Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ask the U.S. Marshall, Josh Marshall

When considering the widening scandal of the U.S. Attorney purge, everyone should consider Josh Marshall's TPM as required reading. Not only is Josh supremely informed but his keen analytical skills enables him find the real story and, thanks to his perspicuity, he makes it easy to understand.
Before Mr. Sampson goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow, let's get one big chunk of administration bamboozlement out of the way. In a much-quoted passage from the prepared remarks he'll deliver tomorrow, Sampson says "The distinction between 'political' and 'performance-related' reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial."

This use of the word 'political' is at the heart of Sampson's and others effort to lie their way out of what happened here.

'Political' can mean many things in different contexts. US Attorneys are 'political' appointees, in that they are overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, drawn from among the president's political supporters. They are also subject to 'political' direction, in that they are expected to follow the administration's law enforcement priorities -- more or less gun prosecutions, crack downs on dead beat dads or pornography, etc.

Neither of these meanings of the word 'political' are what this investigation is about. And, like others, Sampson is using these multiple meanings of the word as a dodge. The charge against Sampson and crew is not that they fired them for 'political' reasons. The charge is that they fired these prosecutors for not using their law enforcement powers to help the Republican party.

Set aside for the moment whether the charge is proven or whether you think it's true. That is the charge. That's what this is about.

The evidence with respect to John McKay in Washington state and David Iglesias in New Mexico is copious and overwhelming. They were fired because Republicans in their states were angry they weren't seeking indictments against Democrats over bogus claims of voter fraud -- claims which are themselves cudgels in the GOP political arsenal. In the case of Iglesias his unwillingness to use his prosecutorial powers to turn a congressional election in the Republicans' favor also played a key, perhaps the decisive role. In the case of Carol Lam, the case remains circumstantial though very strong that she was fired for pursuing the expanded Cunningham investigation.

In the cases of the other US Attorneys it is not always clear precisely why they were fired. In a case like Arizona, scuttling an investigation into a Republican congressman seems a reasonable hypothesis. But we don't know enough to say. Yet in those cases where we lack clear evidence of a partisan political aim behind the firing, the lack of any other credible explanation and the clear-cut cases of McKay, Iglesias and Lam make an assumption of wrongdoing reasonable and the need for further scrutiny unquestionable.

But this is getting ahead of ourselves. This is all about the investigation and what it may or may not uncover. But Sampson's claim and conceit is not so much that he and his crew are innocent of the charge but that the charge doesn't even really exist, that it's all just a misunderstanding or a witch-hunt. What he did is fine, he says. The problem is just the "confusion, misunderstanding and embarrassment" caused by how the thing was handled.

So, have your eyes out for Sampson's word play and games. This investigation is about whether Sampson and his crew corrupted the justice system by purging US Attorneys who wouldn't use their prosecutorial powers to help the Republican party.


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