--United States Code, Title 28, Section 541 (c)
Last month, in a posting on John McCain's policy on Iraq, I wrote in passing that Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post "has built his entire career as a columnist on being unerringly wrong." This morning, though, I took a look at Krauthammer's latest column on the Washington scandal du jour involving the forced resignations of eight U.S. attorneys. Krauthammer's first sentence, to my surprise, read: "Alberto Gonzales has to go." The column went on to describe the AG's inept handling of this matter, which has steadily compounded his difficulties. His resignation will soon add his name to the list of those recently purged from DOJ's payroll.
But Krauthammer can't avoid slipping into familiar rhetorical practices. He goes on to write:
"And why did Gonzales have to claim that the firings were done with no coordination with the White House? That’s absurd. Why shouldn’t there be White House involvement? That is nothing to be defensive about. Does anyone imagine that Janet Reno fired all 93 U.S. attorneys in March 1993, giving them all of 10 days to clear out, without White House involvement?This is disingenuous in the extreme. It implies that the Bush administration showed great restraint, politically speaking, by only firing 9% as many U.S. attorneys as the Clinton administration. So why the uproar, he wonders (if only to himself)? In fact (as Karl Rove has admitted), the Bush administration also fired all 93 U.S. attorneys after it schemed its way into office in 2000, then fired the other eight in December 2006. It's now common knowledge, of course, that this has been the customary practice of presidents for a very long time, though it's arguably bad for the country if talented USA's of either party are automatically forced out of their jobs with each change of administration (1).
"The Bush administration fired eight. "
An accurate count of deposed USA's would show that Clinton fired 93 USA's and Bush fired 101, including the eight who were deposed for political reasons after the 2006 mid-term elections.
As noted in the epigram to this post, federal law provides that "each" U.S. attorney is "subject to removal by the President." The obvious exception, which goes to the heart of this controversy, is that removal for political reasons may amount to obstruction of justice or, at best, an unethical intrusion of partisan motivations into criminal prosecutions (2).
(1) Kris Olson, Oregon's well-regarded U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration, challenged this practice and publicly pleaded to retain her position after the 2000 election, perhaps under the mistaken impression that George W. Bush was not the ideologue he quickly proved himself to be.
(2) Earlier this month I commented on a recent study (originally brought to my attention by Paul Krugman's column), as follows:
"Of the 375 investigations or indictments of candidates and elected officials, only 17.8% involved Republicans. Either the process is rigged, as Krugman charges, or Republicans are 5.6 times less likely to be corrupt than other politicians. "PHOTO: U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.