Eight U.S. Attorneys, the Fifth Amendment, and One Attorney General in the Crosshairs

While the controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys has been brewing for quite some time, new developments in the case continue to stir the pot. With an aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales pleading the Fifth Amendment and refusing to testify in Congress, even more questions will be raised. Ms. Goodling, the Justic Department liason to the White House, is contesting the fairness of the panel investigating the firings, and also "cited the possibility that she might be a witness in a criminal inquiry, although there is currently no known criminal investigation into the dismissals." Of course this begs the question, what sort of future criminal investigation could Ms. Goodling be worried about?

The White House and Mr. Gonzales maintain that the firings were based solely on performance, and that the list of U.S. attorneys asked to resign was compiled solely as a list of underperforming attorneys. In a recent NBC interview, Mr. Gonzales emphasized this point repeatedly, although he also made clear that he was not directly involved in the creation of the list. Apparently, Mr. Gonzales was only involved at the end of the process, in keeping the White House up-to-speed on the progress of the review, and approving the final list submitted to him. When asked how he could be sure that the attorneys on the list were there for the proper reasons, Mr. Gonzales became evasive, instead saying, "[w]hat I can say is this: I know the reasons why I asked these United States Attorneys to leave." Well if you know, how about letting the rest of the world in on the secret?

With 3000 documents released to the investigation, it would seem that somewhere would be sufficient evidence of "underperformance" if indeed that was the reason for the firings. But the fact of the matter is, these attorneys were for the most part competent, effective U.S. attorneys. The U.S. attorney from New Mexico recently published an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times, in which he stated that according to a 2004 review, he was a "diverse up and comer." He had a 95% conviction rate, prosecuted the biggest corruption case in New Mexico state history, made a record number of overall prosecutions, and received excellent office evaluations. To say that Mr. Iglesias was underperforming would not be mere understatement, it would be a flat lie.

What many of these eight attorneys did have in common was their involvement in politically charged corruption cases. In both New Mexico and Washington state, Republicans were dismayed that the U.S. attorney did not proceed to prosecute corruption cases against Democrats, due to a lack of sufficient evidentiary support.

The White House and the Justice Department led by Mr. Gonzales have both been far from forthcoming with the process, rationale, and motivations behind the firings of these U.S. attorneys. To allow the judicial branch to be co-opted by partisan politics and White House/Republican influence is to start down a very slippery slope.

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