The Attorney Firing Scandal In A Nutshell

Ken AshfordAttorney FiringsLeave a Comment

Nice summary by Marty Lederman:

1. There is little, if any, reliable evidence of any serious problem of voter fraud in the United States.

2. After the 2000 election, if not before, Karl Rove and other Republican operatives decided that Republican political prospects would be immeasurably improved if they would only repeat, as often as possible, the unsupported claim that voter fraud is rampant, and take substantial steps to stem such nonexistent voter "fraud" — all in an attempt to suppress Democratic votes.

3. The bogus claim of a "voter fraud" crisis has been successfully invoked in many states to withstand initiatives to ease voter registration and, even more prominently, to justify unneeded and damaging "Voter ID" legislation. All of which has the effect of suppressing votes, primarily of Democratic constituencies, while doing very little, if anything, to protect against any actual voter fraud. (See, e.g., the links in the middle of this post to the New York Times, Bob Bauer, hilzoy, Rick Hasen and publius.)

4. Karl Rove and others went further: They decided to use the levers of federal governmental power — the prosecution power, in particular — to go after nonexistent voter fraud, and thereby to further suppress voter turn-out in closely contested elections, all in order to enhance Republican electoral prospects. (Simultaneously, other sorts of decisions at DOJ (e.g., pursuant to the Voting Rights Act) were also substantially influenced by partisan electoral considerations.)

5. Until this Administration, White House officials such as Rove would not have been permitted to contact persons in the Justice Department in connection with prosecutorial decisions. But those rules were rescinded by the Bush Justice Department.

6. Rove and other White House officials urged DOJ to bring "voter fraud" prosecutions in many contested states and districts — and even to do so close to the date of elections, contrary to longstanding DOJ policies.

7. Some U.S. Attorneys — loyal Republicans all — after concluding that there was, after all, no basis in fact for bringing such prosecutions, especially not so close to elections, when such prosecutions could have an unwarranted impact on election outcomes, understandably declined to prosecute.

8. The President unceremoniously removed many of those U.S. Attorneys — not because anyone at DOJ thought they were doing a bad job (everyone of note in DOJ has disclaimed responsibility for having identified these officials for removal), but instead because Rove and his operatives in the White House were frustrated at the prosecutors’ unwillingness to bring unwarranted voter-fraud prosecutions. (Other U.S. Attorneys were cashiered for analogous partisan electorial reasons, such as their refusal to bring charges against local Democratic officials, or their peristence in investigating Republican officials.)

9. In order to further ensure that the White House has much greater, unfettered, influence over the machinations of the criminal justice system, the Attorney General determined that personnel decisions at DOJ would no longer be subject to the institutional and professional screens that had long been in place, but would instead be delegated almost entirely to undistinguished, inexperienced young attorneys whose only qualification for being assigned that important responsibility was that they were loyal Republican foot soldiers, unequivocally responsive to the direction of Rove, et al.

10. The attempts by government officials to bring pressure on U.S. Attorneys to bring prosecutions — or to forego ongoing investigations — for partisan electoral objectives may well have constituted criminal violations of 18 U.S.C. 1505 ("Whoever corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, . . . Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years"); and/or 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2) ("Whoever corruptly . . . obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.").

At the very least — and more significantly — such efforts constituted a breach of the President’s constitutional obligation to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

* * * *

For the most part, the media have understandably been focused thus far on Point No. 8. But the real heart of the scandal — the much more important long-term outrage — is Point No. 4, the abuse of governmental authority for partisan ends.

RELATED:  Gonzales’s Harvard Law School classmates write him a letter.  Heh.