I'm somewhat stunned by the ambivalence of many of my fellow Beltway pundits to the seriousness of the charges in the U.S. Attorneys scandal. From the Chicago Tribune today:
"New Mexico's David Iglesias got the boot after Republican lawmakers made it plain they were unhappy about his failure to seek indictments in an investigation of alleged Democratic corruption. John McKay of Washington state, who was also fired, had been chided by White House counsel Harriet Miers for not bringing charges of voter fraud in the aftermath of a governor's race narrowly won by a Democrat."
The central question is whether the Bush administration has used the U.S. Attorneys as a systematic weapon in targeting the opposition party, rather than rooting out corruption and malfeasance wherever it appears. The natural inference from the evidence so far - and the conflicting stories from the administration - is that the eight fired attorneys were not being partisan enough.
But what is the actual pattern of prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys under the Bush administration? Here's a month-old statistical study that seems to me to be worth wider examination. The authors of the study notice a fascinating wrinkle: there is not much partisan disparity in prosecutions at the state-wide or federal level, where the national press keeps tabs. But when you look at the local level, below the radar of the national media, you find something much more striking. If you remove Justice Department investigations of State-wide and federal elected officials from the tally, and look solely at investigations of local officials, you're left with a stunning disparity:
From 2001 through 2006 the Bush Justice Department investigated elected Democratic office holders and office seekers locally (non-state-wide and non federal offices) at a rate more than seven times greater (nearly 85 percent to 12 percent) than they investigated local Republican elected office holders and seekers. This was so even though, throughout the nation, Democrat elected officials outnumber Republican elected officials at the rate of only 50 percent to 41 percent. Nine percent of elected officials are Independent/Other.
This strikes me as classic Rove. He works below the radar, using the U.S. Attorney system to throttle the opposition party, knowing that only local media will pick up on the local stories and that the pattern likely won't emerge in the national media. Hence the panic from Gonzales when the media started pulling at the thread. Pull some more, guys. We may have deep, deep corruption of the justice system, all designed to foment unstoppable, uncheckable one-party rule.