This is being covered at TPM, but I haven't seen a Kos diary on this yet. Senator Diane Feinstein has spoken out about this on the Senate floor. Below the fold is my transcription of the first part of her remarks.
This is my transcription from a video of Senator Feinstein speaking:
Recently it came to my attention that the Department of Justice has asked several United States Attorneys from around the country to resign their positions, some by the end of this month, prior to the end of their terms, and not based on any allegation of misconduct. In other words, they are forced resignations. I've also heard that the [...] Attorney General plans to appoint replacements and potentially avoid Senate confirmation by leaving an interim U. S. Attorney in place for the remainder of the Bush administration.
Now how does this all happen? The department sought, and essentially was given [...] new authority under a little known provision in the Patriot Act to appoint interim appointments who are not subject to Senate confirmation and who could remain in place for the remainder of the Bush administration.
Now to date I know of seven U. S. Attorneys forced to resign without cause, without any allegations of misconduct. These include two from my home state, San Diego and San Francisco, as well as U. S. Attorneys from New Mexico, Nevada, Arkansas, Texas, Washington, and Arizona. In California, press reports indicate that Carol Lam, U. S. Attorney for San Diego, has been asked to leave her position as has Kevin Ryan of San Francisco. The public response has been shock. Peter Nunez, who served as the San Diego United States Attorney from 1982-88 has said "This is like nothing I've ever seen in my 35+ years." He went on to say that while the President has the authority to fire a U. S. Attorney for any reason, it is extremely rare unless there is an allegation of misconduct.
Now to my knowledge, there are no allegations of misconduct having to do with Carol Lam. She is a distinguished former judge. Rather, the only explanation I've seen are concerns that were expressed about prioritizing public corruption cases over smuggling and gun cases.
Now the most well-known case involves a U. S. Attorney in Arkansas. Senators Pryor and Lincoln have raised significant concerns about how Bud Cummins was asked to resign, and in his place the administration appointed their top lawyer in charge of political opposition research, Tim Griffin.
I'm stopping here to allow the implications to sink in.
As poster tbetz noted in a comment below, the full transcript of Feinstein's remarks is now available at TPM.
As poster Alien Abductee noted in a comment below, last week a bill was introduced by Senators Leahy, Feinstein, and Pryor to return the power to the District Courts to appoint interim U. S. Attorneys. However, as Senator Feinstein noted in her comments today, that bill does not address the issue of forced resignations.
There are certain powers a President legitimately holds. This is necessary in order for him to do his job. However, if the President uses those powers to stall investigation into corruption that may embarrass his own party or to otherwise compromise the judiciary, that is abuse of power.
It's important to understand that U. S. Attorneys are Presidential appointees. After Bush took office in 2001, most if not all the then-current U. S. Attorneys resigned and were replaced. As I understand it, this is standard practice.
What's unusual -- and, indeed, seems unprecedented -- is for a President to replace a number of his own appointees, when there is no evidence of misconduct, while they are in the middle of important cases. The President is given the authority to do this by laws that considerably pre-date the Patriot Act. So what recourse is there if the President abuses such authority?
Abuse of power can be prevented to some extent by laws that limit power and place checks and balances on its exercise. The requirement that the Senate advise and consent is part of a system of checks and balances designed to prevent important public offices from being filled with political hacks and hatchets. As we are seeing, the Patriot Act can be used to undermine this system of checks and balances.
Thomas Jefferson pointed out that a system of government should not be based on the assumption that those in power will act as angels. However, neither should it be based on the assumption that they will act as devils. Civil society requires a certain level of trust in basic institutions. That, in turn, requires not a government based on laws that prohibit every possible abuse of power, but rather a political system capable of dealing with abuse of power when it arises.
Ammending the portion of the Patriot Act that deals with interim appointments of U. S. Attorneys will restore an important check. It will not, however, address the more fundamental problem of having a President that neither Congress nor the American people can now afford trust.