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Our View: Gonzales may be the next sacrificial ‘Lam’

When Carol Lam lost her job as San Diego’s U.S. Attorney, a lot of people wondered why. If U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales loses his job, we doubt there will be many people asking that question.

Gonzales and the Bush administration are taking heat after internal correspondence revealed that political loyalty appeared to be a main factor in determining which U.S. Attorneys lost their jobs at the end of their four-year terms.

The question we ask is, should Gonzales lose his job? He initially claimed he was too busy overseeing the Justice Department’s huge workforce to notice e-mail communications between his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and White House Counsel Harriet Miers. However, the revealed correspondence suggests that job performance may have had little to do with the firings of Lam and seven other U.S. Attorneys. “Mistakes were made” does not constitute a defense of one’s job performance. Therefore, Gonzales should go.

Did Carol Lam deserve to lose her job? The administration claims she was let go due to insufficient prosecutions of immigration and smuggling cases. But the timing of her dismissal, after Lam sought warrants for San Diego defense contractor, Brent Wilkes, and former CIA administrator, Dusty Foggo, suggests Lam was fired for more politically expedient reasons. Lam’s successful prosecution of Congressman Duke Cunningham was consistent with her stated goal of targeting white collar crime. Her widening corruption investigation reached all the way to the top of the CIA. It is reasonable to wonder whether Lam was preparing to indict any other government officials for illegal behavior at the time of her dismissal. Perhaps we will never know.

The White House’s repeated statement that U.S. attorneys “serve at the pleasure of the President” reminds us that the President serves at the pleasure of the people. We are encouraged by the Senate’s consideration of legislation to limit the power of the President to hire and fire U.S. Attorneys. At long last, perhaps Congress will finally rediscover that the checks and balances system is a cornerstone of the United States federal government, and that such oversight is intended to make all government officials’ job performance accountable to the people who elected them.