Saturday, March 31, 2007


Was it Legal? Was it Wise?

A large amount of paper and ink have been used up in the commentaries on the affair of the sacked attorneys. Critics of the Bush administration, myself included, suspect a very crass, sleazy motive was behind the firing of the eight US Attorneys. We suspect, for example, that Carol Lam was sacked to save Congressman Jerry Lewis, who was in her sights to be indicted for corruption. We suspect that David Iglesias of Albuquerque was let go because he was slow about prosecuting suspected Democratic activists for voter fraud. We know that the US Attorney in Little Rock was relieved of his job to make room for a protege of Karl Rove.

Today Professor Douglas Kmiec weighs in with an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times to defend Mr. Gonzales and the President. Professor Kmiec argues correctly that the President has and should have the right to discharge any US Attorney who, in the President's judgment, is not enthusiastically carrying out the President's policy regarding the enforcement of the law.

Professor Kmiec is trying to change the subject. The subject is, or should be, did the President and Mr. Gonzales exercise good judgment in firing the attorneys? Were they clear as to the reasons for the firings? What about the timing? Were they prepared to give convincing and honest answers to the charges by critics that the firings were done to achieve some sleazy, underhanded political advantage and not to improve the enforcement of the law?

Let me put aside for the moment my own suspicion that the replacement of the eight attorneys was done for some partisan political motive. Even if we assume good faith by the Administration, both the timing and the lame excuses put forth by the Justice Department and the White House indicate to me that neither Mr. Gonzales nor Mr. Bush were paying close attention to what was going on. Neither one of them was able to foresee the chorus of criticism that followed the sudden discharge of eight US Attorneys all at once. Could they not see that firing Carol Lam after she had successfully put one Republican Congressman in prison and was about to go after another Republican Congressman would look like partisan pay-back and not like an attempt to improve the process of enforcing the laws fairly and effectively? Could they not see that firing Mr. Yglesias after he had been pressured by a US Senator and a US Representative to speed up the indictments of some Democratic activists for Republican electoral advantage would smack of political sleaze?

No one denies that the President has the authority under law to fire US Attorneys. My concern is whether the President used good judgment in choosing which attorneys to fire and when to fire them. On the surface, the affair was either something that was justified but carried out very badly or something that was done for a very unfair partisan political advantage. In either case, it looks as though the President and his advisors ignored the obvious criticism that would arise. Perhaps they believed that no one would pay any attention to the firings. I can't make up my mind as to whether the President was stupid or venal. What do you think?

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