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Published: Tuesday, 1/31/2006

Untimely removal

LAST Wednesday President Bush removed Noel L. Hillman, the chief prosecutor in the Jack Abramoff lobbying and bribery scandal, from the case. Mr. Bush's action came as the media and his critics swarmed around the problem of trying to pry publicly owned photographs of Mr. Bush with Mr. Abramoff from the White House.

The President's means of taking Mr. Hillman, head of the Department of Justice's Office of Public Integrity since 2002, out of the picture was to nominate him for a federal judgeship, in effect, kicking him upstairs.

Although it is likely that the Abramoff prosecution would have shown the lobbyist shoveling money and favors to Democratic as well as Republican members of Congress and other government officials, the focus of the case so far has been Mr. Abramoff's links to former House Leader Tom DeLay (R., Texas), former House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R., Ohio), and other Republicans involved in the notorious K Street project.

That was an enterprise designed to place Republicans in key lobbying, campaign finance-providing positions in Washington, a project that Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is currently trying to wriggle away from.

Mr. Bush's crude move in peeling Mr. Hillman off the Abramoff case, which he has pursued for two years, could seriously weaken its prosecution.

It is nice for Mr. Hillman to get a promotion, but it is probably also incumbent on the Senate to question him closely in hearings, and perhaps refuse to approve his nomination if they wish to avoid the charge of aiding Mr. Bush's effort to torpedo the case.

The revelation to the American people of what goes on in Washington in a properly prosecuted Abramoff case would have been very educational in a congressional election year.

This example of Mr. Bush's further politicization of the American judicial process does not inspire confidence in his commitment to it.



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