The Independence of U.S. Federal Attorneys

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr weighs in on flap over the firings of several U.S. attorneys.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Tobacco is just one issue where the new Democratic Congress has clashed with the Bush administration.

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has some thoughts on the latest high-profile confrontation.

DANIEL SCHORR: The scandal of the shoddy treatment of American war heroes at the Walter Reed Hospital, intensely embarrassing to a support-our-troops administration, is being addressed by the Army, and heads are rolling. Time to move on to the next festering scandal: the firing of eight U.S. attorneys for reasons that will be explored in Capitol Hill starting tomorrow.

Members of Congress want to know if they were fired purely for political reasons. David Iglesias in New Mexico, a Republican, believes he was discharged for failing to deliver indictments in a Democratic kickback investigation in time to influence last November's election.

Senator Pete Domenici admitted having queried him about the status of the investigation. The eight discharged prosecutors had all been confirmed by the Senate. I don't recall any confirmation hearings for their replacements. It seems there weren't any. Under a little-noticed amendment to the reauthorized U.S. Patriot Act, the attorney general can name a U.S. attorney to fill a vacancy who can serve indefinitely without confirmation. I'm reminder of 1974, when the House Judiciary Committee drafted a bill of impeachment against President Nixon.

Article 2 accused him of abuse of presidential powers. One item was the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Another item in the abuse of powers was the unwarranted FBI investigation of me, but that's another story. And so, starting tomorrow, these former U.S. attorneys will tell their stories on Capitol Hill.

Their latest performance reviews found them to be well regarded, capable, or very competent. All of them are Republicans. One of them, H.E. Cummins of Arkansas, was fired to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, a deputy to White House adviser Karl Rove.

The unmaking of the Bush administration marches on.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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