Senate Democrats

Reid Supports U.S. Attorneys Bill

Washington, DC–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada today delivered the following remarks in support of S. 214, a bill to strengthen the independence of United States Attorneys.

I rise today to express my strong support for S. 214, Senator Feinstein’s bill to strengthen the independence of United States Attorneys. There is growing evidence that the Bush Administration fired federal prosecutors for improper partisan reasons. This legislation is needed to protect the integrity of the federal criminal justice system and the autonomy of chief federal prosecutors across the country.

The U.S. Attorney scandal is another example of the arrogance of power. Lord Acton observed that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For too long, the Bush Administration – shielded from oversight by a Republican-dominated Congress – enjoyed absolute power, and they abused it.

After all, this was a President who won two elections by the barest of margins, the first in the Electoral College. Yet after 9/11, instead of uniting the country, he has chosen instead to push the envelope of his authority. On everything from the run-up to war in Iraq, to the plan to destroy Social Security, to the use of warrantless wiretapping, this Administration has governed without compromise.

The political purge of U.S. Attorneys is only the latest example of this President’s unhealthy disregard for checks and balances. And speedy passage of this bill is only the first step the Senate must take to deal with the Administration’s dangerous power grab.

We need to get to the bottom of this mess to find out why these U.S. Attorneys were fired. And we need to find out whether or not the Attorney General and his deputies testified truthfully when they first explained the firings to Congress and the American people.

Federal prosecutors are enormously powerful officials. They are the embodiment of the federal criminal law. They make live and death decisions about who to prosecute, and who should receive leniency. Their discretion is largely unreviewable. They must be permitted to carry out their solemn duties without political interference.

No one disputes the authority of the President to name US Attorneys at the beginning of his term, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. But it is almost unprecedented for US Attorneys to be terminated in the middle of a presidential term without proper cause. And it is unacceptable for US Attorneys to be replaced because they were perceived by the White House to be insufficiently partisan or too aggressive in prosecuting public corruption.

It appears that Administration officials took advantage of a provision that they insisted be included in the Patriot Act reauthorization conference report last year. That law reversed a longstanding procedure which allowed the chief federal judge in a district to appoint a temporary replacement while the permanent nominee undergoes Senate confirmation. The Feinstein bill simply restores the pre-Patriot Act procedure.

Conflicting testimony and recently released e-mails strongly suggest that the American people are not getting the full story about this scandal from the Bush Administration.

In my own state of Nevada, Daniel Bogden, a highly respected career prosecutor was forced to step down. We were initially told that Bogden and others were fired for “performance-related reasons.” But that explanation proved to be bogus – in fact, Dan Bogden’s personnel review was glowing. We still don’t know for sure why Dan Bogden was fired. What we do know is that under the new Patriot Act provision, Mr. Bogden could be replaced by someone with no ties to Nevada, and with no input from the Senate.

Meanwhile, we have learned of a scheme apparently hatched in the White House to replace all U.S. Attorneys. At least one U.S. attorney has stated he was forced to resign because he refused to bend to political pressure regarding ongoing investigations. Others were fired under circumstances that raise the same suspicion. And the U.S. Attorney in Arkansas was fired and replaced by a Republican opposition researcher who is a protégé of Karl Rove.

The Attorney General and his deputies told Congress that these firings were not politically motivated. But according to newly released e-mails, White House political operatives like Mr. Rove were involved in the decision-making. Kyle Sampson, who eventually became Chief of Staff to Attorney General Gonzales, wrote an email that distinguished between those U.S. Attorneys who were “loyal Bushies” and those who were not. Apparently Dan Bogden and the other U.S. Attorneys who were fired last December were not “loyal Bushies.”

The real question is whether being a “loyal Bushie” meant letting partisan considerations poison law enforcement decisions. Do prosecutors who are “loyal Bushies” go easy on Republican corruption? Do they bring cases against Democrats without legal justification? The actions of the Bush Administration call into question every decision by federal prosecutors in corruption cases across the country.

I applaud the efforts of Senators Feinstein, Schumer and Leahy, as well as my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who are committed to getting to the truth in this matter. I strongly urge the Senate to pass this vital piece of legislation. Simply put, we need to keep politics out of the federal criminal justice system.