Monday, March 12, 2007

the Gonzales 7

Even though Walter Reed is getting all the attention (and by the way, as if that story isn't bad enough, Salon is reporting that the Bush Administration is sending injured troops back to Iraq), it is the US Attorney purge scandal that has the most significant ramifications for the government. I first touched on the scandal here, and providing a touch of background, but I really just wanted to focus on a small part of the mess in New Mexico. Today, I want to pull the camera back and show "the big picture" (and wow, is it ever big on this one).

TPMMuckraker, by the way, is far and away the best place to go for information on this scandal, and I strongly recommend taking a stroll down their website.

The scandal deals with the firings of 8 US Attorneys, all Republican, all Bush appointees, from around the country. US Attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the president," meaning they have all the job security of a union agitator at Wal-Mart, but the issue is that 4 or 5 of them (Carol Lam in California, John McKay in Washington state, David Iglesias of New Mexico, and Bud Cummins of Arkansas) have admitted that they were leaned on to overprosecute Democrats or underprosecute Republicans before they were ultimately canned, at least a couple of said instances having clearly been attempts to sway the '06 midterm elections.

First of all, it is increasingly likely that these attorneys were actually conscientious exceptions of a much larger pool of pushed prosecutors. From an academic study of corruption prosecutions by US Attorneys, via ePluribus Media :
Data* indicate that the offices of the U.S. Attorneys across the nation investigate seven (7) times as many Democratic officials as they investigate Republican officials, a number that exceeds even the racial profiling of African Americans in traffic stops.

The performances of these 7 oddballs, with the exception of Nevada's Daniel Bogden, didn't mesh with the greater pattern very well.

Secondly, the Administration's touch is all over this scandal. Shall we count the officials involved? Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not only the boss of these 7, but was the one who did the firing. He was empowered to replace the attorneys with anyone he wanted (and without congressional approval) thanks to a little-known provision to, you guessed it, the USA PATRIOT Act, inserted by an Arlen Specter staffer unbeknownst even to Specter himself (or so we're expected to believe, anyway). One of the attorneys, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, was fired by then-White House counsel Harriet Miers. Karl Rove was urged by the NM GOP chief to can Iglesias, about whom he simply quipped "He's gone" (Not long before Rove's entry into the scandal, it had been reported that the Justice Dept. fired the attorneys "with input from the White House", and more details since have come out about Turdblossom's involvement). Deputy White House counsel William Kelly is being requested for an interview on the matter by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The scandal could also taint a number of congressional Republicans, as well. Aside from Arlen Specter (who is all over this scandal), Heather Wilson, Pete Domenici, John Kyl, and Doc Hastings, who you may remember was placed by Tom Delay to head the Ethics Committee after it had proven, shall we say, "troublesome" under Joel Hefley.

Amongst all this chaos of sleaze, however, there is a hard core. A "center" of the controversy. The point that provides the necessary perspective for all the other points. It's the story of a trial in San Diego of a comically corrupt congressman named Duke Cunningham. After his conviction, the prosecutor got one of his bribers, Mitchell Wade, to snitch on some other people involved. Then, just before the firings, the prosecutor rolled out indictments for defense contractor Brent Wilkes and the former executive director of the CIA, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo.

That prosecutor was the recently-fired US Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego.

The issue of Lam's firing as a way to derail her ever-evolving investigation into the hydra-like circle of GOP corruption should be the focal point of all discussion of the issue, as it's where the Administration and the party at large had the most to lose, and thus the most incentive to act, and it's where the greatest effect will be felt. From Josh Marshall:
Now let's cut to the chase, the big story at the heart of all of this: San Diego and the firing of Carol Lam.

Given what we know about New Mexico and Washington state, it simply defies credulity to believe that Lam -- in the midst of an historic corruption investigation touching the CIA, the White House and major Republican appropriators on Capitol Hill -- got canned because she wasn't prosecuting enough immigration cases. Was it the cover? Sure. The reason? Please.

I'm not sure Lam would have been canned simply for prosecuting Cunningham. His corruption was so wild and cartoonish that even a crew with as little respect for the rule of law would have realized the impossibility of not prosecuting him. But she didn't stop there. She took her investigation deep into congressional appropriations process -- kicking off a continuing probe into the dealings of former Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis. She also followed the trail into the heart of the Bush CIA. Those two stories are like mats of loose threads. That's where the story lies.

I have a feeling they'll offer up Gonzales' head to placate the Democrats before they'll reinstate Lam. Prosecutors who give primacy to the rule of law are trouble in this administration.

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