Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More on the Fired Prosecutors

The New York Times has an interesting article on the dustup over the DoJ's firing of seven prosecutors for allegedly political reasons. The documents show that Gonzales's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, assessed the prosecutors by recommending retention of those who, in part, "exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general," and recommending removal of those who, conversely, "chafed against administration initiatives." Five of the seven fired were in the latter category, which included lack of effectiveness and managerial ability as well.

I assume that the upper echelons of the Department of Justice enjoy some authority to set policy - including prosecution policy - for all of the US prosecutors. Inasmuch as that means"chafing" against administration initiatives is unwarranted, I don't see much of a problem there. I'd be interested to know what counted as "chafing," which initiatives were considered, and how far the authority of the higher-ups extends in this regard.

As for exhibiting "loyalty to the president and attorney general," well, it's unseemly to use that word in such personal terms. But if it means good faith pursuit of the legitimately established policies governing the prosecutors' offices, I don't think that's much of a scandal. Seeing more documents would show what the general tenor of the firings really was.

I do wonder why two of those who were fired fell into the "retain" category. If they "produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general," as that category requires, what justification was there for their dismissals? Were those firings politically motivated? I'd be curious to see what happened there.

It's not encouraging that Karl Rove appears to have been involved in the process. In an email after the firings, Sampson apparently said that the appointment of the new prosecutor in Arkansas, J. Timothy Griffin, was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc." Even allowing for the AG's authority to set prosecution policy, a political advisor should not participate in what should be a professional review of job performance.

It also looks like Sampson advocated a stonewalling of Arkansas' two Democratic senators. He said in the same email:
I think we should gum this to death[....] Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say ‘no never’ (and the longer we can forestall that the better), then we can tell them we’ll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All this should be done in ‘good faith’ of course.
Umm.... That doesn't sound very "good faith" to me.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has an article saying that this evidence of involvement by the White House undercuts Gonzales' statements to Congress that there was no such involvement. Gonzales responded by saying that he was unaware of those emails.

I think the calls for Gonzales' resignation are premature. Nevertheless, this matter may give the Republicans their first real chance to rue the day the Dems got subpoena power.

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