Yesterday, I was a little miffed about the coverage of the growing US Attorney scandal. During said crankiness, I asked how we have reached the point where the legality of an action is the only criterion to use when judging if that action is ethical:
...is there any doubt that the reason these USAs were fired was that they either refused to prosecute politically-motivated cases that were unsubstantiated or that they were investigating Republicans? While it remains to be seen if the firing is illegal, you would have to be delusional to think that replacing competent USAs in the middle of these investigations, six years into the Bush presidency, is the ethical thing to do.
Josh Marshall takes the point farther (and far more eloquently too; italics mine):
Back up a bit from the sparks flying over executive privilege and congressional testimony and you realize that these are textbook cases of the party in power interfering or obstructing the administration of justice for narrowly partisan purposes. It's a direct attack on the rule of law.
This much is already clear in the record. And we're now having a big public debate about the politics for each side if the president tries to obstruct the investigation and keep the truth from coming out. The contours and scope of executive privilege is one issue, and certainly an important one. But in this case it is being used as no more than a shield to keep the full extent of the president's perversion of the rule of law from becoming known.
It's yet another example of how far this White House has gone in normalizing behavior that we've been raised to associate with third-world countries where democracy has never successfully taken root and the rule of law is unknown. At most points in our history the idea that an Attorney General could stay in office after having overseen such an effort would be unthinkable. The most telling part of this episode is that they're not even really denying the wrongdoing. They're ignoring the point or at least pleading 'no contest' and saying it's okay<.>
The phenomenon is one part arrogance, and one part zealotry. At this point, you have to be delusional to think that anything other than direct confrontation* will stop the Bush administration from doing whatever it wants. They have no sense of propriety or shame. If they want to do it, they will, unless they are stopped. Essentially, it is the bureaucratic equivalent of sociopathy.
And the way you deal with a sociopath is to remove them from the situation.
*I want to make it absolutely clear that in no way, shape, or form am I advocating violence. I am only arguing that one has to stand firm against such people.
Well, we could advocate violence, but it would be wrong. :-)
It would also be immoral and counter-productive, at this point in time. If we keep moving towards the status of a banana republic, that might change, but considering the huge price our society would pay, it would be an act of utter desperation.
Unfortunately, it is not inconceivable.
If I fired a US attorney to keep him from completing the investigation and prosecution of my friends, my clients, my sponsors, or myself, then I think everyone should be able to fire the police to prevent them from catching crooks. Sounds fair, doesn't it?
A recent leader (editorial opinion) in The Guardian has clarified for me something I had failed to grok:
Federal prosecutors hold positions of enormous importance in the US legal system. They always were political appointments, but nominations from the executive were tempered by Senate vetting, and in particular by the informal assent of the senators of the state to which they were appointed. A nominee had 120 days to win that confirmation before a replacement would be sought by a federal court. This counter-balance to executive power disappeared thanks to a previously obscure provision of Mr Bush's Patriot Act, which allowed the attorney general to appoint federal prosecutors for an indefinite term - and without Senate confirmation.
I knew the USAs were "always were political appointments", which (among other things) means they tend to be changed when the crooks, er party, in power changes, but had not realized there was a check-and-balance or that it had been removed.