April 20, 2007

The Nature Of Accountability And At-Will Employment (Updated)

We have had a lot of dialog on the performance of Alberto Gonzales over the past few weeks, and yesterday's live-blog and follow-up post has crystallized a few arguments on both sides. Chief among them are that a boss can fire anyone at any time with no consequences, and that criticism of Gonzales makes one less Republican and/or conservative. I'm going to challenge both of those here.

First, anyone who thinks that at-will employment in the United States means in practical terms that a boss can fire anyone at any time with no reason whatsoever has never managed or employed people. These days, that's not even true during probationary periods. Had I walked up to one of my employees in my past job who had been with the company for any length at all and just told them to clear out their desk without ever having communicated any performance issues in detail to them, it would set several unpleasant consequences in motion.

First, if the employee had half a brain, they would contact a lawyer, who would then file a lawsuit requiring me to release all of my personnel records -- and not just for the fired employee, but for all of my employees, past and present, to see if I unfairly discriminated against this employee. I would have to pay an attorney a lot of money to defend me. I would then get deposed by attorneys on the reasons for that termination, and hauled into court to answer the same questions all over again. If I didn't have a good reason for firing that person and/or if I deviated in any way from the normal termination process of my company, the former employee would (a) win a wrongful termination judgment against my company and perhaps me personally, (b) I would lose lots of money, and (c) it would create a difficult situation with the employees I had left, who understandably would be less than comfortable to see their colleague depart so abruptly.

And that's if I owned the company. If I was a CEO of a public corporation and allowed that to happen, I might get fired. If I was a manager, I'd most certainly get fired.

[see update below]

Several commenters have called me and the Senators criticizing Gonzales "fair-weather Republicans." In my opinion, that's ridiculous. I support Republicans because they usually represent competence and smaller government, not because I belong to the Republican Tribe. I'm not going to support or defend obvious incompetence on the part of Republicans, and Gonzales has been an incompetent in this matter, as Tom Coburn rightly points out. I've said it before -- if people want to read GOP apologetics, they can be found at www.gop.com. Here, you get my honest opinion, and not just a dose of tribalism.

Four months after the firings and after a month of preparation, Gonzales still couldn't completely answer Brownback on why each attorney got fired. He testified that he hadn't even met with most of them about those reasons he could recite. He admitted that he wrongly accused them of poor performance in his public statements. He told the Senate yesterday that he objected to the plan Kyle Sampson presented him in November about rolling out the terminations, and then could not answer why that plan got followed over his objections by his aide.

Is that competence? Is this our argument for 2008 in asking the American public to trust Republicans with power? If it is, and we cannot bring ourselves to demand better from this administration, be prepared for a very disappointing 2008.

I'll let Tom Coburn finish this out, and leave the last word to CQ commenters:

I believe there's consequences to a mistake. I was quoted in the paper as saying I think this has been handled in a very incompetent manner. And I believe most people -- I don't care which side of the aisle they are -- would agree with that.

U.S. attorneys' reputation that were involved has been harmed. The confidence in U.S. attorneys throughout this country has been damaged. The reputation of the attorney general's office has been tarnished and brought into question.

I disavow, aggressively, any implication that there was a political nature in this. I know that's the politics of the bloodsport that we're playing. I don't think it had anything to do with it.

But to me, there has to be consequences to accepting responsibility. And I would just say, Mr. Attorney General, it's my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled.

And it was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered.

And I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.

UPDATE: I left out an entire paragraph here, in which I intended to close the loop on my analogy to the private sector. So here it is:

Now, we have heard that the President has the ability to fire any of these prosecutors at any time, for whatever reason he sees fit, as long as it isn't to obstruct justice. That's true. It presupposes some kind of reason, however; one shouldn't fire people without having a reason. So what were the reasons for firing each of these people? Even Gonzales couldn't explain them after a month of research and preparation for this hearing. He offered some performance issues, but couldn't say whether he had ever communicated those issues to the attorneys themselves before or during the terminations. And regardless of the political nature of the appointments, the AG and the White House had to know that people would ask questions about the rather unprecedented terminations -- and it's obvious that despite their planning, they had no good or consistent response to them.


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Comments (55)

Posted by Rob D [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:41 AM

Gonzales couldn't state the obvious; the impetus for each of the 8 firings came from the White House political staff, communicated to the political staff at Justice. The Attorney General was merely a facilitator.

He should not need to resign as a result of following orders.

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:45 AM

Captain Ed, greetings ... you are totally correct. Sometimes one's belief in a party is shaken and a thinning of the herd is always a good way to make the herd stronger. Gonzo is one of those bad apples that needs to go.

You take your pick, either he is a liar or incredibly incompetent. He has to be one or the other. The real sad issue is how right wing wackos can support someone just because he is a right wing wacko like themselves.

Posted by Stormy70 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:46 AM

I'm sorry, but the incompetence claim coming from the halls of the US Senate is laughable. I can think of 20-30 Senators who need to resign right now for the same thing. Why do they get a pass?

This is a fake scandal, and no one cares about it, but political junkies.

Posted by Big G [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:50 AM

The fire at will argument is specious. These attorneys had standard 4 year contracts. They weren't fired in as much that the contracts were not renewed when they expired.

As for Tom Coborn's comments, "quit acting like a Demcrat".

Posted by quickjustice [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:51 AM

No one disputes that the President can fire all of the U.S. Attorneys, or some of them, without cause. The U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President.

The issue was not whether the President could have fired these U.S. Attorneys without cause, but rather whether he should have.

Had Gonzales been paying attention, he could have told the U.S. Attorneys that their performance was satisfactory, but that the President wanted to give some younger talent the experience.

Or he could have told them that their personal competence and integrity was not at issue, but that administration policy demanded new leadership in those positions.

Instead, he lost control of the process, and of his subordinates. Another word for that is "incompetence".

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 7:59 AM

I disagree with Coburn that politics didn't, or at least look like they didn't, play a role in the firings.

I mean, it's pretty cut and dry that Inglesias was fired because he didn't indict a Democratic politician prior to the 2006 election.

No good reason has been given for his firing and he was only added to the list of those to be fired after the now infamous phone calls.

Either Gonzalez knew this is why he was fired or didn't. Either way, signing off on this firing is enough for him to step down.

I do have wonder about Rove's role. It's been shown he played a role in one firing. And no one so far has stepped forward and claimed to be the one who chose these people to get the ax.

Captain Ed does a good job of cutting into the "they can fire whoever that want" argument. I never bought that argument, largely because of what Captain points out in his post, and because, though US Attorneys are political appointees, the precedent has been their continued employment in the department does not hinge on the policy of the White House, but on their job performance. These attorneys are appointed by the president, but don't SERVE the president or his policy. They serve the Constitution and the people of the United States.

So when an attorney is fired for political reasons like Iglesias looks like he was, it tarnishes the justice system of this country... as the reaction of other US attorneys across the country has shown. Politics has no place in evaluating the performance of these men and women.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:09 AM

"Had Gonzales been paying attention, he could have told the U.S. Attorneys that their performance was satisfactory, but that the President wanted to give some younger talent the experience."

This could have avoided all this, but perhaps not. Only because there has never been precedent for firings quite like this. It would have been handled in a much more savvy way, but I still think people would be questioning why these attorneys were let go and the level that politics played in the decisions.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:12 AM

Gonzales merely acted upon orders from the White House, and is now desperately trying to take the fall for it. It isn't working, and it's very clear that the next step for Congress is to subpoena Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and question them under oath about why the U.S. attorneys were fired and their part in it. If Gonzales can't present a reason for firing the attorneys, let's see if Karl Rove can. Somehow, I doubt anyone will buy Rove having a lousy memory for details.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:21 AM

Yeah, but Tom, Clinto fired all of them when he took the oath of office -- I doubt he had reviewed all their performances, he just wanted a different set of US Attorneys more to his political liking.

I seriously doubt Rove had anything to do with this, he is much too smart and can look down the road. He would have had a plausible story all ready lined up and gotten everyone on board. This is utter ineptness, Gonzales should just resign now. Not for having fired the folks, but for his very poor management skills.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:29 AM

The idea that firing a political appointee has to follow the same rituals as firing an employee of a call center is just downright silly. If any U.S. Attorney accepted his appointment under the illusion that he had a right to contest the terms of his termination, then he would be rightly declared unfit for the appointment on the spot. The phrase "at the pleasure of the President" isn't just a string of babble subject to whatever interpretation suit's one's political convenience.

And all of this pious drivel about U.S. Attornies not serving the President is just as silly. Of course they serve the President and they are there to execute his administration's policy in prosecuting federal offenses. The assumption is that these attornies will be selected with that policy in mind and retained for exactly the same reasons. That's what we elected him to do!

And as long as we're at this, let's get rid of the stupid notion that "politics" is some sort of sharply identifiable and seperable area of human activity that constitute's a stain upon the conduct of government. "Politics" is the way free people get things done, and everything in Washington, a city whose very existance is politics, is completely about politics at the most intense level possible. I would be dumbfounded if the White House political staff (an inherently redundant term if ever there was one?) DIDN'T have anything to do with this deal. Again, that's what these people were elected to do!

Having said all that, and being a card-carrying member of the Republican Tribe, I think Gonzoles has been fumbling this big fat softball for so long that he's become a cartoon. The only function he can possibly perform now is as a placeholder, to allow the administration to escape the nightmare of another confirmation hearing before this room full of buffoons in the Senate Judiciary Committee. We could plop a brick in his chair for the next 21 months and get the same result.

Posted by wham1000 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:31 AM

What CQ is alluding to “tribalism or blind allegiance is together with ideology, the scorns of the human race. Nazism and extremisms is only one of them. After 30 years being a Republican I decided in view of the last 6 years of the gross incompetence of this Administration to become an Independent. This is a country that has being built on the results of individuals. When there are bad fire them! When I vote for the people who will spend my dollars I want the smartest, independently of their allegiance and other described characteristics.

Posted by Rob D [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:31 AM

There is a big difference between:

(1) firing most or all of the US Attorneys after the start of an Adminstration (done by the last 4 or 5 Presidents), and

(2) firing USA's appointed earlier in the same Administration for not being sufficiently partisan.

Posted by The Yell [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:32 AM

Ed, where would you be as an employer who pressured a subordinate to resign rather than endure the embarrassment of firing him over unproven ethical complaints?

Article II trumps any complaints about propriety, "tone" on the Hill, traditional tenure of staff attorneys, or the lack of confidence in the Senate. A President does not have to consider any of them.

"Lack of confidence in US Attorneys"-road apples. Are the lines of people filing EEOC complaints drying up? Anybody doubt the federal govt is onto something in US v Gotti Jr.? Will you be out in the street with a placard the next time these shady characters persecutes a Muslim for allegedly buying a rocket launcher from an FBI plant?

There's quality assurance and there's ethical complaints and the two must not be blurred if we're going to have a functional government. It is totally wrong to expect government officials to surrender themselves to smears that they are, in effect, a Plumber's Squad in the DOJ. You need only read these comments thread to know that's what a resignation would confirm to a lot of people.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:35 AM


But so did Reagan and Bush I and II... I don't know if it's right or not, but there's been a precedent established that the new president gets to clean house and appoint his own guys.

In this case, US attorneys know the score. The new administration is coming in, so they'll most likely be replaced.

It's at his point that the president is allowed to choose the people he feels will best serve the COUNTRY.

To me, after the appointment, the president kind of let's them go and do his work to the best of his or her ability. In the past, the only attorneys who have been replaced because of misconduct or they stepped down. There has never been precedent that a president or AG let go a USA because they didn't feel they were "loyal" to the administration. I mean, there's documentation that that's how they graded (and seemingly dismissed) USAs and I think that that is just plain wrong.

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:39 AM

Cap'n Ed,

All I can say in regard to your post is:


Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:45 AM

"This is a fake scandal, and no one cares about it, but political junkies."

It's way too boring. I long for the day of real scandals that involved interns, cigars and $40 million investigations.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:46 AM

So what's the difference between "cleaning the house", i.e. putting your people in, because you want them to do certain things a certain way, and pruning the tree to get rid of a few who aren't doing those same certain things that same certain way.

US Attorneys are political creatures, politically appointed and can be fired for political reasons. Politics is not a dirty word, it is how US governments (federal, state, local) work. Plus it beats the alternative of having the most vicious thug with the most guns running the country.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:55 AM

Tom Shipley, Watergate was a scandal that started out just looking like a third-rate burglary also. Didn't end up that way. Gonzales was so over the top in his effort to come across as totally clueless that it's having the opposite result. Instead of looking merely incompetent enough to merit dismissal, Gonzales came across as so pathetically out of touch that it's impossible to buy anything about it. It's so obviously a cover to protect Karl Rove and the White House that even the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee will want to hear from Rove and Harriet Miers now. Specter is furious, and Graham and Grassley have also had quite enough and I think are more than willing to put Karl Rove under oath now.

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:56 AM

"US Attorneys are political creatures"

I completely disagree with this. Listen to what Inglesias said after his firing:

"I will never forget John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, telling me during the summer of 2001 that politics should play no role during my tenure. I took that message to heart. Little did I know that I could be fired for not being political."

This sort of sentiment has been echoed by many other USAs since the firings (not that they were fired, but that they always believed that their job was above politics).

US superme court justices are political appointees, but they are expected to be decidedly UN-political in their work. US attorneys are the same way.

Posted by contemptofcourt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:04 AM

The issue that the righties are missing is this:

It is true that the US Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. It is true that they can be fired for any reason at all.

But the DOJ did not choose to fire these guys for "any reason at all." Instead, they chose to fire these guys for "performance reasons." Problem is: there were no performance reasons....except for the ones they made up as they went.

The DOJ screwed the pooch on this royally. And like children, instead of fessing up, they continue to pretend that their lie is wholly believeable. And the lie is so blatant, the fact that they continue to spin it is troubling.

This issue is really a microcosim of the entire Bush WH....creating issues when none exist, and failing to push their message to the masses in a coherent fashion.

Posted by CayuteKitt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:06 AM

Quoting Coburn:

"But to me, there has to be consequences to accepting responsibility. And I would just say, Mr. Attorney General, it's my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled.

And it was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered.

And I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation."

Excuse me, but the situation with Gonzales does not fall under the purview of Congress. It has been established by all parties that the situation with the firing of the attorneys was bungled badly, but there was no wrongdoing in the execution of that firing.

So for Coburn and Congress to constantly demand that Gonzales resign is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, intended to deflect focus from other more important issues.....like the pork that Congress continues to pile on non-related bills, and the outrageous actions of Feinstein and Reid in enriching themselves through questionable practices during their tenure.

Posted by LeaningRt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:46 AM

I was resistant to firing Gonzales for the mere fact that this has become a political witchhunt by the Moon Bats in a desperate attempt to peel back an onion to find Rove in the middle and eat him alive. The attention it's gotten even brought a slight smirk to my face as I look at the Democratic subpoena machine and say, "Is this all you got?".

I've changed my mind slightly. Although I still believe Gonzales and the Bush administration have done nothing outside of their rights, Gonzales has proven such a boob in his responses that we should probably get him out of there. The party doesn't need such week politicians in it's midst....and god forbid Gonzales fumbles again.

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:51 AM

Captain Ed:

You can not be farther from the facts on this issue. Schedule C appointees are not "At Will" in the sense of the private sector. They are in positions that are extensions of Presidential Power. As such he has absolute authority over them as demonstrated by Clinton's removal of all the Prosecutors in 1993 including the one that was investigating his role in Whitewater and the Prosecutor who was investigating Dan Rostenkowski in Chicago. Schedule C appointees (note they are appointees and not employees) do not have an implied or explicit employment contract. If they did then a new President couldn't fire them either because the contract would be with the Office of President and not the holder of the office. The President’s power to hold Schedule C employees at his pleasure was affirmed in 1926 in Myers vs The United States. The reason that the President has this power is that he is responsible for all acts of his administration and you make the highest levels of the executive branch independent of the then you compromise the Constitutional Authorities of the President.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 9:55 AM

So what Tom? All Iglesias's remark indicate's to me is that Ashcroft was just as full of BS as a Used Car Salesman and Iglesias was dumb enough to buy it. And the fact that a whole crowd of other USA's echoed the sentiment just means that they want to grab the job and not be accountable to the President, or the process, who gave it to them. Or alternatively that they have a shared capacity for self-delusion that passes all understanding.

And Tom, please don't tell me that you sincerely believe that there is even the most remote parallel between US Attornies and Supreme Court Associate Justices. While they are also appointed by the President and approved by the Senate, Supreme Court Justices DO NOT serve at the pleasure of the President or anyone else; they are removed by impeachment or resignation or death! That's a long, long, long way from anything a mere U.S. Attorney can ever even dream of claiming for an entitlement.

The problem here is that if you remove U.S. Attornies from serving at the pleasure of an elected President, you also remove them from public accountability. You set them up as another cadre of experts who dare not be criticized or disciplined by either the people or their elected representatives. We don't need any more "Civil Servants" like the State Department or the CIA or the Postal Service, who consider themselves a permanent government, thank you very much. In fact we need more people in government who can be canned for obstructing the policy of the elected government, not less!

Posted by Tom Shipley [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:20 AM

"The problem here is that if you remove U.S. Attornies from serving at the pleasure of an elected President, you also remove them from public accountability."

I agree. These are not lifetime appointments, and should be subject to being replaced. But the problem here is that the "public" didn't have a problem with these people. There were no performance issues. They in fact received good performance evaluations.

And, like the supereme court, these people are political appointees who are supposed to serve the public in an un-poitical fashion. I don't see anything wrong with that statement and I would hope people would agree with me. Upholding the law should not be subject of politics.

The issue was that they weren't pushing the ADMINISTRATION'S agenda. US attorneys serve the public, correct? What happened here is that the Bush administration felt these guys were serving the ADMINISTRATION well enough. This wasn't public accountability. It was administration accountability.

"In fact we need more people in government who can be canned for obstructing the policy of the elected government, not less!"

But these people weren't obstructing anything. Bush and co. thought they could get people in there that would better serve THEM.

Inglesias wouldn't move up a scheduled indictment to help out the administration and he gets canned so that the Administration can replace him with someone more suitable WITHOUT senate confirmation.

"There is some risk that we'll lose the authority, but if we don't ever exercise it, then what's the point of having it?"

This last statement could serve as the inscription on the administration's tombstone. Which is ironic for such a "conservative" administration.

And on a final note:

"Ashcroft was just as full of BS as a Used Car Salesman and Iglesias was dumb enough to buy it."

Boy, so it's Ashcroft's fault. He should have told Inglesias "Tow the party line or your ass could be on the curb?" First off, that's not how the justice department has operated prior to these firings. But now that Bush decided its how it operates, you think that's how it should operate. I think you might be the one with BDS.

Posted by Labamigo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:25 AM

Well I disagree with you Captain.

Employment at will means the employer does not have to have any reason for discharging the employee.

The problem is the administration is led by a woman who does not have the guts to stand up to the opposition party.

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:42 AM

It's way too boring. I long for the day of real scandals that involved interns, cigars and $40 million investigations.

Ah yes, those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end, we'd sing and dance ...

I have to admit though, I am enjoying reading posts from those still onboard with Gonzo and defending his performance ... you all need to get a group card together and sign it "Heck of a job Gonzo!"

Posted by georgfelis [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:54 AM

It is difficult for a non-appointee to recognize the difference between the Real World, and the world of Schedule C appointees.
As stated before, in the Real World you must have a darned good reason to fire somebody, or be faced with Dire Consequences in the form of lawsuits and such. But in the world of Presidential Appointees you can be fired for absolutely no reason whatsoever. None. Also when undergoing Senate confirmation, you can be snubbed for no reason. Maybe the Senator just had a bad morning, or wants revenge on the President, it does not matter. USA Inglesias still appears to believe he was working for a law firm. Surprise!

The concept advanced by H. Myers of releasing *all* of the USA’s at the end of their terms looked pretty dumb when I first saw it, but it is looking better every day.

And last but not least, there is *no* way the Dems in the Senate will allow any new AG to take office who is to the right of Lawrence Tribe, and no competent Republican would be dumb enough to accept the appointment. AG Gonzales will be with us until the end of Bush’s term, and the Dems will continue to look petty and small. The good news is we don’t have to worry about Gonzales being appointed to the Supreme Court now.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:56 AM

No Tom, they are NOT supposed to serve the public in a non-political manner (whatever THAT means?)! They are appointed by the President to serve his administration according to his priorities - that's why we elected him after a lengthy and spirited campaign about his priorities. And if he can get people in there to better reflect his priorities, then he has every right and power to do exactly that. That's the way the Office of the President was set up and the people who set it up weren't just kidding about it. They designed a strong executive and we've got one, at least in terms of the Office if not the man.

Any time he want's to, he can tell the Congress to go scratch. He can just flatly ignore them and there isn't one damned thing they can do about it. This is just plain none of their business!

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 11:01 AM

Lew, if it was all about how the Office of the Presidency works, in your opinion, why do these USAs have to go through an approval process in Congress? When does it become "their" business?

Posted by contemptofcourt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 11:22 AM

Lew apparently comes from the wing of the republican party that believes president=king.

In addition, it is apparently OK to lie about your own appointed USAs and throw them under the bus "just because you can."

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 11:40 AM

Actually, Captain, the at will firing ability of the President can be used to obstruct justice.

That's what the Democrats are (in my estimation, falsely) claiming here, and that's what the Republicans claimed Reno did.

Suffice to say that Gonzales' managerial skills aren't. He either treated his job as a sinecure or was dumped into a situation too complex for him to handle. He didn't even talk to his colocated staff, much less the attornies themselves.

And, monkei, it becomes Congress' business any time they care to make it their business, and for whatever reason they care to use. After all, we have a set of checks and balances in our Constitution to prevent any of the three branches from behaving in an unconstitutional manner and this is an example. Congress can hold hearings on any topic they care to hold hearings upon, including the conduct of the Executive. However, in this case, Congress can only be reactive to firings of the attornies, not proactive -- they cannot give these attornies back their jobs, even if the attornies were fired to obstruct justice. The only real weapons Congress assembled has are the weak "let's burn this prospective appointee in effigy to send his boss a message" card or the very strong "let's impeach the President" card. In this case, either is a non-starter (we need new attornies post haste, and there is a 2/3 majority needed for impeachment). These hearings are therefore merely political haymakers.

Posted by Captain Ed [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 11:46 AM


I agree that it can be used to obstruct justice, but I was making the point that that is the boundary. I think you and I are on the same page here.

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 11:53 AM


Your snide comment of President = King is just plain dumb. The President is the head of the Executive Branch and it is within his authority to remove the Political Appointees that serve him. This is how he exerts his Constitutional control over the Executive Branch.

The Department that I work for has just brought in a new Under Secretary who is now in the process of replacing his Deputies who are Schedule C. In the name of President, he is cleaning house. In all likelihood he will be gone by the first of May despite the fact that my Deputy has done a good job. But the new guy wants to control his organization with his people. There is no difference between my new US arbitrarily replacing his Deputies and the USAs firings.

So get a clue, in the domain of the Executive Branch the President’s relationship to his Schedule C Political Appointees is King-like.

Posted by Lightwave [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 12:41 PM

When a corporation says they are going to fire 30,000 employees, everyone knows it's to boost the company's bottom line. Nobody bats an eye at news like that anymore.

8 attorneys get let go and it's literally worth congressional hearings over it. The bottom line here is that Gonzales will not admit his boss was behind these decisions. But you know what? That's not illegal.

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 12:54 PM

Lightwave, to some extent you are making the salient point. If there was no warning, that would be a FLSA violation. Obviously someone is going to say that such protections don't apply here - well, it's an imperfect comparison and you can have it both ways for rhetorical purposes but that proves nothing.

Also, if that same hypothetical company let a dozen employees go without warning, OR for because of the way they voted in a political election, OR because of their objection to perform illegal activity, OR as retribution for a legal disclosure of the same - then they would be wide open. That's the Captain's point, and it's a good one, although again it's not a perfect analogy.

The "anything goes" meme defending the WH is a weak one. This is politics here, and "anything goes" means we have the right to call for resignations, whether to save the integrity of the GOP, or to save the integrity of DOJ, or because it's Friday and there's nothing else to do. That's your "anything goes" right there.

Posted by contemptofcourt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 1:05 PM


You said: So get a clue, in the domain of the Executive Branch the President’s relationship to his Schedule C Political Appointees is King-like.

Care to explain why, then, USA's must get congressional approval when they are appointed?

And I'm pretty sure that the FF constructed that whole "checks and balances" thingy to make sure that the executive office did not get a chance to be "King-like".

Finally, it is quite clear that such authority is not "King-like". If it were, the President could fire the USA's to obstruct justice because, you know, its "King-like". But because the President's mice f'd this up so badly -- because Fredo had no clue what the hell was going on -- now the Dems in congress can score political points and hint that the President was indeed trying to do something funny acting "King-like".

Posted by james1776 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 1:24 PM

Sorry, but all this talk sort of forgets the central point....the 'investigation' is bogus. When one buys into the idea that something odd or ilegal happened, then one aids in the destruction of the administration.

The president can fire for about any reason at all. The position is political. He does not need congressional approval.

Pretend the administration was democrat. How would the dems on the committee react? 100% solid, unwaivering support for the AG even if they caught him in his back yard BBQing babies for a mid day treat.

It is the unquestioning political support by the dems and the absolute lack of any party loyalty by republicans that insures republicans lose in these fights. We roll over to political pressure instead of digging in and fighting back.

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 2:03 PM

James ...

Sorry, but all this talk sort of forgets the central point....the 'investigation' is bogus. When one buys into the idea that something odd or ilegal happened, then one aids in the destruction of the administration. The president can fire for about any reason at all. The position is political. He does not need congressional approval.

Gee, one would wonder why this AG then chose to lie and tell non-truths and half-truths over something so miniscule!

Posted by jerry [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 2:07 PM


You clearly don't understand the Constitutional history of this. The check on the President's power to run his Department through his agents (Political Appointees) is Senate confirmation to take office but there is no Congressional check on removal. You might want to read up on the history of Congressional efforts to restrict the Chief Executive's power to fire political appointees. Congress made it an issue during the Andrew Johnson administration through the Tenure of Office Act which claimed for Congress the right to prevent the President from removing members of his administration. Johnson’s attempted firing of several appointees brought on his impeachment.

The original act was repealed during the Hayes administration but eventually Congress attempted to re-impose this act with the exception of an exemption of Cabinet level appointees. This issue was finally adjudicated by the SCOTUS in Myers versus the United States 1926. In this decision the court ruled that what we now call Schedule C appointees serve at the pleasure of the President and Congress may not restrict the President’s power to remove them for any reason.

I note that President Bush didn’t remove Patrick Fitzgerald from his position even though he bungled a major counter-terrorism case because he was conducting an investigation into the Plame leak. He did not want to give the appearance of obstructing an investigation of his staff even though Fitzgerald’s performance in key area of administration emphasis was substandard. This contrasts with the Clinton administration’s firing of the USA for Little Rock was pursuing an active investigation of his role in the Whitewater case.

Posted by dwightkschrute [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 3:18 PM

At the root of all the questions being brought forth by congress is this - did you fire these US Attorneys for just cause or because it's your goal to turn that arm of the judicial system to do your political bidding? Had Gonzales, Sampson, Goodling, or any of the others been able to provide a competent answer to that question then we would not be where we are today. However, that fact that they have been unable to do looks worse by the minute as information continues to come out. From Iglesias claiming that he was fired for not rushing charges against Democrats during a tight race to a Milwaukee US Attorney being in jeopardy of being removed move off the danger list after prosecuting a Democrat in his district case only to see the case get overturned with comments like "beyond thin" and "preposterous" from a Reagan appointee appeals court judge.

This whole "serves at the pleasure" and "serve his administration according to his priorities" ideas are such a canard. Each and every person on the right would be screaming bloody murder if a President from the Democratic Party was accused of turning the Judicial System into that kind of kangaroo court. Bottom line is there are accusations that need to be addressed, which are that serving at the pleasure and according to administration priorities does not mean marginalizing an opposition political party at all costs.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 3:25 PM

Nice job Jerry! The problem here is that its George W. Bush that's exercising the clearly delineated powers of his office. Bush exercizing power = an abuse of power! If it was anybody else, or any other party, there wouldn't be a problem and we'd be throwing verbal spit-balls at each other over something real.

As it stands, you can lay it out every way possible and these folks just ain't gonna get it. I hate to think what they'd do if any of a dozen stronger men who've held the office, somehow returned to show them how its really done. Andy Jackson, where are you when we need you?

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 5:48 PM

I want to add something, but jerry, Lew, and james1776 are speaking the words I'd say, so, I'll just let more eloquent men speak. Goon on you, guys.

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 6:08 PM

Hey everyone ... it's Friday, the weekend is upon us, isn't this the time and day that most high level officials resign?

Posted by Keemo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 8:34 PM

Pretend the administration was democrat. How would the dems on the committee react? 100% solid, unwaivering support for the AG even if they caught him in his back yard BBQing babies for a mid day treat.
posted by james1776 at April 20, 2007 01:24 PM

Absolutely right James... Does the name "Janet Reno" ring a bell? Everybody in America knew this woman was as dumb as dirt; that would include most every leading Democrat holding a seat at that time. Remember WACO? When Ms. Reno went in front of a panel regarding WACO, she was thrown softballs by both parties; "circle the wagon" is exactly what took place by the left and the right. This group of Republicans is lost, simply confused and lost; lacking leadership or just plain stupid beyond comprehension. The politics of "personal assassination" will not stop following the removal of AG.

Nicely stated Jerry!!!!!!

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:02 PM

This group of Republicans is lost, simply confused and lost; lacking leadership or just plain stupid beyond comprehension. The politics of "personal assassination" will not stop following the removal of AG.

Your right Keemo, why not just go ahead and send the list of the remaining Repos meeting your requirements above on up to capital hill so they can get busy. The list will be long and this congress only has about 19 months left!

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 10:03 PM

Wow, if the Bush apologists WANT to keep that boob Gonzalez in place, more power to them. Technically no laws were broken, but how about the damage Mr. Incompetent did to the Bush Admin? Gonzalez is so far over his head in his job, I just shake my head. That rational people still try to defend Fredo is hilarious. Hey goopers, are you proud of your boy Alberto? He's a disgrace. And people are right about him just being the spokesman at the DOJ, someone else is calling the shots, and its not Dubya, he's not smart enough too. Please keep him, the dems can use him in commercials for 08.

Posted by Adjoran [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 20, 2007 11:34 PM

Ed, in taking the position that the President needs a "reason" to terminate a political appointment, you are asking of him something never asked of any President in 215 years. You are also sucking up the Democratic nonsense of this non-scandal. Not one shred of credible evidence exists that these firings were in any way improper.

It has nothing to do with "tribalism." It has to do with not jumping ship at the first sign of trouble. If you want to assert your complete independence from the GOP, that's fine. But in that case, kindly save all your advice for the Libertines or whoever you feel closest to. And stop using "we" when you refer to Republicans, mmmkay? So you won't feel so "tribal," you know?

You have Shipley and starflit agreeing with you here. That should be one big clue you are full of it.

Posted by Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 2:48 AM

At-Will-Employment is not what these people are hired under. They are hired and serve at the pleasure of the President. It is part of the Constitution and has been confirmed by SCOTUS. Get over it.


If an employee is not under contract, he or she is an at-will employee. An employer can dismiss an at-will employee hired for an indefinite term at any time for any non-discriminatory reason. Likewise, the at-will employee is free to terminate their employment at any time. The at-will employment doctrine, however, is being eroded in many states. Some challenges and exceptions to at-will employment include: breach of implied contracts through employee handbooks, public policy violations, reliance on an offer of employment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Unfortunately for at-will employees, you can get fired for any number of job-related, and non-job related reasons; for instance, your supervisor can fire you if he or she doesn’t like the clothes you wear, of if you tell lame jokes, or even if you simply rub your employer the wrong way.

Posted by Doc Neaves [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 5:27 AM

What kills me is that the Dems created this firestorm, admitting there was no crime, and now scream that he should resign because of the firestorm THEY created. You know, JUST LIKE SCOOTER LIBBY. No crime, but someone got burned in the firestorm because their answer did jive with their notes (notes which didn't jive with themselves, mind you). Just like all the other brouhaha they bring up to distract from the fact that not only has their "100 hours" expired with nothing to show for it, but their "100 days" is about gone and they're all out on vacations. But no Democrat wants to talk about that, they just want to repeat lies, and badmouth Gonzales. What a surprise. I don't take anything any Democrat here says anymore as anything but partisan hackery.

Posted by Captain Ed [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 5:41 AM


I'm not saying that he has done anything illegal in firing the attorneys. I'm saying he did something stupid if he fired them for no reason at all, or for reasons that Gonzales still can't figure out four months later. Why shouldn't I criticize Gonzales for doing something stupid, and then not getting his story straight afterwards and making things exponentially worse?

Did you listen to those hearings? Gonzales had no idea what kind of evaluations these people had, had no idea whether some of them had even been told about their supposed issues, and couldn't even recall -- after a month of preparation -- when he made the decision to allow Sampson to fire them, using a process that Gonzales says he rejected.

He's an incompetent. Defending his performance would make incompetence acceptable. If you believe that partisan defense is more important than having a competent Attorney General, then say so, but don't try to tell me that Gonzales is some sort of victim here.

Posted by Keemo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 8:02 AM


Of coarse I only speak for myself here.
Back some time ago, you ran a thread on the topic of "the politics of personal assassination". You made some great points in your write-up; the comment board lit up and a lively debate ensued. For me, the Gonzales gaffe is important for completely different reasons than you have consistently written about; this story is really about taking down another member of the Bush administration; another notch on the belt. Incompetence surrounds those currently serving us in D.C. today and in years gone by; hell Ed, one must go back to Reagan to get to a true leader, a true world changer... Of coarse you are correct to point out the utter incompetence of AG, but calling for him to resign due to mistakes made (rather than illegal acts) is simply feeding into the Liberals game plan, thus the orgasmic response you get on every thread you post on this subject by the hard core lefties that love to come play with us here at CQ. Your posts are being used on hard core lefty sites for propaganda.

One of your points made on the personal assassination thread, was "how are we to get the best qualified humans to serve us in the future when they are put through this meat grinder" (or something like that). My point; AG and hundreds of others on both sides of the isle are not the best qualified humans available to serve us. Incompetence is an odor in both houses it has become so prevalent. AG will go soon, one way or another; of that I have no doubt. We will then see a new target, new allegations, new coverage 24/7... If we are going to demand politicians step down due to incompetence alone, then we must make demands for both sides of the isle. Is this nothing more than "the politics of personal assassination". Have you read Tom Delays book on this subject?

Gonzales is not a victim; and he has displayed incredible incompetence with this matter. That being said, what about a look into his accomplishments of the past. What did Bush see in this man. Is AG a good and decent man, or is AG a scumbag. What exactly is the responsibility of the Attorney General, and has Gonzales performed well up to this point, or has he displayed incompetence throughout? If we are to throw this man under the bus, should we at least give him a fair trial and a fair look at the history of the man?

Clinton didn't throw Reno under the bus for good reasons; he didn't want to set a standard, he didn't want to feed the sharks. The Dems circled her wagon immediately and never left her cover. Reno was as incompetent as anybody that has ever served in that position, but yet she was protected by the left. They were smart (politically speaking) to have provided her cover.

I understand that you are taking the "high moral road" here CE; you're that kind of guy. My belief is that the Dems are using a constant barrage of personal assassination techniques to keep control of the news cycles, to keep the public attention exactly where they want it to be "on Bush and off them"; paint the picture exactly how they want the painting to be displayed on the evening news each and every night; constant control of the news.

AG is a gonner at this point; who's next?

Posted by Keemo [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 8:27 AM

monkei refers to our President as "chimpy"; others characterize Bush as stupid & incompetent. These are hate filled people incapable of seeing the big picture. All leaders have failures & mistakes that deserve ridicule and conversation; we also need to see what these leaders do well and have conversations about those elements as well.

Following 9/11, our stock market crashed; the airline industry was in total collapse; our country was in shock.... The body language Bush displayed within 24 hours of this tragedy was that of a leader. The decision making was crisp and decisive. The decisions made allowed for the stock market to recover rapidly; the airline industry to fire back up rapidly; the economy to recover rapidly. The stock market is on the verge of 13,000; unemployment is hovering around 4.6; the American homeland has not been successfully attacked since 9/11. OBL carried out a brilliant plan; a plan that could have done far more damage to our Country than actually transpired. Bush stood tall in our time of need; for that we should all be grateful. Bush has also displayed incompetence, while making many mistakes. Should we throw Bush under the bus due to his acts of incompetence? Where does this road end?

Posted by old crow [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 9:17 PM

Okay sunshine patriot. You're certainly free to be a RINO and I'm free not to return to your site. Get a life or a least some convictions.

Posted by Captain Ed [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 21, 2007 9:29 PM

I'm a sunshine patriot because I criticize Alberto Gonzales????? Did I become a citizen of Gonzalia? I'm a RINO because I think Alberto Gonzales is incompetent, and I have no convictions if I don't blindly support him?

Well .... bye.

Appended 21:38: This is what I mean by mindless tribalism. It is not unpatriotic to criticize Alberto Gonzales, for goodness' sake. If criticizing Republicans makes people RINOs, then I suspect most CQ readers qualify for their criticism of John McCain, too. And convictions do not equate to keeping one's mouth shut when Republicans screw up.