The US Attorney Flap Deconstructed

There’s a minor political firestorm over the firing of 8 US Attorneys by the Bush Administration two years ago with the usual suspects rather breathlessly pronouncing this to be the next major Bush “scandal.”

Jeralyn Merritt notes that US Attorneys are Presidential appointments, and the President has the right to fire US Attorneys for whatever reason they choose. Indeed, President Clinton fired nearly every US Attorney when he assumed office. While it is unusual for a President to fire US Attorneys after taking office, it isn’t without precedent, nor is it by itself any sign of malfeasance. US Attorneys work at the sufferance of the Executive, and the Executive has the right to fire them and hire replacements at their discretion. (Which is part of the President’s executive powers under Article II, § 2.)

Power Line has a good background on the firings as well, including some questions that might make at least one of the firings inappropriate.

The Executive has the Constitutionally-derived right to set the policy for US Attorneys and remove those Attorneys who do not follow the Administration’s policy objectives. That is a right that Presidents can and do exercise at their discretion, which is why this “scandal” is less than scandalous. It may be questionable as to why the Administration fired these attorneys and certainly the timing is unusual, but to try and claim that Bush had no right to do so is not an opinion grounded in the law.

Moreover, the lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud is a serious issue. Groups such as ACORN have already been the subject of indictments, and there is plenty of evidence — sufficient for grand jury indictments — that there are groups engaging in significant acts of voter fraud. There’s no illegitimate purpose in setting a policy agenda of vigorously prosecuting acts of voter fraud.

The only part of this scandal that seems to have any weight is that the Justice Department did not properly inform Congress of their discussions with the White House — which seems to be more likely explained by poor record-keeping than any nefarious purpose.

Like so many “scandals” this doesn’t seem to hold much water — the President has a right to set Executive Branch policy, and to base the status of political appointees accordingly with those objectives. The same principle applies to any President, and if Barack Obama wins in 2008 and decides on January 25, 2009 that he’s going to fire every US Attorney who doesn’t prosecute civil rights cases with sufficient zeal for his tastes, he’d be well within his Constitutional prerogatives to do so.

One thought on “The US Attorney Flap Deconstructed

  1. So, Bill Clinton can fire all and George Bush dumps eight? Someone has to explain the difference. And, didn’t Hillary Clinton fire the whole travel office because they weren’t booking trip thru one of her friends?

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