CBS's Plante Claims No One Thought Clinton's U.S. Attorneys Firings Were Political

CBS finally picked up the Clinton administration’s record of firing 93 federal prosecutors, but they still rushed to Clinton’s defense with false assertions. On the March 15 edition of "The Early Show," reporter Bill Plante sought to make this distinction between the Bush and Clinton firings.

"Mr. Bush isn't the first president to fire US attorneys and replace them with his own appointments. At the beginning of his first term, President Clinton cleaned house, ousting all 93 US attorneys. Not unusual, they serve at the pleasure of the president. The difference this time, the charge that politics played a role in their dismissal."

Not true. The Washington Post reported on March 26, 1993 that Republicans did charge politics in President Clinton’s mass firing. An excerpt from the article:

President Clinton yesterday attempted to rebut Republican criticism of the administration's decision to seek resignations from all U.S. attorneys, saying what he was asking was routine and less political than piecemeal replacements.

"All those people are routinely replaced and I have not done anything differently," Clinton told reporters during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office. He called the decision more politically appropriate "than picking people out one by one."

But Republicans in Congress pressed their criticism of the decision, announced Tuesday by Attorney General Janet Reno, with Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) describing the decision as "Reno's March Massacre."

Rep. Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) urged the administration to allow Jay B. Stephens, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, to stay on the job until he completes his investigation of the House Post Office scandal and the role House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) may have played in it.

Stephens said Tuesday he was about a month away from "a critical decision with regard to resolution" of the probe.

The transcript of the entire story is below.

HANNAH STORM: Thanks, Russ. There are growing calls for the president to get rid of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the wake of the prosecutor firing scandal. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has more on that. Good morning, Bill."

BILL PLANTE: Good morning, Hannah. That's right, all the Democrats on Capitol Hill and at least one Republican want the resignation of Attorney General Gonzales for the way the handling of the firing of those U.S. attorneys took place. The president is defending Gonzales for now, but he's leaving himself room to change his mind, if necessary.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: Mistakes were made and I'm frankly not happy about them. Because there is a lot of confusion over what really has been a customary practice by the president.

PLANTE: Democrats in Congress charge at least some of the eight US attorneys were fired for political reasons. The president denied that and said that he told Gonzales he needs to set the record straight.

BUSH: We talked about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it very clear to members in both political parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made.

PLANTE: Congressional Democrats are threatening to subpoena former White House counsel Harriet Miers and political counselor Karl Rove.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We just want all the facts to come out. If some bad things were done, they should come to light.

PLANTE: Mr. Bush isn't the first president to fire US attorneys and replace them with his own appointments. At the beginning of his first term, President Clinton cleaned house, ousting all 93 US attorneys. Not unusual, they serve at the pleasure of the president. The difference this time, the charge that politics played a role in their dismissal.

FORMER US ATTORNEY JOHN MCKAY: I asked for the reasons that I was being asked to resign and I was given no reasons.

PLANTE: Former US attorney John McKay was fired in December for reasons that he now believes had nothing to do with the way he did his job, but everything to do with how he didn't play politics.

MCKAY: Any individual prosecutor is replaceable. What's not replaceable is our reputation for fairness, our reputation for independence from political influences.

PLANTE: The 93 U.S. Attorneys are the government's prosecutors.

ANDREW COHEN, CBS NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: They are the backbone of the federal legal system because they take the policies and the laws and they implement them and they enforce them.

PLANTE: The question now is whether the White House will allow Miers, the former counsel, and Rove to testify. Fred Fielding, who is now the White House counsel, went to Capitol Hill yesterday. He's a veteran of Watergate and Iran-Contra, to see what could be worked out. So we'll wait and find out soon, Hannah.