U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal
For whatever reason, I’ve had trouble mustering an interest in the brouhaha over Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’ firing of some U.S. attorneys for “political reasons.” It’s been the topic of much discussion in the blogosphere and the halls of Congress but just hasn’t inspired me to write anything.
Front page stories in today’s NYT and WaPo, which have inspired another mini-surge in blog outrage, continue to leave me yawning.
Dan Eggen and John Solomon, writing for WaPo under the headline “Firings Had Genesis in White House,” report:
The White House suggested two years ago that the Justice Department fire all 93 U.S. attorneys, a proposal that eventually resulted in the dismissals of eight prosecutors last year, according to e-mails and internal documents that the administration will provide to Congress today.
The dismissals took place after President Bush told Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October that he had received complaints that some prosecutors had not energetically pursued voter-fraud investigations, according to a White House spokeswoman.
The use of “White House,” the name of a building, is ubiquitous (I do it all the time, too) but also problematic. It turns out that “the White House” means “Harriet Miers” here, not “the president.”
David Johnson and Eric Lipton weigh in with “White House Said to Prompt Firing of Prosecutors” for NYT.
The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, administration officials said Monday.
Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday. Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official.
The president did not call for the removal of any specific United States attorneys, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman. She said she had “no indication” that the president had been personally aware that a process was already under way to identify prosecutors who would be fired.
So here “the White House” does mean “the president.” But his involvement seems to be limited to saying “What’s up with my prosecutors not doing their jobs on an issue to which I’ve ordered be given special emphasis?”
But Ms Perino disclosed that White House officials had consulted with the Justice Department in preparing the list of United States attorneys who would be removed. Within a few weeks of the president’s comments to the attorney general, the Justice Department forced out seven prosecutors. Previously, the White House had said that Mr. Bush’s aides approved the list of prosecutors only after it was compiled.
So, the plot thickens. . . .
The role of the president and his advisers in the prosecutor shakeup is likely to intensify calls by Congress for an investigation. It is the worst crisis of Mr. Gonzales’s tenure and provoked charges that the dismissals were a political purge threatening the historical independence of the Justice Department.
The idea of dismissing federal prosecutors originated in the White House more than a year earlier, White House and Justice officials said Monday. In early 2005, Harriet E. Miers, then the White House legal counsel, asked a Justice Department official whether it would be feasible to replace all United States attorneys when their four-year terms expired, according to the Justice Department. The proposal came as the administration was considering which political appointees to replace in the second term, Ms. Perino said.
Ms. Miers sent her query to D. Kyle Sampson, a top aide to Mr. Gonzales, the Justice officials said. Mr. Sampson, who resigned Monday, replied that filling so many jobs at once would overtax the department. He suggested replacing a smaller group, according to e-mail messages and other memorandums compiled by the Justice Department.
Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, also had rejected the idea of replacing all the prosecutors, Ms. Perino said. But as Ms. Miers worked with Mr. Sampson on devising a list of attorneys to oust, Mr. Rove relayed to her complaints he had received that the Justice Department was not moving aggressively on voter fraud cases.
Okay, so we have Harriet Miers asking a particularly stupid question, being told by the professionals that she is an idiot (reading between the lines) and Karl Rove agreeing with that assessment. So, the only “White House aide” wanting to do anything outrageous was Miers. Rove–who, I understand, is so evil as to make the anti-Christ look like Caspar the Friendly Ghost–cut her off at the pass.
The White House continued to defend its handling of the dismissals. “We continue to believe that the decision to remove and replace U.S. attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the president was perfectly appropriate and within our discretion,” Ms. Perino said. “We stand by the Department of Justice assertion that they identified the seven U.S. attorneys who were removed, as they have said, based on performance and managerial reasons.”
So, here’s my understanding of the scandal:
- The president expresses displeasure that some of his political appointees are not doing their job.
- His White House Counsel suggests firing everybody, whether they’re doing their job or not.
- His senior strategist says not to do that.
- Staffers go through the records and identify the 7 of 93 prosecutors (7.53%) who aren’t prosecuting a whole category of violations of federal law.
- The Attorney General fires those 7 political appointees.
Am I missing something here?
Were these firings “politically motivated”? I suppose so, although only under the broadest definition of that term. Then again, they are political appointees, not career civil servants. Presumably, they have that status because it was understood that U.S. Attorneys are policy makers, assigned to not only carry out the law but respond to the orders of the Chief Executive of the United States.
If they were being fired because they were prosecuting the president’s friends, that would be a problem. Similarly, if they were fired because they refused to prosecute the president’s enemies, that would be a problem. If the president or the AG were “suggesting” that specific people be singled out for selective prosecution of crimes, that would also be of concern.
From what I’m reading here, though, it sounds like these people were simply refusing to investigate and prosecute the generic class of voter fraud cases. Why can’t political appointees have their appointments stripped for that?