(Washington, D.C.) - In a speech today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) addressed the scandal surrounding the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys by the Bush Administration. Murray spoke in favor of a bill to restore the Senate's role in confirming U.S. Attorneys. The bill, the United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007 (S.214), will be voted on today.
Senator Murray's remarks follow:
Mr. President, every American needs to have confidence in our system of justice, but in the past few weeks that confidence has been deeply shaken. Each day, we get new evidence that the Bush Administration injected partisan politics into a process that requires independence. And each day we get more proof that this Administration has not been telling us the truth.
I'm on the floor to support this bill to restore the Senate's constitutional advice and consent role in confirming nominees to serve as U.S. Attorneys. I'm deeply troubled by the many ways the Bush Administration has politicized the administration of justice because it threatens all Americans.
Washington State Impact
Recently, we learned that the Administration's political meddling reached into my own home state of Washington and led to the firing of a U.S. Attorney who had received an excellent job performance review only months before he was fired. When I sought answers, the Justice Department told me things that were not true. Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty assured me that the firing of John McKay was "performance related." I did not believe it at the time, and unfortunately, these past weeks have only confirmed my suspicions.
The Bush Administration's Shifting Story
As the facts come out, the Administration's untruths are coming to light. First we were told that the White House had no role in the firing. Now we learn that this whole scheme originated in the White House. At first, we were told that all the firings were "performance related." Now documents have disclosed that the Justice Department was evaluating U.S. Attorneys based on their loyalty to the Administration. We were also told that a significant change in the Patriot Act was needed for national security and would not be abused. That was also not true.
Reaches to the Highest Levels
Every day this story gets worse and worse and climbs higher up the political ladder. We've learned that senior officials in the White House, including the president's former counsel, Harriet Miers, and his top political advisor, Karl Rove, were also key players in these firings.
Why It Matters
Why should folks at home care if the White House and Justice Department are politicizing the office of U.S. Attorney? It matters for two reasons.
First, any American can become the subject of a civil or criminal investigation by a U.S. Attorney - an investigation that could upend their lives, ruin their reputation, destroy their business and ultimately cause the government to take their life or their liberty. That is a tremendous amount of power, and we need to make sure that the people who wield that power are launching investigations based on the facts and the law - not based on political pressure.
Second, after all the ways the Bush Administration has undermined the rights and liberties of our citizens, we need to vigorously stand up and fight back whenever new abuses come to light.
The Attorney General's Conflicting Statements
I believe we could have gotten the facts sooner if we'd gotten straight answers from the Attorney General from the start. Unfortunately, Mr. Gonzales can't seem to get his story straight. At a press conference last week, he said that he didn't know about it, but he's responsible for it. He said mistakes were made, but that the firings were appropriate. He said he believes that U.S. Attorneys should be independent, but they can be fired for any reason.
Mr. President, two years ago I voted against confirming Alberto Gonzales as the nation's top law enforcement officer. (See 2/1/05 statement) As I said in February of 2005, he "lacks the independence and honesty to be attorney general." I also said that his troubling record would not ensure public confidence in the fair administration of justice. I take no joy in saying that my fears have been borne out.
The Administration Sought, Then Exploited a Change in Law
So how did we get here? Last year, when Congress updated the Patriot Act, a change was inserted at the White House's request. This change was not debated, and it was made without the knowledge of many here in the Senate.
Today, we know that this change to the Patriot Act played an important role in this entire scheme. It significantly lowered the difficulty of removing any U.S. Attorney and replacing him or her without consulting anybody.
We Must Pass the United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007
Mr. President, we need to end these abuses. I support this bill because it will restore the Senate's role in confirming U.S. Attorneys. It will also restore a critical check on the Administration's power.
Traditionally, when there's been a vacancy for a U.S Attorney, the White House has sent a nomination to the Senate. Last year, the White House changed that procedure by slipping a change into the Patriot Act reauthorization. With that change, the White House was then able to install interim U.S. Attorneys indefinitely without going through the normal Senate approval process.
This bill restores the Senate's role in confirming interim nominees. This legislation would force the White House to work with the Senate and home state senators. This bill is an important step to protecting the U.S. Attorneys office from the politicization it has suffered under this Administration. I urge my colleagues to take a step forward for justice and pass this critical reform.