Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sorry, I want to give your job to a friend

The Bush administration has a very bad track record when it comes to politicizing the apparatus of the federal government. From politicizing science, to sending unqualified appointees to help run the Provisional Authority in Iraq, to the Katrina debacle, Bush has tended to put political loyalty way ahead of actual competence, to a degree rarely seen in previous administrations.

So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the practice has now reached the highest ranks of federal law enforcement. It's been a simmering issue for a while, and today came to a head in Congressional hearings.

McNulty acknowledged that six U.S. attorneys in the West and Southwest were notified in December that they would be asked to step aside, including the lead prosecutor in San Diego, whose office oversaw the bribery conviction of a former Republican congressman.

A seventh former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins of Little Rock, has said that he was asked to leave last year to open the job for J. Timothy Griffin, who previously worked for Rove and for the Republican National Committee. McNulty did not dispute that characterization yesterday.

Now on one level, there's nothing wrong with this. U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and they serve at the pleasure of the president. Further, the Justice Department insists that six of the seven firings were for cause -- though they don't (and perhaps can't, publicly) back up that claim.

But rarely has politics intruded this deeply or this nakedly into the process.

There's also a constitutional issue, because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is using interim appointments to bypass the normal Senate confirmation process.

Several top lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), have been particularly angered by a little-noticed provision slipped into USA Patriot Act legislation last year that allows Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint replacement prosecutors, such as Griffin, on an indefinite basis.

Feinstein and other Democrats in the House and Senate have proposed legislation to return to the old selection process, which allowed district courts to appoint interim U.S. attorneys after 120 days until a final candidate was confirmed by the Senate. Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, said yesterday he will join Democrats in pushing for a return to the previous arrangement.

But McNulty said the Justice Department is in "strong opposition" to that proposal because it puts the judicial branch in the position of hiring people in the executive branch.

You've got to love the administration's argument. In order to keep the judicial branch from appointing temporary replacements, we need to let the executive branch appoint permanent replacements without bothering with Senate review. It's a classic "cure is worse than the disease" power grab. And never mind that the previous process worked just fine for years.

Fire attorneys so you can replace them with more loyal hacks? Legal, if sleazy. Avoid Senate review of the appointments? No. If the administration doesn't want the judiciary appointing temporary replacements, they have two options: get a replacement confirmed within the 120 day period, or remove the "indefinite" status from interim appointments, instead requiring that the appointee be confirmed within a set amount of time like other recess appointments.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right: they ARE political appointees---subject to being replaced by any President. And they are each and every administration.

But what struck me as so funny about this complaint is this: I recall a time when the First Lady of the last administration----not the President, mind you, but his wife----came in and immediately FIRED all the career officials at the TRAVEL OFFICE at the White House and replaced them with her friends. While there was a big uproar on the Republican side and from these employees, I don't recall Dems getting upset over what Bill Clinton's WIFE did to those people.

So tell us---just how upset were you back then???


2/07/2007 6:00 PM  
Blogger Not Your Mama said...

US attorneys not exactly in the same category as travel office staff. If you can't fathom why the comparison is ludicrous, well, it explains much about why our country is in the mess it is in.

2/08/2007 3:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as I thought the answer would be: What Dems do is okay and there's always an "excuse" for it. What Republicans do is condemned. I fail to see how to those involved, an attorney is more important than career people who run the WH travel office. After all, the subject was about replacing people with your friends. NOBODY did that any more than the Clinton's. And Dems were just fine with it!!

2/08/2007 9:32 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Two differences.

1. The constitutional end-run allowed by indefinite interim replacements. Travel office positions are not subject to Senate confirmation; U.S. attorneys are.

2. The difference in responsibility. Travel office employees arrange trips for White House staffers. Whoop-de-doo. U.S. attorneys are responsible for prosecuting bad guys. Much bigger responsibility, with a direct impact on the public.

2/08/2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger Not Your Mama said...

As Sean said, I could give a fig if Laura Bush wanted to fire the entire white house staff and replace them with her high school girlfriends. That's her business. It's not comparable to jerking around with US attorneys.

Something for you to ponder: by setting a new precedent in this much do you suppose you'll squeal when an unscrupulous dem is in power and does the same?

Never, ever give someone a weapon they can later use against you.

2/08/2007 2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dems HAVE done the same and worse. It's just that you IGNORE it.

For example---how upset were you when the Clinton's obtained the FBI files of Republicans and had them sent to the White House for their little "look see?" How about that precedent? Does that mean the Bush's can do that with Dem leaders and you'd be okay with it? I seriously doubt it.

My point is---complain all you'd like about the Attorney's. But don't pretend that this administration has done something unusual or out of the ordinary---or worse than any others. It just doesn't pass the smell test.


2/08/2007 10:33 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

What does the Clinton FBI file scandal have to do with cronyism among U.S. attorneys?

Further, who defended the Clinton's doing that? Best I've seen is people claiming it was a bureaucratic error. That's a bit hard to believe, IMO, but that's beside the point. Nobody has said it was just fine for the White House to get the files.

2/08/2007 10:48 PM  

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