Six of Eight Fired U.S. Attorneys Were Top Performers

The A.P. is reporting that six of the U.S. Attorneys whose firings have resulted in investigations into the Justice Department were, in fact, top performers, calling into question the idea that they were fired for “performance reasons.”

Six of the eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department ranked in the top third among their peers for the number of prosecutions filed last year, according to an analysis of federal records.

In addition, five of the eight were among the government’s top performers in winning convictions.

The analysis undercuts Justice Department claims that the prosecutors were dismissed because of lackluster job performance.

[…]

Several of the attorneys who were told last Dec. 7 to resign complained their reputations were sullied when the Justice Department linked the firings to underwhelming results in each of the eight districts — in Arizona, Little Rock, Ark., Grand Rapids, Mich., Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

“I respectfully request that you reconsider the rationale of poor performance as the basis for my dismissal,” Margaret Chiara, the former prosecutor in Grand Rapids, Mich., complained in an e-mail. The description, in part, she said, “is proving to be a formidable obstacle to securing employment.”

This incident is just getting worse and worse for Attorney General Gonzales. While it appears that two of the firings may have actually been related to performance reasons, Kevin Drum notes that even these firings might have been made simply to provide some political cover for the rest.

Clearly, U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. But that service should be as independent as possible, given the nature of the job. Firing U.S. Attorneys for insufficiently pursuing the objectives of the President’s political body is pretty outrageous, but is arguably legally permissible. To smear the reputations of those attorneys by claiming that they were incompetent is vile–and possibly slanderous. To willfully mislead the factual record, either through outright deception or withholding of evidence about the same while under oath is not only reprehensible, it’s perjury, and should be treated accordingly.

That said, while firing U.S. Attorneys for political reasons is pretty awful, and it’s clear that, at the very least, mistakes were made in DOJ testimony before Congress, I do think there’s a very good chance that there wasn’t any real malicious intent in the nature of the DOJ’s testimony. Claiming that the Attorneys were fired for “performance reasons” when those reasons could be so easily checked up on sounds a lot more like run-of-the mill political spin than any real intent to create a cover-up.

However, if the investigation into this matter demonstrates that DOJ officials willfully misled Congress in order to cover up the political nature of these firings, anyone who takes the rule of law seriously should demand, at the very least, the resignation of all DOJ officials who were involved in the deception of Congress–up to and including the Attorney General.

(link via Andrew Sullivan)

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. JohnG says:

    It depends on how you define “performance.” The article implies that for the Justice Department, it didn’t mean bad lawyer, it meant that they weren’t focusing on the types of crimes that Justice wanted emphasized.

  2. On Thursday Alberto Gonzales told us he is working tirelessly to be sure he has every American’s back covered…especially our children. Should the firing of six top performers make us feel better?

    I don’t know about anyone else but I’ve always been suspicious of the guy that seems to go out of his way to tell you he’s “got your back covered”.

    See a sarcastic visual that demonstrates how many Americans feel when the Attorney General reassures us that he’s got our backs covered…here:

    http://www.thoughttheater.com

  3. cirby says:

    If they were concentrating on “low-hanging fruit,” going for more prosecutions and easier convictions, while passing on the more complicated (and more important) cases, then no, they weren’t top performers, they were mediocre performers who were playing games with stats.

    Compare, for example, to a salesman who claims to be great because he makes more sales calls and gets more contracts signed, compared to one who leads the team in total sales dollars and higher-profit sales.

  4. James Joyner says:

    It depends on how you define “performance.”

    I think that’s right. For political appointees, the president’s emphases presumably drives the definition.

    Firing U.S. Attorneys for insufficiently pursuing the objectives of the President’s political body is pretty outrageous

    I think it depends on definitions again. If this means “failing to go after Democrats or other groups hostile to the president’s political party,” then I agree. If it means “failing to be aggressive in investigating the types of crimes the president wants emphasized,” then I don’t see why.

    It seems to me that an official can either be “independent” or a political appointee. Indeed, it makes no sense to have someone serving at the pleasure of the president who is supposed to be totally apolitical.

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    I think it depends on definitions again. If this means “failing to go after Democrats or other groups hostile to the president’s political party,” then I agree. If it means “failing to be aggressive in investigating the types of crimes the president wants emphasized,” then I don’t see why.

    James, I am referring to the former, and I think that the evidence is beginning to demonstrate that this was, indeed, the case. I agree with you, for the most part, on the latter–although even there I have trepidations.

    It seems to me that an official can either be “independent” or a political appointee. Indeed, it makes no sense to have someone serving at the pleasure of the president who is supposed to be totally apolitical.

    I think that one thing this whole mess is showing is that the notion of US Attorneys serving at the pleasure of the President is, in fact, detrimental to the job. I think that a different means of hiring them is definitely in order.

  6. James Joyner says:

    I think that one thing this whole mess is showing is that the notion of US Attorneys serving at the pleasure of the President is, in fact, detrimental to the job. I think that a different means of hiring them is definitely in order.

    Yup. I would agree.

  7. How about we get rid of the “chief executive” and just have a permanent bureaucracy that has lifetime jobs?

    Or with Jame’s idea of finding some other way to fill the job, maybe we can elect them, then they would be just as honerable as congress.

    Or even better, we could have congress elect them, taking all politics out of the job!

  8. James Joyner says:

    How about we get rid of the “chief executive” and just have a permanent bureaucracy that has lifetime jobs?

    We already have that. As far as I know, the only appointee in the U.S. Attorney’s office is the U.S. Attorney.