More Leahy (And Less Feinstein) On TV, Please

I have to admit, I'm getting more than a little tired seeing Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on television news shows, leading the Democratic charge against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the White House over the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys. While I do not go as far as some -- by calling Senator Feinstein a "Democrat In Name Only" (DINO) -- I have always had reason to question her Democratic credentials, since she has been known to vote with the other side of the aisle on important legislation.

Her role in the firing of Carol Lam is a good case in point, and one that I fear many are brushing under the rug. On June 15, 2006 Senator Feinstein wrote a letter to Gonzales specifically asking whether Carol Lam (the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California), was doing her job by prosecuting enough illegal immigrants. Much has been made in the press over the Justice Department's reply to this letter, but almost nothing has been said about Feinstein's original letter.

You can find her letter in the middle of a giant document dump [large PDF] from the Department of Justice. Scroll down to pages 20-22 to see the original. I have reproduced the text of this document in full below:

United States Senate

June 15, 2006

Honorable Alberto Gonzales

Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Gonzales:

During our meeting last week you asked if I had any concerns regarding the U.S. Attorneys in California. I want to follow up on that point and raise the issue of immigration related prosecutions in Southern California.

It has come to my attention that despite high apprehensions [sic] rates by Border Patrol agents along California's border with Mexico, prosecutions by the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of California appear to lag behind. A concern voiced by Border Patrol agents is that low prosecution rates have a demoralizing effect on the men and women patrolling our Nation's [sic] borders.

It is my understanding that the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of California may have some of the most restrictive prosecutorial guidelines nationwide for immigration cases, such that many Border Patrol agents end up not referring their cases. While I appreciate the possibility that this office could be overwhelmed with immigration related cases; I also want to stress the importance of vigorously prosecuting these types of cases so that California isn't viewed as an easy entry point for alien smugglers because there is no fear of prosecution if caught. I am concerned that lax prosecution can endanger the lives of Border Patrol agents, particularly if highly organized and violent smugglers move their operations to the area.

Therefore, I would appreciate responses to the following issues:

(*) Please provide me with an update, over a 5 year period of time, on the numbers of immigration related cases accepted and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney Southern District of California, particularly convictions under sections 1324 (alien smuggling), 1325 (improper entry by an alien), and 1326 (illegal re-entry after deportation) of the U.S. Code.

(*) What are your guidelines for the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of California? How do these guidelines differ from other border sectors nationwide?

By way of example, based on numbers provided to my office by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in FY05 Border Patrol agents apprehended 182,908 aliens along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Yet in 2005, the U.S. Attorney's office in Southern California convicted only 387 aliens for alien smuggling and 262 aliens for illegal re-entry after deportation. When looking at the rates of conviction from 2003 to 2005, the numbers of convictions fall by nearly half.

So I am concerned about these low numbers and I would like to know what steps can be taken to ensure that immigration violators are vigorously prosecuted. I appreciate your timely address of this issue and I look forward to working with you to ensure that our immigration laws are fully implemented and enforced.

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein

U.S. Senator

As noted previously, much has been made over the Justice Department's response to this letter. But there has been almost no mention of the fact that Feinstein seems to be echoing Republican talking points in her letter to Gonzales. Compare her letter to this one sent to Gonzales in October of 2005 by nineteen Republicans. From this letter:

There is one simple reason why "catch and release" cannot continue: it endangers our citizens. It is the responsibility of the Department of Justice to punish dangerous criminals who violate federal laws, and this includes criminal aliens. When we meet, at the very least we encourage you to be prepared to discuss the current policies used by the U.S. Attorneys to determine when to prosecute criminal aliens, including providing us with a copy of the prosecution guidelines that are applied to such cases in the Southern District of California.

Ironically, this letter was signed, among the other 18 Republicans, by Randy "Duke" Cunningham (go to page 2 to see his signature, complete with nickname and quote marks), who was later prosecuted and convicted by Carol Lam herself. Guess she was busy with more important things, eh, "Duke"?

Now, there is no "smoking gun" in Feinstein's letter, I'd be the first to admit that. I just wonder why it is not receiving any attention when Feinstein is making the rounds of television news shows to say how outrageous Gonzales' behavior was. If it is so outrageous, why was Feinstein helping him out by carrying water for such a partisan Republican position last June? There's more than a faint whiff of hypocrisy about the whole thing.

Feinstein's no stranger to flip-flopping on immigration issues, it should be noted. Here she is in March of 2006:

Feinstein won approval of a separate program for agriculture that would offer legalization to 1.5 million farm workers over the next five years. It incorporates a farm labor bill known as AgJobs that Feinstein helped kill last year.

Feinstein said California's agriculture industry depends on foreign labor. "It is unrealistic to think these workers are going to go home, and the industry depends on them for survival."

Then again in May, 2006:

Feinstein last week pushed through what so far has been the most significant change to the Senate bill, sharply reducing the size of the guest worker program from 325,000 a year, with an automatic 20 percent increase each year that ceiling was reached, to 200,000 a year, with no escalator clause. Feinstein worried that the guest worker plan could bring in millions more immigrants than intended once workers are allowed to bring in their families.

That amendment passed but brought heated protests from business lobbyists, who said 200,000 is far fewer than the estimated half a million people who now enter illegally each year. As a result, they said, many migrants will continue to come illegally, planting the seeds of a new illegal population.

So forgive me for wanting to change the channel when I hear DiFi (as she is familiarly know to her California constituents) waxing indignant over Gonzales' actions on television news. I would much prefer to hear a more consistent and believable Democratic Senator. Like Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT), for example.

Don't get me wrong. On a personal level, I am thoroughly enjoying the circus atmosphere surrounding the scandal as much as the next guy. I eagerly anticipate Alberto Gonzales' upcoming press conference where he announces he is electing to "spend more time with his family." I can't wait to see the "OK Corral" showdown between Leahy and Bush over subpoenas and executive privilege (scheduled for later this week). And the thought of Karl Rove sweating under oath in front of a congressional committee absolutely fills me with delight.

But I would prefer in the coming days and weeks to see a different Democratic spokesperson on TV than DiFi. One year (almost to the day) before she sent her letter to Gonzales, Feinstein was in the news for co-sponsoring a flag burning amendment. And she somehow found time just last month to co-sponsor a resolution proclaiming February 6, 2007 to be "Ronald Reagan Day."

So please, Senator Leahy, let's see more of you on TV -- instead of DiFi.

Please.

 

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