The most common reason I read for dismissing the US Attorney scandal as no big deal is that nobody broke any laws in firing the attorneys, because they are political appointees who can be fired for any reason. That is, of course, true, but it’s not really important. Just because something is not illegal doesn’t mean that it’s not wrong. And what the Bush administration did was wrong, make no mistake about that. Josh Marshall made another good effort in explaining exactly why it was wrong a couple of days ago.
The first clue that the Bush administration knowingly acted wrongly was that they tried to hide what was going on. The second was that when asked why the attorneys were fired, they lied about the reasons instead of telling the truth. If there was really nothing wrong, then the President could have been completely up front about why the attorneys were fired. Here are some statements from a hypothetical press conference where he told the truth:
- “I fired the eight US attorneys because I wanted to replace them with lawyers more politically loyal to the White House.”
- “I fired the eight US attorneys because Republicans complained about their not being sufficiently partisan in deciding who to prosecute.”
- “I fired the eight US attorneys because giving their jobs I wanted to give a career boost to their replacements.”
If the White House really felt like they had done nothing wrong, they could have been honest, but they weren’t.
The offense here is a political offense. The White House tried to get away with making personnel moves that they knew were improper, and they got caught red handed. Then they tried to worm out of it by sliming the attorneys who they had fired, and everything blew up in their face. That’s politics. What’s going on now is the standard punishment for political offenses, which is that your dirty laundry gets aired and your rivals make you twist in the wind for as long as possible. If the Bush administration really had a valid defense for its actions, all they’d have to do is make an honest case to the American people, but they don’t, so the punishment continues. And the longer Alberto Gonzales keeps his job, the longer it will go on.