The Los Angeles Times reports that in the wake of disclosures of the political manipulation of prosecutions around the country that underlies the U.S. attorneys scandal, defendants in many cases are raising defenses based on political motivation and judges, who once swept such claims away, find it increasingly difficult to dismiss them.
Gonzales has defended the dismissals as justified for performance reasons, saying that some of the prosecutors failed to follow administration law-enforcement priorities. But Democrats say there is evidence that the dismissals were part of a Bush administration effort to affect investigations in public corruption and voting cases that would assist Republicans. The probe has also shown that politics may have played a role in the hiring of some career Justice employees, in possible violation of federal law.
The controversy has drained morale from U.S. attorney offices around the country. And now, legal experts and former Justice Department officials say, it is casting a shadow over the integrity of the department and its corps of career prosecutors in court. There has long been a presumption that, because they represented the Justice Department, prosecutors had no political agenda and their word could be trusted. But some legal experts say the controversy threatens to undermine their credibility.
“It provides defendants an opportunity to make an argument that would not have been made two years ago,” said Daniel J. French, a former U.S. attorney in Albany, N.Y. “It has a tremendously corrosive effect.”
Now don’t expect any quick fixes or efforts to clean up the Justice Department. As the Chicago Tribune explains in the prior item, Gonzales is planning to plow full steam ahead. It is actually likely to get a whole lot worse.