Monday, March 12, 2007

Overblown Personnel Matters

Paul Krugman

Nobody is surprised to learn that the Justice Department was lying when it claimed that recently fired federal prosecutors were dismissed for poor performance. Nor is anyone surprised to learn that White House political operatives were pulling the strings.

What is surprising is how fast the truth is emerging about what Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, dismissed just five days ago as an "overblown personnel matter."

As I said, none of this is surprising. The Bush administration has been purging, politicizing and de-professionalizing federal agencies since the day it came to power. But in the past it was able to do its business with impunity; this time Democrats have subpoena power, and the old slime-and-defend strategy isn't working.

You also have to wonder whether new signs that Mr. Gonzales and other administration officials are willing to cooperate with Congress reflect the verdict in the Libby trial. It probably comes as a shock to realize that even Republicans can face jail time for lying under oath.

Another big loose end involves what U.S. attorneys who weren't fired did to please their employers. As I pointed out last week, the numbers show that since the Bush administration came to power, federal prosecutors have investigated far more Democrats than Republicans.

But the numbers can tell only part of the story. What we really need - and it will take a lot of legwork - is a portrait of the actual behavior of prosecutors across the country. Did they launch spurious investigations of Democrats, as I suggested last week may have happened in New Jersey? Did they slow-walk investigations of Republican scandals, like the phone-jamming case in New Hampshire?

In other words, the truth about that "overblown personnel matter" has only begun to be told. The good news is that for the first time in six years, it's possible to hope that all the facts about a Bush administration scandal will come out in Congressional hearings - or, if necessary, in the impeachment trial of Alberto Gonzales.

In related news:

Senator Schumer Says Gonzales Should Go

Washington - The Senate's No. 3 Democrat said Sunday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign because he is putting politics above the law. Sen. Charles Schumer cited the FBI's illegal snooping into people's private lives and the Justice Department's firing of federal prosecutors.

Schumer, D-New York, said Gonzales repeatedly has shown more allegiance to President Bush than to citizens' legal rights since taking his job in early 2005.

In coming hearings by the Judiciary Committee, senators plan to review whether it might be appropriate to scale back some of the government's law enforcement powers in light of the abuses.

"What we found in the Justice Department over and over again is a lack of respect for the rule of law," Schumer said. "There's a view that the executive should be almost without check."

"And that is so wrong," he said. "That's one of the reasons I think we need a change at the top in the Justice Department."

This administration isn't getting away with shit quite as easily as it used to.

Thank you, Democrats. Now speed it up.

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