U.S. attorneys should retain independence
Seven U.S. attorneys were fired by the Justice Department in December.
ED Kubo's job as U.S. attorney for Hawaii seems secure through the remainder of the Bush administration, if for no other reason than the absence of any Republican in Hawaii's congressional delegation to intrude on prosecutorial independence. Reeling from what has all the markings of a political purge of seven U.S. attorneys on one day last December, the Bush administration has rightly agreed to submit replacements to Senate confirmation.
U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of Albuquerque testified to the Senate ethics committee that he felt "sick" and "leaned on" when Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both Republicans from New Mexico, inquired about a corruption case involving Democrats. Iglesias was fired after deciding not to pursue charges.
Similarly, John McKay, the U.S. attorney for western Washington, was fired after deciding not to file charges after an investigation of alleged voter fraud by Demo-crats in the 2004 gubernatorial race. White House officials asked him to explain why he had "mishandled" the case.
Four other prosecutors were fired after investigating alleged political corruption involving Republicans. One probe resulted in the guilty plea of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and indictments of a CIA official and defense contractor. Six former U.S. attorneys, including one fired last summer, testified last week to congressional committees under subpoena or threat of subpoena after declining to appear voluntarily.
William E. Moschella, an associate deputy attorney general, denied that the firings resulted from their decisions in public corruption cases. Most of the prosecutors had earned high performance grades, but Moschella said the firings were "related to policy, priorities and management -- what has been referred to broadly as 'performance-related' reasons."
U.S. attorneys are the chief federal prosecutors at the state level and in most cases serve for the entire administration of the sitting president. The dismissals send a disturbing message throughout the Justice Department that independence falls secondary to partisanship.
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