Wednesday, March 21, 2007

US Attorney Scandal, Continued

Aside from the fact that it threatens their interest, there is another reason Congressional Democrats may prefer investigating the US Attorney scandal to Bush Administration abuses in the War on Terror. National security is not at stake. President Bush cannot claim that he is just trying to keep us safe. Right wingers do not have the option of impugning Democrats' patriotism. This is a purely domestic and partisan matter. What a relief!

It is also true that there have been some disturbing revelations as the scandal unfolds that go beyond the individuals involved. It is more than just Bud Cummins reporting threats if any of the fired attorneys came forward. Or David McKay, fired for failing to find vote fraud when the Democrat won election for Governor of Washington on a fourth recount. Or David Iglesias fired for failing to find Democratic vote fraud when Kerry narrowly won New Mexico in 2004, and for failing to bring more indictments of Democrats just before the 2006 election. Or even Carol Lam, who investigated two corrupt Republican Congressmen and was fired just as she was about to serve a search warrant on a high-ranking CIA official. There is evidence that corruption in the Justice Department may be more systematic than that.

There is the matter of the Shields/Cragan study. This study found that, although prosecutions of Democrats and Republicans was essentially equal for national and state-wide offices, prosecutions of Democrats holding local office outnumbered prosecutions of Republicans nearly seven to one. That study has been critized, and no comparison exists with earlier administrations. But the walls are closing in. Even conservative commentators are finding the firings increasingly difficult to defend. Captain Ed acknowledges that the pressure on Iglesias to bring down indictments before the elections was improper. Conservative lawyer Patterico grumbles that Justice Department officials have acknowledged lying to Congress about replacement appointments, and that all his attempts to defend the Administration are being shot down by the Administration's own actions. And now a New York Times editorial is saying that there may be room for criminal charges for lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. Speculation is rampant about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be fired. And now there are calls for a special prosecutor.

So what are my own opinions on all this? I believe Congress should exercise great caution in calling for a special prosecutor. After crying no underlying crime in the Lewinsky matter, Democrats will be fine hypocrits calling for a special prosecutor now. Only if further investigation reveals something clearly criminal, as opposed to merely dirty and corrupt, should be be thinking about criminal charges. Further investigation is called for on at least two things. (1) Is there, in fact, a pattern of partisanship in prosecutions under this Administration that is new and unprecedented? (2) Is anything sinister going on in the jurisdictions of US attorneys who were not dismissed? Both of these call for longer-term, lower profile investigation to determine. The answer will tell us whether corruption in the Justice Department is systematic or merely spotty. What to do next will depend on the answer.

Oh, yes, and I think George Bush will fight tooth and claw to keep from having to throw Gonzales under the bus. And not just out of loyalty to a friend, although doubtless this will be among his motives. Bush know that now that Democrats control the Senate, who ever he appoints as Attorney General will have a tough confirmation battle unless he has a stirling reputation for integrity. And any AG with stirling integrity will want to clean up whatever has been going on under Gonzales' tenure.

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