Home > Political Ranting > The Power of Positive Oversight

The Power of Positive Oversight

March 20th, 2007

For nearly six years, Republicans all but shut down ethics reviews of their own misdeeds and congressional oversight of the executive branch. After all, they held all the power, so they would be committing most of the crimes. Apparently they knew from the beginning that they’d be naughty, and so turned off any possibility that they’d be caught. Until, that is, power switched hands. And now that the Democrats have switched the oversight back on, it’s finding that Republicans have been very naughty, indeed. One senior Democrat said, “We’ve only had subpoena power for the last six weeks and every tree that we’ve barked up so far has had a cat in it. Imagine where we’ll be after six months.”

Indeed, oversight of the fired US Attorney scandal has revealed small, little problems like the Attorney General lying outright to the Congress and the people, under oath, on matters completely unrelated to security. Thanks mostly to Josh Marshall, who pushed the story, this scandal is now in the spotlight and more and more administration officials are going to be called to testify.

At first, the White House tried to claim that the attorneys were fired for performance issues. When their performance ratings were reviewed and found to be positive, the White House switched stories and claimed that it was political, after all–but it was just because the attorneys didn’t perform as well as the administration wanted in certain matters–and besides, it was only Harriet Miers who wanted the purge, Rove and Gonzales were not involved and opposed the idea. When it became clear that the “immigration and drug” under-performance story was a lie as well, the administration started claiming that the attorneys served at the pleasure of the President, and so he didn’t need a reason, and that the firings were “entirely appropriate.”

But by this time, the lies had started to stack up–and now emails are emerging that Rove and Gonzales were in fact both at the center of this, and even worse, some if not most of the decisions to fire attorneys were based upon their political cases. Attorneys who refused to prosecute cases against Democrats in a political fashion (such as going after Democrats under bogus “election fraud” charges, or releasing damaging information on Democrats before elections), or attorneys who had cases running against Republicans dominated the group that was fired, and more and more details in the White House emails point to these as being the real, underlying reason for the switch. And that amounts to obstruction of justice.

The most incriminating evidence to be found so far was in an email from Gonzales’ chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, which in part stated, “the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires” [emphasis mine]. The email does not specify what the “real problem” is, but the wording suggests that there was a covert reason to fire Lam not connected to her performance as a prosecutor or her ability or willingness to take on specific issues. Instead, there is the very real possibility that the White House decided to fire Lam because that would disrupt the deepening probe Lam was running into Republican corruption; she had already sent Duke Cunningham to prison, and had her sights set on “Dusty” Foggo, Brent Wilkes, and others, including former and present Republican congressmen. In fact, the day after Carol Lam notified the Justice Department that she intended to execute search warrants to continue her investigation, a DoJ official sent a letter to the White House urging that she be fired.

This goes far, far beyond routine firings and even beyond the Attorney General lying under oath to Congress. This is obstruction of Justice on the scale of Watergate, and the trail is leading straight back to the highest levels of the White House. If senior officials in the White House were firing attorneys so as to disrupt criminal investigations, or so as to prompt politically motivated investigations, this will be far more serious politically and legally than anything so far. Which is ironic, as the Bush administration so far has fraudulently sent the nation to war, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, renounced the people’s right of habeas corpus, repeatedly and massively violated the Fourth Amendment in a number of ways, and a list of other high crimes and treasons almost too long to list… they got away with it all, and yet the thing that could bring them down is something as mundane and tawdry as local politics.

Of course, that depends on more surfacing in the emails and other evidence Congress is now calling for. And it may be that the Bush White House is getting smarter–instead of delivering documents that Congress has demanded on time as promised, they suddenly announced that they needed an extra week to “prepare” the documents. Nothing that a good shredding here or there couldn’t fix, eh?

And yet, this is only one of the many scandals to come up only recently. There were so many more in previous years that never got investigated because Republicans took care of their own and turned an intentional blind eye. And there are likely many more cats up in trees that could be just as serious. God only knows how many countless ways this administration has violated the law.

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  1. Tim Kane
    March 20th, 2007 at 18:40 | #1

    While I agree with everything you say, I will note this one exception: while they obstructed justice, there is no indication that such obstruction was illegal.

    These guys are slippery and hard to pin down on illegality. The Libby case is a prime example. The entire Bush administration is guilty of treason in that case, moral treason if not technically legal treason. But only Libby goes to jail. In another country his head would be sliced off for the offence but here he gets three years.

    They are certainly guilty of a mountain of immoral and unethical crimes. But they aren’t guilty enough of illegal crimes. At least not enough to have them all shipped off to jail where they belong.

    They are working their strategies, and I’m afraid a million foot soldiers would have to fall before they get to the evil core. They have their own suicide squad, men that take a hit for the team so Cheney, Rove and Bush don’t have to take a dive.

    Even if guilty know one is going to go to jail before November 2008, or January 2008 when Bush finally leaves.

    That doesn’t mean it doesn’t serve a purpose. These guys have to be so tainted and so indicted that their entire movement is thoroughly discredited, so that we can get sufficient Democratic majorities and an Executive to reverse the eight years of this political dark age.

  2. Luis
    March 20th, 2007 at 22:13 | #2

    Hmm… I’m not knowledgeable about that law, so I can’t make any definitive statements… but I would be rather seriously surprised if firing US Attorneys for the specific reason of derailing cases were not illegal. I don’t think that the slippery part would be whether the act was illegal; rather it would be proving that they fired the attorneys with that specific purpose in mind. However, I think that if we were to uncover solid evidence in the matter, say, Gonzales emailing Rove and saying, “We’d better fire Lam so we can stop the investigation into administration corruption,” I think that’d be enough to establish a criminal case.

    But also, as we found out in the Libby case, as it was in the Watergate scandal, many of the charges stem from cover-ups rather than the initial illegalities. And there is already evidence of missing email in Cheney’s case. We’ll just have to wait and see on this one. But I am cautiously optimistic.

  3. Tim Kane
    March 21st, 2007 at 11:53 | #3

    USA serve at the presidents pleasure.

    There is no law, that I know of, that keeps the President from firing someone for trite reasons.

    In the past the situation was governed by the fear of retaliation. If I politicize USAs while I am in power, you might do the same while you are in power, there for the thing that makes sense is for neither of us to politicize USAs.

    This is game theory. If I punch you in the nose, you will punch me back, there for the smartest most rational thing to do is not punch each other. Laws were never made for this thing because they were never needed.

    For me, the abbrogation of game theory type strategies, is more troubling. It is the habit of reactionary politics – they don’t care about the future.

    I like to compare the political struggle over the republican ascendancy to WWII in Europe. It began with Hitler abandoning civility in european diplomacy. Inherently irrational if you thought if you wanted to avoid the expense of war, but rational if you expected the system to end or wanted to destroy the System of diplomacy.

    This is what has frightened me the whole time. The Bushies are reactionareis, for sure – thats the one thing their constituencies have in common, whether they are southerns who resent the outcome of the the Civil War, Social conservatives that resent the Civil rights movement or the end of the Vietnam war, or Wealthy elite who resent the new deal.

    The bushies dont care about the future. They are cashing in all their chips now. This is very frightening. If you were a republican, the future of your party has to be a big question mark. Everything then has to be in the now and the perpetuation of the now.

    The problem is, for things to be set right, the republicans now have to be punched in the nose.

  4. Luis
    March 21st, 2007 at 12:06 | #4

    Of course they serve at the president’s pleasure, but that doesn’t mean that the president can fire them in a way that obstructs justice, especially if that reason is clearly stated within evidence. For example, if the president fired all black USA’s and was on the record for firing them because they were black, he’d face discrimination lawsuits. Firing the USA’s is not a crime; instead, what is accomplished by the firings–obstruction of justice–is. That, at least, is my take.

  5. Tim Kane
    March 21st, 2007 at 22:43 | #5

    Well, I certainly hope you’re right. Certainly it is obstruction of justice, but it hats to violate a law that is on the books. Meaning it has to violate all the elements of the law that the law requires for a prima facie case. That means the actions have to match the letter of the law.

    I believe that the reason these guys are so hard to nail down is that they violate norms that no one ever believed anyone would violate, so there is little ordinace on the books that directly prohibit what they have done. The assumption is that the people who become President want to advance the Nation, not ruin it. That’s not the case hear at all. Treason is another law that is hard make stick, but these guys had done it (committed moral treason) six different ways to sunday. But moral treason is hard to nail down. You have to violate that which is on the books.

    Concerning obstruction of justice, I really don’t know the elements of the crime. Have they obstructed justice? Of course – but, have they obstructed justice in the way an ordinace anticipates, is another thing.

    I sure hope you are right.

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