Recently, an eighth name was added to the list of the Gonzales Seven, the U.S. Attorneys forced to resign since the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in March of 2006. It now appears Margaret Chiara can also be added to the list of attorneys receiving their phone calls on December 7th, 2006 -- Pearl Harbor Day. In his opening remarks to the House committee hearings, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella stated that there are 18 who have resigned since March 2006.
The U.S. Attorney story to date:
On Tuesday March 6th, 2007, under oath in front of Congress, six recently fired US Attorneys gave testimony compelled by subpoenas issued on Friday, March 2nd. H.E. "Bud" Cummins, Paul Charlton, Daniel Bogden, David Iglesias, Carol Lam and John McKay testified in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, with Lam, McKay, Iglesias and Cummins also testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier the same day.
As widely reported in the press, their testimony revealed that members of Congress questioned or expressed displeasure about how these U.S. Attorneys were performing their jobs. David Iglesias gave testimony documenting pressure from members of Congress about the performance of his job as U.S. Attorney in New Mexico (Senator Domenici and Representative Heather Wilson in New Mexico1. Substantiating his testimony, on Saturday, March 10, Margaret Talev and Marisa Taylor from McClatchy2 reported that the Republican Party Chair, Allen Weh, in New Mexico, displeased with Iglesias's principled refusal to turn his office into a political campaign tool, complained to Karl Rove who reportedly responded: "He's gone."
These accusations regarding such a breach of Congressional ethics require critical scrutiny especially in light of Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty's recent testimony under oath in front of the Senate judiciary committee when he said that the dismissals were for reasons of performance.
But in an up-is-down way, McNulty was right; the dismissals were for performance. Apparently, these U.S. Attorneys did not sufficiently advance the Bush administration's political policies, according to a recent "policy performance review." In other words, at least in Iglesias' case, they reportedly did not support partisan objectives and or questionable practices as expected by certain GOP members of Congress and by the administration.
Recently Paul Krugman of The New York Times3 indicated that we can learn much by examining not only which U.S. Attorneys were forced out, but also looking at who remained. He suggests said they were too moderate and principled. Others on the blogs and in opinion editorials speculate that the fired Attorneys were not in line with Bush political policy in terms of their Native American tribal constituents, the corruption cases their offices were prosecuting (or not prosecuting), or in their less than aggressive pursuing federal prosecution of death penalty sentences at a time when the states were declining capital punishment.4 In several of the districts represented by the resigning U.S. Attorneys, the local hue and cry over their firings suggests that most of them were good at their jobs.
What we know about Margaret Chiara:
Margaret Chiara was appointed by President Bush on September 4th, 2001 and confirmed by the Senate on October 23rd, 2001 as US Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. Unlike some members of the Gonzales Seven, Chiara does not seem to have been dismissed for investigating -- or not investigating -- political corruption of the correct partisan persuasion.
As with all the resigning U.S. Attorneys, there is little doubt that, U.S. Attorney for Western District of Michigan, an area with a high concentration of Dominionist and Dutch-heritage conservatives, was exceptionally qualified. If anything, she was over-qualified for her previous role as prosecutor of sleepy, rural Cass County, Michigan. She had been a candidate for sisterhood, having studied to become a nun. Her curriculum vitae shows that she holds an undergrad degree from Fordham University, a master's awarded by Pace University and a Juris Doctor from Rutgers University. Chiara was also recognized by Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. Feedback from members of the judicial system about her performance as U.S. Attorney has been highly complimentary.
Chiara also appeared to take seriously her role as the new chair of the U.S. Attorney General's Native American Issues Subcommittee (NAIS), dedicating a substantial amount of effort to a webpage at the USA-Western Michigan's website to the concerns of Native Americans. Chiara had only recently become chair after Minnesota's U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger stepped down in February of 2006. Only a very small number of USAs have ever been identified publicly as NAIS members under this administration - and three of them in addition to Chiara have stepped down or been dismissed.
Western Michigan is not known for a high crime rate, due in part to its demographics. With the exception of more urban areas like Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Muskegon, population density is moderate to thin and rural. Consequently, crimes investigated and prosecuted are not as colorful or remarkable as those in substantially more urban areas, as the press releases published at the USA-Western Michigan's website show. However, three cases within Chiara's district have generated substantial news coverage: the CyberNET/Cyberco scheme run by Barton Watson in the Grand Rapids area, a drug-related murder case in northern Michigan, and an investigation into companies hiring illegal aliens.
Although no names familiar in Michigan's political universe surface in reporting related to the murder and drug cases, it is rumored that a call for the death penalty in the drug-related murder case was a source of conflict between Chiara and the U.S. Attorney General's office However seeking a death penalty would be anomalous with Michigan's culture and history; Michigan outlawed the death penalty in 1846 under state law, one of the first states to do so in the U.S. It would also be unusual for a Catholic like Chiara to advocate the death penalty. Chiara's dismissal was announced much later than that of the "Gonzales Seven," although it does appear she was notified in December 2006. Although not corroborated by any data, it's possible that the recent sentencing of a family member related to con-man Barton Watson delayed the announcement; a 23-count indictment involving the hiring of illegal aliens announced February 22, 2007, may also have contributed to the delay.
After reviewing what we know about Chiara based on public record, we are left with little clear explanation as to why this particular U.S. Attorney was dismissed. What remains is a black hole-like object, definable by the outline around it but not by any readily distinguishable characteristics. We are left instead with a lot of questions and conjecture about the real reasons why Chiara was dismissed.
Margaret Chiara was highly qualified and praised for her work; data supports her track record -- in common with the other U.S. Attorneys notified on December 7th.
"...During her tenure as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, the jurisdiction has seen a 15% increase in felony prosecutions and convictions. She developed an attorney training and mentoring program that now serves as a national model, her office said."
No replacement has yet been named; Russell C. Stoddard is the First Assistant Attorney is now the acting interim head of the Western District office in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Recommendations, if made by the state's Republican Party, have not been made public. Chiara's last day is Friday, March 16th.
About the Author: Rayne Today is a progressive activist and citizen journalist with ePluribus Media. She writes pseudononymously for her own eponymous blog as well as RadioFreeBlogistan and MichiganLiberal. Having worked for more than 13 years at Fortune 100 companies, she now owns a small consulting firm specializing in competitive intelligence and business services in mid-Michigan.
ePluribus Media Researchers, Contributors and Fact Checkers: avahome, cho, kfred, Land of Enchantment, standingup, luapt, Todd Johnston, smit2174 , roxy; from FireDogLake: HotFlash