Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Answering some spurious claims.

I'd like to correct a few misconceptions I've heard on the right concerning the investigation into the firing of the U.S. Attorneys.

The first is that it is a mountain out of a molehill, and that the President has the right to fire them if he pleases. And that Clinton fired 93 U.S. Attorneys.

He does have that right. And it is true that when he took office, Bush did fire nearly all of the Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorneys and replaced them with his own. As did Clinton when he took office (so the Clinton attorney firings, like the first round of Bush firings, were not the same as what we see here-- midterm firings.) Midterm firings almost never happen-- less than thirty in the past twenty years-- and in every case there were some serious performance-related issues. This is what started the current controversy: Attorney General Gonzales told Congress (not when he was under oath) that all of these firings were due to performance issues. That turned out to be a lie-- and while lying when not under oath is certainly legal, it was not a good choice if the goal was to get Congress to quit investigating.

But two issues that have become much greater in their impact here: First, in the past all U.S. Attorneys have been appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. A secret clause in the Patriot Act got rid of that condition. So all of a sudden the President and Attorney General could appoint attorneys and bypass the Senate confirmation process-- and they appear to have abused that privilege for political reasons (exactly the sort of thing that people were most concerned about when the Patriot Act was passed.) Second, the fact that it appears that some of the attorneys, perhaps even most of them, were fired for reasons relating to corruption investigations. This includes David Iglesias, who was moving at what he considered the right pace for a corruption investigation invovling two Demcorats; Paul Charlton, fired from here in Arizona after he began finding things on Rick Renzi (note since Charlton has been gone, the Renzi investigation seems to have been shut down.) It includes Carol Lam, who put Duke Cunningham in prison.

So now the Bush white house is offering to have staff testify in front of Congress, without being under oath.

If you hadn't had the Gonzales lie the last time a White House official testified in front of Congress, then Congress might be willling to accept their offecr, but given what just happened, I doubt it. Lies not backed by an oath are free and easy, and this adminstration has a already shown it has propensity for lying.

Another claim that the right makes is that 'there is no crime or criminal investigation.

False, also. This case is direcly about whether the Justice Department fired the attorneys for their approach to investigations involving corruption. That is a crime. The attorneys were pulled off these cases for reaons relating to what they were investigating. That is obstruction of justice. As far as the attempted coverup of this is concerned, there could also be charges of misleading investigators, tampering with evidence and other crimes often associated with covering things up. We will see if there are any criminal charges forthcoming, but for the right to claim that 'there is no crime,' is at best premature and could very well be categorized along with such famous wrong quotes as 'We will bury you' (Nikita Khruschev) and about the 'unsinkable' ship (the owners and operators of the Titanic.)

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