Monday, March 26, 2007

gonzales must go

Having watched the controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys over the past few weeks, I believe that at an absolute minimum, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should be removed (assuming George W. Bush refuses -- as he has so far -- to fire him). I also think that the U.S. Senate should continue to investigate the matter to find out what others in the administration knew about the dismissals.

Why is this such a big deal? Doesn't the President have the right to appoint attorneys who will carry out his law-enforcement agenda? Yes, and in fact, when Bush replaced 88 of the 93 U.S. attorneys at the start of his first term, this was not seen as a major event.

The reason the recent firings matter is because the Bush administration and their Republican allies expected these attorneys to wield their power to indict as a political weapon. Senator Pete Dominici (R-NM) called U.S. attorney David Iglesias at home to pressure Iglesias to indict Democrats in Washington state in an effort to influence a tight gubernatorial race, which Iglesias refused to do. Another attorney, Carol Lam, led the federal corruption investigation against former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA). So they were fired. In other words, the Bush administration wants U.S. attorneys who will bring baseless corruption charges against Democrats and who will ignore allegations against Republicans. Using law enforcement in this way is unethical and damaging to democracy.

To make matters worse, Gonzales has repeatedly lied about his role in this matter. First he said that he knew nothing about the firings, reversing this stance only when memos revealing his involvement began to surface. Then he claimed that the firings were performance-related, which was contradicted by the performance evaluations of the eight attorneys. So the only way to get to the bottom of what really happened is to subpoena all the related documents and to have Gonzales testify publicly, under oath. Karl Rove should also be forced to testify, since he too has been implicated in this scandal.

The one positive development in all this is that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially the committee chair, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have taken their oversight responsibilities seriously (so far). Using law enforcement for partisan political purposes is a very serious matter, and although I have little confidence that the media will treat the issue seriously, I hope that the Senate will. The handling of this case will be a strong indicator of whether or not Democrats will have the stomach to confront the administration. It's not that this case is unusual for the Bush administration; the difference is that this time, hopefully, the Congress won't rubber-stamp the administration's blatant corruption.

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