Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- If the latest Democratic subpoena threats in the White House firing of eight U.S. attorneys sounds like a fishing expedition in search of wrongdoing, that's because it is.

It isn't clear whether anything in this story is illegal or unethical. But ever since the firings were first reported, amidst complaints by the dismissed U.S. attorneys that they were sacked for political reasons, the tone and tenor of the investigation and the ongoing hearings seems to have concluded that something criminal has happened here.

That remains to be seen, but so far no one has proven that replacing a few attorneys (most of whom had completed their terms) with some fresh blood violated any law.

Traditionally, whenever Congress investigates the executive branch, it calls the agency heads in to testify, as well as other officials and experts, following a committee staff review of the facts. In this case, the House and Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats began by authorizing subpoenas of President Bush's top advisers, political strategist Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

That the rarely used subpoena powers were invoked at the beginning, before anyone knew anything beyond what they read in the papers, sent a clear signal that the Democrats smelled blood in the water and they were declaring all-out war to uncover a hoped-for scandal to further wound the Bush administration in its final two years.

But what really has occurred here of such magnitude to suggest that it was wrong to dismiss any U.S. attorneys, for whatever reason, who after all, traditionally serve at the pleasure of the president?

The hyperbolic stories that have been written about this in the national news media have reported a number of things that to the uninitiated sound like they were illegal or wrong -- when they were neither. Let's take them one at a time.

-- That this is an extraordinary number of dismissals that rarely occur in the final two years of an administration:

There are a total of 94 U.S. attorneys and getting rid of eight of them is hardly a large number. Traditionally, the incoming administration replaces most or all of the U.S. attorneys with their own selections -- usually from their own party, but not always. Replacements have occurred from time to time in previous administrations throughout their term of office.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.