[Update: Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, is on Hardball right now saying that Daniel Bogden, the former U.S. attorney for Nevada, had been doing a superb job and should not have been fired. Senator Ensign said Bogden was fired for the “wrong reasons,” but he stopped short of saying Alberto Gonzales had done anything unethical. MSNBC is also saying that Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) is calling for Gonzales to resign.]
At the time, President Clinton presented the move as something perfectly ordinary: “All those people are routinely replaced,” he told reporters, “and I have not done anything differently.” In fact, the dismissals were unprecedented: Previous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, had both retained holdovers from the previous Administration and only replaced them gradually as their tenures expired. This allowed continuity of leadership within the U.S. Attorney offices during the transition.
Guess again. Six years ago today the Department of Justice issued this press release:
WHITE HOUSE AND JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
BEGIN U.S. ATTORNEY TRANSITION
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Continuing the practice of new administrations, President Bush and the Department of Justice have begun the transition process for most of the 93 United States Attorneys.
Attorney General Ashcroft said, “We are committed to making this an orderly transition to ensure effective, professional law enforcement that reflects the President ‘s priorities.”
In January of this year, nearly all presidential appointees from the previous administration offered their resignations. Two Justice Department exceptions were the United States Attorneys and United States Marshals.
Prior to the beginning of this transition process, nearly one-third of the United States Attorneys had already submitted their resignations. The White House and the Department of Justice have begun to schedule transition dates for most of the remaining United States Attorneys to occur prior to June of this year. President Bush will make announcements regarding his nominations to the Senate of new United States Attorneys as that information becomes available. Pending confirmation of the President’s nominees, the Attorney General will make appointments of Interim United States Attorneys for a period of 120 days (28USC546). Upon the expiration of that appointment, the authority rests with the United States District Court (28USC546(d)).
As for Reagan, according to the Associated Press Reagan fired all the sitting U.S. attorneys when he took office in 1981:
When the party in the White House changes hands, it is common for the new president to fire all the sitting U.S. attorneys, as Ronald Reagan did in 1981 and Bill Clinton in 1993.
I don’t have independent corroboration of what the AP says, so I am not going to assume the AP is right and the WSJ is wrong. But, surely, one of them is wrong. And if WSJ is wrong, then somebody should break the news to rightie blogger Macranger, who claims “Never in the history of US Attorney replacements has a President fired all 93 US Attorneys – never.” In the real world, “never” means pretty much every time the White House changes parties.
This afternoon President Bush made a statement about the U.S. attorney scandal —
I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales. I talked to him this morning, and we talked about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it very clear to members in both political parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made, making very clear about the facts. And he’s right, mistakes were made. And I’m, frankly, not happy about it, because there is a lot of confusion over what really has been a customary practice by the Presidents. U.S. attorneys and others serve at the pleasure of the President. Past administrations have removed U.S. attorneys; they’re right to do so.
Think Progress says, um, no. It is not customary practice to fire attorneys in mid-term.
Mass firings are common when a president takes office. But as current and former administration officials have confirmed, Bushâ€™s purge of well-qualified prosecutors is unprecedented.
See also McClatchy Newspapers.
Mass firings of U.S. attorneys are fairly common when a new president takes office, but not in a second-term administration. Prosecutors are usually appointed for four-year terms, but they are usually allowed to stay on the job if the president who appointed them is re-elected.
Even as they planned mass firings by the Bush White House, Justice Department officials acknowledged it would be unusual for the president to oust his own appointees. Although Bill Clinton ordered the wholesale removal of U.S. attorneys when he took office to remove Republican holdovers, his replacement appointees stayed for his second term.
Ronald Reagan also kept his appointees for his second term.
So, in the real world, “never” is “fairly common.” (Somebody really ought to tell Macranger.)
The WSJ editorial linked above is full of dark hints about Clinton’s interference with a pending indictment of Dan Rostenkowski (who was indicted, anyway) and slithering out of whatever the Clintons were guilty of regarding Whitewater. (How many years and how many million dollars did taxpayers spend investigating the Clintons’ involvement in Whitewater? And how many indictments were brought regarding the Clintons involvement inWhitewater? As I recall, none. Yet the righties still can’t believe the Clintons really weren’t guilty of something regarding Whitewater. Pathetic.)
But if we’re playing “my politician is less guilty than yours,” let’s pretend for a minute that tomorrow we turn up evidence that Bill Clinton really did intend to interfere with the indictment of Dan Rostenkowski. Unless appearances are extremely deceiving, the Bush White House would still be more guilty.
Appearances say Karl Rove and Co. were trying to turn the federal judicial system into a tool for getting Republicans elected and keeping Republicans in office. That’s a lot bigger deal than doing a favor for Dan Rostenkowski.
I say they’re worse.