Another US attorney has resigned, apparently forced from her job by the Department of Justice, making a total of eight since the beginning of December. Since one normally sees this kind of turnover in the fast-food or housekeeping industries, it does not seem too nosy to ask what the hell is going on at Justice:
An eighth U.S. attorney announced her resignation yesterday, the latest in a wave of forced departures of federal prosecutors who have clashed with the Justice Department over the death penalty and other issues.
Margaret Chiara, the 63-year-old U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., told her staff that she was leaving her post after more than five years, officials said. Sources familiar with the case confirmed that she was among a larger group of prosecutors who were first asked to resign Dec. 7. ...
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty told senators earlier this month that all but one of the prosecutors were fired for "performance-related" reasons. McNulty said that former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock was removed so the job could be given to a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove.
Nearly all of the dismissed prosecutors had positive job reviews, but many had run into political trouble with Washington over immigration, capital punishment or other issues, according to prosecutors and others. At least four also were presiding over high-profile public corruption investigations when they were dismissed.
In three month's time, almost ten percent of the entire set of US Attorneys have been pushed out the door. That seems rather significant, and not coincidental. The Washington Post makes gender its first hook in this story, but that's really not significant; women make up 17% of the positions and 25% of those apparently dismissed.
Only one of these prosecutors had less than a good job review in their previous evaluations. If they performed well, why have they been asked to leave? We have been told little, except that Justice cleared one position in order to make room for a Karl Rove aide. McNulty says that the prosecutors have been removed for performance issues, but that's going to be difficult to sell considering the hosannas some of these people have received since their dismissals as well as their previous reviews.
One prosecutor's case got more publicity after her resignation. Carol Lam had driven the case against Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the Republican Congressman from San Diego convicted of taking millions in bribes and of corruption going back years. While DoJ sources told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lam got the axe because she hadn't prosecuted enough gun and border cases, Lam had made it a higher priority to target the leaders of immigrant-smuggling organization rather than the coyotes who did the foot work.
However, critics of Lam did have one strong point: prosecutions in her office declined by 38 percent in the first four years of Lam's tenure. Has that been the case with all of the eight prosecutors pushed out the door over the past three months? If so, then let's see the data. The Attorney General should be making the case for its ten-percent solution publicly, because most of these prosecutors got appointed by the Bush administration. If they're incompetent, then let's find out how they managed to get good evaluations up to the time they got pressured to resign their posts. If they're not incompetent, then I think we need a better explanation why they have been pushed out the door than just some vague reference to "performance".
One of President Clinton’s very first official acts upon taking office in 1993 was to fire every United States attorney then serving — except one, Michael Chertoff, now Homeland Security secretary but then U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, who was kept on only because a powerful New Jersey Democrat, Sen. Bill Bradley, specifically requested his retention.
Were the attorneys Clinton fired guilty of misconduct or incompetence? No. As a class they were able (and, it goes without saying, well-connected). Did he shove them aside to thwart corruption investigations into his own party? No. It was just politics, plain and simple.
True enough. However, these aren't the first days of the Bush administration, and these firings did not come as a result of his re-election, either. Most, if not all, have been Bush appointees, including Carol Lam. A system of political spoils doesn't explain the turnover occurring at the DoJ.