What if Libby was all smoke and mirrors?

Much has been made of what a bad recent stretch this has been for the White House. First, there was the Walter Reed debacle, then the Scooter Libby verdict. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill plotted ways to limit President Bush’s leverage in Iraq, even as the Bushes were greeted as war criminals on the first leg of their Latin ...

603434_070309_gonzales_05.jpg
603434_070309_gonzales_05.jpg

Much has been made of what a bad recent stretch this has been for the White House. First, there was the Walter Reed debacle, then the Scooter Libby verdict. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill plotted ways to limit President Bush's leverage in Iraq, even as the Bushes were greeted as war criminals on the first leg of their Latin America tour in São Paulo, Brazil.

Certainly, those were all blows to a White House that is, by most accounts, already demoralized. But maybe they were also the sour points that the White House wanted us to see. Even as Walter Reed and Scooter Libby received all the press, what may be the biggest and baddest scandal of the Bush presidency to date began to percolate this week, mostly under the radar.

Early in the week, we learned that two Republican members of New Mexico's Congressional delegation may have pressured former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on cases that involved investigating Democrats. This brought more attention to the fact that Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration late last year. Seven were let go for failing to follow administration policy, and one was fired so that a politically ambitious former aide to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove could take his place, the administration has said.

Much has been made of what a bad recent stretch this has been for the White House. First, there was the Walter Reed debacle, then the Scooter Libby verdict. Senior Democrats on Capitol Hill plotted ways to limit President Bush’s leverage in Iraq, even as the Bushes were greeted as war criminals on the first leg of their Latin America tour in São Paulo, Brazil.

Certainly, those were all blows to a White House that is, by most accounts, already demoralized. But maybe they were also the sour points that the White House wanted us to see. Even as Walter Reed and Scooter Libby received all the press, what may be the biggest and baddest scandal of the Bush presidency to date began to percolate this week, mostly under the radar.

Early in the week, we learned that two Republican members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation may have pressured former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias on cases that involved investigating Democrats. This brought more attention to the fact that Iglesias was one of eight U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration late last year. Seven were let go for failing to follow administration policy, and one was fired so that a politically ambitious former aide to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove could take his place, the administration has said.

At the center of all this is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had the authority to appoint replacements that could serve indefinitely. Today, New York Times scribe Paul Krugman, who admittedly has conspiratorial tendencies, uses his column to reveal data that suggests a wider scandal may involve Gonzales and the U.S. attorneys still in office. Here’s the gist:

Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats…. Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.”

Yesterday, Gonzales announced that he was removing himself from the hiring process for U.S. attorneys. As Andrew Sullivan notes, that’s “an astonishing concession to the gravity of the charges.” Sure, to say nothing of the fact that this is a guy who, less than two years ago, was short-listed to become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The days of the mainstream media being hands off when it comes to Gonzales are over. If more evidence of unethical and potentially illegal actions comes to light, Gonzales may have little choice but to resign. And that would make all the hype over Scooter Libby look pretty silly.

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