Apattern of prosecutorial interference by Bush administration political operatives became clearer last week with the emergence of new details about the probe of an Arizona congressman by a U.S. attorney who was sacked.
Prosecutor Paul Charlton reported to Justice Department officials in 2006 that a top aide to Rep. Rick Renzi contacted him about his investigation into the GOP congressman's role in a land deal that would benefit a former business partner. Six weeks later, Mr. Charlton got the word he was being replaced.
That brings to six out of eight the number of fired U.S. attorneys who had either pursued Republicans or failed to more aggressively prosecute Democrats, leaving one shoved out for reasons still unclear and a loyal Bush supporter who may have been the only one truly terminated for poor performance.
Manipulation of the vast federal machinery to serve partisan political purposes is nothing unusual for this administration. It is further evidence of the genius of political guru Karl Rove, who was also busy before last year's election overseeing briefings of senior officials in 16 other federal agencies to highlight closely fought congressional elections featuring vulnerable Republicans and Democrats targeted for defeat.
In some cases, such manipulation may have been against the law.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Mr. Charlton's investigation of Mr. Renzi was impeded before last year's election by delays in securing Justice Department approval for search warrants, subpoenas and other legal tools. After leaks about the probe surfaced in October, Mr. Renzi's aide called Mr. Charlton, who refused comment but reported the call to the Justice Department because he considered it inappropriate, according to The Washington Post.
Mr. Charlton's name may have been on a list of prosecutors targeted for dismissal when he made his report. He was dispatched along with the others Dec. 7.
The investigation against Mr. Renzi continues. But if there is evidence that it was deliberately impeded to help the congressman secure re-election, those responsible could be charged with obstruction of justice.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has made very clear that he doesn't understand the distinction between his post as the nation's chief law enforcement officer and his former role as President Bush's longtime friend and lawyer. Many others in this administration seem to be similarly unclear about to whom they owe their first loyalty.
The American people deserve better than ranking a distant second.