Bruce Bartlett

George W. Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are taking a lot of heat from Democrats lately for allegedly discharging some U.S. attorneys for political reasons. Of course, the president has every right to fire any political appointee in his administration for any reason, political or otherwise. In hindsight, it would have been far better if the administration had just said so from the beginning instead of wrongly implying that the attorneys were fired for cause.

Nevertheless, Democrats will continue to milk the issue for all it is worth in an effort to create a scandal and embarrass Bush by possibly forcing him to fire his close personal friend Gonzales. It may not be fair to Gonzales, but that's the way the political game is played in Washington. As they say, if you want a real friend here, get a dog.

However, Democrats should be wary of pressing Bush too far because there is ample precedent on their own side of Democratic presidents who fired U.S. attorneys and other high-ranking officials just to halt investigations of their political allies. For example, two Democratic presidents—Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman—worked for years to protect a notorious racketeer named Thomas Pendergast because he ran a Democratic machine in Missouri.

Pendergast's criminality was on display for all to see in Kansas City, where his organization openly ran prostitution, drug and gambling operations in the 1930s. He was also the recipient of a vast amount of graft, which was dutifully paid by all of his henchmen, including Truman, who ran the Pendergast machine in Jackson County, Missouri. There's no evidence that Truman enriched himself from Pendergast’s corruption, but he was dutiful in making sure that inflated county contracts went to Pendergast’s cronies, who paid Pendergast a cut for the business.

In 1935, an assistant secretary of Commerce named E.Y. Mitchell, who was a Missouri native, tried to get the Roosevelt Administration to do something about all the corruption in Kansas City. Mitchell was told repeatedly to shut up and mind his own business. When he would not, Roosevelt fired him.

That same year, however, Pendergast's greed got the better of him—he had a severe gambling addiction and lost the equivalent today of millions of dollars per year on horse races. Pendergast took a big kickback from the insurance industry for fixing a regulatory problem for it in Missouri that came to the attention of federal authorities.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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