At a speech in Little Rock today, Karl Rove described the Bush administration’s purge of federal prosecutors as “normal and ordinary,” claiming that Clinton did the same thing. “Clinton, when he came in, replaced all 93 U.S. attorneys,” Rove said. “When we came in, we ultimately replace most all 93 U.S. attorneys — there are some still left from the Clinton era in place.” Watch it:
Clinton’s former chief of staff John Podesta told ThinkProgress that Rove’s claim is “pure fiction.” The Clinton administration never fired federal prosecutors as political retribution:
Mr. Rove’s claims today that the Bush administration’s purge of qualified and capable U.S. attorneys is “normal and ordinary” is pure fiction. Replacing most U.S. attorneys when a new administration comes in — as we did in 1993 and the Bush administration did in 2001 — is not unusual. But the Clinton administration never fired federal prosecutors as pure political retribution. These U.S. attorneys received positive performance reviews from the Justice Department and were then given no reason for their firings.
We’re used to this White House distorting the facts to blame the Clinton administration for its failures. Apparently, it’s also willing to distort the facts and invoke the Clinton administration to try to justify its bad behavior.
Earlier this week, Mary Jo White, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993-2002, also stated that the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge is unprecedented in “modern history”:
You serve at the president’s pleasure, no question about that. … However, throughout modern history, my understanding is, you did not change the U.S. attorney during an administration, unless there was some evidence of misconduct or other really quite significant cause to do so. And the expectation was, so long as that was absent, that you would serve out your full four years or eight years as U.S. attorney.
As White noted, attorneys need to serve “without fear or favor and in an absolutely apolitical way.” By firing well-respected federal prosecutors and replacing them with Republican loyalists, the Bush administration has politicized the judicial system.
QUESTION: One of the top talked about current issues is this issue about the appointment of US attorneys. And it has an impact here and in other states. Can you give us any insight on that?
ROVE: Look, by law and by Constitution (sic), these attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and traditionally are given a four year term. And Clinton, when he came in, replaced all 93 U.S. attorneys. When we came in, we ultimately replaced most all 93 U.S. attorneys — there are some still left from the Clinton era in place. We have appointed a total of I think 128 U.S. attorneys — that is to say the original 93, plus replaced some, some have served 4 years, some served less, most have served more. Clinton did 123. I mean, this is normal and ordinary.
ROVE: What happened in this instance, was there were seven done all at once, and people wanted to play politics with it. And it’s served at the disadvantage at the people who…. Look, some of these were removed for cause. Some of them were policy disagreements. One United States attorney refused to file cases… of death penalty case… refused to ask for the death penalty, contrary to policy.
ROVE: Another United States attorney was doing an otherwise excellent job in the San Diego district. [She] refused to file immigration cases… at the direction of the Attorney General, she was asked to file, and she said I don’t want to make that a priority in my office. Others are (u/i) with performance issues. But this is the right of any president to appoint people to these offices. They serve at the pleasure of the president. And my view this is… unfortunately a very big attempt by some in the Congress to make a political stink about it. And the question is did they have the same reaction if they were in Congress in the 90’s, or did they have the same reaction if they were in the 80’s. Because every president comes in, appoints United States attorneys and then makes changes over the course of their time.
QUESTION: Do you think they ought to go through the confirmation process?
ROVE: Oh sure, and so do we, and we believe they should. There is in the law a mechanism. The old mechanism said that if the Congress didn’t act, they’d in essence, a judge would appoint a US attorney. We believe that presents some constitutional challenges and really is not the way the executive branch ought to be run. But yes, our intention is to submit every—for all (u/i) vacancies to submit a nomination to the United States Congress for their review and confirmation.