More on the purge

David Margolis, the senior career official in the Deputy AG’s office, defends one of ten U.S. Attorney firings. I’d believe him on that one. And if I were investigating the case and had subpoena powers, I’d really, really like to know what he thinks about the other nine.

TPM continues to be all over the U.S. Attorney purge story. Three new developments, one hot and one, I’m pretty sure, not.

It looks as if the official story is going to be that Carol Lam was fired for putting corruption cases (against Republicans) ahead of routine alien-smuggling cases, while David Iglesias was fired for putting routine border and other cases ahead of corruption cases (against Democrats). Somehow I think that old dog won’t hunt.

The director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the guy who had to make the phone calls to the victims, is retiring. Apparently he seemed unhappy to do the dirty work, and said in the phone calls that the orders came from “on high.” No doubt his post-retirement testimony could be quite interesting, especially as to just how “high” the orders came from.

It would also be nice to get the chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General on record under oath as to whether he threatened one of the purge victims to keep him from complaining to the press, especially if whichever U.S. Attorney told McClatchy about the call would be willing to testify. Denouncing “anonymous sources” is one thing; telling a fib under oath when you might be contradicted is quite another. I bet Mr. Elston’s memory will become less clear on the witness stand than it was just talking to a reporter.

The new item that I bet is a crock is the claim that the U.S. Attorney for Maryland was fired for getting too close to nailing the Republican Governor. Why do I think there’s no there there? Because David Margolis, a senior career guy in the Deputy AG’s office, says so. Margolis tells the New York Times &#8212 just about in so many words &#8212 that the guy was fired for being a jerk.

I knew Margolis way back when. He was running the Organized Crime Section of the Criminal Division, one of the most successful programs ever put together. Margolis and I were never buddies; he tolerated my presence because Phil Heymann, then running the Division, thought well of me, but Margolis wasn’t especially dazzled either by my charm or by my brilliant insights into matters on which he was an expert and I was an amateur, and he never bothered to pretend otherwise.

But there are four basic facts about Margolis: he has a near-genius IQ, a fanatical devotion to doing the prosecutor’s job right, complete honesty (mostly because he can’t be bothered to bullshit), and brass balls. He must have been in the loop for all these decisions, since he’s the top career guy in the Deputy’s office and McNulty is smart enough to know that (1) Margolis’s judgment of prosecutorial horseflesh is impeccable and (2) Margolis (and Jack Keeney, the senior career Deputy in the Criminal Division) are opinion leaders among the career prosecutors whose respect the politicos need to keep. To cut Margolis out of the action would amount to admitting that something fishy was going on.

But Margolis hasn’t been heard from in public on the purge: until now. I’d take his word on the DiBiagio firing at full face value. But that makes his silence on all the other cases that much more pointed.

If Margolis had been willing to say about the other eight (or nine, counting Fred Black) purge victims what he said about DiBiagio, then his superiors surely would have asked him to say so publicly. They haven’t, or alternatively he wouldn’t.

Margolis has never been a leaker, either to the press or to the Hill; he fights his battles inside the Department. But he’s never been an equivocator, either. If he’s asked to testify, he’ll tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter who gets hurt along the way.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: