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GOP and Dems accused of politicizing attorney firings

Story Highlights

• Democrats charge that politics was behind the firing of eight U.S. attorneys
• Republicans say Democrats using controversy to gain political advantage
• Political analyst says Democrats have gained the upper hand in this fight
From Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There's a debate within the debate over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. It's not about the firings themselves, but rather over who's playing political games. Because in Washington, everyone wants to be seen as above politics.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, had this to say about politicizing issues, "On issue after issue, not just the U.S. attorneys but the NSA situation, the national security letters, the overruling of the Civil Rights Division, politics seems to take precedence over the rule of law."

He's not the only Democrat charging Republicans with political intrusion in the judicial process. California Senator Diane Feinstein asked, "What was the real reason that the eight U.S. attorneys were fired? Especially in light of the fact that six of the eight were involved in prosecuting corruption."

But Republicans say it's the Democrats who are politicizing the issue. (Watch Schumer deny claims the Democrats want a "show trial" Video)

President Bush said, " [The] initial response by Democrats, unfortunately, shows some appear more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts."

At Troy State University in Alabama, the president's Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, claimed Democrats are forgetting what their own party did during the Clinton administration.

"We're at a point where people want to play politics with it, and that's fine. I would simply ask that everybody who's playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration and see if they had the same superheated political rhetoric then that they're having now." (Watch Rove accuse Democrats of playing politics Video)

The Republicans' response -- that everybody does it -- does not get them off the hook. But Republicans have found some new ammunition in Senator Chuck Schumer's chairmanship of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Sen. Jeff Cornyn, R-Texas, recently pointed to the committee's new fundraising campaign saying, "Senator Schumer, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, seems to be using this to raise money on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Web site."

Who's winning the debate? Slate's Chief Political Correspondent John Dickerson thinks it's the Democrats, "The political upper hand is with the Democrats. The president and the White House are protecting a principle. Democrats, on the other hand, have these eight former U.S. attorneys who are saying we were run out of office for political reasons and the Democrats are going after Karl Rove, who is a figure not unknown to people and one who has a spotty history. For the moment it's with the Democrats."

Democrats have now put out a radio ad attacking New Mexico Republican Rep. Heather Wilson. Citing testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the ad alleges Rep. Wilson called U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, also from New Mexico, in order to pressure him on a federal corruption investigation. Here, Democrats are taking the risk of looking too political themselves and giving the other side an opening.

Democrats need to be wary of doing anything to encourage the view expressed by Karl Rove: "This, to my mind, is a lot of politics.''

If that view takes hold, voters will lose interest and Democrats will lose their edge in this investigation.


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Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, has led the charge against the White House for what he says is their role in the firing of several U.S. attorneys.

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