Let us start at the beginning. There are 93 U.S. District Attorneys; each is a political appointee, and serves a four-year term alongside the presidential term. District Attorneys tender their resignation at the end of their term; most first-term presidents accept most or all of the resignations and appoint new lawyers. Nominees must then be confirmed by the Senate, to ensure the justice system stays non-partisan. Attorneys are subject to removal at the will of the President. This is all outlined in the Department of Justice’s United States Attorneys’ Manual Title 3 Section 2.120.
Prior to the renewal of the (unpatriotic) Patriot Act in 2006, an interim District Attorney could only serve 120 days without confirmation from the Senate. The 2006 version allows interim District Attorneys to bypass the Senate confirmation indefinitely, which allows for partisan appointments and the subsequent politicization of the justice system.
This is a real and serious threat, as White House counsel Harriet Miers wanted to fire all but the most loyal 20 percent and name interim prosecutors who would be more loyal to President Bush. Bypassing Senate confirmation, there would be no check or balance to ensure the integrity of the federal prosecutor system.
Was the move legal? Yes. Every president has the right to fire federal prosecutors as he chooses. Many presidents, including President Clinton, got rid of many District Attorneys. However, they did so at the beginning of their term, when the prosecutors had effectively resigned. Clinton did not dismiss a single prosecutor, as was done in this case.
In fact, from 1981 to 2006, only two prosecutors have been dismissed; both were under President Reagan. This information is from the Congressional Research Service’s “U.S. Attorney’s Who Have Served Less than Full Four-year Terms, 1981-2006.” The Congressional Research Service is part of the Library of Congress, a notoriously non-partisan institution.
Were the firings ethical? No. Good and decent people – all of whom were Republican – were fired because they were not investigating enough Democrats before the 2006 elections. Even those who were investigating Democrats were ousted; there is a certain point in some governments where the blackshirts – in this case Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, two of the President’s most loyal advisers – start going after the brownshirts.
What else makes this unethical? The lying. We were first told the White House was not involved; e-mails came out showing Rove and Miers were, in fact, involved. Alberto Gonzalez said he was not involved in the firings; it was revealed he went to meetings. Gonzalez said he went to meetings and got memos, but he did not listen in the meetings nor read the memos.
President Bush said Rove and Miers could appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but only behind closed doors and without a transcript. Bush said if subpoenas were issued for Rove and Miers to testify, he would cite Executive Privilege and prevent them from doing so.
This ignores a very important fact: the President, by all accounts, was not involved in any discussions about the firings, thus has no claims of privilege. Further, it is well-established that Executive Privilege applies only to matters of national security.
The President is now trying to withhold e-mails from the Judiciary Committee. The e-mails used a Republican National Committee server, which could not ensure their preservation; this is a direct violation of the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of all records relating to presidential activities. The president may not have been involved in talks, but appointment responsibilities belong to the President and qualify as presidential activities.
It appears the dismissals were technically legal, but that does not change the lack of integrity the administration has shown through this course of events, and the whole thing just stinks, stinks, stinks of something far more sinister.
Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.