The Plank

Whodunnit?

By and

If you want to follow the story about the fired U.S. attorneys, Josh Marshall and Paul Kiel are the people to see. But Slate's Dahlia Lithwick raises a crucial question: "Who changed the Patriot Act to make it easier to replace U.S. attorneys without oversight, and how did it happen with nobody looking?"

It turns out that the Judiciary Committee's chief counsel, Michael O'Neill, may or may not have slipped in the provision at the request of the Justice Department. (O'Neill, recall, had been hired back in 2005, when Arlen Specter's loyalty to the Bush White House was under question.) Specter, the committee's chair, may or may not have known about the change. The rest of Congress certainly didn't. So the Bush administration gained enormous power to appoint prosecutors without oversight, and no one seems to know how or why it happened. Now that a scandal has erupted, the House and Senate are scrambling to overturn the provision. Pretty smooth all around.

--Bradford Plumer

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