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The Rush to Oust Gonzales

More’s the pity that some of today’s senators are seemingly unaware British playwright J. M. Barrie words, “Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own.” Were that wisdom part of her political philosophy, would Sen. Hillary Clinton have called on U.S. Atty. Gen. Albert Gonzales to resign? Clinton said Gonzales should go, “because he is at the center of a widening scandal over the firing of several U.S. attorneys — firings we now know to be political. . . It’s so bad that one U.S. attorney in Arkansas was fired to make room for a former aide to Karl Rove…. President Bush and his staff must come clean about their involvement in these politically motivated firings.” So reminiscent of a certain queen whose take on justice on the dark side of a looking glass was “verdict first, then the trial.”

Just what does the senator know that justifies her claim that the firings were based on a dread of prosecutorial impartiality? I tried three times to find out, and I’m still waiting for a call back from her press office by which, I was informed, such information must “first be cleared.”

And Sen. Charles Schumer’s take? During a Face the Nation appearance on March 12, 2007, he said that Gonzales should quit because he “politicized his office at the expense of the nation’s laws.” No one asked which laws and by what means? His staff told me that Eric Schultz from his press office would call to let me know. I’m still waiting.

In a courtroom, these kinds of unsupported statements are termed conclusory. But, in the milieu of politics they serve a purpose. They tell us that as of now politicking is all that is going on. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Well, maybe there is, if people who repeat those conclusory statements influence others to feel comfortable enough to make unsupported assertions that lead to impressions, opinions and votes, all based on air, proof being a straggler in a drama that is being acted out while its first draft is being written.

But what if there are data sufficiently reliable to support what is now conclusory? After all, D. Kyle Sampson resigned as Gonzales’ chief of staff. Why? He knew, as he informed the White House, that a result of the firings would be “political upheaval.”

A person close to the Justice Department told me that Sampson left his job because he felt responsible for the unpreparedness of Justice Department officials to testify before Congress, especially regarding his pre-firing email discussions with Harriet Miers, then White House counsel. And so Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul McNulty and others gave sworn testimony that the Justice Department, only, decided to fire those U.S. attorneys, for performance-related reasons that had nothing to do with politics. That was mistaken.

Most, if not all Presidents get rid of U.S. Attorneys to replace them with their own people (what could be more political?). Putting that aside, I wondered how true the performance-related testimony was. According to my source, no one contests its validity except for, at most, three of the canned U.S. attorneys, and that as to those three:

  • Regarding Arkansas, it is acknowledged by the Justice Department that H.E. “Bud” Cummins was fired so that Tim Griffin could have the job. Griffin had been an aide to Karl Rove, a name that evokes images of red meat to persons ill-deposed toward the President.
  • Next, San Diego and Carol Lam. The assertion is that it was her prosecution of corruption charges against Randy “Duke” Cunningham and former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis that led to her termination. Gonzales, emphasizing immigration smuggling, said, “We advised Ms. Lam of these other priorities. … A U.S. attorney can’t just focus on one particular problem. A U.S. Attorney has to focus on all the needs of the community." And as to Jerry Lewis? It turns out that his case is not on Lam’s turf, but in California’s central district. Nothing factual even indicates that these cases will be affected by the firings.
  • And, finally, New Mexico, where the story is that Congresswoman Heather Wilson, worried that the “culture of corruption” anti-Republican ethos might harm her 2006 re-election prospects and wanted U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to become more active in prosecuting alleged corruption on the part of a local democrat, a desire echoed by Sen. Pete Dominici. That both Wilson and Dominci strongly disliked Iglesias and wanted him out is not controverted. That his firing resulted from anything improper on their part is yet undemonstrated. That the White House was involved, other than to do the commonplace bidding of a senator from the area, is a charge not tied to any known fact.

We are left with this: we know a bit more about certain machinations connected with replacement of U.S. attorneys and that the Justice Department never made an effort to get a clear picture of the facts or to prepare its representatives for their testimony before Congress.

In governance’s parallel world of politics, we also know that certain Democrats use administration screw-ups to attack the White House to help win the next election, and that certain republicans frightened for their political longevity somewhat follow suit, although couched in terms of concern for the administration.

Patience is called for. Because of the conclusory charges and the power of subpoena, it is now necessary that facts be assembled. You will find out soon enough if the story’s bite can match the braying. But as of now, if there is reason for a Gonzales departure, it must be for more than this mishandled affair.

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Written By

Julian Tepper, host of radio's "The Tepper Show," is a practicing attorney formerly with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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