Wednesday, March 14, 2007

breaking the law

i was cruising by doug's place this morning and was disappointed to find a link to this tim zank rant in his "news of interest" box. not disappointed in tim zank, mind you—i don't expect much from him—but disappointed in doug for seemingly endorsing the post. zank's biddle-esque rant contains no links to anything (so if you don't know the story already, you won't learn it from zank), little factual information, and lots of childish name-calling.

zank's central argument is that US attorneys are employed "at will", so there's nothing wrong with bush firing a few, and that clinton did the same thing so nyah-nyah-nyah. also, zank really hates chuck schumer for some reason.

let's address the second part first. of course, the "they did it too!" argument isn't a good excuse to do something unethical. just because your opponent is willing to cross the line, that doesn't mean you should as well. but that's irrelevant, because naturally clinton did not do the same thing:

The Bush administration and its defenders like to point out that President Bush isn't the first president to fire U.S. attorneys and replace them with loyalists.

While that's true, the current case is different. Mass firings of U.S. attorneys are fairly common when a new president takes office, but not in a second-term administration. Prosecutors are usually appointed for four-year terms, but they are usually allowed to stay on the job if the president who appointed them is re-elected.

Even as they planned mass firings by the Bush White House, Justice Department officials acknowledged it would be unusual for the president to oust his own appointees. Although Bill Clinton ordered the wholesale removal of U.S. attorneys when he took office to remove Republican holdovers, his replacement appointees stayed for his second term.

Ronald Reagan also kept his appointees for his second term.

the washington post explains why the difference is significant (emphasis mine):

Although Bush and President Bill Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office, legal experts and former prosecutors say the firing of a large number of prosecutors in the middle of a term appears to be unprecedented and threatens the independence of prosecutors.

so what bushco did is unusual and unprecedented. but was it illegal, and if so, why?

zank is right about one (and only one) thing: bush had the power to fire the attorneys at any time. so that in itself isn't a big deal. but like any bush scandal, it doesn't stop there; it starts there.

so the bush white house developed a plan to fire US attorneys who weren't toeing the line closely enough. that was unprecedented and probably unethical, but in itself perhaps not illegal. but you know what's a felony? lying to congress. and AG gonzales lied to congress repeatedly about these firings. let's read what chuck schumer, that "asshole" with a microphone, had to say about this:

Here are some of the falsehoods we've been told that are now unraveling.

First, we were told that the seven of the eight U.S. attorneys were fired for performance reasons.

It now turns out this was a falsehood, as the glowing performance evaluations attest.

Second, we were told by the attorney general that he would, quote, "never, ever make a change for political reasons."

It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as all the evidence makes clear that this purge was based purely on politics, to punish prosecutors who were perceived to be too light on Democrats or too tough on Republicans.

Third, we were told by the attorney general that this was just an overblown personnel matter.

It now turns out that far from being a low-level personnel matter, this was a longstanding plan to exact political vendettas or to make political pay-offs.

Fourth, we were told that the White House was not really involved in the plan to fire U.S. attorneys. This, too, turns out to be false.

Harriet Miers was one of the masterminds of this plan, as demonstrated by numerous e-mails made public today. She communicated extensively with Kyle Sampson about the firings of the U.S. attorneys. In fact, she originally wanted to fire and replace the top prosecutors in all 93 districts across the country.

Fifth, we were told that Karl Rove had no involvement in getting his protege appointed U.S. attorney in Arkansas.

In fact, here is a letter from the Department of Justice. Quote: "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin."

It now turns out that this was a falsehood, as demonstrated by Mr. Sampson's own e-mail. Quote: "Getting him, Griffin, appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera.

Sixth, we were told to change the Patriot Act was an innocent attempt to fix a legal loophole, not a cynical strategy to bypass the Senate's role in serving as a check and balance.

It was Senator Feinstein who discovered that issue. She'll talk more about it.

So there has been misleading statement after misleading statement -- deliberate misleading statements. And we haven't gotten to the bottom of this yet, but believe me, we will pursue it.

pompous asshole or no, it kinda sounds like schumer has a point to me. of course, zank doesn't bother linking to schumer's statements, so if you only read zank's post, you wouldn't know what this is all about. (gonzales admits that "mistakes were made" but claims that the DoJ is just so big that he didn't know about any of the wrongdoing going on, or that his testimony before congress was a pack of lies.)

so is this another case of the coverup becoming the crime, where the original act was not in itself illegal, but crimes were committed while trying to cover it up? if gonzales had come out on day one and said, "yeah, we fired 'em for purely political reasons, so what?" would that have prevented the scandal? well, not necessarily. josh marshall explains:

First, we now know -- or at least the White House is trying to tell us -- that they considered firing all the US Attorneys at the beginning of Bush's second term. That would have been unprecedented but not an abuse of power in itself. The issue here is why these US Attorneys were fired and the fact that the White House intended to replace them with US Attorneys not confirmed by the senate. We now have abundant evidence that they were fired for not sufficiently politicizing their offices, for not indicting enough Democrats on bogus charges or for too aggressively going after Republicans. (Remember, Carol Lam is still the big story here.) We also now know that the top leadership of the Justice Department lied both to the public and to Congress about why the firing took place. As an added bonus we know the whole plan was hatched at the White House with the direct involvement of the president.

The issue here is why these US Attorneys were fired -- a) because they weren't pursuing a GOP agenda of indicting Democrats, that's a miscarriage of justice, and b) because they lied to Congress about why it happened.

carol lam was the prosecutor who brought down duke cunningham... and seemed to be on the verge of bringing down other powerful republicans as well. as josh says, "for most White Houses, a US attorney involved in such a politically charged and ground-breaking corruption probe would have been untouchable, even if she'd run her office like a madhouse and was offering free twinkies to every illegal who made it across the border." yet lam was fired... obviously because of her investigation into high-profile republicans.

similarly, david iglesias was fired presumably because he wouldn't go after enough democrats (or go after them fast enough), and wouldn't waste his time investigating bogus "voter fraud" complaints.

i'm no lawyer, so i can't tell you exactly what laws those actions break (josh calls it miscarriage of justice), but it sure as hell sounds illegal. and if not that, it's undeniably unethical. so how is it that chuck schumer is the bad guy in all this?


Doug said...

Wasn't meant as an endorsement. Actually, I think I just got a little click happy -- I read that one, but was really trying to get all of the links discussing Mike Kole's post about government health care, and the Walter Reed debacle. (One at Kole's place, one at Reverent and Free, and one at Just for the Record.)

And, for what it's worth, I think it's horseshit to can U.S. Attorneys for political reasons such that prosecutorial independence is compromised.

As an attorney, I'm biased of course, but a big reason why our democracy has done so much better than those elsewhere has a lot to do with our legal system. And I'm not talking about a legislature with elected officials who write laws. I'm talking about the place where the rubber meets the road -- the courts. If the populace doesn't believe that he court system is more or less fair and more or less impartial (the occasional excessive verdict and occasional celebrity escape notwithstanding), the democracy is almost impossible to maintain because the laws are almost impossible to enforce without the consent of the governed.

So ends my little civics rant.

stAllio! said...

obviously a link is not the same thing as an endorsement, and i figured you didn't intend it as such, but i found it odd that the only link on your blog related to this story was a dismissive one.

at any rate, it got me to get off my ass and blog, which i haven't been doing as often as i should the past couple months. (i'm just too busy doing house repairs, paying work, and trying to finish up the next AWIA album.)

Doug said...

Every so often, I'll have to throw little conservative fringe easter eggs into my blog just as a little incentive for you to get to work!