Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Political Purge at the DOJ

As many of you already know, Bush has been purging the U.S. Attorneys (Josh Marshall is the source for this story)--seven so far, all forced to resign. He's using an obscure provision of the Patriot Act that allows him to appoint replacement U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval.

The obvious motive is defensive. For example, Carol Lam, who officially resigned yesterday (but was clearly pushed out), was in charge of the Duke Cunningham prosecution and the ongoing investigation into CIA aide (and Bush appointee) Dusty Foggo. Her replacement will be able to ensure that nothing too embarrassing comes out. There's still a whole lot of dirt to dig up, and the purge may be intended to keep it buried.

On the other hand, one appointment suggests an even more sinister motive:

Well, let's start with the estimable J. Timothy Griffin, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas since December 20th....

According to this Arkansas Times report, for the last ten years -- with the exception of two one year stint -- he has always worked as a Republican party opposition researcher digging up dirt on Democrats. Deputy Research Director for the RNC from 1999-2000. Research Director for the RNC from 2002-2005. Oppo Research Director for Karl Rove 2005-2006. Prior to 1999? Well, he was associate independent counsel investigating Henry Cisneros from 1995-96. After that he went to work for Dan Burton on the Hill to investigate Asian money contributions to the DNC.

Back in 2000, when he was in charge of digging up dirt on Al Gore, he apparently had a poster hanging on the wall behind his desk which read: "On my command - unleash hell on Al."
Can we expect the Department of Justice to 'unleash hell' on, say, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi? Are we going to see politically-motivated investigations of dozens of Democrats in Congress? I wouldn't bet against it.

To her credit, Senator Feinstein has denounced the purge and introduced a bill giving district courts the power to appoint interim replacement U.S. Attorneys. I'm afraid the damage is already done, and we're going to see the Department of Justice be reduced to a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Rove operation.

Update: Today's times has a story on this.

Other Update: Turns out Arlen Specter is responsible for adding this to the Patriot Act (confirmed here). And Gonzales responds to the controversy, saying "we in no way politicize these decisions." He also provides the biggest laugh line of the day:
Gonzales explained his expanded powers were necessary because federal judges -- who previously had appointed replacement U.S. attorneys -- were susceptible to cronyism and might appoint unqualified candidates.
Yes, you read that right: cronyism and unqualified candidates.

[That's all, folks]