In National Review last week, Byron York put together a detailed history of the poor conduct of US Attorney Carol Lam. Bottom line - when even Senator Feinstein complains about poor enforcement of immigration laws, maybe it's time to take out a want ad for a new attorney.
Lam, of course, is the poster child for those who desperately wish this "scandal" actually was one. The accusations are that she was fired to prevent her from widening the investigation that took down Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham, which may have implicated more California Republicans. As Senator Chuck Shumer (no stranger to dodging US Attorney investigations himself) put it, "It came out in the newspapers that she was continuing to pursue that investigation, and it might lead to others — legislative and others — and in the middle of this investigation, she was fired."
If that were the case, one might expect a single shred of evidence of it in the 3,000+ documents released by the Bush Administration. And of course, one might imagine that her firing would have taken place a little earlier. After all, Rep. Cunningham had been under investigation since at least June of 2005 and plead guilty later that year. If she was fired to halt an investigation, why let that investigation go on for over a year before doing anything about it? In a broader sense, if the White House is shielding corrupt Republicans and hunting innocent Democrats, why is Duke Cunningham in jail and William Jefferson, Sandy Berger, Alcee Hastings, John Murtha, and Harry Reid running around free of those irksome investigators? And now with the new revelations about Diane Feinstein's conflicts of interest with regard to defense contracts, who really had the most to gain by stymieing Lam's investigation in southern California?
So then what was the reason? As York Reports:
[T]he Associated Press [...] reported that “the vast majority of people caught smuggling immigrants across the border near San Diego are never prosecuted for the offense.” The story was then picked up by CNN’s Lou Dobbs. And that, finally, got the Justice Department’s attention.So why does it fall to National Review (among others) to lay this all out for Lam, and for others? Lam isn't the only one who had good reason to be fired - our own US Attorney McKay ignored King County voting problems and then publicly threw down with his boss over a database policy. Similar stories surround the others. So why is it so easy for a private journalist to make this case, and so impossible for the Attorney General to? Again, York puts it best:
The revelations came amid increasing concern about the problem of illegal immigration. Suddenly lots of people wanted to know why Carol Lam wasn’t doing more. Even California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein inquired. And as they did with [Representative] Issa [R-CA], Justice Department officials told Feinstein that everything was O.K. “Please rest assured that the immigration laws in the Southern District of California are being vigorously enforced,” Moschella wrote to Feinstein — at a time when Department officials themselves were not at all assured that the immigration laws in the Southern District of California were being vigorously enforced.
[Justice Department] officials began a statistical study of Lam’s operation. The numbers showed that immigration prosecutions in the San Diego district had gone down since 2004, even as they continued to rise in other border U.S. attorney districts. “When you compare San Diego’s performance using 111 Assistant U.S. Attorneys…and New Mexico, with 59 Assistant U.S. Attorneys but still generating more cases than San Diego, it seems that San Diego should be doing much more,” said an internal email from the office of Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.
The picture that emerges from the evidence in the Lam case is of a Justice Department at profound policy odds with the U.S. attorney, preparing to take action against her, but at the same time ignoring or brushing off outsiders who criticized Lam on the very grounds that troubled Department officials. Added to that was a bureaucratic morass that made it impossible for the Department to do anything quickly. Together, those factors created a situation in which Department officials pursued a reasonable goal — finding a new U.S. attorney for Southern California — while denying to outsiders that they were doing it, taking far too long to get it done, and mismanaging its execution. In other words, it was an operation in which Justice Department officials did virtually everything wrong — except what they’re accused by Democrats of doing. (emphasis added)It is not enough that public officials do the right thing, follow the law, and pursue correct policy. They must also be prepared, when possible, to clearly communicate reasons behind potentially controversial actions and policies - especially when faced with a virulently hostile press and an investigation-trigger-happy opposition-led Congress. This may be the Bush Administration's single greatest failing, and Gonzales makes Bush look like a great communicator. For that, and for his failure to prevent this non-scandal from becoming one, the Attorney General needs to go.