Having been busy, I haven't written about the firing of the eight prosecutors before now. (Josh Marshall has, and if you haven't been reading his reporting on it, you should. And TPMMuckraker has helpfully collected all its posts on this story here.) But it's one more of those stories that ought to be shocking, but isn't even surprising anymore. (The one truly surprising thing is that I found myself feeling nostalgic for John Ashcroft, of all people. One of the fired prosecutors, quoted in the NYT: "He said he had been guided by a personal admonition from former Attorney General John Ashcroft shortly after he was appointed in 2001. “He took me into his office and said, ‘David, when you come here, you’ve got to stay out of politics.’ ”)
The idea that prosecutors -- who have the power to decide whose life gets to be made hell on earth by being subjected to an investigation, and whose does not -- are being leaned on by Congresspeople, political operatives, and the like to prosecute Democrats is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The latest twist:
"Presidential advisor Karl Rove and at least one other member of the White House political team were urged by the New Mexico Republican party chairman to fire the state's U.S. attorney because of dissatisfaction with his job performance including his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation in the battleground election state.
In an interview Saturday with McClatchy Newspapers, Chairman Allen Weh said he complained in 2005 about then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to a White House liaison who worked for Rove and asked that he be removed. Weh said he followed up with Rove personally in late 2006 during a visit to the White House. (...)
Weh recalled asking Rove at a White House holiday event in December: "Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" What Weh didn't know was that the firings of Iglesias and the others had already been approved.
Weh said Rove told him: "`He's gone.' I probably said something close to `Hallelujah.'""
Josh Marshall notes one big unanswered question: given that other prosecutors were subjected to pressure to prosecute Democrats, and apparently fired for not doing so, was Carol Lam fired because of her investigations of Republicans?
"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. "
(The administration claims Lam was fired because she didn't prosecute immigration cases aggressively enough, though apparently they didn't think so a few months before (pdf).)
Paul Krugman raises another crucial point:
"The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office. The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn’t go along with the Bush administration’s politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny."
(The study is available here.)
He also brings up the investigation of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), which happened shortly before the election and has mysteriously vanished since:
"For those of us living in the Garden State, the growing scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors immediately brought to mind the subpoenas that Chris Christie, the former Bush “Pioneer” who is now the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, issued two months before the 2006 election — and the way news of the subpoenas was quickly leaked to local news media.
The subpoenas were issued in connection with allegations of corruption on the part of Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who seemed to be facing a close race at the time. Those allegations appeared, on their face, to be convoluted and unconvincing, and Mr. Menendez claimed that both the investigation and the leaks were politically motivated.
Mr. Christie’s actions might have been all aboveboard. But given what we’ve learned about the pressure placed on federal prosecutors to pursue dubious investigations of Democrats, Mr. Menendez’s claims of persecution now seem quite plausible.
In fact, it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power. Bear in mind that if Mr. Menendez had lost, the G.O.P. would still control the Senate."
It is, unfortunately, standard practice for Presidents to give things like Ambassadorships to their political supporters. It is not, and should never be, standard practice for them to turn the full punitive powers of the Federal government on their opponents. This is a serious scandal, and I hope it is investigated for all it's worth.