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The Question in Washington: Was San Diego’s U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales’ Sacrificial Lam?



Editor’s Notebook , Tom York

Weeks later, we’re still not sure what to make of the ouster of San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam.

When word got out last winter that Lam had been fired from her post here, eyebrows were raised and newspaper headlines were written. Lots of ’em.

Obviously, politics were involved, and as events have unfolded and e-mails uncovered, all we can say is “Boy, were they ever.”

Habitu & #233;s at the federal courthouse had guessed that Lam had been targeted because she had failed to go after immigration cases , illegal immigration being an intractable issue for the conservatives who see red every time they spot people of a darker hue whom they believe to be from the wrong side of the border.

To be sure, Lam and the other seven U.S. attorneys who were given the bum’s rush serve at the whim of President Bush. But no matter what the issues, U.S. attorneys can be told to pack their bags at anytime without cause.

But what is unusual is for U.S. attorneys to be asked to leave by the same president who appoints them, especially in such large numbers. In the middle of a term in office.

(For the record, Lam told the news media that she was never given a reason for her firing by the Department of Justice, but e-mails and other missives collected by an investigating Senate committee reveal just how unhappy folks were with her.)

Her ouster made the intrigue all the more intriguing, and brought into question the questionable actions of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who apparently was serving as point man for presidential adviser and general all-around political tough guy Karl Rove. He wanted to kick out all 93 U.S. attorneys right after the ’04 midterm elections.

Everyone in the relevant legal circles agrees that Lam was doing solid work, and that she had acquitted herself well in how she handled the prosecution of Rep. “Duke” Cunningham, who, it just so happens, was a member of the Republican Party.

Lam did what she was expected to do , uphold the law , and did it with distinction.

That she and her fellow U.S. attorneys were forced out because of unhappiness among operatives at the White House serves as an ominous portent about fealty in this new age of party politics.

What’s weird is how the White House went after loyalists, who apparently weren’t loyal enough.

When the legal arm of the federal government is subjugated to serve the partisan goals of White House operatives, the citizenry is the victim , not to mention justice.

– – –


In a recent notebook,

I wrote about the two top leaders in the state Legislature who had agreed to push for restricting reform in a horse trade for extending term limits through a state ballot initiative.

Well, it seems the quid pro quo in Sacramento is DOA, thanks to newly installed House leader Nancy Pelosi, who represents whacked-out San Francisco.

Newspaper reports say that Pelosi and her progressive Democratic Party cronies don’t like the idea of redrawing congressional districts in California, because they might lose seats, and hence their fragile grip on the power levers in the House.

In response, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, says he’d consider leaving congressional districts as they are, and instead push for reform in state legislative districts, thus bypassing opposition from Pelosi. Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland, is likely to go along with this strategy.

But then what’s the point?

My guess is that Nunez and Perata, both entrenched Democrats who loathe the idea of stepping down in Sacramento, will continue their quest for extended limits, despite threats from the U.S. Capitol. They’ll do what it takes to hold onto the reins.

And my guess is that without changing the rules about how districts are redrawn, voters will be in no mood to extend term limits. It’s either the whole enchilada , or no enchilada at all.

– – –


One down, two to go …

Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Attorney Mike Aguirre and other dignitaries were all smiles a week ago when they held a news conference to announce KPMG’s completion of the city’s 2003 audit, and their belief that it would help City Hall get back to the public bond market to finance reconstruction of the decaying infrastructure.

But not so fast, there is still a bit of work to be done before Wall Street will give the city a serious hearing on floating bonds.

Now that KPMG has signed off on the city’s controversial audit, they can delve into the books for 2004 and 2005.

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” the Chinese like to say.

So, in this case, completion of the 2003 audit is just another step along the path to economic recovery.


Thomas York is editor of the San Diego Business Journal.

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