Nobody denies that U.S. attorneys serve at the president's pleasure. But something rare and troubling has happened recently: Eight sitting U.S. attorneys were forced out of their jobs by higher-ups at the Justice Department, in cooperation with the White House.
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The Justice Department initially held that they had performance issues. When it later emerged that nearly all had, in fact, received good performance reviews, Justice said the attorneys had been slow in executing the administration's policy goals.
The fired attorneys testified under congressional subpoena last week that they were pushed out because they wouldn't cooperate with powerful Republican politicians seeking to influence their various investigations.
Politics is always a part of picking U.S. attorneys, but their office has to be free of even the appearance of political interference in its investigations. If other U.S. attorneys get the idea that angering powerful politicians could cost them their positions, the chilling effect would compromise their ability to do their jobs.
We look forward to learning more from these hearings. If there's a good reason these U.S. attorneys were dismissed under suspicious circumstances, the Bush administration needs to offer it. Now.