Monday, March 19, 2007

Attorney Purge Scandal

Because of Talking Points Memo, I've known about the Bush Justice Department's purge of US Attorneys for some time now. I didn't post on it because I am, I guess the best word would be weary of thinking about the myriad of ways that the Bush regime is misusing its power.

I don't know why anyone would be surprised by this latest scandal. I think the only reason it is getting so much more play than some of the other naked power plays committed by the regime is that there is now a Democratically-controlled Congress to investigate it.

But there is one damning element here that I decided to overcome my weariness of tilting at the windmill of the Bush regime to mention: Even if the regime's core supporters never seem to realize what the regime is doing is wrong, the regime itself certainly does. They wouldn't have bothered to lie about something that wasn't illegal or in violation of the Constitution otherwise.

After all, White House and the Attorney General have the right to dismiss US Attorneys at any time for any reason.* Typically, Presidents do this at the beginning of their terms, when they often dismiss all the US Attorneys if they are taking over from a President of the other party, rather than in the middle of a term, but still.

It's unseemly to dismiss US Attorneys just because they aren't clinging tight enough to the President's political objectives. It hurts the independence of the US Attorneys and thus further undermines our legal system. I suspect it creates great difficulties for the US Attorneys themselves, since they are Officers of the Court, and have legal and ethical responsibilities that must sometimes conflict with the political goals of their masters. And I think there definitely should be laws limiting the President's power to dismiss or attempt to influence US Attorneys in the performance of their duties, including preventing them from being dismissed on political grounds.

But still, the regime did something that was within its rights and powers as they now stand. As such, the only reason for Gonzales and other Justice Department officials to lie about the whole thing is because they knew they did something wrong. Under the regime's extremely dangerous "unitary executive" theory, after all, neither the President nor the Attorney General has anything to apologize for in exercising their power in this fashion. If they didn't think they did anything wrong, they should simply have been open about how and why the firings took place, and point out they have the right to do so.

But that's not what they did. They lied and tried to cover things up. Why? Because they knew they'd done something wrong, whether or not they were technically within their rights. They covered it up because they knew they were doing something they shouldn't, whether or not legally they could.

* Have you ever heard the phrase "serve at the pleasure of the President" used as much as in the past couple weeks? I've really gotten tired of it, so I'm going to try to avoid using it unless absolutely necessary. Though it is kind of fun, since it sounds dirty.


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