Chieftain uncritically quoted Allard, published misleading headline about U.S. attorney firings

A March 21 article in The Pueblo Chieftain uncritically reported Republican Sen. Wayne Allard's comment equating the dismissal of U.S. attorneys in the middle of President Bush's term to the firings that occurred when former President Bill Clinton took office. As media reports have noted, mass firings are common when a new administration comes in, but replacing several attorneys in the middle of a term “appears to be unprecedented.”

In a March 21 article about U.S. Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Wayne Allard (R-CO) voting in favor of legislation to “weaken the White House's power to appoint U.S. attorneys,” The Pueblo Chieftain uncritically reported Allard's misleading claim that the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys is “not unprecedented” because former President Bill Clinton's administration also fired U.S. attorneys. Allard's comparison of the two is unfounded, however; as The Washington Post reported on March 14, "[L]egal experts and former prosecutors say the firing of a large number of prosecutors in the middle of a term appears to be unprecedented and threatens the independence of prosecutors."

The Chieftain article by reporter Peter Roper stated that “U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may still have President Bush's support, but Colorado's senators joined a solid majority of the Senate in voting Tuesday to weaken the White House's power to appoint U.S. attorneys.” The article further reported:

Neither Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., have joined in the growing calls for Gonzales' resignation, but they were among the 92 senators who voted for legislation Tuesday that would give the Senate confirmation power over the appointment of U.S. attorneys -- the lead federal prosecutor in each state.

“We've given too much power to the executive branch and need to pull it back to the legislative branch,” Allard said Tuesday in a telephone press conference.

As for Gonzales resigning, Allard said, “In my view, it's too early to ask him to step down.”

Allard noted that former President Clinton fired many U.S. attorneys appointed by the first President Bush. “It's not unprecedented and President Clinton had the right to do that,” Allard said.

Allard noted that former President Clinton fired many U.S. attorneys appointed by the first President Bush. “It's not unprecedented and President Clinton had the right to do that,” Allard said.

Salazar previously had declined to call for Gonzales' ouster, but he moved closer Tuesday, saying if the attorney general “crossed the line” and was using his position to remove U.S. attorneys for political reasons, “then he has forfeited his right to lead the Department of Justice.”

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One of the allegations in the recent controversy over the Bush administration's firing of several U.S. attorneys is that Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., made numerous telephone calls to White House and to recently fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias pushing for a more aggressive investigation into voter fraud in New Mexico.

“In the meantime, the Senate has a responsibility to ensure that federal prosecutors are indeed independent of partisan politics,” Salazar said in a floor speech.

While it is true that both Clinton and Bush dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office following an administration of the opposing party, the current administration's decision to fire U.S. attorneys in the middle of the president's term does, in fact, “appear[] to be unprecedented,” as the Post noted. Furthermore, a March 13 McClatchy Newspapers article -- headlined “Current situation is distinct from Clinton firings of U.S. attorneys” -- noted that "[m]ass firings of U.S. attorneys are fairly common when a new president takes office, but not in a second-term administration." The article added that “Justice Department officials acknowledged it would be unusual for the president to oust his own appointees.”

The Chieftain also published on March 21 an Associated Press article about the U.S. attorney controversy with the misleading headline: “Bush: Congress can question aides.” The original AP headline read, “Bush says Congress can question aides but not in public or under oath; Democrats say no,” and the article reported that Bush imposed numerous restrictions on how congressional committees investigating the firings of the U.S. attorneys can interview his aides:

Bush said his White House counsel, Fred Fielding, told lawmakers they could interview presidential counselor Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and their deputies -- but only on the president's terms: in private, ''without the need for an oath'' and without a transcript.

The president cast the offer as virtually unprecedented and a reasonable way for Congress to get all the information it needs about the matter.

As Media Matters for America has pointed out, Fielding laid out the following demands in a March 20 letter: that interviews be conducted behind closed doors, that they not be televised or transcribed, that no subpoenas be issued following the interviews, and that questions may not concern internal White House communications.

From the March 21 AP article by Laurie Kellman, “Bush says Congress can question aides but not in public or under oath; Democrats say no” ; published in the March 21 edition of The Pueblo Chieftain under the headline “Bush: Congress can question aides” :

Bush: Congress can question aides

WASHINGTON -- A defiant President Bush warned Democrats Tuesday to accept his offer to have top aides speak about the firings of federal prosecutors only privately and not under oath, or risk a constitutional showdown from which he would not back down.

Democrats' response was swift and firm: They said they would start authorizing subpoenas as soon as Wednesday for the White House aides.

''Testimony should be on the record and under oath. That's the formula for true accountability,'' said Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush, in a late-afternoon statement at the White House, said he would fight any subpoena effort in court.

[...]

Bush said his White House counsel, Fred Fielding, told lawmakers they could interview presidential counselor Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and their deputies -- but only on the president's terms: in private, ''without the need for an oath'' and without a transcript.

The president cast the offer as virtually unprecedented and a reasonable way for Congress to get all the information it needs about the matter.