Wednesday, December 27, 2006

EDITORIALS>>Why Pryor is angry

Leader editorial writer

It does not speak well of Tim Griffin that his appointment by President Bush as United States attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas brought an expression of rage from Sen. Mark Pryor. Mark Pryor is not any politician. He is the blandest, gentlest, most accommodating, least partisan member of the Arkansas delegation to Congress — maybe of the entire Congress, ever. As a member of the middle-of-the-road Gang of 14, he helped broker Senate acceptance of some of the president’s most outrageous judicial nominees. The ambit of his graciousness seemed to have no bounds — until it got to Tim Griffin.

Griffin, lately a Little Rock lawyer, is known principally as a political operative who operated under the guidance of Karl Rove, the president’s political director, to help Republicans get elected, starting with Bush in Florida. He has done some legal work in the military, worked briefly at a law firm in New Orleans and has done spells in the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock under Bud Cummins, who agreed to step down before his term expired to make way for Rove’s acolyte.

That Griffin is an active Republican does not distinguish him in any way. Whoever is president, all U.S. attorneys are political appointees. Cummins got his job from Bush after running a losing campaign against Democrat Vic Snyder. Snyder, incidentally, cheered his nomination. The only thing that distinguishes Griffin is the singularity of his partisanship.

And the way he was appointed. It was arranged for Cummins to wait until the Congress was adjourning before submitting his nomination. Then the president made an emergency recess appointment of Griffin under the extraordinary terms of the Patriot Act so that he is not subjected to a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his qualifications. He can, if the president so wishes, serve through 2008 under the emergency appointment.
There was no emergency. Cummins could have served until next month (he’s jobless now), or an assistant district attorney could have supervised the office for a few weeks. But the appointment left the unmistakable impression that the White House and Justice Department did not want Griffin answering questions. That was the source for Pryor’s outrage. Who can blame him?

Griffin may surprise us. He said the right things this week: The U.S. attorney’s office must be above politics. He implies that he will not use the office to seek out Democrats or to protect Republicans, Kenneth Starr-style. He carries a heavy cloak of responsibility to demonstrate fairness and rectitude. It would help him if the president submitted his name again next month under the normal process.