Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Travelgate vs. US Attorney Scandal

I've been gearing myself up for a big rant on the US Attorney scandal. Basically, I looked at so-called Travelgate [side rant: can we just stop adding "-gate" to everything to connote "scandal", please? Watergate was thirty-five years ago and came by the "-gate" honestly!] in comparison to this current US Attorney scandal and have to say, "My, how times have changed." I was working on a thorough rant, complete with references and links to more information when I discovered that Anonymous Liberal had already done a decent (and more concise) rant. So, instead of wasting any more time with links and cross-references and all that foot-note stuff I do that no one bothers to click on anyway... I'm just going to steal straight from Anonymous Liberal:


The Underlying Event: In 1993, shortly after taking office, the Clinton administration fired seven employees of the White House travel office. They were low-level employees who served at the pleasure of the president and had been replaced by previous administrations. In fact, as Joe Conason explained in his definitive article on this "scandal," there was quite a bit of evidence that the fired members of the travel office had been embezzling money and otherwise abusing their authority. The FBI investigated and charges were filed against some of the former employees. As for the Clintons, Ken Starr investigated the incident and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The Response from the Right: Republicans were outraged by the firings and accused the Clintons of abusing their power in an effort to install their own cronies in the travel office. Their outrage was not in any way assuaged by the fact that these employees 1) served at the pleasure of the president, 2) had no reasonable expectation that they would keep their jobs when the administration changed hands, or 3) appeared to be guilty of numerous improper accounting practices, faulty record keeping, and embezzlement. When the FBI launched its investigation of the travel office staff, the Clintons were accused of using the Justice Department to exact political retribution. "Travelgate," as it came to be known, spawned a three-year long Congressional investigation and numerous front-page headlines.

PROSECUTOR-GATE [ARGH! US Attorney Scandal. Please!]

The Underlying Event: In late 2006, the Bush administration fired eight United States Attorneys for what increasingly looks like partisan political reasons and replaced at least some of them with hand-picked cronies. Unlike the staff at the White House travel office, U.S. Attorneys are high-level officials who must be confirmed by the Senate and who are vested with an enormous amount of power. Unlike the travel office staff, these U.S. Attorneys were not holdovers from a previous administration and therefore had every reason to expect that their employment would continue. Unlike the travel office staff, no one is even suggesting that any of the fired U.S. Attorneys did anything wrong, much less criminal. Unlike the travel office staff, there is mounting evidence that the fired U.S. Attorneys ran afoul of the White House solely because of decisions they made which had political ramifications (decisions regarding whom to investigate and prosecute). And, last but not least, high-ranking Bush administration officials appear to be guilty of affirmatively misleading Congress about the nature of these firings, something the Clinton administration did not do.

The Response from the Right: Quite unlike Travelgate, the near universal response from the Right has been to point out that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and therefore there is no scandal here.

Events like this really help to underscore just how silly the so-called "scandals" of the Clinton era were. Given their "nothing to see here" reaction to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys under highly suspicious circumstances, it's almost comically absurd to look back at how these same people reacted when seven low-level staffers in the travel office were fired (oh how scandalous!).

I would add to this that until certain language was added during the re-authorization of the USA Patriot Act in 2006, US Attorneys served at the pleasure of the President but, just as importantly, were confirmed by the Senate to four-year terms. Thanks to Arlan Specter (and this isn't the only dubious language he and his people inserted but that's also a rant for another day) new language allows "interim" US Attorneys to be appointed indefinitely and without Congressional oversight. For "national security" of course.

Bah, I might have yet more to say on this because the whole thing just really galls me.


for this post

Anonymous Anonymous Says:

Just curious, but were you more or less galled by President Bill Clinton's firing of ALL U.S. Attorneys (ultimately save one), including the one investigating House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D, IL) for corruption?

Your pal,
C. McGlothlin, M.Ed.

Blogger Nikchick Says:

Ha! I knew someone would bring this up. In fact, I even had the wikipedia entry on Rostenkowski up and ready for reference when I originally started this post, but I gave it up because the whole thing just gets so unwieldy.

To answer you: At the time? I didn't know about or care about US Attorneys, I barely grasped the corruption investigation if I knew about it at all. In short, I was an ignorant kid. In fact, I wasn't even living in the US when all that stuff was going down, as it happened during my time in Canada.

Of course, since the "Clinton did it!! Clinton did it WORSE!" response was so common as I was researching my would-be post on the current scandal, I did give it some thought. And yes, appointing all new US Attorneys in a clean sweep as the President enters office is less noxious to me than the current US Attorney scandal.

When I say I am less galled by Clinton's situation, understand that context is everything. Clinton's new US Attorneys were confirmed by Congress, for starters. Oversight, checks and balances, branches of government all still available as tools for the people's representatives.

This in no way should be read as defense of Rostenkowski, by the way. A crook is a crook. I'm all for rooting them out, regardless of party affiliation. He was corrupt, he deserved to be thrown out on his ear. Clinton's US Attorney appointments didn't stop that from happening and I see no evidence that Clinton's decision to rid himself of the appointees when he took office was motivated by a desire to protect Rostenkowski or to hinder the investigation that eventually took him down.

Anonymous Anonymous Says:

I didn't mean to imply Clinton's actions were better or worse than W's. Clinton's firings are just a better comparison than the Travel Office firings. I just wanted to know your feelings on a more germane comparison.

Your honesty and candor make you a treasure, Nik. Thanks for the response!

Ever your pal,
C. McG.


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