Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why did the White House lie about US Attorney firings?

The mass purge of US Attorneys continues to make the news cycle and the more the White House explains, the muddier the explanations become. The NYT posts a rather thin article this morning remarking on the new revelations that contrary to their initial denials, the White House was deeply involved in the decision to remove the attorneys.
Discussions began in October at the Justice Department about removing prosecutors who were considered flawed or deficient in carrying out administration policy by law enforcement officials, lawmakers and others, several officials said. The White House eventually approved the list and helped notify Republican lawmakers before the Dec. 7 dismissals, officials said.
No one seems to be asking why only Republican lawmakers were notified. Aren't there any Democrats in Congress that should have appropriately been included in the notification? But even more interesting was this.
Justice Department officials, who would speak about the department’s decision making only anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly, now acknowledge that the dismissals were mishandled. They failed to anticipate how much attention the highly unusual group firing would draw, and the agency’s contradictory accounts about whether the dismissals were performance-related helped spur suspicions.
This is second time this week an anonymous Justice spokesman noted they make decisions on how to enact their secret little policies with an eye towards how much public attention they might receive. One notes that yesterday's under-reported story on the administration's push to collect internet usage records on all Americans would exempt libraries from data retention because of the librarian's previous pushback against Patriot Act infringements of privacy that drew much unwanted notice.

But back to the firings, yesterday's WaPo piece examined the inconsistencies in the White House statements more thoroughly. After weeks of denying there was any involvement, the White House now says yeah, they knew about and approved the firings because they believed the prosecutors "were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues."

A simple explanation that would have defused the speculation had it been offered right up front. But that excuse doesn't address the troubling revelations that have surfaced since. Carol Lam in California was obviously sacked for prosecuting Cunningham and revealing deep corruption in Republican patronage contracts. U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico was pressured by two Republican lawmakers to push forward indictments of Democrats prior to the November election. He didn't deliver. Another prosecutor instituted policies that displeased the FBI in creating a database that allowed law enforcement to share information and another insisted on taping confessions which also rankled the FBI. And we know that one was replaced simply to give a job to Rove's crony.

But now we're told that this was a simple political exercise to purge the ideologically impure appointees. That doesn't explain why it was done under a nearly secret provision of the Patriot Act, that was set in place well prior to the firings, in order to allow the new candidates to avoid the normal confirmation process and be appointed to indefinite terms. It doesn't explain why the attorneys weren't given reasons for their terminations at the time they were fired and it certainly doesn't explain why the White House initially denied any involvement.

Even if there is no nefarious plot behind the purge, this certainly illustrates a troubling mindset within this administration. It seems they have become so enamored with secrecy and so used to lying to the public and getting away with it, that they automatically deny and lie, even when the truth would serve their purposes better.
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