'Post' Finds Nothing 'Nefarious' in Attorney Firings -- AP Suggests Otherwise

Article excerpt

The Washington Post in an editorial today declared that it saw nothing unusual or "nefarious in the dismissal process" in the recent firing of eight U.S. attorneys. It called it "the supposed scandal." At the same time, however, The Associated Press is out with a story that suggests that something fishy -- or political, as the Democrats charge -- does seem to surround the move.

The Post warned, "The stubbornness and overheated rhetoric on both sides threaten an unnecessary constitutional crisis that would only bog down the inquiry in a distracting fight over process....

"Lawmakers would do well to demonstrate more understanding of the legitimate institutional concerns at stake here -- is the president not entitled to confidential advice on personnel matters? -- and to remember that the tables could easily be turned, as they were not so many years ago, with a Republican Congress eager to rifle through the files of a Democratic administration," the editorial stated. "At the same time, history does not support unlimited presidential privilege."

The AP story follows. *

Six of the eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department ranked in the top third among their peers for the number of prosecutions filed last year, according to an analysis of federal records.

In addition, five of the eight were among the government's top performers in winning convictions.

The analysis undercuts Justice Department claims that the prosecutors were dismissed because of lackluster job performance. Democrats contend the firings were politically motivated, and calls are increasing for the resignation or ouster of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.Immigration cases -- a top Bush administration priority, especially in states along the porous Southwest border -- helped boost the total number of prosecutions for U.S. attorneys in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

Four of the prosecutors also rated high in pursuing drug cases, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Only one of the eight received a better-than-average ranking in prosecuting weapons cases.

Several of the attorneys who were told last Dec. 7 to resign complained their reputations were sullied when the Justice Department linked the firings to underwhelming results in each of the eight districts -- in Arizona, Little Rock, Ark., Grand Rapids, Mich., Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

"I respectfully request that you reconsider the rationale of poor performance as the basis for my dismissal," Margaret Chiara, the former prosecutor in Grand Rapids, Mich., complained in an e-mail. The description, in part, she said, "is proving to be a formidable obstacle to securing employment."

Top Justice aide Michael Elston wrote back that "our only choice is to continue to be truthful about this entire matter."

"The word performance obviously has not set well with you and your colleagues," wrote Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. "By that word we only meant to convey that there were issues about policy, priorities and management/leadership that we felt were important to the Department's effectiveness. …