Monday, February 26, 2007

The latest laugh line from the New York Times 
Adam Cohen of the New York Times goes way out on a limb to ascribe the Bush Administration decision to replace political appointees to -- wait for it -- politics.

Believe it or not, the New York Times manages somehow to report on the subject without a single mention of the decision of Clinton's AG, Janet Reno, to fire every U.S. Attorney in the country - all 93 of them - including the one then investigating Dan Rostenkowski.

Indeed, when confronted with what seems to have been White House pressure to buy time for Rostenkowski, Miss Reno didn't head for home, she fired every U.S. attorney, including the one investigating the powerful House Ways and Means chairman.

Normally, when control of the Administration changes from one party to the other, the old U.S. attorneys are replaced gradually. Thus, when Tom Corbett, chairman of the U.S.-attorney advisory committee, asked Miss Reno about the transition timetable on Thursday, March 18, and got no answers, he assumed there would be the traditional, slow handover. He reeled when, on Monday morning, Associate Attorney General Hubbell told him the attorneys would have to resign immediately. Literally. "[They] should be able to clear out of their offices over the weekend," one White House politico told Corbett. (Miss Reno was nowhere in sight.) Corbett had to fight just to get the attorneys an extra week to clear out.

The next day Miss Reno called for resignations. Jay Stephens, the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., resigned that afternoon, commenting that he had been within thirty days of a "critical decision" about Rostenkowski. (Once Stephens left, the transition lost its urgency; some Republican U.S. attorneys are still on board.) The Illinois congressman may yet be indicted for his alleged abuse of the House Bank, but Stephens's hasty dismissal surely slowed the investigation, leaving Rosty, who loses his chairmanship if indicted, in place to steer Clinton bills through the House.

Politics, Politics

Were all 93 attorneys performing inadequately?

And what did the Times have to say at the time?

Not much. A news story. No condemning editorial that I can find, although there's this glancing blow related to Rostenkowski.

Here is the NYT story from back then.

Special to The New York Times
1112 words
24 March 1993
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final
Copyright 1993 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON, March 23 -- Attorney General Janet Reno today demanded the prompt resignation of all United States Attorneys, leading the Federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia to suggest that the order could be tied to his long-running investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski, a crucial ally of President Clinton.

Jay B. Stephens, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is a Bush Administration holdover, said he had advised the Justice Department that he was within 30 days of making a "critical decision" in the Rostenkowski case when Ms. Reno directed him and other United States Attorneys to submit their resignations, effective in a matter of days.

While prosecutors are routinely replaced after a change in Administration, Ms. Reno's order accelerated what had been expected to be a leisurely changeover. Says He Won't Resist

At a news conference today only hours after one by Ms. Reno, Mr. Stephens said he would not resist the Attorney General's move to force him from office, and he held back from directly accusing her of interfering with the Rostenkowski inquiry.

But Mr. Stephens left the strong impression that Ms. Reno's actions might disrupt the investigation as he moved toward a decision on whether to seek charges against the Illinois Democrat, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

"This case has been conducted with integrity," Mr. Stephens said, "and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations."

Nonetheless, lawyers who have followed the investigation have said that Mr. Stephens has been concerned that the Democratic Administration might try to upset his investigation. Has Denied Wrongdoing

Mr. Rostenkowski has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and he has not been accused of any impropriety. But if he is indicted, he would be forced by House rules to relinquish his chairmanship, a development that some lawmakers have said could seriously jeopardize Mr. Clinton's efforts to steer his economic and health-care proposals through Congress.

Mr. Stephens and his prosecutors began the investigation that led them to review Mr. Rostenkowski's activities in mid-1991, focusing initially on low-level employees at the House post office who absconded with money. There have been several guilty pleas as prosecutors have worked their way up the ranks at the mailing operation.

Mr. Rostenkowski has been under scrutiny since last year, when his office records were subpoenaed in an inquiry into whether someone in his office used his expense account fraudulently to obtain cash from the post office. Since then, some of his aides have testified to a grand jury and investigators have examined his use of campaign funds. Denies Any Connection

In announcing her order at her first news conference as Attorney General, Ms. Reno denied there was any connection between her action and the Rostenkowski case and said Mr. Stephens had been treated like other United States Attorneys."

Ms. Reno said United States Attorneys "are absolutely integral to the whole success of the Department of Justice," and her aides said today that she did not intend to immediately remove any whose presence was required to complete an investigation.

One official suggested that even Mr. Stephens might be asked to stay on until a successor is named, saying Ms. Reno had made no decisions about who she may choose on an interim basis.

All 93 United States Attorneys knew they would be asked to step down, since all are Republican holdovers, and 16 have resigned so far. But the process generally takes much longer and had usually been carried out without the involvement of the Attorney General. Battles of the Past

Ms. Reno is under pressure to assert her control over appointments at the Justice Department. She was Mr. Clinton's third choice for Attorney General and arrived after most of the department's senior positions were already filled by the White House.

The comments of Ms. Reno and Mr. Stephens evoked the pitched battles of the past, when independent United States Attorneys resisted removal by new administrations.

In 1969, for instance Robert Morgenthau, now the Manhattan District Attorney, resisted efforts by the Nixon Administration to replace him as United States Attorney in New York until he was given what he called an "ultimatum" by President Richard M. Nixon to leave office.

In 1978, Attorney General Griffin B. Bell removed David W. Marston as United States Attorney in Philadelphia, provoking charges, never proved, that a lawmaker under scrutiny by Mr. Marston's office had urged President Jimmy Carter to remove the prosecutor. Four-Year Terms

United States Attorneys are appointed to serve four-year terms at the pleasure of the President. It was unclear whether Ms. Reno initiated the request for resignations or whether it was pressed on her by the White House. The Attorney General said it was a "joint decision."

Ms. Reno said she wanted the resignations "so that the U.S. Attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and that we can begin to build a team."

Some Administration officials dismissed Mr. Stephens's veiled assertions about the Attorney General's motives as "absurd," as one put it, saying that what was surprising was that it had taken so long before the Justice Department could begin putting its own appointees in place. Abortion Clinic Violence

On other topics, Ms. Reno said she would work with Democrats in Congress to prepare legislation to give Federal agencies a larger role in protecting abortion clinics.

Her comments came after she had ordered a review of current law, which she said was inadequate "to prevent or to help prevent physical interference with access to abortion clinics."

She also ruled out a Federal inquiry into the death of Dr. David Gunn, a physician who was shot to death as he entered an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla., apparently by a man who said he was an anti-abortion activist. "Florida law on this subject is more effective than Federal law," said Ms. Reno, a former Florida prosecutor.

Ms. Reno also said she had not decided whether to replace William S. Sessions, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who has been found to have violated ethics rules.

Photos: In her first news conference as Attorney General, Janet Reno said she had asked all United States Attorneys to offer their resignations. (pg. A1); Jay B. Stephens, United States Attorney in Washington, suggested that the move to replace all United States Attorneys might be tied to his investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski. (Jose R. Lopez/The New York Times) (pg. A17)

Document NYTF000020050409dp3o00jhd
Great job on this story. Thank you. And thanks to Anonymous for posting the entire NYT story here.


First, as the NYT article states, "prosecutors are routinely replaced after a change in Administration". Reagan replaced Carter's. Clinton replaced Bush's, etc. What Reno did was accelerate a traditionally slower process. Unseemly behaviour? Debatable. Specifically, relieving an attorney relatively close (at least in his opinion)to finishing an investigation of Dan Rostenkowski does raise suspicion at a minimum.

In the current Bush Administration issue, it seems that Bush appointees are being replaced en masse, which is unusual. The claim that they were all relieved for "performance reasons" is pretty transparent, as several of them had recent positive evaluations. According to today's Washington Post article by Dan Eggen and John Solomon,(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/12/AR2007031201818.html) Sampson sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys. Strong performers “exhibited loyalty” to the administration; low performers were “weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.
A third group merited no opinion.
Almost seems as if there's both an agenda and a spoils system there....

Throw in the fact that the initial efforts to name replacements without going through Senate confirmation (just when you think the Newspeakianly named "Patriot Act" has no more evil left to reveal...), and it starts to look more and more like an ethically vacuous process oh so familiar to this criminal administration.

The cracks in the walls are starting to show. The foundation is crumbling. The whole house will come down eventually.
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