Monday, March 19, 2007

Bookman: Gonzales' lies give justice a dirty name

"I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee two months ago.

If you want to understand how a pretty minor story — the removal of eight U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration — has somehow metastasized into a major controversy, that statement by Gonzales is your Rosetta Stone. It opens the door to the three levels of scandal in this story, ranging from relatively minor to potentially grave and earthshaking.

Let's start with the relatively minor. In his statement to Congress, Gonzales acknowledges it would be wrong to remove prosecutors for political reasons. It is so wrong, he tells Congress, that he would never, ever do such a terrible thing.

And yet he did.

Since that statement, the evidence has become overwhelming that some if not most of the attorneys were ousted for political reasons, with considerable input from the White House. One of the eight, for example, was removed as U.S. attorney in Arkansas despite glowing performance reviews. Why? So an aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove could get the job.

Now, that's not a huge scandal. Such decisions, even if made on a political basis, are clearly within a president's prerogative. They do bring into question the judgment of those who would treat one of the most important jobs in federal law enforcement like a mere political plum, but they do not explain why this scandal threatens the careers and reputations of some of the most powerful people in Washington.

To understand that, you have to step to the next level: By denying any political motive or involvement by the White House, Gonzales and other Bush officials lied to the U.S. Senate. That has angered politicians of both parties, leading at least two Republican senators to demand Gonzales' resignation. It's almost funny — a Congress that has allowed itself to be lied to, stonewalled, ignored and ridiculed by the administration for six years over issues fundamental to government finally gets upset at how it's treated, and it's over something like this.

The third level of this scandal is by far the most troubling and explosive, and also the least understood. It goes to how and why those eight prosecutors were selected for replacement despite the fact that most of them were Bush appointees who had conducted themselves well as U.S. attorneys.

John McKay, a well respected Republican lawyer ousted as U.S. attorney in Seattle, says he may have been tagged for removal because he fended off unethical demands from Republican leaders to pursue charges of vote fraud against Washington Democrats, even though those charges were groundless.

"There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury,'' says McKay, who suggests a special prosecutor may be needed to determine the full extent of this scandal.

David Iglesias, the equally well respected Republican ousted as U.S. attorney in New Mexico, believes that he, too, was removed because he ignored pressure from fellow Republicans to indict Democrats just before the 2006 elections. Iglesias has told Congress he felt pressured by phone calls from a U.S. senator and congresswoman; barely a week after the election, his name was added to an internal list of attorneys to be removed.

The most troubling case may be that of Carol Lam, a U.S. attorney from San Diego who put Duke Cunningham, a Republican congressman from California, in federal prison on corruption charges. On the day the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam was also investigating U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the powerful head of the House Appropriations Committee, a top Justice Department official sent an internal e-mail to the White House, complaining about "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam," suggesting a replacement be found quickly.

Any implication that a U.S. attorney's employment depends on his or her willingness to protect a president's political allies and persecute his enemies strikes at the heart of public confidence in the system. Here in Georgia, for example, defenders of former state Sen. Charles Walker, a top Democrat now serving a federal prison term, have long argued that he was the victim of politically motivated prosecution.

That's not the case; Walker was guilty and got what he deserved. But in some quarters this scandal will be seen as lending credence to Walker's claim, and that's unfortunate.


yashuwa said...


MUD said...

The question that comes to mind is what was the status of these attorneys? Where they political appointees that have been replaced by the President in the past? A lot of time people make dismissals a big thing when it often normal for the person who has the right to appoint people to dis-appoint them. The Attorney General of Kansas was defeated in the last election and then was appointed to the Johnson County County Attorney's office and immediately discharged five or six people that had supported the person that defeated him from the higher office. Happens all the time. Besides, what do you have when you have 9 attorneys buried up to their neck in sand? Not enough sand!

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The Real Mother Hen said...

If this happens in another country, our dear government will immediately condemn the country for lacking transparency, for vioting human rights, and all other excuses we can find under the sun! But now it actually happens within the US, hhmm... I wonder what other countries are saying about us. But of course, our news won't report any negative comments :)

tnmartin said...

Funny, I must have overlooked the outrage when the Clintonoids fired nearly ALL the US Attorneys. Including, oddly, the one investigating allegations of corruption against HIM. Perhaps I overlooked the outrage?
If it was OK for Mr. Clinton to do so, perhaps as a way of staying out of jail, then it is OK for Mr. Bush to do so as a way of dealing with less-than-stellar performance.
Cursory research would have revealed that these appointees serve at the pleasure of the President. And not a second longer.

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Vic Demise said...

I'm SO with you, and yet, this firing scandal is the LEAST of offences by this admin. Dear GOD we have to impeach these bastards- prosecute them. I'm tired of worrying about the future ALL the TIME. I need to sleep again someday, but every time I turn around these pricks are up to something AWFULL.