In 2005, the White House considered an across-the-board purge of all US attorneys.

The White House suggested two years ago that the Justice Department fire all 93 US attorneys, a proposal that eventually resulted in the dismissals of eight prosecutors carried out last year, according to e-mails and internal documents that the administration will provide to Congress today.

Congress has requested the documents as part of an investigation by both Judiciary committees into whether the firings were politically motivated.

While it is unclear whether the documents answer that question, they show that the White House and other administration officials were more deeply involved in the dismissals, and at an earlier date, than they have acknowledged.

Seven US attorneys were fired Dec. 7 and another was fired months earlier, but with little explanation from the Justice Department.

Several former prosecutors have since alleged intimidation, including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides, and have alleged threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official.

Administration officials have repeatedly portrayed the firings as a routine personnel matter, designed primarily to rid the department of a handful of poor performers.

But the documents and interviews indicate that the idea of the firings originated at least two years ago, in February 2005, with former White House counsel Harriet Miers suggesting that all prosecutors be dismissed and replaced with new personnel.

US attorneys are appointed by the President, confirmed by Congress, and can be fired without cause by the President. However, prior to the recent purge there were just five instances of an attorney being fired or resigning in a 25 year span (not including attorneys not being reappointed at the end of their 4 year term), so this kind of behavior is wildly unusual. The USA Patriot Act changed the law when it came to filling vacant US attorney positions – before, an interim attorney could be appointed by the Attorney General and serve for a maximum of 120 days before being replaced by an attorney selected by a federal judge until a replacement could be confirmed by Congress. Now, the Attorney General can select an interim US attorney who can serve indefinitely. This is clearly a power-grab by the Executive, intending to circumvent Congressional oversight on US attorney appointments, and firing 100% of US attorneys would be as blatant an abuse of power as Bush has attempted to date, in my opinion. And given the nature of the recent firings, there seems little doubt that this would have been done to ensure that federal prosecutors were friendly to the Bush Administration across-the-board, and could make decisions about who and what to prosecute that would be politically beneficial to Bush.

Pathetic. Fascist, even, using (or attempting to use) the federal justice system to influence the election process.

UPDATE: The discussion prompted some additional searching on my part, and the excellent Mahablog figured all this out back in January, and explained it much better than I.

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