Every time someone from the administration tries to justify the firing of the eight United States attorneys they seem to make matters worse.

The core explanation centers around "they serve at the pleasure of the president" equating the eight with flat out political hacks such as Karl Rove, the architect of extreme partisanship. This explanation is simplistic, deceptive and dissembling.

While all appointments to the administration are political in every sense of that term, those made to act on behalf of the people in the administration of justice occupy a unique position. Foundational to any free society is the faith that its laws are being applied fairly and without preference. Lacking such trust in a fair system of justice, the rule of law evaporates and people increasingly feel that they, too, can pick and choose among the laws they obey.

Firing eight officers of the law for political reasons eats at this trust, even if technically within the law.  This is especially the case when the reasons are not only political but partisan.  The president is certainly entitled to enforce policy and priority decisions through the office of the U. S. Attorney.  It has been argued that this is the extent of the reasons for the firings.

The facts revealed to date fly in the face of that justification. Especially in the cases of USA Lam and Iglesias, the complaints about their performance were either after the fact or a masquerade for partisanship. It is said that Ms. Lam did not place sufficient emphasis on immigration cases, yet she had one of the heaviest caseloads of enforcement in that arena of any U.S. attorney.

The obvious story behind these firings is that they were done to further partisan goals as designed by Karl Rove, not disciplinary matters of good management. Rove has had as one of his targets replacing as many upper and mid level civil servants as possible with partisan cronies as a way of shaping the civil service for decades to come. The USA eight were merely another expression of this policy.

Interestingly, this issue was faced in the very first Congress. James Madison weighed in on the matter by arguing against a requirement that assent of the Senate be required to remove any officer confirmed by that body, such as the U.S. attorneys. Further, he contends that the President must have the power to remove an appointment who is not performing his or her job, else the president would not be able to discharge his responsibility to execute the laws of the nation. However, this is counterbalanced where the removal is of an appointee for other reasons. 

“The danger then consists merely in this, the president can displace from office a man whose merits require that he should be continued in it. What will be the motives which the president can feel for such abuse of his power, and the restraints that operate to prevent it? In the first place, he will be impeachable by this house, before the senate, for such an act of mal-administration; for I contend that the wanton removal of meritorious officers would subject him to impeachment and removal from his own high trust. 

If this should not produce his impeachment before the Senate, it will amount to an impeachment before the community, who will have the power of punishment by refusing to re-elect him. But suppose this persecuted individual cannot obtain revenge in this mode, there are other modes in which he could make the situation of the president very inconvenient, if you suppose him resolutely bent on executing the dictates of resentment. If he had not influence enough to direct the vengeance of the whole community, he may probably be able to obtain an appointment in one or other branch of the legislature; and being a man of weight, talents and influence in either case, he may prove to the president troublesome indeed.”

Unfortunately for us, the nation which Madison helped create is long gone. By amendment to the Constitution, the incumbent president is not able to run for re-election, removing that form of limit on his actions. We are a population so large and distant from one another that community pressure is nearly entirely dependent upon the media, who have shown little interest or ability to raise important issues and move the president toward the popular opinion.

Congress is so partisan it is unable to move for impeachment except when sex is involved or partisanship rises to a level sufficient to move the lumbering dinosaur to action. We live in a time when partisans have succeeded in creating division in the nation that paralyze us into complacency and despair. Those who care deeply, left right or center, seldom have the means to effect real change because the real power is held by a tiny group of men, yes men, who control great wealth and use it to control government and its allies.

The idealistic solutions proposed by Madison fit a nation in which he lived.  Ours is so different as to be unrecognizable were he to reappear today. We as a people no longer have, if we ever did, sufficient adherence to the core values that drove the founders to form the nation. Most of us have little or no familiarity with the Bill of Rights or our system of government. The most potent core values are either entirely partisan or religious, with few valuing truth, honesty, fairness or justice, except as platitudes or accusations against an opponent.

It is in such a rudderless culture that the arguments made by Attorney General Gonzales and the president can gain traction, for most people have no concept of an independent administration of justice. Few understand what a tragedy it is to have one of the participants in the firings claim protection under the 5th Amendment arguing that to testify would merely result in a perjury charge, even if the truth were told in testimony. That is an indictment not only of this administration but the way in which investigations are conducted in modern times.

The firing of the eight was quite certainly for partisan reasons. Each was fully competent, none had gone against presidential policies, and each was displeasing the powers that be because they did not shape their decisions for purely partisan purposes. Madison felt that was grounds to impeach the president.

I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

Related Sunday Washington Post article: Prosecutor Posts Go To Bush Insiders.

"About one-third of the nearly four dozen U.S. attorney’s jobs that have changed hands since President Bush began his second term have been filled by the White House and the Justice Department with trusted administration insiders…." CONTINUED HERE