March 17, 2007

The Mountain The Administration Made Of A Molehill

The explanations keep shifting on the firing of eight federal prosecutors, creating a sustained firestorm out of what should have been a nine-day wonder. Karl Rove may now have to testify before a Senate committee to answer questions about the genesis of the plan to cull out those US Attorneys the administration felt did not support their policies:

“The first rule of damage control is get to the bottom of it, figure out what the worst is, conduct an internal investigation, collect all the evidence and then dump it out in one fell swoop,” said David R. Gergen, who has advised presidents of both parties. “Instead, they have made the mistake in this prosecutor story of apparently not knowing themselves what they had.”

Indeed, the administration’s changing explanations for the dismissals seem to be at the heart of the current clash, which both Republicans and Democrats say could cost Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales his job.

On Friday, with the release of more e-mail messages, there was yet another shift, as Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, backed away from the administration’s assertion that Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, had proposed dismissing all 93 United States attorneys. Dan Bartlett, counselor to Mr. Bush, said earlier this week that Ms. Miers had “floated an idea” to do just that, but by Friday, Mr. Snow said he was no longer certain.

“This is as far as we can go,” Mr. Snow said. “We know that Karl had a recollection of Harriet’s having raised it. And his recollection is that he dismissed it as not a good idea. That’s what we know.”

This is a scandal of incompetence, not of malfeasance, but it doesn't make it any less of a problem for the Bush administration. Federal prosecutors are political appointees, and it breaks no rules to fire one, as long as it isn't done to obstruct justice. Despite some heated speculation on this point, no one has shown any evidence of obstruction, and Patterico, among others, have shown why the administration had some cause to be dissatisfied with the eight.

However, the termination of eight USAs for reasons other than malfeasance in mid-term were very unusual, and Gonzales should have been prepared to answer questions about it. No one at Justice or the White House apparently did any research on the history of mid-term dismissals, but only eight USAs had been terminated in that manner in the previous 25 years -- and most of them for obvious cases of malfeasance. The firing of this many at once was certain to raise eyebrows, and the White House and Gonzales should have anticipated that and prepared for it -- especially with a hostile Congress eager to launch a thousand investigations against the Bush administration.

Instead, they have looked like the gang that couldn't research straight. Gonzales and his staff made representations to Congress that no one at the White House had anything to do with the decision to fire the prosecutors, even though it wouldn't have been illegal or necessarily improper if they had. Somehow they missed Gonzales' own chief of staff's series of e-mails which easily disprove that contention. The blame shifted to Harriet Miers for a time, but when more e-mails arose, it shifted around the White House.

Had Gonzales prepared properly, all of this would have come out immediately, and while it still would have caused controversy, it would have avoided the look of a cover-up -- which implies some sort of underlying violation. Instead, Justice has looked more like Keystone Kops, especially with the fumble by the FBI on national-security letters this month as well. It demonstrates an incompetence that the administration cannot afford during the final two years of the Bush term, not if they want to get anything at all accomplished.

I suspect that the White House has already reached that conclusion, and that Gonzales will be spending more time with his family soon -- perhaps by the end of the weekend.

UPDATE: Power Line publishes an interesting letter from Stefan Sharansky, who covered the vote-fraud story in Washington in 2004, regarding the termination of John McKay:

You've been writing about the fired U.S. Attorneys, so I thought you might be interested in another side of the story on John McKay. The national media have transmitted without challenge McKay's story that he investigated allegations of vote fraud in Washington's 2004 gubernatorial race but saw "zero evidence" of fraud. Now he's being portrayed (see Friday's NYT editorial) as the victim/hero of partisan Republicans who are punishing him for refusing to launch a groundless, politically-motivated investigation.

There's much more to this than has been widely reported. A lot more credible evidence of election violations from the 2004 governor's race has been shown to McKay than he's been willing to acknowledge, let alone investigate.

It's taken me two years and some litigation to get the King County Elections office to release enough of the appropriate records, but I've compiled evidence of hundreds of illegal votes (nearly 4 times the official 129-vote "margin of victory"). These are not just random errors, but incidents of systemic mishandling of ballots by the elections office, most of which occurred just before the election was certified when the Democrat appeared to be trailing. At the very least it's official negligence that may well have changed the outcome of the governor's race. Was it all run-of-the-mill "good enough for government work" negligence? Or was it willful? Does it meet the legal standard of "fraud"? We don't know, as there's never been an investigation into any of this.

Be sure to read the whole thing.


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Comments (21)

Posted by Rod [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 8:00 AM

The President shot himself in *BOTH FEET* when he tried to pin the blame on Harriet Miers when he came back from South America. A really dumb thing to do for at least 2 reasons.
1, IT shows complete disloyalty to his staff. I am all important and the rest of you are expendable.
2. It was not true and easily proved to be a lie.

It looks like the President is in a state of jpanic and reacting without thinking.

The lets blame Meirs idea made a bad situation much worse.

Posted by PersonFromPorlock [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 8:12 AM

Sigh. We could say the Bush administration's heart is in the right place, but considering where its head is its heart is probably about knee-level.

Posted by Dale in Atlanta [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 9:11 AM

Capt: This is your Third attempt at this finally got it right!

Not "sadly" for you, because you finally got it right, sadly because of what it says about the incompetence, but NOT "illegal" nor "nefarious" nor "political" nor "atypical" nor any other Leftist BDS-inspired Nutbag Conspiracy-nonsense, of the Administration!

Well done, Finally!

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 9:34 AM

Looks like the "performance" defense has just gone down the drain, according to this report:

Gonzales apologizes to prosecutors - (3/16/07)
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales apologized to the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys in a conference call Friday as he tried to hold on to his job amid the scandal over the firings of eight federal prosecutors. ...
Gonzales apologized to the prosecutors not for the firings but for their execution, including for inaccurate public statements about poor job performance, according to people familiar with the afternoon conference call.

Inaccurate, as in "feeble excuse", that is.

Posted by Lightwave [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 10:06 AM

I don't understand.

By all accounts, the story that should be leading every news outlet in the country is the fact the Democrats have suffered three massive self-inflicted political eviscerations.

1) Democrats created a non-scandal about Gonzales. Yes, his verbal fumbling made things worse. But by no means is this a firing offense, and everything the man did was 100% legal...because the Democrats voted overwhelmingly to give the AG the power to appoint USAs with no confirmation hearings. If we're talking incompetence leading to resignations, about 95% of the Senate Dems need to resign immediately. The bottom line is they look like a bunch of fools.

2) The Democrats suffered another massive defeat this week when their Senate bill surrendering to Al Qaeda was roundly defeated. Harry Reid slunk back under his rock and cried that he wasn't done, but the fact of the matter is the Dems' efforts to give up Iraq to AQ and Iran is officially dead. As the evidence mounts that the new strategy in Baghdad is working, voters will remember in 08 who voted to surrender to the terrorists (the Democrats) and who voted to give victory a chance (the GOP). The political ads write themselves. This vote is eventually going to end the careers of dozens of Democrat Senators.

3) The Dems put Valerie Plame under oath, where she lied to Congress a half-dozen times about her covert status and who sent her husband to Niger. She proved herself to be a complete fraud in front of the entire country, and there's ample evidence for the DoJ to immediately prosecute Plame for the crime. Plame's testimony to Congress has done more to cement the fact that Scooter Libby never should have been put on trial to begin with, and that Patrick Fitzgerald was fishing for Bush White House staff all along. If anything, she's completely destroyed her own civil case, it must be thrown out immediately as well.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Democrats self-destructed this week, not the Republicans or Bush. But the liberal media won't share that opinion, of course.

The rest of America however is aware of the facts.

Posted by Keemo [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 10:22 AM

There is a big difference between being a bumbling fool and being a crook.

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 10:44 AM

Captain Ed:

My you have grown since you have become one of the premier Conservative Bloggers and like all Conservatives who grow you appear to want to find acceptance with the Washington political establishment.

The prosecutors are political appointees who the President can replace for any reason including politics. The only suspect reason for replacement is when the the prosecutor is investigating misdeeds by the Administration or same party officials. You know, like replacing a Republican Prosecutor looking into the Whitewater business in 1993.

This may come as shock to you but the President is first and foremost the leader of his party. In other words he is a politician. He makes political decisions. If a Republican Senator wants to hand a plum to Republican supporter and asks the President to remove a Democrat from the US Attorneys office in his state then with exception stated above there nothing inherently wrong with him doing so.

There is no scandal here and Republicans should close ranks and support the firings. Politics is a reason to replace a prosecutor. These are patronage jobs. If you don't think they should be then pass a law making them permanent civil service positions.

Congress tried to impeach Andrew Johnson because they didn’t like his appointments and passed an unconstitutional law, the Tenure of Office Act, to give Congress control over political appointments above and beyond the advice and consent of the Senate. It appears that you are supporting the Democratic Party’s attempt to reenact this little drama. The Democrats are not standing up for right and wrong, they are asserting that only the Democratic Party can confer legitimacy on political decisions. Way to go Captain.

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 11:24 AM

Nice try Jerry but when you lose Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a stauch supporter of GWB, that means your in a bad place. Are you saying if a Democrat president fired 8 US attorneys mid-term the meek and pacifist rightwing noise machine would be silent? No ones that naive nowadays Jerry. Please start living in the real world and stop being a Bush apologist. When Dems do brain-dead things I'm the first one to rip them. Stupid is stupid no matter what side of the aisle your on. This isn't the first time Gonzalez screwed up. He's a Bush crony, thats how he got his job, not because he was a brilliant judicial mind.

Posted by Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 2:33 PM

It would be nice if just now and then when the Democrats have one of their hissy fits the conservatives did not jump in there and do their job for them.

There was nothing in those emails that makes this a bigger deal than it was. Sheesh, so there was a mention made of the subject, so what?

The Democrats are going to be doing this kind of thing to the Bush administration on a regular basis for the next year and a half and if Bush has to fire someone everytime Chucky Schumer tells him to, he will be running out of people.

People make mistakes, at least Gonzales is a lot more competent that Reno and he has not sicked the ATF on anyone.

But it is not the administration making a mountain out of a mole hill here, it is people on the right who should no better and people on the left who really don't care what the truth is....they just want to make trouble.

Gonzales should not have to apologize to people who are not doing their jobs the way the boss wants it done.

And tell me starfleet when all those Clintonistas were indicted for real crimes, did you defend them? I would say you did. You are that kind.

Posted by Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 2:41 PM

conservative democrat:

That is such nonsense. So you are saying that if Bush had fired all of them a year or so sooner it would have been ok fine?

The truth is the Democrats live by one set of rules and want the other party to live by another. If you really feel that way then I expect to see the Democrats change the rules so that this horrid bad nasty icky thing can never happen again. But they won't, if they did they could not do the same thing themselves whenever the mood strikes them.

'There is a difference between people being annoyed with the AG for not getting on top of this sooner and people saying Bush did something illegal or wrong by firing people he has every right to fire.

Now I know that Democrats love voter fraud, after all where would they be without it? And here is an example of them protecting people who were supposed to be looking into cases of voter fraud but just did not get around to it.

Kind of makes me wonder. Especially when you consider how thoroughly rotten the Clinton adminstration was.

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 3:21 PM


Speaking of nice tries, Clinton fired all 93 US Attorneys, including the US Attorney for Little Rock who was investigating the Clinton's role in Whitewater, and replaced them with Democratic Party stalwarts. The only objection I have is the replacement of the US Attorney in Little Rock. Had he fired only 92 and left the one who was investigating him in place then I would have had no objection.

The successor to the Tenure in Office Act was declared unconstitutional in 1928.

Congress has no say in the removal of political appointees in the Executive Branch. Unless they can show the Bush is pulled a Clinton and fired a US Attorney who was investigating wrong doing by Republicans then this investigation is an unconstitutional intrusion into the affairs of the Executive Branch and President and the Republican Party should refuse to cooperate. So far the only connection with corruption has been the removal of two Democratic Party affiliated prosecutors who refused to look into allegation of vote fraud by Democrats.

Posted by Mona [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 4:57 PM

jerry wrote:

This may come as shock to you but the President is first and foremost the leader of his party. In other words he is a politician. He makes political decisions. In other words he is a politician. He makes political decisions.

I can't believe a serious person wrote that as if it ought to be prescriptively true. "... the President is first and foremost the leader of his party. In other words he is a politician. He makes political decisions. "

Well, ok then.

Posted by Carol_Herman [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 8:02 PM


He was a pretty man. Tall. And, handsome. WIth an orator's voice. On an empty head. Didn't do the GOP any good that he got into office.

Didn't do any good, either, that Herbert Hoover, during the 1927 devastating Mississippi flood, made a national name for himself. ANd, jumped into the GOP go-cart. To really screw up.

That's the past. And, it probably motivates the donks, now. Since, to them, Bush is weak.

And, unable to do much with his voice. So the presidential pulpit goes to rot.

On the other hand? Nixon was much smarter than Bush. And, what good did it do him?

Bush is managing, just enough. He made a very aggresive move to take out Saddam. And, then poor moves to do much with this. Which is what gave the Kuwaitis and the Saudis the steam to do harms in Iraq.

Still, Iraq is a whole separate country. Lots of times Americans fail at the map. Can't identify shit.

While General Patraeus is finnaly getting stuff done in Iraq. Where Maliki is cooperating. And, for all we know? Iran is disintegrating on the order of the old soviets.

This would mean we have no one in DC who can analyze what's really happening.

And, the media? They can't raise up sales. Which would be the one indicator that things for them, have changed. But they are not on a roll.

And, Bush isn't going to have much say in who gets nominated in 2008. Do you know why? NOBODY is asking him to volunteer his time, to help them campaign. No one is asking Bush's father, either.

In other words there are pockets of GOP "stuff" that is not selling well in the mainstream. And, the Bush's are like the Edsel. Made at great expense. But a flop.

On the other hand, after the grifters, a little flop is actually a pause. Where those on the right who thought they were crowning kings, really crowned crap when they picked shrubbery from the Bush fram.

Doesn't matter.

Bush doesn't use words. Today's kids aren't even listening to "words." They've tuned out the pundits, as well.

Where Bush gets hurt? He can't defend anyone he hires. And, he also doesn't seem to have much interest. Even when Gonzales is turned into a doormat, doesn't do much for Bush. Except he'll dig in his heels.

At some point the donks are involved in a loser's game. Because they can't get people angry enough at Bush where they're willing to vote for hillary. Or obama. Or any other piece of crap they've got there. It's been this way for a long time, too. You can even call out the names on this train: LBJ, McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, Mondale, Jimmy Carter, and Dukakis. ALgore. And, "Karry." To this you can add their current crop.

Sure. It explains why they're tearing into Bush. He's not popular. But he is our president. And, since Bush doesn't raise a hand to swat a fly, in the end he gets the sympathy. If this were vaudeville, the comedy routine would have a name.

2008 may just turn out to produce a "300" moment. Where the voters go. Just like they're filling audiences now. And, nobody "inside hollywood" is making this money. Instead: UNKNOWNS.

It's nice when newcomers come into the casino and clean up.

And, the side-effect? Where it puts pressure on Maliki? That's a bonus! While during the 3 years Maliki, and other Iraqis saw Americans enthused, they sat on their hands and robbed uncle sugar blind.

Now? Seems 90% of Iraq has a grasp on what they got. And, they want to keep it, too. While Anbar, and Sadr, with his city, are the roach motels in a country where the people, themselves, are finding their spines. It's not as bad as you think.

And, it's a hell of a lot better than Lebanon and Gazoo.

Posted by Karen [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 9:02 PM

I wondered why no one was investigatiing the Washington stolen governor's race. That stunk to high heaven and nothing was being done about it and of course the main stream press liked the stolen outcome, so the silence was deafening. So it turns out the US Attorney there was a Democrat and declined to investigate. Now, years later, they purged him. They should have purged him as soon as that election was certified and he was obviously not going to investigate anything.

Posted by Elais [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 9:08 PM

It was my understanding that the 92 attorney's Clinton fired were at the beginning of his term. I doubt Clinton would want to keep the political appointees of Bush Sr. Bush's firing of 8 attorneys is bizarre and rarely done. It smells of all kinds of Republican stink.

If being 'the pleasure of the President' means that you can be fired if the President has a bad gas attack, that's not a good thing.

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 17, 2007 10:06 PM


Your comment clearly places the inverted logic of the Democrats on display.

Clinton's replacement of all 93 US Attorneys is a unique event in the modern era. Carter, Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 retained US Attorneys appointed by their predecessors. Clinton is the only one who replaced them all including the one investigating him.

Rather than being bizarre, the replacement of less then10% of the US Attorneys in a short time is more the norm then an aberration especially when two of them fail to vigorously pursue allegations of vote fraud or corruption against members of their own party.

You may not like the fact the President runs the executive branch and has authority to remove political appointees for what ever reason he wishes but this right was affirmed by the SCOTUS in Meyers vs the United States in 1926. If you don’t like it you can always write a letter to your Congressman asking him to introduce a Constitutional Amendment removing the power of the President to run the execute branch of the government.

Posted by The Yell [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 2:47 AM

starfleet dude, doubtless it will rock your very soul to learn this, but...if we were willing to roll over for Beltway VIPs, we wouldnt' sign up for the GOP.

you're wrong; the Democrats who agree with you, are wrong; the Republicans who agree with you, are wrong; and if you found people in China who agreed with you, they'd be wrong too.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 8:32 PM

More coming out about the firing of Carol Lam, and how it may have been related to an investigation of corruption that alarmed some in the GOP:

U.S. attorney's firing may be connected to CIA corruption probe
Feinstein said Lam notified the Justice Department on May 10, 2006, that she planned to serve search warrants on Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo, who'd resigned two days earlier as the No. 3 official at the CIA.
On May 11, 2006, Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales' chief of staff, sent an e-mail to deputy White House counsel William Kelley, asking Kelley to call to discuss "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."
The e-mail did not spell out what the "real problem" was, and it was unclear whether Kelley and Sampson talked later.
Until now, lawmakers have focused on two of Lam's other inquiries into Republicans as possible ways in which she may have chafed the administration.
Lam oversaw the investigation that led to the corruption conviction of then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., who pleaded guilty in late 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in bribes. He was sentenced in March 2006 to eight years and four months in prison.
On the same day last year as the Sampson e-mail, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Cunningham probe was being expanded to look at the actions of another California Republican, then-House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis.
Feinstein did not say how she learned that Lam had notified the Justice Department about her plans to serve search warrants on Foggo, who on May 8 had resigned as the executive director of the CIA. FBI agents seized records from Foggo's CIA offices and his suburban Vienna, Va., home on May 12.
Who Lam notified about her plans was unknown. Ordinarily, information about search warrants in high-profile cases would be passed to the U.S. attorney executive office in Washington. At the time, that office was headed by Michael Battle. Battle, who notified the dismissed U.S. attorneys they were being replaced in December, resigned March 5.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2007 9:41 PM

Looks like the administration's excuse that New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was fired for not pursuing cases of election fraud just evaporated:

Justice Dept. Recognized Prosecutor's Work on Election Fraud Before His Firing
One of the U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration after Republican complaints that he neglected to prosecute voter fraud had been heralded for his expertise in that area by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes.
David C. Iglesias, who was dismissed as U.S. attorney for New Mexico in December, was one of two chief federal prosecutors invited to teach at a "voting integrity symposium" in October 2005. The symposium was sponsored by Justice's public integrity and civil rights sections and was attended by more than 100 prosecutors from around the country, according to an account by Iglesias that a department spokesman confirmed.
Iglesias, a Republican, said in an interview that he and the U.S. attorney from Milwaukee, Steven M. Biskupic, were chosen as trainers because they were the only ones identified as having created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections. An agenda lists them as the panelists for a session on such task forces at the two-day seminar, which featured a luncheon speech by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
According to Iglesias, the agency invited him back as a trainer last summer, just months before a Justice official telephoned to fire him. He said he could not attend the second time because of his obligations as an officer in the Navy Reserve.
The Justice Department's use of Iglesias as a trainer conflicts with an explanation offered last week by a senior aide to President Bush that eight U.S. attorneys had been removed, in part, because of complaints that some had been lax in pursuing election fraud. Bush told Gonzales last fall he was aware of such complaints, said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, who cited New Mexico as one of three states in which the complaints had arisen.

Posted by The Yell [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 19, 2007 1:40 AM

"The Justice Department's use of Iglesias as a trainer conflicts with an explanation offered last week by a senior aide to President Bush that eight U.S. attorneys had been removed, in part, because of complaints that some had been lax in pursuing election fraud."

No it does not.

He was invited to a symposium by "by Justice's public integrity and civil rights sections", according to him, because "they were the only ones identified as having created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections".

In other words, a lower level of the DOJ recognized they had done something, because it had to find a couple of people in the outfit who had done anything.

That doesn't "conflict" with a higher level of the DOJ deciding his effort wasn't enough.

BTW, if this guy is calling off work to serve in the wartime Naval Reserve, isn't that a "performance issue"? I believe the federal government is exempt from the ban on terminating reservists because of their service, and I believe the history of the United States will show that where there's a conflict between Reserve duty and Civil Service, the civil service loses the officer, voluntarily or not.

Posted by The Yell [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 19, 2007 3:00 AM

We know what your folks are up to, SFdude

"Every time you get more memos, or more communications between the White House and the Justice Department, you get more facts that don't look good," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "The White House either hired a bunch of incompetent U.S. attorneys to start with, or hired a bunch of competent U.S attorneys that were incompetently fired."

Whether or not the right people went by the rail is a minor issue compared to Blaming Bush.

Democratic pollsters have been asked to research in greater detail the theory of some party strategists that while many swing voters think the mess in Iraq is at least partly beyond the president's control, they can be convinced that the clumsy handling of the prosecutors can be blamed on him directly.

Oh please do! Having 535 Donks shouting about curbing Presidential authority is just the ticket to derail Hillary.