This just in: U.S. Attorney purge subpoenas

First subpoena goes out in the U.S. Attorney purge investigation.

A press release from Linda Sanchez’s office:

March 1, 2007

Washington – House Judiciary Committee John Conyers today issued subpoenas against certain former U.S. Attorneys who were recently fired by the Bush Administration. The subpoenas were authorized by the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Law (CAL), chaired by Congresswoman Linda Sánchez.

The subpoenas require former U.S. Attorneys David C. Iglesias, Carol Lam, H.E. Cummins, III, and John McKay to appear before a CAL Subcommittee hearing next week.

“The former U.S. Attorneys are alleging very serious charges against the Administration and we need to hear from them,” Chairman Conyers said. “We want to hear their stories and we want the Administration to address the charges head on so that we can get to the bottom of this.”

“We decided to issue subpoenas only as a last resort,” said Chairwoman Sánchez. “We need to get to the bottom of whether competency in upholding the law is being sacrificed for political ideology.”

Subcommittee members voted this afternoon in a public meeting. The subpoenas will be issued this evening for the U.S. Attorneys to appear before the subcommittee on Tuesday, March 6, at 2:00 pm in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing will consider a bill by Congressman Howard Berman that would reverse a new provision in the USA PATRIOT Act allowing the Attorney General to indefinitely appoint federal prosecutors through the end of the Bush Administration without Senate confirmation.

The Deputy AG is already on record before Congress as saying the firings weren’t for political reasons. Sounds as if the victims are going to say otherwise, with documents to back them up.

I’ve heard two lines of analysis about this case:

1. The Administration’s need to tamp down the enthusiasm among the U.S. Attorneys for corruption cases, and to disrupt the specific cases the fired U.S. Attorneys were working, must have been overwhelming. The coming firestorm was predictable; they must have thought the alternative was even worse.

2. Naaahhh, they’re just such a bunch of arrogant jerks it never occurred to them there was some stuff they couldn’t get away with anymore.

On current evidence, I can’t judge the plausibility of either one. I also can’t think of a third.

I haven’t seen the earlier hearing transcripts. Has anyone asked the folks at DoJ, and specifically Gonzales and McNulty, what if any communication they had with the White House about the firings? (It’s not hard to guess that Karl Rove knew that someone was being fired to make a U.S. Attorney spot for one of Rove’s aides, but what about the rest?)

If the DoJ folks start muttering about “executive privilege,” the folks on the Hill ought to start muttering about “conspiracy to obstruct justice.” I’ve seen this flick before, I believe, and it has a happy ending, with the bad guys resigning in disgrace or going to jail.

Update The story is getting some play. Nice little added detail: the Republicans boycotted the subcommittee meeting where the subpoenas were voted on. Nice of them to help make this a partisan issue, isn’t it?

Second update Better and better. Thanks to Josh Marshall, here’s a McClatchy report that Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici tried to pressure one of the fired U.S. Attorneys to bring an indictment in a case of Democratic corruption before the elections. Domenici reportedly hung up on David Iglesias after Iglesias told him there would be no indictments handed up before December.

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: