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Statement By Senator Edward M. Kennedy Committee Statement On U.S. Attorney Firings

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Statement By Senator Edward M. Kennedy Committee Statement on U.S. Attorney Firings

Mr. Chairman, it is high time that Congress investigate how this White House has played politics with the Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice used to be respected as place where politics stopped and prosecutors were allowed to do their jobs. Not any more. You need only to glance at the front page of today's paper to see the damage being done to the public interest and public confidence in our government.

Today we will take a critical step towards playing our critical role in making certain that the office of US Attorney does not become a partisan tool. But this latest issue is just the tip of a much larger problem.

The front page of today's paper contains not only a story about the firing of eight US Attorneys, but another alarming story of politics intruding into the Department of Justice. In it, a career attorney at the Department says that political appointees dictated that she pull her punches in a lawsuit that sought to hold big tobacco responsible for their lies to the American people. Two weeks before closing arguments, and after years of trial preparation by career attorneys, political appointees ordered her to reduce the damages request from $130 billion to just $10 billion.

These kinds of stories require that this Committee take very seriously its role in providing oversight over the Department of Justice.

The politicization of the Department of Justice was well under way in 2002, when Attorney General Ashcroft abolished the process for hiring new career attorneys for the Department of Justice that had been established by the Eisenhower Administration half a century ago to eliminate partisanship and cronyism in the Department's hiring.

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. Instead, it sued African American officials in Mississippi for discriminating against white voters.

The new regime began to simply ignore the recommendations of career attorneys. Political appointees approved the Texas redistricting law that was later struck down by the Supreme Court. Political appointees approved a Georgia photo ID law for voting that was subsequently struck down by a federal court as a poll tax.

Approval of the Georgia photo ID law was driven by the same partisan motivations 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 there was no evidence of such fraud. The ID law was passed anyway, with full awareness that it would disproportionately prevent minorities from voting.

Not only did political appointees reject the career attorneys' recommendation to block the law, but 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 job. 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.

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 is a good example of the new regime at our Justice Department. His professional resume is a short one. He practiced law for about one a year at a large firm before joining the Bush Administration in a series of political jobs at the Department of Justice. He had no experience prosecuting cases. But he was a loyal Bush supporter who was willing to use the power of federal law enforcement to benefit the Republican Party.

While supervising the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, he presided over the Texas redistricting and Georgia photo ID fiascos. He failed to authorize the filing of a single affirmative voting rights case on behalf of African American voters, but he jumped at the chance to sue African American officials in Mississippi for discriminating against white voters. On the eve of the 2004 election, he orchestrated the filing of two extraordinary amicus briefs - one in Florida and the other in Ohio - that argued that individuals could not go to court to enforce the Help America Vote Act. The briefs argued that only the government could enforce the act and that individuals who wanted to get their provisional ballots counted were simply out of luck. This extraordinary partisan intervention by the Civil Rights Division weeks before a national election in battleground states to suppress the votes of predominantly Democratic voters was unprecedented.

Mr. Schlozman also led the charge in punishing other dedicated career attorneys who were insufficiently partisan. For example, he transferred at least two longtime career attorneys out of the Division's Appellate Section and told several others that they could no longer work on civil rights cases, but would have to stomach a full docket defending deportation orders. He changed performance evaluations to punish career attorneys. He was a key participant in a politicized hiring regime that - as the Boston Globe reported - started looking to partisan credentials and membership in the Federalist Society and de-emphasized academic qualifications and any experience in enforcing the civil rights laws.

For this disgraceful record, Mr. Schlozman was rewarded with a U.S. Attorney position for which he would never have to face Senate confirmation.

The continuing revelations about the eight fired U.S. Attorneys simply confirm 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 reflected the desire of the White House to remove U.S. Attorneys who were not sufficiently committed to the political agenda of the Administration.

It is well past time to expose the politicization of our system of justice by this Administration. We should press ahead vigorously with the investigation of the U.S. Attorney firings and expose the deeper problems that corrupt the enforcement of federal law by this Department of Justice.

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