The reiterations of the Obama policy on the Sunday shows this morning do not convince. On this one, the administration is dead wrong. Well, let me back up a bit. I suppose I can understand the practical reasons for granting immunity to those in the CIA who carried out torture policies "under the color of law" due to the advice issued by the then- Justice Department. The Obama administration doesn't want to incite a wholesale rebellion at Langley, or make the CIA the scapegoat for what were clearly Bush administration -- not intelligence community -- policies. However, three points from the Sundays that slap down the argument that immunity should be anything more than immunity to testify against those higher officials who ARE being prosecuted:
1. As Katty Kay pointed out on the "CMS," the Nuremberg trials, conducted by American prosecutors, didn't distinguish between those who committed war crimes out of pure depravity, and those who did it under color of law. They said they were following the laws of Germany (or Japan); we prosecuted them anyway.
... in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, explained that Obama’s grant of immunity is likely a violation of international law. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture:
STANDARD: CIA torturers are according to U.S. President Obama not to be prosecuted. Is that decision supportable?
NOWAK: Absolutely not. The United States has, like all other Contracting Parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, committed itself to investigate instances of torture and to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture is found.
3. Indeed, there is no legal argument that the administration can point to that would get them out of their obligation to pursue these torture allegations. Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture, and many of the details of what was done during the Bush administration are already publicly known, as Rahm Emanuel pointed out on "This Week." The memos have people's names and signatures on them, including the name of Jay Bybee, who now occupies the dual role of probable war criminal and sitting federal judge (though hopefully, he's soon to be an impeached one, as the NYT called for in an editorial yesterday.) At a minimum, the lawyers who concocted the torture memos should be disbarred, and in the case of Bybee, "disbenched." And the people who put the policies in place, at the Pentagon, Justice Department and yes, the Bush White House, should, as Andrew Sullivan eloquently pointed out, be held to account.
As the Times points out in its editorial, the intent behind thememos makes what should be done clear enough:
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
And as the Times further points out:
It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Except that mobsters don't generally brag on television about the horse's heads they've laid to rest on victims' pillows.
The Bush administration went to great lengths to impose Soviet-style eavesdropping, gulags and torture on the American experiment. Shouldn't America repay them by imposing a little constitutional law on them?
What you can do:
To get more info and to get involved in the push to impeach Jay Bybee, click here.
For more on the push to have John Yoo removed from his professorship over his role in the torture memos, click here.
To sign the ACLU petition to call on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture during the Bush administration, click here.
Stipulating that the various, clackety strains of "conservatives," including the folks over at the Wall Street Journal op-ed desk (who published a piece by Bush's CIA director and second round A.G., decrying the Obama administration's release of the torture memos, and of course, the chickenhawk neocons) are very much in for torture. Non-conservatives, including the Washington Post editorial board, are against it, calling it what it is: a disgrace. But on the question of whether torture is even worth the shame, I came across this post, from the NYT's The Lede blog, back in January:
In the days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was tossing wisecracks on subjects serious and trivial. The cab that the former Iraqi leader hid inside? “He didn’t have the meter running.” Who’s going to be responsible for interrogation? “It was a three-minute decision, and the first two were for coffee.”
But Mr. Hussein’s fate would be much different than Abu Zubaydeh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, two members of Al Qaeda who endured harsh interrogation techniques while in C.I.A. custody.
Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials quickly pledged that he would be treated as a prisoner of war, although it took a month to make it official. And the three-minute decision was reassessed within weeks as the Federal Bureau of Investigation took the interrogation reins for the reason described in a January 2004 article:
The F.B.I. involvement reflects C.I.A. reluctance to allow covert officers to take part in interrogations that could force them to appear as court witnesses. In contrast, F.B.I. agents are trained to interview suspects in preparation for prosecutions.
What was the rivalry about? FBI agents were apparently shocked, and not happy, to discover that CIA agents were using torure, approved we now know, by the Justice Department and presumably the president and vice president/president's boss, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubayda, the low level jihadist we got all that false information from by illegal waterboarding. The then-FBI director, Robert Meuller, wound up pulling his agents, who were more skilled at interrogation, having been the ones to query Saddam Hussein himself, for example, out of the theater entirely, rather than allow them to continue to witness war crimes.
A rift nonetheless swiftly developed between FBI agents, who were largely pleased with the progress of the questioning, and CIA officers, who felt Abu Zubaida was holding out on them and providing disinformation. Tensions came to a head after FBI agents witnessed the use of some harsh tactics on Abu Zubaida, including keeping him naked in his cell, subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” said [Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman], recalling accounts from FBI employees who were there. ” ‘This guy’s a Muslim. That’s not going to win his confidence. Are you trying to get information out of him or just belittle him?’ “
F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III pulled his personnel over the disagreement, and former officials in the agency continue to make the case that Mr. Zubaydeh gave up his most important information before, not after, the harsh techniques commenced.
As David Johnston of The New York Times reported earlier this month, both agencies say the rivalry is over. Still, some officials said privately that the F.B.I. was looking for a payback moment in its investigation into the C.I.A. tape destruction.
Clearly, we've been operating with some sadists in our midst, at the CIA, in the Justice Department, in the neocon think tanks, and in the Bush White House. So why not prosecute them? Probably because the current president has decided that, as a political matter, it can't be done without a circus-like spectacle (and it might not be done in Spain, either...)
But it seems to me that there are people who should be prosecuted, starting with the men who wrote, authorized and approved the memos.
Related: Experts debate whether prosecutions should commence. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights sums it up succintly:
Torture is torture and all the legal window dressing in the world cannot hide its essence: the infliction of pain and suffering on human beings. If legal advice can protect torturers, no official anywhere can ever be prosecuted. Legal advice then becomes a get out-of-jail free card and will be employed by every petty dictatorship to protect its abusers.
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.
Poll: Most Americans say, 'investigate the bastard'
Dubya flipped off the Constitution, too...
A new poll shows that Americans want at least for there to be an investigation of torture under the Bush regime.
Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.
Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.
The breakdown is as follows:
Regarding possible use of torture in terror interrogations:
Criminal investigation: 38%
Independent panel: 24%
Not sure: 2%
Meanwhile, when it comes to politicizing the Justice Department, even more of those polled want a probe:
Re possible attempts to use the Justice Department for political purposes:
Criminal investigation: 41%
Independent panel: 30%
And finally, regarding the "possible use of wiretaps without a warrant":
Criminal investigation: 438%
Independent panel: 25%
Read more of the Gallup poll here. Meanwhile, when it comes to torture prosecutions, civil libertarians like Jonathan Turley are not backing down:
A pay freeze for administration members earning over $100,000 a year and strict rules on lobbying, both before and after serving his White House.
Phone calls to top Middle Eastern leaders, and a nod to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as Mideast envoy. Mitchell did great things during the Clinton administration for peace in Northern Ireland, but he has special qualifications for this job, too, as Mother Jones points out:
At first glance, Mitchell may not seem the most obvious choice for the Middle East envoy job. Others have far more experience in the region, and Mitchell's success in Northern Ireland does not necessarily translate to the intractable conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. But what you may not know is that Mitchell is himself of Lebanese ancestry; his father, John Kilroy, was an Irishman adopted by a Lebanese family, and his mother was a Lebanese Maronite Christian.
More than that, Mitchell had a brief, albeit unsuccessful, run as Middle East envoy during President Bill Clinton's last-minute attempt to broker peace there before he left office. The so-called "Mitchell Commission" studied the conflict in detail for several months before releasing a report in April 2001 to the newly inaugurated Bush administration.
As with his work in Northern Ireland, Mitchell suggested in the 2001 report (available here) that no peace could come to the Middle East until both sides stopped the violence and steeled themselves for difficult negotiations. Beyond that, though, he affected a more balanced approach to the peace process, calling not only for the Palestinians to renounce terrorism, but for the Israelis to cease using economic blockades against the Palestinians and to halt the construction of new settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Putting a Lebanese-American at the forefront of policy, along with the well known and widely trusted Secretary of State Clinton, is a great look, and Obama seems to be signaling that he will be as tough on settlement building as Bush was soft on it.
Meanwhile, on the newly de-tourested Capitol Hill:
Hillary is approved, and then greeted as a liberator by a weary Foggy Bottom, which made little attempt to show their relief that the new administration has arrived. BTW the two GOPers who voted against Hillary in the Senate were Jim DeMint (R, SC) and David Vitter (R, Whore House.) Geithner is approved, tax issues and all.
Eric Holder is held up by Bush lackeys on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are apparently seeking assurances that there will be no torture prosecutions emanating from the Obama Justice Department. (Meanwhile, the U.N.'s top torture investigator says the body doesn't really need the United States to act on the matter. They can move against top Bushies themselves, and Manfred Nowak, the U.N. "Special Raporteur on Toture," has at least two defendants in mind ...) Said Mr. Nowak:
“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld. […] He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.
“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.
Cheney should of course be added to the list, along with Bush and Don Rumsfeld, particularly since he has openly admitted to authorizing the torture of U.S. detainees.
BTW, check out the new Whitehouse.gov. It mirrors the previous Obama campaign and transition sites. Nice.
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.
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.
NBC News is reporting that the Senate Judiciary Committee has written a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, asking the Bushies to reiterate whether their lame, no-transcript, no oaths, private "meet and greet" offer is their final offer.
Meanwhile, Albertcito says he must stay on as attorney general ... for the children...
GONZALES: I’m not going to resign. I’m going to stay focused on protecting our kids. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done around the country. The department is responsible for protecting our kids, for making our neighborhoods safe, for protecting our country against attacks of terrorism, to going after gangs, going after drug dealers. I’m staying focussed on that. ...
Ah, the children. Thank God they've got Alberto to take care of them. Let's just hope they're "Bushie" enough to actually merit his aid...
Oh, and the Senate OK'd the issuance of subpoenas today, just like the House did yesterday.
And guess who the next Senate Judiciary Committee star witness is going to be? Hellooooo, Kyle Sampson!
Meanwhile, TPMM rounds up a few hot takes on where this thing could go next...
First spotted by a commenter on the blog Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall reports there is an 18-day gap in the over 3,000 emails released by the Department of Justice pertaining to the attorney firing scandal.
The gap covers the days between November 15 and December 4, 2006. So far, only one email has been found dated within the 18 days among those released in Monday night's document dump. The lone email, from November 29, 2006, was one forwarded by Justice official Michael Elston to a fellow staffer asking for an attached review document to be printed.
"The firing calls went out on December 7th. But the original plan was to start placing the calls on November 15th," notes Marshall. "So those eighteen days are pretty key ones."
Politico reporters Mike Allen and John Bresnahan also picked up on the gap. They surmise that the missing communication covers "a critical period, as the White House and Justice Department reviewed -- then approved -- which U.S. attorneys would be fired, while also developing a political and communications strategy for countering any fallout from the firings."
"There are enough disgruntled employees at Justice ... that the information is going to come out. The White House needs to decide if it's going to come out 'drip, drip, drip' or if they're going to get it all out." -- Senator Chuck Schumer, appearing on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" on Wednesday
Chuck Schumer did his best Tony Soprano tonight, commenting on the White House's ridiculous 'offer the Congress can't accept' -- which can be paraphrased as "sure, you can talk to our staffers, but you can't record it, create transcripts, or put them under oath"...
Clearly, the Dems aren't going to go for that okey-doke. And the White House is sounding awfully desperate with those "please accept our generous offer" entreaties.
Because they know, just as Schumer knew when he made the above comment to Keith, that there will be more disclosures.
As former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins has written, "Once the public detects partisanship in one important decision, they will follow the natural inclination to question every decision made, whether there is a connection or not."
Today, the nonpartisan congressional watchdog Democracy 21 sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty asking whether there had been political interference in the investigation and prosecution of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"Based on issues that have been raised in the firing of the eight U.S Attorneys , we're all in a position to want some assurance that there hasn't been political interference in the case," Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21's president, told me. "This still remains the worse congressional corruption scandal in 30 years. There are lesser players who have been convicted. But there are still big players here, including sitting and former members of Congress whose cases apparently have not yet been resolved. "
In a detailed, 10-page letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) signed by Kathleen Sullivan, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and Paul Twomey, a lawyer for the Democrats, they argue that the investigation, which targeted prominent operatives in the Republican Party, was stalled and mishandled.
On Election Day in 2002, Republicans schemed to jam the phone banks for Democratic get out the vote efforts. Two Republicans involved in the plan pled guilty, and James Tobin, formerly the New England Regional Political Director for the Republican National Committee, was convicted for his role. The case took years to play out; the first guilty pleas in the case were not until the summer of 2004, and Tobin was not indicted until after the 2004 election.
One of the reasons the investigation was stalled, Democrats argue, is that "all decisions had to be reviewed by the Attorney General himself" -- first John Ashcroft and then Alberto Gonzales. To back up that claim, the Democrats say that lawyers working on the case were told by prosecutors that delays in the case were due to the extreme difficulty in obtaining authorization from higher levels at DOJ for any and all actions in the case.
A lawyer for one of the Republicans in the case backs up that claim. John Durken, the lawyer for Allen Raymond, a Republican whose consulting firm managed the jamming, says that the lead prosecutor in the case told him during one meeting that Ashcroft was involved in every decision. "He said, 'Every decision in this case goes all the way up to Ashcroft’s desk.'" Durken told me that such a fact didn't "surprise" him, given the political nature of the case.
... The Democrats' other grievances, which they lay out in the letter, are 1) that the Justice Department bogged the investigation down by assigning only one FBI agent to the case -- and that agent was part-time 2) that the DoJ's refusal to prosecute the organziations responsible for the jamming, the New Hampshire Republican Party and the Republican National Committee, violated Justice Department guidelines, and 3) the DoJ failed to follow leads that led to higher-level Republican involvement.
Dividing along partisan lines, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee has voted to authorize subpoenas for Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and other senior White House aides as part of the congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.
The commerical and administrative law subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), also authorized document subpoenas for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, White House Chief of Staff Jashua Bolton, and White House Counsel Fred Fielding.
Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) now can issue the subpoenas whenever he wants, although he indicated at the hearing that Democrats were still negotiating with Fielding on getting Rove. the White House deputy chief of staff, and Miers, the former White House counsel, to testify under oath before the panel on the firings.
"We don't have a timetable" for issuing the subpoenas, Conyers told reporters following the hearing.
Conyers, Sanchez, and other Democrats on the Judiciary have rejected an offer by Fielding to allow Rove, Miers, William Kelley, deputy White House counsel, and J. Scott Jennings, a special assistant to President Bush in the White House political affairs office, be interviewed informally by members and committee staff. Under Fielding's proposal, those interviews would not take place under oath, and a White House lawyers would be present.
Sanchez complained that Fielding's proposal "allows limited access to witnesses, no access to key documents, and no testimony under oath. We have worked toward voluntary cooperation on this investigation, but we must prepare for the possibility that the Justice Department and White House will continue to hide the truth."
Conyers said having the subpoenas ready to go acts like "a backstop" in the panel's negotiations with Fielding, and he pointed out that the Justice Department had failed to meet a Friday deadline to turn over all documents in its possession related to the firings. Democrats complained that the 3,000 pages of documents turned over by Justice on Monday night are heavily redacted.
The Senate Judiciary Committee debates following suit tomorrow.
Update: Here's a link to the text of Bush's presser today regarding Gonzalesgate. So far, Dubya is taking a defiant posture, although I detected more fight in him regarding Karl Rove than Al Gonzales at his feisty media avail.
Today I'm also announcing the following steps my administration is taking to correct the record and demonstrate our willingness to work with the Congress. First, the Attorney General and his key staff will testify before the relevant congressional committees to explain how the decision was made and for what reasons. Second, we're giving Congress access to an unprecedented variety of information about the process used to make the decision about replacing eight of the 93 U.S. attorneys.
In the last 24 hours, the Justice Department has provided the Congress more than 3,000 pages of internal Justice Department documents, including those reflecting direct communications with White House staff. This, in itself, is an extraordinary level of disclosure of an internal agency in White House communications.
Third, I recognize there is significant interest in the role the White House played in the resignations of these U.S. attorneys. Access to White House staff is always a sensitive issue. The President relies upon his staff to provide him candid advice. The framers of the Constitution understood this vital role when developing the separate branches of government. And if the staff of a President operated in constant fear of being hauled before various committees to discuss internal deliberations, the President would not receive candid advice, and the American people would be ill-served.
Yet, in this case, I recognize the importance of members of Congress having -- the importance of Congress has placed on understanding how and why this decision was made. So I'll allow relevant committee members on a bipartisan basis to interview key members of my staff to ascertain relevant facts. In addition to this offer, we will also release all White House documents and emails involving direct communications with the Justice Department or any other outside person, including members of Congress and their staff, related to this issue. These extraordinary steps offered today to the majority in Congress demonstrate a reasonable solution to the issue. However, we will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants.
Let's rewind that last paragraph ...
In addition to this offer, we will also release all White House documents and emails involving direct communications with the Justice Department or any other outside person, including members of Congress and their staff, related to this issue.Might I interpret that as a threat if I were a Republican member of Congress considering coming out against the attorney general? Yes, I might.
Okay, now, let's re-set. The president is going to prevent Karl Rove from testifying. He's going to protect him. Al Gonzales on the other hand, is going to the Hill, and apparently, Bushie is giving him one last chance to save his job. But will it work? Well, there's the latest reporting from the good folks at The Politico:
The White House and top GOP officials are bracing for a lengthy battle over executive privilege and the likely resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in the escalating fight over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, several key Republicans said Tuesday.
With Democrats demanding public testimony of top White House aides, including Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and the White House insisting on private interviews only, the GOP officials said the controversy over the fired prosecutors is likely to intensify and prompt Gonzales to step aside.
President Bush on Tuesday called Gonzales, offering a public show of support. And White House press secretary Tony Snow said that news reports about a search for a replacement were "flat false."
But people involved in the process to sound out potential replacements for Gonzales said they had not talked to Snow. A GOP loyalist close to the White House said the process went on ice after Bush made his call to Gonzales. "They were reaching out," the operative said. "Now, we're in lockdown. We're just waiting. They've reached out to everyone they need to reach out to and are waiting to get a 'yes' from someone."
The operative assumption, the GOP source said, is that Gonzales will go but that he will do so on his own schedule. The first stage in finding a replacement is gauging who is available among the well-established lawyers under consideration, most of whom have previously been confirmed by the Senate. "I think it is going to come down to who is willing to take the job," said the source.
Meanwhile, support for Gonzales on Capitol Hill continued to wane. A member of the House Republican leadership, speaking on the condition of anonymity at a luncheon with 13 reporters, spoke scathingly of the "drip, drip, drip" produced by the furor over the attorneys.
"I can't imagine that he's going to be around a whole lot longer," said the House Republican leader. "It seems like a leak about developing a short list of replacements, combined with a direct call from the president, are sort of the two indications that your days are numbered. I just don't see him lasting through this current maelstrom.
So is Bush kicking Gonzales or punting? So far, he's punting?
Bush's call essentially leaves it up to Gonzales whether to try to hang on to his office at a time when Democratic lawmakers are gunning for him and many Republicans have given up on him.
A Republican source said Tuesday that Bush is "unmoved," and that Gonzales will not be pushed out or fired. Bush telephoned him from the Oval Office at 7:15 a.m., and aides said he "reaffirmed his strong support and backing" for his longtime friend and aide.
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.
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.