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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Antidote to U.S. Attorney firing hysteria is, appropriately, the actual evidence

My pop quiz yesterday, while intended to be educational for non-lawyers who didn't know much about where U.S. Attorneys fit in the federal justice system, was also intended to explain why my main reaction to the "scandal" about the firing of seven of them has been to yawn.

Until you bring me something other than speculation, or speculation plus a "fishy" correlation of dates (from which causal connection and motive are presumed without further proof), I'm inclined to rely on the fact that there is a vast network of career staff behind each of those political appointees.

I would be very, very, very, very surprised if any U.S. attorney in the last three decades has ever handled a single important investigation or prosecution entirely on his or her own, without staff involvement. And the notion that any of them could have been unfairly canned because of their failure to cooperate in some major subversion of justice, or because they were about to uncover some malfeasance on the part of an administration ally — without the knowledge and loud public outcry of many career staff members — is simply so improbable as to be fantastic (in the sense of "almost certainly someone's politically-inspired fantasy"). For that to happen without multiple whistle-blowers strikes me as about likely as Attorney General Gonzales calling a mass meeting of several dozen Washington-based DoJ lawyers working on anti-terrorism matters and saying, "Okay, gang, from now on, we're going to ignore anything that's possibly related to al-Qaeda" without any of them making a peep.

That does not mean that I necessarily would agree with every decision made by those in the Bush-43 administration who are charged with setting law enforcement priorities; or by those whose jobs include dealing with those pesky outside interests like legislators and lobbyists; or by those whose job it is to assess overall effectiveness and, in particular, leadership and administrative competency on the part of the 90+ U.S. Attorneys themselves.

But massive systemic administration corruption relating to U.S. Attorneys on a national basis — by administrations of either political party? I wouldn't even hypothesize that on Bill Clinton's part when he fired all of them; that was obviously the hardest of political hardball, but there's no reason to think it was systemic corruption. So you gotta bring something strong before you'll persuade me that that is much of a real possibility. Remember, besides the staff, there will be a new U.S. Attorney appointed for each one who's fired, and eventually (notwithstanding the revisions to the confirmation requirement made as part of the recent Patriot Act renewal) those new ones are subject to Senate confirmation too. To be successful, the corruption would have to include not only career staff but the new U.S. Attorney too.

Seven U.S. Attorneys being fired is, frankly, below my threshold of being concerned enough to invest a huge amount of time on my own digging into it. 

Nevertheless, I'm not entirely uninterested. And given that there are specific allegations floating around out there about specific ones of the seven particular U.S. Attorneys about whose firing much is now being made by the Democrats, I'm grateful that there's actually some serious fact-checking going on about some of the more hysterical speculation already splashed on left-leaning blogs and, yes, in the mainstream media.

In this pair of posts, Patterico, for example, debunks some of the more outrageous claims that have been made. And like any skilled advocate — as opposed to a skilled demagogue (to whom truth and accuracy are irrelevant) — he does so by examining and reporting on the actual evidence (here a large volume of emails). And then, just as importantly, he repeatedly offering links to that same evidence for his listeners/readers' own independent examination.

Patterico's debunking including pointing out things that he or others might rationally differ on — the Bush-43 administration's prioritization on such matters as prosecuting the most egregious repeat immigration violations or morals crimes — but he then makes the overriding point that, yes, administrations do get to set those priorities. That you may disagree with theirs doesn't mean that the administration is corrupt when it fires its political appointees who fail or refuse to follow those priorities.

Given the time and attention he's invested, and very fine job that Patterico's doing with his posts (which I'll continue to follow, of course), and my own diminishing interest in the entire "scandal," I'm not terribly likely to write any more posts of my own on this "scandal."

Posted by Beldar at 11:28 AM in Law (2007) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Mar 15, 2007 9:02:07 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: What makes this event worthy of notice is the number. There are 94 US Attorneys. I can imagine 1 or 2 not working out whether by insufficent competence or being too out of sympathy and hence being canned after a year. But seven? And letting them drag on for two years after the second term election? This suggests either a) a poor screening process at the initial appointment (to be sure, appointments to these positions have to take account of political pressure, but even if a powerful Senator slips a gross incompetent in, that should be a warning flag to the Attorney General that you should expect problems in that particular US Attorney's district) b) an Administration that is remarkably tolerant of screwups and just can't bring itself to fire people---then decides to it all at once. (This softheartedness does not sound like the Bush administration I've been watching.) Such a sizable firing is bound to generate quite a bit of public comment. See e.g. Jimmy Carter's mass slaughter of his cabinet in July 1979, which caused the usual media clucking that ol' Jimmuh was losing his grip. Karl Rove is supposed to be the political mastermind in charge of avoiding such missteps. I would be midly interested---no more---to find out why so many at this particular time.

I liked your question about who your US Attorney is. I used to know when I lived in Fresno CA. Now that I have moved to Olympia WA, I had to look it up. Went to the Department of Justice's US Attorney page:

www.usdoj.gov/usao

and found it. I also noticed that many of the US Attorneys had a little asterisk by their names, the asterisk signifying that they had been Presidentially appointed.

Say what? I thought all US Attorneys were presidentially appointed. Perhaps the asterisk means: "Presidentially appointed but not confirmed by the Senate." This event about the US Attorneys brought out something that I hadn't known: the Patriot Act allows the replacement of US Attorneys without Senate confirmation. I am astonished that Congress would pass such a bill giving up such plums. If you have any thoughts on why this happened, I would be delighted to hear them.

I'd also be curious to know why you wrote this about Patterico:

"And like any skilled advocate — as opposed to a skilled demagogue (to whom truth and accuracy are irrelevant) — he does so by examining and reporting on the actual evidence..."

Haven't you said that when you are trying a case, you don't want any trial lawyers on the jury you are facing? Why should that matter if skilled advocacy is best served by examining and reporting on the actual evidence? Or is Vince Lombardi right:

Winning isn't everything---it's the only thing.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(2) hunter made the following comment | Mar 17, 2007 12:12:31 AM | Permalink

The problem is Gonzalez fell into the trap of acting like he did something wrong. He put his neck in this noose all by himself. Firing those US attorneys was OK period. Fibbing about it to Congress was stupid and pointless. But the DoJ had already hurt its credibility a lot over the Sutton affair, where the DoJ played the Congress like fools to cover up the fact that Sutton lied to get the ICE agents - and likely the deputy- indicted and convicted for not allowing illegals through unchallenged.

(3) Carol Herman made the following comment | Mar 17, 2007 8:19:16 PM | Permalink

If this were vaudeville, there would be a name for this comedy routine. Bush, like Charlie Chaplin is "hapless." He walks into things. Has no language skills. But in the end, because he remains polite, he keeps the people feeling sympathetic towards him.

And, yes. He's a man who took action in Iraq. Something that has the potential of really, really paying off. But it will take time to tell.

Seems the fears of God have been put into Maliki, though; so that there's finally a sense of cooperation from Maliki. Who only holds 40% of the Iraqi cards. While the Kuwaitis and Saudis have been using colosal sums of money to buy terror, in a meager portion of Iraq's population. The sunnis. Who went on the run. They've been reduced by half. Causing problems elsewhere in the Mideast. That's in lots worse shape.

As to the President's political moves, he's really a pussycat. He doesn't fire everyone he can. And, he doesn't stand behind Libby, which he should have done. But he was frightened of the DC mentality; so he stayed out of the fray. And, Libby? Made his own mistakes for a smart lawyer.

Do you know what I learned? Wells should have understood NOT to let Russert leave the stand! There are no "call-backs!" And, then? NBC's lawyers ate Libby's lunch.

As to the jurors? All the fame they thought they'd have, collapsed. While plame made an idiot of the CIA, when she went to congress, and Waxman's nostrils sucked her up.

Bush doesn't have to worry about headlines. I think he's figured it out. The media is in a mess. While "300" made instant millionnairs out of a bunch of unknowns. And, NOTHING talks like money!

(4) narciso made the following comment | Mar 18, 2007 11:16:07 PM | Permalink

I'm tempted to say, he should be impeached;for incompetence;
20 monthes to fire a passel of
prosecutors. I know Rove's been a little busy, but he's
seriously off his game. He's
gone from Dr. Evil to Mini-Me.

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