Ed Whelan has been doing excellent work on the issue of the U.S. Attorney firings, and a couple of his posts are worth extensive quotation.
First, we have some useful input on the story I mentioned yesterday about the alleged political interference in the tobacco case. Ed reprints an e-mail from a DoJ official who worked on the case, and adds his emphasis with italics:
AA June 10 editorial said that the Justice Department’s decision to reduce from $130 billion to $10 billion the amount it sought from the major tobacco companies in its fraud case “appears to be the result of political pressure.” It also came to the offensive and unfounded conclusion that the change was not based on the “legal merits” of the case as assessed by “career lawyers.”
I am a senior member of the Justice Department section involved with enforcement of racketeering laws. In 1998 the office of Attorney General Janet Reno asked whether it would be appropriate to bring civil racketeering claims against the tobacco industry for defrauding the public. I recommended that such a lawsuit be brought, and I have been a member of the case’s trial team ever since.
At the trial, Michael C. Fiore testified that a smoking-cessation program that would enable smokers who wished to quit to do so would cost $130 billion and take 25 years. However, the legal requirements that the appeals court established for the case said specifically that any remedy must be limited to addressing future violations of the law by the tobacco companies and may not seek to address the injuries caused by their past fraudulent conduct.
I was concerned that a reviewing court might conclude that Dr. Fiore’s proposal would not satisfy that standard, so I recommended that the department present to the court a modified program designed to comply with the appeals court’s decision. My recommendation was adopted.
With respect to the editorial’s allegation that witnesses were asked to soften their testimony, I was concerned that some witnesses were seeking to propose remedies that would violate the Constitution and laws and that the Justice Department could not endorse such proposals. As a result, the department determined that the witnesses it put on the stand had to include in their testimony a statement that they spoke only for themselves and not for the department — as they then did.
Both my parents died of smoking-related illnesses, and I yield to no one in my desire to devise remedies to help addicted people stop smoking. However, as a public official and an officer of the court, my actions must comport with the rule of law. My actions and those of other career prosecutors involved in this case have done just that.
Whelan has more on this here.
Whelan says: “Iglesias offers not an iota of evidence for his charge that the Bush administration fired him (or any of the other U.S. attorneys) for improper political reasons.” He notes that the only clear case of misconduct was committed by Iglesias:
Iglesias does provide one clear account of improper behavior—his own. In the same paragraph in which he states that “[p]rosecutors may not legally talk about indictments,” he relates that he nonetheless informed Domenici that he didn’t think he would file corruption charges before November. Separately, he has admitted that he failed to comply with DOJ directives requiring him to report Domenici’s and Wilson’s improper contacts.
Understood in a very broad sense, “politics” probably played the same role in Iglesias’s ouster that it had played in his initial selection. For better or worse, same-party senators have extraordinary influence in the selection of U.S. attorneys for their home districts. Domenici was largely responsible for Iglesias’s appointment. Once he made the fact of his dissatisfaction with Iglesias clear to the Administration, it would hardly be surprising that the Administration would look to replace him at an appropriate time. (It is highly doubtful that it would matter to the Administration whether Domenici offered any reasons, though it’s worth noting that he has stated that he had growing frustration with Iglesias’s alleged failure to move expeditiously on immigration and drug cases.) Giving a home-state senator so much clout may not be the best practice (though there are around 100 senators who like that clout), and it’s understandable that Iglesias would feel aggrieved by it, but it would not be improper, much less scandalous.
I especially like Whelan’s clear way of distinguishing between “politics” understood broadly, which probably was an issue, and politics in the sense of influencing (or trying to influence) political prosecutions — a far more serious issue that there is scant evidence to support.