Wednesday, August 1, 2007

U.S. Attorneys Update

Ah, those U.S. Attorneys . . . it's the scandal that keeps on scandaling. The latest is that John Brownlee, U.S. Attorney in Roanoke, Virginia, received an unusual late-night call from Michael Elston, the chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, asking him to slow down a settlement of a criminal case against the manufacturer of OxyContin. Brownlee went ahead with the guilty plea anyway, and, what do you know, eight days later he found himself on a list, prepared by Elston, of U.S. Attorneys to be removed. (In the end, he kept his job.)

As the Post article explains, it is not inherently suspicious for senior Justice Department officials to have some input on individual cases. But the suspicious thing is, as it has long been, this: according to Elston's lawyer, the list reflected recommendations Elston "had received from others in the administration, not his own views."

Look, this scandal has been going on for months now. Dick Cheney calls it "a bit of a witch hunt" and claims that "there's no charge" or allegation of wrongdoing. But if there were a legitimate explanation for why each U.S. Attorney got fired, wouldn't DOJ have been able to produce it by now? Wouldn't we at least know who made up the ultimate list? Why is the list always the product of recommendations by nameless "others"? Why is the reaons for putting names on the list always something like, "it was the consensus recommendation" or "it was the advice I got from others"?

Sorry, Mr. Vice President, but if you guys can't even tell us who made up the list and why each name got put on it, we're entitled to draw an adverse inference. If there's a legitimate reason why the U.S. Attorneys got fired, let us know. The fact that you can't, after all this time, strongly suggests that they were fired for improper reasons.

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