Josh Marshall has a thoughtful post exploring why a bunch of long-standing investigations appear to be breaking open.
That said, there's been such an avalanche of developments in recent days and weeks, that I think it's now quite reasonable to conclude that the turnaround is related to the fact that Gonzales and his crew are flat on their backs and aren't able to block them any more. This is the sort of question or charge people only make sheepishly and with some embarrassment. I've been reluctant to come to this conclusion as well. But now I think there are solid reasons to believe this is true.
Josh lists the recent breaks in the Renzi scandal, as well as new movement in the Abramoff scandal, as his evidence that something has worked loose in the corridors of justice.
I agree with Josh that things are moving--though I'll add a very serious caveat in a bit. But I'd like to suggest a very concrete reason why things--particularly the Renzi investigation--has heated up.
This is speculation. But I would suggest that the reason some things are moving along more freely in some public corruption trials has to do with the very concrete fact that key players in the politicization of DOJ have left. Here are people we know to be central to the politicization of justice who are gone:
Harriet Miers, January 4 (with Fred Fielding named to replace her on January 8)
Kyle Sampson, resigns March 13
Monica Goodling, on leave before March 30, resigns April 7
Michael Elston, on leave, dates uncertain
Almost all the most central players in ousting the USAs are now gone. Gonzales is still in place, but he's incompetent and helpless without his minions. McNulty, Mercer, acting Chief of Staff Rosenberg, and soon-to-be Chief of Staff Kevin O'Connor have all served as USAs (though of course Mercer served on the 3-day-a-month plan), and their loyalties are up for debate. Some of the recidivists remain (Rachel Brand hasn't been appointed to any of the USA positions that appear to have been offered to her). But the key roadblock positions have been cleaned out, at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, as I pointed out some time ago, with the exception of Northern District of CA, the interim USAs who replaced the ousted USAs are all career professionals.
In just about every case with the Gonzales 7, they appointed the First Assistant USA or the Criminal Chief to serve as interim USA. Charlton was replaced by FAUSA Daniel Knauss, Lam was replaced by Executive Assistant USA Karen Hewitt, Chiara was replaced by, first, CRM Chief Brian Delaney and, later, FAUSA Charles Gross, Iglesias was replaced FAUSA Larry Gomez, Bogden was replaced by Steven Myhre, and John McKay was replaced by CRM Chief Jeffrey Sullivan. The one exception to this rule is Scott Schools, who replaced Kevin Ryan; Schools work(s) in DOJ, but then again, Northern CA is the one office where there really were management problems in the office, so that move might make sense.
And those professionals will remain in those positions, unless the Democratically-controlled Senate feels very strongly in favor of one or another USA candidate.
...the Democratically-controlled Senate is going to be in no rush to appoint any schlub that Bush is going to name. Now, Sullivan (in WA) is one of the few interim USAs who is also being suggested as a serious contender for the job. But when you think about it, all of the interims may be serving for longer than they otherwise might. For the Republicans, this presents a potential nightmare--you've fired 7 political appointees, yet in doing so, you may have ruined your ability to replace them with the even more politicized replacements you had dreamed of. Instead, you'll be stuck with the relatively unpolitical person who just happened to be second (or third) in command when the original USA was sacked. [my self-celebratory emphasis]
This whole USA thing couldn't have backfired more deliciously--in the seven districts where the USA was fired on December 7.
But here come my cautions. First, there are the districts where they did pull off an ouster: convincing Deborah Wong Yang to switch teams, replacing Heffelfinger with Paulose, Rove's hand-picked choice Tim Griffin in Arkansas. Until we hear news about Congressman Jerry Lewis and Governor Matt Blunt getting indicted, we need to assume that the scheme has worked, at least in part.
And we still have USA Jeff Taylor in charge of enforcing any subpoenas the Democratically controlled Congress might issue. Alice Fisher remains in charge of the Criminal Division of DOJ.
Which is why I remain skeptical on a few cases.Yes, all of Jack Abramoff's top golf partners appear to be flipping like pancakes. But at the same time, Stephen Griles gets a sweetheart no-cooperation plea agreement that may shield two of the key underlying scams Abramoff propagated--the giveaway of our national resources to campaign donors--from any scrutiny.
I guess what I'm saying is, yes, we're seeing movement. But there's still a lot of movement we haven't seen. And in many of the key areas of our criminal justice system, we need to remain vigilant.