A key aspect of the U.S. attorney purge that often seems to get overlooked--by those who argue that the firings were business as usual and no different from the removal of USAs at the beginning of a president's term--is the change to the Patriot Act that was quietly inserted by Sen. Arlen Specter at the behest of the Justice Department.
As close followers of the scandal know, the Patriot Act provision, in essence, transferred the power to appoint interim USAs from the federal district courts to the attorney general and allowed the attorney general to install interim USAs indefinitely, thereby bypassing the Senate confirmation process.
Only the naive or willfully blind would see the Patriot Act amendment as a distinct and separate action from the purge itself. Indeed, vesting such powers in the attorney general was a predicate to the purge, and was one of the very first indications, at least to everyone here at TPM, that the removal of the eight U.S. attorneys was not some random act or unrelated series of acts but a deliberately conceived and executed plan that required time to develop and numerous participants to implement. Otherwise, the Senate confirmation process would have made installing political hacks as USAs difficult and would have provided supporters of the ousted prosecutors with a ready-made platform to challenge the removals publicly.
So when William Moschella, who is now the principal deputy attorney general, recently told McClatchy "that he pursued the changes on his own, without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House," the purpose of his comments was to decouple the Patriot Act provision from the purge itself. Since Moschella was, at the time he pursued the Patriot Act changes, just a mid-level assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, we were supposed to believe that simply because B (the purge) followed A (the Patriot Act change), doesn't mean A caused B or was in any way related to B.
From the document dump last night, we learn, again from McClatchy, that Moschella sent an email to other Justice Department officials way back in November 2005 announcing support for the change to the law. Paul has more.
So contrary to earlier assertions, the attorney general was involved in the firings, and higher-ups in the Justice Department knew about the Patriot Act provision.
No surprise there, really. But keep this in mind. Everything the Justice Department has said that later turned out to be false was almost certainly known by the White House to be false, at the time the false statements were made, to the media, and most importantly, to Congress.
Let that sink in.