Purge Watch

PURGE WATCH….So about all those U.S. Attorneys who were fired a couple of months ago. Was it really for “performance-related reasons,” as the Justice Department originally said? The answer is pretty clearly no, and on Friday the White House decided to go ahead and admit it:

The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush’s policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday.

The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said.

Now, do you think the Bush administration suddenly woke up Friday morning and decided they ought to fess up about this because it was the right thing to do? Don’t be silly. So why the turnaround?

My guess is that they’ve decided this is their only remaining chance of escaping from this scandal with their hides intact. After all, the evidence suggests that the U.S. Attorneys in question were actually fired for partisan reasons: either being too tough on corrupt Republicans or not tough enough on corrupt Democrats. With the vultures circling and stonewalling no longer a viable strategy, the only option left was to confess to some lesser misdemeanor and hope that the press would buy it. A mass firing for policy reasons — especially accompanied by an initial coverup — might not look all that good, but it looks a hell of a lot better than firing a bunch of prosecutors because they were being a little too aggressive at investigating Republican malfeasance.

Will it work? I hope not. This is pretty plainly a last ditch attempt to head off an investigation, not a sudden attack of honesty from the White House. Keep digging, guys.

UPDATE: At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick offers a few other theories.