Working up the chain in the Overblown Personnel Matter

Pass the popcorn. House Judiciary is asking for documents and testimony from the White House in the U.S. Attorney purge.

Based on Tuesday’s hearing, John Conyers and Linda Sanchez have decided to ask some additional questions about who did what to whom in the U.S. Attorney purge. In addition to talking to senior people in the Justice Department (which Gonzales has already agreed to) they’d like some answers from the White House, in the form of both documents and witnesses.

This is the basic investigative technique called “working up the chain.” First you get the low-level folks dead to rights, then you raise your sights a little bit. Last week, before the testimony from the fired U.S. Attorneys, the threat of a subpoena to the White House would have seemed far-fetched. Now it seems natural.

That’s the choice the White House seemingly faces: comply “voluntarily” or do so under subpoena. The same applies to Harriet Miers. Although Miers has left the government now, Conyers and Sanchez, like two Scotland Yard detectives, seem to think that Miers “may be able to assist in their inquiries.”

It also seems that, only a month into the investigation, Linda Sanchez is already tired of being bullshat:

The threshold for cooperation in Washington used to be “Trust, but verify.” We are sending these letters today because, at this point, we’d be happy just to verify.

Every scandal needs a nickname. And “USAgate” is (let’s face the facts) sooooo 1973.

Fortunately, Alberto Gonzales, who &#8212 whatever his deficiencies as a lawyer, a manager, and a human being &#8212 clearly has great comedic talent, has supplied one. What we’re watching here is the unfolding of the Overblown Personnel Matter, or OPM.

You heard it here first, folks: the OPM may well do more to expose the criminality of the Bush Maladministration than did the Valerie Plame affair.

Already, we’ve made months’ worth of progress. No one but Karl Rove is pretending anymore that there’s nothing to investigate. Arlen Specter is already talking about Gonzales’s potentially short job tenure. John Kyl, who just last month blocked the bill to undo the power grab over U.S. Attorney replacements and complained that the Democrats were “trying to create a scandal where none exists, now says that the ousted U.S.A.s were mistreated. Gonzales is already admitting (in one of those wonderful passive-voice constructions that avoid blaming anyone in particular) “there were things that were done in connection with these decisions that could have been and should have been done better.”

And this isn’t the only major scandal on the list. We’ve barely started on the corruption that contributed so greatly to failure in Iraq. For patriots and humanitarians, the last 22 months of the reign of King George the 43rd will pass slowly. But for partisan Democrats, they’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Text of White House letter

Text of Miers letter

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: