Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Kinsley Edition)
Robert Waldmann Is Shrill

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Washington Post Edition) 'Post' Finds Nothing 'Nefarious' in Attorney Firings -- AP Suggests Otherwise

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post once asked me why I did not assume that the errors and inaccuracies at the Post were not honest mistakes by hard-working people trying their best.

This morning we have the staff of Editor and Publisher saying that the Post editorial board of which Ruth Marcus is a part as at a minimum incompetent and underbriefed.

Here's E&P's take on this latest act of journamalism from Fred Hiatt and company:

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

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....

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."

The data on prosecutions and convictions, provided to TRAC by the Justice Department's executive office that oversees U.S. attorneys, indicates the majority of the fired prosecutors were hardly slackers. They show:

  • Except for Chiara and Bud Cummins in Little Rock, the group ranked in the top third among the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys in contributing to an overall 106,188 federal prosecutions filed last year.
  • Of those six, all but Kevin Ryan in San Francisco also scored among the top third in winning a collective 98,939 convictions.
  • Three districts — Arizona, New Mexico and San Diego — were among the five highest in number of immigration prosecutions. Given their proximity to the Mexican border, the results come as little surprise. The Justice Department, however, attributed former San Diego prosecutor Carol Lam's firing in part to lagging immigration prosecutions and convictions....

Justice officials have cited poor management skills, insubordination and, in Cummins' case in Little Rock, political favoritism for replacements as other factors that led to the firings. That underscores another apparent consideration in the dismissals: loyalty to the Bush administration, said former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich. "The notion that the rug can be pulled out from under them because they may not toe the line on death penalty issues or their immigration prosecution statistics may not be high enough really undermines the system of independent U.S. attorneys," said Bromwich, inspector general during the Clinton administration and now a partner in Washington law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson...

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