POLITICIZATION OF JUSTICE
What we know: After the 2004 elections, someone in the White House asked Kyle Sampson, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s chief of staff, to secretly investigate ninety-three U.S. attorneys to determine the extent of their loyalty to the Bush administration. In November 2006, Sampson e-mailed a list of nine attorneys who fell short to White House counsel Harriet Miers, her aide William Kelley, and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. The attorneys are believed to have been on the list because they had been unwilling to pursue voter fraud cases against Democrats, had investigated bribery charges against Republicans too doggedly, hadn’t pushed hard enough for capital punishment, or—in the case of one Arkansas prosecutor—were simply occupying a position that one of Karl Rove’s disciples wanted. On December 7, they were asked to resign.
What we don’t know: Who put the names on the initial list. E-mails between Sampson and White House staffers indicate that Karl Rove’s fingerprints were on the firings, but who else may have been involved is unclear. And while there are plenty of allegations as to why the names were on the list, we don’t know for sure in most cases. The firings were also part of a much broader pattern of politicization of the Justice Department, the extent and implications of which are still not fully known. We do know that career employees were in many cases vetted for their politics, which raises a host of other questions: How many people currently working in the DOJ are there for purely political reasons? To what extent were voter registration fraud investigations, like that into ACORN’s registration activities this year, driven by the White House? If U.S. attorneys were under direct pressure from the Bush administration to aid in partisan goals, how many individuals did they prosecute for political reasons? And are there any ongoing investigations that are politically motivated?
How we can find out: The Bush administration can’t claim any national security justification for covering up the events at the DOJ, so in the past year and a half Senate and House committees, as well as DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, have been able to produce voluminous reports on the firings and politicization. We probably know more about them than any other scandal. But getting the answers to the remaining questions requires the truthful testimony of key witnesses, such as Miers and Rove, who so far have refused to offer it, and certainly won’t be willing to before January. It may be that the special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in September will produce damning testimony, and Congress should be vigilant in seeking the eventual release of the grand jury transcripts that the investigation collects.
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