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Adam Cohen on Why Debra Yang Resigned as U.S. Attorney:
'Tis the season for speculation about why various U.S. Attorneys left their jobs in the last year. Some of the speculation seems plausible, and some of it seems off. My vote for the most implausible theory is one floated by Adam Cohen in The New York Times today about Debra Yang, the Republican U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, who left the U.S. Attorney's Office to take a partnership at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. If I understand Cohen's suggestion correctly (it's the second in his list, starting with "a second possibility"), Cohen wonders whether there might have been a secret conspiracy between Gibson Dunn and the Bush White House to get rid of their mutual enemy, Yang, by giving her a partnership at Gibson plus a $1.5 million signing bonus. With enemies like that, who needs friends?

  UPDATE: Gibson Dunn Partner Randy Mastro responds over at the WSJ Law Blog. As you would expect, Mastro is parroting the Bush Administration line: he has the gall to just deny the conspiracy outright. Of course, the denial is being published in a blog run by the ultra-conservative Wall Street Journal, which is probably in cahoots with the White House and Gibson anyway.
wuzzagrunt (mail):
I've been making enemies at work, for decades. It really is "who you know".
5.4.2007 7:45pm
Ilya Somin:
If I promise to never even consider becoming a US attorney, can I have a similar payoff?
5.4.2007 8:19pm
Mark Field (mail):
No way would any blogger here get as big a bonus as I would. There are few people in this world they would (or should) pay more NOT to have as a US attorney while they're in office.
5.4.2007 8:24pm
blackdoggerel (mail):
Adam Cohen's pieces are not to be taken seriously. Every one of them is couched in the same tired, predictable rhetoric of conspiracy, speculation, and demagoguery; there is not a stitch of credible reasoning to be found in them. During the time he has been the NYT editorial board's legal representative, their editorials on legal matters have become an embarrassment -- especially when compared to editorials from their peers, such as the WaPo or LA Times. Those papers publish legal editorials that, while often reaching the same ultimate opinion as the NYT, demonstrate that some careful thought was actually put into the decisionmaking process. In contrast, I cannot recall a single Cohen editorial piece where, upon being told of the subject matter, I could not tell you exactly what he was going to say about it.
5.4.2007 8:50pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
The WSJ is on the left in the news pages, and conservative on the editorial pages. (A firewall that the NYT might consider restoring.)
5.4.2007 8:55pm
Dave N (mail):
I haven't read the NYT editorial, but it sounds very much like Karl Rove:

"Instead of firing Debra Yang like we are doing to all those other U.S. Attorneys, we will throw everyone off track and get her to leave by having one of the largest law firms in the country make her a partner and give her a million-five signing bonus to boot."
5.4.2007 8:57pm
Jim FSU 1L (mail):
Wow, sounds like quite the conspiracy. I wonder what her damages will be for the harm the republicans have done to her career.
5.4.2007 10:18pm
Justin (mail):
Orin's being sarcastic, but I am not sure why. We know that Harriet Miers and Sampson had discussions about removing her, and that those discussions were more serious than several of the people who were removed. These sorts of parachutes are hardly uncommon in more legitimate removals - in fact, there was an amusing scene in an West Wing episode where President Bartlett was trying to get an incompetent ambassador a job with some of his former backers.

Bartlet: Let me just tell you, I need a favor. I need you to hire a guy.
Mitchell: Who sir?
Bartlet: A former ambassador to Bulgaria.
Mitchell: Who is that, sir?
Bartlet: Ken Cochran.
Mitchell: Well, isn't Ken Cochran the current ambassador to Bulgaria?
Bartlet: Not for long. Look, he's a good man, a smart man, I think he'd make a very good corporate officer.
Mitchell: Why is he being fired, sir?
Bartlet: Gross incompetence. I'll be right back.

Not sure if $1.5 million is normal - I haven't heard it, but I'm not sought out as a partner too often. But is it inconceivable that Yang's $1.5 million was paid as part of a win-win "deal," where we already know that the White House wanted Yang out?

Maybe Orin's right, and maybe this is nothing, but I think given this white house and what we know already, its far wiser to wait till we learn more before casting one's side on any particular issue. Orin already said that nothing illegal happened - now its clear that such an assertion was premature. We've already seen Senator Thompson come out strong with a "nothing to see here" statements on all the right wing media outlets. I haven't heard a peep from him on this issue since.

And all Cohen said is that questions were being raised. The facts he mentions are all true. And the implications of those facts are all troubling. I just don't see how Cohen looks silly here, and therefore I don't think this sarcasm is all that warranted.
5.4.2007 10:32pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
. I just don't see how Cohen looks silly here,
Sure. To look truly silly, one would need to cite a television script as evidence.
5.4.2007 10:36pm
Justin (mail):
David, the whole point of these parachute jobs - which are fairly common - is so we DON'T find out that people get fired. They just move on to "other things."

Also, I should note while I'd be somewhat of a hypocrite if I said that you shouldn't be snarky and obnoxious while making an argument, I hope for your clients' sake that you generally don't think snarky and obnoxious an acceptable ALTERNATIVE for an argument.
5.4.2007 10:47pm
uh_clem (mail):
My vote for the most implausible theory is one floated by Adam Cohen

Surely you jest. You think Cohen's hypothesis is more implausible than the official cover story floated by Gonzales et.al. ? At least Cohen is internally consistent.
5.4.2007 11:09pm
Jim Rhoads (mail):
Oh....My....God. Yang in thrown in the Gibson Dunn briar patch.

Bre'er Rabbit would be soooooooooo scared and upset.
5.5.2007 1:07am
a bean:
"Wolf, wolf..."

Again, this is a campaign of insinuation meant to play on sentiments, argued with eye-of-the-beholder evidence. The brilliant part of it, is that it doesn't even require a conspiracy. So many people hate bush, and it has become so acceptable in social circles to bash bush that people latch an d perpetuate the process if only to have something to talk about.

It certainly is time to "MoveOn", but step one should be skip the cathartic demonization.
5.5.2007 1:14am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"... there was an amusing scene in an West Wing episode where President Bartlett was trying to get an incompetent ambassador a job with some of his former backers."

It's nice to see that television signals make out to the gamma quadrant.
5.5.2007 1:49am
David M. Nieporent (www):
David, the whole point of these parachute jobs - which are fairly common - is so we DON'T find out that people get fired. They just move on to "other things."
Justin, the problem with that argument is that the administration obviously DIDN'T care whether people found out that people got fired.

Why would Yang, uniquely out of the group of USAs that the administration allegedly wanted gone for being disloyal, be rewarded with a $1.5 million bonus for leaving?
5.5.2007 3:07am
Public_Defender (mail):
$1.5 million seems like a small price to pay to avoid a public stink. For an additional $12 million, the Bush administration might have avoided this whole controversy.

On the WSJ blog, the Gibson Dunn partner says he does not discuss partner compensation. He will-when he gets the congressional subpoena. I wonder how much time and money Gibson Dunn will spend producing documents and testimony about the hiring of this partner.

Gibson Dunn may become the Halliburton of the legal world.
5.5.2007 8:04am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
This is exactly why I am a rightwinger, folks. Back when Clinton was in the Whitehouse, our tinfoil hatters tried to construct a conspiracy theory around every accidental death within six degrees of separation of Bill and Hillary. Now we have mainstream Democrats wanting questioning whether Bush administration "enemies" are being disposed of through through offers of lucrative partnerships and sweet executive compensation packages. Our nutters make more sense.
5.5.2007 9:32am
corneille1640 (mail):
re: Justin's West Wing reference:

That's my favorite West Wing episode. I will say I'd accept a job that pays a mere $100 an hour, and I'm only marginally incompetent.
5.5.2007 10:38am
Henri Le Compte (mail):
Speaking of nutters:
Instapundit today links to a Rassmussen poll which shows this:


Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure.


Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but craziness like that makes this story a walk in the park.
5.5.2007 10:42am
Mark Field (mail):

Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure.



Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but craziness like that makes this story a walk in the park.


I suspect the respondents interpreted the phrase "know about" to mean "had warning of". The results make perfectly good sense in that case.
5.5.2007 11:31am
Lawyer (mail):
Pretty telling inconsistency in Adam's second hypothesis:


She was hired to be co-leader of the Crisis Management Practice Group with Theodore Olson, who was President Bush's solicitor general and his Supreme Court lawyer in Bush v. Gore. Gibson, Dunn was defending Mr. Lewis in Ms. Yang's investigation.


and:


Ms. Yang, who says she left her job purely for personal reasons, may not have known she was being lured away by people with close ties to Mr. Lewis and the White House, who were hoping to replace her with a more partisan prosecutor.


So... Yang didn't know that Gibson Dunn - who were representing Lewis in Yang's own investigation - had strong ties to Lewis? Yang didn't know that Gibson Dunn - who represented Bush in an obscure, little-known case called Bush v Gore - had strong ties to the White House? Does this guy even read his conspiracy theories before they go to print, or is this just stream-of-consciousness?
5.5.2007 12:37pm
Cornellian (mail):
Clearly Halliburton is behind this and there's some kind of connection to the World Bank and Wolfowitz's girlfriend too.


Seriously though if Yang were considered highly competent but turfed for being an insufficiently loyal "Bushie" it's not absurd that some well connected people might make a pitch to their friends at Gibson Dunn about what a good catch she would be. I don't think it's very likely since it doesn't make a lot of sense that they would make an exception in her case rather than just firing her like the others but it's not completely absurd. Her situation may have been different in ways we do not yet know, e.g. she might have already been in talks with GDC to join them and someone in the White House might have just given her a particularly enthusiastic reference.
5.5.2007 12:43pm
Dave N (mail):
Mark Field,

The poll response makes no sense under any circumstances. I agree with Henri Le Compte. BDS is more widespread than I thought.
5.5.2007 1:02pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Considering the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing was entitled Bin Laden determined to strike in US, we can at least say Bush had no reason to be "surprised" 35 days later.
5.5.2007 1:09pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Hmm... a million five?

Is there any way to get on this White House enemies list? Is it by nomination, by invitation only, or can you write your way on? I'm making my CV current right now, but have no idea where to send it. Maybe there's somebody in White House Personnel Office, or might it be handled at OMB.

It's probably not civil service, so there's probably only minimal due process rights if I'm rejected. But at 1.5 million to start, it's worth the gamble.
5.5.2007 1:29pm
anonymous coward:
If the White House and DOJ were meticulous enough to arrange sweet jobs for the other US Attorneys they wanted to replace--instead of insulting them in public--this wouldn't have become a scandal. I suppose they might think up some conspiracy stunt to get rid of someone now, but last year, before anyone was paying attention? Of course not.
5.5.2007 1:34pm
pete (mail) (www):
Because "Bin Laden determined to strike in US" means exactly that four different groups of men from four contries are going to simulataneously hijak four different airplanes taking off from two different airports and try to crash them into four different landmarks. No reason to be "surprised" at all.

Next you will be telling us that it is a "suprise" that fire can melt steel.
5.5.2007 1:55pm
pete (mail) (www):
And for a million and a half dollars I will publically state that Bush was personally responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, the cancelation of Star Trek, and the collapse of the Roman Empire.
5.5.2007 1:59pm
wuzzagrunt (mail):
And for a million and a half dollars I will publically state that Bush was personally responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, the cancelation of Star Trek, and the collapse of the Roman Empire.


Please don't tell me you've fallen for the lie that Bush had no involement in the Lindburgh baby's kidnapping. That's exactly what they want you to believe.
5.5.2007 2:41pm
Mark Field (mail):

The poll response makes no sense under any circumstances. I agree with Henri Le Compte. BDS is more widespread than I thought.


Apparently DDS is more widespread than I thought.
5.5.2007 2:51pm
Martin Ammorgan (mail):
Pete-you ever read the unredacted portions? Hijackings are specifically mentioned, as is surveillance by al Qaeda of NYC buildings. I agree that Bush shouldn't have cut his August vacation short based on this flimsy warning, but who knows what's in the redacted portion?

Not that it really matters. Hurricane Katrina gave about 10 days advanced warning-hell, you could follow it on radar, and Bush was still playing air guitar at landfall!
5.5.2007 3:05pm
Al (mail):
>>Is there any way to get on this White House enemies list? Is it by nomination, by invitation only, or can you write your way on?

I hear that all you have to do to get on the enemies list is to say something that could be construed as criticism of Bush, whether in a speech, an obscure article, or even a private telephone call that is being monitored by Karl Rove. However, as you may recall, if you get on the enemies list, you will also get put on the no-fly list and hassled at airports, so you may have a hard time showing up for the interview.
5.5.2007 3:17pm
Montie (mail):

Considering the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing was entitled Bin Laden determined to strike in US, we can at least say Bush had no reason to be "surprised" 35 days later.


That depends on what you mean by surprise. It was unsurprising that Al Qaeda attacked the US, because Bin Laden basically said that he would in a 1997 CNN interview (and the memo was basically relying on that interview). However, the mode of attack and the exact timing of the attack was a surprise.
5.5.2007 3:29pm
Montie (mail):

Hijackings are specifically mentioned, as is surveillance by al Qaeda of NYC buildings.


The Smoking Gun is an excellent resource. It appears that the redactions would contain nothing useful.

The true scandal here is that the best information that we had on Bin Laden on 9/11 were four year old press interviews. That implies far-reaching incompetence throughout the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. I don't know if Bush did anything to root that out.
5.5.2007 3:45pm
pete (mail) (www):
"Pete-you ever read the unredacted portions?"

Yes I have. Here is a link to it. Most of what it says was not new and some of it was specifically contradicted by what actually happened on 9/11. It says that Bib Laden may have been insterested in hijaking planes to get the blind skeik Umar Abd al-Rahman and other terrorists released and the buildings that they thought were threatened were some federal buildings in New York. I agree that Bush knew Al-quaida was a danger before 9/11, but any suggestion that he knew what was going to happen or that he knew they were planning an attack on that scale or knew any specific details of the attack beforehand is not supported by any rational evidence.
5.5.2007 3:55pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Is there any big-city U.S. Attorney right now who wouldn't have several megafirms ready to offer him/her a highly lucrative package to leave the government?

Landing the local USA is a prize catch - one that will get plenty of free media for the firm, and considering that her government salary is not much different from what they're paying first year associates, I'm surprised that more USAs don't make the jump.

BTW, for the people suggesting that "knew about" meant "had warning of", show up at a grassroots Democratic organization meeting sometime. At many of them, half the people think that Bush was behind planting explosives in the towers to bring them down - and will go out of their way to tell you to read their favorite sources. Jane's law is very real.

Nick

Nick
5.5.2007 4:05pm
pete (mail) (www):

Please don't tell me you've fallen for the lie that Bush had no involement in the Lindburgh baby's kidnapping. That's exactly what they want you to believe.



That is no lie. Bush had nothing to do with the Lindburgh baby kindapping. That was done by the free masons, Nicola Tesla, and the Vatican to prevent Lindberg from stopping their experiements with HAARP and the true origin of the Holy Grail. Everyone knows that.
5.5.2007 4:12pm
Charlie B. (mail):
Hurricane Katrina moved off south Florida into the Gulf of Mexico in the early hours of Friday, August 25 and came ashore near New Orleans at dawn Monday, August 29.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good anti President Bush rant.
5.5.2007 4:28pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Pete-you ever read the unredacted portions? Hijackings are specifically mentioned, as is surveillance by al Qaeda of NYC buildings. I agree that Bush shouldn't have cut his August vacation short based on this flimsy warning, but who knows what's in the redacted portion?
1. There's no redacted "portion." There are redacted words.

2. Hijackings are mentioned in vague generalities:
We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a XXXXXX service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks


3. It doesn't quite say surveillance of NYC buildings, it says "recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." Since that doesn't have anything to do with 9/11, I'm not sure why it's worth mentioning.
5.5.2007 4:42pm
Justin (mail):
"Justin, the problem with that argument is that the administration obviously DIDN'T care whether people found out that people got fired.

Why would Yang, uniquely out of the group of USAs that the administration allegedly wanted gone for being disloyal, be rewarded with a $1.5 million bonus for leaving?"

There you go, an actual argument. Congrads!

Except that while those are things to consider, they hardly prevent the possibility that Cohen raises from being accurate. Yang may have been treated differently for several reasons. We know, for instance, that there were discussions about firing Fitzgerald, but that he was ultimately saved because of the determination that firing him was politically unteneable. Likewise, Yang was investigating very prominant Republicans at the time, and a straight dismissal would have been difficult to defend, where (unlike Lam and McKay, for instance) there was no superficial reason for her termination.

And as I said, maybe it turned out to be win-win. They could still have LIKED her without wanting her to investigate Lewis. They put in a call and found out that Gibson Dunn was interested, and worked out a deal.

What we KNOW is that they were going to fire Yang, and then she resigned for this job. What we don't have is evidence of an actual push by the white house to get rid of her, but NOR do we have the type of evidence we'd expect to have if they didn't push her out - i.e., an email removing Yang from the "to be terminated" list, or even a colloquial one that says "well, it looks like Yang left anyway, so we don't have to fire her."

If I had to place my money on this one way or another, I'd say that Cohen is closer to the truth than Kerr is. Not necessary on the truth, but I do think the White House probably helped broker the deal to get her into Gibson Dunn one way or another - even if it was just telling Yang to find another job.
5.5.2007 4:57pm
OrinKerr:
Justin writes:
I do think the White House probably helped broker the deal to get her into Gibson Dunn one way or another - even if it was just telling Yang to find another job.
Justin, I can certainly believe that Yang was told to get another job. But what makes Cohen's theory so unique is the idea that the partnership of one of the largest law firms in America would be in cahoots with Karl Rove et. al. by making Yang an offer she couldn't refuse -- and that the partnership of this firm agreed to do this in order to slightly increase the chance that one of their clients would get a better deal. Do you actually buy that?
5.5.2007 5:03pm
Hewart:
Please don't tell me that any of you actually believes that we had no credible evidence that Saddam had WMDs OR that Al Qaeda had operational links with Iraq, and that we nevertheless went ahead with a pre-emptive war based on those premises!

I mean, it's the saddest, most pathetic conspiracy thinking that we just squandered all of our international goodwill, sacrificed more American lives than were lost on 9/11, tens of thousands of American wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, over a million Iraqi displaced from their homes, paid hundreds and hundreds of millions of US taxpayer dollars and hundreds of millions more on extra costs of gasoline, ALL ON NOTHING MORE THAN AN "OOPSIE"!

Any of you conspiracy nuts that believes THAT must be living in a liberal fantasy world.

Oh, wait...
5.5.2007 5:51pm
Justin (mail):
Orin,

That second possibility does seem unlikely (but more likely than the third possibility, which is Adam Cohen's broader point - how unlikely that third possibility truly is). But it doesn't seem impossible. Remember, Yang is already a seasoned prosecutor, who under your own (probably correct, but hardly guaranteed) theory was worth a $1.5 million signing bonus.

To say that the fact that Yang would be replaced with someone who was rather unlikely to pursue charges against Lewis (I don't buy the "slight increase" argument in the least) had no effect - not even raising the offer from $1.2 million to $1.5 million, or choosing Yang for a slot over several other possible, highly qualified candidates, doesn't seem like a guarantee.

I don't think Yang is someone who has no vaue to Gibson Dunn - indeed, she's a gifted prosecutor and probably a great asset to the partnership. But despite Cohen being held to a word limit and using strong rhetoric, I don't think his point neccesary requires that Lewis's situation INFLUENCED the offer, not was a straight through-and-through bribe.

Given what we now know about how the DOJ is run (and what people at Gibson Dunn probably had some awareness of at the time), a purely self-interested Gibson Dunn would be acting ILLOGICALLY not to at least consider the benefit to Lewis in their offer of $1.5 million to Yang, in comparison to their other options (offering less to Yang and risking her not taking it, or offering the job to another qualified candidate).

And while you could have made a reasoned, well thought argument as to why Adam Cohen was *probably* wrong, you ignored your own advice, and attacked his entire argument with sarcasm.

And if you "can certainly believe that Yang was told to get another job," given not a single plausible criticism of Yang's performance, isn't that the far more important angle to this whole thing?
5.5.2007 6:07pm
badger (mail):
OK:

I think you're right to be suspicious of the theory that Yang was hired by Gibson Dunn to undermine the Jerry Lewis case. That would probably be too risky and unethical. But my understanding is that Gibson Dunn has longstanding ties to the Republican Party (many law firms keep strong political ties to political parties) and figures that a favor (even a $1.5 million dollar favor) will be paid back in time with access and influence.

As for the question of why Yang got a golden parachute while the other USAs got defenestrated, there could be many reasons. Maybe she had enough friends in high places where that wasn't an option. Maybe the DOJ leadership had noticed the rumblings caused by the earlier resignations and decided to switch up their methods a bit. I don't think it's "conspiracy theory" territory to notice that Yang's resignation, with one significant exception, fits the pattern of USAs engaging in activities unfavorable to the WH political operation suddenly resigning.
5.5.2007 6:09pm
Justin (mail):
Ooops, there was a stream of consciousness editing mistake in my previous post. "All Adam Cohen's point requires" should replace "I don't think it necessarily requires"
5.5.2007 6:24pm
OrinKerr:
Justin writes:
And while you could have made a reasoned, well thought argument as to why Adam Cohen was *probably* wrong, you ignored your own advice, and attacked his entire argument with sarcasm.



And if you "can certainly believe that Yang was told to get another job," given not a single plausible criticism of Yang's performance, isn't that the far more important angle to this whole thing?
Justin, I have had dozens of posts on many aspects of the broader "whole thing." I think it's well within my discretion to poke fun at a bizarre theory floated by Adam Cohen in the New York Times. As for sarcasm, I think it was fair given that Cohen's theory is so outlandish; I didn't think anyone actually needed to hear argument about it.
5.5.2007 6:49pm
Justin (mail):
OK,

You haven't discussed Yang's dismissal at all. A google search of (kerr yang) on google (restricing to volokh.com) gets only three hits about Debra Yang - one, an Adler post discussing the Milberg indictments, another, a mention of Debra Yang by a commenter (kwo), and this post.

Yes, I know youthe "DOJ seven" quite a bit. But Adam Cohen's *point* is that its not seven but more - and you seem to buy that - but rather than discussing the substantial issues that Yang's (posible) firing brings to the table (particularly combined with the Lam firing), you choose to attack Cohen. Maybe that's because you're of the mindset that "of course" Yang is included in the scandal - but the mainstream media has chosen to exclude Yang as part of the scandal.

So someone like me looks at what you are saying as taking a small part of Cohen's broader point, interpreting it to give it the most absurd meaning, and using it to dismiss the whole article.
5.5.2007 7:11pm
Justin (mail):
grrr "you post on" it should have said.
5.5.2007 7:11pm
OrinKerr:
Justin,

Yes, I've been assuming that there's a possibility that the U.S. Attorneys who left soon before the firings were pressured to leave -- so clearly Yang is part of the broader story. Maybe I'm just too much a regular reader of talkingpointsmemo and tmpmuckraker, but I thought everyone was assuming this. In light of that, Cohen's editorial was completely banal except for his conspiratorial imaginings, which is why I posted on the conspiratorial imaginings rather than the completely banal side of it.

In any event, I have to close commenmts here: "ReVonna LaSchatz" has registered a bunch of new screennames and is spending his time playing the "how fast can Orin delete my comments" game.
5.5.2007 7:20pm