impartial means prosecuting one party’s members while ignoring the other party’s members. Or hiring based solely on devotion to Our Dear Leader Bush. That’s my *opinion* of fair and impartial, feel free to disagree.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Personally, I don’t think fair and impartial means prosecuting one party’s members while ignoring the other party’s members. Or hiring based solely on devotion to Our Dear Leader Bush.

    There’s no evidence either were done.

    Prosecutions motivated by partisan advantage are obviously problematic. Putting an emphasis on prosecuting voter fraud, on the other hand, while it may have a disparate impact, is perfectly valid discretion.

    Picking attorneys who are loyal to the party and who see their duties in a similar way is the nature of making them political appointees. If we don’t want that, then just make them career bureaucrats. But Bush appointed Attorneys were, so far as I’m aware, competent prosecutors.

  10. She should to be ashamed. Who is she to say who is and is not American. I can’t believe she was re-elected.