Amid the ever-widening scandal surrounding the purge of several U.S. attorneys, now involving everything from subpoenas to bipartisan calls for Attorney General Gonzales’s resignation, one interesting bit of information has so-far gone unnoticed: the fact that several of the fired attorneys had previously been involved in supporting White House and Justice Department efforts to secure passage and renewal of the Patriot Act.
As Legal Times reported back in August 2004:
The Justice Department launched an unprecedented nationwide campaign in 2003 to boost support for the USA Patriot Act and beat back opponents. Recently obtained internal DOJ documents reveal just how organized and aggressive that push has been.
“Your role is educational only. You must not encourage citizens or public officials to make congressional contacts or to attempt to influence any vote concerning the USA Patriot Act,” one DOJ memo states.
To avoid ethical pitfalls, Main Justice instructed the 93 Senate-confirmed U.S. attorneys, who are exempt from the Anti-Lobbying Act, to contact Congress members personally, not through staff.
Apparently, not every Attorney was eager to participate:
At least one U.S. attorney expressed skepticism about the value of encouraging prosecutors to participate in local debates.
“If past is prologue, these are not debates, but platforms for individuals to promote political agendas,” wrote Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton. “I will gladly go to such an event if it is in the best interest of Justice, but I do not see that dedicating time and effort to these events is of real benefit.”
But is seems that Charlton eventually got on board – from the Associated Press in September 2003:
Arizona’s top federal prosecutor plans to hold a forum this month to defend the USA Patriot Act against critics who say the anti-terrorism law threatens civil liberties.
U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton will hold the meeting Sept. 17 at his office in Phoenix.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has directed Charlton’s counterparts across the country to drum up support for the law in their communities.
But being a team player on the Patriot Act wasn’t enough to prevent him from getting fired. Nor did it help several others who likewise participated in orchestrated White House and Justice Department events.
For instance, Carol Lam (also fired) met with President Bush at the White House in January 2006 and spoke in favor of renewing the Patriot Act. The year before, Bush even singled Lam out by name while discussing the importance of the legislation.
Back in August 2003, Dan Bogden (likewise fired) also participated in a Justice Department event, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal:
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft praised more than 250 local law enforcement officials Tuesday in a downtown speech, telling them, “Thanks to you, we are winning the war on terror.”
Dan Bogden, Nevada’s U.S. attorney, said the act has proven effective. Without noting specific instances, he said, “We have done some roving wiretaps. … This allows us the ability to follow someone from state to state in order to pick up their communications. Again, all these things are done through court orders.”
Without the Patriot Act legal tools, Bogden said, “The consequences are too great to think about.”
Two others even went so far as to pen op-eds in praise of the Patriot Act for local newspapers:
Guest writer : Patriot Act criticism unfounded
BY BUD CUMMINS
6 September 2003
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Stopping crime before it happens is a tough assignment. However, since 9/11, that job’s been given to the Department of Justice.
It is vitally important that law enforcement doesn’t lose valuable and constitutional crime-fighting weapons given to us by the USA PATRIOT Act.
Patriot Act is no threat to liberties
By Margaret M. Chiara
11 September 2003
The Grand Rapids Press
The Department of Justice has a long history of defending our citizens’ civil rights with the same commitment it brings to defending their physical safety. The department’s efforts in the war against international terrorism remain true to that history, and the Patriot Act is essential to those efforts.
Both op-eds encouraged readers to visiting the Justice Department’s “Preserving Life and Liberty” Patriot Act website.
A lot of good it did them – they were both fired.
Maybe if these US Attorneys known that an arcane provision slipped quietly into the Patriot Act would eventually become the instrument the Administration would use to replace them without any say from the Senate, they might have thought twice about working so hard to ensure the legislation’s passage or reauthorization.