The Purge

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Bush Administration, Congress, criminal justice, The Constitution, U.S. Attorneys

Following up yesterday’s post on replacing U.S. attorneys — Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times,

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.

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9 Comments

  1. Doug Hughes  •  Jan 19, 2007 @9:32 am

    Gonzales does not have to incriminate himself in testimony. He might legitimatly decline to answer in open session, provided he would make full disclosure in closed session. There are secrets which don’t need to be broadcast on C-Span. He seems to think he can answer ony the questions he wants to answer, and won’t perjure himself but will stonewall. Are there no consequences???

  2. Jaimie  •  Jan 19, 2007 @9:54 am
  3. Donna  •  Jan 19, 2007 @10:11 am

    With respect to the practice of replacing all US attorneys whenever a different party comes into the White House……I have a concern that this practice could hobble or even kill ongoing investigations that need years of preparation [Enron, ADM….]. Such a blanket replacing of US attorneys does seem to allow, and/or reflect, the presence of politics and campaign contributions deep inside the heart of judicial practice. If I were a US attorney, I would hate to have years of work on an important case vulnerable to such. This blanket replacement upon changing presidents may have become the usual practice [as you explained], but that does not make it ideal, nor should it be considered a ‘given’ that is immune to corrections that could protect ongoing work at the justice department.

    Within the context of presidents having such power over the justice’s attorneys, the Bush team’s blatant use of presidential power to replace, in midstream, up to seven US attorneys who just happen to be on the trail of Republican malfeisance is, well, like a boil coming to a head. I think it just shows how sick the system has been [under the skin], though few citizens would have realized that without this blatant self-serving action erupting into our awareness.

    Whatever corrections might conceivably be entertained should take into consideration the protection of ongoing investigations. At any rate, isn’t it amazing that this president and his previous Republican enablers have so misbehaved that even their own selected justice attorneys aren’t biased enough to satisfy their desire to somehow avoid prosecution.

  4. sachem515  •  Jan 19, 2007 @11:13 am

    Heck of a job Gonzo!

    Quoting Prof Turley from Wed’s Countdown (re Gitmo):

    “Well, you know, Gonzalez has always acted more general than attorney in his position. He seems just inherently hostile to the rule of law. This administration for a long time said the problem was with these defendants. They shouldn‘t be allowed in court. And then the problem became the attorneys. And they prevented attorneys from meeting them. Then the problem became habeas corpus. And now the problem is the judges. ”

    At some point, I want to see the signing statement W issued on his oath of office. With Gonzo’s utterance to a stunned Sen Specter that

    “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended”

    the tortured logic is extremely dangerous. It’s odd to still feel like the loyal opposition with a majority in Congress. From
    http://consortiumnews.com/2007/011807.html, is this:

    “Applying Gonzales’s reasoning, one could argue that the First Amendment doesn’t explicitly say Americans have the right to worship as they choose, speak as they wish or assemble peacefully. The amendment simply bars the government, i.e. Congress, from passing laws that would impinge on these rights.”

    Though this may seem somewhat off topic, the fish rots from the head down. This administration’s legacy continues to shape up as a well executed fraud of incompetency. It going to have to be unravelled one Cully Stimpson at a time.

  5. biggerbox  •  Jan 19, 2007 @11:37 am

    Gonzales’ contempt for the Senate was pretty much rolling off him in waves during the hearing. His go-round with Feinstein about even putting a number on the USA’s being replaced was an example. He postured that he was somehow limited by some privacy concern in a minor HR matter, when he is a man who casually denies the right of habeas corpus to whole swaths of humanity. Detain people without charges in solitary confinement for years, no problem, but get anywhere near accidentally providing information about somebody’s personnel file, no way! There are just some things Mr. Gonzales doesn’t want to risk!

    It was the bureaucratic equivalent of farting in response to the Senator’s question.

  6. paulywood  •  Jan 19, 2007 @10:20 pm

    Is there a constitutional method for the removal of an attorney general? The Constitution clearly and unambigously describes habeus corpus as “the privilege of habeus corpus”. Look up “privilege” in the dictionary, Mr. Gonzalez. This man is advocating positions that outright contradict the constitution. In all seriousness – isn’t that a crime? Couldn’t the legislature make it so if not?

  7. kerryinalaska  •  Jan 19, 2007 @10:38 pm

    Sure does seem like we have been witness to a slow coup in this country. While we were all watching tv the coup took place and now we see it in full form. Constitution be damned; rule of law, smule of law; signing statements. Man, I’m pretty sure these people aren’t going to give up power without a fight. GWBushit needs a bigger war and every “good” american will line up behind him and the rest of us will be shipped off to detention centers, for our own good. Maybe I’m just in a bad dream.

  8. Zeus  •  Jan 20, 2007 @1:59 am

    How does one get rid of a corrupt Attorney General when the only one that can do it it is corrupt himself? Perhaps Ms. Pelosi can add a few more hours to the first 100 to find a solution.

    I am adding Gonzales to my impeachment wish list.

  9. GDAEman  •  Jan 20, 2007 @10:42 am

    Revolutionary Power

    What we’re witnessing are more examples of what Henry Kissinger called a Revolutionary Power in his PhD thesis. Krugman writes about it in the introduction of his book “The Great Unraveling.”

    One Small Step: Contact the US Atty Gen:
    http://www.usdoj.gov/contact-us.html

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