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Alberto Gonzales is despicable

gonzales.jpgThis is a story that I haven’t previously heard about, and it’s yet another depressing example of the Bush Administration clearly overstepping its bounds “in a secretive attempt to expand executive power for partisan purposes.”

As Joe Conason at Salon reports it, a secret little provision was slipped into the 2005 renewal of the Patriot Act which changed the way interim U.S. attorney’s are appointed. Because U.S. attorneys, among other things, have to police politicians themselves, a non-partisan system has been in place to “ensure that no U.S. attorney could be fired on a whim and replaced with a malleable hack.” Whenever a new President comes into office, there is often a pretty big changing-of-the-guard as far as U.S. attorneys go. And while the President appoints them, and typically appoints members of the same party, it’s not an entirely arbitrary process - “the U.S. attorneys are usually chosen with the advice and consent of the senators from their home states, and then confirmed by the full Senate.”

So there’s Senate oversight of the process. This is important to remember.

Now, there are of course vacancies that occur mid-term. And under the old system, when such a mid-term vacancy pops up, the law said that a replacement U.S. attorney would be appointed by federal circuit judges, instead of the President (the idea being that “[g]etting rid of irksomely honest and nonpartisan prosecutors was difficult if not impossible”).

But not any more. Under this new provision, snuck into the Patriot Act, the White House gets to pick the replacement U.S. attorneys, permanently appointing them without any confirmation or oversight by the Senate. And things have played out, since the enactment of this little sleight-of-hand, exactly as one would suspect from this administration:

The results of this backstage betrayal — now playing out in a wave of politicized dismissals and hirings — were perfectly predictable and utterly poisonous.
Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney in San Diego who successfully prosecuted the sensationally crooked Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was fired for no known reason while she is still pursuing important leads in that historic case. Cunningham is supposed to be cooperating, but if Bush replaces her with a partisan stooge, he may be able to keep his secrets. Bud Cummings, the respected U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., was canned to make room for a Republican opposition research operative and Karl Rove acolyte named Timothy Griffin. Could that conceivably have anything to do with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential candidacy? Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney in Arizona, was thrown out while investigating allegations of corruption against Republican Rep. Rick Renzi.
And John McKay, the U.S. attorney in Seattle whose diligence has been praised by judges and lawyers of both parties, was simply ordered to quit last December, for no obvious reason. Although McKay’s last evaluation by the Justice Department was excellent, the attorney general insists that all of these curious firings were due to “performance” issues.

I shouldn’t be surprised, because as I said at the top, this is simply the latest in a long line of such shenanigans from this administration, but when are people going to start paying attention to this crap? Sure, the Senate Judiciary Committee has now “voted to restore the old nonpartisan system for replacing U.S. attorneys and to require Senate confirmation of all new appointees,” but where’s the investigation of yet another Bush Administration attempt to flagrantly ignore the law of our land? An attempt made by Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General, who is, you know, supposed to be one of the few folks in Washington who actually pays attention to and respects the law. As Conason says:

The Senate Democrats should continue to prove the attorney general’s little coup d’etat and all of the resulting appointments. That is the best way to discourage future usurpations - and to frustrate whatever skullduggery was afoot this time.

Am I the only one who thinks that, sadly, Conason will be holding his breath for quite some time on this one?