EDITORIAL >>Probe widens into firings
Everyone knew that already, but it was refreshing that the Justice Department acknowledged the fact and got it off its chest.
The departmentís inspector general recommended that a special prosecutor be appointed to continue to investigate the firing of Bud Cummins, the U. S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and at least two other U.S. attorneys who were fired in 2006 and 2007 because they were not sufficiently attentive to the needs of the Republican Party and the White House.
The special counsel will see if anyone should be prosecuted for corrupting the Justice Department. The job will fall to a U. S. attorney who has prosecuted government fraud in Connecticut.
The inspector generalís 400-page report examined the firing of nine Republican prosecutors by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the longtime Texas friend of President Bush whom Bush dispatched from the White House counselís office in 2005 to replace John Ashcroft, who had displeased the White House by not providing legal opinions that suited the presidentís needs.
The Justice Department thereafter became a division of the White House political office, run by Karl Rove, and a number of district attorneys were deemed not abundantly helpful to the political aims of the White House and the party.
Cummins, a loyal Republican who was named by Bush in 2001, learned in 2006 that the Justice Department wanted his resignation by yearís end. He would discover that Rove wanted Timothy Griffin in the job. The 2008 elections were coming up and Griffinís tricks in prior elections as a Republican campaign operator, especially in Florida in the 2004 presidential election, had earned him a big reputation.
Gonzales would appoint Griffin to Cumminsí job under a little-known provision of the Patriot Act that would allow him to escape confirmation by the Senate, but he was forced to resign after a few months.
Gonzales insisted at the outset that Cummins and the other dismissed attorneys were ousted owing to their poor job performances and nothing more. The inspector general could find no evidence of poor performance by seven attorneys and scant evidence by two others. Cummins had gotten nothing but good annual evaluations.
The inspector general said he was hamstrung in his investigation by the White Houseís refusal to turn over records dealing with the cases and with the refusal of White House officials and Republican members of Congress to talk to the inspector general about the cases.
Nevertheless, he said the evidence was clear in the cases of Cummins and the U. S. attorneys in Missouri and New Mexico that they were fired for political reasons alone, in Cumminsí case solely so that Rove could place Griffin, a former subordinate in the White House political office, in the job.
The Justice Department, of all the agencies of government, is supposed to be non-partisan and non-political. It is where independence resides and impartial justice is dispensed. But in the congressional hearings over the firings, it was revealed that an assistant under Gonzales who screened career attorney hirings collected political views and activities and asked job applicants how they thought they could serve George W. Bush.
Their sworn duty was not to serve Bush but the country and the Constitution.
New U. S. attorneys are typically given the speech that Attorney General Robert H. Jackson gave new attorneys in the 1940s. He warned them that they were chosen by a political process but that politics could play no role in their work or justice would be betrayed.
Prosecutors have awesome power, he said, and they had to use it cautiously and without favor.
He warned them particularly about picking out a person to prosecute or investigate for political reasons. ďIt is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views....Ē
The fired prosecutors were not going after Democrats with enough vigor or else were prosecuting Republicans.Gonzalesí replacement, Michael Mukasey, says those days are over. The inspector generalís report is evidence of it. Now it remains for the special prosecutor to see that justice is actually done.