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“But Clinton Did It Toooooo!” Uh, No He Didn’t.

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Don't cha just love how the conservative "moral clarity" types suddenly become relativists when confronted by wrongdoing in their god-king Bush?

No matter the action, when Bush or his people are caught doing something, from abusing signing statements to firing US Attorneys en masse, the automatic, unthinking, Pavlovian screech from the perpetually whiny children that make up "the right" is: "But Clinton did it toooo! Moooooom!"

Except, of course, that 99.9% of the time Clinton really didn't do it.

Take signing statements, for instance. As with his predecessors, Bill Clinton used the signing statement — which, compared to Bush, he used very sparingly; only about three and a half-dozen times as opposed to Bush's nearly eight hundred times so far — as a way to comment on a particular piece of legislation. That's fine and dandy; that's what the things are for. But when George W. Bush moved into the White House, he brought David Addington with him — and David Addington was the evil jerk who came up with the idea of using signing statements to actually alter the intended effects of the legislation — and in some cases, to counter them:

According to the Boston Globe, Addington has been the “leading architect” of these signing statements, which have been added to more than seven hundred and fifty laws. He reportedly scrutinizes every bill before President Bush signs it, searching for any language that might impinge on Presidential power. These wars of words are yet another battlefront between Addington and Congress, and some constitutional scholars find them troubling. Few of the signing statements were noticed until one of them was slipped into Bush’s signing of the McCain amendment. The language was legal boilerplate, reserving the right to construe the legislation only as it was consistent with the Constitution. But, considering that Cheney’s office had waged, and lost, a public fight to defeat the McCain amendment democratically—the vote in the Senate was 90–9—the signing statement seemed sneaky and subversive.

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association voted to investigate whether President Bush had exceeded his constitutional authority by reserving the right to ignore portions of laws that he has signed. Richard Epstein, the University of Chicago law professor, said, “What’s frightening to me is that this Administration is always willing to push the conventions to the limits—and beyond. With his signing statements, I think the President just goes too far. If you sign these things with a caveat, do the inferior officers follow the law or the caveat?”

Bruce Fein argues that Addington’s signing statements are “unconstitutional as a strategy,” because the Founding Fathers wanted Presidents to veto legislation openly if they thought the bills were unconstitutional. Bush has not vetoed a single bill since taking office. “It’s part of the balancing process,” Fein said. “It’s about accountability. If you veto something, everyone knows where you stand. But this President wants to do it sotto voce. He wants to give the image that he’s accommodating on torture, and then reserves the right to torture anyway.”

As with signing statements, so it is with the US Attorneys.

For one thing, as any person with a functioning brain knows, yes indeed — the common practice for new presidents is to replace the previous president's political appointees, which include US Attorneys. They can, of course, let them stay on, but much if not most of the time, they are replaced. This happens even if the previous president was of the same party as the new one; remember the big stink that was made by the conservatives when George Herbert Walker Bush, Dim Son's dad (and who hardcore cons never accepted as one of them), got rid of a bunch of Reagan appointees when he assumed office in 1989?

But what is NOT usual — what is, in fact, downright frowned upon — is replacing your own appointees en masse because they refuse to put party before country. That's what we're talking about with the Dauphin here.

Over at DailyKos, regular FDL commenter litigatormom rips into this particular wrinkle of the "But Clinton did it tooooo!" whine with gusto. She points to Kyle Sampson's own words, in the January 9, 2006 e-mail he wrote to Harriet "Fire 'Em All" Miers, in which he says flat-out that Clinton DIDN'T do it:

…once confirmed by the Senate and appointed,U.S. Attorneys serve for four years and then holdover indefinitely (at the pleasure of the President, of course). In recent memory, during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, Presidents Reagan and Clinton did not seek to remove and replace the U.S. Attorneys they had appointed whose terms had expired, but instead permitted those U.S. Attorneys to serve indefinitely under the holdover provision. (Underscoring in original.)

Why weren't previous Prezzes quick to zap the US Attorneys? Sampson posits these reasons:

There are several likely explanations for this: in some cases Presidents Reagan and Clinton may have been pleased with the work of the U.S. Attorneys, who, after all, they had appointed. In other instances, Presidents Reagan and Clinton may simply have been unwilling to commit the resources necessary to remove the U.S. Attorneys, find suitable replacements (i.e., seek the "advice" of the home-state Senators), complete background investigations, and secure Senate confirmations. (Emphasis added.)

But of course, by the time Sampson wrote his January 9, 2006 e-mail, Senate confirmation was no longer an obstacle. Why?

Because in December of 2005 — less than a month before Sampson wrote his e-mail — Arlen Specter did the Bush Junta a big, big favor. He inserted language into the "Patriot" Act — which was up for renewal at the time — that allowed the Attorney General to simply hire and fire US Attorneys at will, without needing Senate confirmation.

As Josh Marshall pointed out, it was this newly-acquired ability to hire and fire US Attorneys at will that enabled the purges to be dreamed up in the first place. Without this ability, the purges would not have been possible.   Each of the new hires would have had to go through the Senate first — at which point questions would have come up about why this purge was happening in the first place.

Feel free to pass this bit of knowledge on to the next reporter or newspaper or anyone else that unthinkingly repeats the GOP's "But Clinton did it tooooo!" spin.

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