The Bush administration has a knack for shooting itself in the foot, or in the most recent example, the head. The latest self-inflicted wound, the botched firing of eight U.S. attorneys, may not prove fatal, but it has dealt a crippling blow to the White House at a time when the president can least afford it.
As in previous cases, most famously the response to Hurricane Katrina, basic competence seems to be a problem here. Congressional Democrats, no doubt, will go overboard and end up claiming the firings were illegal, which is nonsense, but the administration has basically handed them the issue.
There is nothing wrong with removing political appointees from office at any time, even U.S. attorneys, who are appointed for a four-year term but serve "at the pleasure of the president." Despite the sturm und drang being ginned up by the likes of Sen. Hillary Clinton, these firings weren't all that extraordinary and may even have been justified on substantive grounds.
Sen. Clinton knows a good deal about how the process works -- her husband summarily dismissed 93 U.S. attorneys in March 1993 even though previous practice when a new administration took office had been to keep attorneys in place until their replacements had been approved. President Clinton defended his actions at the time, claiming, "All those people are routinely replaced, and I have not done anything differently."
Republicans begged to differ, of course, not least because one of the prosecutors whom Clinton dismissed was involved in a high-level political investigation. Jay Stephens, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, was just days away from filing charges against former Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski when he got his pink slip. But the indictment went forward without him, and Rostenkowski was found guilty of mail fraud and served 15 months in jail, though he later received a pardon by none other than Bill Clinton.
So what's different this time around? Obviously partisanship plays a role. When President Clinton was in a firing mood, his party controlled Congress. President Bush has no such luck.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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