Tuesday, March 27, 2007


A Big Deal

The U.S. attorneys story has been a puzzling one for some time. I will admit that I'm not sure what is going on. The regulars in the comments section (at least those identifiably on the starboard side of the political equation) think I've been giving it too much attention.

Well, no one's given it as much attention as Josh Marshall. He addressed why he thinks this is a "big deal":
What we seem to see are repeated cases in which US Attorneys were fired for not pursuing bogus prosecutions of persons of the opposite party. Or vice versa. There's little doubt that that is why McKay and Iglesias were fired and there's mounting evidence that this was the case in other firings as well. The idea that a senator calls a US Attorney at home just weeks before a federal elections and tries to jawbone him into indicting someone to help a friend get reelected is shocking. Think about it for a second. It's genuinely shocking. At a minimum one would imagine such bad acts take place with more indirection and deniability. And yet the Domenici-Iglesias call has now been relegated to the status of a footnote in the expanding scandal, notwithstanding the fact that there's now documentary evidence showing that Domenici's substantial calls to the White House and Justice Department played a direct role in getting Iglesias fired.

So what you have here is this basic line being breached. But not only that. What is equally threatening is the systematic nature of the offense. This isn't one US Attorney out to get Democrats or one rogue senator trying to monkey around with the justice system. The same thing happened in Washington state and New Mexico -- with the same sort of complaints being received and acted upon at the White House and the Department of Justice. Indeed, there appears to have been a whole process in place to root out prosecutors who wouldn't prostitute their offices for partisan goals.
Josh is a liberal and what he is saying is obviously through his particular prism. However, I think the points he is raising are legitimate.

This isn't the same as Bill Clinton firing the U.S. attorneys at the beginning of his term; while an extreme, it's about par for the course for a new administration to get rid of the attorneys from the previous one -- especially if they are of a different party. On the other hand, it IS unusual for prosecutors to be canned in the middle of a term.

But, putting all of that aside is the behavior of the attorney general. Alberto Gonzales has forced the president's supporters to accept the fact that the attorney general is either duplicitous or incompetent -- neither choice being a happy one:
And when that same AG tries to defend himself -- not even to a congressional committee, but to a journalist -- and he ends up sounding completely incomprehensible (watch the interview -- reading doesn't do it justice), this really does start looking like not just normal business-as-usual in Washington, DC.

Finally, an aide to the AG decides that she will not testify in order to preserve her Fifth Amendment rights -- though in such an odd way as to invite even more questions.

Somehow, after slowly developing over several weeks, this story went zero-to-sixty very suddenly -- a discussion of transcript-less "interviews" between members of Congress and White House aides metastasized into a Fifth Amendment declaration in just days.

Yes, this is now a very big deal.

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