Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mistakes Were (Not) Made

I've been holding off posting on prosecutorgate so far mostly because I've been waiting with bated breath for it to explode. This is the big one. After a nearly endless series of blunders, scams, and scandals in the Bush administration, some big, some small, this is the one that I think will go down in the history books as the defining Bush administration scandal. And I've been too intently observing it unfold to say anything. I've finally been moved, however, to respond to the line of defense being offered by Gonzalez and the White House. That line: mistakes have been made. Namely, the DOJ was not fully honest about why the prosecutors were fired. End of story. They hope, by acknowledging and focusing on this particular aspect of the problem, to obscure what lies behind it. On the Newshour last night, the Republican operative (I don't recall who it was) was quite exercised about how awful it was that the DOJ misled the Senate on this count. He was also adamant that nothing else had been done wrong and that there was nothing actually improper about the firings themselves. Bush and Gonzalez have made similar remarks.

Not so fast. The bullshit about firing these prosecutors for performance issues is the least of the problem. Even the firings themselves are not the whole of the problem. This scandal is about the politicization of enforcement of justice in the US. So far Scott Horton at Balkinization has said it best:
What is at stake here? The issue is enormous. It is whether the criminal justice system will be turned into a partisan political tool. Bush's Administration is already widely called a "hackocracy" because of his tendency to fill slots with unqualified and incompetent partisan hacks. But the crisis at DOJ goes far beyond that. Even civil service positions - which have been protected from this sort of partisan corruption since the Hatch Act of 1939 - are being politicized. The Boston Globe, for instance, has closely documented the process of weeding out qualified career attorneys from the Civil Rights Division at DOJ and their replacement with political retainers - and the same process has continued throughout the Department. But at the heart of the DOJ scandal lies political intrusion into the exercise of prosecutorial discretion - one of the areas which a democratic society most needs to shield from partisan intrusion. There is now clear evidence that Gonzales and Bush directed political prosecutions and attempted to deflect prosecutions of Republicans for political purposes. A state that criminalizes political adversaries and that cloaks the criminal conduct of its retainers is by definition a tyranny.
A study by Donald Shields and John Cragan (not yet released) shows that under Bush seven times more Democratic officials have been investigated by the DOJ than Republican officials. Match that up with the Boston Globe findings. Combine it with all of the DOJ/White House emails released by the Senate showing the overtly political nature of the firing decisions, and how they tied into politicized prosecutions. There were no mistakes made. Nothing accidental occurred here. These people knew exactly what they were doing. They created one law for Democrats and another for Republicans. The Bush administration has made a concerted effort to reduce our nation to a banana republic. Gonzalez will have to go, but this scandal ought not end there. This administration and its DOJ is rotten to the core. For the sake of our nation and our system of government the Democratic Congress needs to climb onto this scandal and ride it as far as it can take them. This sort of misconduct needs to be punished to the fullest extent possible.


Henry said...

I don't doubt it. If the public pays attention and they learn some of the right lessons it could be a useful exercise. Some pretty big ifs in my opinion.

cecihead said...

I am also less inclined to call this a "big one" yet. Many media discussions are more focused on the "unusual practice of firing in the middle of a term" but rarely deny the administration's right to fire its own appointed attorneys without discussion of corruption or speculation of motive. That is what discerns me the most, no one calls it what it is but rather scratching the surface at the moment. It is unsettling to see only a couple of Republicans call for Gonzalez resignation while the rest of the efforts appear to be more partisan to the mass public who does not read Boston Globe or search for studies. It is really their opinion matters. I concur with Henry, some pretty big ifs.