Former President Jimmy Carter “lied then” about firing a U.S. attorney in 1978 investigating Democratic officials in Philadelphia and “lies now” in condemning the Bush Administration’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys and calling for Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales to go.
“All this Sunday school teaching does not seem to have the intended effect,” said the U.S. attorney removed by Carter, David Marston of Philadelphia, in a reference to the former President’s avocation as a Bible School teacher on Sundays.
Six days ago, I interviewed Marston about the similarities between the current furor over the forced exits of eight U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Administration and his own dismissal by Carter and he concluded “it’s more different than similar to mine.” We spoke again today after Carter himself appeared on the NBC-TV’s “Today Show” Sunday and was asked about the Marston affair by interviewer Lester Holt.
“In my conversation with [Carter] this past week,” Holt said, in introducing the 39th President, “the former President suggested the dismissal of David Marston was different from what the current White House faces.” Holt then asked Carter: “How much latitude should Presidents be afforded in that area and do you even see a comparison between the two?”
“I don’t see a comparison,” replied Carter, “I think — I think the issue that’s in the forefront of the news right now is not that those attorneys were fired, not even that they were fired because of some political purposes. The President has a right to do that. It was a lying about it that has precipitated the altercation.”
In response to Holt’s subsequent question about whether Gozales should have to step down, Carter said without explanation: “Yes, I do.”
What does Dave Marston think? “He’s trying to rewrite history,” was the response of the 64-year-old former prosecutor to the President who fired him. “Under the standard he has imposed on Gonzales, the President should have fired Atty. Gen. Griffin Bell in 1978.” Although it is so far unclear how much Gonzales knew about what the U.S. prosecutors were working on when they were forced out and what reasons were behind their exits, Marston pointed out that then-Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D.-Pa.) had actually called Carter on November 4, 1977 to demand Marston’s ouster and that the Prsident, in turn, called Bell and told him to “hurry up” in finding a new U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. Eilberg himself was the subject of a corruption probe by Marston’s office and, as Marston recalled to me, “the Justice Department was aware of this because I told Russell Baker [Bell’s top aide] that Eilberg was under investigation. And Russell Baker, who was a stand-up guy, confirmed this.”
A significant difference between his situation and those of the fired U.S. attorneys that Marston pointed out to me was that “Democrat controlled Congress in 1978 and did not investigate a Democratic President. Today, they control Congress and they will investigate the Republican Administration.”
In reviewing the transcript of Carter’s “Today” interview, Marston pointed out that the opening segment featured a clip of Carter from a news conference on January 12, 1978 in which he is asked about the Marston sacking and says: “I’ve not interfered at all.”
“That was on January 12th,” the former prosecutor pointed out, “and yet the evidence shows that he had called his attorney general about replacing me two months earlier.
“That was a blatant lie then — and President Carter has had 30 years to think about it.”