For some time congress has conducted an investigation into the firing of seven U.S. Attorneys by the Bush administration. Headlines have been made, subpoenas issued and criticism of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as well as President Bush is rampant by Democrats and their house organs in print. But what is this all about?
Will Rogers had it right when he said:
"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."
The investigation into these firings would be comical if it wasn’t so insincere and serious.
Congressional Democrats have been chomping at the bit for years over the firing of these seven U.S. Attorneys because they see in this a "scandal" that can be exploited for political purposes. Especially newsworthy for Democrats and media allies is the possibility that instructions for the firings originated in the White House so they can blame President Bush for "the politicization of our prosecutorial system" (as per Senator Hillary Clinton).
It’s interesting that Hillary is leading this charge because she has personal experience with firing of U.S. Attorneys from her time as first lady to the morally corrupt President Bill Clinton. In the current investigation Hillary could be a prime witness along with that felon, Webster Hubbell who, in addition to being a former partner of Hillary in a Little Rock law firm, was Associate Attorney General under Janet Reno during the Clinton administration.
As everyone knows Mr. Hubbell was a former partner of Mrs. Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock and went to jail for mail fraud and tax evasion. While he was Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department, Janet Reno, his nominal superior, simultaneously fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys in March 1993; they were given 10 days to move out of their offices.
Democrats like to portray firing of all U.S. Attorneys at once by Clinton as something perfectly ordinary while the firings under Bush were "politically motivated": "All those people are routinely replaced," Clinton told reporters, "and I have not done anything differently." In fact however, the dismissals were unprecedented: Previous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, had both retained holdovers from the previous Administration and only replaced them gradually as their tenures expired. This allowed continuity of leadership within the U.S. Attorney offices during the transition. George Bush did the same thing when he came into office. In reality, Attorney General Gonzales only fired 7 of 93 U.S. Attorneys (7.53%).
The only involvement of the White House was an expression by the president that some of his political appointees are not doing their job by not aggressively addressing voter fraud. This was in reaction to concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not doing enough to investigate and prosecute fraud during recent elections. Among them was Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, who complained directly to the president. There was good reason to claim the fired U.S. Attorneys were not doing their job.
Take fired U.S. Attorney John McKay from Washington State for example. In 2004, the Governor's race was decided in favor of Democrat Christine Gregoire by 129 votes on a third recount. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other media outlets reported, some of the "voters" were deceased, others were registered in storage-rental facilities, and still others were convicted felons. More than 100 ballots were "discovered" in a Seattle warehouse. None of this constitutes proof that the election was stolen. But it should have been enough to prompt Mr. McKay, a Democrat, to investigate, something he declined to do, apparently on grounds that he had better things to do.
In New Mexico, another state in an election was decided by a thin margin, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias did establish a voter fraud task force in 2004. But it lasted all of 10 weeks before closing its doors, despite evidence of irregularities by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn. As Wall Street Journal John Fund reported at the time, Acorn's director Matt Henderson refused to answer questions in court about whether his group had illegally made copies of voter registration cards in the run-up to the 2004 election.
In the case of some of the other fired Attorneys, at least one seemed to be due to differences with the Administration about the death penalty; another firing dealt with questions about the Attorney's managerial skills. It is no surprise the dismissed Attorneys insisted their dismissals were unfair. However even if "unfair" it would not be the first time in history that a dismissed employee did not take kindly to his firing, nor would it be the first in which an employer sacked the wrong person. Obviously, the Justice Department and White House have botched the handling of this issue. But there is really no evidence that the Administration acted improperly or to protect some of its friends. If Democrats want to understand what a real abuse of power looks like, they can always ask Senator Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill.
Were these firings "politically motivated"; perhaps although only under the broadest definition of that term? However U.S. Attorneys are political appointees, not career civil servants. They likely 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 wrong. If they were fired because they refused to prosecute the president’s enemies, that would be wrong. If the president or the Attorney General were "suggesting" that specific people be singled out for selective prosecution of crimes; that would also be wrong. However none of that was an issue in the firing of these 7 political appointees; they were let go simply for refusing to investigate and prosecute general voter fraud cases. Why can’t political appointees be fired for failing to do their job?
Looking back to the firing of all 93 U.S. Attorneys under the Bill Clinton administration; there were extraordinary circumstances indeed and politics were at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was investigating then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, and was "within 30 days" of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski, who was directing Clinton's economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.
Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons' Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint "Friend of Bill" Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas insiders including Bill and Hillary Clinton. When it comes to "politicizing" the Justice Department, the Bush administration are rank amateurs compared to the Clintons.
Not many rise to the defense of President Bush in connection with the purported "firing scandal" but the Wall Street Journal did say:
"[T]hese are the same Democrats who didn’t raise a whimper when Bill Clinton’s Attorney General Janet Reno sacked all 93 U.S. attorneys in one unclean sweep upon taking office. Previous Presidents had kept the attorneys in place until they could replace each one. That was a more serious abuse than anything known about these Bush dismissals."