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