Now that the basic pattern has been established—the appointment of politically pliant United States attorneys, who understand that they are to use their powers to advance the interests of the Republican Party, and to follow the cue of the White House—it is time to go back and look at some of the early warning signs of this phenomenon. One thing is clear: this didn’t break on to the scene for the first time on December 7, 2006. It’s been there lurking in the recesses of the administration all along.
The force five scandal that marked the first five years of the Bush Administration swirled around the “Über-Republican” Jack Abramoff, a fundraising legend with tight access both to Karl Rove and Tom DeLay. Among the more lurid of the Abramoff schemes was his work for the operators of a Guam sweatshop that drew on immigrant slave labor.
When the U.S. attorney for the islands began to look into the operation and to Abramoff’s curious lobbying effort on its behalf, Abramoff had a simple response. He placed a couple of phone calls and had the prosecutor fired. The Boston Globe reports:
The transactions were the target of a grand jury subpoena issued Nov. 18, 2002, according to the subpoena. It demanded that Anthony Sanchez, administrative director of the Guam Superior Court, turn over all records involving the lobbying contract, including bills and payments. A day later, the chief prosecutor, US Attorney Frederick A. Black, who had launched the investigation, was demoted. A White House news release announced that Bush was replacing Black . . .
The acting US attorney was a controversial official in Guam. At the time he was replaced, Black was directing a long-term investigation into allegations of public corruption in the administration of then-Governor Carl Gutierrez. The probe produced numerous indictments, including some of the governor’s political associates and top aides. Black, 56, had served as acting US attorney for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands since 1991, when he was named to the post by the president’s father, President George H. W. Bush.
The career prosecutor, who held a senior position as first assistant before accepting the acting US attorney job, was demoted to a staff post. Black’s demotion came after an intensive lobbying effort by supporters of Gutierrez, who had been publicly critical of Black and his investigative efforts . . .
His replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, was confirmed in May 2003 without any debate. Rapadas had been recommended for the job by the Guam Republican Party. Fred Radewagen, a lobbyist who had been under contract to the Gutierrez administration, said he carried that recommendation to top Bush aide Karl Rove in early 2003.
This story has it all—an important fundraising operation for the party comes under criminal scrutiny. The prosecutor is fired, and the White House makes the announcement. And his replacement is hand-picked by the local party boss and Karl Rove. And at the time, there was hardly a murmur in the American press about the whole affair.