The WSJ had a good editorial yesterday on the underlying controversy:
[i]The Hubbell Standard
March 14, 2007; Page A14
Congressional Democrats are in full cry over the news this week that the Administration’s decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys originated from – gasp – the White House. Senator Hillary Clinton joined the fun yesterday, blaming President Bush for “the politicization of our prosecutorial system.” Oh, my.
As it happens, Mrs. Clinton is just the Senator to walk point on this issue of dismissing U.S. attorneys because she has direct personal experience. In any Congressional probe of the matter, we’d suggest she call herself as the first witness – and bring along Webster Hubbell as her chief counsel.
As everyone once knew but has tried to forget, Mr. Hubbell was a former partner of Mrs. Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock who later went to jail for mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also Bill and Hillary Clinton’s choice as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department when Janet Reno, his nominal superior, simultaneously fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys in March 1993. Ms. Reno – or Mr. Hubbell – gave them 10 days to move out of their offices.
At the time, President Clinton presented the move as something perfectly ordinary: “All those people are routinely replaced,” he told reporters, “and I have not done anything differently.” In fact, the dismissals were unprecedented: Previous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, had both retained holdovers from the previous Administration and only replaced them gradually as their tenures expired. This allowed continuity of leadership within the U.S. Attorney offices during the transition.
Equally extraordinary were the politics at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in Chicago, was investigating then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, and was “within 30 days” of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski, who was shepherding the Clinton’s economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.
Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons’ Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint “Friend of Bill” Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to “politicizing” Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons.
And it may be this very amateurism that explains how the current Administration has managed to turn this routine issue of replacing Presidential appointees into a political fiasco. There was nothing wrong with replacing the eight Attorneys, all of whom serve at the President’s pleasure. Prosecutors deserve supervision like any other executive branch appointees.
The supposed scandal this week is that Mr. Bush had been informed last fall that some U.S. Attorneys had been less than vigorous in pursuing voter-fraud cases and that the President had made the point to Attorney General Albert Gonzales. Voter fraud strikes at the heart of democratic institutions, and it was entirely appropriate for Mr. Bush – or any President – to insist that his appointees act energetically against it.
Take sacked U.S. Attorney John McKay from Washington state. In 2004, the Governor’s race was decided in favor of Democrat Christine Gregoire by 129-votes on a third recount. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other media outlets reported, some of the “voters” were deceased, others were registered in storage-rental facilities, and still others were convicted felons. More than 100 ballots were “discovered” in a Seattle warehouse. None of this constitutes proof that the election was stolen. But it should have been enough to prompt Mr. McKay, a Democrat, to investigate, something he declined to do, apparently on grounds that he had better things to do.
In New Mexico, another state in which recent elections have been decided by razor thin margins, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias did establish a voter fraud task force in 2004. But it lasted all of 10 weeks before closing its doors, despite evidence of irregularities by the likes of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn. As our John Fund reported at the time, Acorn’s director Matt Henderson refused to answer questions in court about whether his group had illegally made copies of voter registration cards in the run-up to the 2004 election.
As for some of the other fired Attorneys, at least one of their dismissals seemed to owe to differences with the Administration about the death penalty, another to questions about the Attorney’s managerial skills. Not surprisingly, the dismissed Attorneys are insisting their dismissals were unfair, and perhaps in some cases they were. It would not be the first time in history that a dismissed employee did not take kindly to his firing, nor would it be the first in which an employer sacked the wrong person.
No question, the Justice Department and White House have botched the handling of this issue from start to finish. But what we don’t have here is any serious evidence that the Administration has acted improperly or to protect some of its friends. If Democrats want to understand what a real abuse of power looks like, they can always ask the junior Senator from New York.[/i]