A light bulb goes off on the Washington Post editorial page

Fred Hiatt's editorial today on the U.S. attorneys scandal makes the exact opposite argument he made just two weeks ago. Does that signal a sea change in Beltway conventional wisdom?

Published April 10, 2007 11:59AM (EDT)

Even more than most national journalists, The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt has been a stalwart defender of the Bush administration with regard to the U.S. attorneys scandal. On March 26, 2007 -- just two weeks ago -- Hiatt wrote:

Mr. Gonzales finds himself in this mess because he and others in his shop appear to have tried to cover up something that, as far as we yet know, didn't need covering. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president -- with the advice and consent of the Senate. The president was entitled to replace any he chose, as long as he wasn't intending to short-circuit ongoing investigations.

While the Editorial acknowledged that there appears to have been what Hiatt politely called "shifting explanations for the eventual dismissals of eight federal prosecutors," he argued that there was no evidence of any underlying impropriety with regard to the firings themselves.

But today, Hiatt has another Editorial on this scandal, and he says exactly the opposite of what he said two weeks ago. Today's Editorial focuses on the dismissal of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, and argues:

THE DISPUTE between Democratic lawmakers and the Bush administration over access to documents and interviews with officials about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys seems to be escalating, not resolving. That's unfortunate, because it's become clear that the administration must make more information available than has been forthcoming. Perhaps the clearest case for that -- and the most troubling evidence of improper political motivations -- involves New Mexico prosecutor David C. Iglesias.

In just two weeks, we went from firings that "didn't need covering" to "troubling evidence of improper political motivations." That's progress. The Editorial notes that Igelsias was never on any of the lists of prosecutors targeted for dismissal until November, 2006 -- shortly before the firings were complete. Hiatt asks:

How and why? The answers, though still incomplete, do not paint the Bush administration in an attractive light.

After recounting the fact that New Mexico Republicans Sen. Pete Dominici and Rep. Heather Wilson were both pressuring Iglesias to prosecute Democratic officials in New Mexico based on "voter fraud" accusations (accusations which Igelsias, after reviewing the evidence, concluded lacked any merit), and that Dominici repeatedly called DOJ to complain about Iglesias' failure to prosecute those Democrats (complaints which Igelsias labelled "reprehensible," because those demanding prosecution had no idea whether there was actual evidence warranting prosecution), Hiatt notes:

In addition, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Allen Weh complained to White House adviser Karl Rove about Mr. Iglesias. And, last but not least, President Bush himself passed on to the attorney general complaints about U.S. attorneys, including Mr. Iglesias, who were allegedly failing to aggressively pursue voter fraud cases.

Mr. Sampson's testimony showed that Mr. Iglesias was added to the list after Mr. Rove also complained to the attorney general about Mr. Iglesias's supposedly poor performance on voter fraud. This revelation not only adds to the evidence undercutting the attorney general's professions of ignorance about the whole episode; it deepens the sense that the judgment about whom to fire was influenced, if not dictated, by political considerations.

Hiatt then outlines the multiple questions that Karl Rove must answer -- questions which demonstrate just how central Rove's involvement is in this entire scandal:

What prompted Mr. Rove's complaint? Did he speak with Mr. Domenici or Ms. Wilson? Was there in fact a problem with Mr. Iglesias's record on voter fraud? Was he dismissed for failing to bring voter fraud cases that he did not believe were justified by the evidence? Was voter fraud the real reason for his dismissal, or his alleged absenteeism because of military service? Or was it because he failed to produce in time an indictment that could have been helpful to Ms. Wilson's endangered reelection bid?

There are reasons to be skeptical about what happened here.

Everything Hiatt argued here has been known for many, many weeks -- really for months. Yet until today, Hiatt and his comrades in the national press were insisting that there was absolutely no underlying impropriety here -- and that there was no reason other than petty political games which could possibly motivate anyone to want to question poor, beleaguered Karl Rove under oath.

But the whole time, all of the evidence Hiatt just cited was publicly known. And it has been exactly that evidence which bloggers and then Democratic Senators were pointing to in order to insist that there was substantial evidence to suggest very serious wrongdoing with regard to the reason these prosecutors were fired.

From the beginning, one of the key aspects that has made this scandal so significant, and so disturbing, is the clear evidence suggesting that at least some of these prosecutors were fired for failing to pursue criminal prosecutions against Democratic officials -- prosecutions designed to advance Karl Rove's long-standing and well-known voter suppression efforts. These suspicions are backed (as Hiatt finally recognizes) by substantial evidence.

Much of the evidence is, admittedly, circumstantial, but that is so precisely because we have not yet had full hearings with the key witnesses/culprits and full disclosure of key documents. And the reason the pool of information is still so incomplete is because the White House, cheered on by the national media, has steadfastly refused to reveal what it knows (and what it did), choosing instead to hide behind precarious assertions of "executive privilege."

All of this is precisely why it has been so frustrating to watch our national media scoff dismissively at this scandal. If journalists are not interested in allegations that federal prosecutions are being politically manipulated by the White House and DOJ -- with a desire to suppress votes for partisan reasons as one of the motives -- then what executive wrongdoing would they ever find worthy of attention?

Like most of our elite opinion-makers, the most important priority for Fred Hiatt is to demonstrate his superior insight and sober, excruciatingly restrained judgment. So he writes this Editorial as though these are all new revelations and without acknowledging that he made the exact opposite claims just two weeks ago. But better late than never.

Now it's the very, very esteemed Fred Hiatt and the Post Editorial Page -- rather than merely the loudmouth partisan dirty blogging masses -- recognizing that the U.S. attorneys scandal involves accusations of very serious wrongdoing, along with substantial evidence to support those accusations. And even Hiatt now recognizes that Rove and even the President are quite near the center of it all.

Perhaps this Editorial is a signal that national conventional media wisdom will shift. Maybe Time Magazine can find some space to inform their readers about ongoing developments, and the rest of our national press will stop viewing the effort to question Karl Rove and obtain key White House documents as nothing more than a petty, fun game which is just an annoying distraction from the Very Important Business which the Beltway needs to conduct. Whatever it is that caused Fred Hiatt to make arguments today that are the exact opposite of what he said only two weeks ago, let's hope there is more of it.

* * * * *

It was announced yesterday that this will be the last week for Sam Seder's Air America program. Sam is one of the most insightful and well-informed interviewers anywhere, and the cancellation of his show is a genuine loss. I will be on his program this morning, at 10:30 a.m. EST, as part of his final week. The live audio feed can be heard here.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------