Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is transforming the ranks of the nation’s top federal prosecutors by firing some and appointing conservative loyalists from the Bush administration’s inner circle who critics say are unlikely to buck Washington.
The newly appointed U.S. attorneys all have impressive legal credentials, but most of them have few, if any, ties to the communities they’ve been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.
For background on the U.S. Attorney scandal — it’s not generally acknowledged to be a scandal, but it should be — see old Mahablog posts U.S. Attorneys: Itâ€™s the Replacing, Stupid and The Purge. In a nutshell, the White House is using a provision inserted into the Patriot Act last year to fire U.S. attorneys and replace them without (constitutionally mandated) Senate approval.
U.S. attorneys usually are appointed at the beginning of a president’s term and serve for four years, after Senate confirmation. Firing in mid-term for reasons other than gross misconduct is extremely unusual, although not illegal. What is more fishy is that the White House has given itself the power to appoint “interim” attorneys who can serve indefinitely without confirmation by the Senate.
Taylor and Gordon of McClatchy continue,
The nine recent appointees identified by McClatchy Newspapers held high-level White House or Justice Department jobs, and most of them were handpicked by Gonzales under a little-noticed provision of the Patriot Act that became law in March. …
… Being named a U.S. attorney “has become a prize for doing the bidding of the White House or administration,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “In the past, there had been a great deal of delegation to the local offices. Now, you have a consolidation of power in Washington.”
I like this part:
A Justice Department spokesman said it was “reckless” to suggest that politics had influenced the appointment process.
Sounds like a threat to me. Anyway, here are the nine new U.S. attorneys:
Tim Griffin, 37, the U.S. attorney for Arkansas, who was an aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove and a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. Rachel Paulose, 33, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, who served briefly as a counselor to the deputy attorney general and who, according to a former boss, has been a member of the secretive, ideologically conservative Federalist Society. Jeff Taylor, 42, the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., who was an aide to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and worked as a counselor to Gonzales and to former Attorney General John Ashcroft. John Wood, U.S. attorney in Kansas City, who’s the husband of Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Julie Myers and an ex-deputy general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Deborah Rhodes, 47, the U.S. attorney in Mobile, Ala., who was a Justice Department counselor. Alexander Acosta, 37, the U.S. attorney in Miami, who was an assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division and a protege of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. John Richter, 43, the U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City, who was the chief of staff for the Justice Department’s criminal division and acting assistant attorney general. Edward McNally, the U.S. attorney in southern Illinois, who was a senior associate counsel to President Bush. Matt Dummermuth, the U.S. attorney in Iowa, who was a Justice Department civil rights lawyer.
The federal investigation into Congressional corruption is approaching a crucial deadline and potential dead end. Feb. 15 is the last day on the job for United States Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego, the inquiryâ€™s dedicated prosecutor, who is being purged by the Bush administration.
Her investigation led to the imprisonment of former Representative Randy Cunningham, the California Republican who took millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for delivering lucrative government contracts. But just as Ms. Lam was digging into other possible wrongdoing, the White House decided to force her from office without explanation.
Ms. Lam has been investigating the dealings of Brent Wilkes, a private contractor and deep-pocketed political contributor who was designated co-conspirator No. 1 in the Cunningham case. Mr. Wilkes developed other cozy relationships. Among other avenues, the inquiry has been looking into rich government contracts secured by corporations and lobbyists with ties to Representative Jerry Lewis â€” the former appropriations chairman â€” and his staff. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Mr. Wilkes could be indicted before Ms. Lam leaves office. The question now is whether her successor, as yet unnamed, will pursue the inquiry with the same dedication or will quietly smother it.
I don’t yet know which of the nine people above is replacing Lam. In fact, I infer from the list of nine that nine U.S. attorneys are being replaced, but news organizations and Congress have only been able to identify seven. Not exactly transparent, huh?
In the wake of the recent firings of a half-dozen U.S. attorneys, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, filed bills that would restore to federal judges the right to name interim appointees when vacancies develop. On Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., whose office has confirmed that he inserted language making the change in Patriot Act last year, gave his qualified support to Feinstein’s bill.
Justice Department officials have refused to say how many prosecutors were fired or to explain the firings, but Feinstein has said she’s aware of the ouster of at least seven U.S. attorneys since March 2006.
Not only should everyone in this White House be indicted and prosecuted, every politician and journalist/media personality who has ever once covered Bush’s butt in the past six years be indicted and prosecuted. However, there may not be enough honest and independent U.S. attorneys to do it.
Patrick Fitzgerald is a U.S. attorney, btw. I bet ol’ Speedy is achin’ to force him out, too.