In a discussion I had today about the Scooter Libby trial (which is a rich
topic for blogging, but not by me tonight, I'm afraid--scroll through firedoglake
for lots of live blogging from the courthouse and trial analysis), someone speculated on the possibility that the Prez might fire Patrick Fitzgerald as Special Counsel. I wouldn't put anything past him at this point, but this reminded me of something I've been intending to talk about for a couple of weeks.
The Bush administration has been on a tear in getting rid of U.S. attorneys lately, including Carol Lam
, whose bribery investigation forced Randy "Duke Cunningham to resign from Congress and go behind bars. And no, of course it hasn't been getting much coverage in the mainstream media. Two weeks ago, Dianne Feinstein spoke on the Senate floor and accused
the Bushies of forcing out several U.S. attorneys and replacing them with interim appointees that didn't need Senate confirmation. It turns out that Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee while Republicans held the majority in the Senate, slipped the provision
into last year's reauthorization of the Patriot Act. This happened at the last minute after both the House and Senate had approved the bill, so it went largely unnoticed until the Justice Department started to put it to use.
A couple of days later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared before the Judiciary Committee for an oversight hearing (imagine that!), and Feinstein followed up with questions. As is his habit, Gonzales squirmed around direct answers about the number of US attorneys forced out, although he promised he'd get back to them with a number soon. I'm not aware that the Justice Department ever did follow up with that, but at the end of last week, McClatchy Newspapers identified
nine Bush political loyalists who had recently been appointed as U.S. attorneys. According to McClatchy:
The newly appointed U.S. attorneys all have impressive legal credentials, but most of them have few, if any, ties to the communities they've been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.
And no, none of them were available for an interview.
Chuck Schumer is promising hearings
next week to look into the matter, specifically "Preserving Prosecutorial Independence: Is the Department of Justice Politicizing the Hiring and Firing of U.S. Attorneys?" And Feinstein has introduced legislation
with Pat Leahy and Mark Pryor to undo Specter's little silent amendment to the Patriot Act.
For more information, take a look at TPMmuckraker's collected posts on the subject
(from which I've borrowed heavily for this post). And as for the mainstream press? They may be catching on slowly. I already mentioned last week's McClatchy piece
. McClatchy Newspapers include the Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Kansas City Star,
and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram,
among others. And just this afternoon, Jack Cafferty took on the subject on The Situation Room
A couple of weeks ago, we alerted you to the fact that several federal prosecutors are suddenly being fired around the country by the Bush administration. Well, it turns out that there's more to the story.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been filling these positions with members of President Bush's inner circle. Imagine that.
Nine recent appointees held high level positions in the White House or in the Justice Department, and most of them were hand-picked by Gonzales. This was done through a little known provision in the Patriot Act that allows the attorney general to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period of time.
Translation -- there's no deadline for confirmation hearings.
Critics worry Gonzales is trying to skip out on Senate confirmation for these nominees and that the administration is trying to consolidate the power of the executive branch.
Would they do that?
Cafferty asks a good questions. Do you believe the Bush administration is capable of such shenanigans? Maybe Schumer will follow that line of inquiry next week.