All the Way to the White House

Dare I say it? The White House's partisan purge of federal prosecutors is the scandal that seems to be sticking—and it makes sense, in spite of what appears (at least from my perspective) to be the public's general lack of interest in trying to sort out all the details, which are pretty darn boring, as far as political scandals go. No sex, no murder, no searing images of people stuck on their roofs for days, and no Bush administration abuse of power any more egregious than a dozen others. But this time, they crossed federal prosecutors, who got their jobs in the first place by being smart, skilled, and bloody tenacious. It only makes sense that when the Bush administration started messing with pit bulls, they finally got bit.

Today, the NY Times headline is White House Said to Prompt Firing of Prosecutors and the WaPo headline is Firings Had Genesis in White House. And Bush gets named. From the Times:

The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, administration officials said Monday.

Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday. Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official.

…Within a few weeks of the president’s comments to the attorney general, the Justice Department forced out seven prosecutors.
Another familiar name is popping up again, too—Harriet Miers, ill-fated Supreme Court nominee and former White House counsel. In 2005, Miers sent a memo to Gonzo's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, inquiring "whether it would be feasible to replace all United States attorneys when their four-year terms expired." Sampson responded that "filling so many jobs at once would overtax the department," and began to work with Miers on "devising a list of attorneys to oust." Yikes. Sampson resigned yesterday.

Today the WaPo reprints some damning correspondence between Sampson advises Miers, in which he outlines how the Patriot Act can and should be used to make interim appointments (as I described here):

Sampson, Sept. 7, 2006: "I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed. It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don't have replacements ready to roll immediately. I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments. [By avoiding Senate confirmation], we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House."

Miers: "Kyle thanks for this. I have not forgotten I need to follow up on the info. But things have been crazy."

And then:

On Dec. 7, Miers's deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici's chief of staff "is happy as a clam" about Iglesias.

A week later, Sampson wrote: "Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias's body to cool)."
Sampson also wondered, via email, with regard to Gonzo's power to make interim appointments: "[I]f we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?" That charming rhetorical was directed to a White House aide.

The story at the moment is that Sampson resigned "after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress," so Justice is trying to make him the fall guy. Thing is, some Dems are already calling for Gonzo's head. I'm not remotely convinced even his chief of staff is going to be enough this time.

The White House is going to be facing a similar predicament. They're going to need a fall guy of their own, and the dearly departed Miers is surely being set up for the swan dive. But—she already took it. She's gone. And Rove is right in the thick of it again, too, as per usual. He's a tempting target, and he looks very dirty, with one of his cronies getting an interim appointment and his having relayed to Miers "complaints he had received that the Justice Department was not moving aggressively on voter fraud cases." Digby revisits Rove's previous murmuring about the integrity of elections, and Josh Marshall is all over this sub-issue of voter fraud:

The very short version of this story is that Republicans habitually make claims about voter fraud. But the charges are almost invariably bogus. And in most if not every case the claims are little more than stalking horses for voter suppression efforts. That may sound like a blanket charge. But I've reported on and written about this issue at great length. And there's simply no denying the truth of it. So this becomes a critical backdrop to understanding what happened in some of these cases. Why didn't the prosecutors pursue indictments when GOP operatives started yakking about voter fraud? Almost certainly because there just wasn't any evidence for it.
It's helpful to have patsies in the Justice Department when you're keen to pursue partisan cases for which there's little evidence.

And, in case you're wondering, the usual suspects who constantly scream about activist judges don't seem to be losing much sleep over the Bush administration trying to turn the Justice Department into its own personal marionette troupe. What a shocker, eh?

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