Hogan's Alley

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Firing US Attorneys - Sound And Fury Signifying What?

So far I have avoided writing about the developing "scandal" surrounding the firing of eight US Attorneys. I simply couldn't believe that this matter would have any legs. After all, US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. Every President has the right to have the Justice Department make its choices as to the use of resources and the focus of its efforts according to his or her political view. That is what elections are, in part, about. Further, when Billary came into office, like most recent Presidents of both parties, they fired 93 US Attorneys sight unseen.

Why then the ruckus over this event? If you scratch the stories in the MSM and read the blogs screaming the loudest you quickly learn that, aside from their delight in any opportunity to hammer the Bush administration, there is the whiff of a suspicion that at least one, and possibly two of the US Attorneys were discharged for either too lenient pursuit of charges against Democratic operatives or too aggressive pursuit of Republicans.

So far, there is not a shred of proof of any such behavior. In todays NY Times there is an extensive review of the case of David Iglesias, the former US Attorney in New Mexico. What this investigative report reveals...alert the rest of the media pack...is that politicians and their operatives sought to influence the behavior of the government in a way that would favor their party's interests. That is as universal and time honored a behavior as exists in American politics. There is nothing new or criminal in any of these revelations.

In fact, this report seems to show that Attorney General Gonzales ignored the pleadings of Sen. Pete Domenici. Here is the time line presented as a graphic in the Times' piece:

(Check this link of the image is not readable.)

Look particularly at the following dates:

Sept. 2005, Domenici calls Gonzales about the matter. Gonzales does nothing.

Jan. 31, 2006, Domenici calls Gonzales again. Gonzales does nothing.

April 2006, Domenici again calls Gonzales. Again, Gonzales does nothing.

October 26 or 27, 2006, Domenici gives up trying to get something done through Gonzales and calls Iglesias directly.

November 15, 2006, Iglesias' name is released on a list of US Attorneys to be fired. How his name got on that list is not known, although Harriet Miers' deputy logically assumes that Domenici will be happy, and presumably will stop harassing the White House about this matter.

Up to this point in time, the prime target of the press and the blogs has been Gonzales. The report by the Times would seem to demonstrate that there is no available evidence that Gonzales was involved directly in the decision.

The other perspective that is relevant to this discussion is the pursuit of political targets by other US Attorneys. I live in the NY media market. Here, in the Southern District of New York, the US Attorney's office is pursuing corruption in the Republican led City of Yonkers, where supoenas have been issued. Last year the same office opened an investigation into an alleged conspiracy between former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro and former nominee for to head the Department of Homeland Security, Bernie Kerik, to bug Pirro's husband's boat seeking evidence of his philandering. Pirro's eventually dropped out of the race for NY Attorney General and her political future and that of the NY Republican party were destroyed by revelations about this investigation. The US Attorney for NY's name did not appear on the hit list of USA's to be fired. I am willing to wager that there are dozens of other political investigations ongoing throughout the country, given the dishonesty of the political class. How many districts have such prosecutions under way? Why where none of these other USA's fired? Was it only because Domenici made such a pain in the ass of himself? That certainly seems likely.

The truth is that the goal of all this noise has nothing to do with some great principle about how the independence of the Justice Department is to be maintained inside a highly charged political environment. This is simply this year's example of got'cha politics. The hoped for Fitzmas gift of Rove or Chenney's head on a platter has not panned out. This is just round two.

It is also true that the Bush Administration, no surprise here, has mishandled this affair from the get go. Instead of simply quickly demanding the full story from the involved players and then putting that full story out to the public, the White House and Justice Department have performed like the equivalent of the Keystone Cops. They have changed the story at least two or three times so far.

Like all other such efforts in our sorry time, Whitewatergate, Blowjobgate, etc., this effort will result in no substantive charges or reforms. What its advocates hope for is the investigation itself. For it is the slow drip of daily reports that gives the impression that some serious misdeed has been committed. More important than the predictable degradation in the public's regard for the Administration, (and by the way, could it possibly go any lower?) there will be the all important testimony under oath before Congressional committees. The jackals surrounding the current episode, in this version they happen to be Democrats, hope and pray for some fool (God wouldn't it be great if Bush pulled a Clinton on this one?) to tell a lie under oath. That will produce the evidence necessary for the appointment of another Special Prosecutor, or the redirection of Fitzgerald's dwindling efforts. That in turn will provide the background of alleged scandal the party out of power can flog as another reason for electing them right through to the 2008 election.

The clearest evidence of this is the presence of New York's Sen. Schumer, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Election Committee, at the head of the pack.

The only policy reform likely to eventually emerge from our sad political process of the last three decades is for us to bite the bullet and institutionalize the office of Special Prosecutor as a standing fourth branch of our government. Think how much easy material would be available every day for the media to churn. And think of the joy over at the Jon Stewart, Leno, Letterman and Co. The fact that we are slowly murdering a once great nation's political institutions is of no concern to any of the current players.

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