I was more than a little tweaked to turn on CSPAN and see Alice Fisher giving the press conference on behalf of the Justice Department in the Abramoff case. Alice Fisher should have recused herself from this matter long ago.
With the Democrats neutered and the press sufficiently conscripted into the GOP cause, at a certain point the only functional check in the system over the administration became the career prosecutors within the Justice Department. James Comey was a full-on disaster appointee for BushCo. who bucked them from the get over wiretapping, torture and Ashcroft's oversight of the Plame investigation. When the wingy Ashcroft was not servile enough and refused to reign Comey in even he got the boot and was replaced by the much more morally pliant Abu Gonzales.
Last year BushCo. was trying to get Timothy "Tyco" Flanigan through Senate confirmation to replace Comey as the number two in the Justice Department, but Flanigan got cute at his hearings and Specter hated him. There was much speculation that Flanigan would get a recess appointment last summer and as Bush's old Skull-and-Bones crony be in the perfect spot to oversee Patrick Fitzgerald, but that didn't happen. Bush did give a recess appointment to Alice Fisher as Chief of the Criminal Division. On Wednesday, right smack in the middle of the Hurricane Katrina disaster when the country wasn't looking. (Comey eventually shot them all the finger on his way out the door and appointed the ethical David Margolis to oversee Fitzgerald.)
Bush must've really wanted Alice Fisher in that spot.Fisher had been having trouble with her confirmation too, and Carl Levin had blocked her nomination due to concerns over her position on torture. There was also worry about her connection to DeLay:
Fisher is a Republican who in her former job was registerd as a lobbyist for HCA, the healthcare company founded by Bill Frist's father. Her appointment was also controversial due to the fact that like her boss Abu Gonzales, Fisher has no trial experience and with Comey gone there would be no senior member of the Justice Department who was an experienced criminal prosecutor. But Senatorial oversight was dispensed with and BushCo. continued on its Brownie-esque rampage to replace experience with cronyism. Said Newsweek:
Leahy also expressed concerns about Fisher's "views on checks of controversial provisions of the Patriot Act and her opposition to the Act's sunset provision; her participation in meetings in which the FBI expressed its disagreement with harsh interrogation methods practiced by the military toward detainees held at Guantanamo, and her ideas about appropriate safeguards for the treatment of enemy combatants." Leahy was also concerned about "reports that she has had ties to Congressman Tom DeLay's defense team" and "also to know what steps she to take to avoid a conflict of interest in the Department's investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and possibly Mr. DeLay."
You can say that again.
For the Hammer, the involvement of the Department of Justice is bad news -- but not as bad as it could be. The allegations are serious enough to have drawn the attention of the Feds -- whose motives can't be as easily dismissed as those of Ronnie Earle, a Texas state prosecutor and Democrat who's been tracking DeLay with Javert-like intensity. The probe is being overseen by Noel Hillman, a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes. But politics almost certainly will creep into the equation. Hillman's new boss will soon be Alice Fisher, who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team. The larger question is whether Justice -- run by Bush's buddy Alberto Gonzales -- will aggressively seek evidence that could lead to DeLay or to other Republicans in Congress. "I just don't know that they have the stomach for it," said a lawyer close to the probe.
Staring down the twin barrels of the Abramoff and DeLay investigations, Bush's urgent insistence on having Fisher in there does not bode well. Imagine the shock and horror of BushCo. after James Comey testified that "I don't care about politics. I don't care about expediency. I care about doing the right thing" and it turned out the guy actually meant it. I really have a hard time imagining that they took Fisher off the hot seat, bypassed the Senate approval process and then jammed her into a critical spot without feeling some comfort that she would not, indeed, turn into another Comey.
Maybe she is a total straight shooter who will do right by everybody involved. But if that's the case she should step aside, recuse herself and let other people within the Justice Department who are not tainted by conflicts of interest handle this one.
Jane Hamsher blogs regularly at firedoglake.blogspot.com