Debunking the "Clinton did it too" myth
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As Bill Scher notes today, the president is in full damage control mode, invoking the right wing's go-to defense, "Clinton did it too" (even brought up, in the spirit of honest inquiry, by a PEEK commenter HERE):
At today's Mexico press conference, President Bush further carried Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' messages from yesterday, in blunt fashion:
[Gonzales was] right. Mistakes were made. And I'm, frankly, not happy about it, because there is a lot of confusion over what really has been a customary practice by the Presidents.
U.S. attorneys and others serve at the pleasure of the President. Past administrations have removed U.S. attorneys; they're right to do so.
The Justice Department recommended a list of U.S. attorneys. I believe the reasons why were entirely appropriate. And yet this issue was mishandled to the point now where you're asking me questions about it in Mexico...
In other words, the mistake wasn't that prosecutors were purged for partisan reasons. The mistake was that the purge wasn't better defended, so fewer journalists would ask questions.
Bush can't make it any clearer: this is proud conservative government in action. Hacks over pros. Partisan agendas over the law. Political payback over the public interest.
But, as Steve Benen wrote yesterday, you'd have to simply not understand how this process works to be taken in by this limpid defense:
I had hoped this nonsense, debunked last week, would have disappeared by now, but it seems to be the only talking point White House allies can come up with.
The argument is premised on a mistaken understanding of how the process works. When a president takes office, he or she nominates federal prosecutors at the beginning of the first term. Under normal circumstances, these U.S. Attorneys serve until the next president is sworn in.
In 1993, Clinton replaced H.W. Bushâ€™s prosecutors. In 2001, Bush replaced Clintonâ€™s prosecutors. None of this is remotely unusual. Indeed, itâ€™s how the process is designed.
The difference with the current scandal is overwhelming. Bush replaced eight specific prosecutors, apparently for purely political reasons. This is entirely unprecedented. For conservatives to argue, as many are now, that Clintonâ€™s routine replacements for H.W. Bushâ€™s USAs is any way similar is the height of intellectual dishonesty. They know better, but hope their audience is too uninformed to know the difference.
***In other Prosecutor-gate news, Joe Conason explains that this practice was implemented by Bush 41 and has interesting connections to Whitewater...