Political Hiring, Political Firing
Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them “well regarded,” “capable” or “very competent,” a review of the evaluations shows.
...Over all, the evaluations, which were obtained from officials authorized to have them, appear to raise new questions about the rationale for the dismissals provided by senior Justice Department officials. The officials have repeatedly cited poor job performance to explain their decisions to oust the eight prosecutors, all of them Republicans appointed by President Bush in his first term.
All eight US attorneys resigned, although it soon became clear that the resignations were forced. If there had been only one or two resignations, the issue probably would never have been noticed, but eight? Then, as news of the "resignations" surfaced, Justice Department officials justified the firings by claiming poor performance on the part of the US attorneys involved. The performance reviews released to the NY Times certainly seem to rebut that contention, although officials are offering new, weak excuses.
In response, a senior Justice Department official said the reviews, which focused on management practices within each United States attorney’s office, did not provide a broad or complete picture of the prosecutors’ performance.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of personnel information, said, “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities.”
Referring to the 94 United States attorney’s districts, the official said, “You can’t have 94 different sets of priorities,” suggesting that the dismissed prosecutors had failed to follow priorities set by the Justice Department in Washington.
However, each case report included a statement that each of the ousted prosecutors had established strategic goals set by the Justice Department in high priority areas like counterterrorism, narcotics and gun violence. [Emphasis added]
US attorneys are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. As the article pointed out, all eight US attorneys forced to retire were Republican and had been appointed By President Bush in his first term. One is left wondering just why they had to go, especially with the kind of performance reviews each received.
Were they handling cases effectively that the administration didn't want coming to fruition? Ms. Lam of San Diego, one of the eight, had, after all, successfully investigated and secured the conviction of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham for bribery. Was there another Republican in her sites?
Or was it a matter of eight other people successfully buying the positions with hefty campaign contributions or work on behalf of the White House? The appointee for the vacant Arkansas slot certainly had the right connections with the White House, although the article makes it clear that he has since withdrawn his name from consideration.
These are the kinds of questions the committee chaired by Sen. Charles Schumer will hopefully be asking in the current hearings. Although the US attorney position is a political appointment, the cases handled by those people deal with serious matters for the nation. They shouldn't be fired for doing their jobs, or for not having the bought-and-paid-for connections.
Labels: Justice Department