Well, AnaMarie, first of all, thank you for noting how long I’ve been “doing this pundit thing.” Some day I’ll bore you with my tales of blogging from Valley Forge. That Washington—what a card. After a couple of drinks, he would take his wooden teeth and…
But not now, not now. Now I’m wondering: if no one is saying “that anyone did anything illegal—or even wrong” in these firings (your summary of the position of the AUSA association, but you seem to agree), why are we making such a fuss about it? There is no question that the fired prosecutors are right to be furious that their reputations are being, or were being, trashed by the administration as it flailed in search of an exit from this story. But as you implicitly note, that is about the cover-up, not about the firings themselves.
You note, accurately, that it is “highly atypical” to “ask for just a few resignations…in politically key areas” (as opposed to mass firings when a president takes office). But we’re not dander-up about things being merely “atypical,” are we? Similarly, if it is merely “interesting” and not “wrong” that the fired prosecutors were Republicans, that’s not very, well, interesting. Look, I’m the guy who gets quoted as saying that the scandal is what’s legal. You don’t need a broken law to start having fun. But at some point you’ve got to say that somebody’s behavior was actually wrong, or you don’t have a scandal.
We’re all in agreement—you, me, the Washington Post, even the Wall Street Journal—that the administration’s response to this controversy has been comically mendacious. Volleys of lies come in wave after wave, like the trench soldiers of World War One. They get mowed down and the administration just sends in more. This is the best evidence that there is something simply and truly wrong going on. It’s not great evidence. The characteristic mendacity of the Bush administration is the pointless lie, uttered because telling the truth would be ever-so-slightly more trouble. (Like drinking a Bud within arm’s length because better beer is in the fridge ten steps away.)But it is evidence, and the best we’ve got.
Now to the Patriot Act business. I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. I’m dubious about that, too. For late arrivals: the administration snuck a provision into the odious Patriot Act that allows the Attorney General to fill US Attorney positions without Senate approval. Previously, if a slot remained open for more than 120 days, the local Federal Appeals judge would appoint someone to fill it. The administration contends that the judge arrangement was unconstitutional—and this seems right to me. If the separation of powers means anything, it ought to mean that executive branch officials don’t get appointed by judges. However, the administration’s preferred arrangement also seems unconstitutional: if these presidential appointees never have to get confirmed by the senate, there goes advice and consent.
Help me out here, AnaMarie. I am confused about the administration’s use of this provision. Has it ever put a US Attorney in place and not submitted the name to the Senate for confirmation? There is one guy who is explicitly temporary, but they insist that they intend to get Senate approval for every US Attorney they put in place. Is that right? And have they kept their word on this, at least so far?