By MIKE GLOVER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; 1:10 AM
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday blamed the Bush administration's fear of scandal for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, dismissals she said were virtually unprecedented.
The New York senator dismissed any comparison between the midterm firing of the federal prosecutors last fall with the replacement of 93 U.S. attorneys when her husband, Bill Clinton, took office in 1993.
"That's a traditional prerogative of an incoming president," Clinton said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Once U.S. attorneys are confirmed, they should be given broad latitude to enforce the law as they see fit, she said.
"I think one of the hallmarks of our democracy is we have a devotion to the rule of law, which has historically included a degree of independence for U.S. attorneys to go after public corruption and pursue cases that are important to that constituency," Clinton said.
The government's 93 U.S. attorneys are presidential appointees who can be hired and fired at will. Presidents generally replace all of their predecessor's prosecutors at the start of their administrations, and midterm firings of multiple U.S. attorneys are unusual.
Ronald Reagan fired all sitting U.S. attorneys when he took office in 1981 and Bill Clinton did the same.
Clinton conceded that should she win the presidency in 2008, she likely would replace all of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President Bush.
"You can go on and on," Clinton said. "I don't think it's a series of coincidences that the White House, in its waning years, is worried about the public corruption cases that have stalked it inside the White House and among the executive branch and the Republican Congress, that it would be moving to protect itself."
She said the firings were the latest attempt by the Bush administration to consolidate executive power.
"I think that if this were an isolated incident, we'd be inclined to say 'Look, they overshot it,'" said Clinton. "This is part of a long record of trying to upset the traditional separation of powers."
Democrats have accused the Justice Department and the White House of purging the prosecutors for political reasons. The administration maintains the firings were not improper because U.S. attorneys are political appointees.
In a brief interview that touched on several subjects, Clinton said the Senate is struggling to deal with an Iraq funding measure. A House-passed bill includes a timetable for pulling troops out of Iraq, but Clinton said there's no consensus in the Senate.
"We don't have the votes to pass anything," she said. "We are in a stalemate and it's very unfortunate because the president's policy in Iraq has proven to be not only unsuccessful, but very damaging to America's interests."
Clinton spoke after events earlier in the day in Des Moines. She held a forum, broadcast on ABC's "Good Morning America," focused on health care issues and she received the endorsement of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who dropped his short-lived bid for the presidency on Feb. 23.
During the forum, one questioner held up a DVD containing a detailed description of Democratic rival John Edwards' plan for universal health care and asked Clinton if she would offer a specific proposal. She responded that she wanted to hear from Americans about what they wanted before releasing a plan.
In the interview, she noted that many health care proposals are similar to reforms she made during her husband's presidency.
"I put out a plan in '93 and '94 and it's interesting to me that most of the plans being put out are pretty much in line with what I put out in '93 and '94," Clinton said.
At the forum, Clinton said the odds of approving health care reforms had improved, largely due to voter demands.
"We're going to have universal health care when I'm president _ there's no doubt about that. We're going to get it done," Clinton said.
Although she gained Vilsack's backing, Clinton sidestepped a question on whether she'd consider him as a running mate should she win the nomination.
"Hillary Clinton has been tried and tested like no other candidate for president," said Tom Vilsack.
His wife, Christie, added, "To me, this is not just an endorsement but a commitment."