PRESERVING UNITED STATES ATTORNEY INDEPENDENCE ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - March 19, 2007)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I strongly support S. 214 as an urgently needed step in our effort to restore our constitutional system of checks and balances and to protect the rule of law.
In recent weeks, Congress has finally begun to investigate the damaging politicization of the administration of justice by the White House and the Department of Justice. The problem did not begin with the recently disclosed firings of eight U.S. attorneys. It was well underway in 2002 when Attorney General Ashcroft abolished the process for hiring new career attorneys for the Department of Justice.
That process had been established by the Eisenhower administration half a century ago to eliminate partisanship and cronyism in the Department's hiring. Under Attorney General Ashcroft, however, the process was placed entirely in the hands of political appointees who set out to remake the ranks of career attorneys by hiring new attorneys based on partisan and ideological qualifications. Predictably, the result has been partisan and ideological law enforcement.
The civil rights division virtually stopped enforcing the Voting Rights Act on behalf of African Americans. It even sued African-American officials in Mississippi for discriminating against White voters. Contrary to the recommendations of career attorneys, the new regime also approved the Texas redistricting law that was later struck down by the Supreme Court. It also approved a Georgia photo identification law for voting that was subsequently struck down by a Federal Court as a poll tax. Approval of the Georgia photo identification law was driven by the same partisan motivation that produced the current U.S. attorney scandal.
Georgia's Republican-dominated State legislature said it was enacting the law to respond to allegations of voter fraud. But evidence of fraud to justify the law did not exist. The ID law was passed anyway, with full awareness that it would disproportionately prevent minorities from voting.
When the law was submitted to the Civil Rights Division for approval under the Voting Rights Act, the career staff of attorneys and analysts recommended an objection by the Department, which would have prevented the law from going into effect, but the recommendation was rejected by the political appointees.
The Federal Court struck down the law as the equivalent of a poll tax, because the State offered to sell ID's for $20 to prospective voters who did not have them. Tellingly, the State did not establish offices selling ID's in many of the State's most heavily minority districts.
After the law was blocked, the State reenacted it without the $20 fee, in a blatant effort to gain partisan advantage by manipulating the law. Once again, the political appointees in the Civil Rights Division approved it. Fortunately, a court struck down the new law, finding that it placed an undue burden on the voting rights of minority and elderly voters.
The story does not end there. Shortly after political officials rejected the career attorneys' recommendation to block the law, they transferred Robert Berman--the leader of the career team that reviewed the Georgia law and a 28-year veteran of the Civil Rights Division--out of his job as a Deputy Chief of the Voting Section and into a dead-end training job.
When the Attorney General testified before the Judiciary Committee last July, I asked whether this transfer was retaliation for the career attorney's role in recommending that the Department object to the Georgia photo ID law. I still haven't received an answer. When Wan Kim, the head of the Civil Rights Division, testified before the Committee in November, I asked him if Mr. Berman was transferred in retaliation for the Georgia matter. I still haven't received an answer.
As the problems in the Civil Rights Division make clear, the real danger with this administration's politicization of Justice Department's hiring is the corruption of the rule of law. U.S. Attorneys and other Department of Justice officials are selected by the President, but they are the people's lawyers. Their first duty is to enforce the rule of law--not to push a partisan agenda. This administration has forgotten that basic truth, and the rule of law has suffered.
The conclusion is inescapable that the Department of Justice ended Mr. Berman's long and distinguished career as a voting section attorney because he applied the law faithfully and well, and refused to serve the partisan interests of his political superiors. His plight is one of many examples of loyal career public servants who have been pushed aside for their failure to toe the partisan line in the Department of Justice.
Incredibly, Bradley Schlozman, the inexperienced political appointee who oversaw approval of the Georgia ID law and the retaliation against the career staff, was rewarded with an appointment as interim U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri. He has served in that capacity for a year without Senate confirmation. Mr. Schlozman's appointment is symptomatic of the problem that the bill before us will solve--the appointment as U.S. attorneys of unqualified partisan operatives who would be unlikely to win Senate confirmation, but who can serve for extended periods of time anyway.
The continuing revelations about the 8 fired U.S. attorneys show how thoroughly partisanship has infected the administration of justice in the Bush administration. As explanation after explanation has unraveled, it has become increasingly clear that the purge of U.S. attorneys had its genesis in the White House and its roots in a desire to remove U.S. attorneys who were not sufficiently committed to the political agenda of the administration.
The initial explanation that 7 of the 8 were fired for poor performance was a smokescreen manufactured out of thin air. Their performance assessments were largely outstanding. Evidence is mounting that the administration was concerned that Carol Lam was too successful in her investigation and prosecution of Republicans in the Duke Cunningham scandal. John McKay was on the list because of his refusal to open an unwarranted investigation into voter fraud after a close 2004 election victory by a Democrat. David Iglesias was the subject of Republican complaints about his unwillingness to pursue voter fraud investigations of Democrats, and he was pressured by Republicans in Congress to indict Democrats before last November's election to help the Republican candidate in a tight congressional race.
Recently released e-mails show that part of this scheme was to use the little-noticed change in the law inserted in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act last year which permitted the Attorney General to appoint interim U.S. attorneys to serve indefinitely without Senate confirmation. The bill before us eliminates that provision and reinstates the 120-day limit on service by interim U.S. attorneys appointed by the Attorney General. This change will force the administration to send nominees to the Senate to fill vacant slots, or have them filled by a court instead.
This change in the law is an important first step we can take to remedy the problem, as we continue to investigate the political purge of U.S. attorneys. That investigation must continue. A full investigation is essential if we hope to restore confidence in Federal law enforcement. U.S. attorneys protect the Nation from violent crime, terrorism, violations of civil rights, organized crime and public corruption. They must be above partisan or ethical reproach, if the rule of law is to have any meaning in our modern society.
There are few greater threats to our democracy than such efforts to turn our system of Federal law enforcement into a partisan political tool. As Justice Robert Jackson said:
The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America.
That awesome power must not be used in the service of partisan goals. U.S. attorneys are political appointees, but once they are appointed, they can no longer be part of the political process. Politics can shape policies and priorities but the decision whether or not to investigate or prosecute cannot be influenced by the slightest hint of partisanship. No U.S. attorneys should be subjected to partisan political pressure to make a particular decision in a prosecution, and no U.S. attorney should be retaliated against for making decisions that are politically unpopular in the eyes of his superiors.
The bill before us will help guard against such partisanship, by restoring the requirement for the administration to submit nominees for U.S. attorneys promptly to the Senate for confirmation, and I urge my colleagues to pass this bill without amendment.
Mr. President, as our Nation begins its fifth year of the war in Iraq it is abundantly clear to the American people that our current policy has failed, and that we need a new policy that will better serve both our national security and our service men and women.
President Bush continues to look for good news with a microscope. Despite his repeated claims that success is just around the corner, Iraq is falling deeper and deeper into the chaos of civil war. Our troops are in the untenable position of policing a nation at war with itself.
More than 3,200 American soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice, and more than 24,000 have been wounded during the 4 years of his failed policy.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed, and nearly 4 million have been displaced inside Iraq and across the region.
The insurgency is growing in strength, and its lethal explosives are growing in sophistication.
Attacks on American soldiers continue to increase.
Militias are increasing their power, and their ability to brutalize the Iraqi people is increasing as well.
No amount of American military might can end Iraq's civil war. Only a political settlement by Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people can end the bloodshed and suffering.
Rather than fanning the flames of chaos by sending more U.S. troops into Iraq's civil war, it is time for the President to begin to redeploy our troops out of harm's way.
The war in Iraq has been a disastrous and deeply dangerous debacle in American foreign policy. It has made America more hated in the world than at any other time in our history. It has emboldened terrorists across the globe. It has stretched our military to the breaking point. As a result, our national security is increasingly at risk.
The President's policy of escalating the war will not make success any more likely. It will only result in more death and more tragedy for American soldiers, and it will undermine our national security even further.
The American people have been patient. But America has now been in Iraq longer than it took us to win World War II. Instead of progress, we continue to see unacceptably high levels of violence, death, and destruction.
The American military and the American people deserve far better. The President seeks more funding for the war without strings and without delay.
Because the President stubbornly insists on escalating the same failed strategy, Congress must stand up to the President and stand up for our troops by requiring him to redeploy our combat forces out of Iraq as soon as possible. We have an opportunity to do so on the supplemental appropriations bill that will soon be before us, and it is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
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