It's official. After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush was crowned Julius Caesar by his Justice Department. Proof? The current J.D. released two memos issued by the Bush Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and seven previously undisclosed opinions, all of which had been sought by civil libertarians including the ACLU. The subject? What John Yoo and company believed that the president could do, not on some foreign "battlefield" of the "war on terror," but here in America. From NBC:
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Monday released a long-secret legal document from 2001 in which the Bush administration claimed the military could search and seize terror suspects in the United States without warrants.
The legal memo was written about a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It says constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure would not apply to terror suspects in the U.S., as long as the president or another high official authorized the action.
The memos can be found and read online here. The titles alone are frightening:
A sample of the truly frightening contents, from a June 27, 2002 memo signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Yoo:
Section 4001 of Title 18 states:
(a) No citizen shall be improsoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congres.
However, according to the Bush Office of Legal Counsel,
"...the President's authority to detain enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens, is based on his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief. We conclude that Section 4001(a) does not, and constitutionally could not, interfere with that authority."
Another memo showed that, within two weeks of Sept. 11, the administration was contemplating ways to use wiretaps without getting warrants.
The author of the search and seizure memo, John Yoo, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In that memo, Yoo wrote that the president could treat terrorist suspects in the United States like an invading foreign army. For instance, he said, the military would not have to get a warrant to storm a building to prevent terrorists from detonating a bomb.
Yoo also suggested that the government could put new restrictions on the press and speech, without spelling out what those might be.
"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," Yoo wrote, adding later: "The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically."
On their way out the door, Alberto Gonzales' follow-ons in the Justice Department issued memos of their own, trying to disavow the earlier memos (two of the disavowals are included in today's release) saying they should not be relied on, and that they were a "product of an extraordinary -- indeed, we hope, a unique -- period in the history of the Nation: the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11."
But some of the memos were written later -- much later. The memo on detaining U.S. citizens without trial or warrants was written in June of 2002. Interestingly enough, the later memos came during a time when the Bush administration was contemplating going to war against Iraq. And Michael Issikoff just reminded us on "the Rachel Maddow show" that Steve Bradbury, the OLC chief who spearheaded the disavowal memos, was himself under investigation for the issuance of the clearly un-American, unconstitutional legal opinions.
In other torture news, the CIA finally announced the actual number of interrogation tapes (read torture tapes) were destroyed by the agency to prevent investigations into torture at Gitmo. The answer? 92. Natch.
If you're among the 11.1 million Americans who are out of work today, don't feel bad. Members of the Bush administration are with you (and I'm not just talking about Dubya)...
The revolving door has been a lucrative business for many former Bush administration officials, who've landed plum jobs in the private sector. But there are a few notable ones who haven't yet: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alfonso Jackson.
The problem? Both still face criminal investigations into conduct during their respective tenures as head of their government agencies.
Gonzales, who resigned in September 2007 amid increasing questions about his oversight during the U.S. Attorney scandal, remains under scrutiny in connection with that probe.
Likewise, Jackson resigned in March 2008 over allegations that he lied to Congress when he vowed he never intervened in contracting awards at his department.
On the plus side, they're extremely hard workers who aren't afraid to commit a crime or two on behalf of the boss! Meanwhile:
That contrasts a pattern documented in a recent report by Citizens for Ethics & Responsibility in Washington, which found that numerous Bush administration officials leveraged their government service for lucrative jobs in the private sector. Gonzales' predecessor, John Ashcroft, founded his own lobbying group, The Ashcroft Group. Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card joined the public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard and the board of Union Pacific Railroad. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson became a consultant with Deloitte & Touche and lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld for numerous health companies.
Oh, and Gonzo's spokesman? It's Robert Bork Jr. Priceless.
Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.
Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration's "war on terror." He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.
"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.
During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."
A Justice Department report confirms that two former underlings of America's worst Attorney General EVER, Alberto Gonzales, broke the law by taking political persuasion into account in JD hiring. The perps: Regent University "Law School" grad Monica Goodling, and fellow traveler D. Kyle Sampson. Alberto wasn't faulted in the report... why? The only remaining question: how quickly does Michael Mukasey announce that he will do nothing?
Meanwhile, how big of a budget deficit will George W. Bush leave to the next president? Try $490 billion:
The next president will inherit a record budget deficit approaching $490 billion, a Bush administration official said Monday.
The official said the deficit was being driven to an all-time high by the sagging economy and the stimulus payments being made to 130 million households in an effort to keep the country from falling into a deep recession. A deficit approaching $490 billion would easily surpass the record deficit of $413 billion set in 2004.
The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because the new estimate had not been formally released. Administration officials were scheduled to do that at a news conference later Monday.
The new figure actually underestimates the deficit, since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.
White House press secretary Dana Perino had no comment on the $490 billion figure. But she told reporters that the White House and lawmakers acknowledged months ago that they were going to increase the deficit by approving a short-term boost for the slumping economy.
"Both parties recognized that the deficit would increase, and that that was going to be the price that we pay," Perino said.
The White House had earlier predicted next year's deficit at $407 billion. Figures for the 2008 budget year ending Sept. 30 may also set a record.
When Dubya took office in 2001, the CBO estimated the U.S. had a ten-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion. Bush even trumpeted the surplus in a campaign ad back in 2000:
Bush for President, Inc. "Surplus" 30 sec. TV spot run in NH latter part of Jan. 2000. Maverick Media
Male Announcer [music]: George W. Bush's tax plan is called an economic agenda worthy of a new president.
The Bush plan reserves $2 trillion of the surplus to protect and strengthen Social Security and pay down the national debt. The rest is dedicated to priorities--education, rebuilding our military, and providing a real tax cut for every taxpayer.
Some Washington politicians say it's better to keep the money in Washington. Governor Bush believes we can meet priorities and still give families back more of what they earn.
Over to Iraq (a/k/a "Surgistan,") where two apparent female suicide bombers killed more than 50 people and injured some 240 others in Baghdad and Kirkuk. The Guardian puts the death and injured toll even higher, at 55 and 300.
By now I'm sure you've figured out the simple reason Michael Mukasey cannot state the obvious fact that waterboarding -- something expressly outlawed under both U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions (we prosecuted foreign troops for doing just that during World War II and the U.S. was crucial to the process that declared waterboarding a crime against humanity) -- is torture.
Mukasey cannot state the obvious because should he do so and then become attorney general, he might have to prosecute members of the Bush administration for ordering the waterboarding torture of terrorism detainees, up to and possibly including the President of the United States. After all, Mukasey has stated during Senate hearings that the torture memo authored by former A.G. Alberto Gonzales authorizng the president to break U.S. law in that regard, was in error, meaning that Bush has no authority to go around the law and order "special detainees" to be treated with that particular kind of specialness.
So let Bushie whinge. Let him moan that the quite simple question put to Mr. Mukasey by his would-be confirmers in the Senate are unfair. Let him threaten to leave the spot vacant. He cannot thread this needle.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.
But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.
The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department, where he moved quickly to align it with the White House after a 2004 rebellion by staff lawyers that had thrown policies on surveillance and detention into turmoil.
And the Times delves even deeper into the corruption of the office of the attorney general:
When he stepped down as attorney general in September after widespread criticism of the firing of federal prosecutors and withering attacks on his credibility, Mr. Gonzales talked proudly in a farewell speech of how his department was “a place of inspiration” that had balanced the necessary flexibility to conduct the war on terrorism with the need to uphold the law.
Associates at the Justice Department said Mr. Gonzales seldom resisted pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and David S. Addington, Mr. Cheney’s counsel, to endorse policies that they saw as effective in safeguarding Americans, even though the practices brought the condemnation of other governments, human rights groups and Democrats in Congress. Critics say Mr. Gonzales turned his agency into an arm of the Bush White House, undermining the department’s independence.
The interrogation opinions were signed by Steven G. Bradbury, who since 2005 has headed the elite Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. He has become a frequent public defender of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and detention policies at Congressional hearings and press briefings, a role that some legal scholars say is at odds with the office’s tradition of avoiding political advocacy.
Mr. Bradbury defended the work of his office as the government’s most authoritative interpreter of the law. “In my experience, the White House has not told me how an opinion should come out,” he said in an interview. “The White House has accepted and respected our opinions, even when they didn’t like the advice being given.”
The debate over how terrorist suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.
The policies set off bruising internal battles, pitting administration moderates against hard-liners, military lawyers against Pentagon chiefs and, most surprising, a handful of conservative lawyers at the Justice Department against the White House in the stunning mutiny of 2004. But under Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Bradbury, the Justice Department was wrenched back into line with the White House.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.
But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.
Douglas W. Kmiec, who headed that office under President Ronald Reagan and the first President George Bush and wrote a book about it, said he believed the intense pressures of the campaign against terrorism have warped the office’s proper role.
“The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” said Mr. Kmiec, now a conservative scholar at Pepperdine University law school. But at times in recent years, Mr. Kmiec said, the office, headed by William H. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia before they served on the Supreme Court, “lost its ability to say no.”
“The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror,” Mr. Kmiec said. “The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
The Justice Department's inspector general indicated yesterday that he is investigating whether departing Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales gave false or misleading testimony to Congress, including whether he lied under oath about warrantless surveillance and the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
The disclosure by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine in a letter to Congress signals an expansion of the department's internal investigations into Gonzales's troubled tenure, probes that were not previously known to be focused so sharply on the attorney general and his testimony.
Fine's office has also separately expanded a probe into whether senior Gonzales aides improperly considered partisan affiliations when reviewing applicants for nonpolitical career positions. As part of that inquiry, Fine sent hundreds of questionnaires in the past week to former Justice Department job applicants.
In the questionnaires, Fine asks applicants whether they were quizzed by political appointees about their party affiliation, favorite politicians and judges, voting history, campaign contributions, and views on the death penalty and terrorism, according to a copy of the Aug. 24 questionnaire obtained by The Washington Post. Recipients are also asked to say whether White House aides participated in the interviews and to confirm if they were asked "what kind of conservative you were (law and order; social; fiscal)."
Gonzales announced his resignation Monday after seven months of sustained conflict with Congress over the prosecutor dismissals and other issues, telling aides that his credibility with lawmakers had been too damaged for him to continue. Democrats and some Republicans had urged him to resign amid allegations that he and his aides repeatedly let political considerations taint the law enforcement mission at Justice.
The scope and pace of the investigations suggest that public attention on Gonzales will probably continue long after he leaves his job on Sept. 17. But officials declined yesterday to say whether Fine's expanding investigations played a role in the attorney general's resignation. ...
This guy wasn't attorney general of the United States. He was a toadie, whose only function was to serve George W. Bush's immediate interests. He is an embarassment. not only to the Justice Department, but to the entire legal profession.
Just four months later than my prediction, ding-dong, Alberto is finally getting gone.
WACO, Tex., Aug. 27 — Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.
Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.
Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Attorney General's resignation had not yet been made public. ...
... The official said that the decision was Mr. Gonzales's and that the president accepted it grudgingly. At the same time, the official acknowledged that the turmoil over his tenure as Attorney General had made continuing difficult.
"The unfair treatment that he's been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department," the official said.
I'm thinking Gonzo's next move will be to lawyer up, and lawyer up good. There's perjury charges afoot... or at least there should be.
Alberto's resignation comes just a few days after the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division called it quits too, in the wake of the attorneygate scandals that had their roots in attempts at the federal level to punish people who were registering people to vote.
FBI Director Robert Mueller's notes following the now infamous March 2004 visit to the bedside of then-ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft provide fresh contradictions between Mueller's and then-acting A.G. James Comey's accounts of the "Godfather"-esque attempt to strong arm a sick man into Okaying an illegal domestic wiretapping program, and the "recollection" of Alberto Gonzales. The Washington Post reports:
Then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was "feeble," "barely articulate" and "stressed" moments after a hospital room confrontation in March 2004 with Alberto R. Gonzales, who wanted Ashcroft to approve a warrantless wiretapping program over Justice Department objections, according to notes from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that were released yesterday.
One of Mueller's entries in five pages of a daily log pertaining to the dispute also indicated that Ashcroft's deputy was so concerned about undue pressure by Gonzales and other White House aides for the attorney general to back the wiretapping program that the deputy asked Mueller to bar anyone other than relatives from later entering Ashcroft's hospital room.
Mueller's description of Ashcroft's physical condition that night contrasts with testimony last month from Gonzales, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Ashcroft was "lucid" and "did most of the talking" during the brief visit. It also confirms an account of the episode by former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, who said Ashcroft told the two men he was not well enough to make decisions in the hospital.
"Saw AG," Mueller writes in his notes for 8:10 p.m. on March 10, 2004, only minutes after Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had visited Ashcroft. "Janet Ashcroft in the room. AG in chair; is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed."
The typewritten notes, heavily censored before being turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, provide further insight into a tumultuous but secret legal battle that gripped the Justice Department and the White House in March 2004, after Justice lawyers determined that parts of the warrantless wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency were illegal.
Although Mueller did not directly witness the exchange between Ashcroft, Gonzales and Card, his notes recounted Comey's personal statement that Ashcroft at the outset said that "he was in no condition to decide issues." Ashcroft also told the two men he supported his deputy's position on the secret program, Mueller said Comey told him.
Comey had precipitated the confrontation by informing the White House days earlier that the Justice Department would not approve the wiretapping program's continuation in its present form. Gonzales and Card then decided to see if they could get Ashcroft to sign a certification that it was legal.
After the meeting concluded without success, the Bush administration decided to proceed with the program anyway. But Comey, Mueller and half a dozen or so other Justice Department officials threatened to resign if it was not changed. The standoff was averted after President Bush agreed to make changes, Mueller and others have testified, but the changes have never been described.
In his notes, Mueller recounts Comey's statement that Ashcroft complained to Gonzales and Card at the hospital about being "barred" from obtaining "the advice he needed" about the NSA program because of "strict compartmentalization rules" set by the White House. Although Ashcroft, as attorney general, had been fully briefed about the program, many of his senior legal advisers were not allowed to know about it, officials said.
Gonzales was White House counsel at the time of the hospital visit and replaced Ashcroft as attorney general in 2005. "We never had any intent to ask anything of him if we did not feel that he was competent," Gonzales testified, adding later: "Mr. Ashcroft talked about the legal issues in a lucid form, as I've heard him talk about legal issues in the White House."...
Drip ... drip ... drip ... can anyone argue with any credibility that we have a functioning office of attorney general at the moment, while it's being helmed by a perjurer?
Gonzo gets the Isikoff treatment in the latest explication of his midnight ride to push John Ashcroft to sign onto warrantless wiretapping through the fog of medication.
Aug. 6, 2007 issue - Late on the afternoon of March 10, 2004, eight congressional leaders filed into the White House Situation Room for an urgent briefing on one of the Bush administration's top secrets: a classified surveillance program that involved monitoring Americans' e-mails and phone calls without court warrants. Vice President Dick Cheney did most of the briefing. But as he explained the National Security Agency program, the lawmakers weren't fully grasping the dimensions of what he was saying. Tom Daschle, then the Senate minority leader, tells NEWSWEEK that Cheney "talked like it was something routine. We really had no idea what it was all about." Still, as Daschle recalls, there were "a lot of concerns" expressed by some Democrats in the room when Cheney asked for their approval to continue the program. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then the House minority leader, recalls that she "made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking."
Last week, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a different account of the briefing, provoking yet another controversy in his tenure as the country's top law-enforcement officer. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales, who participated in the briefing as the White House counsel, said the legislators were told the deputy attorney general at the time, James Comey, had raised objections to the program. Gonzales said there was "consensus" that the program, aimed at catching terrorists, was needed. "The congressional leadership ... told us, 'Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity'," Gonzales testified.
It was only after getting that go-ahead, Gonzales said, that he and then White House chief of staff Andrew Card visited the hospital room of John Ashcroft, the gravely ill attorney general recovering from surgery. Gonzales tried, unsuccessfully, to get the heavily medicated Ashcroft to overrule Comey—a pivotal moment in one of the fiercest behind-the-scenes clashes of the Bush presidency. ...
Another interesting bit:
Congressional Democrats plan to step up the heat in coming weeks, pressing for Justice memos and other documents. They also plan to call a potentially crucial witness: Jack L. Goldsmith, the former chief of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. It was Goldsmith who wrote a key opinion concluding the eavesdropping program was illegal. A conservative lawyer now at Harvard, Goldsmith, who declined to comment, will have every incentive to talk. He is due to publish a new book this fall called "The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration." According to its Amazon.com listing, the book will chronicle how the president's "apparent indifference to human rights has damaged his presidency." On the cover are pictures of Bush, Cheney—and Gonzales.
Fox News can't find anyone in the White House or on Capitol Hill to come on Chris Wallace's White House/GOP hour and defend Alberto Gonzales, and Newt Gingrich treats the A.G. like a spoiled, smelly enchilada. Watch and enjoy. (Sigh.) Pobre Albertcito...
When you're in a hole, stop digging ... unless you have a magic spade
President Bush is either the most balsy politician ever made, or he's completely insane. In response to the continuing controversy over his illegal warrantless wiretapping scheme, a scandal that has brought his attorney general to the brink of criminal perjury and possibly other charges, Bush has presented Congress with a new demand: in short -- "give me the legal authority to use our foreign intelligence services to spy on Americans." It's a stunning development, even for this president. Bloomberg reports:
July 28 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush urged Congress to pass legislation to expand potential surveillance targets, a step he said is important to help fight terrorism.
Bush's plea comes days after Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he had serious concerns about the Bush administration's terrorism surveillance program, saying there had been a dispute in the administration over the spying.
``Today we face sophisticated terrorists who use disposable cell phones and the Internet to communicate with each other, recruit operatives, and plan attacks on our country,'' Bush said in his weekly radio address.
Equally stunning, is the fact that it appears that Democratic leaders are actually considering accommodating Bush's demand. More from Bloomberg:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that Democrats would advance a proposal next week to revise laws governing the the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping programs under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Bush said Congress should update the law to include people in the U.S. suspected of possessing significant information on terrorists or enemy government plots. The law now allows the government to get court approval for eavesdropping only if it shows a clear link to an enemy government or terrorist group.
``The law is badly out of date,'' Bush said. ``Our intelligence community warns that under the current statute, we are missing a significant amount of foreign intelligence that we should be collecting to protect our country.''
The Bush administration in April proposed legislation to update FISA to take into account the development of cell phones and e-mail, which they say has made it easier for terrorists to communicate.
Nancy, are you serious???
Could it be that Bush is being this assertive because his dutiful White House monkeys have found the secret key to get Alberto out of lock-up, preserving the presence of the most scandalized attorney general, the better to keep the cover-up of Bushie crimes going?
The New York Times on Saturday revealed new details about the fight within the U.S. intelligence community -- the one Alberto Gonzales claimed wasn't going on in his perjurious testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week -- over warrantless spying on Americans. And if you read the article carefully, it reads like a very clever plant from administration loyalists to very carefully ease Alberto off the perjury hot seat. Here's an excerpt from the Times article:
WASHINGTON, July 28 — A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.
It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.
The N.S.A.’s data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.
The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the N.S.A. program.
Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program “confirmed” by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.
If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.
Really? A bit more:
A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used.
Nor would they explain what modifications to the surveillance program President Bush authorized to head off the threatened resignations by Justice Department officials.
An agency spokesman declined to comment on the data mining issue but referred a reporter to a statement issued earlier that Mr. Gonzales had testified truthfully.
Are these unauthorized leaks to the Times, which, recall, was the preferred recipient of Ahmad Chalabi and Pentagon leaks in the run-up to the Iraq war... or are these strategic leaks intended to push Congress off the independent counsel track? So now, Alberto was obfuscating about the data mining, and not the eavesdropping part of the TSP? Then why did FBI director Mueller acknowledge, during questioning before the House Judiciary Committee, that the disputes inside the administration indeed involved the Terror Surveillance Program -- in toto, one must assume -- unless the administration is now trying to divorce the data mining from the program intended to benefit from it? It will be worth watching whether Russert and Stephanopoulos use the NYT article to let Alberto off the hook (my money's on their doing just that.) Two more key paras from the article, which has also been picked up by the Washington Post:
The first known assertion by administration officials that there had been no serious disagreement within the government about the legality of the N.S.A. program came in talks with New York Times editors in 2004. In an effort to persuade the editors not to disclose the eavesdropping program, senior officials repeatedly cited the lack of dissent as evidence of the program’s lawfulness.
In December 2005, The Times published articles describing the program, the data mining and the internal legal debate. The newspaper reported that the N.S.A. had combed large volumes of telephone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might point to terrorism suspects.
In other words, the data mining and the wiretapping were part and parcel of the same, illegal, program. But look for poor Tony Snow to be given a new talking point to add to his rather pathetic, flailing defense of Albertcito last week. Now, Tony can say to Chris Matthews, over pizza, apparently, that Alberto couldn't testify fully about the programs that were in dispute, because they involved ... voila! ... data mining, and not warrantless wiretapping, which "everybody agreed with." Really?
It's hard to see through the White House obfuscation about its warrantless wiretapping program, but thanks in part to former deputy attorney general James Comey's congressional testimony in May, we think we know this much:
Soon after 9/11, the administration started eavesdropping on Americans. By March 2004, Bush's own Justice Department had decided that the program was clearly illegal, and top department officials couldn't find a way to rationalize it. After a rebellion led by Comey -- and backed by a hospitalized John Ashcroft -- the White House agreed to make some changes. The revised program, still controversial, was described in the New York Times in December 2005. The White House christened it the "Terrorist Surveillance Program." And in January 2007, Bush agreed to put the revised program under court jurisdiction -- although it's not clear exactly what that means.
The talk sweeping Washington today of a possible perjury investigation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stems from Gonzales's assertion in a February 2006 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that "there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed."
Even after Comey's testimony, Gonzales insisted that he had testified truthfully.
How could that be? It appears that Gonzales is engaged in what one anonymous Justice Department official this week charitably called " linguistic parsing."
Gonzales is trying to make a distinction between the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" that was "publicly confirmed by the President in December 2005" and what he calls "other intelligence activities" that Comey objected to. But he dug himself deeper during his congressional testimony on Tuesday, when he characterized a March 2004 meeting with some members of Congress that was obviously about the Terrorist Surveillance Program as being about -- you guessed it -- "other intelligence activities." Those members of Congress begged to differ.
This is not just a story about Gonzales's relationship to the truth. It's also a story about all the things we still don't know about the White House and illegal wiretapping.
One of the chief unanswered questions, as I wrote in my May 17 column: What was the program like when it was illegal even in the opinion of Bush's own Justice Department? What was the government doing to its citizens for two and a half years -- starting soon after 9/11 through the spring of 2004?
Apparently, the answer this week, from the White House, will be that what they were doing to Americans was "data mining," and that it was that which became the object of dispute.
Watch and marvel at the hubris. And let's see if the Dems -- and the media talking heads -- fall for it.
Just in case you had any remaining doubt that the leading right wing bloggers are little more than stenographers for the White House and the GOP, dutifully tapping out talking points garnished to look like original thoughts, RawStory cops a link that utterly clears the fog:
At the urging of top conservative bloggers, the White House set up a Friday morning conference call to promote its message on the subject of executive privilege, RAW STORY has found.
"The White House hosted a blogger conference call to discuss the issues surrounding the Bush administration's use of executive privilege in the probe of the firings of eight federal prosecutors," wrote Ed Morrissey, who produces the blog Captains Quarters. "The White House arranged the call based on a recommendation by this blog, in order to familiarize the blogosphere with the legal and political arguments on which the administration will rely to prevail in the upcoming fight regarding the contempt citations Congress seems likely to approve." ...
Morrisey did not name any other participants in the call or identify the administration official who spoke to the assembled bloggers. But he showed that the message being delivered by the White House was short and to the point.
"The power to hire and fire federal prosecutors belongs exclusively to the executive branch," Morrissey wrote. "Congress has no particular oversight in these matters, and so the executive privilege claim is very compelling in this instance."
At least one commenter was critical of Morrissey's efforts.
"Thanks for reporting the administration's talking points, Captain Steno," wrote the posts only commenter. "You have a reputation for being a rational thinker, so how's about a little more in-depth analysis of the legal merit of the points?"
The offending post can be found here. Some of the commenters appear to be rightfully appalled at Captain's new job as Tony Snow's virtual lieutenant, but many of the BushBots are circling the wagons around the president and his lackey attorney general. Typical of the lap-dog commenters is someone called "Skywatch":
We are at war.
That does not forgive everything. I was and still am very worried about some of the patriot act (tho some concernces have been addressed).Like a Dem commentor said above would you want Hillary having this power? I would not. I trust the Bush toadies to use the powers to protect me. To listen and collect data on folks that wish harm on the country but I think Hillary would use those same powers to collect data on political foes.
Do you, now? Well that'll do, then, donkey, that'll do...
But there are also some lucid commenters over at Ed's, including someone called "Shieldvulf":
Lying to Congress and the people, politicizing law enforcement, and ignoring Congressional subpoenas are not at issue at all! The only question to be asked is, which side is someone on? Them over there? They are bad! It doesn't matter how well documented their outrage may be. All that matters is whether or not they get in line.
Last night on "Hardball," former Reagan deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein threw down the gauntlet, saying that the real problem with Alberto Gonzales' testimony was that by standing alone in saying there was no disagreement among the administration's legal and intelligence chiefs about the legality of the warrantless NSA spying program, he puts himself out on a very serious legal limb. Why? Because in all probability, the NSA's "terrorist surveillance program" or TSP, violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and all of the leading intelligence and legal officials in the administration, including then acting A.G. James Comey, FBI director Mueller, and even John Ashcroft, objected to it as such. If the then White House counsel ignored those disagreements and tried to push an ailing Ashcroft to OK the program anyway, he was suborning the breaking of the FISA law, which as Chris Matthews bluntly put it, "could make him a criminal." (I'll post the transcript when it's available.)
Further, it is clear to most legal scholars that Gonzales perjured himself before the Senate committee, which puts him in even further jeopardy, especially now that he has been directly contradicted by the director of the FBI.
Fein went on to explain that the Congress can do nothing to bring about the prosecution of Mr. Gonzales for perjury -- they can only recommend a special counsel, which Democrats have now done, or they can do something else to address President Bush's refusal to bring his attorney general in line with the law. I'll paraphrase:
"...impeachment is the remedy if the president refuses to faithfully execute the laws."
Amen, brother. After hearing Fein, who is a conservative constitutional and international lawyer as well as a frequent critic of the Bush administration, I looked up an article he wrote prior to the 2004 Congressional elections. It's very interesting, and very prescient. Here's a bite:
Suppose Democrats capture control of one or both chambers of Congress in November. A conservative would instinctively cringe. ...
... perhaps not.
The most conservative principle of the Founding Fathers was distrust of unchecked power. Centuries of experience substantiated that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Men are not angels. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition to avert abuses or tyranny. The Constitution embraced a separation of powers to keep the legislative, executive, and judicial branches in equilibrium. As Edward Gibbon wrote in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive.”
But a Republican Congress has done nothing to thwart President George W. Bush’s alarming usurpations of legislative prerogatives. Instead, it has largely functioned as an echo chamber of the White House.
President Bush has flouted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) for five years by directing the National Security Agency to target American citizens on American soil for electronic surveillance on his say-so alone. The president has defended his warrantless domestic spying with an imperial theory of inherent constitutional power that would empower him to open mail, break in and enter homes, or torture detainees, even in violation of federal criminal statutes. He has concealed details of the spying program indispensable to rational congressional oversight—for example, the number of Americans targeted, the earmarks employed to select the targets, or the intelligence yield of the spying. He has never explained to Congress why FISA could not have been amended to accommodate any unforeseen evasive tactics by al Qaeda in lieu of simply disregarding the law. Indeed, Congress has amended FISA six times since 9/11 at the request of the White House, and the Senate Intelligence Committee was informed by Bush’s Justice Department on July 31, 2002, that FISA was working impeccably. The president has also refused to disclose what legal advice he received to justify the NSA’s warrantless domestic spying at its inception. And Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has confessed that President Bush is operating other intelligence collection programs that are unknown to Congress and the public and that will never be revealed, absent leaks to the media.
Republicans in Congress have bowed to the president’s scorn for the rule of law and craving for secret government. They have voted against Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold’s resolution to rebuke Bush for violating federal statutes and crippling checks and balances. They have resisted brandishing either the power of the purse or the contempt power (with which it can compel testimony) to end the president’s violation of FISA and to force full disclosure of his secret foreign-intelligence programs. Indeed, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, is sponsoring a bill that in substance endorses President Bush’s FISA illegalities and authorizes an electronic-surveillance program warrant that would enable the NSA to spy on Americans indiscriminately without the particularized suspicion of wrongdoing required by the Fourth Amendment.
Republicans in the House and Senate have been equally invertebrate in the face of presidential signing statements that usurp the power to legislate. In approximately 800 cases, President Bush has both signed a bill and declared his intent to disregard provisions he believes are unconstitutional, the equivalent of a line-item veto. For instance, he signed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 prohibiting torture while issuing a signing statement declaring his intent to ignore the law in order to gather military or foreign intelligence.
The Presentment Clause of Article I, Section 7 gives the president but two options when presented with a bill passed by Congress: sign or veto the bill in its entirety. That was the holding of the Supreme Court when it found a line-item veto statute unconstitutional in 1998’s Clinton v. City of New York. The president is obligated to veto a bill that he believes to be unconstitutional; Congress may override that judgment by two-thirds majorities. In the 217-year history of the United States under the present Constitution, Congress has overridden only 28 constitutionally based vetoes, and on only one occasion did the override engender a constitutional battle between the president and Congress. Presidential signing statements further usurp the legislative power by resulting in the enforcement of laws that Congress has not passed. Members vote on all the provisions of a law collectively in the expectation that all will be executed if the president approves.
Signing statements also flout the president’s obligation in Article II of the Constitution to execute the laws faithfully. The Founding Fathers were acutely aware of the example of King James II, whose practice of suspending or dispensing with laws he believed encroached on royal prerogatives eventually occasioned his overthrow in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. With such precedents in mind, the framers of the United States Constitution directed the president to execute the laws without fail. The Republican Congress, however, has acted as a disinterested spectator while President Bush has stolen its legislative authority in plain view and exercised the tyrannical power of making, executing, and conclusively interpreting the law and the Constitution.
The most frightening claim made by Bush with congressional acquiescence is reminiscent of the lettres de cachet of prerevolutionary France. (Such letters, with which the king could order the arrest and imprisonment of subjects without trial, helped trigger the storming of the Bastille.) In the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Bush maintained that he could pluck any American citizen out of his home or off of the sidewalk and detain him indefinitely on the president’s finding that he was an illegal combatant. No court could second-guess the president. Bush soon employed such monarchial power to detain a few citizens and to frighten would-be dissenters, and Republicans in Congress either cheered or fiddled like Nero while the Constitution burned. The Supreme Court ultimately entered the breach and repudiated the president in 2004’s Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Republicans similarly yawned as President Bush ordained military tribunals to try accused war criminals based on secret evidence and unreliable hearsay in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention. The Supreme Court again was forced to countervail the congressional dereliction by holding the tribunals illegal in 2006’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Republicans have shied from challenging Bush by placing party loyalty above institutional loyalty, contrary to the expectations of the Founding Fathers. They do so in the fear that embarrassing or discrediting a Republican president might reverberate to their political disadvantage in a reverse coat-tail effect.
Democrats, for their part, likewise place party above the Constitution, but their party loyalty at least creates an incentive to frustrate Bush’s super-imperial presidency. This could help to restore checks and balances. For the foreseeable future, divided government is the best bet for preserving both the letter and spirit of the Constitution. If Democrats capture the House or Senate in November 2006, the danger created by Bush with a Republican-controlled Congress would be mitigated or eliminated.
"Wade in the water ... Wade in the water, children Wade in the ater ... God is gonna trouble the water..."
Here we go. Four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked the solicitor general of the United States to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate possible -- if you want to call it that -- perjury by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping probe, in the wake of the latest bombshell: the FBI director's testimoney directly contradicting Gonzales' sworn statements. From the National Journal:
The senators -- Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Russ Feingold and Sheldon Whitehouse -- are also members of the Judiciary Committee. In testimony esterday before the committee, Gonzales contradicted his own earlier sworn accounts, along with those of other witnesses in the probe.
And despite his blistering cross-examination of Gonzales at yesterday's hearing, ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Arlen Specter returned to form today. Apparently he was traveling with the president, and so perhaps this particular Specterism has more to do with fear of your dinner partners than genuine moral outrage. The Journal continues:
In a press conference this afternoon, ranking Republican Arlen Specter railed against the request, and indicated that Chairman Leahy was not on board, either.
"I think that Senator Schumer has made a practice of politicizing this matter," Specter told reporters. "Senator Schumer's not interested in looking at the record. He's interested in throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow's newspapers."
Specter has previously accused Schumer of having a conflict of interest in the firings probe, because the New York Democrat is also head of the DSCC, the Senate's campaign fundraising arm.
Specter has backed congressional subpoenas of administration officials, and drew a distinction with the prosecutor request. "The inspector general generally does not conduct investigations with a view to a prosecution. The inspector general conducts investigation with a view to improprieties and recommendations for changes in policy," Specter said. "I think there's a little bit of Don Quixote here. People are riding off in all different directions at once."
Meanwhile, the Leahy committee has also subpoenaed Karl Rove, the president's increasingly addled brain, in the U.S. attorney firings scandal. Expect that to be the next "executive privilege" showdown in D.C. ...
Drip ... drip ... drip ... how long can the house of cards that is the Bush administration continue to stand? Haven't we had enough yet?
The plot thickens in the ongoing U.S. attorney firings scandal. Now, FBI Director Robert Meuller has weighed in, telling Senators that the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, the "terrorist surveillance program" or TSP, was indeed the subject of an emergency March 4, 2004 meeting between the White House and the so-called "gang of eight", and of the notorious March 10, 2004 bedside raid on then-A.G. John Ashcroft. The AP reports:
WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said Thursday the government's terrorist surveillance program was the topic of a 2004 hospital room dispute between top Bush administration officials, contradicting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' sworn Senate testimony.
Mueller was not in the hospital room at the time of the dramatic March 10, 2004, confrontation between then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and presidential advisers Andy Card and Gonzales, who was then serving as White House counsel. Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee he arrived shortly after they left, and spoke with the ailing Ashcroft.
The case against Mr. Gonzales is building to a crescendo, and there really are only two ways that it can go -- he will either be forced to resign (in which case he can still be prosecuted for perjury), or the Dems will have to force an impeachment hearing on a president who could stubbornly refuse to let Gonzo go. Gonzo is walking toward the cliff, backward and with a blindfold on.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy threatened yesterday to request a perjury investigation of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, as Democrats said an intelligence official's statement about a classified surveillance program was at odds with Gonzales's sworn testimony.
The latest dispute involving public remarks by Gonzales concerned the topic of a March 10, 2004, White House briefing for members of Congress. Gonzales, in congressional testimony Tuesday, said the purpose of the briefing was to address what he called "intelligence activities" that were the subject of a legal dispute inside the administration.
Gonzales testified that the meeting was not called to discuss a dispute over the National Security Agency's controversial warrantless surveillance program, which he has repeatedly said attracted no serious controversy inside the administration.
But a letter sent to Congress in May 2006 by then-Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte described the congressional meeting as a "briefing on the Terrorist Surveillance Program," the name that President Bush has publicly used to describe the warrantless surveillance program.
Democrats pointed to the Negroponte letter yesterday in an effort to portray Gonzales's remarks as misleading. They said Gonzales is trying to conceal the existence of a dispute between White House and Justice Department lawyers that involved the surveillance program, which many Democrats have criticized as an illegal or unjustified abuse of executive-branch authority.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Senate intelligence committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), have also said the meeting focused on the NSA program and have strongly disputed other Gonzales characterizations of the meeting.
Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters he is giving Gonzales until late next week to revise his testimony about the surveillance program or he will ask Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to conduct a perjury inquiry: "I'll ask the inspector general to determine who's telling the truth."
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said yesterday that Gonzales "stands by his testimony," and that "the disagreement . . . was not about the particular intelligence activity that has been publicly described by the president. It was about other highly classified intelligence activities."
DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein referred questions to the Justice Department.
The AP has the smoking gun on Alberto Gonzales' perjury before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.
Remember those idiotic answers Gonzo gave to the committee yesterday regarding his midnight ride to John Ashcroft's bedside, and his claims that the "visit" -- and his briefings to the so-called "gang of eight" in Congress -- had to do with "other surveillance programs" and not the notorious Terrorist Surveillance Program being conducted, illegally, by the NSA? Well, turns out, he was lying:
(AP) Documents indicate eight congressional leaders were briefed about the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program on the eve of its expiration in 2004, contradicting sworn Senate testimony this week by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The documents, obtained by The Associated Press, come as senators consider whether a perjury investigation should be opened into conflicting accounts about the program and a dramatic March 2004 confrontation leading up to its potentially illegal reauthorization.
A Gonzales spokesman maintained Wednesday that the attorney general stands by his testimony.
At a heated Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Gonzales repeatedly testified that the issue at hand was not about the terrorist surveillance program, which allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on suspects in the United States without receiving court approval.
Instead, Gonzales said, the emergency meetings on March 10, 2004, focused on an intelligence program that he would not describe.
Gonzales, who was then serving as counsel to Bush, testified that the White House Situation Room briefing sought to inform congressional leaders about the pending expiration of the unidentified program and Justice Department objections to renew it. Those objections were led by then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey, who questioned the program's legality.
"The dissent related to other intelligence activities," Gonzales testified at Tuesday's hearing. "The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program."
"Not the TSP?" responded Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. "Come on. If you say it's about other, that implies not. Now say it or not."
"It was not," Gonzales answered. "It was about other intelligence activities."
A four-page memo from the national intelligence director's office shows that the White House briefing with the eight lawmakers on March 10, 2004, was about the terror surveillance program, or TSP.
Gotcha. So what now, Dems?
A special counsel should and must be empaneled to investigate Mr. Gonzales for perjury. Second, Congress should move to impeach him on the same grounds. If the Democrats refuse, they aren't fit to hold their offices, or to sit in the houses of Congress. It's time to stop bitching about the administration and take some goddammned action.
Update: ThinkProgress has the DNI's smoking gun letter.
Will the Democrats ever develop enough intestinal fortitude to actually put teeth into their disdain for the defiant Bush administration and the criminal, lying, perjurious attorney general?
House Democrats finally passed criminal contempt citations against two top White House officials, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, the first such finding since an EPA administrator nearly went to jail for contempt in the 1980s, an episode described by former Nixon White House counsel John Dean here (And how ironic is it that Fred Fielding, once counsel to Richard Nixon as well as Ronald Reagan, is the man arguing that the White House can summarily dismiss Congressional subpoenas by writ of executive privilege, and that it can also order the Justice Department not to pursue such cases...):
A leading scholar on Executive Privilege, Mark Rozell, reports that although "President Reagan invoked executive privilege on several occasions, he never fully exercised that power. When confronted by congressional demands for information, Reagan generally followed a pattern of initial resistance followed by accommodation of Congress's request. Reagan never made a concerted effort to defend his prerogative in this area. As a result, he further weakened a constitutional presidential power …."
How much of Reagan's reluctance to press the "executive privilege" issue derived from Fielding, Reagan himself, or other Reagan aides, is not known. Also, some of the criticism of Reagan's decision not to aggressively assert the privilege occurred largely after Fielding had left. For instance, Vice President Cheney later insisted that Reagan provided too much information to Congress during their Iran-Contra investigation.
Fielding was White House Counsel, however, during one of the more thrilling episodes involving executive privilege -- one that could parallel the current situation, with Congress calling for testimony by White House aide Karl Rove and former aide Harriet Miers. In explaining what happened back in 1982, I've drawn heavily on -- paraphrasing, greatly abbreviating, and then quoting -- Mark Rozell's report:
Two House committees issued subpoenas to EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch, directing her to appear before Congress with certain documents. Gorsuch was prepared to turn over the documents, but the Justice Department urged President Reagan to assert executive privilege. When he did so, White House Counsel Fielding assured Gorsuch that "the administration would stand solidly behind this claim of executive privilege."
When Gorsuch invoked the privilege, both committees voted to hold her in contempt, and on December 16, 1982, the House of Representatives voted 259-105 to find her in contempt of Congress. Immediately following the House vote, however, the Justice Department filed civil suit against the House of Representatives. Then, rather than follow the language of the contempt statute, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia -- obviously after being instructed by the Justice Department regarding this matter- refused to "bring the matter before the grand jury for their action" while the suit against the House was pending. (It was a delaying ploy.)
The House requested that the federal district court dismiss the civil lawsuit, which the court did. The court also encouraged the two branches "to settle their differences without further judicial involvement" and warned that "[i]f these two co-equal branches maintain their present adversarial positions, the Judicial Branch will be required to resolve the dispute by determining the validity of the Administrator's claim of executive privilege."
Two weeks later, the Administration made a deal with one of the congressional committees, agreeing to a limited disclosure of the requested information. Again, EPA administrator Gorsuch pushed for full disclosure, but the White House disagreed. Meanwhile, the other congressional committee would not agree to a limited release and continued to press for full disclosure, advising the White House that the investigations would continue until the documents were provided.
Having had enough, Gorsuch resigned her position as head of EPA when the White House finally agreed to release its documents Congress wanted. Following the contempt statute, the U.S. attorney presented a contempt citation to a grand jury, which unanimously declined to indict Gorsuch.
Rozell concludes, "Although the administration initially had taken a strong stand on executive privilege, it backed down in the face of mounting political pressure. The decision to compromise did not settle the executive privilege controversy. The House Committee on the Judiciary further investigated the Justice Department role in the controversy and concluded that the department had misused executive privilege by advocating the withholding of documents that had not been thoroughly reviewed. T bghe committee also alleged that the department withheld documents to cover up wrongdoing at EPA. The administration's compromise served as a temporary political expedient which eventually allowed Congress to examine previously withheld documents and draw broader conclusions about the exercise of executive privilege. Reagan may have won a temporary reprieve from political pressures, but he had lost ground in his effort to re-establish the viability of the doctrine of executive privilege."
Dean concludes that:
This time, it is my belief that Bush -- unlike Reagan before him -- will not blink. He will not let Fielding strike a deal, as Fielding did for Reagan. Rather, Bush feels that he has his manhood on the line. He knows what his conservative constituency wants: a strong president who protects his prerogatives. He believes in the unitary executive theory of protecting those prerogatives, and of strengthening the presidency by defying Congress.
In short, all those who have wanted to see Karl Rove in jail may get their wish, for he will not cave in, either -- and may well be prosecuted for contempt, as Gorsuch was not. Bush's greatest problem here, however, is Harriett Miers. It is dubious he can exert any privilege over a former White House Counsel; I doubt she is ready to go to prison for him; and all who know her say if she is under oath, she will not lie. That could be a problem.
In the latest episode, the House Judiciary Committee last week subpoenaed Bolton and Miers to testify about the U.S. attorney firings, and both refused to reply, and in fact, neither showed up for the hearings, setting up the current showdown. According to the AP:
Fielding has offered to make White House officials available for private interviews without a transcript, but Democrats have rejected that.
Conyers subpoenaed Miers and Bolten last month, but neither responded. Miers skipped the hearing to which she had been summoned, infuriating Democrats.
Contempt of Congress would be a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence. If the citation wins support in the full House, it would be forwarded to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia — a Bush appointee.
And that's as far as it's likely to go, the Justice Department said in a letter to the committee late Tuesday.
Brian A. Benczkowski, principal deputy assistant attorney general, cited the department's position, "articulated during administrations of both parties, that the criminal contempt of Congress statute does not apply to the president or presidential subordinates who assert executive privilege."
Benczkowski said it also was the department's view that that applies to Miers, who left the White House earlier this year.
So what next? Congress will likely not even take up the contempt issue until after their August recess ... the wussies...
Did you catch Alberto testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee again yesterday? He put on quite a show of blatant, stammering ignorance. In fact, he apparently has no idea what he has said before, what he's doing as attorney general, or what in god's name to say about it now. Here's Alberto trying to explain his midnight ride to the bedside of then-sidelined A.G. John Ashcroft:
Basically, he's saying that there's no rue against Ashcroft changing his mind about ceding his powers to James Comey while he was gravely ill and under anesthesia ... he could wake up from his delirium and decide to OK warrantless wiretapping ... no problem.
Russ Feingold has called Alberto Gonzales' testimoney outright misleading. Good thing the White House has forbidden the Justice Department to pursue contempt of congress charges against any administration official who has been clothed in executive privelege.
Updates: Jane Harman has weighed in on the NSA domestic spying scandal, saying the White House never sought approval for the program from the so-called "gang of eight" --the top intelligence committee chairs in Congress.
Also, TPM Muckraker reports that Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that she, too voiced objections, as did other members of the gang of eight (Jay Rockefellar and Tom Daschle objected, too.)
The sitting attorney general of the United States is very likely guilty of lying to Congress, contempt of Congress, and possibly even perjury. And yet, he's still on the job, as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. Here's the story, from the Washington Post:
Two senior Justice Department officials said yesterday that they kept Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales apprised of FBI violations of civil liberties and privacy safeguards in recent years.
The two officials spoke in a telephone call arranged by press officials at the Justice Department after The Washington Post disclosed yesterday that the FBI sent reports to Gonzales of legal and procedural violations shortly before he told senators in April 2005: "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" after 2001.
"I have discussed and informed attorneys general, including this one, about mistakes the FBI has made or problems or violations or compliance incidents, however you want to refer to them," said James A. Baker, a career official who heads the Justice Department's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.
"I've discussed a number of times oversight concerns and, underlying those oversight concerns, the potential for violations. And I'm sure we've discussed violations that have occurred in the past," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Kenneth L. Wainstein.
But Wainstein defended the 2005 statement by Gonzales that he was unaware of civil liberties abuses related to the government's counterterrorism effort. Wainstein cited what he described as a dictionary definition of "abuse" in defending Gonzales's remark.
Democratic lawmakers, citing that disclosure, yesterday accused Gonzales of misleading them about the existence of legal or rules violations by the FBI.
Wainstein said Gonzales was saying only that there had been no intentional acts of misconduct, rather than the sorts of mistakes the FBI was self-disclosing. "That is why I cited the definition of 'abuse,' which in Webster's . . . implies some sort of intentional conduct. And I think that is sort of the common understanding of the word 'abuse,' " Wainstein said.
Civil liberties groups and key Democratic lawmakers dismissed that explanation.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that Gonzales said in a written statement last week that he first became aware of problems with the FBI's use of a tool known as a "national security letter" earlier this year. Copies of the FBI reports sent to Gonzales in 2005 and 2006 described several problems with the letters, which allow agents to secretly collect Americans' phone, computer and bank records without a court order or grand jury subpoena.
"This inconsistency is a disturbing addition to a growing list of misleading answers by the attorney general to questions from the Judiciary Committee, and it is unacceptable," Leahy said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil liberties, said Gonzales should resign and a special prosecutor should be appointed. "Attorney General Gonzales has shown an apparent reckless disregard for the rule of law and a fundamental lack of respect for the oversight responsibilities of Congress," Nadler said.
The White House stood behind Gonzales. President Bush "has said repeatedly that he has great faith in the attorney general, and that has not changed," spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
So when does Gonzales' behavior go beyond the point where the White House's sense of embarassment surpasses its stubbornness?
When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, Alberto Gonzales was his general counsel. His most famous accomplishment? Getting Dubya out of jury duty on a drunk driving case -- thus avoiding the spectacle of one drunk judging another. Grateful for the minor accomplishment by his not-so-accomplished Mexican lawyer friend (ever wonder why the prez is so fond of migrantes ilegales?), Bush later made him secretary of state, and then placed him on the Texas Supreme Court. George even gave him a nickname: "Judge."
In his capacity as legal counsel to the governor, Alberto Gonzales also had the job of reviewing applications for clemency, being made by death row inmates. His record, as the Atlantic Monthly described in a 2003 piece, was dubious at best:
During Bush's six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas—a record unmatched by any other governor in modern American history. Each time a person was sentenced to death, Bush received from his legal counsel a document summarizing the facts of the case, usually on the morning of the day scheduled for the execution, and was then briefed on those facts by his counsel; based on this information Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one. The first fifty-seven of these summaries were prepared by Gonzales, a Harvard-educated lawyer who went on to become the Texas secretary of state and a justice on the Texas supreme court. He is now the White House counsel.
Gonzales never intended his summaries to be made public. Almost all are marked CONFIDENTIAL and state, "The privileges claimed include, but are not limited to, claims of Attorney-Client Privilege, Attorney Work-Product Privilege, and the Internal Memorandum exception to the Texas Public Information Act." I obtained the summaries and related documents, which have never been published, after the Texas attorney general ruled that they were not exempt from the disclosure requirements of the Public Information Act.
Gonzales's summaries were Bush's primary source of information in deciding whether someone would live or die. Each is only three to seven pages long and generally consists of little more than a brief description of the crime, a paragraph or two on the defendant's personal background, and a condensed legal history. Although the summaries rarely make a recommendation for or against execution, many have a clear prosecutorial bias, and all seem to assume that if an appeals court rejected one or another of a defendant's claims, there is no conceivable rationale for the governor to revisit that claim. This assumption ignores one of the most basic reasons for clemency: the fact that the justice system makes mistakes.
A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda suggests that Governor Bush frequently approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence.
Fast forward to the present time. Alberto Gonzales is the scandalized and incompetent second attorney general to George W. Bush, having been elevated, once again, from the job as Bush's Torquemada counsel. And according to at least one of the fired U.S. attorneys now known as the Gonzlaes Eight Nine, not much else has changed, either. From today's Washington Post:
Paul K. Charlton, one of nine U.S. attorneys fired last year, told members of Congress yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has been overzealous in ordering federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty, including in an Arizona murder case in which no body had been recovered.
Justice Department officials had branded Charlton, the former U.S. attorney in Phoenix, disloyal because he opposed the death penalty in that case. But Charlton testified yesterday that Gonzales has been so eager to expand the use of capital punishment that the attorney general has been inattentive to the quality of evidence in some cases -- or the views of the prosecutors most familiar with them.
"No decision is more important for a prosecutor than whether or not to . . . deliberately and methodically take a life," Charlton said. "And that holds true for the attorney general."
His testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee reviewing the use of the federal death penalty provided the most detailed account to date of Charlton's interactions with Gonzales's aides about the murder case that contributed to his dismissal. It also was one of the most pointed critiques of Gonzales by any of the fired federal prosecutors, whose removal touched off a furor on Capitol Hill.
Justice Department data presented at the hearing demonstrated that the administration's death penalty dispute with Charlton was not unique. The Bush administration has so far overruled prosecutors' recommendations against its use more frequently than the Clinton administration did. The pace of overrulings picked up under Gonzales's predecessor, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, and spiked in 2006, when the number of times Gonzales ordered prosecutors to seek the death penalty against their advice jumped to 21, from three in 2005. ...
... According to Charlton, the case on which he clashed with Gonzales involved a methamphetamine dealer named Jose Rios Rico, who was charged with slaying his drug supplier. Charlton said he believed the case, which has not yet gone to trial, did not warrant the death penalty because police and prosecutors lacked forensic evidence -- including a gun, DNA or the victim's body. He said that the body was evidently buried in a landfill and that he asked Justice Department officials to pay $500,000 to $1 million for its exhumation.
The department refused, Charlton said. And without such evidence, he testified, the risk of putting the wrong person to death was too high.
Charlton said that in prior cases, Ashcroft's aides had given him the chance to discuss his recommendations against the death penalty, but that Gonzales's staff did not offer that opportunity. He instead received a letter, dated May 31, 2006, from Gonzales, simply directing him to seek the death penalty.
Charlton testified that he asked Justice officials to reconsider and had what he called a "memorable" conversation with Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty. Michael J. Elston, then McNulty's chief of staff, called Charlton to relay that the deputy had spent "a significant amount of time on this issue with the attorney general, perhaps as much as five to 10 minutes," and that Gonzales had not changed his mind. Charlton said he then asked to speak directly with Gonzales and was denied.
Last August, D. Kyle Sampson, then Gonzales's chief of staff, sent Elston a dismissive e-mail about the episode that said: "In the 'you won't believe this category,' Paul Charlton would like a few minutes of the AG's time." The next month, Charlton's name appeared on a list of prosecutors who should be fired, which Sampson sent to the White House.
Too bad there's no career death penalty in the works for Alberto.
Here in Florida, we have what's called the "Sunshine law" -- which states that no two (or more) government employees or other public officials may conduct official business outside of a clearly public meeting. No backroom tetes-a-tete, no private lunches, nada.
In Washington, we have what's called the Hatch Act -- which prohibits federal and certain state and civil service employees from engaging in proscribed political activity, including conducting partisan business using government resources. The Act was named after a New Mexico Senator named Carl Hatch, and back in 1939:
The Hatch Act grew into a general tradition of electoral reform. In essence, it finally did away with the last vestiges of patronage, and one could say it was the end of the civil service reforms started in the 1880s. But the most significant impetus, affecting both its timing and its content, was the widespread allegation that Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds had been misused by staff members and local Democratic Party politicians during the congressional elections of 1938.
And as for the substance:
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government, District of Columbia government and some state and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. In 1993, Congress passed legislation that significantly amended the Hatch Act as it applies to federal and D.C. employees (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326). (These amendments did not change the provisions that apply to state and local employees. 5 U.S.C. §§ 1501- 1508.) Under the amendments most federal and D.C. employees are now permitted to take an active part in political management and political campaigns. A small group of federal employees are subject to greater restrictions and continue to be prohibited from engaging in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns.
Ah, and who is in this "small group of federal employees" who are "subject to greater restrictions? Why it includes:
Administrative Law Judges (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372) Central Imagery Office Central Intelligence Agency Contract Appeals Boards (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372a) Criminal Division (Department of Justice) Defense Intelligence Agency Federal Bureau of Investigation Federal Elections Commission Merit Systems Protection Board National Security Agency National Security Council Office of Criminal Investigation (Internal Revenue Service) Office of Investigative Programs (Customs Service) Office of Law Enforcement (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) Office of Special Counsel Secret Service Senior Executive Service (career positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 3132(a)(4))
Uh oh... did you says Senior Executive Service? Let's pursue... Oh, and there's another law we're going to want to remember, called the Public Records Act. But we'll get to that later ... First: here are some exerpts from today's Washington Post:
Almost 90 White House officials have maintained private e-mail accounts on the server of the Republican National Committee, including top advisers such as Karl Rove and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, according to a House committee report released today.
The disclosure means the practice is much more common than Bush administration officials have previously acknowledged, the report noted.
The RNC has preserved more than 140,000 e-mails sent or received by Rove, but only 130 were written before President Bush won re-election in 2004, according to the report. The committee has preserved another 100,000 e-mails from two of Rove's top lieutenants, former White House political director Sara M. Taylor and deputy political director W. Scott Jennings, according to the House Oversight Committee.
But the RNC has no e-mail records for 51 of 88 White House officials -- such as Ken Mehlman, the White House political director from 2001 through early 2003 -- who used their servers in addition to government e-mail accounts, according to a summary of the panel's report.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), has been investigating whether the e-mail accounts run by the RNC and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign committee violated the Presidential Records Act, which requires that every White House official "assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented."
The House and Senate Judiciary committees also are seeking the RNC e-mails of White House officials, particularly Rove, Taylor and Jennings, to examine whether Bush's top advisers played roles in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.
... Citing executive privilege, President Bush has refused to let any of his West Wing advisers turn over government documents or e-mails to congressional committees conducting investigations of his administration. The RNC has stated its intention to first provide White House officials' e-mails to White House Counsel Fred Fielding to determine whether Bush will want to withhold those as well. ...
... In early March, when the RNC e-mail trail first was raised during investigations of the U.S. attorney dismissals and the alleged politicization of the General Services Administration, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said "a handful" of White House advisers used the private accounts. That number was upgraded to about 50 a few weeks later. The RNC and White House initially said that almost all of Rove's e-mails were destroyed.
Just 130 of the 140,216 Rove e-mails come from Bush's first term, none of them before November 2003. Susan Ralston, Rove's former executive assistant, who privately gave a deposition to committee aides, told the committee that Mehlman used his RNC account "frequently, daily."
She added that other officials for whom there are no e-mail records also used the private accounts regularly.
The report shows that Waxman plans to investigate Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's knowledge of the use of the private e-mails during his term as White House counsel, and whether he took steps to preserve the records.
Waxman's panel also is threatening to subpoena the Bush-Cheney campaign committee. Eleven White House officials use e-mail accounts on the committee's servers, but it has refused to provide any more information to the committee.
The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, 44 U.S.C. ß2201-2207, governs the official records of Presidents and Vice Presidents created or received after January 20, 1981. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records.
Specifically, the Presidential Records Act:
Defines and states public ownership of the records.
Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.
Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal.
Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.
Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to Presidential records through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent Administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty-day notice period to the former and current Presidents.. Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records.
Oh, and since we're talking about Bush, here, there are amendments. Here's his:
Executive Order 13233 This Executive Order, issued by President George W. Bush on November 1, 2001, supersedes the previous Executive Order. The Bush Executive Order also includes the documents of former Vice Presidents.
The E.O. was drafted by none other than Alberto Gonzales, back when he was White House counsel. Essentially, it severely limits access to the records of previous presidents, including Bush's father, and Bill Clinton, over the objection of Clinton, by the way...:
"...reflecting military, diplomatic, or national security secrets, Presidential communications, legal advice, legal work, or the deliberative processes of the President and the President's advisers, and to do so in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court's decisions in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), and other cases..."
The order also reversed a previous executive order by Ronald Reagan in 1989, which called for a delay in the release of presidential records if the out-going president requests it, and it altered the relative openness of presidential records that had been in place since the Act was passed to preserve the records of Richard Nixon from being destroyed by his henchmen. More on the history here. Intriguingly enough, the order was issued by Dubya just 60 days after 9/11, on November 1, 2001.
The Incompetent Mr. Gonzales is now under investigation by his own Justice Department in yet another offshoot of the U.S. attorney firing scandals -- this one involving Alberto's apparent attempts to coordinate his testimony with Monica Goodling's. A meeting with Gonzales to "discuss their recollections" which was described by Goodling during her May 31 testimony was regarded, even by the bottom tier law student, as "inappropriate"... what's worse, Gonzales testified under oath, before Ms. Goodling did (under a guarantee of immunity from prosecution, no less) that he did not discuss his testimony with any other witness prior to his appearance before Congress. Oops. Sayeth the WaPo:
The announcement that Gonzales's conduct would be examined came from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel of the Office of Professional Responsibility. "This is to confirm that the scope of our investigation does include this matter," Fine and Jarrett said in a letter to Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Fine has the authority to refer cases for possible criminal prosecution if warranted, and both he and Jarrett can recommend disciplinary action for violations of internal ethics guidelines or other rules of professional conduct.
The revelation further expands the publicly known contours of the Justice Department's internal investigation, which is examining the removal of the prosecutors and whether any laws or policies were violated in the hiring of career prosecutors, immigration judges and others.
Meanwhile, TPMMuckraker reports there has been another resignation from the department now euphemistically referred to as "Justice" -- Mike Elston, who had been chief of staff to former deputy A.G. and in-house scapegoat Paul McNulty. He slunk out of town quietly today. The Muckrakers report:
Some highlights from Elston's tenure at DoJ:
-- He allegedly called three of the fired U.S. attorneys and made an implicit threat that the Justice Department would detail the reasons for their firings if they didn't stay quiet.
-- He allegedly rejected a large number of applicants to Justice Department positions because they were Democrats.
-- When Carol Lam, the former U.S. attorney for San Diego, asked to stay on the job longer in order to deal with some outstanding prosecutions (the expanding Duke Cunningham case among them), Elston told her not to think about her cases, that she should be gone in "weeks, not months" and said "these instructions were 'coming from the very highest levels of the government.'"
-- He called around to the U.S. attorneys whom he had placed on one of the draft firing lists to apologize when he discovered that his list would be turned over to Congress.
During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Bradley Schlozman, the controversial former senior political appointee in the Civil Rights Division, was battered with questions about his efforts to politicize the division.
A number of those questions from senators centered on Schlozman's efforts to purge the appellate section of the Civil Rights Division -- the small, but important section that handles civil rights cases in the court of appeals. What were they getting at? An anonymous complaint against Schlozman sent to the Justice Department's inspector general in December of 2005 spelled out the allegations. The complaint, obtained by TPMmuckraker, was filed by a former Department lawyer. You can read it here.
"Bradley J. Schlozman is systematically attempting to purge all Civil Rights appellate attorneys hired under Democratic administrations," the lawyer wrote, saying that he appeared to be "targeting minority women lawyers" in the section and was replacing them with "white, invariably Christian men." The lawyer also alleged that "Schlozman told one recently hired attorney that it was his intention to drive these attorneys out of the Appellate Section so that he could replace them with 'good Americans.'"
The anonymous complaint named three female, minority lawyers whom Schlozman had transferred out of the appellate section (of African-American, Jewish, and Chinese ethnicity, respectively) for no apparent reason. And in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week in response to questions from senators, the Justice Department confirmed that all three had been transferred out by Schlozman -- and then transferred back in after Schlozman had left the Division. ...
So much for justice...
With his support among Democrats at its nadir and support dwindling, even among Republicans, what Alberto has left are two things: the loyalty of his friend, George W. Bush, and the protection of Bush's remaining lackeys in Congress, who are willing to serve as human shields for the administration, possibly until the end of his term, or their careers, whichever comes first. But for that, Gonzo would be gonzo.
As it is, he remains a potent symbol of the utter worthlessness of the Bush administration. And as such, he's a rather useful idiot.
New written testimony from James Comey, probably the most moral actor to have graced the pitiful hull that is the Bush Justice Department, sheds new light on the dark shadow that is Dick Cheney. From the National Journal:
... In written answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey spelled out the strongest case yet that pushback on the warrantless wiretapping program in 2004 came directly from Vice President Dick Cheney.
In testimony before the committee last month on the abrupt firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Comey revealed surprising new details about DOJ's resistance to the controversial surveillance program implemented at the direction of the White House following the 9/11 attacks. Comey said that he and other top DOJ officials, including then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, had decided to resign if the White House didn't agree to amend the program. Comey's testimony also revealed for the first time that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a favorite villain of civil libertarians, had deemed the program illegal as well.
In his new testimony [PDF], released by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy yesterday, Comey said that he had personally informed Cheney that DOJ would not sign off on the program one day before then-White House officials Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales were dispatched to Ashcroft's hospital bed.
Comey was acting attorney general at the time, but Card and Gonzales ignored him as they pressured an ailing Ashcroft to sign off on the program, according to the hearing testimony.
In the newly released statement, Comey wrote, "The vice president was aware of DOJ's decision not to certify the program, because I had communicated this orally during a March 9 meeting."
Gonzales, now in danger of receiving a no-confidence vote from Congress as attorney general, has not said who ordered him to make the dramatic trip to George Washington University Hospital the night of March 10, 2004. The dots connecting Cheney to the visit seem closer than they were previously.
Comey also confirmed long-circulating reports that Cheney blocked the promotion of a DOJ official over the surveillance program. Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Philbin, a terrorism-law specialist with solid conservative credentials, was being considered for the deputy solicitor general slot at the time he accompanied Comey to Ashcroft's hospital room to fend off Card and Gonzales' entreaties to Ashcroft.
Later, Comey said, he learned that Cheney intended to squash Philbin's promotion. "I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter."
It will not come as a surprise to his many critics that Gonzales dropped Philbin's promotion. ...
Also, tonight, Newsweek's Howard Fineman told Keith Olbermann that investigators he's talked to on the Hill say that the president and vice president played the dynamic duo when it came to the strong arming of John Ashcroft: Bush called Ashcroft's wife to tell her that he was sending his little Torquemada and his chief of staff to the hospital bed, and Cheney pushing Torquemada's minions around. Nice work if you can get it...
Update: There's more Justice Department excitement, with new evidence of politically timed prosecutions designed to disenfranchise Democratic voters.
I haven't had a chance to watch the Monica Goodling testimony yet, but I have figured out the bombshell. And it is this:
A former Justice Department official told House investigators Wednesday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried to review his version of the prosecutor firings with her at a time when lawmakers were homing in on conflicting accounts.
"It made me a little uncomfortable," Monica Goodling, Gonzales' former White House liaison, said of her conversation with the attorney general just before she took a leave of absence in March. "I just did not know if it was appropriate for us to both be discussing our recollections of what had happened."
In a daylong appearance before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, Goodling, 33, also acknowledged crossing a legal line herself by considering the party affiliations of candidates for career prosecutor jobs - a violation of law.
No, not that... let's try again:
A former Justice Department official told House investigators Wednesday that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried to review his version of the prosecutor firings with her at a time when lawmakers were homing in on conflicting accounts.
"It made me a little uncomfortable," Monica Goodling, Gonzales' former White House liaison, said of her conversation with the attorney general just before she took a leave of absence in March. "I just did not know if it was appropriate for us to both be discussing our recollections of what had happened."
In a daylong appearance before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, Goodling, 33, also acknowledged crossing a legal line herself by considering the party affiliations of candidates for career prosecutor jobs - a violation of law.
Um, nope. Try it one more time:
Goodling's dramatic story about her final conversation with Gonzales brought questions from panel members about whether he had tried to align her story with his and whether he was truthful in his own congressional testimony.
Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that he didn't know the answers to some questions about the firings because he was steering clear of aides - such as Goodling - who were likely to be questioned.
"I haven't talked to witnesses because of the fact that I haven't wanted to interfere with this investigation and department investigations," Gonzales told the panel.
Goodling said for the first time Wednesday that Gonzales did review the story of the firings with her at an impromptu meeting she requested in his office a few days before she took a leave of absence.
"I was somewhat paralyzed. I was distraught, and I felt like I wanted to make a transfer," Goodling recalled during a packed hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.
Gonzales, she said, indicated he would think about Goodling's request.
"He then proceeded to say, 'Let me tell you what I can remember,' and he laid out for me his general recollection ... of some of the process" of the firings, Goodling added. When Gonzales finished, "he asked me if I had any reaction to his iteration."
Goodling said the conversation made her uncomfortable because she was aware that she, Gonzales and others would be called by Congress to testify.
"Was the attorney general trying to shake your recollection?" asked Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala.
"I just did not know if it was a conversation we should be having and so I just didn't say anything," she replied. She added that she thought Gonzales was trying to be kind.
Read Ms. Goodling's opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee here.
Senate Democrats are considering a no confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, after additional Senators -- Chuck Hagel, Norm Coleman and even the Bush boot licking former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Pat Roberts of Kansas, either call for Gonzales' ouster, or, in the case of Roberts, suggest he might want to consider heading for the exits. Arlen Specter is now all-but predicting that sooner or later, Gonzales will have to go.
This after the astounding, movie scene-like revelations about that late night visit to John Ashcroft's sick bed to strong arm the very ill man into approving warrantless wiretapping. James Comey, the acting A.G., literally had to race to Ashcroft's bedside to beat Gonzales there, calling the FBI director to make sure he wouldn't be barred from the room, leaving poor Ashcroft alone with Torquemada and Andy Card. If George W. Bush sent Gonzo and Card there, like a couple of freaking goons, or if Dick Cheney and his legal zombie David Addington, did it, we've got trouble.
And there's more. The WaPo today revealed that the original U.S. attorney hit list included one in four of the 93 serving U.S. attorneys -- 26 in all. Here's the list.
The groundswell against Gonzo is growing to a Wolfowitz pitch. The only question is how stubborn George W. Bush is prepared to be in hanging onto his old pal and principal bag-man.
Mr. Comey's Tale A standoff at a hospital bedside speaks volumes about Attorney General Gonzales.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007; A14
JAMES B. COMEY, the straight-as-an-arrow former No. 2 official at the Justice Department, yesterday offered the Senate Judiciary Committee an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source. The episode involved a 2004 nighttime visit to the hospital room of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft by Alberto Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff. Only the broadest outlines of this visit were previously known: that Mr. Comey, who was acting as attorney general during Mr. Ashcroft's illness, had refused to recertify the legality of the administration's warrantless wiretapping program; that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card had tried to do an end-run around Mr. Comey; that Mr. Ashcroft had rebuffed them.
Mr. Comey's vivid depiction, worthy of a Hollywood script, showed the lengths to which the administration and the man who is now attorney general were willing to go to pursue the surveillance program. First, they tried to coerce a man in intensive care -- a man so sick he had transferred the reins of power to Mr. Comey -- to grant them legal approval. Having failed, they were willing to defy the conclusions of the nation's chief law enforcement officer and pursue the surveillance without Justice's authorization. Only in the face of the prospect of mass resignations -- Mr. Comey, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and most likely Mr. Ashcroft himself -- did the president back down.
As Mr. Comey testified, "I couldn't stay, if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis." The crisis was averted only when, the morning after the program was reauthorized without Justice's approval, President Bush agreed to fix whatever problem Justice had with it (the details remain classified). "We had the president's direction to do . . . what the Justice Department believed was necessary to put this matter on a footing where we could certify to its legality," Mr. Comey said.
The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration's alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president's inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice's conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department's supervision.
Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.
Game, set, match, and proof that when it comes to Mr. Bush, the more disreputable you are, the more valuable you are. But as Chris Matthews asked last night on Hardball: "has anybody benefitted from knowing George W. Bush?" Look at the scattered corpses: Wolfowitz, Feith, Cambone, Collin Powell, Scooter Libby, George Tenet, Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neil, and so far, four senior members of the Department of Justice.
Alberto Gonzales cannot remain in office as attorney general. He also cannot leave the office of attorney general. The scandals continually mounting, both from his current tenure, and his tenure as White House counsel, continue to mount. With James Comey's incredible testimony yesterday, including testimony that he as acting A.G., then Attorney General John Ashcroft, and at least two other officials threatened to resign over the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping scheme -- new questions are being asked by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about whether Gonzales told the truth when he testified that there had been no such serious concerns about warrantless wiretapping by top officials at Justice. Not to mention the fact that Gonzales killed a probe into that very subject. (In the wake of Comey's testimony, Chuck Hagel has now joined the congressional chorus calling for Gonzales' ouster.)
But George W. Bush -- curiously, and in contradiction to predictions I and others have made -- has not begun the process of pushing Gonzales out. Why?
Writing in The Weekly Standard, Tod Lindberg, a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, says Gonzales's departure would be a "catastrophic defeat" for the administration. How so?
Democrats with good memories, such as former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who served on the House Judiciary Committee when it voted to impeach Richard Nixon in 1974, recall with precision the sequence of events that led to the resignation of the 37th president of the United States.
In brief: Then-Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigns, giving way to Eliot Richardson, confirmed by a steely-eyed, Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee, under the condition that he appoint a special prosecutor to look into Nixon administration wrongdoings. Enter Archibald Cox, and the rest is ... well, you know.
[Holtzman] is hardly alone among Democrats in slavering over the prospect of a new "independent counsel"-style investigation of the Bush administration -- one that would succeed where Patrick Fitzgerald failed by finding and charging a conspiracy and coverup all the way to the top,, writes Lindberg.
Oh, and "breaking news": the DOJ has released a whopping TWO Karl Rove emails (to him, not from him) related to the firings of the Gonzales Eight.
More on Rovegate from TPMM, including a "stern letter from Pat Leahy."
All you need to know about the Bush administration
...is contained in this story about an absolutely stunning story about the conduct of Alberto Gonzales when he was White House counsel (aside from signing the torture memo and otherwise behaving as a two-bit stooge. I'm reposting this because it's critical to understanding who these people are -- utterly guileless, almost theatrically sinister, and utterly without conscience. Here is the story, as told by one of the good guys -- former Deputy Attorney General James Comey:
WASHINGTON: On the night of March 10, 2004, a high-ranking Justice Department official rushed to a Washington hospital to prevent two White House aides from taking advantage of the critically ill Attorney General, John Ashcroft, the official testified on Tuesday.
One of those aides was Alberto Gonzales, who was then White House counsel and eventually succeeded Ashcroft as Attorney General.
"I was very upset," said James Comey, who was deputy Attorney General at the time, in his testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me."
The hospital visit by Gonzales and Andrew Card Jr., who was then White House chief of staff, has been disclosed before, but never in such dramatic, personal detail. Comey's account offered a rare and titillating glimpse of a Washington power struggle, complete with a late-night showdown in the White House after a dramatic encounter in a darkened hospital room.
Comey related his story to the committee, which is investigating various aspects of Gonzales's tenure as Attorney General, including the recent dismissals of eight United States attorneys and allegations that applicants for traditionally nonpartisan career prosecutor jobs were screened for political loyalties.
Although Comey declined to say specifically what the business was that sent Gonzales to the bedside of Ashcroft in George Washington Hospital, where he lay critically ill with pancreatitis, it was clear that the subject was the National Security Agency's secret domestic surveillance program. The signature of Ashcroft or his surrogate was needed by the next day, March 11, in order to renew the program, which was still secret at that time. ...
Howard Fineman said on Countdown tonight that whatever you think of Alberto, he's proving why George W. Bush loves him -- he is shameless and relentless when it comes to doing whatever it is the president wants. He is the ultimate shill -- a man with so little conscience it's almost hard to believe he's real. He is the Bush bag man extraordinaire, and he will do anything -- no matter how gut-bucket -- to please his boss.
And that's why Bush doesn't want him going anywhere. More on that fateful night:
On the night of March 10, as he was being driven home by his security detail, he got a telephone call from Ashcroft's chief of staff, who had just been contacted by Ashcroft's wife, Janet.
Although Janet Ashcroft had banned visitors and telephone calls to her husband's hospital room, she had just gotten a call from the White House telling her that Card and Gonzales were on their way to see her husband, Comey testified. "I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don't know that for sure," Comey said.
He said his security detail then sped him to the hospital with sirens blaring and emergency lights flashing, while he telephoned the director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller 3d, from the car. Mueller shared his sense of urgency: "He said, 'I'll meet you at the hospital right now,' " Mr. Comey testified.
When he got to the hospital, Comey recalled, "I got out of the car and ran up - literally, ran up the stairs with my security detail."
"What was your concern?" asked Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who was the chairman of the committee session on Tuesday.
"I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that," Comey replied.
Comey recalled arriving at the darkened hospital room, where Ashcroft seemed hardly aware of his surroundings. For a time, only Comey and the Ashcrofts were in the room. Meanwhile, Mueller, who had not yet arrived, told Comey's security detail by phone "not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances," Comey testified.
Minutes later, he said, Gonzales and Card entered the room, with Gonzales carrying an envelope. "And then Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter," Comey related.
"And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me," Comey went on: He raised his head from the pillow, reiterated his objections to the program, then lay back down, pointing to Comey as the attorney general during his illness.
When Mueller arrived, "he had a brief, a memorable brief exchange with the attorney general, and then we went outside in the hallway," Comey said.
Gonzales and Card departed, but after a while, Card telephoned Comey and "demanded that I come to the White House immediately," Comey said.
"After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness, and I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States," Comey said he told Card.
Whereupon, Comey said, he contacted the solicitor general, Theodore Olson, who was at a dinner party, and arranged to go with him to the White House. At first, Card would not let Olson enter his office, Comey said; he then had a considerably calmer private chat with Card for a quarter-hour, after which Olson entered the room and took part in the conversation.
"Mr. Card was concerned that he had heard reports that there were to be a large number of resignations at the Department of Justice," Comey recalled.
Ashcroft had such serious reservations about the program that he considered resigning then, Comey testified. Instead, he stayed on until November 2004.
Mueller, too, considered resigning, Comey said.
"You had conversations with him about it?" Schumer asked.
"Yes," Comey replied. The surveillance program was reauthorized on March 11, 2004, without a signature from the Department of Justice "attesting to its legality," Comey testified.
Comey said Tuesday that he intended to resign the next day, March 12. But on that day, terrorists carried out deadly train bombings in Madrid, and he put his plans on hold and remained on the job until August 2005. ...
Alberto Gonzales proves that he's not only the most incompetent attorney general in memorable U.S. history, he's also one of the sleaziest:
WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he relied heavily on his deputy to oversee the firings of U.S. attorneys, appearing to distance himself from his departing second-in-command.
Gonzales' comments came the day after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said he would step down by the end of summer, a decision that people familiar with his plans said was hastened by the controversy over last year's firings of eight prosecutors.
"At the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names," Gonzales told reporters after a speech about Justice Department steps to curb rising violent crime.
"The one person I would care about would be the views of the deputy attorney general, because the deputy attorney general is the direct supervisor of the United States attorneys," Gonzales said.
McNulty, reached in San Antonio after Gonzales' remarks, declined to respond.
The uncomfortable moment capped weeks of strain between the two men and their staffs, a rift that grew as a result of the firings that Congress suspects were politically motivated. It also raises questions of whether McNulty's resignation also was ordered, despite his insistence that it was his own decision to step down. ...
Just days ago, Gonzales couldn't tell the House Judiciary Committee who on earth could have been responsible for the firings, but he was pretty sure it was Kyle Sampson's fault. Now, conveniently, the culprit is the latest departing deputy. And as for McNulty being to blame, he has already testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and said in one on one meetings with Senator Chuck Schumer, that he was given bogus reasons for the purge, which conveniently allowed him to go before congress and market the "performance related reasons" shillery, which he promptly took back in subsequent conversations with Chuch Schumer:
McNulty has acknowledged approving, last October, the list of prosecutors who were ordered to leave. But documents released by the Justice Department show he was not closely involved in picking all the U.S. attorneys who were put on the list -- a job mostly driven by two Gonzales staffers with little prosecutorial experience.Gonzales ultimately signed off on the list. He said he was reassured by McNulty as recently as March that the firings were justified.
Really? Well it seems McNulty tells a different story:
Despite his own misleading statements before Congress, McNulty is the wrong man to go in this scandal. On Feb. 6, 2007, McNulty told a Senate panel that most of the ousted prosecutors were fired for "performance-related" issues. But as the performance records of the fired attorneys became public, it was revealed that nearly all of them held positive job evaluations from the Department of Justice. One fired U.S. attorney -- Nevada's Daniel Bogden -- said that in a phone conversation with McNulty prior to his firing he was told performance "did not enter into the equation" as a reason for his dismissal. McNulty also told Congress that "the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys in December was made solely by the Justice Department. He was furious, aides said, after learning later that [Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle] Sampson had been talking to the White House about potential firings since at least January 2005." McNulty acknowledged providing inaccurate information to Congress about the dismissals, "but blamed the errors on inadequate preparation by others more deeply involved in the removals."
McNulty's testimony raises more questions about the account given to Congress by the attorney general. In his February testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, McNulty acknowledged during contentious testimony that fired U.S. attorney Bud Cummins had been let go simply because the administration wanted to name former Republican National Committee operative Timothy Griffin in his place. In that hearing, Schumer asked, "So, in other words, Bud Cummins was fired for no reason. There was no cause?" McNulty answered, "No cause provided in his case, as I am aware of it." That revelation sparked additional inquiries as Congress sought to determine whether the other firings were aimed at interfering with ongoing cases. One day after his testimony, a Justice Department spokesman sent an email to other aides saying Gonzales was "extremely upset" that McNulty acknowledged the true cause for the firing. While McNulty's testimony "infuriated" Gonzales, "eventually, McNulty's position proved to be correct."
Also, McNulty he says that before his initial congressional testimony, he was coached on what to say by none other than Karl Rove.
The orders from the White House to any number of embattled senior administration officials appear to be the same: Hunker down, admit nothing, offer no appearance of panic and whatever you do, don't resign.
The penalty for violating those orders came more clearly into focus this morning. Just hours after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty announced his resignation, his boss publicly stabbed him in the back.
McNulty, widely considered to have played only a supporting role in the controversial firings of U.S. attorneys last year, did his bosses the kindness yesterday of citing "financial pressures" as his reason for abruptly ending his long career in public service in the midst of a scandal.
But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wasted no time in planting the knife. Although Gonzales has previously been vague to the point of cluelessness about the genesis of the firings, suddenly this morning the ambiguity was gone.
It would seem to be an obvious answer, given the nickname given the group of eight U.S. attorneys fired with the approval of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (that would be the GONZALES EIGHT...)
But as Gonzo's most recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee demonstrates, he either had no idea why he was approving the firings, or he knew and now won't say. Mr. Gonzales claims that while he "takes full responsibility" for dumping the eight attorneys as part of what's being called the Pearl Harbor day massacre, he has no idea who recommended the eight to be let go. Like a children's game, Florida Rep. Robert Wexler walked Gonzo through a list of people who Gonzales says didn't do it:
It wasn't George W. Bush... It wasn't Dick Cheney... It wasn't Alberto Gonzales... It wasn't Kyle Sampson... It wasn't former Deputy Attorney General James Comey... It wasn't Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty... It might have been Kyle Sampson ... but of course Fredo doesn't know for sure because he hasn't talked to him about it, even though he signed off on the firing and Sampson was supposedly in charge of the ... never mind... let's just hear from the idiot:
Gonzales: Out of respect for the integrity of this investigation and the investigations occurring at the Department of Justice, I have not made that inquiry with respect to other fact witnesses.
Wexler: But you were OK with firing them, but you won't tell us who made the recommendation to fire them.
Gonzales: I think I was justified in relying upon the senior leadership in the department ... Let me just say this: I did not make the decision with respect to Mr. Iglesias ...
Wexler: I know. You haven't made any decision ... You have been very clear about that.
Gonzales: I accept full responsibility for this.
Wexler: But you won't tell us who put Mr. Iglesias on that list?
Gonzales: You would have a better opportunity to access ...
Wexler: I would?
Gonzales: The committee would, the Congress.
Wexler: Are you the attorney general? Do you run the Department of Justice?
Oh, and who recommended the firing of the Gonzales Eight? Clearly it was Karl Rove, and it was done because of Rove's and various GOP Congressmen's complaints that the attorneys wouldn't play ball in Rove's phony voter fraud scheme to influence the 2006 midterm elections. But the administration would rather leave Albertcito twisting in the wind until the very end in order to save Turd Blossom.
John McKay, one of the Gonzales Eight, says he expects to see charges against top DOJ officials over Gonzogate... he also describes the first mass meeting of U.S. attorneys under Mr. Gonzales. The memorable catch phrase: "I work for the White House ... YOU work for the White House..."
McClatchy Newspapers uncovers the latest undercurrent of the Gonzogate scandal: the politicization of the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, which was created as part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and which traditionally prosecution voting rights violations, hate crimes, police brutality and the like. The goal: to use voter fraud investigations to depress Democratic voter turnout. Consequently, there was less time left in the day to do what the division was designed to do, and many veteran prosecutors left the DOJ altogether. All the better to replace them with mindless GOP hacks who'd serve the Rovian cause of perpetual Republican government. It's so Soviet it should be have a "kov" at the end.
Update: CNN reports on the erosion of the civil rights division. And the Senate Judiciary Committee probes Gonzo's bag man. And one more gem from TPM: Monica Goodling just might be the goodly statue cover up queen from the bad old days of John Ashcroft.
The closer the Gonzalesgate scandal moves to White House advisor Karl Rove, the more tenuous Albercito's job prospects have got to be. I missed the mark on Alberto Gonzales losing his job by last month's end, but I still believe the White House will cut him loose at a convenient time, all the better to protect Rove from a nasty subpoena.
WASHINGTON -- A senior Justice Department official who testified about performance shortcomings of several fired U.S. attorneys has told congressional investigators he was coached the day before at a White House meeting attended by political adviser Karl Rove.
The witness, Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella, said he was urged during the dinner hour meeting on March 5 to publicly specify reasons for the dismissals, according to a transcript of the investigators' April 24 interview with him. Until the March 6 hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee, Justice Department officials had said publicly only that some of the firings were based on performance, offering no specifics. At the hearing, Moschella laid out detailed criticism of each of five fired prosecutors' specific performance.
Moschella's boss, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, told investigators in an April 27 interview that he also was at the March 5 White House meeting and that Rove was there. McNulty recalled Moschella being told to be sure to lay out the justifications for the firings, according to the transcript of his interview by investigators.
Deputy White House spokeslady Dana Perino was at the meeting, too, but of course, being a press secretary and all, she has no idea who else was there or what was said...
Meanwhile, there's news on the former number two at Justice, James Comey, the man made famous, at least in my book, for showing common sense hesitation on the Bushian NSA warantless wiretapping program while he stood in for an ailing John Ashcroft (who was famously accosted in his sick bed by none other than Al Gonzales, then the White House counsel, along with Andy Card. The two wanted the seriously ill Ashcroft to overrule Comey's objections and let the warrentless eavesdropping on Americans go forward. Apparently Comey was not let in on the plans to fire the U.S. attorneys who had refused to play ball with Bush and Gonzo's election rigging voter fraud scheme. Perhaps after all the NSA nastiness "back in the day," Albertcito just didn't trust Comey to play ball...
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is investigating whether its former White House liaison used political affiliations in deciding whom to hire as entry-level prosecutors in some U.S. attorney offices around the country, The Associated Press has learned.
Such consideration would be a violation of federal law.
The inquiry involving Monica Goodling, a conservative Republican who recently quit as counsel and White House liaison for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, raises new concerns that politics have cast a shadow over the independence of trial prosecutors who enforce U.S. laws.
Justice spokesman Dean Boyd confirmed Wednesday that the department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility have been investigating for several weeks Goodling's role in hiring career attorneys — an unusual responsibility for her to have had.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Goodling "may have taken prohibited considerations into account during such review," Boyd told the AP. "Whether or not the allegation is true is currently the subject of the OIG/OPR investigation."
Three government officials with knowledge of the investigation said Goodling appears to have sought information about party affiliation while vetting applicants for assistant U.S. attorneys' jobs. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Apparently, being Paul Wolfowitz means hooking up your girlfriend with a plum job. Now, Germany becomes the first to say, he's got to leave the World Bank. There will be others.
Meanwhile, Frank Rich lights up the Bush administration for the twin scandals of Wolfie and Gonzo. From Wolfowitz to Gonzales, Rich weaves a tale of rank incompetence and probable malfeasance in an administration known almost exclusively for both ... Here's the opener:
President Bush has skipped the funerals of the troops he sent to Iraq. He took his sweet time to get to Katrina-devastated New Orleans. But last week he raced to Virginia Tech with an alacrity not seen since he hustled from Crawford to Washington to sign a bill interfering in Terri Schiavo's end-of-life medical care. Mr. Bush assumes the role of mourner in chief on a selective basis, and, as usual with the decider, the decisive factor is politics. Let Walter Reed erupt in scandal, and he'll take six weeks to show his face - and on a Friday at that, to hide the story in the Saturday papers. The heinous slaughter in Blacksburg, Va., by contrast, was a rare opportunity for him to ostentatiously feel the pain of families whose suffering cannot be blamed on the administration.
Brilliant start. A bit more:
At home, the president is also hobbled by the Iraq cancer's metastasis - the twin implosions of Alberto Gonzales and Paul Wolfowitz. Technically, both men have been pilloried for sins unrelated to the war. The attorney general has repeatedly been caught changing his story about the extent of his involvement in purging eight federal prosecutors. The Financial Times caught the former deputy secretary of defense turned World Bank president privately dictating the extravagant terms of a State Department sinecure for a crony (a k a romantic partner) that showers her with more take-home pay than Condoleezza Rice.
Yet each man's latest infractions, however serious, are mere misdemeanors next to their roles in the Iraq war. What's being lost in the Beltway uproar is the extent to which the lying, cronyism and arrogance showcased by the current scandals are of a piece with the lying, cronyism and arrogance that led to all the military funerals that Mr. Bush dares not attend. Having slept through the fraudulent selling of the war, Washington is still having trouble confronting the big picture of the Bush White House. Its dense web of deceit is the deliberate product of its amoral culture, not a haphazard potpourri of individual blunders.
... That's how a Republican Senator described Alberto Gonzales' embarassing performance yesterday in defense of his conduct in the U.S. attorney firings.
Gonzales managed to unite 18 of the 19 members of the Senate Judiciary committee, with only Orrin "Please make me the next attorney general" Hatch coming to his defense. One Republican lawmaker, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, even called for him to face the same penalty that the eight U.S. attorneys faced: firing. White House insiders are talking, telling CNN and other news outlets that Gonzels didn't do himself any favors, even as the official WH line is that they "fully support" Gonzo. Right.
Two words: he's toast. From CNN:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House insiders tell CNN that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hurt himself during testimony before a Senate committee Thursday on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
The sources, involved in administration discussions about Gonzales, told White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux that two senior level White House aides who heard the testimony described Gonzales as "going down in flames," "not doing himself any favors," and "predictable."
"Everyone's putting their best public face on," one source said, "but everyone is discouraged. Everyone is disappointed."
Still, there's no word on whether some elder statesman can go to the president and convince him to push Alberto out the door. If his own moral compass doesn't kick in, and I seriously doubt that the has much of a moral compass (torture, spying on Americans, other forms of enabling and hackery...) the Congress may have to remove him through impeachment.
God, what a relief to be blogging about something other than Don Imus!!!
NBC's Mike Viqueira is reporting that the House Judiciary Committee is considering offering immunity to Monica Goodling in exchange for her testimony in the Gonzogate affair. This, along with the skyrocketing number of missing emails raises the stakes. So does this:
On March 26, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten demanding “all contracts, subcontracts, and task orders between MZM, Inc. … and the Executive Office of the President.”
As ThinkProgress has reported, there is good reason to believe fired U.S. attorney Carol Lam was targeting the White House’s connections to MZM contractor Mitchell Wade, who pled guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes to former Rep. Duke Cunningham. Despite no record of having ever received a federal contract, Wade’s firm received a $140,000 contract in 2002 to provide a system to screen the President’s mail.
In his letter, Waxman requested that the White House provide documents relating to the White House-MZM contracts as soon as possible, but in no case later than Friday, April 6. But the North County Times reports Waxman has yet to receive the information he requested.
Oh, you thought Don Imus was the only prime candidate for unemployment 'round here? Well just try Alberto Gonzales, who now has to contend with some strangely missing emails ... and Paul Wolfowitz, who apparently is too stupid to just get someone else to hire his girlfriend... Now here's the fun part: I'll just let you guess which of the two Bush cronies this statement applies to:
The White House, however, expressed confidence in the embattled bank president.
Oh, OK I'll just tell you:
"Of course President Wolfowitz has our full confidence," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "His leadership is helping the bank accomplish its mission of raising living standards for poor people throughout the world. In dealing with this issue, he has taken full responsibility and is working with the executive board to resolve it."
I guess that means Old Wolfie is toast.
Back to those missing emails. The NY Times reports:
WASHINGTON, April 12 —The White House said today that it might be missing e-mails relating to the firing of eight United States attorneys, as lawmakers on Capitol Hill gave themselves the authority to subpoena more government documents and testimony linked to the controversy.
“It can’t be ruled out,” Scott Stanzel, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters this morning when asked if some of the missing e-mails included those related to the dismissals.
At the same time, the Senate Judiciary Committee empowered its chairman, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, to serve subpoenas for documents that may explain the firings, and to compel testimony from Scott Jennings, a deputy political director in the White House whose e-mails, on a Republican National Committee account, have set off a separate inquiry into the use of political e-mail accounts for official government business.
On the Senate floor, Mr. Leahy was skeptical that the e-mails are indeed missing. “You can’t erase e-mails, not today,” he said. “They’ve gone through too many servers.”
Mr. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who just turned 67, is considered one of the more computer-savvy members of Congress, despite having grown up in the era of typewriters.
Alberto Gonzales just might be getting advice from counsel, as they say, since as of today, his operative phrase has gone from "I wasn't involved" in the purge of eight U.S. attorneys (and an apparent scheme to get rid of Patrick Fitzgerald too) to "I don't recall..."
At the same time, it's becoming clear that Gonzales cares more about himself, at the end of the day, and about preserving his position, than he does about either the credibility, mission and personnel of the Justice Department, or about the image and reputation of the White House and the President, all of which his continued presence is seriously harming. It's long past time for Gonzales to put an end to this drama by resigning, or being fired. I still maintain that he will be gone in a matter of weeks. Time will tell if I'm right. For now, Gonzales will have a couple of weeks to ponder his testimony before Congress, as the legislative branch takes a spring break recess until April 10th. He is scheduled to go before the Senate and/or House on April 17th, although apparently he's seeking a way to move things up, perhaps to spare himself and his political party the long drawn out waiting game ... but then again, it's probably mainly to spare himself.
I was waaaay too busy yesterday, so I'm playing catch-up on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings involving Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, who gave voluntary testimony yesterday. To sum up, Sampson went to the Senate to support the concept of firing federal prosecutors for political reasons, but not to get Albertcito (or Harriet Miers or anyone else for that matter,) off the hook. Short answer: this guy has no intention of being Scooter Libby.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was more deeply involved in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys than he has sometimes acknowledged, and Gonzales and his aides have made a series of inaccurate claims about the issue in recent weeks, the attorney general's former chief of staff testified yesterday.
In dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson also revealed that New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias was not added to the dismissal list until just before the Nov. 7 elections, after presidential adviser Karl Rove complained that Iglesias had not been aggressive enough in pursuing cases of voter fraud. Previously, Rove had not been tied so directly to the removal of the prosecutors.
These and other disclosures by Sampson, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, represent the latest challenge to Gonzales's version of events. The attorney general has been sharply criticized by lawmakers of both parties, by his own employees and even by President Bush for his handling of the U.S. attorneys' dismissals.
Sampson's testimony also shows that, along with Rove, other senior White House aides were more closely involved in the dismissals than has previously been disclosed. It adds to evidence that some of the firings were influenced by GOP political concerns and that the selection process was not based on hard data.
Sampson said he even suggested firing U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago while Fitzgerald was prosecuting Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff for perjury. Sampson said he immediately dropped the idea, which he raised at a White House meeting last year, when he received negative reactions from then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and her deputy, William Kelley.
Gonzales has sought to portray himself as detached from the details of the firings, saying on March 13 that Sampson was in charge. Gonzales also said he "was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" in the process. The attorney general sought to clarify that statement in a television interview Monday, acknowledging more frequent contact with Sampson.
But Sampson provided new detail of Gonzales's involvement, testifying in response to questioning that he had at least five discussions with his boss about the project after Gonzales first approved the idea in early 2005 and that the attorney general was aware which prosecutors were under consideration for dismissal.
"I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate," Sampson said. "I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."
Sampson added later that "the decision makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president" -- Miers. ...
The Politico breaks down the why of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
Some of the political fireworks between President Bush and Congress over fired U.S. attorneys could well be explained by looking back at when the saga began: the 2004 election.
Back then, Democrats were trying to register enough new voters to beat Bush while Republicans were issuing dire warnings that the Democrats were out to steal the election by encouraging voter fraud.
It's an issue the White House had fixated on since the Supreme Court ended the 2000 Florida recount and settled the presidential campaign amid charges that if the ballots of the Sunshine State's black voters had been counted, Democrat Al Gore would have won.
Bush's allies were obsessed with ensuring that his reelection couldn't be questioned as well. So, in the fall of 2004, Republican operatives tucked thick folders of newspaper clippings and other fraud tips under their arms and pitched to reporters their claims that the Democrats' registration program would lead to rampant voter fraud. Their passion was clear, but their evidence was slim, consisting mostly of isolated incidents of voter registration irregularities that were handled by local police or election officials.
What wasn't mentioned in those conversations with reporters was a Republican National Committee strategy, already underway, to work with state parties to identify and challenge questionable voters at the polling precincts. Among those working at the RNC was Tim Griffin, the former Karl Rove aide who recently replaced fired U.S. attorney Bud Cummins. Then, with the vast federal law enforcement community acting as the new sheriff, Republicans hoped to pocket the evidence they longed for: a string of high-profile investigations and convictions.
Failure of some U.S. attorneys to pursue the final plank in that strategy now appears to have helped trigger an internal debate over whether to fire all or some of them, administration comments and e-mails suggest. ...
The firestorm over the fired U.S. attorneys was sparked last month when a top Justice Department official ignored guidance from the White House and rejected advice from senior administration lawyers over his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The official, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, ignored White House Counsel Harriet Miers and senior lawyers in the Justice Department when he told the committee last month of specific reasons why the administration fired seven U.S. attorneys — and appeared to acknowledge for the first time that politics was behind one dismissal. McNulty's testimony directly conflicted with the approach Miers advised, according to an unreleased internal White House e-mail described to ABC News. According to that e-mail, sources said, Miers said the administration should take the firm position that it would not comment on personnel issues.
Until McNulty's testimony, administration officials had consistently refused to publicly say why specific attorneys were dismissed and insisted that the White House had complete authority to replace them. That was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' approach when he testified before the committee in January.
But McNulty, who worked on Capitol Hill 12 years, believed he had little choice but to more fully discuss the circumstances of the attorneys' firings, according to a a senior Justice Department official familiar the circumstances. McNulty believed the senators would demand additional information, and he was confident he could draw on a long relationship with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, in explaining in more detail, sources told ABC News.
In doing so, however, McNulty went well beyond the scope of what the White House cleared him to say when it approved his written testimony the week before the hearing, according to administration sources closely involved in the matter.
Three things you DON'T want said by people on your side when you're in the midst of a White House scandal ending in "gate":
#1: "I plead the Fifth" #2: "I plead the Fifth" #3: "I plead the ..." you get the idea.
So the chief counsel to the nation's chief law enforcement official says she will take the Fifth rather than testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Gonzogate scandal. Her words are pretty chilling, if you're a Bushie:
"I have decided to follow my lawyer's advice and respectfully invoke my constitutional right," Monica Goodling, Gonzales' counsel and White House liaison, said in a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And the words from her attorney (who Keith Olbermann deftly points out tonight was also the guy who prosecuted Pete Rose for betting on baseball) are even worse:
"The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real," [attorny John Dowd] said. Goodling was key to the Justice Department's political response to the growing controversy. She took a leave of absence last week.
"One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby," Dowd said, a reference to the recent conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff in the CIA leak case.
To which Pat Leahy rightly replied:
"The American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of Ms. Goodling's concern that she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the committee under oath,"
So what now for Gonzlaes, who according to reports is only hanging onto his job ont he condition that he make things right with Congress? Well, if his NBC News interview today is any idication of his prowess as a witness (he's set to go before Congress on April 17) in the immortal words of Mother Klump in "The Nutty Professor" movie, "he doesn't look well..." Of course, Gonzo says that he may one day find out that the prosecutors were purged for political reasons, and if so, he's gonna be really, really mad... (LOL)
More on Ms. Goodling:
Goodling's announcement appeared to be an unforeseen piece of bad news for Gonzales' agency, which had no immediate comment.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is leading the Senate's investigation into the firings, said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told him he was misled by other Justice Department aides before he testified to Schumer's panel on Feb. 6.
A day earlier, Goodling was among those who helped McNulty prepare his testimony. Schumer has said McNulty may have given Congress incomplete or otherwise misleading information about the circumstances of the firings.
A little more than two weeks before that, Goodling helped organize the response to senators asking whether the firings were politically motivated, e-mails show. Specifically, she wanted to show that one of the fired prosecutors, Carol Lam of California, had been the subject of complaints by members of Congress.
On Jan. 18, 2007, Goodling sent an e-mail to three Justice staffers saying, "I hear there is a letter from (Sen. Dianne) Feinstein on Carol Lam a year or two ago."
"I need it ASAP," Goodling wrote.
She was later sent two letters, from Rep. Darrell Issa (news, bio, voting record), R-Calif., dated Oct. 13, 2005, and 19 House members, on Oct. 20, 2005, which both complained that Lam was too lax in prosecuting criminal illegal immigrants.
Additionally, Goodling was involved in an April 6, 2006, phone call between the Justice Department and Sen. Pete Domenici (news, bio, voting record), R-N.M., who had complained to the Bush administration and the president about David Iglesias, then the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque. Domenici had wanted Iglesias to push more aggressively on a corruption probe against Democrats before the 2006 elections.
Iglesias told Congress earlier this month that he rejected what he believed to be pressure from Domenici to rush indictments that would have hurt Democrats in the November elections.
Not a good look, Ms. Goodling.
Meanwhile, a new poll shows the American people strongly back the Congressional Gonzogate probes, including the issuing of subpoenas.
And of course, there's always another scandal waiting in the wings. Mr. Rove? You're up.
With the White House doing the opposite of damage control by insisting that the president will hang on to Alberto no matter what, I'm finding it more and more interesting to start looking at the supporting cast in the Gonzogate melodrama. So while we're looking, we might as well start with the Lee Harvey Oswald of this tawdry tale...
So who is Kyle Sampson, and what is his strange relationship to the obscure Patriot Act provision that got us into this mess in the first place?
Sampson, a Utah Mormon, had been John Ashcroft's deputy when he was attorney general. He has been friends since law school (at the University of Chicago) with Dick Cheney's daughter Elizabeth (the straight one...) After Ashcroft stepped down following the 2004 election, Gonzales helped guide nominee Alberto Gonzales through Senate confirmation, and would later do the same for President Bush's SupCo nominees. And while he is now the administration's designated scapegoat, Sampson's hometown paper, the Salt Lake Tribune, and other news outlets report the following about his role in Gonzogate, picking up from the time of Ashcroft's post-election exit:
About that time, the suggestion was floated that a number of U.S. attorneys could be replaced with Bush loyalists. Sampson opposed wholesale change but by March 2005 sent a list of targeted prosecutors to White House Counsel Harriet Miers.
And then it gets interesting...
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney for Utah Paul Warner announced in January 2006 he would become a federal magistrate, opening a spot Sampson had long sought. An e-mail released Thursday suggests that Sampson may have tried to push Warner out of the job in early 2005 but was rebuffed by Hatch.
With Warner stepping aside in 2006, Sampson lined up the support of Gonzales and others, but Hatch recommended Brett Tolman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Utah who was working for the Judiciary Committee at the time for Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
Tolman, who ultimately got the job, had in March 2006 added language to the Patriot Act renewal, at the Justice Department's request, to allow the White House to replace U.S. attorneys without Senate consent.
So Tolman wrote the provision that allowed Gonzo to mount his political purge of U.S. attorneys, and then Tolman became one of the newly minted U.S. attorneys... interesting...
As for Sampson, he could be giving voluntary sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as this week.
Meanwhile, Hill Republicans are continuing to walk away from Alberto, and the right wing blogosphere is starting to skate on Gonzo as well. The Carpetbagger ferrets out a few good examples, including the very succinct Ed Morrissey:
Have we had enough yet? I understand the argument that if we allow the Democrats to bounce Gonzales, they’ll just aim for more, but Gonzales made himself the target here with what looks like blatant deception. I don’t think we do ourselves any good by defending the serially changing stories coming out of Gonzales’ inept administration at Justice. One cannot support an Attorney General who misleads Congress, allows his staffers to mislead Congress, and deceives the American people, regardless of whether an R or a D follows his name or the majority control of Congress.
I will brook no excuses by commenters that Gonzalez “misspoke,” or “forgot,” or “got a note from his mother” that gave him permission to lie, or other excuses from the ever dwindling number of Bush diehards who visit this site . He is the frickin’ Attorney General of the United States fer crissakes! If there is anybody in government who needs to tell the truth, it is the guy responsible for enforcing the laws of land.
I give these righties credit for intellectual honesty. Maybe one of them will wrestle the Kool-Aid out of the hot little hands of the die-hard Bushies at Wizbang. Hell, even Michelle has gone south on Gonzo, (I'd hate to think it was because he's so suspiciously Mexican, Mizz Malkin) though she hasn't seen fit to blog about the controversy in a week ... and Miss Twit is positively apoplectic over the dropped P.R. ball (but of course, not about the lying...)
Back to the 'Bagger, who asks the right pertinent questions:
* A Republican leadership staffer told Roll Call this week, “We are not throwing ourselves on the grenade for them anymore. There’s now an attitude of ‘you created this mess, you’ve got to get yourself out of it.’”
After watching conservatives back Bush on everything from Iraq to Plame to illegal NSA wiretaps to Katrina, have we finally found the one thing the right isn’t willing to defend? And if so, isn’t it safe to assume the political pressure on the White House will be even more intense?
And if that’s so, exactly how bad is this going to get for the Bush gang?
I'd say rather worse, until they learn the central lesson of public relatons: when you're caught in a crisis in which you don't control the variables (i.e., there's more information out there that could come out to bite you, and you don't control it,) the best way to stanch the bleeding is to stop fighting, apologize, and give your critics something big. In this case, the thing to give the critics would be Gonzales' head, and the more the White House resists, the more protracted this scandal will become. I suspect that before the White House has to relent to allowing Bush's Brain to be put under oath (which will further escalate this scandal) they'll throw Alberto overboard.
I've often wondered, probably not alone, why despite dismal approval ratings and increasing political and actual chaos all around him, George W. Bush never seems to be too worried about the political future. He seems blythely unconcerned about his party's political fortunes, including the prospect that his dreadful presidency will lock Republicans out of not only the Congressional majority, but also the White House, perhaps for generations to come.
Well, maybe now we have an answer.
It appears increasingly clear, from the many scandals that have recently arisen out of the Justice Department (the mass collection of unauthorized data on Americans by the FBI, and the purging of U.S. attorneys,) that the Bush administration -- and Karl Rove specifically -- have been putting in place a sure-fire way to ensure that the White House remains in Republican hands, by rigging future elections -- without even the need of fixing the voting machines.
How have they planned to do it? By using, of all things, the nation's federal prosecutors and courts to suppress Democratic (read Black) votes in key states, and to place political operatives in positions where they can do damage to Democratic candidates, using the same legal attack strategy that was used on the Clintons when they were in office. In other words, Bush is so calm because he knows that his hatchet man is bending nearly every federal agency at his disposal to the purely political purpose of electing Republicans and suppressing Democratic votes.
WASHINGTON - Under President Bush, the Justice Department has backed laws that narrow minority voting rights and pressed U.S. attorneys to investigate voter fraud - policies that critics say have been intended to suppress Democratic votes.
Bush, his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and other Republican political advisers have highlighted voting rights issues and what Rove has called the "growing problem" of election fraud by Democrats since Bush took power in the tumultuous election of 2000, a race ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since 2005, McClatchy Newspapers has found, Bush has appointed at least three U.S. attorneys who had worked in the Justice Department's civil rights division when it was rolling back longstanding voting-rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters.
Another newly installed U.S. attorney, Tim Griffin in Little Rock, Ark., was accused of participating in efforts to suppress Democratic votes in Florida during the 2004 presidential election while he was a research director for the Republican National Committee. He's denied any wrongdoing.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the four U.S. attorneys weren't chosen only because of their backgrounds in election issues, but "we would expect any U.S. attorney to prosecute voting fraud."
Taken together, critics say, the replacement of the U.S. attorneys, the voter-fraud campaign and the changes in Justice Department voting rights policies suggest that the Bush administration may have been using its law enforcement powers for partisan political purposes. ...
Last April, while the Justice Department and the White House were planning the firings, Rove gave a speech in Washington to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He ticked off 11 states that he said could be pivotal in the 2008 elections. Bush has appointed new U.S. attorneys in nine of them since 2005: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. U.S. attorneys in the latter four were among those fired.
Rove thanked the audience for "all that you are doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the integrity of the ballot is protected." He added, "A lot in American politics is up for grabs."
The department's civil rights division, for example, supported a Georgia voter identification law that a court later said discriminated against poor, minority voters. It also declined to oppose an unusual Texas redistricting plan that helped expand the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. That plan was partially reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Frank DiMarino, a former federal prosecutor who served six U.S. attorneys in Florida and Georgia during an 18-year Justice Department career, said that too much emphasis on voter fraud investigations "smacks of trying to use prosecutorial power to investigate and potentially indict political enemies."
Several former voting rights lawyers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of antagonizing the administration, said the division's political appointees reversed the recommendations of career lawyers in key cases and transferred or drove out most of the unit's veteran attorneys.
Bradley Schlozman, who was the civil rights division's deputy chief, agreed in 2005 to reverse the career staff's recommendations to challenge a Georgia law that would have required voters to pay $20 for photo IDs and in some cases travel as far as 30 miles to obtain the ID card.
A federal judge threw out the Georgia law, calling it an unconstitutional, Jim Crow-era poll tax. ...
In other words, what we now have is a White House engaging in what amounts to widespread voter disenfranchisement different from Jim Crow era Bull Connor tactics only in their subtlety:
Former voting rights section chief Joseph Rich, however, said longtime career lawyers whose views differed from those of political appointees were routinely "reassigned or stripped of major responsibilities."
In testimony to a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing this week, Rich said that 20 of the 35 attorneys in the voting rights section have been transferred to other jobs or have left their jobs since April 2005 and a staff of 26 civil rights analysts who reviewed state laws for discrimination has been slashed to 10.
He said he has yet to see evidence of voter fraud on a scale that warrants voter ID laws, which he said are "without exception ... supported and pushed by Republicans and objected to by Democrats. I believe it is clear that this kind of law tends to suppress the vote of lower-income and minority voters."
Other former voting-rights section lawyers said that during the tenure of Alex Acosta, who served as the division chief from the fall of 2003 until he was named interim U.S. attorney in Miami in the summer of 2005, the department didn't file a single suit alleging that local or state laws or election rules diluted the votes of African-Americans. In a similar time period, the Clinton administration filed six such cases.
Those kinds of cases, Rich said, are "the guts of the Voting Rights Act."
During this week's House judiciary subcommittee hearing, critics recounted lapses in the division's enforcement. A Citizens Commission on Civil Rights study found that "the enforcement record of the voting section during the Bush administration indicates this traditional priority has been downgraded significantly, if not effectively ignored."
Again, this is much, much larger than a "pleasure of the president" series of personnel changes.
What the A.G. knew: Al Gonzales, George W. Bush and the politicization of Everything
"Alberto, you're doing a heckuva job..."
President Bush is continuing to stand behind his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales (at least publicly,) apparently bunkering in and ratcheting up the stubbornness despite the increasingly obvious fact that Mr. Gonzales is a drag on an already sinking ship of state. Here's the latest from AP:
WASHINGTON - President Bush is standing firmly behind his embattled attorney general despite Justice Department documents that show Alberto Gonzales was more involved in the decisions to fire U.S. attorneys than he previously indicated.
Gonzales said last week he was not involved in any discussions about the impending dismissals of federal prosecutors. On Friday night, however, the department disclosed Gonzales' participation in a Nov. 27 meeting where such plans were discussed.
That e-mail only added to the calls for Gonzales' ouster. ...
... At the Nov. 27 meeting, the attorney general and at least five top department officials discussed a five-step plan for carrying out the firings, Gonzales' aides said late Friday.
At that session, Gonzales signed off on the plan, drafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Sampson resigned last week.
A Justice aide closely involved in the dismissals, White House liaison Monica Goodling, also has taken a leave of absence, two officials said.
The plan approved by Gonzales involved notifying Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, preparing for potential political upheaval, naming replacements and submitting them to the Senate for confirmation.
Six of the eight prosecutors who were ordered to resign are named in the plan.
Here's the problem for Alberto: He went on record more than a week ago claiming complete ignorance of the plan to fire the prosecutors, and palmed off responsibility on his chief aide, Kyle Sampson. Sampson is now being invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and could contradict the prior sworn testimony of Mr. Gonzales, putting the nation's chief prosecutor in the rather awkard position of having potentially lied to Congress, and to the American people.
More from the AP story:
Gonzales told reporters on March 13 that he was aware some of the dismissals were being discussed but was not involved in them.
"I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers — where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district, and that's what I knew," Gonzales said. "But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the attorney general."
Later, he added: "I accept responsibility for everything that happens here within this department. But when you have 110,000 people working in the department, obviously there are going to be decisions that I'm not aware of in real time. Many decisions are delegated."
The documents' release came hours after Sampson agreed to testify at a Senate inquiry this coming week into the prosecutors' firings.
Asked to explain the difference between Gonzales' comments and his schedule, Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the attorney general had relied on Sampson to draw up the plans on the firings.
"The attorney general has made clear that he charged Mr. Sampson with directing a plan to replace U.S. attorneys where for one reason or another the department believed that we could do better," Roehrkasse said. "He was not, however, involved at the levels of selecting the particular U.S. attorneys who would be replaced."
And the bottom line, from just one of the lawmakers who have Gonzales in their crosshairs:
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is heading the Senate's investigation into the firings, said, "If the facts bear out that Attorney General Gonzales knew much more about the plan than he has previously admitted, then he can no longer serve as attorney general."
Now over to TPM Muckraker, which links to an LAT piece revealing that part of the Justice Department political wing's plan for dealing with "political fallout" was to go to an old salt that always seems to be top of mind for Republicans: "Clinton did it too!" From the LAT Article:
Three weeks ago, Justice Department officials settled on a "talking point" to rebut the chorus of Democratic accusations that the Bush administration had wrongly injected politics into law enforcement when it dismissed eight U.S. attorneys.
Why not focus on the Clinton administration's having "fired all 93 U.S. attorneys" when Janet Reno became attorney general in March 1993? The idea was introduced in a memo from a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Of course, the argument is, as per usual, false and misleading, and beyond that, it's dangerous to the very notion of fairness under law. From ThinkP, quoting a Congressional Research Service report on the unprecedented firings:
A CRS report released yesterday examines the tenure of all U.S. Attorneys who were confirmed by the Senate between the years 1981 and 2006 to determine how many had served — and, of those, how many had been forced to resign for reasons other than a change in administration.
– Of the 468 confirmations made by the Senate over the 25-year period, only 10 left office involuntarily for reasons other than a change in administration prior to the firings that took place in December.
– In virtually all of those 10 previous cases, serious issues of personal or professional conduct appeared to be the driving issue. Prior to December, for example, only two U.S. Attorneys were outright fired for improper, and in one case criminal, behavior. The CRS report identifies six other U.S. Attorneys who resigned during the 25-year period who were implicated in news reports of “questionable conduct.” For two others, the CRS was unable to determine the cause.
It is clear that of the four administrations that controlled the executive branch of government during the past quarter-century, only the current administration has held the view that U.S. Attorney can or should be removed absent serious cause. In no instance is there any indication of a removal because a U.S. attorney failed to meet certain political criteria, such as prosecuting cases that were considered too sensitive to partisan issues or failing to prosecute cases that would be helpful from a partisan perspective.
The innovative philosophy of the current Bush administration with respect to the service of U.S. Attorneys is worthy of the attention it is now receiving. Those eight forced resignations threaten the very basis of our justice system — to quote the words written above the pillars on the west front of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under Law.”
But hey, little things like that haven't stopped the Bushies before... So let's dig deeper into the small number of Justice Department officials who have been fired before. More from Mr. Lilly's CAP analysis of the Congressional Research Service report:
Prior to December, for example, only two U.S. Attorneys were outright fired. The first was William Kennedy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. The Christian Science Monitor on Apr. 26, 1982 explained that he was dismissed “for charging that the Justice Department, at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, was blocking his attempt to prosecute Mr. [Miguel] Nassar [Haro], because he had been a key CIA informant on Mexican and Central American affairs.”
The second, J. William Petro, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, was dismissed (according to the Oct. 3, 1984 edition of The New York Times) because the Department of Justice was “investigating allegations that Mr. Petro disclosed information about an indictment pending from an undercover operation and that the information reached a subject of the investigation.” Petro was later convicted of the charges.
The CRS report identifies six other U.S. Attorneys who resigned during the 25-year period who were implicated in news reports of “questionable conduct.” These included:
Frank L. McNamara, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts who resigned because “he was the target of an internal probe,” into “whether he had lied to federal officials,” according to a Jan. 31, 1989 report in The Boston Globe.
Larry Colleton, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida resigned in Jul. 1994 after he was “videotaped grabbing Jacksonville television reporter Richard Rose by the throat,” according to local press reports.
Kendall Coffey, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, resigned on May 12, 1996, according to news reports, “amid accusations that he bit a topless dancer on the arm during a visit to an adult club.”
Michael Troop, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, who resigned to become State Police Commissioner. Later reports indicated that he was under investigation at the time by the Justice Department for sexual harassment.
Karl Kasey, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, who according to news reports “abruptly left office after the Justice Department began investigating e-mails in which offered to secretly assist a GOP candidate.”
In two other cases, there were no apparent issues of personal or professional misconduct. Michael Yamaguchi, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, appears to have been a victim of disapproving federal judges. The CRS report sites news reports in 1998 stating that he was “apparently squeezed out by the local federal bench and his bosses in the U.S. Justice Department.”
The only instance other than the recent firings in which there was no apparent explanation for a forced resignation also occurred during the Bush administration. Thomas DiBiagio, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland resigned in 2005. Recent news reports indicate that he “was forced from office,” but there has been no explanation as to why. ...
In other words, the actions taken, we now know with the full knowledge of Mr. Gonzales, were both unprecedented, and brazenly political, in a manner we have not seen since the Reagan administration's firing of a U.S. attorney who was accusing THEM of wrongdoing...
So the "Clinton did it, too" canard just won't wash.
The White House is preparing for a showdown with Congress over Gonzalesgate. The Bushies say they are willing to provide public enemies number 1 and 2 (Karl Rove and Harriet Miers), for "interviews" -- but not for testimony -- and not under oath. That won't wash with Pat Leahy and company. Not even a little bit.
According to updated reporting by The Politco's Mike Allen, the White House also ordered the search by GOP surrogates for possible Gonzales replacements to stop -- at least publicly, and at least for now.
Bush is making a tough sounding statement to the press right now, saying he will oppose any attempts to subpoena White House officials, and to avoid giving in to a "partisan fishing expedition." Apparently, Bush is taking his cues from right wing bloggers, who are urging him to fight back, rather than capitulate to the growing Gonzales scandal. The next step will be to begin reigning in renegate Republican lawmakers, who are joining to "dump Gonzales" bandwagon (the latest was Tom Tancredo today).
The saga continues...
Meanwhile, the Senate has already stripped the A.G.'s office of the power (via an obscure provision in the Patriot Act II which was inserted by an operative placed, probably by Karl Rove, into the staff of Arlen Specter) to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation. And the House Judiciary Committee is mulling stripping the FBI of some Patriot Act powers over its abuses of warrentless searches.
Back to Gonzalesgate. What's behind all the posturing? The WaPo's Dan Froomkin reports:
President Bush's message of support this morning for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has all the trappings of a carefully staged hail-Mary, with the president giving his friend one last chance to rally enough Republican support to ride out the storm.
But the indications remain that Bush may well toss Gonzales overboard, especially if that's the only way he can see to prevent the scandal from being pursued deeper into the West Wing.
Or, as Ed Henry reported on CNN this morning: "As one top Republican told me last night, a Republican close to the White House, saying basically the handwriting is on the wall for Gonzales. And the bottom line is if this White House has to choose between protecting Karl Rove or protecting Alberto Gonzales in order for this controversy to go away, they'll choose Karl Rove, protecting him. Because the bottom line is they can get another attorney general, they can't get another Karl Rove. He's got his hands in so many things here. He's the lead adviser to the president."
So what will win out? Republican pragmatism or a stubborn president who is now Alberto Gonzales' only supporter? And can Bush's loyalty make a severely wounded attorney general an effective judicial advocate when he has lost the confidence of literally everyone else?
Exclusive: Cunningham complained about Lam to Attorney General before he plead guilty
Among the documents buried in the enormous document dump, The Daily Background has discovered, is an letter from 19 members of Congress to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales concerning then-US Attorney Carol Lam. Lam was at the time involved in a high-profile corruption investigation Republican Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
The 19 members of Congress wrote Gonzales in October of 2005 complaining that they felt Lam was too lax on illegal immigration. One of the members of Congress who signed the letter complaining about Lam was Congressman Cunningham, who is now serving an eight year prison term after Lam successfully prosecuted him.
Barely a month after the 19 Congressmen (Cunningham included) requested to meet with Gonzales specifically to complain about Lam’s prosecution policy on immigration-related matters, Cunningham plead guilty to two felony counts of criminal conspiracy and tax evasion.
At the time Cunningham and the other 18 Congressmen complained about Lam, Cunningham was still claiming innocence in the corruption probe that had intensified just as the complaint to Attorney General Gonzales was made.
“The U.S. Attorney in San Diego has stated that the office will not prosecute a criminal alien unless they have previously been convicted of two felonies in the district” the letter of complaint read. Lam, the was the US Attorney for Southern California at the time, and had received favorable job reviews from the Department of Justice before she was fired after successfully convicting Cunningham.
The Department of Justice had previously said in a written review of her work that Lam was “An effective manager and respected leader… [her] Strategic Plan and District Priorities were appropriate.” One of Lam’s priorities was perusing the corruption investigation that saw Cunningham in prison and the indictments of three other alleged coconspirators.
Poor Alberto ... he cooperated in a White House scheme to take out U.S. attorneys who weren't exhibiting sufficient loyalty to the president -- loyalty, apparently best shown by prosecuting Democrats and holding back on corrupt Republicans in advance of the 2006 midterm elections. Now, Alberto's head is on the chopping block, while the probably mastermind of the scheme, Karl Rove, will, as in the Scooter Libby debacle, get off scott free.
The latest developments:
First, from the outfit that broke this story in the first place, Joshua Micah Marshall's TPM Muckraker, we have last night's document dump by the Bush administration, which consists of 3,000 pages of emails related to the U.S. attorney purge. TPMM is asking its readers to help them sift through the pile. You can do so here.
Q You said this morning that you hope that -- the White House hopes that Alberto Gonzales stays as Attorney General. Your comment has been seen as a rather tepid endorsement. Has he --
MR. SNOW: No, I didn't --
Q Has he offered his resignation?
MR. SNOW: No, he hasn't. Let me -- a couple of things. And the President has not spoken to him since he spoke to him in Mexico. What I was trying to do is, you ask a hypothetical question about things that are going to happen over the next two years. None of us knows what's going to happen to us over the next 21 months, and that's why it's an impossible question to answer: Will somebody stay throughout? However, the reason I said, we hope so, is we hope so. He has the confidence of the President. But I do not -- as a pure and simple matter, nobody is prophetic enough to know what the next 21 months hold.
Q And there's backing away from him?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q There's full confidence?
MR. SNOW: Yes. ...
Sure Tony. You're really selling it. Now for the hottest news of the day, from The Politico:
Republican officials operating at the behest of the White House have begun seeking a possible successor to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, whose support among GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill has collapsed, according to party sources familiar with the discussions.
Among the names floated Monday by administration officials are Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and White House anti-terrorism coordinator Frances Townsend. Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson is a White House prospect. So is former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson, but sources were unsure whether he would want the job.
On Monday night, Republican officials said two other figures who are being seriously considered are Securities and Exchange Committee Chairman Chris Cox, who is former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and is popular with conservatives; and former Attorney General William P. Barr, who served under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993 and is now general counsel of Verizon Communications.
Republican sources also disclosed that it is now a virtual certainty that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, whose incomplete and inaccurate congressional testimony about the prosecutors helped precipitate the crisis, will also resign shortly. Officials were debating whether Gonzales and McNulty should depart at the same time or whether McNulty should go a day or two after Gonzales. Still known as "The Judge" for his service on the Texas Supreme Court, Gonzales is one of the few remaining original Texans who came to Washington with President Bush.
In a sign of Republican despair, GOP political strategists on Capitol Hill said that it is too late for Gonzales' departure to head off a full-scale Democratic investigation into the motives and timing behind the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
"Democrats smell blood in the water, and (Gonzales') resignation won't stop them," said a well-connected Republican Senate aide. "And on our side, no one's going to defend him. All we can do is warn Democrats against overreaching."
And as I've said before:
A main reason Gonzales is finding few friends even among Republicans is that he has long been regarded with suspicion by conservatives who have questioned his ideological purity. In the past, these conservatives warned the White House against nominating him for the Supreme Court. Now they're using the controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors to take out their pent-up frustrations with how he has handled his leadership at Justice and how the White House has treated Congress.
Complaints range from his handling of immigration cases to his alleged ceding of power in the department to career officials instead of movement conservatives.
Still believeing Tony Snow?
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is also working on the concurrent Gonzales scandal involving the White House's scuttling of a probe of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program by denying the necessary security clearances. Read John Conyers' letter to Gonzales on the subject here.
And read all of the HJC's letters to the White House and A.G. here.
Oh, and just when you thought it couldn't get any muckier, there's this:
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald was ranked among prosecutors who had "not distinguished themselves" on a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005, when he was in the midst of leading the CIA leak investigation that resulted in the perjury conviction of a vice presidential aide, administration officials said yesterday.
The ranking placed Fitzgerald below "strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. Attorneys who . . . chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.," according to Justice documents.
The chart was the first step in an effort to identify U.S. attorneys who should be removed. Two prosecutors who received the same ranking as Fitzgerald were later fired, documents show.
Fitzgerald's ranking adds another dimension to the prosecutor firings, which began as a White House proposal to remove all 93 U.S. attorneys after the 2004 elections and evolved into the coordinated dismissal of eight last year, a move that has infuriated lawmakers and led to calls for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to resign.
The Justice Department last night gave the House and Senate Judiciary committees 3,000 pages of new documents related to the firings, including one e-mail that says Gonzales was "extremely upset" by Senate testimony Feb. 6 from his deputy, Paul J. McNulty. Gonzales felt that "some of the . . . statements were inaccurate," the e-mail says.
Justice officials said Gonzales specifically disagreed with McNulty's statement that a Little Rock prosecutor was fired to make way for a GOP operative. They also said the new documents show that political motivations were not a factor in the firings.
The latest revelations came amid reports that the White House has already launched a search for Gonzales's replacement and that support for the attorney general among Republicans in Congress is fading fast. One GOP strategist with close ties to the White House said last night that it is likely Gonzales will leave and that White House counsel Fred F. Fielding already has potential replacements in mind. ...
I wonder how Fitzy would have been ranked had he actually indicted Karl Rove. So does Fitzgerald really suck?
Mary Jo White, who supervised Fitzgerald when she served as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan and who has criticized the firings, said ranking him as a middling prosecutor "lacks total credibility across the board."
"He is probably the best prosecutor in the nation -- certainly one of them," said White, who worked in the Clinton and Bush administrations. "It casts total doubt on the whole process. It's kind of the icing on the cake."
Fitzgerald has been widely recognized for his pursuit of criminal cases against al-Qaeda's terrorist network before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and he drew up the official U.S. indictment against Osama bin Laden. He was named as special counsel in the CIA leak case in December 2003 by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who had recused himself.
Fitzgerald also won the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in 2002 under Ashcroft.
New emails elucidate the sinster connection between Foggo, of the nine fingers, and the doom of one of the Gonzales Eight. Sayeth the WaPo:
The U.S. attorney in San Diego notified the Justice Department of search warrants in a Republican bribery scandal last May 10, one day before the attorney general's chief of staff warned the White House of a "real problem" with her, a Democratic senator said yesterday.
The prosecutor, Carol S. Lam, was dismissed seven months later as part of an effort by the Justice Department and the White House to fire eight U.S. attorneys.
A Justice spokesman said there was no connection between Lam's firing and her public corruption investigations, and pointed to criticisms of Lam for her record on prosecuting immigration cases.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a television appearance yesterday that Lam "sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants" in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who had just quit as the CIA's top administrator amid questions about his ties to disgraced former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.
The next day, May 11, D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley in the White House counsel's office saying that Lam should be removed as quickly as possible, according to documents turned over to Congress last week.
"Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following," Sampson wrote, referring to "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."
The FBI raided Foggo's home and former CIA office on May 12. He was indicted along with Wilkes on fraud and money-laundering charges on Feb. 13 -- two days before Lam left as U.S. attorney.
The revelation that Lam took a major step in the Foggo probe one day before Sampson's e-mail message was sent to the White House raises further questions about the decision to fire her, Feinstein suggested.
"There were clearly U.S. attorneys that were thorns in the side for one reason or another of the Justice Department," Feinstein said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "And they decided, by strategy, in one fell swoop, to get rid of seven of them on that day, December the 7th."
A Justice spokesman yesterday referred questions about the meaning of the "real problem" e-mail to Sampson's attorney, Bradford Berenson, who declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the good folks at Talking Points Memo's TPMMuckraker, who have been way out ahead of the MSM on this story, have uncovered the apparent golden rule of firing U.S. attorneys: the better they are, the faster they go. On the David Iglesias ouster:
It's becoming one of the central rules of the U.S. attorney purge scandal: whatever "performance related" complaint the administration claims as the justification for a U.S. attorney's firing, it's actually an area of performance for which that U.S. attorney was lauded.
In this instance, the White House has said that U.S. Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico was removed in part due to his handling of voter fraud complaints. That's backed up by the numerous instances of powerful New Mexico Republicans (including Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM)) complaining to Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and President Bush about Iglesias' decision not to prosecute certain cases of voter fraud.
What does this mean? It means that Iglesias must have been lauded by the Justice Department for his handling of voter fraud cases. And not just lauded -- but cited as an example for U.S. attorneys across the country.
The post makes similar cases on the firings of attorneys Lam and McKay, and they conclude that:
One of the more remarkable aspects of this story, indeed, is that the fact that the Justice Department chose a small group of the most distinguished U.S. attorneys in the country and then tried to portray them as incompetent. As you can see, it's been a losing effort. And in every case where the cover story has been blown, it's revealed political motivations for the firing.
So what's next? Like Chuck Schumer, I predict that Al Gonzales won't be attorney general a week from now. As for this scandal, unfortuately for the Bush administration, it won't die with Gonzales' federal government career.
My current co-host on the morning show does not believe that Alberto Gonzales will be fired, because the George W. Bush will hang onto his own, and will resist anything smacking of "justice." I predicted in my blog report yesterday, and again today, that Gonzales will not last two months, meaning he will be gone before April turns to May. Well now, I'm revising my prediction. Al Gonzales will not make it to tax day. Besides, for this White House, it's not about justice, even at the Justice Department. It's about politics. And trust me when I tell you that Gonzales will go.
Because the A.G. is a political liability to the White House...
Because his continued presence is a danger to Karl Rove, in that his scandals draw Rove in...
...and Karl Rove never lets himself hang; he lets other people hang...
Because Alberto Gonzales misled Congress (read "lied to Congress") about the true nature of the Pearl Harbor Day U.S. attorney firings. Thus, he has lost the confidence of the Congress, Republicans included, and therefore he is no longer an effective water carrier for the president on Capitol Hill.
Because Fred Fielding knows better than to let this thing fester its way into a Supreme Court showdown.
And because for the White House, perhaps the only way to stop this train from rolling down the tracks, and eventually rolling over George W. Bush, is to get Alberto Gonzales out of Washington ... fast. Two words: George ... Tenet.
Gonzales will eventually be called into the West Wing by Dan Bartlett, and asked to fall on his sword, tender his resignation for the good of the president, and promised a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Tick ... tick ... tick.
Still don't believe me? Let's ask some Republicans:
National Review: "The administration’s supporters should consider whether the price of keeping Gonzales in office will be the surrender of important policies in order to try to appease his critics. ...Alberto Gonzales could yet become a liability on matters more important than he is."
Professional Clinton hater / civil libertarian Bob Barr (to Rolling Stone): "He should resign. This is the last straw in a whole series of — what was the name of the Lemony Snicket movie? — “Unfortunate Events” that have raised serious questions about the lack of leadership at the Department of Justice and there being too-cozy a relationship between an attorney general and the president."
Unnamed GOP strategist to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux: “Wolf, I have to tell you, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are friends of those here at the White House and GOP strategists. They want Gonzales gone. They’re putting a lot of pressure on this president. One of them said, look, Gonzales has a constituency of one, and that is the president. But tonight, Wolf, White House officials who I’ve spoken to say that that is exactly the person who’s saving his job, that the president does not intend to let him go.”
Named GOP strategist Ed Rollins (on CBS News' The Early Show):
"It's certainly the President's prerogative but I would argue that he should go," Rollins said of Gonzales. "I think at this point in time they are losing support of Republican Senators by the day and the president desperately needs their support."
When asked what the best way is for the White House to move beyond the scandal, Rollins replied, "The best way is for Gonzales to resign and move on and put someone of great credibility in there."
Republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher: "Even for Republicans, this is a warning sign … saying there needs to be a change," said Rohrbacher. "Maybe the president should have an attorney general who is less a personal friend and more professional in his approach."
Republican Senator John Sununu: "The president should fire the attorney general and replace him as soon as possible with someone who can provide strong, aggressive leadership prosecuting the war on terrorism, running the Department of Justice, and working with the president and Congress on important homeland security matters."
Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon: ""For the Justice Department to be effective before the U.S. Senate, it would be helpful" if Gonzales resigned..."
Meanwhile, CBS News interviewed one of the fired prosecutors, David Iglesias, who is now charging a full on political purge in his case:
"I believe I was fired because I did not play ball with two members of the Republican delegation here in New Mexico. I did not give them privileged information that could have been used in the October and November time frame."
Another of the fired prosecutors, H.E. "Bud" Cummins, a lifelong Republican who was pretty soft on the administration during his Congressional testimony (and who was replaced in his post in Little Rock Arkansas in order to make way for Karl Rove's pet hatchet-man/dirt digger/voter suppression expert Tim Griffin, just as a certain Senator who used to be first lady of Arkansas is running for president...) has apparently changed his mind. His interview with TPM Muckraker takes a much harder line on the Bushies: "I've heard every one of the [Justice Department's "performance related" issues with the other dismissed US attorneys], and I'm completely convinced at this point that they are fabricated assertions, and that they were in no way on the table when the decisions to dismiss those seven USAs were made..." And in addition:
"I gave them the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of this. They told me directly that my case was completely different from the others, that there were significant performance issues involved in the other decisions, and if I saw, I'd agree that they'd have to go.
Now that I've seen the decisions, not only don't I see why they had to go, I see that [the charges of performance issues] are really not true."
And now, the piece de resistance: Al Gonzales' latest problem, via the reporting of the National Journal, is his apparent conflict of interest during the investigation of the NSA wiretap leaks:
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales reportedly advised President George W. Bush on a federal inquiry even after learning his own actions might be probed.
Citing government records and interviews, the National Journal reported Thursday that, shortly before he advised Bush in 2006 on whether to shut down a Justice Department investigation into the administration's warrant less domestic eavesdropping program, Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the inquiry.
Bush shut down the Justice Department investigation in April 2006 by denying investigators security clearances they would have needed to examine the eavesdropping program.
It was unclear whether Bush knew at the time that the inquiry -- which was to have been conducted by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- would likely examine Gonzales' conduct, the newspaper said. Sources familiar with the matter told the Journal that if the probe had been permitted to continue, it would have scrutinized Gonzales' role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, and his oversight of the program as attorney general.
Tick ... tick ... tick, Alberto... and your little Harriet, too...
ABC News updates the Gonzales scandal, and the close connection between the Karl Rove political chop shop and the supposedly apolitical Justice Department:
March 15, 2007 — New unreleased e-mails from top administration officials show that the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys was raised by White House adviser Karl Rove in early January 2005, indicating Rove was more involved in the plan than the White House previously acknowledged.
The e-mails also show that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales discussed the idea of firing the attorneys en masse weeks before he was confirmed as attorney general.
The e-mails directly contradict White House assertions that the notion originated with recently departed White House counsel Harriet Miers, and was her idea alone.
Two independent sources in a position to know have described the contents of the e-mail exchange, which could be released as early as Friday. They put Rove at the epicenter of the imbroglio and raise questions about Gonzales' explanations of the matter.
The e-mail exchange is dated early January 2005, more than a month before the White House acknowledged it was considering firing all the U.S. attorneys. On its face, the plan is not improper, inappropriate or even unusual: The president has the right to fire U.S. attorneys at any time, and presidents have done so when they took office.
The White House spin machine appears to have completely broken down on this one.
The White House takes one small step away from Alberto Gonzales. Regarding Gonzales' press conference yesterday in which he refused to resign over the U.S. attorney firings:
[Gonzales’] appearance underscored what two Republicans close to the Bush administration described as a growing rift between the White House and the attorney general. Mr. Gonzales has long been a confidant of the president but has aroused the ire of lawmakers of both parties on several issues, including the administration’s domestic eavesdropping program.
The two Republicans, who spoke anonymously so they could share private conversations with senior White House officials, said top aides to Mr. Bush, including Fred F. Fielding, the new White House counsel, were concerned that the controversy had so damaged Mr. Gonzales’s credibility that he would be unable to advance the White House agenda on national security matters, including terrorism prosecutions.
“I really think there’s a serious estrangement between the White House and Alberto now,” one of the Republicans said. [Source: New York Times]
Meanwhile, the NYT reports that a single factor mattered more to the White House and A.G.'s office than any other -- not effectiveness, or competence, or aggressiveness, or skill, but rather loyalty. A familiar tune to anyone who has followed the Bushes, and not coincidentally, the key factor in both Harriet Miers and Al Gonzales getting their current jobs.
WASHINGTON, March 13 — Late in the afternoon on Dec. 4, a deputy to Harriet E. Miers, then the White House counsel and one of President Bush’s most trusted aides, sent a two-line e-mail message to a top Justice Department aide. “We’re a go,” it said, approving a long-brewing plan to remove seven federal prosecutors considered weak or not team players.
The message, from William K. Kelley of the White House counsel’s office to D. Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, put in motion a plan to fire United States attorneys that had been hatched 22 months earlier by Ms. Miers. Three days later, the seven prosecutors were summarily dismissed. An eighth had been forced out in the summer.
The documents provided by the Justice Department add some new details to the chronicle of the fired prosecutors but leave many critical questions unanswered, including the nature of discussions inside the White House and the level of knowledge and involvement by the president and his closest political aide, Karl Rove.
The White House said Monday that Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove had raised concerns about lax voter fraud prosecutions with the Justice Department. And several of the fired attorneys told Congress last week that some lawmakers had questioned them about corruption investigations, inquiries the prosecutors considered inappropriate. The documents do not specifically mention either topic.
While the target list of prosecutors was shaped and shifted, officials at the Justice Department and the White House, members of Congress and even an important Republican lawyer and lobbyist in New Mexico were raising various concerns.
In rating the prosecutors, Mr. Sampson factored in whether they “exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general,” according to documents released by the Justice Department. In one e-mail message, Mr. Sampson questioned a colleague about the record of the federal prosecutor in San Diego, Carol C. Lam. Referring to the office of the deputy attorney general, Mr. Sampson wrote: “Has ODAG ever called Carol Lam and woodshedded her re immigration enforcement? Has anyone?” Ms. Lam was one of the seven fired prosecutors.
Two others, Paul K. Charlton in Arizona and Daniel K. Bogden in Nevada, were faulted as being “unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them,” according to another e-mail message to Mr. Sampson, referring to pornography prosecutions.
Another United States attorney, David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, was added to the hit list in the fall of 2006 after criticism from his home state, including a demand by Senator Pete V. Domenici, a Republican, to meet with the attorney general to discuss the performance of Mr. Iglesias’s office.
The fallout from the firings came swiftly, according to the documents. Within a day, messages were flying between the White House and the Justice Department about reaction to the dismissals. Administration officials were aware that the decisions were likely to be controversial, and the plan for carrying them out included a warning to “prepare to withstand political upheaval.” ...
And now that the upheaval has begun, the weak defense of Gonzales is what has commenced. It may not last. He may well suffer the same fate as the eight prosecutors he and the other Clones forced out.
... no, not him (although that might not be such a bad idea) ... the one in the front...
So Alberto Gonzales has taken responsibility for the controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys from across the country last December 7th. Good, so he should agree than, that the party responsible should resign. But so far, he is refusing to do so. Meanwhile, his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has done just that.
As Chuck Schumer and others have said, Gonzales' main problem is that he somehow never got the memo (though he sent the Torture Memo) that he is now the lawyer for the American people, not for President Bush. He continues to act as his personal flunky, and as GWU constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley puts it, his chief enabler. Well, the enabling must stop. Gonzales is an incompetant A.G., and the extent to which he has allowed his office to become politicized -- complete with instructions from Karl Rove on which attorneys to fire -- makes him a disgrace to his office.
There is a cloud over the Justice Department.
It's time from George W. Bush to fire it.
Meanwhile, there's new information on the Pearl Harbor Day Massacre. Apparently, it preceded according to a carefully laid out five-point plan for getting rid of seven of them:
Entitled, "Plan for Replacing Certain United States Attorneys," the step-by-step instructions were sent by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, as an attachment to an e-mail. Sampson resigned Tuesday. The e-mail was released Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.
Steps 1 and 2: On Dec. 7, the Justice Department was to simultaneously notify the Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, as well as those dismissed.
In his calls to the prosecutors, Mike Battle, who oversees all 93 U.S. attorneys, was to say that the administration is grateful for their service but decided to "give someone else the opportunity" to serve in the post starting in Jan. 31, 2007, according to the memo.
Step 3 was prescient, its title underscored: "Prepare to Withstand Political Upheaval." It predicted the fired prosecutors would make "strenuous" efforts to save their jobs by appealing to other officials in the Bush administration. The memo contained responses to likely questions from those fired.
"Recipients of such 'appeals' must respond identically," the memo said, as follows:
"-What? U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president (there is no right nor should there be any expectation that U.S. attorneys would be entitled to serve beyond their four-year term).
"-Who decided? The administration made the determination to seek the resignations (not any specific person at the White House or the Department of Justice).
"-Why me? The administration is grateful for your service, but wants to give someone else the chance to serve in your district.
"-I need more time! The decision is to have a new acting or interim U.S. attorney in place by January 31, 2007 (granting "extensions" will hinder the process of getting a new U.S. attorney in place and giving that person the opportunity to serve for a full two years)."
Steps four and five directed Justice Department officials to name replacements and submit them for Senate confirmation.
The email was sent by Sampson, to Associate Attorney General William Mercer and White House officials William K. Kelley and Harriet Miers (wouldn't you know SHE'd be involved...)
And RawStory has more documents detailing the White House plan, including more on Miers' involvement...
A March 2005 attachment sent to former White House Counsel and onetime Supreme Court nominee Harriet draws lines through the names of US Attorneys described as "Recommend removing" because they are "ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives."
In Jan. 2006, one e-mail notes that Senator Pete Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who recently had an ethics complaint filed against him, had contacted the Attorney General to "discuss the criminal 'docket and caseload' in New Mexico." The e-mail subsequently includes a detailed report on the activities of the US Attorney for New Mexico, part of which is a lengthy Power Point presentation.
A Sep. 13, 2006, e-mail, sent to Miers makes note of five US Attorneys "we now should consider pushing out," as well as one "in the process of being pushed out."
Sampson first makes note of his political concerns about the tactic in this message, saying "I am only in favor of executing...if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed." The message also refers to sidestepping "home-State senators" and carrying out the plan "at less political cost to the White House."
Four days later, Miers promises to follow up. In her original Sep. 13 query to Sampson, she asks for "current thinking on holdover US attorneys."
On Sept. 20, Brent Ward, current head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, wrote to Sampson and complained, "We have two US attorneys who are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them." Sampson says replacing them should go through "normal channels."
Nearly two months later, on Nov. 15, Sampson writes to White House staffers again, including Miers, and repeats his concerns with "political upheaval that could result" and refers to circulating it "to Karl's shop," presumably referring to White House political adviser Karl Rove.
This e-mail includes an attachment with a detailed strategy plan for forcing out six US Attorneys in Arizona, California, Michigan, Nevada, Washington, and New Mexico; contacting senators (or the home-state Bush "political-lead" if there is no Republican senator in the state in question); preparations for "political upheaval;" and selection of "interim" candidates, which is followed by the normal US Attorney selection process. ...
Gonzales is now calling the firings "mishandled" ... but his problems go much deeper than that.
These U.S. attorneys appear to have been fired because they wouldn't yield to political pressure in the carrying out of their duties. Gonzales approved this political putsch. The deputy fall guy isn't enough. Gonzales should be fired, yesterday.
Update: White House COS Dan Bartlett just gave a press conference in which he tried to spin the David Iglesias firing as justified by his not pursuing voter fraud cases vigorously enough. Not gonna wash, dear. Time for a special prosecutor.
Update 2: New evidence courtesy of TPMM indicates that Karl Rove's deputy, Scott Jennings, was also involved in the removal of members of the Gonzales Eight.
And bad news for Alberto: support for him among Republicans and conservatives so far appears to be weak. Remember when Bush was considering putting him on the Supreme Court? The antipathy from that period may not have died down...
The Pearl Harbor Day massacre: the Rove connection
The firing of eight U.S. attorneys has links to the White House, and specifically to Karl Rove, who was personally asked to fire at least one of the seven who were dismissed last December 7th (the eight was forced out in October.) McClatchy Newspapers report:
WASHINGTON - Presidential advisor Karl Rove and at least one other member of the White House political team were urged by the New Mexico Republican party chairman to fire the state's U.S. attorney because of dissatisfaction in part with his failure to indict Democrats in a voter fraud investigation in the battleground election state.
In an interview Saturday with McClatchy Newspapers, Allen Weh, the party chairman, said he complained in 2005 about then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to a White House liaison who worked for Rove and asked that he be removed. Weh said he followed up with Rove personally in late 2006 during a visit to the White House.
"Is anything ever going to happen to that guy?" Weh said he asked Rove at a White House holiday event that month.
"He's gone," Rove said, according to Weh.
"I probably said something close to 'Hallelujah,'" said Weh.
Weh's account calls into question the Justice Department's stance that the recent decision to fire Iglesias and seven U.S. attorneys in other states was a personnel matter - made without White House intervention. Justice Department officials have said the White House's involvement was limited to approving a list of the U.S. attorneys after the Justice Department made the decision to fire them. ...
..."The facts speak for themselves," Iglesias said, when he was told of Weh's account of his conversation with Rove.
Weh's disclosure comes as Congress investigates the circumstances behind the firings of the U.S. attorneys, most of whom had positive job evaluations, including Iglesias. Democrats have charged the Bush administration tried to inject partisan politics into federal prosecutions in order to influence election outcomes.
The saga continues, with more Conressional hearings this week.
I'm watching the rebroadcast of Tuesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings into the "Pearl Harbor Day massacre," and the following updates should be noted:
Apparently, the attempted intimidation of U.S. attorneys by members of Congress and the Bush administration went beyond the inappropriate phonecalls made by Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Senator Pete Domenici to then New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias last October, both attempting to dig into sealed indictments against state Democratic officials. In addition to the pressure on Iglesias, who said the Domenici phonecall in particular made him feel "sick," there was also an attempt at direct intimidation of several of the fired prosecutors.
H.E. "Bud" Cummins, the Arkansas prosecutor dismissed to make room for a former Karl Rove deputy, received a phonecall in late February from Mike Elston, the chief of staff to deputy attorney general Paul McNulty. During the call, Elston informed Cummins that his comments to the Washington Post that past Saturday were most unwelcome, having come after Congress had already begun to inquire into the firitngs, forcing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to admit to a Congressional hearing that Cummins had been dismissed purely to help a political flak. Cummins was told that if he and his fellow firees continued to talk to the press, and if any of them began to cooperate with Congress (all had refused requests to testfy before the two judiciary committees) then the administration would consider that an "escalation of the conflict, meriting some unspecified form of retaliation" and that the DOJ might just take off the gloves in defending their actions, by releasing information unfavorable to the prosecutors' performance while in office.
Cummins took the call as a threat, or at least a "message," and sent an email to several of his colleagues, including the other three former U.S. attorneys who testified on Tuesday (Carol Lam, the California prosecutor dismissed after successfully prosecuting Duke Cunningham and indicting deputy CIA director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo for abusing his office, and his defense contractor buddy Brent Wilkes; Mr. Iglesias and John McKay of Washington State, who had received pressure via the chief of staff to GOP Congressman Doc Hastings, to investigate the razor thin margin of victory of the newly minted Democratic governor of that state ... Hastings is the ranking member on the House ethics committee, wouldn't you know...) Cummins submitted the email to the panel, and testified that he didn't feel it was a betrayal of Ellison to pass on the information, since he felt that the purpose of the call was to get him to pass the word to his colleagues, in order to preemptively shut them up. (McKay's response to the email was that it didn't make him feel intimidated, it made him mad, which is why he was sitting before the committee. The only one of the four who seemed intimidated at all, or at least protective of the administration, ws Ms. Lam, for reasons unknown.)
For his part, Cummins testified that he had intended to stay out of the political fray, and only talked to the Washington Post because the admnistration chose to attack his colleagues' performance while in office, and he wanted to defend their work, as well as the work of his former staff.
Further, Mr. Iglesias testified that he was told by a Justice Department official that his firing was determined "from on high."
The dismissals are bad enough. The attempted threats and intimidation may be criminal.
Update: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of RI asked a most pertinent question: what each of the four witnesses would do if a witness in a case they were prosecuting received a phonecall like the one Mr. Cummins got, from a subject in the case. All answered that they would refer the call for investigation for obstruction of justice, or in Ms. Lam's case, for witness tampering. Mr. Ellison should think seriously about that.
It should also be noted that all eight of the dismissed U.S. attorneys were nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate, with the first crop of U.S. attorneys after September 11. They are all either Republicans or Independents, as Iglesias testified, appointed because they were considered political assets, not liabilities. How did they become liabilities five years later? By doing things unpopular with the Republican Congress and with their fellow poliical hacks in the White House. In addition, all had excellent evaluations of their work on record, with no recorded complaints from DOJ.
Update 2: Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was the first Republican on the committee to begin swinging the hatchet on behalf of the Bush administration. True to the form which became familiar during the subservient 109th Congress, Sessions began his questioning by going after Ms. Lam's prosecutorial record with respect to gun cases, suggesting she was not upholding administration policy when compared with U.S. attorneys in other districts.
Likewise, Lindsey Graham is trying to save the administration by suggesting that the three witnesses had served unusually long terms in office.
...proving, once again, that there are no lengths Republican members of Congress won't go to in order to shill for the administration. One day, perhaps we'll discover the reason for this remarkable fealty.
Given the authority to invade the privacy of Americans for national security reasons after 9/11, the FBI promptly abused it:
WASHINGTON - The nation's top two law enforcement officials acknowledged Friday the FBI broke the law to secretly pry out personal information about Americans. They apologized and vowed to prevent further illegal intrusions.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales left open the possibility of pursuing criminal charges against FBI agents or lawyers who improperly used the USA Patriot Act in pursuit of suspected terrorists and spies.
The FBI's transgressions were spelled out in a damning 126-page audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. He found that agents sometimes demanded personal data on people without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.
The audit also concluded that the FBI for three years underreported to Congress how often it used national security letters to force businesses to turn over customer data. The letters are administrative subpoenas that do not require a judge's approval.
"People have to believe in what we say," Gonzales said. "And so I think this was very upsetting to me. And it's frustrating."
"We have some work to do to reassure members of Congress and the American people that we are serious about being responsible in the exercise of these authorities," he said.
Under the Patriot Act, the national security letters give the FBI authority to demand that telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses produce personal records about their customers or subscribers. About three-fourths of the letters issued between 2003 and 2005 involved counterterror cases, with the rest for espionage investigations, the audit reported.
Shoddy record-keeping and human error were to blame for the bulk of the problems, said Justice auditors who were careful to note they found no indication of criminal misconduct.
Still, "we believe the improper or illegal uses we found involve serious misuses of national security letter authorities," the audit concluded.
Question, between this and the firings of the Gonzales Seven, why is Alberto Gonzales still employed?
Meanwhile, TPMM reports that the House Judiciary Committee probe of the "Pearl Harbor Day massacre" has moved to the White House:
The House Judiciary Committee requested a host of documents from the White House today related to the administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys. The committee is also seeking to interview at least one current official in the White House's counsel's office, William Kelley, Deputy Counsel to the President, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. (Former USA for Seattle John McKay has told reporters that, in a meeting with Kelley and Miers, he was asked about accusations that he had "mishandled" an investigation of Democratic voter fraud in the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election.)
The committee sought the documents in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding signed by Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA). By next Friday, March 16th, the committee wants all records of communications within the White House regarding the firings, all records of communications with members of Congress concerning the fired attorneys, the names of any members of Congress who were advance notice of the firings, and the names of anyone in the White House who was involved in the firings.
Jesus, it's so Nixonian, it even has Fred Fielding. You can check out the actual letter on TPMM's site.
And Greg Palast reports that one of the replacements -- Timoth Griffin, a political operative and former aide to Karl Rove who was airlifted into the U.S. attorney's office in Arkansas to replace , may actually be a criminal.
Griffin, according to BBC Television, was the hidden hand behind a scheme to wipe out the voting rights of 70,000 citizens prior to the 2004 election.
Key voters on Griffin’s hit list: Black soldiers and homeless men and women. Nice guy, eh? Naughty or nice, however, is not the issue. Targeting voters where race is a factor is a felony crime under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In October 2004, our investigations team at BBC Newsnight received a series of astonishing emails from Mr. Griffin, then Research Director for the Republican National Committee. He didn’t mean to send them to us. They were highly confidential memos meant only for RNC honchos.
However, Griffin made a wee mistake. Instead of sending the emails — potential evidence of a crime — to email addresses ending with the domain name “@GeorgeWBush.com” he sent them to “@GeorgeWBush.ORG.” A website run by prankster John Wooden who owns “GeorgeWBush.org.” When Wooden got the treasure trove of Rove-ian ravings, he sent them to us.
And we dug in, decoding, and mapping the voters on what Griffin called, “Caging” lists, spreadsheets with 70,000 names of voters marked for challenge. Overwhelmingly, these were Black and Hispanic voters from Democratic precincts.
The Griffin scheme was sickly brilliant. We learned that the RNC sent first-class letters to new voters in minority precincts marked, “Do not forward.” Several sheets contained nothing but soldiers, other sheets, homeless shelters. Targets included the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida and that city’s State Street Rescue Mission. Another target, Edward Waters College, a school for African-Americans.
If these voters were not currently at their home voting address, they were tagged as “suspect” and their registration wiped out or their ballot challenged and not counted. Of course, these ‘cages’ captured thousands of students, the homeless and those in the military though they are legitimate voters. We telephoned those on the hit list, including one Randall Prausa. His wife admitted he wasn’t living at his voting address: Randall was a soldier shipped overseas.
Randall and other soldiers like him who sent in absentee ballots, when challenged, would lose their vote. And they wouldn’t even know it.
And by the way, it’s not illegal for soldiers to vote from overseas — even if they’re Black.
But it is illegal to challenge voters en masse where race is an element in the targeting. So several lawyers told us, including Ralph Neas, famed civil rights attorney with People for the American Way.
Griffin himself ducked our cameras, but his RNC team tried to sell us the notion that the caging sheets were, in fact, not illegal voter hit lists, but a roster of donors to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Republican donors at homeless shelters?
Over the past weeks, Griffin has said he would step down if he had to face Congressional confirmation. However, the President appointed Griffin to the law enforcement post using an odd little provision of the USA Patriot Act that could allow Griffin to skip Congressional questioning altogether.
On October 20, 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered then- attorney general Elliot Richardson to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who had been appointed by Richardson to investigate the June 17, 1972 Watergate break-in. The Senate Judiciary Committee was in the midst of an investigation into the Watergate scandal. Wikipedia takes it from there:
Cox had earlier issued a subpoena to President Nixon, asking for copies of taped conversations which Nixon had made in the Oval Office as evidence. Nixon initially refused to comply with the subpoena, but on October 19, 1973, he offered what was later known as the Stennis Compromise – asking U.S. Senator John C. Stennis to review and summarize the tapes for the special prosecutor's office.
Cox refused the compromise that same evening, and it was believed that there would be a short rest in the legal maneuvering while government offices were closed for the weekend. However, President Nixon acted to dismiss Cox from his office the next night – a Saturday. He contacted Attorney General Richardson and ordered him to fire the special prosecutor. Richardson refused, and instead resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox; he, too, refused and was fired by Nixon.
Nixon then contacted the Solicitor General, Robert Bork, and ordered him as acting head of the Justice Department to fire Cox. Richardson and Ruckelshaus had both personally assured the congressional committee overseeing the special prosecutor investigation that they would not interfere – Bork had made no such assurance to the committee. Bork complied with Nixon's order and fired Cox.
Congress was infuriated by the act, which was seen as a gross abuse of Presidential power. In the days that followed, numerous bills of impeachment against the President were introduced in Congress.
As the scandal mounted, and facing almost certain removal from office, Richard Nixon finally resigned his office on August 9. 1974. The firing of the special prosecutor, and the subsequent resignation of the attorney general, Mr. Richardson, and the dismissal of his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, would become known as the "Saturday night massacre." Nixon's defense of his actions would yield the classic Nixonian phrase, "I am not a crook." The Special Prosecutor statute followed soon after, and would live to bedevil nearly every future president.
Fast forward to 2007. The attorney general is now Alberto Gonzales, a longtime crony of President George W. Bush. On December 7, 2006, just one month after Republicans succumbed to a Democratic election sweep that handed the House and Senate to the former party out of power, Attorney General Gonzales fired seven U.S. attorneys -- all Bush appointees; and all either Republicans or registered Independents -- in what has come to be known as the "Pearl Harbor Day massacre." (An eighth had stepped down in October, under circumstances still under inspection.) Who were they, and why were they fired? Here's TIME Magazine's take:
The White House approves all U.S. attorneys, who function as the federal government's chief prosecutors in 93 jurisdictions around the country. As political appointees, they serve "at the pleasure of the President," and can be replaced, at least theoretically, at any time for any reason. But group firings in the middle a presidential term are highly unusual. Though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insisted to Congress that "I would never, ever make a change in a U.S. attorney position for political reasons," critics were outraged at the December dismissals, among them the firing of an Arkansas U.S. attorney to make way for Timothy Griffin, a prot駩 of White House political guru Karl Rove. The outcry forced Griffin to withdraw. Gonzales' top deputy later claimed the firings were necessary because of "performance-related" issues. But it was later revealed that all but two of the dismissed prosecutors had won outstanding evaluations for competence.
As for the identities, (six of the eight testified this week before teh House judiciary committee) they are:
1) David Iglesias (New Mexico) - according to TIME:
Iglesias ... testified that he felt "leaned on" by Sen. Pete Domenici over a case he was pursuing. Iglesias said the New Mexico Republican and former mentor hung up on him after learning Iglesias would not seek indictments in a criminal investigation of Democrats before the 2006 election. "He said, 'Are these going to be filed before November?'" Iglesias recalled. "I said I didn't think so... to which he replied, 'I'm very sorry to hear that.' And then the line went dead. "I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach," Iglesias testified. "Six weeks later I got the call that I had to move on." The ousted prosecutor also said that Heather Wilson, a Republican House member from New Mexico, had called him about the same issue.
Both Domenici and Wilson confirmed that they had gotten in touch with Iglesias, but denied pressuring him in any way. The Justice Department also acknowledged that Domenici had called Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his top deputy four times to complain about Iglesias' behavior, inquiring whether he was "up to the job."
Domenici has since lawyered up.
2) H. E. "Bud" Cummins (Little Rock, Arkansas) -
[Cummins] testified that he had e-mailed fellow ousted prosecutors last month, warning them of a threatening message conveyed by a senior Justice Department official. Cummins' e-mail, which was released publicly, quoted the Justice official as warning that if fired U.S. attorneys continued to talk to the media or volunteered to testify before Congress, the department "would feel forced to somehow pull their gloves off" and fight back. The DOJ denied the allegation.
In addition, once Cummins was ousted, his position was filled "on an interim basis" by a guy named Tom Griffin who is, surprise, surprise, a former aide to Karl Rove -- an aide who stated that he would step down if forced to face Congressional confirmation because of the "partisan circus" surrounding him. Cummins ouster to make room for a Rove aide has pushed Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas to take an unusual seat -- in the House witness chair -- to testify that he felt misled about the reasons for Cummins' dismissal and could not support Griffin's nomination.
3) John McKay (Seattle) -
... declared that a top aide to Rep. Doc Hastings, the former Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee, had called him to ask detailed questions about a politically charged investigation McKay was conducting into the disputed 2004 election of Washington state's Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire. Hastings and his aide have denied the allegation.
4) Carol S. Lam (San Diego) - She is the prosecutor who indicted Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the defense contractor turned bribery suspect. Also:
Lam oversaw the probe that resulted in the guilty plea of then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican. Two others connected to that case, including a former senior CIA official, were indicted two days before Lam left the job on Thursday.
5) and 6) Daniel Bogden (Nevada) and Paul Charlton(Arizona) -
... were also in the midst of investigations targeting current or former Republican members of Congress when they were fired. And in New Mexico, Iglesias's office had been examining alleged wrongdoing involving state Democrats.
7) Kevin Ryan (San Francisco) - let go for reasons unclear.
As for the alleged eighth fire, TPM Muckraker has this to say:
Debra Wong Yang, the former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Calif. Yang was overseeing the investigation into Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). She announced her resignation in October 2006, but to date there hasn't been evidence that her departure was forced.
The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday.
The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said ...
...The seven prosecutors were first identified by the Justice Department's senior leadership shortly before the November elections, officials said. The final decision was supported by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his deputy, Paul J. McNulty, and cleared with the White House counsel's office, including deputy counsel William Kelly, they said.
So far, the Judiciary Committee has begun hearings on the matter, which TPMM has been covering extensively.
Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing to push through legislatioon that would require the body to confirm any future U.S. attorneys, ostensibly, giving them a say in when they're let go.