Krugman …For those of



For those of us living in the Garden State, the growing scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors immediately brought to mind the subpoenas that Chris Christie, the former Bush “Pioneer” who is now the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, issued two months before the 2006 election — and the way news of the subpoenas was quickly leaked to local news media.

The subpoenas were issued in connection with allegations of corruption on the part of Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who seemed to be facing a close race at the time. Those allegations appeared, on their face, to be convoluted and unconvincing, and Mr. Menendez claimed that both the investigation and the leaks were politically motivated.

Mr. Christie’s actions might have been all aboveboard. But given what we’ve learned about the pressure placed on federal prosecutors to pursue dubious investigations of Democrats, Mr. Menendez’s claims of persecution now seem quite plausible.

In fact, it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power. Bear in mind that if Mr. Menendez had lost, the G.O.P. would still control the Senate.

This raises a key point we’ve hinted at several times as the US Attorney story has risen to a boil over the last three weeks. We’ve now heard enough to know that using federal prosecutions to score political points was an accepted way of doing business in the Gonzales Justice Department. The two cases we know about are ones in which the US Attorney refused to play along and paid the price. So what about the ones who did play along?

Given what we know now, does anyone think the Iglesias and McKay cases are the only ones?

As Krugman says, perhaps the Christie subpoenas were aboveboard. But they did they play directly into the campaign narrative Tom Kean, Jr. was trying to run on against Bob Menendez, they came at a very convenient time in a bitterly contested race and, as we reported at the time, the alleged infraction was patently silly.

Of course, to the best of my knowledge, Kean’s defeat seems to have sapped all the interest out of the investigation. So go figure.

We’re focused now on what happened to the US Attorneys who didn’t play ball. It’s time to focus on just what kinds of games Alberto Gonzales has been playing.