Ignoring Post's own reporting, Wash. Post editorial found no underlying misconduct in U.S. attorney firings

››› ››› ANDREW IRONSIDE

Discussing the ongoing controversy surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys and the role played by U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez, a March 26 Washington Post editorial stated: "Mr. Gonzalez finds himself in this mess because he and others in his shop appear to have tried to cover up something that, as far as we yet know, didn't need covering. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president -- with the advice and consent of the Senate. The president was entitled to replace any he chose, as long as he wasn't intending to short-circuit ongoing investigations." The Post, however, ignored evidence that the prosecutors may have been fired for other improper reasons. For example, former U.S. attorney John McKay has alleged that his dismissal may have had to do with his decision not to bring voter fraud charges in the Washington state governor's race, which was won by a Democrat -- an allegation reported by the Post itself. Also, former U.S. attorney David Iglesias has alleged that Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-NM) contacted him about their interest in his pursuing investigations of Democrats prior to the November midterm elections.

A March 26 Post article by staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith reported:

John McKay of Washington state, who had decided two years earlier not to bring voter fraud charges that could have undermined a Democratic victory in a closely fought gubernatorial race, said White House counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy, William Kelley, "asked me why Republicans in the state of Washington would be angry with me."

[...]

McKay's disclosure of an explicit White House question about the damage his decision caused to his standing among party loyalists added new detail to his previous statement that Miers accused him of having "mishandled" the voter fraud inquiry.

The use of the word "mishandled" left open the possibility that White House officials -- who in September were weighing whether to recommend McKay for a federal judgeship -- merely disputed McKay's professional judgment. But his statement yesterday lent new credence to suspicions that partisan political concerns weighed heavily in his firing.

The implication that Gonzalez attempted to cover up what "didn't need covering" suggests that there is no evidence of underlying impropriety in the U.S. attorneys' dismissals. As Media Matters for America documented, Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in New Mexico, has alleged that Domenici and Wilson "attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections" -- both Domenici and Wilson have since acknowledged contacting Iglesias about his corruption investigations. In a March 5 article on Domenici's statement, the Post reported: "Legal experts say it violates congressional ethics rules for a senator or House member to communicate with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation."

From the March 26 Washington Post editorial:

Mr. Gonzales finds himself in this mess because he and others in his shop appear to have tried to cover up something that, as far as we yet know, didn't need covering. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president -- with the advice and consent of the Senate. The president was entitled to replace any he chose, as long as he wasn't intending to short-circuit ongoing investigations. But the shifting explanations for the eventual dismissals of eight federal prosecutors -- from no explanation to saying performance was at issue to acknowledging that performance was not the issue for all of them -- have Democrats and Republicans calling for candor from Mr. Gonzales.

Posted In
Government, Cabinet & Agencies, Ethics
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
2008 Elections
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