Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Durbin Destroys White House Spin In Gonzales Scandal

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the floor of the Senate Monday and laid to rest the prevailing Republican lie in the scandal about political firings from the U.S. Attorney General's office. GOP spin has been that it is very normal for U.S. Attorneys to be replaced for partisan reasons and that it's routine for a new president to clean house entirely and let them all go at the start of a new term.

True enough -- except that's not what happened here with the eight U.S. Attorneys fired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in what was clearly a political hit.

"We have an unusual circumstance we face right now. Never before in history has a President and an Attorney General fired a group of U.S. attorneys en masse, in a group, other than the expected turnover… with the change of administration," said Durbin.

"We asked the Congressional Research Service if they could undertake an analysis of U.S. attorney firings that occurred other than the changeover of a Presidency. This is what they found: Only 2 U.S. attorneys out of 486 confirmed by the Senate over the past 25 years have been fired in the middle of a Presidential term for reasons unrelated to misconduct -- 2 out of 486. So for some to argue that this is routine, to fire those attorneys, the facts say otherwise. Only 2 out of 486 have been fired in the midst of their term."

And Durbin pulls no punches in asserting that the firings were anything but routine, saying that those fired were let go simply because their independence was construed as a lack of loyalty to George W. Bush.

"Federal prosecutors are supposed to be independent. They are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, but, unlike other Federal public servants, they have a measure of independence," said the Illinois Senator, who is second-in-command to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "That is what is at stake here. Eight U.S. attorneys who did not play ball with the political agenda of this White House were dropped from the team."

But Durbin doesn't stop there, going on the record as asking to what extent the entire system has been corrupted, based on the clear litmus tests that exist in the Bush administration that place loyalty to the White House's agenda over actually doing the work of the American people.

"There is a second question we have to ask which is equally important: How many other U.S. attorneys were approached by the White House and asked to play ball and did play ball?" asked Durbin. "Of the Nation's 93 U.S. attorneys, how many of them kept their jobs as a result of political cooperation?"

Finally, Durbin bolstered that point by discussing a study done by John Cragan of Illinois State University and Donald Shields at the University of Missouri, showing an astounding bias in the U.S. Attorney ranks (under Bush) for investigating Democrats and not many Republicans.

According to Durbin, Cragan and Shields compiled a database of Federal indictments and investigations undertaken by U.S. attorneys against elected officials and political candidates since Bush first took office in 2001 and found that U.S. attorneys across the nation have investigated 298 Democrats and just 67 Republicans -- nearly 5 times as many Democratic officials as Republicans.

"These statistics are troubling, and we have to look into them," said Durbin. "The firings of the U.S. attorneys and documents that have been turned over to Congress really call into question the legitimacy of all prosecutions brought by the U.S. attorney in cases involving partisan interests."

The Assistant Democratic Leader also drew a line in the sand, saying that the days of the rubber-stamping Republican Congress are gone and that Democrats are going to keep pulling on this thread until the truth is known.

"Members of Congress have a responsibility to ask: What was that political agenda? Why were they dismissed? Does this scandal rest at the feet of the Attorney General, Mr. Gonzales; Harriet Miers, the former counsel to the President; Karl Rove, the President's political adviser; or does it reach the President's office itself?"

"Over the next several weeks, we are going to look into this."