WASHINGTON - The Bush administration's decision to fire nine U.S. attorneys last year has created a new problem for the White House: The controversy appears to be discouraging applications for some of the 22 prosecutor posts that President Bush needs to fill.
Of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys, 22 are serving without Senate confirmation as interim or acting prosecutors. They represent districts in Alaska, Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, West Virginia and Washington.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the administration is committed to nominating candidates for all 22 open positions, but so far the administration has submitted only four nominees.
But, of course, Mr. Fratto is spinning like crazy:
"It has nothing to do with recent events," Fratto said. "The closer you get toward the end of the second term, you're going to have fewer people." He also said the administration continues to attract "really, really talented people for top jobs."
Oh, really? People like Monica Goodling? And doesn't that second point contradict the first just a bit? All those "really, really talented" people lining up for White House jobs will lose their positions in January 2009 as well. So why should well-qualified attorneys turn down the opportunity to serve in high-profile positions that would, at least in theory, look fantastic on their résumés?
David Iglesias, the ousted New Mexico U.S. attorney, said that timing may be a contributing factor, but that the administration is in denial if it doesn't believe there are concerns about low office morale, the ability to remain independent or even the odds of being confirmed by a suspicious Senate controlled by the Democrats.
"The Justice Department is embattled, and people aren't readily applying to be U.S. attorneys because of this dark cloud," Iglesias said. "Given the incredible scrutiny by the Senate, you're not guaranteed being confirmed anymore. They're going to start looking at every U.S. attorney for the rest of this administration to make sure that person wasn't put in for purely political reasons."
Gee, I can't imagine why they'd do that. Thanks, Alberto. Heckuva job.