Sorry Karl, Clinton Did Not Purge Prosecutors

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Karl Rove and Bush Administration allies have been pushing the talking point that Clinton and most every other president undertook the very normal step of firing U.S. Attorneys.

That’s right and wrong. It’s correct that most presidents bring in a new crop of U.S. Attorneys when they take office — the nation’s top prosecutors are like any political appointees in that respect. But once U.S. Attorneys are appointed, they serve their four (or eight) years with the comfort of knowing that they are independent of the administration that put them in place — that justice has nothing to do with politics. Said a former U.S. Attorney who served almost ten years, “Throughout modern history, my understanding is, you did not change the U.S. attorney during an administration, unless there was some evidence of misconduct or other really quite significant cause to do so.” She went on to note that attorneys need to serve “without fear or favor and in an absolutely apolitical way.”

It’s perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration’s desire to reshape the entire federal government into a partisan machine (The first czar of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives resigned in anger, saying, “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you’ve got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm.”) that they would corrupt the nation’s justice system in order to oust individuals making trouble and appoint more docile or even completely acquiescent replacements. Moreover, it’s perfectly indicative of the Bush Administration’s record of dishonesty to try and displace blame by smearing the Clinton Administration.

But the Congressional Research Service isn’t letting them get away with it. They looked at all U.S. Attorneys between 1981 and 2006 and found that “Of the 468 confirmations made by the Senate over the 25-year period, only 10 left office involuntarily for reasons other than a change in administration.” In those 10 instances, serious lapses in personal or professional conduct can explain eight of them. In the other two, the CRS was unable to determine cause.

Thus, in the past quarter century, somewhere from zero to two U.S. Attorneys have been fired for political reasons. The Bush Administration fired seven in one day, and eight total. Just another example of how power has corrupted the Bush Administration, making it greedy and dismissive of custom, good practice, and the principles of good governance.

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