The thing that is most striking about this U.S. Attorney Purge scandal is how it had nothing to do with “Democratic attacks” or “liberal media hype” as many conservatives are wont to allege. Instead, it was essentially a case of Republicans shooting themselves in the foot in their feverish rush to take partisan advantage of a juicy little nugget that had been slipped into the Patriot Act.
No president had ever before had the unrestricted power to appoint U.S. Attorneys without having to worry about making sure they will pass muster with the Senate. So in an excercise that has now come back to bite them in the ass, the Bush Justice Department set out to rank all 93 Bush-appointed U.S. Attorneys based on their loyalty and fealty to the Bush administration. Those who had shown too much independence by pursuing corruption investigations of Republicans or who failed to use their office to hound and harass local Democrats in their districts were marked for eventual ouster.
This presented immediate problems because they knew it wouldn’t look good if they cam right out and said they were firing the attorneys for political reasons. So they tried to claim it was for performance reasons only to have the affected attorneys object because of the stain that would place on their careers. Most weren’t willing to take that kind of a fall for the administration and they fought back. Democrats only got involved after the fight spilled over to a larger audience. Now the whole thing has erupted into a major scandal with Bush threatening to ignore Congressional supoenas for his top aides and a mysterious 18-day gap appearing in the flood of e-mails that the Justice Department was forced to turn over.
In the meantime, Alberto Gone-zales is toast just waiting to be cut loose once his replacement is found. Bush’s assurances that the attorney general has his full support reminds me of how the President lied when he said Donald Rumsfeld would remain his Secretary of Defense at the same time that they were flying Robert Gates to D.C. to be sworn in.