Monday, March 19, 2007

Michael Kinsley and Ana Marie Cox at the Martini Ranch

To celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Know Nothing movement, the editors of Time have invited Michael Kinsley to blog about various matters.

As a result, patient readers have been entertained by the spectacle of Ana Marie Cox (the primordial Wonkette) debate Kinsley about the "wrongness" and illegalities of the Bush administration's firing of eight attorneys.

There are so many things wrong with Kinsley's posts (two so far) that a point-by-point smackdown would be ironically pointless. Suffice it to say that Atrios granted Kinsley the coveted Wanker of the Day award (I assume the recipient will plead "no contest"), and the usually even-tempered Kevin Drum is getting shrill and trashing the furniture at the Washington Monthly.

There's one moment, however, that pretty much sums up the willful ignorance of Kinsley's arguments (and Cox's responses). After condescending to his readers, he asks Cox the following:
For late arrivals: the administration snuck a provision into the odious Patriot Act that allows the Attorney General to fill US Attorney positions without Senate approval. [...]

Help me out here, AnaMarie. I am confused about the administration’s use of this provision. Has it ever put a US Attorney in place and not submitted the name to the Senate for confirmation? There is one guy who is explicitly temporary, but they insist that they intend to get Senate approval for every US Attorney they put in place. Is that right? And have they kept their word on this, at least so far?
First of all: For late arrivals??? Is this meant to be self-referential?

But then Cox responds:
As for the Patriot Act provisions about Senate confirmations: I am going to have to get back to you though I suspect our commenters will have Googled some data before I have my first martini.

My initial reaction to this exchange is simple: Is there anyone working at Time or are they just hosting a martini brunch over there? I mean, I've seen more in-depth, up-to-date political discussions over at the Debbie Gibson fan site.

Ana Marie Cox had one thing correct: in the time it took her to write that sentence, either Kinsley or Cox could have answered their own question while sipping a medium vodka dry shaken not stirred. (The answer = yes x 14, as commenter Helpy McHelper quickly noted in response to Kinsley's post.)

But more to the point, it's not only that the Justice Department honchos had already used that provision but that they intended to do so going forward. That same Google search found this bit of information from a relatively obscure news source:

In September, Sampson produced another list of firing candidates, telling the White House that Cummins was "in the process of being pushed out" and providing the names of eight others whom "we should consider pushing out." Five on that list were fired in December; the others were spared. [...}

Sampson also strongly urged bypassing Congress in naming replacements, using a little-known power slipped into the renewal of the USA Patriot Act in March 2006 that allows the attorney general to name interim replacements without Senate confirmation.

"I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed," Sampson wrote in a Sept. 17 memo to Miers. "It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don't have replacements ready to roll immediately.

"I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments," he wrote.

By avoiding Senate confirmation, Sampson added, "we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House."

Now, I wouldn't expect a seasoned veteran like Kinsley to know about a newfangled kid on the block like The Washington Post, but I would think he could ask the bartender to use the Google in between rounds.