The Defense: Not Paying Attention

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Over at National Journal, Murray Waas has this indicating that AG Alberto Gonzales had delegated “to two of his top aides — who have since resigned because of their central roles in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys — extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department.”

Waas quotes one Administration official:

A senior executive branch official familiar with the delegation of authority said in an interview that — as was the case with the firings of the U.S. attorneys and the selection of their replacements — the two aides intended to work closely with White House political aides and the White House counsel’s office in deciding which senior Justice Department officials to dismiss and whom to appoint to their posts. “It was an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on,” the official said.

The problem: It may have been unconstitutional:

The department’s Office of Legal Counsel feared that such an unconditional delegation of authority was unconstitutional, the documents show. As a result, the original delegation was rewritten so that in its final form the order required “any proposed appointments or removals of personnel” be “presented to the Attorney General… for approval, and each appointment or removal shall be made in the name of the Attorney General.”

Chuck Schumer’s take:

“This revelation shows that the Attorney General was prepared to engage in an extraordinary delegation of power to two young and unaccountable staffers who may have taken their marching orders directly from the White House. What makes this even more troubling is the fact that this order was kept secret and never mentioned to Congress. How many other secret memos like this are out there?”