[Posted By WLS]
For a while now I have been of the opinion that the US Attorneys firing was a pseudo-scandal to help MSNBC fill its airtime in the evenings. I’ve “defended” AG to the extent that I wasn’t particularly shocked or surprised that he wouldn’t have been too personally involved in the decision-making over hiring/firing US Attorneys, and that he didn’t feel the need as it was happening to educate himself as to the facts of their individual performances in office.
I’ve defended Sampson’s job status, while bashing Goodling — probably not quite critical enough of Sampson, and certainly not critical enough of Goodling.
I’ve also posited that I didn’t see AG leaving because he can stay as long as he willing to suffer the “slings and arrows” of his critics, and as long as the Pres. didn’t fire him. Since the reports are that the Pres. is unwilling to fire him on the basis that the Pres. doesn’t think he did anything wrong, and firing him would be giving into the Admin’s critics, I thought that AG would be in the position as long as he wanted to be.
But that all changed today with this article by Murray Waas of the National Journal. The article reflects two changes in the situation:
1. AG did an incredibly stupid thing in March 2006, and largely hid it from view, while clearly acting in concert with Harriett Miers — rather than acting as AG.
2. Senior members of the WH have now decided to play hardball with AG in an effort to push him out — and I think its with the Pres’ acquiescence.
This story says that in March 2006, AG signed a secret order that conferred all hiring and firing power over senior DOJ officials that were not subject to Senate Confirmation. That authority was conferred to Sampson, AG’s chief of staff, and the While House Liason, a position filled by Monica Goodling in April 2006 – one month after the order was signed.
This order would have applied to most of the career staffers above the level of the Trial Attorneys in DOJ. In general terms, here is how the Dept is staffed:
The Dep. Attorney General (DAG) sits above all the Assistant Attorney Generals. The DAG has his own staff, which is generally made up of the Chief of Staff, Dep. Chief of Staff, a few Assistant Dep. AG’s and a collection of “Special Counsels”who are generally assigned to be the DAG’s “eyes and ears” over the various components of DOJ that all report up to the DAG’s office.
The department has 6 different litigating components which are separate and distinct from the 94 US Attorneys spread throughout the country. Those 6 components are called Divisions: Criminal, National Security, Civil Rights, Tax, Civil, and Enviro & Nat.Res.
Each of those Divisions is headed by an Assistant Attorney General (AAG), and beneath the Assistant are a series of Deputies and Section Chiefs.
The DAG, the Assistant DAGs, and the AAGs are all Presidential Appointees subject to Senate Confirmation. But the next level down, the Dep. AAG’s, Section Chiefs, and other senior management officials — nearly all of whom are career employees — are not subject to Senate confirmation and thus would have been covered by this “Secret Order” given by AG which gave hiring/firing authority over those positions to Sampson and Goodling.
Combine that with the fact that AG gave them pretty much carte blanche to replace US Attorneys by simply rubber stamping their recommendations, and you have two very questionable staffers in a position to completely rework the all levels of management personnel at DOJ who were charged with carrying out policy.
DOJ policy decisions are generally made by the Pres. Appointees. But they are executed by the career staffers, DOJ Trial Attorneys, and Assistant United States Attorneys who do the actual litigation work.
Packing the top level of DOJ managers just below the policy makers with “loyalists” (and why else would the task be given to Sampson and Goodling? — certainly not because of their legal acumen) really puts a huge question mark over the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
And, to do this in a secret order that is kept from the DAG — effectively granting the authority to hire and fire the DAG’s staff to two staffers of the AG’s office — is simply unexplainable other than to say that AG and Miers didn’t want McNulty to know that it would be Sampson and Goodling that were wielding the ax.
On the second point — the fact that this order and other surrounding documents were actually leaked by a “senior executive branch official” to the National Journal suggests that this is really the push to get AG to resign. I also think that one particular quote from the article suggests strongly that the Pres. knows and approves of this disclosure:
The senior administration official who had firsthand knowledge of the plan said that Gonzales and other Justice officials had a “clear obligation” to disclose the plan’s existence to the House and Senate Judiciary committees — but the official said that, as far as he knew, they had not done so….. The official added, “The president of the United States has said it was imperative for the attorney general, and the attorney general alone, to re-establish trust with the Congress to keep his job … and you have, even after the president has said that, the attorney general and his men stiffing Congress.”
AG didn’t take the opportunity to fall on his sword and quit simply because his conduct had impeded the mission of the Department. The Pres. supported him publicly, but I’m certain there were back channel messages urging him to quit.
Now he has gone up to Capitol Hill, with the Pres. signaling in advance very clearly that the onus was on AG to make his case. But this “secret order” never gets mentioned.
Now the calls for his resignation are sure to get louder – I join them for the first time – and I expect the silence of the WH in his defense to be deafening.