Rosen repeated conservative distortions about U.S. attorney dismissals


Discussing the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Newsradio 850 KOA host Mike Rosen repeated numerous false or misleading conservative talking points. In addition to mischaracterizing the firings of U.S. attorneys when former President Bill Clinton took office, Rosen wrongly asserted that the attorney in Washington state was a Democrat. Rosen also ignored evidence that partisan considerations might have played a role in the firings of certain U.S. attorneys.

During the March 22 broadcast of his Newsradio 850 KOA show, host Mike Rosen repeated conservative distortions related to the Bush administration's controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Rosen declared there was "nothing unethical" about the firings, ignoring evidence that partisan considerations -- namely, the intention to specifically target Democrats or shield Republicans -- might have played a role in some of the firings. He also erroneously insisted that former Washington state U.S. attorney John McKay is a Democrat, despite information to the contrary. Furthermore, Rosen falsely claimed that U.S. attorneys let go when former President Bill Clinton took office were given "10 days to move out of their offices."

After citing an op-ed piece that asserted the dismissals resulted from policy differences with the administration or questions about one of the attorney's managerial skills, Rosen claimed that there is "nothing illegal" and "nothing unethical" about a president "in his sixth year making some changes among U.S. attorneys."

From the March 22 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Mike Rosen Show:

ROSEN: I cited the case the case of John McKay, who happens to be a Democrat from the state of Washington. There was also the case of David Iglesias. He was from New Mexico. And in The Wall Street Journal's column on this the other day, they also said the following: "As for some of the other fired attorneys, at least one of their dismissals seem to owe to differences with the administration about the death penalty, another to questions about the attorney general's manage" --excuse me, about the attorney's, not the attorney general's -- "about this U.S. attorney's managerial skills. Not surprisingly, the dismissed attorneys are insisting their dismissals were unfair, and perhaps in some cases they were. It would not be the first time in history that a dismissed employee did not take kindly to his firing. Nor would it be the first in which an employer sacked the wrong person. No question, the Justice Department and White House have botched the handling of this issue from start to finish. But what we don't have here is any serious evidence that the administration has acted improperly or to protect some of its friends. If Democrats want to understand what a real abuse of power looks like, they can always ask the junior senator from New York." And they're talking about Hillary Clinton, going back to when Janet Reno -- the incoming attorney general -- cleaned house, firing all 93 U.S. attorneys in March of '93. And, of course, you remember Webster Hubbell.


ROSEN: He -- acting as, as Janet Reno's enforcer -- he gave them 10 days to move out of their offices.


ROSEN: As we've discussed, the process is normally more gradual and transitional than it was during the Clinton administration. There's the difference between that and a president while he's in office in his sixth year making some changes among U.S. attorneys. There's nothing illegal about it. There's nothing unethical about it. And if it's politically motivated, that's fine. It's OK for it to be politically motivated. And where the Bush White House and Alberto Gonzales started digging themselves a hole here was when they tried to take the high road and assert that there were no political considerations involved. As if there's something wrong about having political considerations involved. There isn't, in my view.

However, Rosen failed to note that, as the Congressional Research Service reported, historically very few U.S. attorneys have been dismissed within a single presidential administration before the expiration of their terms:

At least 54 U.S. attorneys appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate left office before completion of a four-year term between 1981 and 2006 (not counting those whose tenure was interrupted by a change in presidential administration). Of those 54, 17 left to become Article III federal judges, one left to become a federal magistrate judge, six left to serve in other positions in the executive branch, four sought elective office, two left to serve in state government, one died, and 15 left to enter or return to private practice.

Of the remaining eight U.S. attorneys who left before completing a four-year term without a change in presidential administration, two were apparently dismissed by the President, and three apparently resigned after news reports indicated they had engaged in questionable personal actions. No information was available on the three remaining U.S. attorneys who resigned.

In asserting that U.S. attorneys such as McKay and Iglesias were dismissed for cause, Rosen ignored evidence that partisan considerations -- namely, the intention to specifically target Democrats or shield Republicans -- may have played a role in some of the firings.

As Media Matters for America noted, according to a March 13 Washington Post article, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove complained to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in October 2006 about some prosecutors' lack of zeal in pursuing voter fraud cases. As the Post reported, since the 2000 presidential election, Republicans repeatedly have alleged that "convicted felons and other ineligible voters have been permitted to cast ballots to the benefit of Democrats." The Post also reported that Justice Department officials said Gonzales' former deputy chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson -- who resigned recently in the wake of disclosures related to the scandal -- in October added Iglesias of New Mexico to a list of prosecutors who might be fired, "based in part on complaints from Sen. Pete V. Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans that he was not prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases."

Iglesias has claimed he was terminated after resisting pressure from U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Domenici to accelerate his investigation into a Democratic state senator before the 2006 elections, as Media Matters has pointed out. Domenici and Wilson have admitted calling Iglesias but have asserted that they did not "pressure" him. As noted by the weblog Talking Points Memo, however, a March 11 McClatchy Newspapers article reported that, according to Perino, Rove "specifically recalled passing along complaints about ... Iglesias and may have mentioned the grumblings about Iglesias to ... Gonzales." More broadly, the McClatchy article reported, "Rove relayed ... concerns among Republican Party officials in various jurisdictions" -- in particular, New Mexico and Washington state -- "that the Justice Department was not being aggressive in pursuing allegations of election fraud by Democrats."

Likewise, Republicans in Washington state heavily criticized McKay for ending his investigation into their allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election, which was won by Democrat Christine Gregoire. In a March 13 article, also noted by Talking Points Memo, The Seattle Times reported, "McKay insist[ed] that top prosecutors in his office and agents from the FBI conducted a 'very active' review of allegations of fraud during the election but filed no charges and did not convene a federal grand jury because 'we never found any evidence of criminal conduct.' " The Times article also noted that, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, McKay stated that he had received calls in late 2004 or early 2005 from Rep. Doc Hastings' (R-WA) chief of staff, Ed Cassidy, "about the status of ongoing investigations of voter fraud."

Additionally, there is some evidence that might suggest that San Diego U.S. attorney Carol Lam's investigations into a corruption scandal surrounding convicted former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) played a role in her dismissal. According to a timeline compiled by 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. According to the blog TPM Muckraker, the Los Angeles Times reported on May 11 that Lam's investigation had widened to include Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), then-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. That same day, as Talking Points Memo noted, Sampson emailed Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, writing about "[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 Colorado Media Matters has noted, such interference in the execution of a U.S. attorney's duties might constitute obstruction of justice, a federal crime.

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 on Sampson's email to Kelley and 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." The article also quoted U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) 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."

Furthermore, Rosen's claim that the Clinton administration gave Bush's holdover U.S. attorneys 10 days to vacate their offices is false. As the Los Angeles Times reported March 23, in delivering the request for resignations, Hubbell actually indicated that the attorneys should remain in office until their successors received confirmation:

Nonetheless, the idea that Clinton and Reno broke with precedent and fired all U.S. attorneys upon taking office has played a key role in the public debate in recent weeks. In conservative media and on talk radio, Reno's abrupt firing of all the U.S. attorneys had been described as extreme and unprecedented.

Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania's attorney general, knows the story firsthand.

"I am the one who took the message," he said in an interview Wednesday.

In 1993, he was the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh and the liaison between the outgoing George H.W. Bush administration and the incoming Clinton administration. "We had been asking them for months: 'When do you want our resignations?' " he said.

The answer came in a meeting with Webster Hubbell, the associate attorney general, in mid-March. "He said, 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is the attorney general wants you to stay until your successor is confirmed. The bad news is she wants your resignations by the end of the week,' " Corbett said.

Despite Reno's request for all of their resignations, some U.S. attorneys stayed on the job for several more months.

Finally, citing The Wall Street Journal, Rosen repeatedly -- and falsely -- insisted that McKay is a Democrat:

CALLER: Did you say that John McKay was a Democrat?

ROSEN: Yes, he's a Democrat.

CALLER: And, and on what --

ROSEN: That's what I said. He's a Democrat, yes.

CALLER: And -- and on what basis do you say that?

ROSEN: Because he's a Democrat. That's on what basis I say it. Do you know that he's otherwise?

CALLER: Well, I'm lookin' at Wikipedia, and it --

ROSEN: Be careful about Wikipedia, incidentally.


ROSEN: I look at it too, but always take that through a filter. Anybody can post anything on Wikipedia.

CALLER: Well --

ROSEN: John -- John McKay is a Democrat.

CALLER: OK. Wikipedia says that he is a -- a Republican, but --

ROSEN: Wall Street Journal on March 14th identified him as a Democrat.

CALLER: All right.

ROSEN: In this case I would regard The Wall Street Journal as a better source than Wikipedia. You know how postings are recorded on Wikipedia, don't you?

CALLER: People submit 'em.

ROSEN: Yes, they can write whatever they want, and they can change an existing posting. So while there's some good stuff on Wikipedia -- as I say, I've used it in the past -- you have to be careful about Wikipedia, 'cause there's some terrible stuff on there as well.

CALLER: Well, their source for this -- that he's a Republican is The Seattle Times. So, who knows?

ROSEN: The Seattle Times would be a better source on something like this than Wikipedia.


ROSEN: In any event, my understanding is he's a Democrat and he's being removed because they don't like the way he's handled his position as U.S. attorney.

As Media Matters has noted, the Journal's assertion that McKay -- whom President Bush appointed to the position -- is a Democrat apparently stems from a letter sent to Rep. Hastings by Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, in which McCabe called McKay a Democrat. But Chris Vance, the former state Republican Party chairman, was quoted in a March 14 Seattle Times article referring to McKay as a Republican, stating that "he felt compelled to approach McKay [on the election matter] as a fellow Republican." An October 31, 2001, Seattle Times article (accessed through the Nexis database) about McKay's swearing-in as U.S. attorney described McKay as a "moderate Republican," and a May 19, 1999, Associated Press article (accessed through Nexis) identified McKay as a Republican and quoted him referring to the GOP as "our party." The Department of Justice website documented that McKay previously worked for Republican Rep. Joe Pritchard (WA) and as a White House fellow under George H.W. Bush in 1989-90. Also, according to Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connelly, McKay's family has been "involv[ed] in four Bush presidential campaigns."

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.