- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The only thing stranger than watching congressional Democrats scold the Bush administration for firing eight U.S. attorneys is the response from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He’s now “accepting responsibility” for a Democratic campaign to paint Republicans as unfriendly to civil rights. We rarely criticize the Bush administration for failing to stand up for its executive prerogatives (except on immigration). But Mr. Gonzales is enabling Congress to walk all over the president’s agenda at the Department of Justice for reasons we can’t fathom.

U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president who appoints them. President Bush, like Republican and Democratic presidents before him have done, can hire, fire or rehire when he chooses. This includes firing attorneys who fail to fit within the president’s policy agenda. If he decides to hire prosecutors who vigorously pursue voting fraud, and fire others whom he believes spend too much time on civil-rights litigation, that’s his prerogative. His judgment can be properly assessed at a subsequent election. Congress confirms U.S. attorney nominees, but for Congress to act as if appointments and firings are a congressional prerogative is an attempt to intimidate the executive.

This matter is separate from the question of whether officials misrepresented the facts. Any administration official is bound not to intentionally mischaracterize material facts to senators and congressmen, an event which would merit an inquiry.

Otherwise, Democrats should drop their not-very-persuasive indignation. Democratic and Republican administrations alike use U.S. attorney appointments to groom top political and legal talent. These are appointed positions whose work bears directly on a president’s effectiveness. The Clinton administration pink-slipped every U.S. attorney except one in its first term — including one attorney investigating Dan Rostenkowski, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a powerful Clinton ally. The “political” nature of these current firings doesn’t come close to those of Bill Clinton. The point of this Democratic exercise is less to seize an executive prerogative than to paint Republicans as hostile to civil rights and to attempt to paint every act of the Bush administration as scandalous. Based on the administration response, this has not been difficult.

Mr. Gonzales’ response in particular has been puzzling. “They simply lost my confidence,” Mr. Gonzales first explained. Then he backtracked, lost a top aide, and has yet to fully explain himself to Congress. Why the tippy-toes and kid gloves? Mr. Gonzales should have said the obvious: “These appointees do not fit the president’s vision for America, and we’re firing them to make room for those who do.” Then he should have stopped explaining himself.

No one expected high-level largesse for conservatives from Bill Clinton, and no one should expect the Bush administration to groom another Janet Reno. Mr. Gonzales should tell his excessively kind beating heart to be still, and act accordingly.

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