Thursday, April 26, 2007

AG AG...

My wife and I had a discussion this morning about one of the more recent scandals involving the Bush administration - the involvement, and involvement in the cover-up, of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (AG AG) in the firing of 8 US Attorneys.

We were discussing two primary issues:
1. The misrepresentations by the Mainstream Media that "Clinton did the same thing"
2. Was there a crime involved

I thought I would touch on my thoughts about this here.

First, Clinton did NOT do the same thing. Comparing the Clinton and Bush involvement with the US Attorneys is comparing apples and oranges.

Bill Clinton, upon entering office in 1992, fired 93 US Attorneys to replace them with his own appointments. As did Ronald Reagan in 1980. I don't think anyone attempts to argue that the President does not have the authority to fire and replace US Attorneys. That is not what Bush - through AG AG - did.

As it happens, midterm firings of US Attorneys are fairly rare - Midterm U.S. Attorney Firings Rare. As the Guardian article states:

Before the Bush administration, the Congressional Research Service found just five instances over 25 years in which U.S. attorneys were fired or resigned in the middle of a presidential term and before their four-year tenures were up following reports of questionable conduct.

A Reagan-era prosecutor was fired and later convicted in federal court in connection with charges that he leaked confidential information. A Clinton appointee resigned over allegations he bit a topless dancer on the arm during a visit to an adult club following a loss in a big drug case. Another Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney resigned after being videotaped assaulting a TV reporter who was questioning him about recent decisions by his office.

There have been no allegations of such misconduct by any of the eight prosecutors forced out by Bush. Democrats charge that they were fired for political reasons.

There is evidence that Bush's team was considering disloyalty to the president as a criterion for replacements. As he planned the ousters, Gonzales' aide noted that the vast majority of federal prosecutors were ``loyal Bushies.''
What Clinton and Reagan did is simply not of in the same category as what Bush did - which leads me to the second point - firing these attorneys was likely not a crime.

I don't know that anyone I have read has suggested that the actual firings were a crime. Rather, it is simply an(other) example of the perfidious, incompetent, and quasi-ethical nature of this Presidential administration. It's not a simple matter of firing the attorneys - it's firing them for political purposes, then lying about that and attempting a cover up. As a Letter to the Editor (by Rick Schell) in the Houston Chronicle put it today:
IF anyone doubts that the Bush administration has turned the Justice Department into a branch of the Republican National Committee, all one needs to focus on are his comments about Alberto Gonzales' hearings.

After responding to more than 70 questions with some variation on the words, "I don't recall," he demonstrated he is either a gross incompetent, a party hack or a liar. The president (although he didn't see any of the proceedings) has proclaimed that Gonzales' testimony has "increased my confidence in his ability to do the job." Obviously, the president was not referring to administering justice, but his purging of U.S. attorneys who were not "loyal Bushies." At that, he was an expert.
So, no, the actual firings were likely not illegal. But the injection of petty politics into the Justice Department was ugly and tainted.

Yet, despite the ickiness of the firings, and the apparent cover-up in the aftermath, and AG AG's utterly embarrassing performance in front of the Senate Judiciary committee last week - Bush continues to back incompetence. I think everything else that needs to be said about this issue can be summed up by the Republicans themselves. Robert Novack (right-wing icon) excoriated the Bush administration's inconceivable backing of Gonzales in a blistering editorial today - So it's Bush behind the barricades with Al Gonzales:

Bush going out of his way to praise his beleaguered friend from Texas only confirmed signals sent this week. The president's improbable praise for Gonzales' pathetic performance as a witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week was no mere gesture. The authoritative word from the White House was that Bush was adamant about retaining Gonzales as attorney general despite Republican demands that the president cut his losses with a new face at Justice.

... Bush, never entranced by life in Washington, detests dealing with a Democratic Congress. Reflecting annoyance and fatigue, he is unwilling to withstand incessant attacks from the likes of Reid and is ready to fight it out for the more than a year and a half remaining in his term. Retaining Gonzales means Bush has slipped behind the barricades.

All the Republicans in Congress who I have contacted view this posture by Bush to be pure folly. For the long term, they predict their president's intent to wage constant warfare against the majority Democrats will cast a pall on Republican chances of retaining the presidency in 2008. For the shorter term, they foresee nothing but trouble from Gonzales continuing in power. "I cannot imagine," said a House GOP leader, who would not be quoted by name, "how Bush thinks Gonzales can function effectively with no Republican support."

... While the current cliche is that Bush never should have named Gonzales as attorney general in the first place, the consensus in the administration was that he also was at sea in his first post as White House counsel.

Colin Powell, Bush's first-term secretary of state, was so appalled by Gonzales that he shunted contact with him off to Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, who in turn handed him down to lower levels along the State Department chain of command.

Such derision of Gonzales is viewed by Bush as the arrogance of Washington, and he seems determined not to appease that mindset. ...

Never would I have thought I would say this, but...I encourage you to go read the entire Novak column.

Ugh - that feels dirty; I'm going to go take a shower...

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