In a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ted Morgan writes, “in presidential politics…it isn’t what you’ve done but what you can be attacked for.” When considering the political backlash caused by the revelations that the Bush Administration contemplated firing all the U.S. Attorneys and replacing them with politically reliable cronies devoted to the President’s political agenda, it’s not surprising that Democratic vituperation and criticism from certain G.O.P. members should reach such a crescendo.
The politicization of the Justice Department and the deliberate misuse of federal agencies to hamper or destroy political opponents are not new in American history. FDR used the IRS to prosecute publisher Moe Annenberg (a fierce opponent of Roosevelt). John Kennedy allowed his brother Bobby to use Justice Department machinery and the I.R.S. to prosecute (unsuccessfully) the late Roy Cohn—a personal enemy of Bobby Kennedy (please read Cohn’s side of the story in chapter nine in The Autobiography of Roy Cohn by Sidney Zion. It’s fascinating reading!) And who could ever forget Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list brought to light during the Watergate scandal? Or when Reagan Administration Attorney General Ed Meese’s deputies at the Justice Department were present in the same room when Oliver North conducted his shredding party just before the Iran-Contra scandal broke twenty-one years ago?
The U.S. Attorney’s scandal is a puny zebra in the annals of Presidential scandals. What the Bush Administration was doing was not so much illegal as it was improper if you believe in the impartiality of the American Justice system. What the scandal reveals is the ham-fisted way the Bush Administration goes about it sordid business and how the Bush Administration’s inner circle tries to cloak its political machinations under the guise of national security and executive privilege. (Richard Nixon tried to use the same tack during Watergate). The scandal reconfirms that, once again, that Presidential Adviser (and political pit bull) Karl Rove can be a rather nasty individual when going after the President’s opponents or punishing those who fail to demonstrate the proper servility towards the Bush Family’s agenda.
The question that bugs me is why was the Bush Administration pursuing this line so late in its Presidency? One would have thought they would have done it years before. The only reason I can surmise from pursuing this course is that the President’s advisers (and by extension the President himself) wanted to political co-opt the U.S. Attorney’s Office so that they could use its powers to hamper or destroy the opposition in time for the 2008 Presidential election—so that G.O.P. candidate Jeb Bush could benefit from it politically in the hopes of winning the Presidency and then using the U.S. Attorney’s prosecutorial powers to consolidate his power once he became President—a chilling thought but a highly plausible one when considering the Bush Administration’s tawdry record in upholding the Constitution of the United States and its deliberate betrayal of the rights and freedoms contained within.