Congressional Democrats are in full cry over the news this week that the Administration's decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys originated from--gasp--the White House. Senator Hillary Clinton joined the fun yesterday, blaming President Bush for "the politicization of our prosecutorial system." Oh, my.
As it happens, Mrs. Clinton is just the Senator to walk point on this issue of dismissing U.S. attorneys because she has direct personal experience. In any Congressional probe of the matter, we'd suggest she call herself as the first witness--and bring along Webster Hubbell as her chief counsel.
As everyone once knew but has tried to forget, Mr. Hubbell was a former partner of Mrs. Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock who later went to jail for mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also Bill and Hillary Clinton's choice as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department when Janet Reno, his nominal superior, simultaneously fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys in March 1993. Ms. Reno--or Mr. Hubbell--gave them 10 days to move out of their offices.
At the time, President Clinton presented the move as something perfectly ordinary: "All those people are routinely replaced," he told reporters, "and I have not done anything differently." In fact, the dismissals were unprecedented: Previous Presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, had both retained holdovers from the previous Administration and only replaced them gradually as their tenures expired. This allowed continuity of leadership within the U.S. Attorney offices during the transition.
Equally extraordinary were the politics at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was investigating then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, and was "within 30 days" of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski, who was shepherding the Clinton's economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.
Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons' Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint "Friend of Bill" Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to "politicizing" Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons.