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A Partisan Purge Too Far

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Posted on Mar 7, 2007

By Joe Conason

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insists that his firing of several United States attorneys last December wasn’t a political purge but merely a normal bureaucratic decision, many thousands of lawyers, judges, officers and officials surely wish to believe him. Anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution in good faith—indeed, anyone who cares about the rule of law—can only contemplate the vandalism inflicted on our law enforcement system by Gonzales and his deputies with foreboding.

Unfortunately, the credibility of Gonzales—which was never very great—is diminishing further as the facts behind the controversial round of firings continue to emerge. While his excuses and explanations for those dismissals evaporate under scrutiny, what can be seen instead is a familiar pattern of partisan misconduct.

This story can be traced to the strange firing of Carol Lam, the United States attorney in San Diego, who had successfully prosecuted former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, the ultra-right Republican and powerful defense subcommittee chairman whose incessant flag-waving concealed brazen larceny. Lam deserved praise from every honest conservative for sending Cunningham to prison, and she deserved their support for her ongoing probe of his confederates on Capitol Hill, on K Street and in the federal bureaucracy. Instead, she felt the wrath of Cunningham’s Republican colleagues, some of whom sought her dismissal—supposedly because she wasn’t sufficiently zealous in curbing illegal immigration.

But the Justice Department’s last performance evaluation of Lam, completed in February 2005, described her as “an effective manager and respected leader in the district.” That was typical of the department’s official assessments of the fired prosecutors, despite the public insistence by top Justice officials that the dismissals were related to “performance.”

At the same time last December, highly regarded prosecutors in other districts were dumped under equally suspicious circumstances. Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney in Arizona, was let go while investigating corruption allegations against Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., despite sterling evaluations of his integrity and competence. H.E. “Bud” Cummins III, the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, was thrown out to make room for a crony of Karl Rove who specializes in opposition research. (Could that possibly be related to the presidential candidacy of a certain former Arkansas resident?)

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And David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, was forced to resign after complaints from the state’s most powerful Republican politicians that he had not yet completed a corruption probe of a local Democrat. Both Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson called Iglesias before last November’s midterm election to discuss that case, although both insist they imposed no “pressure” on him.

According to Iglesias, however, Domenici contacted him at home to ask whether he would issue the desired indictment before November. When he said no, the senator hung up angrily. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Iglesias said the obnoxious phone call made him feel “sick.”
Now Domenici, who also brought pressure on the Justice Department to fire Iglesias, claims to have been dissatisfied with his “inability” to expedite criminal cases. But Justice Department statistics show that Iglesias improved the speed of prosecutions in his office, and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has told reporters that he regards Iglesias as one of the best prosecutors in the country.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department official who actually executed the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys has since quit himself. Michael Battle, former director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys at Justice Department headquarters in Washington, resigned last month amid reports that he had been “unhappy” in carrying out the hatchet work for Gonzales. News of Battle’s resignation was followed by a McClatchy Newspapers report of a threat by a top Justice official to the fired U.S. attorneys, warning that if they didn’t stop talking about their dismissals, the consequences could be unpleasant.

The U.S. attorney purge is important because federal prosecutors are supposed to be nonpartisan and free from political meddling. Their highly sensitive and powerful positions include responsibility for policing the politicians, and their independence distinguishes American law enforcement from the disreputable charades of banana republics and authoritarian regimes.

It is troubling, but not surprising, that the Bush administration and its political allies have violated those traditional protections for partisan advantage. Now, the appropriate Senate and House committees should not rest until those machinations are fully exposed—and all of the players involved, including their colleagues from New Mexico, are held accountable.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer (www.observer.com).

© 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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By MOLINA, June 21, 2007 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The scales of justice can be rigged for anyone to fail. That is fact. When the state knowingly gives/instructs a jury to serious major fraudulent evidence then anyone can be convicted. It’s one thing to have planted evidence put on you outside the courtroom, but how about it actually being planted on you inside the courtroom !!  Your gauranteed fair public jury trial can be rigged to fail. That is fact. Read my report.  $55.- MOLINA 927 south Bruce-# 5   Anaheim, Ca. 92804

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By dave-el, March 12, 2007 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Eric in regards to comment 57949
Where did you get that information?
I would be very interested to know.

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By Craig Lucas, March 12, 2007 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Impeach the whole rotten crew, it’s the only way to reclaim our democracy.

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By lawlessone, March 11, 2007 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“TIPPING THE SCALES OF JUSTICE”
Or, a Few Thoughts Regarding the Peremptory Firing of Several Competent Federal Attorneys in Order to Replace Them with Political Hacks

  Once upon a time, back when competence actually was valued and we preferred our bureaucrats to be as fair and non-partisan as possible regardless of who was in elected office, the local Bar Associations reviewed the backgrounds and performance records of proposed appointees for judgeships, attorney general and other key legal positions.  It typically resulted in recommendations submitted to the President or Governors as to the relative qualifications, integrity and lack of bias of each individual being considered.  The mutually agreed upon goal of all involved, at least regarding selecting individuals to manage our legal system, was to put the BEST person in office rather than merely the most zealous partisan available.

  It wasn’t perfect, but since the Bar Associations tended to have vocal members from all parties, it worked pretty well.  As members of a profession whose licenses were accountable to standards of ethics beyond mere politics and having experienced roughly the same basic law school education, there at least was a shared recognition the courts and enforcement of our Constitution were critical cornerstones of our democracy requiring principled people in charge who cherished those concepts more than the opinions of party bosses.  Usually back then, the Governors or the President acquiesced by picking one of Bar recommended top candidates for the job.  If nothing else, that method helped earn the consent of the governed (temporary voting minorities included), which is yet another central support for democracy.

  Unfortunately, the efforts of the Bar to assist, along with many other customs and traditions which attempted to protect the justice system from petty politics, have been utterly trashed in recent years.  The Bush Administration in particular for some reason seems to be interested in abandoning it altogether, converting (perhaps perverting) the judicial system to its own image.  Which, if any of the stories regarding torturing those in custody, violating of habeas corpus, searching without warrants and other potential criminalities prove to be true, is not a very pretty picture. 

  Perhaps it’s understandable why those occupying the White House at the moment might want to insure their collective thumbs rest heavily on the Scales of Justice.  But, it certainly seems like an extremely risky gambit to try.  It’s akin to attempting a “shoot the moon” strategy in the card game called Hearts, where the consequences of failure to win it all incurs an extremely heavy penalty.  Unless Bush manages to establish a permanent Republican majority or outright dictatorial control of the US, the attempt itself is likely to turn around and bite both him and anyone else running under the Republican banner.

    Either way, the public should insist upon a return to a more non-partisan, more objective, method of researching, testing and selecting those individuals who want to be in charge of day-to-day justice in America.


[similar irreverence at http://resistence-is-possible.blogspot.com and http://lawlessone.wordpress.com.  Link to them if you like.]

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By Eric, March 11, 2007 at 10:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why does it not seem to upset anyone that Bill Clinton fired ALL the U.S. Attorneys shortly after he took office, but we all seem to be horrified that Bush fired six?

Politics is politics and sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

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By republicanSScareme, March 11, 2007 at 12:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s depressing to see a bunch of thugs running our country. Most of them should be tried and hanged.  Many CEOs and wealthy thugs should be tried and hung too for corrupting our elected leaders.

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By Ask the NSA, March 10, 2007 at 12:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Luckily for Gonzales, accountability doesn’t start at the top in this administration. As in past cases of incompetence and abuse at the highest levels, lower subordinates will be scapegoated/punished, and the matter considered resolved.

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By louis stroud, March 9, 2007 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i cannot beleive the congress of the united states does nothing about the stopping of this war!, that is why they were elected, to look out for all american interests, not just the coporate already rich buddies, and they are giving away the whole country now in the disguise of more free trade, unbelievable, there has to be something done, c’mon people!!, wake up, we may all end up dead for .50 cents a copy.

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By SamSnedegar, March 9, 2007 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What separates the Bush thugs from ordinary people and politicians is that most people and politicians manage to do the right thing perhaps half the time. The Bushitters are uncannily predictable inasmuch as they NEVER do the right thing. Never.

Most of us really don’t know what the right thing to do would be, but we try to figure it out if we can, and if we do, and if pride, greed, avarice, self interest, and plain ignorance don’t stand in the way, we will at least try to do the right thing.

The Bush thugs march to a different tune for when they do something they never CARE about the right thing at all, let alone consider doing it; they do what they do for their own reasons, none of which have the least thing to do with rightness or decency or morality or virtue.

If you think ONE of them has a conscience, you have seriously misjudged and overestimated him.

And of course, Bush himself cannot be blamed. That is why he was chosen to be President: so that his ignorance would shield him from any and all responsibility and culpability for the actions he is made to initiate by his puppeteers. You see, he isn’t evil; he is merely brainless, uninformed, and disconnected from reality.

1. It’s about oil.
2. Bush is a moron.

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By JohnDWoodSr, March 8, 2007 at 8:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Republican party is an eyeblink away from from turning our democratic republic into a fascistic/theocratic dictatorship. They have successfully taken control af all three branches of government,systematically gutted the Bill of Rights,and laid the groundwork to render “the rule of law” meaningless. Every branch works to PROTECT the others. My point is that we do not have any real control over anything they do. Without a clear majority in the Legislative branch,and impartial jurists in control of the Judicial, all we can do is piss and moan to no real effect.People are laboring under the false assumption that we can use legal means to undo the damage these jackbooted thugs have done to our country. We can’t win a rigged game, and I truthfully don’t know how to “un-rig” it before the next Presidential election(if there is one).
HELP!

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By Quy Tran, March 8, 2007 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our justice system has been sexually abused with this damned attorney general.

In humanity history there’s none of such stupid, arrogant, filthy, narrow minded…as Gonzales, who only know to kneel down then lick Bush/Cheney boots. He’s less dignity than an obedient dog.

Very sorry for those who serve under his ignorance.

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By William Hambaugh, March 8, 2007 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey Dale - 57433,
No offense, I totally agree with you. However, on one point I do disagree. The part about “skillful” regarding Gonzales.  He is a light weight partisan arrogant fool.  He thinks he is omnipotent and untouchable.  Literally everytime he has been testifying in front of a committee, he, the committee, the press, his asshole boss, and as it stands now, about 71% of the American public knew he was lying…. eveyone. It is a fucking joke… he’s a fucking joke.  By the way, I believe the other 29% that still support this bunch of criminals know he is a liar too.  Who the hell are these people who still stand by these bastard"s?
Will

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By Margaret Currey, March 8, 2007 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder who hatched this idea that you can stop and idea by firing those who are against you and loading all of government with only those who go your way.

Was this Chaney’s idea before the vedict of Libby, it would be nice if Chaney resigned, but no change, the only way to get him out if office is to do the IMPEACHMENT THING, AND IF CHANEY KNEW SO DID BUSH, THE THING TO DO IS TO IMPEACH, THE DEMOCRATS DON’T WANT TO DO IT, BUT AFTER THE LIBBY VERDICT WHAT HAVE DEMOCRATS GOT TO LOSE.

Margaret from Vancouver, WA

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By Dale Headley, March 8, 2007 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Every time Alberto Gonzales testifies to Congress, he lies.  The covey of liars at the top must be very proud of him for so skillfully employing their signature tactic - a chip off the old blockheads.

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By NETTIE, March 8, 2007 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Margaret, you are so right.  The whole thing is just unspeakably sad.  I will, however, focus on positive change that will happen with our new Congress….just hang on.  I will love peace and focus on that. Let’s just give it some more time.  Ben Franklin said those many years ago, that our system of gov’t. would be totally corrupt in 200 yrs.  He was almost right on the money.  At least we are in the information age, for those who choose to learn from it in a discerning manner.  And take action with that information.

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By Margaret Currey, March 8, 2007 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What they did in so called banana republics now has come to the United States, and after firing the prosucutors told you better not talk, if they talk will they show up dead on some street?.

People better wake up the Bush Administration needs to go, the whole bunch need to be Impeached, I repeat they need to be impeached, to go to war is one thing but to rush to war without protecting the troops, and then after they are injured keep their families in limbo, losing paperwork and then say to the injured prove that you are injured, if you have no paperwork then injured or not you do not get your disability even if you cannot work it is like they are saying we are here to keep money from you, it is not our fault that you have no paperwork and we do not feel your pain, we feel no pain for your family either, it is like getting injured was your fault, like bad luck being in the way of bad luck.

Margaret from Vancouver, Washington

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