Friday, March 23, 2007

It's really that simple

Josh Marshall explains that the scandal surrounding the U.S. Attorney firings is really quite simple if you're not being deliberately obtuse like Michael Kinsley.

It's all worth a run-down, a refresher on where we are in this whole sordid mess.

First, is this about firings? Kinsley is still mulling over whether this is comparable to Bill Clinton's entirely normal dismissal of US Attorneys when he came into office. Would it be as big a deal if the Bush White House had fired all the US Attorneys at the start of the second term, as folks at the White House first seemed to have considered?

The firings were not the offense. They were the clue that suggested the offense. As the Congressional Research Service has shown, over the last twenty-five years only ten US Attorneys have been dismissed other than at the beginning of a new president's term of office. And of those eight were for clear cause. For instance, one of them bit a stripper on the arm in a night club. And that, not surprisingly, led to his ouster.

To quote the CRS report ...

In virtually all of those 10 previous cases, serious issues of personal or professional conduct appeared to be the driving issue. Prior to December, for example, only two U.S. Attorneys were outright fired for improper, and in one case criminal, behavior. The CRS report identifies six other U.S. Attorneys who resigned during the 25-year period who were implicated in news reports of “questionable conduct.” For two others, the CRS was unable to determine the cause.

(For more details on this key element of the firings story, see this discussion by Scott Lilly.)

In any case, ten times over twenty five years and in eight of those cases for clear and publicly aired reasons.

And then on one day, secretly and with no explanation, seven get canned. And several are involved in corruption investigations targetting Republicans. The first public explanation is that they were fired for poor performance. But then it turns most were among the highest performing US Attorneys in the country. Add in the fact that one of the eight was overseeing one of the broadest ranging and historic public corruption cases in US history and ... well, it all got our attention.

Then, only a little digging revealed clear evidence that two of the US Attorneys were dismissed for not pursuing bogus claims of Democratic 'voter fraud'.

Now, Kinsley seems to have bought in to David Brooks artfully laddled line that some of the firings seem to have been for partisan political reasons (bad) while others were for policy political reasons (not necessarily bad). But with all due respect, like history repeating itself, it only looks that way to those who don't know the details.

One point not many have yet noticed is that the Justice Department actually singled-out David Iglesias for his expertise on voter fraud issues and selected him to train other US Attorneys on voter fraud issues -- so great was their confidence in his grasp of the issue and his approach to it on the policy level. The only reason he got canned was because he didn't indict specific Democrats who Republican operatives and officeholders wanted indicted.

With Carol Lam, looking closely even at the emails the White House has allowed the Justice Department to release and it's clear that most of the Justice Department's dealings with Lam were coordinating with her on defending the policies she was pursuing against outside criticism. Given that this is being proferred as the after-the-fact excuse for her firing it is surpassingly curious that there appears not to be a single email showing anybody at the Justice Department or the White House asking her to change anything she was doing. The emails that show DOJ and White House officials brainstorming after the fact to come up with reasons for why they fired different prosecutors.

It's not that Lam was fired for not following administration policies on immigration. It's simply the one instance where the Attorney General and the White House are trying hardest to make that case. And it's just not convincing.

There are many people in this conversation trying to avoid the issues, confuse the issues or just ignore them. And more than a few people are just plain confused. But it's not that complicated. Administration officials have repeatedly and demonstrably lied about the firings. And there is now abundant evidence of a pattern of using the president's power to hire and fire US Attorneys to stymie public corruption investigations of Republicans and use the Justice Department to harass Democrats by mounting investigations of demonstrably bogus 'voter fraud' claims. It's really that simple.

Mark Schmitt speculates on why BushCo fired these U.S.A's:

A third possibility is that the firings were meant to be a signal to other U.S. Attorneys about what kind of loyalty was expected. It sounds like U.S. Attorneys talk to each other a lot and have a pretty good handle on who's doing a good job and who has problems in their office. The remaining U.S. Attorneys would know that their fired colleagues were not fired for poor performance, and could read between the lines. When a Senator calls them, or they stumble across evidence of Republican corruption, somewhere in the back of their mind would be the intimidaing awareness of what happened to Iglesias, McKay, Charlton or Lam.

If that's the case, though, the fact that the eight were fired were political reasons was meant to be a kind of open secret -- never stated, but known to the audience that mattered, the other U.S. Attorneys.

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