Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Yes we can (make Bushies respond to subpoenas)
A federal judge puts the ixnay on otnay owingshay upyay in ongresscay... if you know what I mean...
WASHINGTON - President Bush’s top advisers are not immune from congressional subpoenas, a federal judge ruled Thursday in an unprecedented dispute between the two political branches.

House Democrats called the ruling a ringing endorsement of the principle that nobody is above the law.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Bates said there’s no legal basis for Bush’s argument and that his former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, must appear before Congress. If she wants to refuse to testify, he said, she must do so in person. The committee also has sought to force testimony from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.

Oh boy... Judge Bates: meet "terrorist watch list..."
“Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena,” Bates wrote. He said that both Bolten and Miers must give Congress all non-privileged documents related to the firings.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to bolster the power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch. The Bush administration argued it was immune from such subpoenas, arguing that Congress can't force them to testify or turn over documents.

The report goes on to quote Nancy Pelosi as saying Dems plan to "act quickly and call Miers and Bolton to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, where they can claim executive privilege in person.
“We look forward to the White House complying with this ruling and to scheduling future hearings with Ms. Miers and other witnesses who have relied on such claims,” Conyers said in a statement. “We hope that the defendants will accept this decision and expect that we will receive relevant documents and call Ms. Miers to testify in September.”

Bates, who was appointed to the bench by Bush, issued a 93-page opinion that strongly rejected the administration’s legal arguments. He noted that the executive branch could not point to a single case in which courts held that White House aides were immune from congressional subpoenas.

“That simple yet critical fact bears repeating: the asserted absolute immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by existing case law,” Bates wrote.

Unless of course it gets to the Supreme Court, where Tony Scalia will find a way, and if Justice Kennedy is having a bad day? Zappo!

So of course now the question everyone is asking is, what does this mean for our good friend Karl Rove? Some thoughts on that here.

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posted by JReid @ 4:30 PM  
Saturday, July 26, 2008
The cuckold Congress

If the 109th Congress will go down in history as boot-licking hand maidens to a criminal White House, the 110th will go down as the most cowardly, utterly useless opposition body in U.S. history -- the polar opposite of the body that faced down Richard Nixon, and the wimp-ridden antidote to the scheming, partisan body that tried to undo the election of William Clinton.

How useless is the current Congress? Let me count the ways...

They can't compel Karl Rove or Josh Bolten to testify before them, and their constant threats of "contempt!" fall by the wayside...

They can't out-maneuver Republicans, who stop bills cold on the House and Senate floor.

They capitulated in cowardly fashion on FISA, giving Bush everything he wanted on domestic surveillance and telecom immunity, junking the Fourth Amendment in the process (and they've got more coming, from the still-enforced PATRIOT Act to complete surveillance of the Internet.) ***NOTE: read this post on the Bushies' database of some 8 million Americans whom they could surveil and detain at will in the event of "an emergency" if you really want to feel sick to your stomach.***

They continue to give Bush everything his heart desires on Iraq, backing down time and again on the issue of a timetable for orderly withdrawal, and forking over all the cash Dubya's Pentagon can stuff into a sideways appropriation.

They cannot reign in a recalcitrant attorney general who is thumbing his nose at them as surely as his predecessor did.

They cannot pass meaningful legislation outside of a housing bill that even Bush wasn't dumb enough to veto in an election year.

And their only concern, from Pelosi on down, appears to be getting re-elected.

Worst of all, they refuse to hold accountable, through the only means the Constitution allows: impeachment; a president that many of them -- or really any of them who have an iota of understanding of the Constitution -- know committed clearly impeachable offenses (many of these guys are lawyers.) Instead, the Democratic-controlled 110th Congress, like their GOP-led predecessors, are spending their time "saving the president's chestnuts" and scheming among themselves to hold sham "impeachment-like" hearings that are unworthy of press coverage (which is why they aren't getting any,) while promising the White House that nothing will come of them. Even Dennis Kucinich, the author of the "hearings," capitulated, allowing the House leadership to let him make a fool of himself and his colleagues, while wasting the valuable time of dozens of earnest witnesses (not to mention bloggers, who thankfully have lots of time on their hands...)

What then, is the purpose of our current Congress? A useless bunch, almost all of them, particularly in the House, where most of the rotten, Bush-petting legislation and cowardice orginates, but also in the Senate, where Harry Reid and company continue to quizzle and cower under the outright treachery of one Joseph Lieberman.

With all of the lack of spine, one wonders whether the administration's domestic wiretapping extended into the Congressional office building. That might at least explain why they continue to do the bidding of a lame duck president and his criminal gang. Next, I expect them to approve offshore oil drilling and pass a law declaring torture to be the law of the land. What more damage can they do to the constitution and the Republic at this point, having declared, in essence, that there are no impeachable offenses -- that a president can break the law with impunity, and that he and his cabinet; hell, his FORMER cabinet members -- can feel free to ignore Congress altogether, with Congress's blessing. They have squandered their constitutional prerogatives, made a mockery of their own authority, and allowed that man, that idiot in the White House, to humiliate them and blacken our country's honor, not to mention killing more than 4,000 of our bravest citizens in furtherance of a fundamentally un-American neoconservative cause.

Now the Debbie Wasserman Schultz's of the world might explain that I simply don't understand how politics works -- the Congress has to "get the people's business done," and the people want lower gas bills, not impeachment. Well when members of Congress take the oath of office, they, like the president, swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. The pork for their districts comes later. And because the Constitution is so fundamental to our freedoms, to our ability to live free in a country that still belongs to us, and not the president, impeachment of a criminal administration IS the people's business. Getting re-elected, well, that's YOUR business, Debbie. Besides, what exactly has Congress gotten done "for us" in the last two years? Hm? Not much.

As People for the American Way wrote after the House began pushing to give Bush more surveillance powers:
Checks and balances are endangered when Congress refuses to perform its oversight role and hold members of the executive branch accountable for their actions. The Intelligence Committee decision is just the latest in a series of caves to the White House by this Republican-led Congress. Congress caved when it reauthorized the PATRIOT Act, which includes provisions that deprive Americans of civil liberties. Congress has failed to fulfill its oversight responsibility for a wide variety of executive agencies, including the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which has reportedly reduced some fines for safety violations and failed to collect others at all.2 Congress has refused to investigate the Bush administration’s attempt to hide the true estimated cost of its Medicare prescription drug benefit, the White House’s disclosure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity, and corporate special interests’ and oil lobbyists’ involvement in Vice President Cheney’s energy policy task force.

It’s no wonder that, according to the Washington Post, “Government scholars and watchdog groups say the decline of congressional oversight in recent years has thrown off kilter the system of checks and balances the Founding Fathers created to keep no one branch of government from becoming too powerful.”iii
At this stage, I'm not even sure why they're there. We should throw off this false patina of multi-cameral government and simply install our president as king. He already has his puppet parliament.

If I had my way, our pathetic Congress would be turned out on their asses this fall, starting with Nancy, Harry and the hugely disappointing John Conyers, and with the exception of a small handful, including Jim Webb (because of his advocacy for our veterans), Russ Feingold, Dick Durbin, Henry Waxman and Robert Wexler. The rest of them can go to blazes. (Chuck Hagel is retiring, Barack Obama is running for president.)

Unfortunately, most of these clods' seats are perfectly safe.

And that might be the biggest shame of all.

I'll close with part of the testimony from Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, one of the other "good guys," at the faux-impeachment hearings yesterday:
"What this Congress does, or chooses not to do in furthering the investigation of the serious allegations against this administration - and if just cause is found, to hold them accountable - will impact the conduct of future presidents, perhaps for generations."

"Mr. Chairman," Baldwin continued, "there are those who would say that holding this hearing - examining whether or not the president and vice president broke the law - is frivolous. I not only reject this, I believe there is no task more important for this Congress than to seriously consider whether our nation's leaders have violated their oath of office. The American public expects no less. It is, after all, their Constitution. No president or congress has the authority to override that document, whereby 'We the People' conferred upon the branches of government limited and defined power, and provided for meaningful checks and balances."

There can be no question at this late date in the Bush presidency that the issue of whether the American system will be characterized by "meaningful checks and balances" is at stake - and that goes to the heart of the matter of why Friday's hearing ought not be the end of a process but a beginning.

Even after George Bush and Dick Cheney have left the White House, the definition of the presidency that they have crafted will remain.

"On January 20, 2009, the next president and vice president of the United States will stand before the American people and take an oath of office, swearing to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' This commitment and obligation is so fundamental to our democracy that our nation's founders prescribed that oath in our Constitution. They also provided for the removal of the president and vice president for, among other things, 'high crimes and misdemeanors,'" Baldwin explained to the committee. "Presidents and vice presidents do not take that oath in a vacuum. They are informed by the actions or inactions of past presidents and congresses, who establish precedents for the future."

It is in the power of the Congress to begin setting the precedent to which Baldwin addressed herself. That power was defined by the framers of the Constitution, as were the practices and procedures to be used in executing it.

... (The) American people have been forced to sit by while credible allegations of abuse of power mount:

And we continue to sit by, waiting for a Congress with the courage to act.

UPDATE: Check out Congress' latest capitulation, to big oil.
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posted by JReid @ 11:50 AM  
Arrest this man (already)
Another day, another reason to clap Karl Rove in leg irons. This one from the Brad Blog:
Karl Rove has threatened a GOP high-tech guru and his wife, if he does not "'take the fall' for election fraud in Ohio," according to a letter sent this morning to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, by Ohio election attorney Cliff Arnebeck.

The email, posted in full below, details threats against Mike Connell of the Republican firm New Media Communications, which describes itself on its website as "a powerhouse in the field of Republican website development and Internet services" and having "played a strategic role in helping the GOP expand its technological supremacy."

Connell was described in a recent interview with the plaintiff's attorneys in Ohio as a "high IQ Forrest Gump" for his appearance "at the scene of every [GOP] crime" from Florida 2000 to Ohio 2004 to the RNC email system to the installation of the currently-used Congressional computer network firewall.

Connell and his firm are currently employed by the John McCain campaign, as well as the RNC and other Republican and so-called "faith-based" organizations.

In a phone call this afternoon, Arnebeck could not publicly reveal specific details of the information that triggered his concern about the threats to Connell. The message to the IT man from Rove is said to have been sent via a go-between in Ohio. That information led Arnebeck to contact Mukasey after he found the reports to be credible and troubling.

"If there's a credible threat, which I regard this to be," he told The BRAD BLOG, "I have a professional duty to report it."

Brad has a lot more, including a copy of the email to Mukasey, and information that Rove may be linked to the "gaming of the Ohio election" in 2004:

The motion was made following the discovery of new information, including details from a Republican data security expert, leading Arnebeck towards seeking depositions of Rove, Connell, and other GOP operatives believed to have participated in the gaming of election results in 2004. A letter [PDF] was sent to Mukasey at the same time last week, asking him to retain email and other documents from Rove...

"Mr. Rove's e-mails from the White House to the Justice Department, the FBI, the Pentagon, Congress and various federal regulatory agencies are obviously relevant to the factual issues that we intend to address in this case," Arnebeck wrote last week to the Attorney General. "We are concerned about reports that Mr. Rove not only destroyed e-mails, but also took steps to destroy the hard drives from which they had been sent."

In his email to Mukasey today, Arnebeck writes: "We have been confidentially informed by a source we believe to be credible that Karl Rove has threatened Michael Connell, a principal witness we have identified in our King Lincoln case in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that if he does not agree to 'take the fall' for election fraud in Ohio, his wife Heather will be prosecuted for supposed lobby law violations."

"This appears to be in response to our designation of Rove as the principal perpetrator in the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act/RICO claim with respect to which we issued document hold notices last Thursday to you and to the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform," the Ohio attorney writes, before going on to link to The BRAD BLOG's coverage of his press conference last week and requesting "protection for Mr. Connell and his family from this reported attempt to intimidate a witness."

Combined with his serial contempt of Congress, and his near death experience in the Valerie Plame case, what more evidence do we need that Karl Rove is a criminal? Does he have to shoot someone in the face? Run over them with his car? Oh, right ...

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posted by JReid @ 11:00 AM  
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
An unqualified success
George W. Bush's presidency certainly benefited some Americans. Courtesy of ThinkProgress:
According to IRS data, “the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation’s adjusted gross income for two decades” and “possibly the highest since 1929.” Meanwhile, “the average tax rate of the wealthiest 1% fell to its lowest level in at least 18 years.”
Other big winners from the Bush years: Big Oil, Iraq contractors, and of course, Dick Cheney, who kind of counts as "all of the above."

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posted by JReid @ 9:19 AM  
Friday, July 18, 2008
Greenwald and co say: send Karl Rove to jail
Watch the video, sign the petition.
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posted by JReid @ 1:08 PM  
Thursday, July 17, 2008
In contempt
President Bush's latest executive privilege claim, this time over FBI interviews of Dick Cheney and his staff regarding the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, drew contempt threats directed at the derelict Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, from Henry Waxman yesterday. Not only should Waxman follow through, Congress should junk the absurd handshake deal that's keeping them from exercising their right as a co-equal branch of government, to have their subpoenas honored (not only by Cheney and Bush, but also by Karl Rove,) or to file inherent contempt of congress charges against the intransigent. Mukasey should go first, as he has refused to carry out his duty as A.G., no less than did his predecessor, the squirlish Alberto Gonzales.

Last night, GOP hack Brad Blakeman asserted on Dan Abrams' show "Verdict" that Mukasey was, by refusing to enforce congressional subpoenas, simply serving his client, the president of the United States. Read the Constitution, Brad. The attorney general's client is the American people. It's the White House counsel who serves the POTUS. I'm surprised Abrams, a lawyer, failed to call Blakeman on that one.

Meanwhile:
(The Politico) Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) has introduced legislation calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle criminal contempt of Congress charges when Justice will not cooperate.

The Miller bill grows out of the dispute between House Democrats and the White House over subpoenas issued to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

The committee issued the subpoenas as part of its probe ino the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorneys. Bolten and Miers, relying on an assertion of executive privilege by President Bush, refused to comply with the subpoenas. The House passed both criminal and civil contempt resolutions against Bolten and Miers, but the Justice Department, citing earlier legal opinions, declined to allow a federal prosecutor to bring the case before a grand jury. The Judiciary Committee has filed a civil lawsuit against the Justice Dept. seeking to enforce the subpoenas.

According to Miller's office, his new bill would allow a federal judge to "appoint an independent ;Special Advocate' to investigate and prosecute alleged Contempt of Congress charges passed by the House of Representatives against current and former executive branch employees, when the Justice Department fails to do so." The special prosecutor would technically work for attorney general, but in reality, would be "largely independent from both the executive and legislative branches and not subject to undue political influences."

“The law explicitly requires the Justice Department to present Contempt of Congress charges to the grand jury, but the Bush Administration claims Congress can not compel a U.S. attorney to prosecute contempt cases where the White House claims executive privilege,” Miller said in a statement. “Other presidents have made bodacious claims about their powers, but always compromised in the end. No president, not even Nixon, has gone this far before.”
Good idea, Congressman. And while you're at it, how about proposing legislation requiring Nancy Pelosi and the other Bush cuckolds running the House of Representatives to use their constitutional authority, rather than ducking and running from the president, including -- no especially -- on the subject of impeachment, about which Miss Nancy is allowing only Potemkin hearings. As Johnathan Turley (who yesterday called such hearings little more than a "fancy dress ball") has said repeatedly (echoed by John Dean) there is more than enough reason to believe that crimes have been committed by this White House, such that impeachment is the only constitutional option. If the House won't even consider it, than divided government is dead, and the 110th Congress risks going down in ignominy, just like the 109th.
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posted by JReid @ 2:58 PM  
Monday, July 14, 2008
When the crime is worse than the cover-up
Once again, Frank Rich lets the Bushies have it:

WE know what a criminal White House looks like from “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of Richard Nixon’s unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

“The Final Days” was published in 1976, two years after Nixon abdicated in disgrace. With the Bush presidency, no journalist (or turncoat White House memoirist) is waiting for the corpse to be carted away. The latest and perhaps most chilling example arrives this week from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, long a relentless journalist on the war-on-terror torture beat. Her book “The Dark Side” connects the dots of her own past reporting and that of her top-tier colleagues (including James Risen and Scott Shane of The New York Times) to portray a White House that, like its prototype, savaged its enemies within almost as ferociously as it did the Constitution.

Some of “The Dark Side” seems right out of “The Final Days,” minus Nixon’s operatic boozing and weeping. We learn, for instance, that in 2004 two conservative Republican Justice Department officials had become “so paranoid” that “they actually thought they might be in physical danger.” The fear of being wiretapped by their own peers drove them to speak in code.

The men were John Ashcroft’s deputy attorney general, James Comey, and an assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith. Their sin was to challenge the White House’s don, Dick Cheney, and his consigliere, his chief of staff David Addington, when they circumvented the Geneva Conventions to make torture the covert law of the land. Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith failed to stop the “torture memos” and are long gone from the White House. But Vice President Cheney and Mr. Addington remain enabled by a president, attorney general (Michael Mukasey) and C.I.A. director (Michael Hayden) who won’t shut the door firmly on torture even now.

Nixon parallels take us only so far, however. “The Dark Side” is scarier than “The Final Days” because these final days aren’t over yet and because the stakes are much higher. Watergate was all about a paranoid president’s narcissistic determination to cling to power at any cost. In Ms. Mayer’s portrayal of the Bush White House, the president is a secondary, even passive, figure, and the motives invoked by Mr. Cheney to restore Nixon-style executive powers are theoretically selfless. Possessed by the ticking-bomb scenarios of television’s “24,” all they want to do is protect America from further terrorist strikes.

Meanwhile, members of the administration appear not to be completely oblivious to the perils they find themselves in. Former U.N. ambassadorial temp John Bolton got a nice scare in Europe this spring, when a citizen attempted to arrest him for war crimes. Baron von Rumsfeld has had to be fleet footed in France after narrowly escaping a war crimes indictment (Bush has even sought to immunize his defense team from indictment in the International Criminal Court. No consciousness of guilt there... and failing to get blanket immunity, has forced bilateral agreements on about 100 countries to ensure that U.S. officials won't be handed over.) And no less an insider than retired Gen. Antonio Taguba, who probed the infamous abuses at abu-Ghraib, has definitively stated that key members of the Bush administration committed war crimes by ordering and devising the torture of detainees

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who's now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

(The Red Cross, the lead organization in such matters, concurs.) And ccording to Rich:

Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military’s barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, “Torture Team.” After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted — apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. Mr. Feith and Mr. Sands are scheduled to square off in a House hearing this Tuesday.

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, has publicly advised Mr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to “never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel.” But while we wait for the wheels of justice to grind slowly, there are immediate fears to tend. Ms. Mayer’s book helps cement the case that America’s use of torture has betrayed not just American values but our national security, right to the present day.

Worse, the Mayer book makes it clear that for all the descent into Communist Chinese military tactics, the Cheney-led torture mania hasn't helped U.S. national security. Instead, the lies that torture has elicited have been principle causes leading us into the Iraq quagmire:

In her telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney’s descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House’s failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.’s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was “all preventable.” By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.’s inspector general, “50 or 60 individuals” in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects — soon to be hijackers — were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director that summer, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, “I don’t want to hear about that anymore!”

After 9/11, our government emphasized “interrogation over due process,” Ms. Mayer writes, “to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized.” But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced “confession” to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.

The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in “The Dark Side,” is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam’s biological and chemical W.M.D. — and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda — were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: “They were killing me. I had to tell them something.”

That “something” was crucial in sending us into the quagmire that, five years later, has empowered Iran and compromised our ability to counter the very terrorists that torture was supposed to thwart. As The Times reported two weeks ago, Iraq has monopolized our military and intelligence resources to the point where we don’t have enough predator drones or expert C.I.A. field agents to survey the tribal areas where terrorists are amassing in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the threat to America from Al Qaeda is “comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation terrorism expert and Pentagon consultant. The difference between now and then is simply that the base of operations has moved, “roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.”

Meanwhile, in Rich's telling, we're back where we were in the summer before 9/11. Hell, even Chandra Levy is making a comeback, courtesy of a 12-part "investigative" series by the Washington Post... (BTW that summer, Chandra consumed about 90 percent of my time as editor of an NBC News website. Here we go again...)

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posted by JReid @ 12:15 PM  
Thursday, July 10, 2008
ACLU will sue over FISA, plus: Feingold goes off
From the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday:
Once again, Congress blinked and succumbed to the president’s fear-mongering. With today’s vote, the government has been given a green light to expand its power to spy on Americans and run roughshod over the Constitution,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This legislation will give the government unfettered and unchecked access to innocent Americans’ international communications without a warrant. This is not only unconstitutional, but absolutely un-American.”

The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime. A provision touted as a major “concession” by proponents of the bill calls for investigations by the inspectors general of four agencies overseeing spying activities. But members of Congress who do not sit on the Judiciary or Intelligence committees will not be guaranteed access to the agencies’ reports.

The bill essentially grants absolute retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that facilitated the president’s warrantless wiretapping program over the last seven years by ensuring the dismissal of court cases pending against those companies. The test for the companies’ right to immunity is not whether the government certifications they acted on were actually legal – only whether they were issued. Because it is public knowledge that certifications were issued, all of the pending cases will be summarily dismissed. This means Americans may never learn the truth about what the companies and the government did with our private communications.

“With one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This bill – soon to be law – is a constitutional nightmare. Americans should know that if this legislation is enacted and upheld, what they say on international phone calls or emails is no longer private. The government can listen in without having a specific reason to do so. Our rights as Americans have been curtailed and our privacy can no longer be assumed.”
And the ACLU says it plans to do something about it:
“This fight is not over. We intend to challenge this bill as soon as President Bush signs it into law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “
The bill signing is scheduled for today.

If you're still not concerned about this bill, you'll want to read the statement from Senator Russ Feingold yesterday. Feingold tried in vain, with Chris Dodd, to stop the bill, and in his statement on the floor he hits the Congress and White House square in the face on the illegality of the program in which the White House claimed for itself, the right to wiretap Americans without a warrant:
Here is the part of the story that some seem to have forgotten. In January 2005, eleven months before the New York Times broke the story of the illegal wiretapping program, I asked then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales at his confirmation hearing to be Attorney General whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law. Neither I nor the vast majority of my colleagues knew it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, and Mr. Gonzales was directly involved in that issue as White House Counsel. At his confirmation hearing, he first tried to dismiss my question as “hypothetical.” He then testified that “it’s not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”

Well, Mr. President, the President’s wiretapping program was in direct contravention of our criminal statutes. Mr. Gonzales knew that, but he wanted the Senate and the American people to think that the President had not acted on the extreme legal theory that the President has the power as Commander in Chief to disobey the criminal laws of this country.

The President, too, misled Congress and the American public. In 2004 and 2005, when Congress was considering the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the President went out of his way to assure us that his administration was getting court orders for wiretaps, all the while knowing full well that his warrantless wiretapping program was ongoing.

Here’s what the President said on April 20, 2004: “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”

And again, on July 14, 2004: “The government can’t move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.”

And listen to what the President said on June 9, 2005: “Law enforcement officers need a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, a federal judge’s permission to track his calls, or a federal judge’s permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the U.S.”

So please, let’s not pretend that the highly classified notification to the Gang of Eight, delivered while the President himself was repeatedly presenting a completely different picture to the public, suggests that Congress somehow acquiesced to this program. As the members of this body well know, several members of the Gang of Eight at the time raised concerns when they were told about this, and several have since said they were not told the full story. And of course all of them were instructed not to share what they had learned with a single other person.
Feingold points out that no court, even the most right wing courts in the country, have ever affirmed a presidential right to violate the Fourth Amendment by wiretapping Americans, under color of "commander in chief" authority or any other provision. He then outlines a number of problems with the bill that's about to become law:
First, the FISA Amendments Act would authorize the government to collect all communications between the U.S. and the rest of the world. That could mean millions upon millions of communications between innocent Americans and their friends, families, or business associates overseas could legally be collected. Parents calling their kids studying abroad, emails to friends serving in Iraq – all of these communications could be collected, with absolutely no suspicion of any wrongdoing, under this legislation.

Second, like the earlier Senate version, this bill fails to effectively prohibit the practice of reverse targeting – namely, wiretapping a person overseas when what the government is really interested in is listening to an American here at home with whom the foreigner is communicating. The bill does have a provision that purports to address this issue. It prohibits intentionally targeting a person outside the U.S. without an individualized court order if, quote, “the purpose” is to target someone reasonably believed to be in the U.S. At best, this prevents the government from targeting a person overseas as a complete pretext for getting information on someone in the U.S. But this language would permit intentional and possibly unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of an American so long as the government has any interest, no matter how small, in the person overseas with whom the American is communicating. The bill does not include language that had the support of the House and the vast majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, to require the government to obtain a court order whenever a significant purpose of the surveillance is to acquire the communications of an American in the U.S. The administration’s refusal to accept that reasonable restriction on its power is telling.

Third, the bill before us imposes no meaningful consequences if the government initiates surveillance using procedures that have not been approved by the FISA Court, and the FISA Court later finds that those procedures were unlawful. Say, for example, the FISA Court determines that the procedures were not even reasonably designed to wiretap foreigners outside the U.S., rather than Americans here at home. Under the bill, all that illegally obtained information on Americans can be retained and used. Once again, there are no consequences for illegal behavior.

... Fourth, this bill doesn’t protect the privacy of Americans whose communications will be collected in vast new quantities. The Administration’s mantra has been: “don’t worry, we have minimization procedures.” But, Mr. President, minimization procedures are nothing more than unchecked executive branch decisions about what information on Americans constitutes “foreign intelligence.” That is why on the Senate floor, I joined with Senator Webb and Senator Tester earlier this year to offer an amendment to provide real protections for the privacy of Americans, while also giving the government the flexibility it needs to wiretap terrorists overseas. This bill relies solely on inadequate minimization procedures to protect innocent Americans. They are simply not enough.

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posted by JReid @ 1:36 PM  
Arrest this man

The 110th Congress has already disgraced itself in any number of ways, by bowing and scraping to a lame duck president who nobody but them takes seriously anymore (the latest instance being the FISA bill.) If the Judiciary Committee, led by the incredibly underwhelming John Conyers (who talked tough on impeachment until he got the gavel,) fails to respond to the naked affront to its authority by Karl Rove, who blew off the committee today by refusing to respond to a lawful subpoena regarding his role in the politicization of the Justice Department and the political prosecution of the former governor of Alabama, then they aren't worthy of holding their offices. Either the Judiciary Committee enforces that subpoena, or they admit that, just like Dick Cheney planned it, the Congress is no longer a co-equal branch of the U.S. government, confirming that we are indeed living in a post-Constitutional age.

The outrageous behavior of the arrogant Bushies, including Rove, is made worse by the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who replaced the boob from Texas, Alberto Gonzales. Back in May, Joseph Palermo wrote the following about the timid Mr. Mukasey:
Not since the time of Richard Nixon's Attorney General, John Mitchell, who was the only Attorney General in American history to go to prison, has the head of the Justice Department behaved so abominably. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has chosen to obstruct Congress's subpoenas of executive branch employees despite evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Senators Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein were the deciding votes that confirmed Mukasey. What were they thinking? Now Mukasey bucks normal procedure and refuses to begin grand jury investigations of Karl Rove's role in transforming the Justice Department into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican National Committee.

Karl Rove is free to "analyze" American politics for us on Fox News, and in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek; he appears on discussion panels and charges $40,000 a pop for speaking gigs; he signed a book deal estimated to be worth $8 to $12 million; and now he thumbs his nose at the Congress, defying its subpoenas. It's as if he thinks he's above the law and above his fellow citizens. And to top it off Rove's enabler and co-conspirator is the Attorney General himself.

Mukasey's refusal to do his job shows he is a willing accomplice in undermining the Constitutional powers of the House of Representatives as a co-equal branch of government. Can anyone think of an action more "un-American" than dismantling the "checks and balances" that James Madison and other founders so carefully put in place in 1787?
Palermo added that:
It is fitting that our current Constitutional crisis finds Karl Rove as its centerpiece. No human being has done more damage to our republic in the last hundred years than Karl Rove. He masterminded three of the slimiest, rottenest, most dishonest and divisive elections in American history; elections that brought to power a craven gang of white collar criminals who proceeded to destroy the ability of the government to function (except as a conveyor belt of cash for cronies), lied us into an illegal war in Iraq, collapsed the economy, and made torture and the suspension of habeas corpus synonymous with American "ideals." Karl Rove thinks he can tell Congress to go fuck itself. He must not be allowed to walk away Scot free from his crimes and misdeeds.
... he then went on to suggest Congress hire Dog the Bounty Hunter. Um ... yeah...

Dog aside, the committee can do a number of things, and should probably do them all, sooner rather than later.
  • They can file a lawsuit against Rove, as was done with Harriet Myers
  • They can find him in contempt of Congress
  • And having found him in contempt, they can have the Sergeant at Amrs arrest his roly-poly behind. 
As an editorial in the Concord Monitor put it:
If lawmakers fail to do so promptly, the law itself will lose its meaning and Congress will lose what little respect the public has for it. ...

...Rove is now a private citizen. In his role as a political wag, he has said that he never discussed the Siegelman matter with the White House. That makes his assertion of executive privilege all the more ludicrous. Rove has offered to testify by e-mail, or if he can do so not under oath and with no recorded transcript. But it is Congress that makes the rules, not Rove, his lawyer or the president.

Many Americans choose which laws to obey and which to flout. When caught, they can claim all they want that the law doesn't apply to them or plead that their boss told them not to talk. Those people generally wind up behind bars. If he continues to thumb his nose at Congress and the rule of law, that's what should happen to Rove.
Amen.

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posted by JReid @ 1:00 PM  
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Death of the Fourth Amendment: 6304
After failing to pass amendments that at least would have taken immunity for the telecoms off the table, or suspended the pending lawsuits against them for a year, rather than dismissing them, the 110th Congress, controlled by the Democratic Party, sold the Constitution down the river, voting to give the lame duck president, who illegally turned the instruments of foreign surveillance on the American people -- just like Richard Nixon did -- but who unlike Nixon was balanced by a belly-crawling, puerile, flaccid Congress that chose to drive the getaway car, rather than stand up for the Constitution they all took a sworn oath to uphold. To be fair, the Act does add some oversight provisions to the spying activities of the federal government, bringing certain aspects of surveillance under review.  And there is this paragraph:
(2) PROBABLE CAUSE- In determining whether or not probable cause exists for purposes of paragraph (1)(B), a judge having jurisdiction under subsection (a)(1) may consider past activities of the target and facts and circumstances relating to current or future activities of the target. No United States person may be considered a foreign power, agent of a foreign power, or officer or employee of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
And yet, civil libertarians are very worried about our democracy tonight, myself included. 

Barack Obama voted for the amendments, to his credit, but for a lot of reasons, most of them political, he ultimately supported the bill. I've always said that anyone seeking the presidency will never vote to weaken the authority of the office while they have a chance at getting it. Obama lived up to that today (or down to it.) I disagree with him, though I respect his reasons for doing what he did, and more than that, his willingness to take the criticism from his supporters (myself included), and from the left wing of his base, rather than ejecting them from the building a-la Bush and McCain. I think at the end of the day, most Americans, sadly, won't care about this vote. Americans are breathtakingly cavalier about their constitutional rights (except the right to carry guns. That one they care about...) and most assume the government is spying anyway, so they don't quite care. That saddens me, because I don't think most people in this country realize just how fragile our rights are, and how easily a president, with the help of a weak-willed Congress, can take on dictatorial, autocratic powers.

ThinkProgress has the details on the amendments:
Just under a third of the Senate, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, supported an amendment proposed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., that would have stripped immunity from the bill. It was defeated on a 32-66 vote. Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain did not vote.

Specter proposed an amendment to require a district court judge to assess the legality of warrantless wiretapping before granting immunity. It failed on a 37-61 vote.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., proposed that immunity be delayed until after a yearlong government investigation into warrantless wiretapping is completed. His amendment failed on a vote of 42-56.

The final roll call on the bill, which retroactively legalizes the warrantless surveillance of perhaps millions of Americans, was 69-28. So where are we now?
Forty-six lawsuits now stand to be dismissed because of the new law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. All are pending before a single U.S. District Court in California. But the fight has not ended. Civil rights groups are already preparing lawsuits challenging the bill's constitutionality, and four suits, filed against government officials, will not be dismissed.

Numerous lawmakers had spoken out strongly against the no-warrants eavesdropping on Americans, but the Senate voted its approval after rejecting amendments that would have watered down, delayed or stripped away the immunity provision.

The lawsuits center on allegations that the White House circumvented U.S. law by going around the FISA court, which was created 30 years ago to prevent the government from abusing its surveillance powers for political purposes, as was done in the Vietnam War and Watergate eras. The court is meant to approve all wiretaps placed inside the U.S. for intelligence-gathering purposes. The law has been interpreted to include international e-mail records stored on servers inside the U.S.

"This president broke the law," declared Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

The Bush administration brought the wiretapping back under the FISA court's authority only after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret program. A handful of members of Congress knew about the program from top secret briefings. Most members are still forbidden to know the details of the classified effort, and some objected that they were being asked to grant immunity to the telecoms without first knowing what they did.
The bill is H.R. 6304. The full roll call is here. I think the "no" votes deserve applause by name. Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd heroically tried to filibuster the bill, but their colleagues let them down. Here are the "Nays":

Akaka (D-HI)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murray (D-WA)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Wyden (D-OR)

Note that Hillary Clinton got herself right with the base on this vote, a shrewd move on her part. 

As for John McCain? He played the real hero today. He didn't even show up to vote.

Perhaps the worst thing Obama did today was to vote against cloture (in other words, he did not support the fillibuster.) As Glenn Greenwald points out, THAT is a contradiction of his stance during the primaries. Greenwald goes on to say what many of us are scratching our heads and thinking tonight:
What is most striking is that when the Congress was controlled by the GOP -- when the Senate was run by Bill Frist and the House by Denny Hastert -- the Bush administration attempted to have a bill passed very similar to the one that just passed today. But they were unable to do so. The administration had to wait until Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over Congress before being able to put a corrupt end to the scandal that began when, in December of 2005, the New York Times revealed that the President had been breaking the law for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.

Yet again, the Democratic Congress ignored the views of their own supporters in order to comply with the orders and wishes of the Bush administration. It is therefore hardly a surprise that, yesterday, Rasmussen Reports revealed this rather humiliating finding:
Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time Ever

For the record, the single digit is 9 percent.

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posted by JReid @ 8:45 PM  
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
What wouldn't Dick do for Big Oil?

The short answer: nothing. From the Washington Post:

Members of Vice President Cheney's staff censored congressional testimony by a top federal official on the health threats posed by global warming, a former Environmental Protection Agency official said today.

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett said an official from Cheney's office edited out six pages from the testimony of Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last October.

Several media outlets, including The Washington Post, reported at the time that Gerberding had planned to say that "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern," among other passages.

Boxer said the administration feared that Gerberding's testimony would force it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. The White House has opposed mandatory limits and insisted that voluntary measures and increased research are the best way to address the problem.

By the way, the Post went out of its way to point out that the whistleblower is a Democrat. And that's important, because...? The Post did not, however, point out Cheney's ongoing ties to a company with major oil interests, but I guess that's not germain ... By the way, was there anything going on in the White House that Cheney wasn't the boss of?



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posted by JReid @ 7:58 PM  
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Mr. Kucinich's opus
As Ed said, Dennis Kucinich read his 35 Articles of Impeachment into the Congressional record
yesterday evening, and now awaits a brave majority of House members to come forward so that hearings on the Bush administration's possible high crimes and misdemeanors can begin. Bob Wexler wants hearings, but few other members, including Democrats, seem eager to rehash the administration's crimes, none of which could have been committed without the obsequious obeisance of Congress...

Impeachment is the sole remedy provided by the Constitution to check the presidency when it gets out of control. For Democrats, including Mother Nancy, to take it off the table without digging into the facts is unpardonable.

The articles (to be found here) are as follows:
ARTICLE I.--CREATING A SECRET PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN TO MANUFACTURE A FALSE CASE...
Page: H5089
ARTICLE II.--FALSELY, SYSTEMATICALLY, AND WITH CRIMINAL INTENT CONFLATING THE...
Page: H5090
ARTICLE III.--MISLEADING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO BELIEVE...
Page: H5091
ARTICLE IV.--MISLEADING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO BELIEVE...
Page: H5092
ARTICLE V.--ILLEGALLY MISSPENDING FUNDS TO SECRETLY BEGIN A WAR OF AGGRESSION
ARTICLE VI.--INVADING IRAQ IN VIOLATION OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF H.J. RES. 114.
Page: H5093
(A) Information provided with Article I, II, III, IV and V.
ARTICLE VII.--INVADING IRAQ ABSENT A DECLARATION OF WAR
ARTICLE VIII.--INVADING IRAQ, A SOVEREIGN NATION, IN VIOLATION OF THE UN...
ARTICLE IX.--FAILING TO PROVIDE TROOPS WITH BODY ARMOR AND VEHICLE ARMOR
ARTICLE X.--FALSIFYING ACCOUNTS OF U.S. TROOP DEATHS AND INJURIES FOR POLITICAL...
ARTICLE XI.--ESTABLISHMENT OF PERMANENT U.S. MILITARY BASES IN IRAQ
ARTICLE XII.--INITIATING A WAR AGAINST IRAQ FOR CONTROL OF THAT NATION'S...
Page: H5095
ARTICLE XIII.--CREATING A SECRET TASK FORCE TO DEVELOP ENERGY AND MILITARY...
ARTICLE XIV.--MISPRISION OF A FELONY, MISUSE AND EXPOSURE OF CLASSIFIED...
ARTICLE XV.--PROVIDING IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION FOR CRIMINAL CONTRACTORS IN...
Page: H5096
ARTICLE XVI.--RECKLESS MISSPENDING AND WASTE OF US TAX DOLLARS IN CONNECTION...
Page: H5097
ARTICLE XVII.--ILLEGAL DETENTION: DETAINING INDEFINITELY AND WITHOUT CHARGE...
ARTICLE XVIII.--TORTURE: SECRETLY AUTHORIZING, AND ENCOURAGING THE USE OF...
Page: H5098
ARTICLE XIX.--RENDITION: KIDNAPPING PEOPLE AND TAKING THEM AGAINST THEIR WILL...
ARTICLE XX.--IMPRISONING CHILDREN
Page: H5099
ARTICLE XXI.--MISLEADING CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ABOUT THREATS FROM...
ARTICLE XXII--CREATING SECRET LAWS
Page: H5100
ARTICLE XXIII--VIOLATION OF THE POSSE COMITATUS ACT
ARTICLE XXIV.--SPYING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS, WITHOUT A COURT-ORDERED WARRANT, IN...
Page: H5101
ARTICLE XXV.--DIRECTING TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES TO CREATE AN ILLEGAL AND...
Page: H5102
ARTICLE XXVI.--ANNOUNCING THE INTENT TO VIOLATE LAWS WITH SIGNING STATEMENTS,...
ARTICLE XXVII.--FAILING TO COMPLY WITH CONGRESSIONAL SUBPOENAS AND INSTRUCTING...
ARTICLE XXVIII.--TAMPERING WITH FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS, CORRUPTION OF THE...
Page: H5103
ARTICLE XXIX.--CONSPIRACY TO VIOLATE THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965
Page: H5104
ARTICLE XXX.--MISLEADING CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE IN AN ATTEMPT TO...
ARTICLE XXXI.--KATRINA: FAILURE TO PLAN FOR THE PREDICTED DISASTER OF HURRICANE...
Page: H5105
ARTICLE XXXII.--MISLEADING CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, SYSTEMATICALLY...
Page: H5106
ARTICLE XXXIII.--REPEATEDLY IGNORED AND FAILED TO RESPOND TO HIGH LEVEL...
ARTICLE XXXIV.--OBSTRUCTION OF INVESTIGATION INTO THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11,...
Page: H5107
ARTICLE XXXV.--ENDANGERING THE HEALTH OF 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS

Email your member of Congress by clicking here.



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posted by JReid @ 5:30 PM  
Friday, June 06, 2008
George W. McCain - I Spy
John McCain was against the warrantless wiretapping of Americans ... until he was for it:
The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that in a recent letter, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), said McCain believes that the Constitution gave President Bush the authority to wiretap Americans “without warrants,” bringing him “into closer alignment” with the Bush administration’s views of executive power.
More from Think Progress here. At the rate that McCain is selling his soul to the Bush-bots in exchange for the keys to the White House, Cindy's family jewels can't be far behind...

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posted by JReid @ 8:36 PM  
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Bush's secret plan to 'keep' Iraq
A story in the UK Independent reveals a secret plan by the Bush administration to lash the next U.S. president to his Iraq policy, and maybe the president after that, too...
A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

The Independent digs into the details of the "deal":
The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

This is a breathtaking step by a brazen administration. What does Congress plan to do about it?

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posted by JReid @ 4:17 PM  
Friday, May 23, 2008
But can you make him show?
John Conyers' House Judiciary Committee finally serves Karl Rove, only he says that his former bosses at the White House still won't let him testify. Who knew presidential prerogatives stretched that far? The bottom line:
Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the committee chairman, said the subpoena was necessary because Mr. Rove had explicitly declined an invitation to appear voluntarily. Mr. Conyers and fellow committee Democrats say they want to question Mr. Rove about the dismissals of several federal prosecutors and ask whether he knows anything about the decision to prosecute former Gov. Donald E. Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat.

Mr. Siegelman, who was convicted on a bribery charge, was released from prison in March pending an appeal after an appeals court ruled that he had raised “substantial questions” about his case.

Mr. Rove’s lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, in a letter to Mr. Conyers this week, said the chairman was “provoking a gratuitous confrontation.” Mr. Luskin asserted that Mr. Rove would not appear because he had been directed not to do so by the White House. Although Mr. Rove has left the White House and is now a political commentator, Mr. Luskin said that Mr. Rove “in these matters is not a free agent” and must comply with instructions from the White House not to testify.

Mr. Conyers has argued that Mr. Rove may not himself invoke any privilege on behalf of the White House but that President Bush could do so.

Mr. Rove’s lawyer also noted that the House committee was engaged in a similar conflict with Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, who has also declined to provide voluntary testimony about the dismissals of the federal prosecutors and has defied a subpoena. That issue has landed in federal court, and Mr. Luskin said the Rove matter should await the resolution of that case.

Mr. Conyers, in a letter to Mr. Luskin on Thursday, said that the request to Mr. Rove was wider than the one to Ms. Miers because it also sought information about the Siegelman prosecution.

Several Democrats have asserted that Mr. Siegelman’s prosecution was encouraged for political reasons by Republicans in Washington. Mr. Siegelman served nine months of a seven-year sentence before being released pending an appeal.

Mr. Rove has denied any role in the Siegelman prosecution in comments to journalists, but Mr. Conyers is seeking to put him under oath. The subpoena demands that Mr. Rove appear before the committee on July 10.


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posted by JReid @ 12:15 AM  
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Yoo 2
The first torture memo was bad enough. The new one is a doozy. John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who essentially gave the president and anyone he designates, a pass on the Geneva conventions, allowing the Bush administration to order the torture of detainees with what they thought was legal impunity, apparently wrote a second memo, this on in 2003. The New York Times picks it up from there:
A newly disclosed Justice Department legal memorandum, written in March 2003 and authorizing the military’s use of extremely harsh interrogation techniques, offers what could be a revealing clue in an unsolved mystery: What responsibility did top Pentagon and Bush administration officials have for abuses committed by American troops at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and in Afghanistan; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and elsewhere?

Some legal experts and advocates said Wednesday that the document, written the month that the United States invaded Iraq, adds to evidence that the abuse of prisoners in military custody may have involved signals from higher officials and not just irresponsible actions by low-level personnel.

Ya think?
The opinion was written by John C. Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel, the executive branch’s highest authority on the interpretation of the law. It told the Pentagon’s senior leadership that inflicting pain would not be considered torture unless it caused “death, organ failure or permanent damage,” and it is the most fully developed legal justification that has yet come to light for inflicting physical and mental pressure on suspects.

While resembling an August 2002 memorandum drafted largely by Mr. Yoo, the March 2003 opinion went further, arguing more explicitly that the president’s war powers could trump the law against torture, which it said could not constitutionally be enforced if it interfered with the commander in chief’s orders.

Scott L. Silliman, head of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University and a former Air Force lawyer, said he did not believe that the 2003 memorandum directly caused mistreatment. But Mr. Silliman added, “The memo helped to build a culture that, in the absence of leadership from the highest ranks of the Pentagon, allowed the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.”

Because opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel are “binding on the Defense Department,” Mr. Silliman said, Mr. Yoo’s opinion effectively sidelined military lawyers who strongly opposed harsh interrogation methods.

And it essentially assigned dictatorial powers to the president, stating that he may, in wartime, set aside the laws passed by Congress, as well as treaties to which the United States is a signatory. A bit more:
The document was made public on Tuesday after it was declassified in response to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

Both the August 2002 and March 2003 memorandums were formally withdrawn by the Justice Department in 2004, after Mr. Yoo’s successors at the Office of Legal Counsel concluded that they went too far.

Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer representing Ali al-Marri, a Qatar citizen arrested in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks, said he believed that the March 2003 opinion explained why his client was removed from the criminal justice system and placed in a military jail in Charleston, S.C., in June 2003.

“I think they moved him to the military system to be able to use the harsh techniques blessed in the Yoo memo,” said Mr. Hafetz, of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Mr. Marri said he was subjected to cold, shackled in uncomfortable positions, deprived of sleep and otherwise mistreated.

An even earlier Yoo's "legal" opinion, written on September 25, 2001, when he held the title of Deputy Counsel, had already set the administration on a course of dictatorial power. Note its preamble:
The President has broad constitutional power to take military action in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Congress has acknowledged this inherent executive power in both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on September 14, 2001.

The President has constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations.

The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.

But does he get an actual crown? That was followed by the infamous August 2002 memo dubbed "the torture memo," but which was considerably less vague than the newly discovered writ about what Yoo perceives to be the almost unlimited power of a wartime president.

And lets not forget the October 23, 2001 Yoo memo that essentially junks the Fourth Amendment, stating, incredibly, that it has "no application to domestic military operations," such operations themselves being unlawful under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

Taken together, the Yoo memoranda constitute a straight-up push, likely driven by the Chenyites inside the administration, for total presidential power, irrespective of law, irrespective of Congress, so long as the administration could act under the color of war.

Kind of makes you wonder why they're so eager to keep us at war, essentially forever.

And it should make you want to ask some very serious questions of Bush's new steward, John McCain.

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posted by JReid @ 8:50 PM  
Saturday, November 03, 2007
The Orwellian bargain
If the Bush administration is an Orwellian send-up of the former Soviet Union, complete with domestic spying, secret prisons, disappearing of U.S. citizens into military detention, manipulation and intimidation of the media, wars of aggression, and now apparently, the use of torture, then the Democrats are playing Benjamin to George Bush's Napoleon. In Orwell's "Animal Farm," Benjamin -- a donkey, no less -- is, in the Wikipedic formulation, "as knowledgable as and wiser than the pigs," who are led by the dictatorial Napoleon, "and is the only animal who sees the pigs for the tyrants they are, [but] he never makes an attempt to change anything.

And so it goes. The Democratic Benjamins will not put a stop to the war in Iraq. They will not hold George W. Bush accountable using the Constitutional tool of impeachment, even for his blatant defiance of both the Congress and the laws he is sworn to faithfully execute. They will not fight his vetoes or follow through on opposition to his policies.

And they WILL allow the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey, a man who cannot say that waterboarding -- a crime against humanity for which we prosecuted Japenese soldiers after World War II ... a crime John McCain has called a "horrible torture," and "no different than holding a pistol to [a prisoner's] head and firing a blank" -- is torture, to go to the Senate floor. And they will confirm him. They know that the administration has likely used waterboarding, and probably other torture techniques more suitable for the former U.S.S.R. or 1970s era Panama or Chile. They know that the president authorized it, and that his former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, greenlighted it. And they know that the administration will not allow Mukasey to respond to the simple question for which he can find clear answers inside the Army Field Manual, which expressly prohibits waterboarding and calls it torture, because as attorney general, he might have to prosecute people inside the Bush administration for ordering the torture of terror detainees.

And yet, Diane Feinstein on Friday joined Chuck Schumer, who suggested his fellow New Yorker Mukasey, in voting to send Mukasey's nomination out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in defiance of the committee's chairman, Pat Leahy, who plans to vote no. (Feinstein attempts to explain herself today in an op-ed to the L.A. Times. Her excuse: Mukasey is all we're going to get from Bush, and if we don't confirm him, he'll just do a recess appointment. In other words, we can't stop George from doing whatever it is he wants to do, so why try?)

A recent column in the Charlotte Observer referenced "a Sept. 5, 2006, letter to Attorney General Gonzales signed by 100 prominent law professors, including John Charles Boger, dean of the University of North Carolina law school." The letter included the following:

"We are particularly concerned about your continuing failure to issue clear statements about illegal interrogation techniques, and especially your failure to state that `waterboarding' -- a technique that induces the effects of being killed by drowning -- constitutes torture, and thus is illegal. We urge you to make such a statement now.

"...If uninterrupted, waterboarding will cause death by suffocation. It is also foreseeable that waterboarding, by producing an experience of drowning, will cause severe mental pain and suffering. The technique is a form of mock execution by suffocation with water. The process incapacitates the victim from drawing breath, and causes panic, distress, and terror of imminent death. Many victims of waterboarding suffer prolonged mental harm for years and even decades afterward."
Surely, the Democrats know about that letter.

Surely by now, they know about the former senior Justice Department official who answered his own questions about waterboarding by trying it himself, as ABC News' Brian Ross reported yesterday:

Daniel Levin, then acting assistant attorney general, went to a military base near Washington and underwent the procedure to inform his analysis of different interrogation techniques.

After the experience, Levin told White House officials that even though he knew he wouldn't die, he found the experience terrifying and thought that it clearly simulated drowning.

Levin, who refused to comment for this story, concluded waterboarding could be illegal torture unless performed in a highly limited way and with close supervision. And, sources told ABC News, he believed the Bush Administration had failed to offer clear guidelines for its use.

The administration at the time was reeling from an August 2002 memo by Jay Bybee, then the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, which laid out possible justifications for torture. In June 2004, Levin's predecessor at the office, Jack Goldsmith, officially withdrew the Bybee memo, finding it deeply flawed.

When Levin took over from Goldsmith, he went to work on a memo that would effectively replace the Bybee memo as the administration's legal position on torture. It was during this time that he underwent waterboarding.

In December 2004, Levin released the new memo. He said, "Torture is abhorrent" but he went on to say in a footnote that the memo was not declaring the administration's previous opinions illegal. The White House, with Alberto Gonzales as the White House counsel, insisted that this footnote be included in the memo.

But Levin never finished a second memo imposing tighter controls on the specific interrogation techniques. Sources said he was forced out of the Justice Department when Gonzales became attorney general.

And then there's this, also from Brian Ross: apparent confirmation from within the CIA, that waterboarding has been used by Americans, "but only on three bad-guys..."

For all the debate over waterboarding, it has been used on only three al Qaeda figures, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

As ABC News first reported in September, waterboarding has not been used since 2003 and has been specifically prohibited since Gen. Michael Hayden took over as CIA director.

Officials told ABC News on Sept. 14 that the controversial interrogation technique, in which a suspect has water poured over his mouth and nose to stimulate a drowning reflex as shown in the above demonstration, had been banned by the CIA director at the recommendation of his deputy, Steve Kappes.

Hayden sought and received approval from the White House to remove waterboarding from the list of approved interrogation techniques first authorized by a presidential finding in 2002.

The officials say the decision was made sometime last year but has never been publicly disclosed by the CIA.
And so, Mr. Mukasey could be face with very real evidence of illegal torture of detainees at the behest of the Bush administration, and he will have to decide whether to enforce the law, or to be Alberto Gonzales -- Bush's Pinkeye, whose position on the Animal Farm was to taste Napoleon's food.

Why the Democrats have entered into this Orwellian bargain with the administration -- he pushes, they appease, even as Bush fades into history, is perhaps the most vexing question facing the country today. The Democrats are so wedded to the appeasement of this president, one almost wonders if they truly oppose his policies at all. They are rudderless, leaderless, and incapable of displaying even minimal unity in opposition to even the most outrageous Bushian assaults on the United States Constitution. They stand for nothihng, and they stand up for nothing.

And I couldn't tell you why.

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posted by JReid @ 10:08 AM  
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Peeling the onion
New written testimony from James Comey, probably the most moral actor to have graced the pitiful hull that is the Bush Justice Department, sheds new light on the dark shadow that is Dick Cheney. From the National Journal:
... In written answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey spelled out the strongest case yet that pushback on the warrantless wiretapping program in 2004 came directly from Vice President Dick Cheney.

In testimony before the committee last month on the abrupt firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Comey revealed surprising new details about DOJ's resistance to the controversial surveillance program implemented at the direction of the White House following the 9/11 attacks. Comey said that he and other top DOJ officials, including then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, had decided to resign if the White House didn't agree to amend the program. Comey's testimony also revealed for the first time that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a favorite villain of civil libertarians, had deemed the program illegal as well.

In his new testimony [PDF], released by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy yesterday, Comey said that he had personally informed Cheney that DOJ would not sign off on the program one day before then-White House officials Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales were dispatched to Ashcroft's hospital bed.

Comey was acting attorney general at the time, but Card and Gonzales ignored him as they pressured an ailing Ashcroft to sign off on the program, according to the hearing testimony.

In the newly released statement, Comey wrote, "The vice president was aware of DOJ's decision not to certify the program, because I had communicated this orally during a March 9 meeting."

Gonzales, now in danger of receiving a no-confidence vote from Congress as attorney general, has not said who ordered him to make the dramatic trip to George Washington University Hospital the night of March 10, 2004. The dots connecting Cheney to the visit seem closer than they were previously.

Comey also confirmed long-circulating reports that Cheney blocked the promotion of a DOJ official over the surveillance program. Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Philbin, a terrorism-law specialist with solid conservative credentials, was being considered for the deputy solicitor general slot at the time he accompanied Comey to Ashcroft's hospital room to fend off Card and Gonzales' entreaties to Ashcroft.

Later, Comey said, he learned that Cheney intended to squash Philbin's promotion. "I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter."

It will not come as a surprise to his many critics that Gonzales dropped Philbin's promotion. ...
Also, tonight, Newsweek's Howard Fineman told Keith Olbermann that investigators he's talked to on the Hill say that the president and vice president played the dynamic duo when it came to the strong arming of John Ashcroft: Bush called Ashcroft's wife to tell her that he was sending his little Torquemada and his chief of staff to the hospital bed, and Cheney pushing Torquemada's minions around. Nice work if you can get it...

Update: There's more Justice Department excitement, with new evidence of politically timed prosecutions designed to disenfranchise Democratic voters.

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posted by JReid @ 8:13 PM  
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Bull Connor, the re-mix
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.

From McClatchy News Service:
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. ...
And this:
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.

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posted by JReid @ 12:39 PM  
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."
Exactly.

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.

The answer:

– 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.
And this from Center for American Progress fellow Scott Lilly:

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.
Drip ... drip ... drip...

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posted by JReid @ 11:50 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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