Paying a political consultant to run a high-powered Office of Political Affairs inside the White House always seemed like a corruption of democracy because it implied that taxpayers should want their government to enforce the electoral interests of the party in power.
That does not state too strongly what has happened under President Bush and his closest adviser, Karl Rove, who has run the White House political office for most of the past six years. The federal government is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican National Committee or some narrow segment of the party.
The unfolding revelations of deceit and political calculation in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys who were not using their prosecutorial power to the maximum advantage of Republicans show just how far the administration was willing to go to train the dreadful power of government on giving the party an advantage at elections — far enough to risk obstruction of justice.
It is one thing to employ government power toward the natural goal of implementing a party’s philosophy but quite another to use those vast resources to reward electoral support and to manipulate both the electoral process and decision-making.
The firing of the federal prosecutor for the eastern district of Arkansas and seven others after the 2004 election did not uncover the strategy but was merely the final and most dangerous installment. If Bill Clinton could be impeached for a vague conversation with his secretary about their recollections of contacts with a White House intern, which formed the basis for obstruction of justice, surely some punishment should be meted out to those who thwart the investigation and prosecution of serious venality by high public officials, even if they are good Republicans.
Hurricane Katrina exposed the extent of the politicization of the federal bureaucracy. Bush and Rove had populated the Federal Emergency Management Agency with political hangers-on with no knowledge of or interest in its disaster-relief work. It was an extension of the White House Office of Political Affairs and still is: Ask the people of Dumas, who had the bad luck of living in a Democratic state when tornados struck.
But the evidence was overwhelming so much earlier: politicizing the intelligence agencies to thrust the country into war in Iraq; deploying untrained political operatives to run the corrupt and nonsensical provisional government in Iraq and thus ensure that the war would be lost; turning the Iraq rebuilding program into a honey pot for big Republican contributors like Halliburton and Bechtel (the top 10 contractors had given $11 million to political parties since 1990, nearly all to the GOP, and all the contractors had bankrolled political entities to the tune of $49 million); some 300 giant donors to Bush’s campaign benefiting from the administration’s energy and Medicare legislation; consigning virtually the entire Interior Department and its regulatory functions to political operatives from contributing industries; modifying the scientific work of agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Agency and Food and Drug Administration by Rove’s agents to reflect the president’s political positions.
A study of the inspectors general, the watchdogs assigned to each federal agency to check fraud and abuse of government programs, showed that the vast majority under Bush were political servants with no auditing or legal backgrounds, a dramatic reversal of the Clinton era, when the vast majority had auditing but no political experience.
But Americans, you would think, will draw the line at politicizing the criminal justice system. It did not start with the firing of the eight prosecutors in December.
In 2002 the U.S. attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, appointed in 1991 by Bush’s father, opened an investigation of GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. On Nov. 18 that year a grand jury subpoenaed records involving Abramoff. The next day the White House replaced the prosecutor and the investigation ended. What was at work in 2005 when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales ordered the government attorneys in the tobacco racketeering case to cut the government’s claim for damages from $130 billion to $10 billion, a big gift to the GOP-supporting cigarette industry?
Explain why obstruction of justice was not involved in the firing of Carol Lam as U.S. attorney for San Diego after she had convicted Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., of tax evasion, bribery and other charges and a major Republican defense contractor for bribery and also just as she was closing in on a former top official of the CIA and a California businessman who was a top contributor to Bush’s 2004 campaign? She indicted the two men two days before she finally surrendered the job.
For that matter, what about the Justice Department’s telling our own Bud Cummins, on White House directives last summer, that he was through shortly after he had refused a request by the attorney for the Republican governor of Missouri to give the governor a public bill of good health in his investigation of fraud in the Missouri driver-licensing program? Contracts went to supporters of the governor. Cummins thought better of it and did as the governor’s attorney asked right before the general election, in violation of Justice Department policy. The White House replaced him with Tim Griffin in December.
Cummins says he’s not sure his firing was connected to the incident. It sure fits the pattern.