Gazette editorial about Gonzales and U.S. attorney purge ignored possible obstruction of justice allegations

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The Gazette of Colorado Springs dubiously argued in an editorial that the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S attorneys is "much ado about nothing, really." In calling for "[d]umping" U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "for the right reasons" -- namely, "failure to be candid" about why the eight were fired -- The Gazette ignored evidence suggesting that one attorney was fired to obstruct a corruption investigation involving Republicans and the testimony of another who said he felt political pressure to hasten an investigation targeting Democrats.

A March 23 editorial in The Gazette of Colorado Springs dubiously called the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys "much ado about nothing," claiming, "Where [U.S. Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales and other senior administration officials can be faulted is in their failure to be candid about their motives for doing so, which made it seem like something more sinister than it was." However, as Colorado Media Matters has noted, critics have cited evidence suggesting that former San Diego U.S. attorney Carol Lam's firing was intended to obstruct a corruption investigation involving Republicans. Her dismissal to achieve that end might be considered a federal crime.

Furthermore, other violations reportedly might have occurred in the case of former New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias, who has testified that two Republican members of Congress pressured him to pursue corruption charges against Democrats. As Media Matters for America noted -- quoting a March 5 article in The Washington Post -- "[l]egal experts say it violates congressional ethics rules for a senator or House member to communicate with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation."

The Gazette editorial criticized Gonzales and argued in favor of his dismissal "for the right reasons," namely that administration officials failed "to be candid" about their reasons for the firings. Nonetheless, it advanced a conservative talking point by claiming, "The firings that precipitated the current crisis are much ado about nothing, really."

On the contrary, Colorado Media Matters has pointed out reports of evidence suggesting that the administration might have fired Lam because of her investigations into a corruption scandal surrounding convicted former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA).

For example, according to a timeline compiled by the weblog Talking Points Memo, The Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required) on May 6, 2006, that Lam's office was investigating Kyle "Dusty" Foggo in connection with the Cunningham case. The Journal made the disclosure in an article about the resignation of then-CIA director Porter Goss, who had chosen Foggo to be the CIA's executive director. The blog TPM Muckraker also noted that on May 11, 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that Lam's investigation had widened to include U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), then-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. That same day, as Talking Points Memo noted, D. Kyle Sampson, who formerly was Gonzales' chief of staff, emailed Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, writing that he wanted to discuss "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."

As Adam Cohen noted in his March 19 New York Times column, Lam's dismissal might have violated 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (c), which prescribes penalties for "anyone who corruptly 'obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,' including U.S. attorney investigations." Similarly, a March 19 Associated Press article reported, "The day after then-U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego notified the Justice Department of warrants in a corruption case focused on Republicans, a DOJ official contacted the White House about 'the real problem' with Lam, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Monday." The AP also quoted U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) as saying, "The sequence of events raises a question as to whether Ms. Lam was asked to resign because she was hot on the trail of criminal conduct relating to the Cunningham case." Further, the article quoted Feinstein as saying, "[I]f any U.S. attorney were removed because of a public corruption investigation or prosecution this well could comprise obstruction of justice."

Besides issues surrounding Lam's dismissal, the Gazette editorial failed to note that Iglesias testified before Congress that he felt New Mexico Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and New Mexico Republican U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson pressured him to hasten corruption investigations targeting Democrats. Cohen noted in his March 19 column that, under an obstruction of justice provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, "[i]f members of Congress try to get a United States attorney to indict people he wasn't certain he wanted to indict, or try to affect the timing of an indictment, they may be violating the law."

From the March 23 editorial, "Dumping Gonzales for the right reasons," in The Gazette of Colorado Springs:

Consider us biased: we thought it was unwise, and smacked of cronyism, for the president to tap his former personal lawyer from Texas and former White House counsel to serve as U.S. attorney general in the first place. But if the president is now going to dump Alberto Gonzales, as many media reports keep hinting, or if Gonzales is going to spare President Bush the trouble by resigning, it should be done for the right reasons. The recent flap over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys is not the right reason.

Gonzales is undoubtedly a decent person with a compelling personal history. But he seemed out of his depth as White House counsel and attorney general, supporting interpretations of law that undermine our constitutional system of checks and balances by vesting too much power in the executive branch.

The firings that precipitated the current crisis are much ado about nothing, really. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, rather than for fixed terms. And like all political appointees, they can be (and frequently are) replaced at the president's discretion. Congressional Democrats are well aware of this, but have seized on the issue to score political points. Where Gonzales and other senior administration officials can be faulted is in their failure to be candid about their motives for doing so, which made it seem like something more sinister than it was.

[...]

Gonzales has consistently sought to enhance executive power, pushing it into questionable realms such as near-torture and wiretapping Americans without a warrant, in service to a view of presidential wartime power that is almost absolute. To be sure, he has done this at the behest of the president. But an attorney general serves his boss and his country poorly of he isn't independent enough to say so when the person sitting in the Oval Office begins treading too heavily on civil liberties and the Constitution

And that -- and not this silly sideshow about fired U.S. attorneys -- is why it's time for Gonzales to go.

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