There’s something happening here, and what it is seems completely clear: the Bush administration is trying to protect itself by purging independent-minded prosecutors. …
… Since the middle of last month, the Bush administration has pushed out at least four U.S. attorneys, and possibly as many as seven, without explanation. The list includes Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney for San Diego, who successfully prosecuted Duke Cunningham, a Republican congressman, on major corruption charges. The top F.B.I. official in San Diego told The San Diego Union-Tribune that Ms. Lam’s dismissal would undermine multiple continuing investigations.
In Senate testimony yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales refused to say how many other attorneys have been asked to resign, calling it a “personnel matter.”
As I wrote yesterday, U.S. attorneys usually are appointed at the beginning of a president’s term and serve for that term. it is not normal to replace U.S. attorneys in the middle of a term except in cases of gross misconduct. I don’t know if the current rash of mid-term firings is unprecedented, but if there is a precedent I haven’t found it.
For a long time the administration nonetheless seemed untouchable, protected both by Republican control of Congress and by its ability to justify anything and everything as necessary for the war on terror. Now, however, the investigations are closing in on the Oval Office. The latest news is that J. Steven Griles, the former deputy secretary of the Interior Department and the poster child for the administration’s systematic policy of putting foxes in charge of henhouses, is finally facing possible indictment.
And the purge of U.S. attorneys looks like a pre-emptive strike against the gathering forces of justice.
As I wrote yesterday, it isn’t necessarily scandalous for a U.S. attorney to be forced to resign. Incoming administrations often ask all or most of their predecessors’ U.S. attorneys to resign. But mid-term firings for no clear reason do look suspicious. And the Bush Administration, through the Patriot Act, has found a way to circumvent the constitutional requirement that U.S. attorneys be confirmed by the Senate. President Bush can appoint “interim” attorneys with no limit on how long the “interim” period will be. So if he doesn’t get around to sending the nominations to the Senate in the next couple of years — well, he’s busy. Got brush to cut, you know.
If someone finds the Krugman column republished outside the firewall, please add the link to the comments.
In other news about the Bush Administration’s contempt for the rule of law and civil liberties — see this New York Times editorial.
It is hard to render a convincing apology when you are not really apologizing. Consider Charles Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of state for detainee affairs, who has been trying to spin his way out of his loathsome attempt to punish lawyers who represent inmates of the Guantánamo Bay internment camp.
Last week, Mr. Stimson expressed his “shock” that major American law firms would represent terrorism suspects, hinted that they were paid by unsavory characters and suggested that companies should reconsider doing business with them. On Wednesday, Mr. Stimson said he apologized and regretted that his comments “left the impression” that he was attacking the integrity of those lawyers.
It was not just an impression. It was exactly what he did. Mr. Stimson actually read out a list of law firms during an interview with a radio station friendly to the Bush administration.
On top of that, Alberto Gonzales is blaming lawyers for the delays — some as long as five years — in bringing detainees to trial. The editorial continues,
There’s no truth to that. The cause of the delay in bringing any Guantánamo detainee to trial is Mr. Bush himself. He refused to hold trials at first, then refused to work with Congress on the issue and claimed the power to devise his own slanted court system. Mr. Bush went to Congress only when the Supreme Court struck those courts down. The result was a bill establishing military tribunals for detainees that is a mockery of American justice.