The media has given extensive coverage to the eight U.S. attorneys (USAs) purged by the Bush administration. But only recently have reporters started looking at the remaining prosecutors — and what it took for them to keep their jobs. Since last March, the Justice Department has named at least nine U.S. attorneys with strong partisan ties to the Bush administration. Most have “few, if any, ties to the communities they’ve been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.” Career prosecutors have begun to protest the mismanagement and partisanship of these Bush appointees, who are causing turmoil across the country. Several of the USAs are also serving double-duty as Justice Department officials in Washington, blurring the line between politics and justice. Additionally, statistical evidence shows that many of the remaining U.S. prosecutors “decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.”
The appointment of unqualified conservative loyalists has lead to turmoil and rebellion in some U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country.
Last week, four top staffers to Rachel Paulose, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, voluntarily demoted themselves in protest of Paulose’s “highly dictatorial style” of managing. One federal attorney said that in Paulose’s office, “[d]isagreement is treated as disloyalty.” The Bush administration tried to prevent the resignations by taking the unusual step of sending a “top justice official to Minneapolis Thursday to mediate the situation.” That same Justice official — John Kelly, the chief of staff and a deputy director in the U.S. attorney’s executive office in Washington — will now join Paulose in Minnesota as her first assistant. Paulose’s background indicates that the Justice Department handpicked her for her personal connections, rather than her professional qualifications. “She was a special assistant to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, worked as a senior counsel for deputy attorney general Paul McNulty and is best buds with Monica Goodling — the assistant U.S. Attorney who recently took the Fifth rather than testify before Congress.”
The remaining USAs may have engaged in political prosecution to save their jobs.
The case of Wisconsin’s U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic raises the possibility that he went after the Bush administration’s political opponents to avoid the Justice Department’s hit list. In 2005, the Wisconsin state Republican party prepared a report for Karl Rove that attacked Biskupic for not going after voter fraud aggressively enough. Biskupic’s decision to go after Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges, who was sentenced shortly before the 2006 election, was a boon to Gov. Jim Doyle’s Republican opponent in the 2006 election, who “ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s ‘corruption’ to Mr. Doyle.” Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Thompson “was wrongly convicted of making sure a state travel contract went to a firm linked to Gov. Jim Doyle’s re-election campaign and freed her from an Illinois prison.” The federal judges, acting with “unusual speed,” “assailed the government’s case” and said that Biskupic’s evidence was “beyond thin.” Two University of Minnesota professors “have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats.”
Some USAs are serving double duty at the Justice Department, blurring the lines between politics and impartial justice.
Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that Kevin O’Connor, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut will become Gonzales’s new chief of staff. O’Connor will remain Connecticut’s U.S. attorney for four to six months, when “he and the attorney general will determine whether he continues to hold both positions.” The Washington Post reports that at least six other sitting U.S. attorneys “also serve as aides to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or are assigned other Washington postings, performing tasks that take them away from regular duties in their districts for months or even years at a time.” Acting Associate Attorney General William W. Mercer “has been effectively absent from his job as U.S. attorney in Montana for nearly two years — prompting the chief federal judge in Billings to demand his removal and call Mercer’s office ‘a mess.'” Internal Justice Departments referred to ousted U.S. attorney David Iglesias as an “absentee landlord,” and officials have justified his firing by charging he spent too much time away from the office. Iglesias did leave the office for 45 days each year. But he did so because he’s a a captain in the Navy Reserve. “It’s a double standard and it’s hypocritical,” Iglesias said. “Not one judge from my district wrote a letter to main Justice saying I was gone too much….Most of my absences were military-related.”