Thursday, March 22, 2007

See... there was incompetence

Paul Kiel shares this gem:

It's almost too perfect. The only U.S. attorney fired by the administration in December who undeniably had performance issues was begrudingly added to the list at the last minute -- and only then because of a federal judge's threat that he would go to Congress with complaints about the prosecutor's performance.

The Los Angeles Times tells the story of San Francisco's Kevin Ryan today, who, as the scandal over the firings began to simmer early this year, telephoned the Justice Department to assure them that he's still a "company man."

Unlike seven other fired federal prosecutors who may have run afoul of the administration for political reasons, San Francisco U.S. Atty. Kevin Ryan was a team player for Bush and had influential Republican support. A friend of the president even went to bat for Ryan after his firing.

"You would have to know Kevin," said UC Hastings College of the Law professor Rory Little. "You can't find a stronger supporter of the Bush administration agenda."

His tenure, however, was plagued by morale problems and accusations that he was a bad manager. A number of the office's most experienced lawyers left....

Even with the unrest, Ryan's support in Washington held during the first few months that planning for the ousters was underway. In an e-mail from D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, to Harriet Miers in March 2005, Ryan was in a category described as "strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General." Other U.S. attorneys who were later fired were listed in a column recommending termination.

The following January, Sampson added Ryan to a list of federal prosecutors who might be removed based on performance evaluations. But he was left off later firing lists in September and November, e-mails show.

Ryan only was added to the list in early December, after a federal judge warned the Justice Department that she was "going to ask members of Congress to get her a copy of the blistering evaluations the department had done of Ryan earlier that year." The emails strongly suggest that Ryan was fired in order to prevent that from happening.

Just let that sink in. In the only case where there was a strong case for firing, the DoJ had to be extorted to do it.

It was not always that way at the DoJ. Remember that, before he left in August of 2005, then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey* generated his own list of U.S. attorneys to be fired. Only his list was completely different from the list finally generated by Alberto Gonzales' deputy, Kyle Sampson -- save one name: Kevin Ryan.

U.S. News explained the discrepancy:

In principle, [a former Justice Department official] says, Comey was not opposed to removing incompetent people.

However, Comey's definition of incompetence turned out to be quite different from Sampson's and had nothing to do with politics, says the former official


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