Boston Globe: Mukasey’s Rough Justice

By The Boston Globe

WHEN the history of the Bush administration is written, one of the most disturbing chapters will be the 2006 purge of US attorneys – all Bush appointees – who failed to toe the White House line by aggressively prosecuting Democratic officeholders or winking at possible misdeeds by Republicans.

The sacking of the US attorneys represented the consummation of the administration’s campaign to place partisanship above professionalism in federal agencies. The final firings came just as voters were putting Democrats in charge in Congress, with the power to hold maneuvers like this up to public scrutiny. Of the nine attorneys who lost their jobs, several had successfully prosecuted corrupt Republicans or found insufficient grounds to pursue voter-fraud allegations against Democrats. While it is true that US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, it was unprecedented for a president to replace so many of his own appointees in the middle of an administration.

Congress rightly wants to know where the orders for the purge came from, and has brought contempt citations against Bush’s chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, and his former counsel, Harriet Miers, for refusing to respond to subpoenas. The White House has claimed executive privilege and balked at letting Bolten and Miers testify. At the end of last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he would not refer the contempt citations to a federal grand jury. Pelosi immediately responded that she would go to Plan B, giving the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a civil lawsuit against Bolten and Miers in federal court.

Earlier in the confrontation, the White House offered to make its officials available if the testimony were in secret, not under oath, and off the record. But negotiations came to a halt after congressional Democrats demanded at least a transcript.

This is not the first time that the executive and legislative branches have locked horns over attempts to secure testimony from administration officials. According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been at least 74 instances in which White House advisers have testified before Congress once a congressional committee had cited them for contempt. The White House would be wise to make this the 75th such case, instead of trying to use executive privilege to defend the politicization of the Justice Department.

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