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March 01, 2007

Sacking Attorneys and Packing the Courts

"I would never, ever make a change in the United States attorney position for political reasons", Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in Senate testimony in early January. In a Feb. 6 hearing, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told lawmakers, "When I hear you talk about the politicizing of the Department of Justice, it's like a knife in my heart."

Putting aside McNulty's gothic fantasies, recent developments in the Case of the Disappearing U.S. Attorneys point to this emerging reality: Gonzales and McNulty are lying. I've blogged about the mysterious firings of Bush administration U.S. attorneys here, here and here. The order came down on eight U.S. attorneys last December when they were notified they'd better pack their bags and move along little doggies. No reasons were given for their dismissals, only some vaguely worded whitewash from McNulty about performance-related problems. Hmm. Salon has a different take:

Suspicions about the unusual purge of eight U.S. attorneys in December exploded into the open across the legal community and on Capitol Hill after McNulty conceded in Senate testimony on Feb. 6 that the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, Bud Cummins, was pushed out for no other reason than to give someone else a shot at the job.

That someone else turned out to be Ted Griffin, a former RNC operative and little buddy to Karl Rove.

More recently, U.S. attorney Carol Lam, who is best known for nailing corrupt Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and his partners in crime, was replaced Feb. 15 by Karen Hewitt, who according to a Justice Department press release, "will serve on an interim basis until a United States Attorney is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate."

It's just such a darned shame that Hewitt has virtually no experience in criminal law.

Seattle's U.S. Attorney, John McKay, had a different problem. Apparently, he was over-qualified for the position. After the 9/11 attacks he:

...personally handled high-profile prosecutions, including that of Ahmed Ressam, who had driven across the Canada-U.S. Border with plans to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the turn of the millenium. In 2004, at a time when poor coordination among law enforcement agencies had been judged at least partly to blame for the 9/11attacks, McKay developed an innovative data-sharing system that continues to be rolled out today in law enforcement offices nationwide.

But the skeletons really rattled out of the closet Wednesday with this little tidbit:

U.S. Attorney David Iglesias said two members of Congress separately called in mid-October to inquire about the timing of an ongoing probe of a kickback scheme and appeared eager for an indictment to be issued on the eve of the elections in order to benefit the Republicans. He refused to name the members of Congress because he said he feared retaliation.


Iglesias, who received a positive performance review before he was fired, said he suspected he was forced out because he resisted the pressure and did not indict anyone before the election. "I believe that because I didn't play ball, so to speak, I was asked to resign," said Iglesias, who officially stepped down Wednesday.

The old McNulty-knife-in-the-heart-trick! And Josh Marshall inquires if Republican Reps Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici might have had a hand in it. Clearly, there's pattern at work here. U.S. attorneys, all appointed by Bush, must not engage in professional conduct that includes: investigating, indicting and convicting corrupt Republicans (like Cunningham); creating effective data-sharing programs across law enforcement agencies, like the ones recommended by the 9/11 commission; or waiting for stronger evidence with which to convict Democrats, even if it means not smearing them in time for Republicans to win an election.

The stench of the Bush administration's lies is finally choking off all the breathable air on Capitol Hill, and today the House Judiciary Subcommitte on Commercial and Administrative Law is voting on whether to issue subpoenas to Carol Lam, David Iglesias, Bud Cummins and John McKay. The Senate, ever the slow-poke, is working on its own plan for subpoenas. Getting these attorneys' statements on the Congressional record will be crucial to setting the foundation for issuing more subpoenas and further questioning Gonzales and McNulty -- under oath, with no crutch of plausible deniability to lean on. There is no hope of protecting the constitutional standard of an independent judiciary unless the Congress acts. Loopholes injected into the constitutionally questionable Patriot Act, giving the administration avenues to bypass Senate confirmation of U.S. attorneys, are a clear and present danger to that concept of independence. The future judges of district and circuit courts are often found among the ranks of the U.S. attorneys. And from there it is but a step to an appointment as justice to the Supreme Court. If we don't demand that this administration play by the accepted rules set down over 200 years ago, rules that preserve the delicate balance between the three branches of power, then we are surely looking down into a crevasse -- an empty, frozen cleavage where authoritarianism reigns. We'd better step deftly and get back onto the ridge. Otherwise, the democracy we've been taking for granted for so long is going to be left to evaporate into the clouds.

Update: The House Judiciary Committee voted to issue the four subpoenas.

Posted by shoephone on March 1, 2007 at 02:41 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink


Great post, shoe -

I think the crux of this for me is the clear attempt to short-circuit the Senate's ability to check the executive branch, under the guise of homeland security exigencies. I can't be the only one who finds it ironic that while Gonzales' explanation for why this provision needed to be in Patriot Act II was that the president needed the flexibility in a time of crisis, there was no crisis - unless you believe that prosecutors actually doing their jobs is a crisis. Apparently they do.

I guess what also bothers me is that this administration views the government as a vehicle for rewarding the loyalists and big donors, with no consideration given to what it means if the person appointed has neither the skills nor the experience to actually perform the job. Incomptence and inexperience at the highest levels of agencies and departments has had a cascading effect that has made government less able to serve the people - and the fact that this administration doesn't care that it is failing the people it serves continues to astonish me (although, after 6 years of this, you'd think my supply of astonishment would have long since dried up).

I would dearly love to see Alberto Gonzales disbarred for perverting and subverting so many aspects of the judicial process and the law.

Posted by: Anne | Mar 1, 2007 4:44:19 AM

Shoephone, excellent job pulling together the strings of this story to get to the diabolical plan at the root of it. The Republicans are a truly reactionary party - in this instance, trying to undo all the reforms that throughout our history have replaced so much political patronage with a merit-based civil service system. I hope it doesn't take another hundred years to undo the giant steps backward of the Bush administration.

As long as corporations have the status of individuals in law, eternal vigilance will be needed to curb the takeover of governance by the monied interests, fronted by authoritarian leaders.

Posted by: op99 | Mar 1, 2007 5:50:52 AM

Brava, shoephone! How can it be that this "clear and present danger" has BEEN clear and present for over six years and our Congress -- even when Gooper-led -- do jack-diddly about it? The surreality of the whole period stops me in my tracks every time I try to take it all in, but that these mopes have aided and abetted the gutting of the Constitution is by far the worst of it.

Gonzales, Ashcroft, and all their minions should face disbarment at the very least; for my money, they AND their Congressional enablers are traitors who fully deserve life imprisonment -- along with hundreds of others in Bush-Cheney's orbit. Literal rotters.

Posted by: lotus | Mar 1, 2007 6:21:22 AM

P.S. Got so mad, I forgot to tell you how much I admire that last metaphor. You good, shoe.

Posted by: lotus | Mar 1, 2007 6:23:14 AM

With this gang of criminals in power for six years, I bet you could support articles of impeachment with literally thousands of particular examples. Wouldn't it be wild to see such a thing introduced? We have been so inundated with illegalities, each individual one gets trivialized in and of itself. So throw the book at them for everything.

Posted by: op99 | Mar 1, 2007 7:39:35 AM

I remember two years ago there was a small artical in the paper by Associated Press that mentioned that anyone being considered for employment by the Federal Goverment,would have to be vetted by the Republican Party, before being hired.

I have long wanted to develop the argument that it doesn't matter who the Republican presidental candidate is, because virtually everyone hired during the Bush Administration in positions of leadership, were hired for their 'crony'istic abilities to further the financial stuffing of our tax dollers into the pockets of 'Friends of Friends of Bush.'

The American people need the federal goverment to be purged of all these cronys or there will be a constant undermining of financial check's and balances, by these greed based 'Friends'.

I am 'guestimating' that this would mean firing thousands and thousands of people who helped Bush get 'elected.' They were rewarded with cushy employment in positions they were not qualified for, in return for their continued loyalty to the people who hi-jacked the Republican Party, rather then loyalty to the people of the United States in general.

Posted by: Mar | Mar 1, 2007 12:02:12 PM

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