The Morning Report
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I talked yesterday with airport authority Chairman Alan Bersin, who served as U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration, to get his thoughts on the dismissal of former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, who led the office’s fraud unit under Bersin. He said he expected Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to soon be ousted. An interesting point: Bersin doesn’t see a link between Lam’s high-profile corruption case against Randy “Duke” Cunningham and her dismissal.
Here’s what he had to say:
The U.S. attorney serves at the pleasure of the president. She’s also confirmed by the U.S. senate. Which means that when … the attorney general says “We want you to resign,” you’re entitled to say “Why?”
If the answer had then been to Carol … we disagree with your approach to border prosecutions, that’s perfectly acceptable. Where this administration went wrong was that they didn’t think they had an obligation to present an explanation. And the arrogance, not confined to this situation, led them to say: “We don’t have to give you a reason.”
But then when the media and the U.S. attorneys started to press for reasons, they … then made up reasons, none of which held water. … Had it been dealt with forthrightly, it would’ve been over. Since it was not dealt with forthrightly, you’re now about to see the attorney general of the United States fall. But the reasons will be very clear: Because they were not truthful with the United States attorneys to begin with and not truthful with the Congress and not truthful with the American public.
Bersin said the Bush Administration’s handling of the situation has given rise to speculation — incorrect, he believes — that Lam was dismissed for prosecuting Cunningham.
That’s part of the problem of what this administration has let happen. There may have been several 35-year-olds who thought they could do that. But no one who seriously understands the role of federal criminal investigations could even begin to think you could stop investigations by removing the U.S. attorney. For that reason, I don’t believe that’s what was driving this. If the U.S. attorney has a grand jury impaneled, there are dozens of people who are involved in this — not only grand jurors, but FBI agents or other federal investigative agents. You’ve got assistant U.S. attorneys. The notion that if you remove the U.S. attorney that that stops, just misconceives the nature of federal investigations. It’s one of the protections we have.
The first thing that would happen would be that the FBI would call [a reporter] and say: Off-the-record, take a look at these facts. There’s been an effort from Washington to kill this investigation. Not doable. There are protections built into the way we do these investigations to see that you can’t just cut off the head and think it goes away. It doesn’t. What this administration has brought on itself by making up reasons for the original decision is that it now lends credibility and plausibility to things that I think actually were not the case.