The Washington Post's Carrie Johnson writes today that it is "unclear" how Obama will handle replaicing U.S. Attorneys, and that
While he pledged bipartisanship during his campaign, replacing the cadre of mostly conservative U.S. attorneys would signal a new direction.
When President Bill Clinton took office, he fired all U.S. attorneys at once, provoking intense criticism in the conservative legal community and among career lawyers at the Justice Department.
President George W. Bush took a different approach, slowly releasing several of the prosecutors but keeping in place Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, while she pursued terrorism cases and a politically sensitive investigation of Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.
In a March 4 memo titled "Draft Talking Points," Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos asked, "The [White House] is under the impression that we did not remove all the Clinton [U.S. attorneys] in 2001 like he did when he took office. Is that true?" That is mostly true, replied D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales. "Clinton fired all Bush [U.S. attorneys] in one fell swoop. We fired all Clinton [U.S. attorneys] but staggered it out more and permitted some to stay on a few months," he said.
A few minutes later, Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul J. McNulty replied to the same memo. "On the issue of Clinton [U.S. attorneys], we called each one and had them give us a timeframe. Most were gone by late April. In contrast, Clinton [Justice Department] told all but a dozen in early March to be gone immediately," McNulty said.
The difference appears minor. Both McNulty and Sampson acknowledged that the Bush Administration, like the Clinton administration, brought in a new slate of U.S. attorneys within a few months of taking office. But historical data compiled by the Senate show the pattern going back to President Reagan. Reagan replaced 89 of the 93 U.S. attorneys in his first two years in office. President Clinton had 89 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years, and President Bush had 88 new U.S. attorneys in his first two years.
Should Obama choose to replace any U.S. Attorney, it will have nothing to do with Obama's pledge of bipartisanship, nor would it signal a "new direction" in how presidents handle giving out these plum jobs. This is what presidents do upon taking office. The difference is in whether the band-aid is ripped off quickly or slowly.
Any potential scandal would not be in President Obama choosing to put in place his own picks, but if he decided down the road to fire any of them who were refusing to use their offices for political purposes. Like his predecessor did.
Which brings us back to the WaPo story, and the "scandal" it looks like they are trying to gin up.
Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, who oversaw a recent FBI raid of fundraisers close to Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), told local reporters after the November election that she did not plan to voluntarily resign. Buchanan had held top political jobs in the Bush Justice Department, where she directed the office of violence against women and led the unit that oversees the nation's U.S. attorneys. She is a member of the conservative Federalist Society legal group and cultivated close connections to former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), an advocate for antiabortion and Christian groups.
"It doesn't serve justice for all the U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations at one time," Buchanan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. "I am open to continuing further service to the United States."
Ms. Buchanan serves at the pleasure of the President. If the President decides to fire her, whether or not she's involved in the Murtha investigation, it will not be a political decision on the part of President Obama, however the WaPo is choosing to preemptively spin it.