Rush Limbaugh continued to amplify the politicized Republican investigation into the Fast and Furious scandal and the contempt hearings against Attorney General Eric Holder by trying to downplay the 2007 scandal over the firings of several Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys and minimize the role then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales played.
He claimed the reason congressional Democrats "were after" Gonzales "and other Hispanics the Bush administration sought to elevate" at the time was because "Hispanics do not get elevated in a Republican Party. It just doesn't happen." He added: "Democrats say they can't allow that to be seen."
Limbaugh went on to muddy the waters even further by saying that "they ganged up on Gonzales and he had to go, and it was over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. And don't forget Clinton had canned all 93 within the first week or two of his inauguration in 1993."
Limbaugh effectively downplayed the U.S. attorney firings to trump up Holder's supposed failings in the Fast and Furious case. Limbaugh claimed that "Holder has done far more -- he's ... done more egregious things here than Gonzales did." He then repeated the conservative myth that the Obama Department of Justice failed to prosecute the New Black Panthers.
In fact, there was much more to the story than just the "firing of eight U.S. attorneys."
The Bush administration's firing of its own appointed U.S. attorneys was "unprecedented," according to the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility. Their joint report, which explored the Bush administration's "reasons for the removals of the U.S. Attorneys and whether they were removed for partisan political purposes," found:
In sum, we believe that the process used to remove the nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 was fundamentally flawed. While Presidential appointees can be removed for any reason or for no reason, as long as it is not an illegal or improper reason, Department officials publicly justified the removals as the result of an evaluation that sought to replace underperforming U.S. Attorneys. In fact, we determined that the process implemented largely by Kyle Sampson, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General, was unsystematic and arbitrary, with little oversight by the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or any other senior Department official. In choosing which U.S. Attorneys to remove, Sampson did not adequately consult with the Department officials most knowledgeable about their performance, or even examine formal evaluations of each U.S. Attorney's Office, despite his representations to the contrary.
The Department's removal of the U.S. Attorneys and the controversy it created severely damaged the credibility of the Department and raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecutive decisions. We believe that this investigation, and final resolution of the issues raised in this report, can help restore confidence in the Department by fully describing the serious failures in the process used to remove the U.S. Attorneys and by providing lessons for the Department in how to avoid such failures in the future.
Indeed, in a January 2006 email Sampson wrote to former White House counsel Harriet Miers, Sampson reportedly sought to skip DOJ's normal personnel system, writing: "[W]e can give far less deference to home-state senators and thereby get (1) our preferred person appointed and (2) do it far faster and more efficiently, at less political cost to the White House."
The report also offered a harsh assessment of Gonzales' role:
We found that Gonzales delegated the entire project to Sampson and provided little direction or supervision. According to Gonzales, he told Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which U.S. Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. However, Gonzales acknowledged to us that he did not discuss with Sampson how to evaluate the U.S. Attorneys or which factors to consider. We found that Gonzales eventually approved the removals of a group of U.S. Attorneys without inquiring about the process Sampson used to select them for removal, or why each name was on Sampson's removal list. Gonzales also did not know who Sampson had consulted with or what these individuals had said about each of the U.S. Attorneys identified for removal. Instead, Gonzales told us he "assumed" that Sampson engaged in an evaluation process, that the resulting recommendations were based on performance, and that the recommendations reflected the consensus of senior managers in the Department. Each of those assumptions was faulty.
Gonzales also said he had little recollection of being briefed about Sampson's review process as it progressed over a year and a half. He claimed to us and to Congress an extraordinary lack of recollection about the entire removal process. In his most remarkable claim, he testified that he did not remember the meeting in his conference room on November 27, 2006, when the plan was finalized and he approved the removals of the U.S. Attorneys, even though this important meeting occurred only a few months prior to his testimony.
This was not a minor personnel matter that should have been hard to remember. Rather, it related to an unprecedented removal of a group of high-level Presidential appointees, which Sampson and others recognized would result in significant controversy. Nonetheless, Gonzales conceded that he exercised virtually no oversight of the project, and his claim to have very little recollection of his role in the process is extraordinary and difficult to accept.
The report concluded:
While U.S. Attorneys are Presidential appointees who may be dismissed for any reason or for no reason, Department leaders failed to ensure that the removals were not undertaken for improper reasons. We believe that removing U.S. Attorneys based on their lack of political support could affect the integrity and independence of the Department's prosecutive decisions and the public's confidence that such decisions are insulated from political considerations.
[W]e believe that senior Department officials -- particularly the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney -- abdicated their responsibility to safeguard the integrity and independence of the Department by failing to ensure that the removal of U.S. Attorneys was not based on improper political considerations.
Not only did Gonzales neglect his duty to oversee the process, but he "also made a series of statements after the removals that we concluded were inaccurate and misleading."
Limbaugh also tried to downplay the Bush attorney firings by referring to the fact that when he took office in 1993, President Clinton dismissed almost all U.S. attorneys -- but so did Bush. In fact, the pattern dates back to President Reagan, who, according to historical data, "replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office."