By his own lights, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign. As Gonzales wrote in USA Today last week, he asked seven U.S. attorneys to resign in December -- he left out an eighth, who was invited to resign earlier and replaced by former Karl Rove aide Tim Griffin -- for reasons that were "performance-related" and because they "simply lost my confidence." By that standard, it is time for Gonzales to go.
It is hard to imagine how the Bushies could have bungled the situation more -- considering how avoidable this scandal was.
Bush has a right to fire any U.S. attorney, as all serve at the pleasure of the president. If the Bushies simply had announced that they pushed out the eight federal prosecutors after they had served their four-year terms for their own reasons, they would have been at least within their political rights -- although they could hardly complain if critics questioned whether the personnel changes represented a political purge.
Didn't the fair-haired boys on Team Bush learn anything from Travelgate -- the brouhaha that followed when the Clinton adminstration fired travel office staffers in 1993? Clintonia smeared travel staffers rather than admit the administration simply wanted to replace them with patronage hires. For no good reason, the Bushies followed the textbook case on how not to replace people.
Many Democrats argue that Team Bush fired some of the U.S. attorneys -- most notably New Mexico's David Iglesias and San Diego's Carol Lam -- for political reasons. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., had complained that Iglesias was slow in going after a corruption case involving Democrats, while Lam had successfully prosecuted GOP Rep. Duke Cunningham on bribery charges. The adminstration's lack of candor on these firings bolsters critics' suspicions. I now see why Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein was adamant in investigating the issue.
It doesn't help that top Bush aides seemed to see the U.S. Department of Justice as their toy -- that they didn't have to share.
Thus, then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers suggested in early 2005 that the White House consider firing all 93 U.S. attorneys. (A newly released White House memo shows that Rove entertained the idea in January 2005.) The White House has suggested that some prosecutors were failing to take up immigration and voter-fraud cases -- and any president has the right to direct staff to focus on his priorities. But getting rid of all the top prosecutors would have hindered all federal casework.