When Republicans eat their own, from Legal Times
It was an uncomfortable -- and perhaps unprecedented -- airing of private personnel matters. Granted, U.S. Attorneys are "at-will" employees who serve at the pleasure of the president and can be fired without cause, yet even some of the administration's staunchest supporters were embarrassed at the breach of decorum.Legal Times
"They have the right to fire them; they do not have the right to smear them," says Joseph DiGenova, a conservative commentator who was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia during the Reagan administration. "Everybody involved in it at the Justice Department and White House should be taken to the woodshed. This is really a pathetic way of running government."
Other former U.S. Attorneys, all Republicans, said they were "stunned" or "flummoxed" or found the way the firings were handled "insulting."
"It is unfortunate that the department felt the need to attack the performance of these people," says Thomas Heffelfinger, who served as U.S. Attorney in Minnesota from 2001 until last year. "It wasn't necessary and it wasn't warranted."
Of course, the U.S. Attorney's job is inherently political; in the past, however, departures were handled with considerably more tact.
"It was handled discreetly, it was handled professionally, and people were given every opportunity to have a soft landing," says Mark Corallo, who was Justice Department spokesman under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. "These are people who worked hard in the pursuit of justice. To go out and trash their reputations -- it's galling."
By the end of last week, some of the most conservative Republican senators were publicly assailing the department's handling of the matter. Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, a moderate, even suggested that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales might have to step down. And in an about-face, Gonzales said on March 8 that he would support a change in the law that would limit the attorney general's ability to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys.
"Regardless of the substance of the dismissals, it was so poorly handled that one has to question the leadership at the department," Corallo says. "Was anybody awake? Was anyone paying attention?"
asked Republican superlawyer and former Solicitor General Ted Olson if this past week's hearings were like a circular firing squad: "That's a good way to put it," Olson said. Update
: I was bemused by the Republican infighting and the spectacle of GOP talking head Joe DiGenova suddenly becoming a champion of civility in politics. But be careful, some readers have warned me: this is faux GOP outrage designed to diminish the scandal. Writes TPM Reader GC
Note that the Republican criticism of the Justice Department centers on the wrong issue. (They have no right to smear good people etc). All that may be true-but it's a minor/trivial issue compared with whether or not these new appointments were made because the agenda of the replaced US-As was not sufficiently political. i.e. The Republican crit/outrage is centered on an issue of personal dignity & not the administration malfeasance. In my view some of this Republican criticism may be designed to deflect attention from a far more significant issue.
That's true, as far as it goes. But there is both a substantive legal aspect and a political aspect to this scandal. Right now, as is usually the case when a scandal is breaking hot and heavy, each aspect feeds the other in what, for the targets of the scandal, is a vicious cycle. GOP senators began abandoning the White House on the purges on Thursday, and now big-wig Republicans are scampering away, too. With fewer defenders, the White House is in a weaker position to fend off congressional Democrats' efforts to get at the substance of what happened here. That is to say that the legal and political are inextricably linked.