When William Moschella sat down before a House subcommittee last week to discuss the firings of seven U.S. Attorneys in December, he was in full apology mode.
“In hindsight,” said Moschella, a senior Justice Department official, “perhaps this situation could have been handled better.”
What could be called the understatement of the week did little to help Moschella’s cause. In fact, things got worse from there.
Within moments, Moschella was on the offensive, offering specific and personal critiques of each individual U.S. Attorney subpoenaed by Congress: Carol Lam of the Southern District of California, David Iglesias of New Mexico, John McKay of the Western District of Washington, Daniel Bogden of Nevada, and Paul Charlton of Arizona.
It was an uncomfortable — and perhaps unprecedented — airing of private personnel matters. Granted, U.S. Attorneys are “at-will” employees who serve at the pleasure of the president and can be fired without cause, yet even some of the administration’s staunchest supporters were embarrassed at the breach of decorum.
“They have the right to fire them; they do not have the right to smear them,” says Joseph DiGenova, a conservative commentator who was U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia during the Reagan administration. “Everybody involved in it at the Justice Department and White House should be taken to the woodshed. This is really a pathetic way of running government.”
Other former U.S. Attorneys, all Republicans, said they were “stunned” or “flummoxed” or found the way the firings were handled “insulting.”