In his 1991 book "Race, Reform and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in America, 1945-1960," author Manning Marable added on a section that was out of the timeframe of his book, about Clarence Thomas, who was then heading the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a job he'd begun in 1982, under Ronald Reagan. Marable pointed out that Thomas, a mediocre lawyer, had been put there by Reagan with the specific purpose of thwarting the mandate of the EEOC, and that his expected payoff would be the next vacated seat on the Supreme Court.
Within a year of publication, Marable's prediction came true. With an awful irony, the seat vacated was by Civil Rights legend Thurgood Marshall, who had, among many other things, argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court for the NAACP. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Thomas' confirmation was a struggle, due to personal and professional issues, but he is now a Supreme Court justice. His loyalty-- and serving as the administration's guy-- paid off.
Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales addressed the mysterious firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. This story is front and center in the New York Times today. The claim is that this idea originated with White House hack Counsel Harriet Miers, who resigned months ago.
But I've heard this story before.
On June 17, 1972, a security guard at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. discovered a burglary in progress. It was the beginning of the unravelling of the Nixon Presidency, in the Watergate Scandal. To make a long story short, it turned out that former Attorney General John Mitchell, who had resigned his post to manage Nixon's campaign, was the main person behind it all, and that Nixon had known from early on all about it. Nixon practiced damage control, firing aides who had also been involved. He hired a new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and gave him the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the break-in and subsequent cover-up. He appointed Archibald Cox.
Cox pursued his investigation diligently, and discovered, incredibly, that Nixon had taped many of his (incriminating) conversations with Watergate conspirators. Cox subpoenaed the tapes, and Nixon refused to hand them over. He ordered Richardson to fire Cox-- a brazen move. Richardson refused to fire Cox, and resigned. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also refused, also resigning. It was dubbed the "Saturday Night Massacre."
Cox, Richarson and Ruckelshaus were "establishment" guys, but they had impeccible credentials-- and, apparently, ethics.
Who, then, was the flunky that went ahead and fired Cox? Why it was Solicitor General Robert Bork. Remember him? He got a Supreme Court nomination, but the nomination was shot down by the Senate. It wasn't a payoff per-se, but he'd demonstrated that he'd toe their line. They knew that if he got on the court, he'd do his job-- working to roll back gains made over many decades on civil rights, women's rights, civil liberties, etc.
And now we have another little scandal brewing.
The plan, apparently, was to fire not just eight, but all of the U.S. Attorneys. There's a note on the front page of the New York Times sent from Gonazales to Miers advising against it.
And if you think it was Harriet Miers' idea to fire all of the U.S. Attorneys, you probably believe in the Easter Bunny, too.
Why did they want to fire all of them? An easy answer would be W's demand for blind, obedient loyalty-- that he simply wanted to fill all of the slots with his own obedient hacks. Some think that the administration was unhappy that some U.S. Attorneys were pursuing allegations of voter fraud. Blogger Vikki has an intriguing notion-- that it would be camoflage to cover the eventual firing of the "Untouchable" Patrick Fitzgerald, the guy who brought down Illinois' corrupt former Governor George Ryan, more recently investigated the Plame affair as Special Counsel, and of course brought the successful prosecution recently of Scooter Libby.
He's on a roll-- right to the White House.
Whatever the case may be, there's a growing estrangement between the White White and Gonzales. I'm not sure that what he did was out of honor so much as covering his ass. I'm pretty certain that there was the promise of an eventual seat on the Supreme Court. That seems to be the Republican payoff for overlooking felonies. I think he can write that off. But I think he'll settle for not going to prison as a consulation prize.
My wife emailed me a petition that's being passed around asking for Gonzales' resignation. He just may resign, but I don't think it'll be admission of guilt-- it'll be a rat deserting a sinking ship.