Its all politics (even when it shouldn’t be)

One thing we have the right to expect in this country is that US Attorneys, who have very important positions of upholding federal laws, should be honest, good at what they do, and able to keep their jobs based primarily on those criteria.  Alas, it seems the Bush administration does not see it that way.  In a criminally under-reported story (I'll save more media bashing for another day), the Bush Department of Justice has purged a number of qualified attorneys for what appear to be completely political reasons– and these are not supposed to be political jobs, mind you.  At first, the DOJ lamely insisted these individuals had weak performance evaluations only to then claim that the performance evaluations missed a lot (like being a political hack, apparently) when it was revealed that the fired attorneys had good evaluations. 

In a NYT Op-Ed earlier this week, Adam Cohen makes a persuasive case for just how problematic this is:

Carol Lam, the former United States attorney for San Diego, is smart
and tireless and was very good at her job. Her investigation of
Representative Randy Cunningham resulted in a guilty plea for taking
more than $2 million in bribes from defense contractors and a sentence
of more than eight years. Two weeks ago, she indicted Kyle Dustin
Foggo, the former No. 3 official in the C.I.A. The defense-contracting
scandal she pursued so vigorously could yet drag in other politicians.

many Justice Departments, her record would have won her awards, and
perhaps a promotion to a top post in Washington. In the Bush Justice
Department, it got her fired.

Ms. Lam is one of at least seven
United States attorneys fired recently under questionable
circumstances. The Justice Department is claiming that Ms. Lam and
other well-regarded prosecutors like John McKay of Seattle, David
Iglesias of New Mexico, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of
Arizona ? who all received strong job evaluations ? performed

It is hard to call what?s happening anything other
than a political purge. And it?s another shameful example of how in the
Bush administration, everything ? from rebuilding a hurricane-ravaged
city to allocating homeland security dollars to invading Iraq ? is
sacrificed to partisan politics and winning elections.

U.S. attorneys have enormous power. Their decision to investigate or
indict can bankrupt a business or destroy a life. They must be, and
long have been, insulated from political pressures. Although appointed
by the president, once in office they are almost never asked to leave
until a new president is elected. The Congressional Research Service
has confirmed how unprecedented these firings are. It found that of 486
U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, perhaps no more than three were
forced out in similar ways ? three in 25 years, compared with seven in
recent months.

Check out the whole column and let your disgust grow with the Bush administration putting politics above good government at every turn.  On the bright side, with Democrats controlling Congress we can expect appropriate investigations into this unjust politicizing of Justice.  You can bet that would not have been the case with Republicans in control.  Here's hoping that the Congress takes appropriate action to get to the bottom of this.  I won't even bother hoping that the newsmedia gives it the coverage its due. 

UPDATE: Just a short time after I initially posted this, the Washington Post went up with an article about how one of the fired attorneys believes he lost his job because Republican lawmakers had been pressuring him to issue indictments of Democratic politicians before the November elections. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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