Wednesday, March 21, 2007

US Attorney Kerfuffle 

This morning, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee authorized the issuance of subpoenas to compel Karl Rove and others to testify under oath about how the determination to "fire" eight US Attorneys was arrived at.

As a matter of background, it is my understanding based on a snippet of punditry I heard on some TV news show that none of the US Attorneys in question were "fired" in the sense of being discharged before the end of their appointed terms, but were merely not reappointed to new terms. Unfortunately, every news story I've been able to find uses the term "fired" and does not explain whether they were in fact prematurely discharged or just not reappointed. In any event, these attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, and as such he can "fire" them at any time for any reason, or no reason.

Yesterday, President Bush warned Congress not to issue subpoenas to White House staff, and said he would go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, to quash any subpoenas that were issued.

I predict that the issue will never get to the Supreme Court. The parties will find some way to compromise, because the stakes are too high to roll the dice in court. Even if no compromise is reached, I believe the Democrats will cave in rather than let the Supreme Court decide the issue, because in politics more than any other human endeavor, the adage "Paybacks are a bitch," is a truism. No thinking Democrat will want a Supreme Court decision on the books that would allow a Republican Congress to meddle in the internal workings of the White House. Can you imagine how the Clinton White House would have reacted to an in-depth probe of Janet Reno's sacking of all 93(?) US Attorneys at the beginning of his term? One exception--if the Democrats are sure that they'll lose, they might let it go the Supreme Court, in order to get maximum political effect without totally upsetting the balance of power between the two elected branches of government.

If the issue does get to the Supreme Court, I would not be too surprised if the court declined to rule on it. This dustup is a political dispute between two co-equal branches of the government, and to date I have heard no allegations that a crime or civil violation of the law was committed by any member of the administration. In the absence of criminal conduct or other dispute relating to interpretation of the law, there is no legal issue for the Supreme Court to decide. The constitutional remedy available to Congress against an intransigent President is impeachment, not a ruling of the Supreme Court (I say this realizing that the Court has on several occasions taken upon itself the jurisdiction to decide political issues, not the least famous of which is Roe v. Wade.)

I think the Democrats in Congress will milk the issue as long as they can for political advantage. And then somehow, it will magically fade away.

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