Monday, April 9, 2007

Eight vs. 93

My excuse is age—I was 11 at the time. The White House press corps, however, has no such recourse, and should be chagrined for filing stories on the recent sacking of eight U.S. attorneys without mentioning that in March 1993, the Clinton administration sacked all 93. The WSJ editorial board recalls the parallels:

At the time, President Clinton presented the move as something perfectly ordinary: "All those people are routinely replaced," he told reporters, "and I have not done anything differently." In fact, the dismissals were unprecedented: Previous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, had both retained holdovers from the previous Administration and only replaced them gradually as their tenures expired. This allowed continuity of leadership within the U.S. Attorney offices during the transition.

Equally extraordinary were the politics at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was investigating then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, and was "within 30 days" of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski, who was shepherding the Clinton's economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.

Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons' Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint "Friend of Bill" Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to "politicizing" Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons.