Tuesday, March 06, 2007
It looks like the story about the Bush Administration’s purge of local federal Attorney General offices has some legs after all. The House and Senate have both scheduled hearings for this week just as evidence surfaces that the removals were politically motivated after all. I also doubt its coincidence that the DOJ apparatchik responsible for the firings has just announced his resignation. As odious as the replacement of otherwise qualified AGs with Karl Rove’s golf buddies appears there is a more disturbing issue. Namely, from where is the President deriving his authority to stage his mini night of the long knives? Can you guess? Yes, it’s our old friend the Patriot Act. An article on Slate.com today asks the pertinent questions, “[w]ho changed the Patriot Act to make it easier to replace U.S. attorneys without oversight, and how did it happen with nobody looking?” As usual, the provision in the Act which granted the President power to replace U.S. Attorneys was designed to consolidate executive power and diminish the power of the other branches by removing both judicial and congressional oversight of interim U.S. attorney appointments and letting DOJ anoint them indefinitely. According to the Slate article, “[t]his served three important goals: consolidating presidential power, diminishing oversight, and ensuring that "interim" prosecutors had permanent jobs.” The President’s power to appoint these indefinite lackeys was written into the law when Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act last year. Senators on both sides of the isle have come up with increasingly lame excuses for why they rubber-stamped the President’s power grab. From Arlen Spector: “"The first I found out about the change in the Patriot Act occurred a few weeks ago when Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein approached me on the floor." From Chuck Schumer: [The Republicans] "slipped the new provision into the Patriot Act in the dead of night." So, the best our elected officials could come up with to explain their abdication of responsibility as a co-equal branch of the government is something along the lines of “I don’t know how it got there” and “I didn’t read it but voted for it anyway.” Well done ladies and gentlemen, well done.
The provision was actually introduced by the DOJ through a Rove operative named Michael O’Neill who joined Republican senator Arlen Spector’s staff right about the time he was being pilloried by the White House for being soft on supporting the President. (O’Neill also formerly clerked for Clarence Thomas) So Spector’s excuse is really that O'Neill had merely been following orders from the Department of Justice when he snuck new language into the Patriot Act that would consolidate executive branch authority without informing Spector about what he was doing. Or, as Slate put it, “either the DOJ snookered O'Neill, O'Neill snookered Specter, or Specter snookered his colleagues. But any way you slice it, the executive seems to have encroached on congressional turf in order to expand executive turf.”
The most disturbing but perhaps least surprising thing about this is that this administration is willing to subvert not just the Democrats but even Hill Republicans to push its agenda. I wonder what else was slipped into the Patriot act while Congress was sleeping?