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Rove’s Unclean Hands


The LATimes (H/T to RealWorld) has a review of US Attorney hiring and firing practices — and it turns out the wingnut talking point on the Clinton firings didn't go back far enough in political history.  Unfortunately for the wingnuts, Ronald Reagan did it, too.

Both McNulty and Sampson acknowledged that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, brought in a new slate of U.S. attorneys within a few months of taking office.

But historical data compiled by the Senate show the pattern going back to President Reagan.

Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office. President Clinton had 89 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years, and President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years.

In a similar vein, the Justice Department recently supplied Congress with a district-by-district listing of U.S. attorneys who served prior to the Bush administration.

The list shows that in 1981, Reagan's first year in office, 71 of 93 districts had new U.S. attorneys. In 1993, Clinton's first year, 80 of 93 districts had new U.S. attorneys.

Further, from the article, as I have been saying the last few days: once you become a prosecutor, politics is not supposed to be the primary determinative factor in charging and investigative decisions — to make politics the primary determinant is to pervert the process. From the LATimes:

Many former U.S. attorneys draw a sharp distinction between the political nature of the appointment and the apolitical role of law enforcement.

"The process of selection is political, but once you are there, you can't be political," said Daniel French, who was a Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney in Syracuse, N.Y.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with [former White House Counsel] Harriet Miers saying, 'We want all new people in office.' "

But he said the administration would cross the line if it interfered in a politically sensitive prosecution.

Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney from Minnesota who served under Bush — as well as in the elder Bush's administration — said a White House move to fire a large number of U.S. attorneys was quite different from replacing the appointees of a previous administration.

"In my opinion, it is not comparable," said Heffelfinger, a Republican who resigned voluntarily from his Justice Department post last year.

"When you have a transition between presidents — especially presidents of different parties — a U.S. attorney anticipates that you will be replaced in due course. But the unwritten, No. 1 rule at [the Justice Department] is that once you become a U.S. attorney you have to leave politics at the door," he said.

And this is the crux of the problem. Of the 85 US Attorneys who were not pushed out the door, how many of them skewed their prosecutorial mandate to fit their actions into what the White House and Karl Rove's political shop wanted? How many of them were taking marching orders from the political appointees at the DoJ? How many cases have been brought over the last six years under color of legitimacy but were, in fact, pushed based on politically vindictive circumstances or, worse, in an attempt to pervert the long-term political dynamic in this country?

And, contrary to Tony Snow's tap dancing assertions from the briefing podium, how exactly are Americans supposed to be reassured about any of this — about the sanctity of the judicial process, of the criminal justice system, that it is not being used as a cudgel with which to take out one's political adversaries as its primary mission — without public, open testimony under oath by the very political string-pullers who have caused this crisis in the first place by attempting to manipulate the rule of law to their own political ends?

Which leads to the following questions from Rayne and Looseheadprop:

What, if any phone call(s) USA’s may have received in advance of 07-DEC, when they were encouraged to start looking for a new position.

To acting USA’s that filled in after the USA’s were dismissed: were they interviewed to succeed as permanent USA, but did not receive the appointment because Karl Rove did not approve their appointment.

When was the first time they may have heard of Karl Rove, and what, if any, involvement do they believe he had with your dismissal, or the selection of their successor and their appointment.

How about we start asking those questions and requiring some answers?

For more on this, the NYTimes has an article today on former prosecutors who are serving in the Senate and, particularly, on the Senate Judiciary Comittee.  The WaPo has more on the behind the scenes machinations by Rove's political shop and others.  Just for fun, TPM has this exchange between Sens. Leahy and Specter — quite the amusing back and forth, I must say.  And the Chicago Tribune has a followup to the presser in Chicago that Sparkles alluded to yesterday in the comments — apparently, Patrick Fitzgerald is getting quite the ribbing from his pals about his mediocre rating:

A Washington Post story earlier this week said Fitzgerald had been ranked as undistinguished on a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005.

The rating appeared to be more about his perceived loyalty to the Bush administration than a judgment of his performance….

James Comey, a close friend and a former deputy attorney general who appointed Fitzgerald special counsel in the leak probe, agreed that it has been "the source of great merriment" among Fitzgerald's friends.

"I called him when it came out, and he said 'I'm just an average guy having an average day,'" Comey said. "He just laughed about it. It doesn't require its own rebuttal. It's sort of like saying, 'Derek Jeter is an average shortstop.'"

I think it is well past time that folks looked at the Orrin Hatch connection on this — because an awful lot of Orrin's boys have their fingers in this festering political pie.  And while we are asking questions, why did Sen. Domenici call Iglesias at home?  Calling the man at home just raises all sorts of questions for me, including:  Was it to avoid a recordation of the phone call, since all calls to US Attorney offices are logged, and a home phone call would not be officially logged into the record?  Shouldn't someone start asking investigative questions on this of Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, who tried to politically tag team on this issue?

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com