A couple of weeks ago, the blogs were rumbling with fears that George W. Bush might try to put an end to the Valerie Plame investigation by replacing special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as Chicago's U.S. attorney when his term ends this fall. We didn't pass along the rumblings because they seemed a little overblown -- both because Bush would surely see the obvious political peril in dumping Fitzgerald and because there just didn't seem to be much to back up the concern in the first place.
Maybe we were wrong. We still aren't seeing signs that Fitzgerald will be let go anytime soon, but a report in today's Los Angeles Times suggests that the president may not be above canning a prosecutor who starts sniffing around too close to home. Walter F. Roche Jr. writes in the Times that a grand jury in Guam opened an investigation into the actions of lobbyist Jack Abramoff more than two years ago but that the investigation ended abruptly after Bush removed the acting U.S. attorney who had been supervising it.
The Times says the federal grand jury in Guam was looking into Abramoff's "secret arrangement" with local court officials to lobby against a court revision bill then pending in Congress. As the Times has reported previously, the Guam officials' deal with Abramoff's was just a little unusual for a public agency: Abramoff was "paid with a series of $9,000 checks funneled through a Laguna Beach lawyer to disguise the lobbyist's role working for the Guam court," the Times says.
On Nov. 18, 2002, the grand jury run by Acting U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Black issued a subpoena demanding that the administrative director of Guam's Superior Court turn over documents related to the lobbying contract. The next day, the Times says, Bush demoted Black.
Although the timing is suspicious -- Black had been the acting U.S. attorney for more than 10 years -- there's no hard evidence that Bush acted in direct retaliation for the Abramoff probe. And the stakes would be different if Bush were to engage in a Saturday Night Massacre-style demotion of Patrick Fitzgerald. So we still tend to think it's pretty unlikely that Bush would seek to preempt bad news on Plame by demoting Fitzgerald.
But the president's men may have another way to get at the prosecutor who keeps pulling on the Plame thread. Although Fitzgerald is a special prosecutor, he still answers to someone at the Justice Department. Because Alberto Gonzales has recused himself from the case, that someone has been Deputy Attorney General James Comey. Comey has apparently left Fitzgerald alone to do his job, but now Comey is leaving to become the general counsel of Lockheed Martin. As Newsweek reports, the job of overseeing Fitzgerald will likely fall to Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, a man who just happens to be an old friend and Skull & Bones classmate of somebody named George W. Bush.