Clinton Fresh: In '93, CNN Described Mass Attorney Firings as 'Clean Sweep'

The media’s historical omission of Clinton’s mass dismissal of 93 U.S. Attorneys has led to demands on the MRC archive for footage of Janet Reno’s declaration of the act – and our staff found an April 12, 1993 CNN special report where reporter Ken Bode called it a “one-day clean sweep.” Reno declared: “I have asked for their resignations at the request of the President…It’s important that we build a team that reflects our desire to have a Justice Department marked by excellence, marked by diversity, marked by professionalism, and integrity. I want teamwork where we’re both interested in achieving justice throughout America.” Video clip: Real (1.7MB) or Windows (1.9MB) plus MP3 (295KB).

Bode’s report as a whole earned our old “Janet Cooke Award” that month for slanting dramatically against the Reagan-Bush Justice Departments, allowing Reno to defend herself, but not GOP attorneys general Ed Meese or William Barr. As we wrote at the time:

Bode's story moved on to Clinton: "Clinton's first public office was Attorney General of Arkansas. He was aggressive, high- profile, populist...If the Justice Department will reflect President Clinton's policies, expect the new attorney general to be much stronger on civil rights enforcement, pay attention to environmental laws, support the rights of children, and a continued emphasis on crime and public safety." Bode aired no one taking issue with Clinton's years in Arkansas or his present policies.

Bode ended on a properly even-handed note, suggesting that Janet Reno's firing of 93 U.S. attorneys "raises suspicions that the Clinton administration is willing to put politics above enforcing the law." Bode let fired U.S. Attorney Jay Stephens charge politics were involved in taking him off the investigation of House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. He also concluded that the Rostenkowski probe "has become a highly visible test of how political the Justice Department will be under Bill Clinton and Janet Reno." But Bode interviewed Reno and let her declare herself non-political in three soundbites. That's very unlike his treatment of Reagan-Bush officials, who were simply left out.

But much of the report was a harsh critique of conservative politicization of the justice system:

Bode selected an increasingly popular target, the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments: "For the last decade, the Justice Department was an ideological warehouse for conservative thinkers. At the same time, Justice became a political arm of the White House." Bode aired sound bites from Donald Ayer, a disgruntled former Justice official, and Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bode explained: "The Department of Justice will always reflect the policy priorities of a President, but the Reagan-Bush Department went further, undermining laws the administration opposed."

Bode caricatured the GOP record: "The Reagan-Bush agenda included a hard line on abortion, a rollback on civil rights -- trying to restore tax credits for segregated schools, for example -- also attempts to minimize affirmative action requirements." To explain this, Bode brought on liberal Ralph Neas of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He aired no one defending Reagan policies.

Bode also underlined liberal charges that the Reagan-Bush GOP had a racist pattern of punishing black politicians in political corruption cases, and a lax approach to S&L fraud -- a rich critique compared to the Whitewater File Shredders who came next. The man who's number two to Al Gonzales now gave me a rebuttal back then to the charge of right-wing politicization:

Former Justice official Paul McNulty replied to MediaWatch: "What about the 1960s? Was the Johnson administration politicized because it 'undermined' racist laws? In the 1980s, we wanted to bring on reforms as well -- to correct oppressive regulation, restore a sounder reading of the Constitution, question discriminatory civil rights laws. Every administration is suppose to advocate policies in legislation and in judicial advocacy."

That sounds like a much better answer than what we’re hearing today.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis