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The Bogus Defense of the Day

NewsBusters tries out new excuses for the Bush administration's firing of U.S. attorneys that are just as dubious as the 8-equals-93 defense.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 4/5/2007

The claim that the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys is equivalent to the Clinton administration's replacement of all 93 U.S. attorneys -- better known as the 8-equals-93 meme -- is a false analogy. As ConWebWatch has detailed, Clinton's actions were in line with those of Republican presidents who similarly replaced U.S. attorneys appointed by predecessors of another party at the start of their administrations, while the Bush administration is replacing attorneys the administration itself appointed for reasons that appear to be linked to partisan politics -- prosecuting too many Republicans and not enough Democrats, for instance.

The Media Research Center was the ConWeb's most enthusiastic proponent of the 8-equals-93 meme. Since then, the job of defending the Bush administration over the attorney firings has fallen to its blog, NewsBusters -- either rehashing the 8-equals-93 meme or repeating other defenses that are just as dubious.

Chief among the latter is the claim that Carol Lam, the ousted San Diego attorney who prosecuted corrupt Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, didn't aggressively prosecute immigration cases. From a March 23 NewsBusters post by Justin McCarthy praising Fox News' Bill O'Reilly for "finally provid[ing] some perspective" on the firings and repeating O'Reilly's attack on Lam:

The mainstream media hinted that the administration fired San Diego attorney Carol Lam for prosecuting former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. What they failed to report is that Ms. Lam did not aggressively prosecute illegal alien criminals. Her lax approach concerned even Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein.

In a March 26 post, Ken Shepherd similarly claimed that "Lam's prosecution of immigration cases reportedly bothered the decidedly unconservative Sen. Dianne Feinstein." Shepherd linked to a March 25 Associated Press article that noted Feinstein's concern about Lam's record on immigration cases. But it also included a line that Shepherd didn't pass along to his readers: "Feinstein has said her concerns on that front were subsequently satisfied and that it's 'bogus' to use her letter as evidence supporting Lam's dismissal."

Related article on ConWebWatch:

The Difference Between 8 and 93

Indeed, if the Bush Justice Department was concerned about Lam's record on immigration cases, it didn't show it. Similarly unmentioned by either McCarthy or Shepherd is a March 14 AP article noting that when Feinstein contacted the Justice Department with her concerns about Lam, she received a reply from associate deputy attorney general William Moschella, in which he described Lam's immigration smuggling caseload as rising "favorably" in 2006.

TPM Muckraker pointed out that Lam's office suffered a chronic lack of resources in prosecuting immigration cases -- approximately 140,000 immigration arrests in Lam's district per year vs. approximately 110 lawyers in her office -- she decided to use her resources to prosecute the more serious cases. Further, Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testified before a Senate committee that Justice Department officials never confronted Lam about her immigration record. If that was a legitimate reason for firing Lam, wouldn't her superiors have mentioned it to her some time before firing her?

A March 28 post by McCarthy, linking back to his earlier post, repeated the "there were plausible and very defensible reasons for the firings of at least three U.S. attorneys," then threw in a sub-talking point: that "one reason for Carol Lam’s dismissal was her failure to prosecute gun crimes." But given that, according to the ABC News link he supplied as evidence, this claim was made by Justice officials at the same time they accused Lam of being lax on immigration, it's likely that evidence to support it is just as spurious. Indeed, as TPM Muckraker noted, when the FBI's bureau chief in San Diego was asked about the given rationales for her ouster (that she pursued corruption cases to the detriment of gun and border prosecutions), he responded, "What do you expect her to do? Let corruption exist?"

Perhaps sensing that NewsBusters' ammunition on the issue was running perilously low, a March 29 post by Warner Todd Huston attempted a variation on the 8-equals-93 Clinton-did-it-too defense by going back a few more administrations: Carter did it too! Huston began by writing:

Of course, we on Newsbusters know that the ginning up of this "scandal" is all smoke and mirrors meant solely as an attack on president Bush, to weaken him and to further destroy the GOPs chances in 2008.

We also all know that every president has the Constitutional right to fire any or all the U.S. Attorneys just like Clinton did.

Of course, the Bush administration didn't fire those attorneys "just like Clinton did." But Huston wasn't about to let facts get in his way:

But, it wasn't just Clinton, apparently. Even Jimmy Carter while in the White House fired an attorney that was making things too warm for one of the members of his party, making the action purely political in nature. And he lied about it to the people.

Huston's source for this claim was a March 27 Human Events article featuring the assertions of David Marston, who was removed as a U.S. attorney in Philadelphia in 1978 under Carter. But a 1978 Time magazine article on the controversy reveals something that neither Human Events nor Huston noted: Marston is a Republican. That would mean his removal by a Democratic president was not like that of the Bush administration, in which a Republican president removed his own Republican appointees -- and that Marston is not exactly an impartial witness on the issue.

Time further described Marston as "an outright political appointee who hunted headlines as vigorously as he hunted official corruption in both parties," quoting then-House Speaker Tip O'Neill as calling Marston "a Republican political animal" who took office "with viciousness in his heart and for only one reason -- to get Democrats."

While NewsBusters bloggers have been auditioning these new defenses, they haven't been dissuaded from trotting out the old 8-equals-93 defense on the off-chance that someone might still be fooled by it. In a March 27 post, Shepherd noted that Time's Karen Tumulty stated that the U.S. attorney story deserved "a massive commitment of journalistic resources," then retorted: "In 1993, Time magazine didn't show the same interest in blowing up the Clinton/Reno firings into a story the public would care about."

Tim Graham, meanwhile, took his own stab at keeping the zombie meme alive, using an April 1 post to praise Wall Street Journal columnist Mark Lasswell for referencing the 8-equals-93 defense. Graham went on to further praise Lasswell for noting that ABC's George Stephanopoulos, while serving in the Clinton administration, opposed the hiring of one of those attorneys fired by Clinton, Jay Stephens (a Republican -- a fact neither Lasswell nor Graham point out, and something that would explain why Stephanopoulos would be opposed to Stephens), to investigate the collapse of Madison Guaranty, an Arkansas savings and loan whose collapse was a component of the Whitewater scandal. Graham added: "Ironically, when the Stephens law firm later found no serious criminal offense in Whitewater, the Clintonistas began touting it everywhere -- and still do to this day."

Even more ironically, according to a ConWebWatch search of the MRC and archives, this appears to be the very first mention of Stephens' report -- better known as the Pillsbury report -- by the Media Research Center. As summarized by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons in "The Hunting of the President":

Based on the Clintons' sworn interrogatories, interviews with forty-five other witnesses, and some two hundred thousand documents, the report concluded that the president and first lady had told the truth about their  Whitewater investment: The Clintons were passive investors who  were misled about the actual status of the project by Jim McDougal almost from the start. ... The Pillsbury Report found no evidence that Whitewater's losses had been subsidized by taxpayers in the savings and loan bailout. But even if they were, it concluded, the Clintons were not at fault.

Instead of making demands of Stephanopoulos, perhaps Graham should explain why the MRC never bothered to tell its readers about evidence that exonerated the Clintons during Whitewater -- or anytime, really.

But, sadly, it's that kind of biased writing and willingness to hide inconvenient facts that has become a hallmark of NewsBusters and the MRC.

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