Nancy Pelosi stated today that she is “open” to prosecutions of Bush administration officials. Pelosi seemed particularly open to prosecutions relating to “the politicizing of the Justice Department.” Presumably, she was referring to the sacking of a small group of U.S. attorneys and/or certain instances in which political affiliation apparently entered into hiring decisions for career positions.
It’s difficult to see any criminal prosecutions stemming from decisions relating to U.S. Attorneys. The president has the right to discharge and appoint U.S. attorneys for political reasons. The president cannot make these decisions in order to obstruct justice, of course, but I haven’t seen any evidence that comes close to showing that President Bush crossed that line. Democrats have been unable even to point to prosecutions that were aborted as a result of the changing of a U.S. attorney. Nor would such a showing, by itself, be enough to show obstruction of justice.
It is against the law to allow political affiliation to enter into decisions regarding career employees, although this has been going on for years in the federal government, usually to the detriment of Republicans and conservatives. Thus, in theory Bush administration officials who violated this rule could be prosecuted. It seems unlikely, though, that the Obama Justice Department will want to devote its resources to litigating over its own employment practices, where employees affected by the decisions in question (both favorably and unfavorably) are still among its workforce.
Obama is probably even less inclined to prosecute Bush administration officials over actions taken in connection with conducting the war on terror. Such prosecutions would likely demoralize govenment employees still engaged in fighting terrorism, produce division where Obama seeks unity, and create a precedent that might later be used against Obama’s people
Obama, then, faces something of a dilemma. His base desperately wants to see prosecutions of Bush administration officials, while he himself probably opposes this course.
That’s where Pelosi, John Conyers, and company come into play. In all likelihood, they will provide the base with red meat at congressional hearings, while the Obama administration gets on with more substantive matters.
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