Wash. Post contradicts prior reporting in purporting to contrast Clinton and Bush U.S. attorney dismissals

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

Contradicting its own prior reporting, The Washington Post asserted that when Bill Clinton "took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once," while George W. Bush "took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors." But the Post previously reported that "Bush and ... Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office." Indeed, Bush moved to replace almost all of Clinton's U.S. attorneys within the first five months of his term in office, according to a 2001 Justice Department press release.

A March 13 Washington Post article by staff writer Carrie Johnson purported to contrast actions by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in dismissing U.S. attorneys upon taking office, asserting: "When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism in the conservative legal community and among career lawyers at the Justice Department. President George W. Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors." Johnson's assertion contradicts the Post's own prior reporting in a March 14, 2007, article that "Bush and President Bill Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office." Indeed, Bush moved to replace almost all of Clinton's U.S. attorneys within the first five months of his term in office, as memorialized in a March 14, 2001, press release from the Justice Department.

As Media Matters for America has noted, the March 2001 Justice Department press release stated: "Continuing the practice of new administrations, President Bush and the Department of Justice have begun the transition process for most of the 93 United States Attorneys." The release also stated: "Prior to the beginning of this transition process, nearly one-third of the United States Attorneys had already submitted their resignations. The White House and the Department of Justice have begun to schedule transition dates for most of the remaining United States Attorneys to occur prior to June of this year."

Further, a March 23, 2007, Los Angeles Times article by David G. Savage reported that then-deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty stated "we called each" of the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorneys and "had them give us a timeframe. Most were gone by late April." Savage reported of the comparison between Bush's and Clinton's actions: "The difference appears minor. Both McNulty and Sampson acknowledged that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, brought in a new slate of U.S. attorneys within a few months of taking office." Savage also reported: "[H]istorical data compiled by the Senate show the pattern going back to President Reagan. Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office. President Clinton had 89 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years, and President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years."

From the Post's March 14, 2007, article on Bush's controversial firings of several U.S. attorneys in his second term:

Seven U.S. attorneys were fired on Dec. 7, [2006] and another was let go months earlier, with little explanation from Justice Department officials, who later told Congress that the dismissals were related to their performance in office. Several former prosecutors have since alleged intimidation, including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides, and have alleged threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official.

Although Bush and President Bill Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office, legal experts and former prosecutors say the firing of a large number of prosecutors in the middle of a term appears to be unprecedented and threatens the independence of prosecutors.

From Savage's March 23, 2007, Times article:

In a March 4 memo titled "Draft Talking Points," Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos asked, "The [White House] is under the impression that we did not remove all the Clinton [U.S. attorneys] in 2001 like he did when he took office. Is that true?"

That is mostly true, replied D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales. "Clinton fired all Bush [U.S. attorneys] in one fell swoop. We fired all Clinton [U.S. attorneys] but staggered it out more and permitted some to stay on a few months," he said.

A few minutes later, Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul J. McNulty replied to the same memo.

"On the issue of Clinton [U.S. attorneys], we called each one and had them give us a timeframe. Most were gone by late April. In contrast, Clinton [Justice Department] told all but a dozen in early March to be gone immediately," McNulty said.

The difference appears minor. Both McNulty and Sampson acknowledged that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, brought in a new slate of U.S. attorneys within a few months of taking office.

But historical data compiled by the Senate show the pattern going back to President Reagan.

Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office. President Clinton had 89 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years, and President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years.

In a similar vein, the Justice Department recently supplied Congress with a district-by-district listing of U.S. attorneys who served prior to the Bush administration.

The list shows that in 1981, Reagan's first year in office, 71 of 93 districts had new U.S. attorneys. In 1993, Clinton's first year, 80 of 93 districts had new U.S. attorneys.

From Johnson's March 13 Post article:

One of the better spoils of winning the presidency is the power to appoint nearly 100 top prosecutors across the country. But filling the plum jobs has become a test of competing priorities for President Obama. While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, replacing the cadre of mostly conservative U.S. attorneys would signal a new direction.

When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism in the conservative legal community and among career lawyers at the Justice Department.

President George W. Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors but keeping in place Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, while she pursued terrorism cases and a politically sensitive investigation of Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Posted In
Government, Cabinet & Agencies
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, U.S. Attorneys Scandal
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