March 14, 2007

On the Gonzalez Mess

While I've tried to keep up with my reading on the subject, you might note that I haven't posted yet on the U.S. Attorney's story. Quite frankly, it has me confused over whether it is really important or not, but I feel somewhat better this morning when I discovered (via Ann Althouse blogging at Instapundit), that the far more capable legal mind of Orin Kerr is also unsure:

On a more serious note, I haven't written about the U.S. Attorney's story because I'm having a hard time figuring out just how big a deal it is. Parts of it are obviously very troubling: I was very disturbed to learn of the Domenici calls, for example. More broadly, I have longrunning objections to the extent to which DOJ is under White House control, objections that this story helps bring to the fore (although my objections are based on my views of sound policy, not on law).

At the same time, several parts of the story seem overblown. U.S. Attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the President, and the press seems to overlook that in a lot of its reporting. Also, I know one or two of the Administration figures named in some of the stories, and based on my knowledge of them and their character (although no secret details of the story I have not spoken with anyone about it) I have a feeling that they're getting a bad rap.

So in the end I don't quite know where I come out based on what we know. Without knowing where I come out, I don't feel I have much helpful to add. I realize that this may mean I am missing a big story. Perhaps this will prove to be a simply huge scandal, and in time it will seem odd that we weren't all blogging about it. But I don't know what I'm supposed to do when I read a story and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Quite frankly, I don't think we know what we don't know in regards to this issue, and I think that some of the political posturing we're seeing, such as Senator Chuck Shumer's statement, "This has become as serious as it gets" is merely that--posturing.

It is worth noting that Shumer is cited in this same Dana Milbank column as being "the Democrats' point man in the Valerie Plame investigation," an investigation which found no illegal activity is the release of Plame's name, and only convicted Lewis Libby for lying about his involvement. Hot air is one of Shumer's specialties.

Another person with legal experience, prosecutor Patrick Frey, notes that the White House released emails related to the case that apparently show that the White House had good reason for firing many of the prosecutors, including failures to prosecute drug cases, failure to prosecute illegal immigrants, failure to investigate charges of voter fraud, and failures to carry out Administration policies. Many Presidential Administrations have fired all U.S. Attorneys when they came to power, including the Clinton Administration, for no reason other than pure politics. That the Bush Administration fired these Attorneys for cause seems, well, refreshing, if that is indeed what occurred.

The scandal, such as it is, seems to revolve around Attorney General Gonzales' inept handling of what should have been a minor issue at best.

Is there any fire to go with this smoke?

Again, we may not know what we do not know, but of what we have seen presented thus far, the Democratic cry of scandal seems based on very thin evidence.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at March 14, 2007 09:52 AM

Some of the details that you are missing:

1) San Diego US Atty Carol Lam had just put away Duke Cunningham and was pursuing a case against CA congressman Jerry Lewis and others when she was fired.

2) Lam and others USA's had glowing performance reviews when they were fired, which is of course inconsistent with the notion that they were fired because of failure to pursue immigration or drugs or what have you.

3) The administration lied at least six times about the firings.

4) Unlike what I've seen from numerous sources, Clinton replaced 93 Attorneys General at the beginning of his presidency, just like Bush '41. This is way different from removing active Attorneys General

5) John McKay (a Republican) in Seattle got calls complaining that the did not pursue a case against Christine Gregoir in her close governor contest against (R) Dino Rossi. McKay said he didn't see any evidence of crime in the recount. Nevertheless he was summarily replaced.

So the obvious impression is that the administration fired these USA's out of pure partisanship.

Posted by: Lex Steele at March 14, 2007 12:21 PM

Arguing about these issues as if they were part of the usual left/right debate is a bit misleading. The problem isn't right wing economic or social policy. What is novel about the Bush administration is not that it adheres to conservative principles--in fact it often doesn't--but that it represents a reversion to the spoils system of the 19th Century. We are talking about a specifically political evil. The modern White House is Tammany Hall for the whole freaking continent. But history never really repeats itself. The American government is vastly larger than it was in the 19th Century. We're not talking about getting your cronies a few jobs at the custom house or securing the bid on twenty-five cannons. The corrupt political system promoted by the Republicans is correspondingly more dangerous to everybody's liberty and certainly vastly more expensive than anything Boss Tweed or the plutocrats who manipulated Grant ever dreamed of.

The worst thing about the federal attorneys issue is not that some of them were kicked out because they didn't protect crooked Republicans or wouldn't conduct bogus prosecutions of Democrats. What worries me is what the attorneys who haven't been sacked have been doing all along.

Posted by: Jim Harrison at March 14, 2007 02:26 PM

For #5-- that's because there WAS a great deal of evidence put forward that makes it very likely the blue areas had major voting problems. G00gle it if you'd like-- I'd fire someone who saw absolutely no evidence of a crime in that junk.

(funky spelling because the phrase tripped a spam filter, somehow.)

Posted by: Sailorette/Foxfier at March 14, 2007 03:35 PM

If Gonzalez had fired these USAs and had to seek Senate approval for their replacement, the issue would have died for lack of any fire. But altering the PATRIOT Act to eliminate the need for Senate approval combined with the botched handling seems to have provided enough kindling to actually have some heat.
Figures that a perfectly legal act would cause the storm instead of all the other "illegal" acts in the last 6 six years. Not including all the stupid acts.

Posted by: TJM at March 14, 2007 04:20 PM

Yes, Bush gets to hire and fire. He and his minions cause their own problems when they deal with it the way they did.

This wasn't a national security issue that needed to be kept secret; this should have been done out in public view.

"Mistakes were made"? For crying out loud, how tone-deaf can the Attorney General be?

Posted by: Doc Washboard at March 14, 2007 05:34 PM

It's not just the Dems who are crucifying Gonzales, John Sununu of NH says he should go too.

Can you tell which GOP Senators are up for re-election in 08 yet?

Sickening. It's one thing to wash your hands of Gonzales if he'd committed a crime, but doing so in the court of public opinion is a major problem.

The White House needs to get this under control. They've let the media blow this way out of proportion and it's time to fight back.

Let's see some of that famous "White House message discipline" from Karl Rove.

Posted by: Jared at March 14, 2007 07:40 PM

You guys are supporting a crooked administration. It's time you faced the music. Bush doesn't have supporters any more. He has accomplices.

Posted by: Jim Harrison at March 14, 2007 10:37 PM