Monday, May 07, 2007

Attorney Gate: How Low Does This Go?

There's a ninth "victim" in the Attorney Gate affair, the scandal that has seen eight U.S. Attorneys dismissed for what appear to have been political purposes. Unlike the other eight federal prosecutors, Deborah Wong Yang was not fired. She left of her own volition, and profited quite nicely from the move.

The other eight attorneys were canned shortly after the 2006 election. Most of them had been "guilty" of transgressions against the White House's political agenda. Carl Lam of San Diego got the sack after she put Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-California) in prison for taking over $2 million in bribes. Paul Charlton was investigating Congressman Rick Renzi (R-Arizona) over shady land deals. (The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had named Renzi to its "Most Corrupt Members of Congress" list for two consecutive years.) David Iglesias got the ax for not prosecuting a case involving alleged corruption by local Democrats aggressively enough to please Representative Heather Wilson and Senator Pete Domenici, both New Mexico Republicans.

Deborah Wong Yang is a slightly different story. Ms. Yang had been investigating Jerry Lewis (R-California), the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee alleged to have used his position to steer hundreds of millions of dollars to the lobbying firm of his old friend, former Congressman Bill Lowery.

Ms. Yang's investigation of Mr. Lewis caught the eye of Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzales's successor as White House Counsel to Mr. Bush and one time Bush nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court. Ms. Miers and Richard Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Attorney General Gonzales, began exchanging emails about the possibility of dismissing Ms. Yang in mid-September of 2006.

In March 2006, Gonzales had delegated to Sampson and Justice Department White House liaison Monica Goodling "the authority, with the approval of the Attorney General, to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration" of virtually all non-civil service Justice Department employees. That, in essence, gave Sampson and Goodling hire-and-fire power over all federal prosecutors, a heck of a responsibility considering their scant prosecutorial experience and complete lack of law enforcement credentials. The conclusion that Sampson and Goodling were brought aboard the Bush legal team as political operatives is unavoidable. As Murray Waas of the National Journal reports:
Goodling was a 1999 graduate of televangelist Pat Robertson's Regent University School of Law and had worked at the Republican National Committee as an opposition researcher. Sampson had tried one criminal case while at Justice and had worked as a counsel for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and then for the White House counsel's office before rapidly ascending to become Gonzales's chief of staff.

Sampson reportedly testified to Congress that the only two U.S. attorneys Ms. Miers had shown a personal interest in were Ms. Yang and Bud Cummings of Arkansas. Cummings was fired and replaced with Tim Griffin, who Adam Cohen of the New York Times describes as "a Republican political operative and Karl Rove protégé."

It's too bad for Bud Cummings that he wasn't a darling of Attorney General Gonzales, like Ms. Yang appears to have been. Gonzales is on record as calling her “one of the most respected U.S. attorneys in the country.” Yang also served on Gonzales's advisory committee, a group Gonzales described as “a small group of U.S. attorneys that I consult on policy matters.”

Ms. Yang resigned as U.S. attorney--after 15 years of government service--in mid-October of 2006 for "personal reasons." One of those personal reasons likely had something to do with a lucrative offer from the private sector. Ms. Yang took a $1.5 million signing bonus to become a partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm with strong Republican ties.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher also just happens to be the law firm that was defending Representative Jerry Lewis in Ms. Yang's investigation.

How about them bad apples?

From the Top of the Barrel

As David Iglesias said in a recent interview, Attorney Gate may be the most crucial issue among the Bush administration's nearly countless examples of executive abuse of power. As Iglesias explained, U.S. Attorneys are the federal government's key law enforcement officers. More so that any judge, U.S. Attorneys have the power to take away a citizen's liberty, money and property. The last thing we want, Iglesias warned, is for that kind of power to be corrupted by partisan political interference.

We know, of course, that the Bush administration wants first and foremost for all things to corrupted by partisan political influence. That they were perfectly willing to subvert the federal justice system to achieve that end is no real surprise. That the Attorney Gate investigation may lead all the way to Karl Rove is no real surprise either. Why wouldn't the administration's chief political operative be pulling the strings on one of the administration's most outrageous political operations?

And it shouldn't surprise anyone if everyone under the microscope over Attorney Gate walks away from the investigation as clean as a whistle. Heck, what's a little corruption of the justice system compared to torture, unitarily abrogating ratified treaties, lying a country into an unnecessary war and the rest of the laundry list of Bush administration sins?


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Imagine my suprise to see you linked to by an Expat Blogger in Thailand.........

  2. Skippy, yup I lurk about here. I believe we have a mutual friend in Sillypore...

    Cmdr Huber, keep up the good work.

  3. EdnSted10:14 AM

    Just thought I'd mention, for your readers who might not be aware, that one of the blogs that has been following Attorney Gate very closely is Josh Marshall's TPM Muckraker. It's a good source for following the latest news on this.

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