Like the police inspector in “Casablanca,” many in our nation’s capital seem shocked -- shocked! to discover that politics is being practiced here. Consider the case of the fired U.S. attorneys.
Last year the Bush administration decided to remove eight of our country’s 93 U.S. attorneys. Nothing wrong with that. Any president has “broad discretion to replace political appointees throughout the government, including U.S. attorneys,” as President Bush explained. “The Justice Department, with the approval of the White House, believed new leadership in these positions would better serve our country.”
That should be the end of it. But it’s never that simple.
“I want to find out how much politics played a part in these firings of these U.S. attorneys,” Sen. Pat Leahy, the Democrat chair of the Judiciary Committee, told NPR. Leahy admits the administration is within its rights to fire the attorneys, but still insists he’ll get to the bottom of this. “Of course they serve at the pleasure of the president, but they have to be independent in their prosecution. Otherwise, the next president, whoever he or she might be, might be tempted to do the same thing.”
Well, this president is actually doing far less than what the last president did.
In 1993, new President Bill Clinton fired all 93 U.S. attorneys. As The New York Times editorial page noted at the time, “Any hope that the Clinton Administration would operate a Justice Department free of political taint -- or even the appearance of political taint -- grew dim yesterday when the White House confirmed that it would dismiss the U.S. Attorney investigating one of its chief congressional allies.”
Politics, it seems always will figure into the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys. The only problem here is a communication problem.
The administration tried to explain its actions to Congress -- but even trying to do so was a mistake. After all, nobody’s guaranteed a job (except civil service workers and tenured college professors). If my boss fires me tomorrow, I’ll quietly clean out my desk. In this case, the White House decided to fire the attorneys, so they’re fired. Attempting to explain why is unnecessary and ends up being counterproductive.
But U.S. attorneys aren’t the only supposed victims of politics. Enter the lovely Valerie Plame, a former CIA operative who testified before a House committee on March 16.