Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Everybody Gets Caught

It comes as no surprise whatsoever that Karl Rove’s involvement in the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration is a lot more than what he said at the time — “Who, me?” His claims sounded hollow when he first insisted that he had nothing to with it, and anyone who has had the slightest bit of understanding of just how the Bush administration worked knew that he was being less than candid. After all, Mr. Rove never made it any secret that he saw his job as being purely about politics and about creating a permanent Republican majority. At the time, he didn’t seem to think it was at all a bad thing for a political operative to be working out of the West Wing; he probably saw it as the normal operating procedure for every administration, and Mr. Rove’s defenders are now saying that “everyone else does it.” He’s probably right. I sincerely doubt that Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan left the politics in the White House driveway, but there the false equivalency has to stop, because when it comes to politicizing the West Wing, nobody did it as overtly and as crassly as the Bush administration, and seemingly without any sense that they might be skating over the line.

Until now.

It never ceases to amaze me that people, whether they’re presidents or just a teenager sneaking a bottle of booze out of the house, think they can get away with it. Mr. Rove had to know that e-mails leave trails, that people remember phone conversations, that the attorneys would wonder why they were being dismissed for inconsistent reasons — for instance, in the matter of David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, being told he wasn’t doing his job a few months after getting a stellar evaluation — and that history has shown that there is just no way to cover up anything in Washington. But there’s always someone whose ego is larger than their brain and for whatever reason, they think that they are either the one who can pull it off, or, even if they’re caught, it won’t matter. This, more than anything else, is Mr. Rove’s problem… well, aside from the fact that he helped screw people over for political reasons.

Oddly enough, while Mr. Rove may have escaped punishment for his role in the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, this matter of replacing U.S. attorneys that seemed to be just a matter of political expediency in the operation of the Department of Justice may be the one that finally gets him before a jury.

Short Takes

Good show — President Obama answered questions about healthcare reform in Portsmouth, NH.

Packing heat — things got a little gun-nutty outside the town hall meeting in New Hampshire before President Obama arrived.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) had a rowdy town hall meeting of his own.

What a shock — Karl Rove was deeply involved in the firing of the U.S. attorneys in 2005 and 2006.

Why is Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who isn’t running and is planning to resign, still spending campaign funds?

How sweet it is — A bit of Florida entertainment history makes it on to a stamp.

230 MPG? — The electric Chevy Volt is touted as the ultimate mileage machine.

This tropical depression could become Tropical Storm Ana today, and it will probably not get anywhere near land.

The Tigers lose after a rain delay and a bench-clearing brawl in Boston.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Short Takes

Narrow Passage — A House Committee has passed the healthcare reform bill 31-28.

Speaking of healthcare, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

R.I.P. — Former Philippines president Corazon Aquino, the woman behind the “people power” movement that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has died.

The House voted to add another $2B to the “cash for clunkers” program.

Three hikers in Kurdistan took a wrong turn and are being held in Iran.

Payback? — David Bogden, who was fired in the U.S. attorney purge by the Bush administration, gets his old job back.

Everglades — The state and federal government have settled their dispute on how to pay for the restoration of the “River of Grass.”

The revolution will not be financed — Cuba is going broke.

Tigers drop a close one to the Indians.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Short Takes

Protests continue in Tehran.

E-mails reveal that Karl Rove had a larger role in firing the U.S. attorneys. (No kidding.)

The cash for clunkers program is working too well.

Recession? What recession? Wall Street still handed out a lot of bonuses last year.

Going Public — A House committee voted out a healthcare plan with the public option.

Gimmee your number — Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) was threatened with extortion.

PETA chimes in on how to humanely kill a python.

The Tigers had the night off last night; they’re heading to Cleveland for a weekend series.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Short Takes

Now would not be a good time to own a Chrysler or GM dealership.

New Hampshire on the verge of joining the marriage equality stampede.

The House demands that President Obama detail his plan for closing Gitmo before they pay for it.

Karl Rove will testify on the U.S. attorney purge.

Hubble telescope repairs are underway.

Mrs. McCain vs. Rush Limbaugh — She’s 97 and feisty; he hits back like the bully that he is.

Tigers get skunked in Minnesota, losing all three games of the series.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Short Takes

S-CHIP passes and the president signs it.

Let’s Talk Real Estate — Republicans add a home-buyer tax break to the stimulus package.

Digital TV delayed until June 12.

Labor Pains — Hilda Solis’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor is being held up by right-wingers. An acting secretary has been appointed.

Daschle’s Replacement? — Ezra Klein reports that Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is under consideration.

Obstruction Probe — Former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici is being investigated by a grand jury for trying to block a look into his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys.

Antonin the Touchy — Supreme Court Justice Scalia gets cranky when a student asks him a question.

Really Cool — It’s 38 here in Miami and below freezing in other parts of the state. I brought in the orchids.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Questions for Karl Rove

Via TPM, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has subpoenaed former White House adviser Karl Rove.

The subpoena by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., continues a long-running legal battle with ex-President George W. Bush’s former White House political director. Rove previously refused to appear before the panel, contending that former presidential advisers cannot be compelled to testify before Congress.

The subpoena commanded Rove to appear for a deposition on Feb. 2 on the firings of U.S. attorneys for political reasons. Conyers also demanded testimony on whether politics played a role in the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat.

Bush upheld Rove’s legal position, but Conyers said times have changed.

“That ‘absolute immunity’ position … has been rejected by U.S. District Judge John Bates and President Obama has previously dismissed the claim as ‘completely misguided,'” Conyers said in a statement.

The Obama administration said they wanted to “look forward,” and I agree with them: I look forward to seeing Mr. Rove having to elucidate exactly what his role was in firing the eight U.S. attorneys for political reasons and railroading Gov. Siegelman. If it’s true that Former President Bush had nothing to do with it, then executive privilege doesn’t apply.

And remember: it’s only a partisan witch-hunt when it’s your guy in the dock.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Short Takes

Helping Detroit hang on until we get a real president. The Democrats are working on a short-term loan for the Big 3 until Barack Obama is sworn in.

Senator Kennedy? Caroline Kennedy is said to be seriously considering putting her name in to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

Blackwater in Deep: Employees of the shadowy contractor in Iraq are indicted for the deaths of 17 civilians.

Minnesota Recount: It’s all over except for the shouting…

William Ayers Speaks: After everything Sarah Palin and the right-wing noise machine had to say, hear what he has to say.

Slightly Ironic: A Pennsylvania US attorney appointed by Bush isn’t planning to leave office when the Bush administration comes to an end.

Good News for Schools: Nine Miami-Dade public schools make the US News & World Report top 100 schools in the nation list.

Showing Concern: Do you know what a “concern troll” is? Read and learn.

Taking This Blog Literally? A robbery suspect barks at the judge.

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Snagglepuss.


“Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Isn’t That Special

The Department of Justice has appointed a prosecutor to look further into the firing of the nine U.S. Attorneys by Alberto Gonzales.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed Nora Dannehy, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut as prosecutor in the continued investigation of the removal of nine U.S. attorneys.

The appointment comes at the request of a report released today by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility.

Part of the investigation will be to look into the role the White House — specifically Karl Rove — had in removing David Iglesias from his post in New Mexico in December 2006. Evidence cited in the recently released Inspector General’s report on the case show an e-mail trail that leads to Mr. Rove.

Prior to Iglesias’ removal on Dec. 7, 2006, New Mexico GOP Sen. Pete Domenici had already made multiple complaints to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about Iglesias. In addition, Mickey Barnett, a former GOP New Mexico state senator and a prominent lawyer, had met in Washington with DOJ White House Liason Monica Goodling to discuss his problems with Iglesias’ handling of voter fraud cases.

But emails disclosed in the recently released IG report between Barnett, Domenici and White House political operative Karl Rove reveal that the complaints against Iglesias went beyond talks with the Justice Department, and that the White House was aware and involved in the removal of Iglesias from his post as U.S. attorney.

According to today’s report, on October 2, 2006, Barnett e-mailed Karl Rove an article from a local paper expressing frustrations with the apparently stalled investigation into bribery of Democratic state Sen. Manny Aragon (NM).

In the email, Barnett blamed Iglesias’ office for delaying the case against the Democratic lawmaker, something he had spoken to Goodling, Rove and Domenici about before, according to conversations detailed in the report. Specifically, Barnett and Rove had previously discussed “kick[ing Iglesias]. . . upstairs” as a way to get rid of him.

[…]

Just a few weeks after Barnett’s email, Domenici’s chief of staff Steve Bell emailed Rove on Nov. 7, 2006, the day of mid-term Congressional elections complaining about ballot problems in a New Mexico precinct. Bell closed the email with the statement, “We worry about the USA here.”

Rove responded just 32 minutes later stating, “I’d have the Senator call the Attorney General about this.”

Exactly one month later, Iglesias was fired.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fired For Being a Lesbian?

The Department of Justice Inspector General is looking into allegations that Monica Goodling, one of the players in last year’s US attorney scandal, fired a member of her staff because of rumors that the staffer, Leslie Hagen, is a lesbian. From NPR:

As one Republican source put it, “To some people, that’s even worse than being a Democrat.”

Several people interviewed by the inspector general’s staff said investigators asked whether people drew a connection between the rumors and Hagen’s dismissal….

Someone who worked in Hagen’s office says that in a 2006 meeting, senior officials were told that Hagen’s contract would not be renewed because someone on the attorney general’s staff had a problem with Hagen. The problem, it was suggested during the conversation, was sexual orientation — or what was rumored to be Hagen’s sexual orientation.

One person at the meeting asked, “Is that really an issue?” But the decision had been made.

The IG is looking into the hiring practices of the DOJ under Alberto Gonzales, specifically asking via a questionnaire if applicants were asked about their sexual orientation.

Okay, all you right-wing defenders of heterosexuality and traditional family values, tell me again how gay people have all the same rights and privileges that you do and just because we’re gay we’re not entitled to the same civil rights protections against discrimination and arbitrary firings as someone who is black, Jewish, Muslim, or a woman. Go on; I’m waiting for you to make sense of it. So is Leslie Hagen.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Miers Stiffs Congress

Harriet Miers, former White House Counsel, BFF of President Bush, and for about twenty minutes a nominee as a Supreme Court Justice, will not appear to testify in front of Congress today.

It is unclear how Congress will proceed in its legal showdown with the White House. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) warned Miers that she could face contempt charges for failing to appear, and Leahy said he has not ruled out a similar approach for Taylor. But other lawmakers said there is little appetite for such an approach. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the committee could seek a Senate vote on finding the White House as a whole in contempt of Congress.

House Democrats said they plan to go ahead with their hearing today without Miers, and will probably vote to authorize Conyers to issue subpoenas to the Republican National Committee for e-mails from White House officials such as Taylor who used e-mail accounts based in the RNC.

It’s one thing to appear in front of the Senate and claim executive privilege — or presidential intimidation — but it’s clearly something else when you defy a subpoena and basically give the Senate the finger.

And it’s not altogether clear that the White House has the right to claim executive privilege since, according to the testimony of Sara Taylor, former aide to Karl Rove, the president was not involved in any of the discussions about the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys.

Taylor, who left her job two months ago, said she had no knowledge that Bush was involved in the dismissals at all. “I did not speak to the president about removing U.S. attorneys,” Taylor said. “I did not attend any meetings with the president where that matter was discussed.”

Democrats promptly said that her remarks could undermine Bush’s assertion that White House deliberations about the U.S. attorney firings are protected by executive privilege. Bush’s current counsel, Fred F. Fielding, had cited that prerogative — which generally applies to matters involving the president — in explaining why Bush had “directed” Taylor not to provide information about the deliberations to Congress.

That also still leaves open the question of who it was that came up with the list of names of the U.S. attorneys who were fired. So far, Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, Paul McNulty, Monica Goodling, and just about everyone else connected with the dismissals has said they don’t know who drafted the list…it just somehow magically appeared.

At the risk of being obvious, I think we all know who came up with the list and who passed it on to the Justice Department and told them to get rid of them: Karl Rove. It fits into his plan of ensuring a “permanent Republican majority,” he has a record of gaming the system and using voter intimidation, caging, and voting roll purges as his method of choice for winning elections…or ensuring that the other guy loses. (For some reason it never occurs to him and his crowd that putting up a Republican candidate with real ideas and solutions for the problems that face the country might be a more effective way of obtaining their goals, but where’s the thrill in that?) It was one of Mr. Rove’s assistants, Tim Griffin, who was put in place of Arkansas U.S. attorney Bud Cummins after a campaign of gossip and backstabbing by Rove’s minions (for the which Sara Taylor offered a too-little-too-late apology yesterday); it was clearly the hand of Rove guiding the New Mexico Republicans to get rid of David Iglesias in Albuquerque and more than likely the one who got Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson to call up Mr. Igleasias and try to muscle him into indicting Democrats for attempted vote fraud before the November elections. So now that the noose is tightening around the White House, Mr. Rove is trying to use the claim of executive privilege to keep Congress out. The problem, though, is that executive privilege can only be claimed if the president — the executive — is directly involved, and so far everyone is saying that the president had nothing whatsoever to do with the firings of the U.S. attorneys. As the Republicans were so quick to point out during the Starr investigation of the Clinton White House, you can’t claim executive privilege to cover everybody in the West Wing just because they have the presidential seal on their coffee cups, nor can you use it as a cover for illegal activities.

So far no one has said that there was anything illegal in the firing of the U.S. attorneys; after all, they serve at the pleasure of the president and he can do whatever he wants in appointing people to those posts. But if there was nothing untoward in the dismissal of these people, why is the White House going to such lengths to shut out the House and Senate in their investigation of the matter? Why can’t anyone say who came up with the list? Why did the White House staff feel that they had to use the RNC e-mail accounts to handle official business? (It’s also more than slightly ironic that the Republicans are the ones who say, when people protest against warrantless wiretaps and illicit FBI snooping, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, what have you got to be worried about?”) And did they learn nothing from their own obsessive and overzealous pursuit of Bill Clinton that turned an investigation into a failed land deal into an impeachment of the president for something that had nothing to do with the original investigation in the first place?

Or maybe they did. They saw what happened to Mr. Clinton and know all too well what happens when someone starts pulling the threads.

Update: Josh Marshall cites the law where it says that ignoring a subpoena is a felony.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What Can They Do?

From the New York Times:

Sara Taylor, the former White House political director, has agreed to answer some questions as a “willing and cooperative private citizen,” during testimony about the United States attorney firings last year when she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee later today.

But, as a former presidential adviser, she will also honor the president’s invocation of executive privilege to keep quiet about “White House consideration, deliberations, or communications, whether internal or external, relating to the possible dismissal or appointment of United States attorneys,” according to a written copy of her opening statement provided by her lawyer’s office. Those parameters were set forth in a letter to Ms. Taylor’s attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, from the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding.

Ms. Taylor acknowledges in the statement that differences may emerge about what falls under Mr. Fielding’s parameters and that, “This may be frustrating to you and me.”

In her statement Ms. Taylor portrays herself as caught in the middle of a Constitutional clash between congressional committees seeking answers in the attorney firings and the president, who is accusing them of interfering with his right to private counsel.

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems pretty clear to me. If Ms. Taylor refuses to answer questions put to her by a congressional committee, she can be cited for contempt of Congress and end up in the Rebar Hotel. If she decides to tell all and not honor the request of the president, what can he do? Send her to Gitmo? Take away her birthday?

I also don’t understand this interpretation the White House is putting on executive privilege. They are using it to prevent White House aides from testifying in public and under oath, but waiving it if they hold the chats in private, without taking an oath (as if that makes any difference), and if there’s no transcript of the conversation. I would think that executive privilege is binary: either you cite it or you don’t; you don’t get to limit it to some discussions and not others. At least that’s what they told Nixon and Clinton, right?

Oh, wait… I forgot. The Bush administration gets to just make shit up as they go along. The rules don’t apply to them. So they can do anything they want.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

That Was Then; This Is Now

Jon Stewart busts Tony Snow lying about the fired U.S. attorneys.


Here’s Dan Froomkin’s take on it from the Washington Post:

The White House press corps let it slide, but Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart nailed Snow last night for lying.

Stewart explained that Snow “was adamant months ago that the dismissal of these attorneys had nothing to do with politics.”

He rolled video of Snow from March 15, saying: “It’s pretty clear that these things are based on performance and not on sort of attempts to do political retaliation, if you will.”

Stewart: “So anyway, that was three months ago. Three months later, a dozen subpoenas, six hearings, . . . thousands of released e-mails, it turns out that their performances were actually pretty good. And all signs are now pointing to political motivations. I wonder how the White House is going to reconcile this apparent discrepancy?”

Stewart then rolled video from Wednesday’s briefing, at which a reporter asked Snow: “At the beginning of this story, the President, you, Dan Bartlett, others said on camera that politics was not involved, this was performance-based, but –“

Snow’s reply: “No, that is something — we have never said that.”

Stewart’s audience jeered.

“Oh,” Stewart concluded, “you will reconcile that by — LYING!”

I’m sure we’re all appropriately shocked — SHOCKED, I tell you — by this news.

(HT to Crooks and Liars.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

“I Didn’t Mean To”

Alberto Gonzales’s mantra when he testifies before Congress is “I don’t recall.” Monica Goodling, his former aide, the person who held the lives and careers of the top lawyers in the country and the Justice Department, admits that she “crossed the line” when considering the political beliefs of job applicants, but her excuse was that she didn’t mean to.

“I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account,” Ms. Goodling said. “And I regret those mistakes.”

That’s a lot like, “Gee, Officer, I know I was going 75 in a 35 zone, but I didn’t mean to.” Since when did the Department of Justice decide that Lindsay Lohan was the role model for their senior officials?

Of course, this heart-felt confession, said with all the contriteness that a use-immunity-protected witness can muster, doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Nothing’s going to happen to her other than become a punch-line on late-night TV monologues and The Daily Show as “the other Monica.” But a fat lot of good that does for the fired U.S. attorneys who had their reputation trashed by a 33-year-old graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University, a law school that makes the University of Phoenix look like Cambridge. She has never tried a case in her life, and her sole qualification for her job was that she conducted opposition research for the Republican Party. Look, folks: this is the best and the brightest of this administration.

Ms. Goodling downplayed her role in the whole firing scenario, and in the process denied ever speaking to Karl Rove about it, and in true loyal Bushie fashion, found someone else to blame; Kyle Sampson, and she impled that Deputy A.G. Paul McNulty “was not fully candid” in his testimony before Congress. Mr. McNulty naturally disagrees:

“I testified truthfully at the Feb. 6, 2007, hearing based on what I knew at that time. Ms. Goodling’s characterization of my testimony is wrong and not supported by the extensive record of documents and testimony already provided to Congress.”

And throughout the entire episode, we never got the answer to the question posed here yesterday: who came up with the list of the attorneys to be fired? The closest we got was that it came from the White House. And who could that have been?

What was even more ridiculous was the Republican members of the panel who acted as if there was nothing at all to see here and that no crimes had been committed. Gee, the last time there was a Monica in the news, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Republican who was outraged at the blantant criminality and lawlessness at the Department of Justice and the White House. Isn’t it amazing how liberal and immoral these Republicans have become in the last seven years?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What Will She Say?

Monica Goodling, a former aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, will have some explaining to do to the House Judiciary Committee today when she testifies — under a grant of immunity — about her role in the purge of the U.S. attorneys last winter as well as whether or not she, in her capacity, hired or didn’t hire people based on their political views.

When Jeffrey A. Taylor, interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, wanted to hire a new career prosecutor last fall, he had to run the idea past Monica M. Goodling, then a 33-year-old aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

The candidate was Seth Adam Meinero, a Howard University law school graduate who had worked on civil rights cases at the Environmental Protection Agency and had served as a special assistant prosecutor in Taylor’s office.

Goodling stalled the hiring, saying that Meinero was too “liberal” for the nonpolitical position, said according to two sources familiar with the dispute.

The tussle over Meinero, who was eventually hired at Taylor’s insistence, led to a Justice Department investigation of whether Goodling improperly weighed political affiliation when reviewing applicants for rank-and-file prosecutor jobs, the sources said.

A 1999 graduate of Regent University law school in Virginia Beach with six months of prosecutorial experience, Goodling was among a small coterie of young aides to Gonzales who were remarkable for their inexperience and autonomy in deciding the fates of seasoned Justice Department lawyers, according to current and former officials who worked with the group.

She worked closely last year with D. Kyle Sampson, then the attorney general’s chief of staff, sifting through lists of U.S. attorneys considered for removal, according to congressional interviews and Justice Department documents released to the public. Goodling also was central to the department’s stumbling efforts to defend its handling of the firings of nine prosecutors, at times by attacking their reputations. She resigned in April.

I would hope that one of the first questions that she will be asked is under who’s authority did she act when she quizzed people about such things as their favorite Supreme Court justice and so on. That’s a clear violation of the law and Department policy, and may be why she threatened to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions before the immunity deal was worked out. Despite her reputation “for having a mercurial temperament and being prickly toward career employees,” it’s highly unlikely that Ms. Goodling was doing this on her own.

“She was very hardworking, she was dedicated, she was professional,” said one former Justice official who worked closely with Goodling. “She is the type of person who is good at carrying out tasks. She was dependable.”

So…who was it that assigned her those tasks for which she was so dependable? To paraphrase Fred Thompson in one of his film roles (Admiral Greer in The Hunt for Red October), “loyal Bushies don’t take a dump without a plan, son.”

Ms. Goodling may be able to provide an answer to the question that Mr. Gonzales couldn’t in his testimony before the House and Senate committees: Who came up with the list of attorneys to be fired? It appears that she was involved with the formulation of the list from the very beginning.

E-mails and other documents show that Goodling, who was also Justice’s liaison to the White House, played a central role in arranging for the appointment of Tim Griffin, a former Republican National Committee official and aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove, as the U.S. attorney in Little Rock.

Goodling also met last summer with two New Mexico Republicans who complained about then-U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias, who was later fired. In another case, she single-handedly blocked the dismissal of a North Carolina prosecutor who for more than a year had been on the list of candidates to be fired.

[…]

Before she and Sampson resigned, Goodling wrote a series of memos summing up the longtime U.S. attorneys she helped to fire. She said that Iglesias was “in over his head,” that Carol C. Lam of San Diego showed “a failure to perform” and that Arizona’s Paul K. Charlton was guilty of “repeated instances of insubordination.”

Yet Goodling’s final list, assembled as “talking points” for Congress and the media, also noted that nearly every fired prosecutor had received stellar reviews from Justice Department evaluators.

As the article notes, one of Ms. Goodling’s jobs was to be the liaison between the DOJ and the White House. And who runs the White House political operation? David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney in Albuquerque, said, “All roads lead to Rove.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

He Won’t Go Quietly

David Iglesias, the ousted U.S. attorney from Albuquerque, isn’t taking his firing lying down. He’s turning it into a cross-country tour.

As one of nine U.S. attorneys forced from their posts by the Bush administration, Iglesias is at the center of a scandal that’s led to congressional hearings and the resignations of four top Justice Department officials. And though he’s been temporarily relegated to chauffeur for his four daughters, he’s also managed to transform himself from fired public servant into a fairly noisy poster boy for good government. During congressional hearings in March, Iglesias testified he resisted when two of the state’s highest elected officials “leaned on” him to speed up an indictment of Democrats. More recently, when sitting down with Bill Maher on his HBO show, Iglesias quipped, “I took an oath to support and defend the constitution, not the Republican Party of New Mexico.”

Maher was just one stop on the Iglesias media tour. In embracing the collective lens, Iglesias racked up televised appearances with, among others, Chris Matthews, Larry King, Katie Couric, Tim Russert and Chris Wallace. Strong-jawed and clean-shaven, said to have inspired the dreamy prosecutor played by Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men,” a White House Fellow during the Clinton administration, he’s become both the handsome, charismatic public face for the sacked attorneys and a genuine media star. And damn if he hasn’t enjoyed it.

This scandal is growing an odd crop of spokesmen; first Mr. Iglesias, and now James Comey, the former deputy attorney general who played a part in the hospital number with John Ashcroft. Both Mr. Iglesias and Mr. Comey are staunch Republicans — how else would they have been put in the positions they held? Yet they are the whistleblowers in this scandal. They are the ones who are bringing the tenure of Alberto Gonzales to its inexorable end, and whether or not he leaves his post before January 20, 2009, his effective term as the Attorney General is over.

The White House and the Orcosphere have already cast the two men as traitors to the Cause; Mr. Igleslias because he first refused to rig the system and bring phony voter fraud cases in New Mexico before the 2006 election, and Mr. Comey because he dared to uphold FISA. That these two men are being excoriated for standing by their principles and refusing to adapt their ethics to the situation at hand — something the Republicans get a lot of mileage out of when they’re blathering on about the sins of the Democrats — would be tragic if it wasn’t so damned ironic.

I voted against Mr. Iglesias when he ran for state attorney general in New Mexico in 1998, but seeing as how it’s turned out for him and how fate has taken a hand, it was a good thing he lost.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Yes, It Does Matter

The White House and the Orcosphere have dismissed the U.S. attorney purge scandal as “no big deal,” and “there’s no scandal here.” This is their typical response nowadays, which is a strange tack to take for the party that basically brought the United States government to a screeching halt over a blowjob. But as the New York Times points out in their editorial today, it does matter.

The Justice Department is no ordinary agency. Its 93 United States attorney offices, scattered across the country, prosecute federal crimes ranging from public corruption to terrorism. These prosecutors have enormous power: they can wiretap people’s homes, seize property and put people in jail for life. They can destroy businesses, and affect the outcomes of elections. It has always been understood that although they are appointed by a president, usually from his own party, once in office they must operate in a nonpartisan way, and be insulated from outside pressures.

This understanding has badly broken down. It is now clear that United States attorneys were pressured to act in the interests of the Republican Party, and lost their job if they failed to do so. The firing offenses of the nine prosecutors who were purged last year were that they would not indict Democrats, they investigated important Republicans, or they would not try to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups with baseless election fraud cases.

They also take aim at the White House and specifically at Karl Rove:

It is hard not to see the fingerprints of Karl Rove. A disproportionate number of the prosecutors pushed out, or considered for dismissal, were in swing states. The main reason for the purge — apart from hobbling a California investigation that has already put one Republican congressman in jail — appears to have been an attempt to tip states like Missouri and Washington to Republican candidates for House, Senate, governor and president.

It’s nice to see the Times catching up with this, and it’s also nice to notice that finally the Washington Post too is waking out of its stupor and catching up to the fact that — OMG! — the president might have some role to play in this as well. As one of my friends used to say, “BTYFO” — “‘Bout Time You Found Out.”

Of course the White House is going to dismiss this story as “no news.” That’s standard operating procedure for every White House. Remember the “third-rate burglary” that turned out to be the starting point for Watergate? And while people like Kate O’Bierne and David Brooks can laugh and dismiss as “histrionics” the drama of the late-night hospital encounter between Alberto Gonzales and James Comey over the nearly-comatose John Ashcroft, the truth is that when you have people desperately trying to end-run the Justice Department that causes threats of mass resignations including the director of the FBI and the senior staff of the Justice Department, and when John Ashcroft, not known for his defiance of the president or his liberal interpretation of the law, turns out to be the hero by arising from his sickbed to defy the president’s men and their attempts to break the law, it is a pretty big deal.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The List and the Lies

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before Congress last week, he stated that only eight prosecutors — that he knew of — had been selected for termination.

Well, guess what. The Washington Post reports that between February 2005 and Decemebr 2006, as many as 26 U.S. attorneys were on a list to be fired.

They amounted to more than a quarter of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys. Thirteen of those known to have been targeted are still in their posts.

It is unclear how many knew they had been considered for removal. When asked yesterday about her inclusion on the lists, U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby of Maine said: “Really? I wasn’t aware of that.” Silsby’s name crops up frequently, first in February 2005 and subsequently three more times, most recently a month before most of the dismissals were carried out last December.

The number of names on the lists demonstrates the breadth of the search for prosecutors to dismiss. The names also hint at a casual process in which the people who were most consistently considered for replacement were not always those ultimately told to leave.

When shown the lists of firing candidates late yesterday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), perhaps the most outspoken critic of the way Gonzales handled the prosecutor dismissals, said they “show how amok this process was.”

“When you start firing people for invalid reasons, just about anyone can end up on a list,” he said. “It looks like the process was out of control, and if it hadn’t been discovered, more would have been fired.”

Josh Marshall at TPM suggests that the scatter-shot process of suggested terminations fits into a scenario that went from being the normal process at the beginning of the Bush second term to becoming a political weapon — both offensive and defensive — as things got nasty.

If you look over the broad scattering of documents thus far released on the Attorney Purge, there’s at least an argument to be made that it unfolds something like this. Someone gets the bright idea, very early in 2005 to can all of the US Attorneys or a lot of them. But for one reason or another the idea gets rejected or just dies a slow bureaucratic death. However it happens, by the end of 2005 the idea’s basically moribund.

But then in early 2006 some problems come up — a rising wave of Republican corruption scandals and declining Republican political fortunes. And the US Attorney Purge idea gets revived — but now with a much more specific focus, with an eye toward the 2006 and 2008 elections. Certain US Attorneys become more of a problem with expanding corruption investigations.

There has also been the suggestion that the mass-firings approach was one way of covering up the real target of the White House: Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who got the conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

It sounds as if we’re getting into tin-foil-hat paranoia to suggest that, but given what’s gone on at the behest of the White House, including a phone call from the president that prompted a hospital visit to the critically ill Attorney General at the time, John Ashcroft (and the threat of mass resignations in retaliation), it doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

It also could explain why Mr. Gonzales may face questions about whether or not he lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he stated that there was no disagreement in the Justice Department about the renewal of the warrantless wiretapping going on in violation of the FISA act. The testimony of James Comey seems to contradict that of Mr. Gonzales, but the Justice Department is sticking to their story. Well, what choice do they have?

It’s just another link in the chain that is slowly being put together to prove that the Department of Justice was just another political operation. We all know who is in charge of that in this administration: Karl Rove. So far the trail to Mr. Rove has been very well covered — the subpoena to the DOJ for his e-mails in the matter of the attorney purge has come up with what amounts to zilch, but Next week we’ll be finding out a bit more about his role in all of this when Monica Goodling, the former DOJ White House liaison testifies under a grant of immunity. That could be interesting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bedside Manners

This is creepy on so many levels.

On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey’s presence in the room, turned and left.

[…]

“I was angry,” Comey testified. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.”

The broad outlines of the hospital-room conflict have been reported previously, but without Comey’s gripping detail of efforts by Card, who has left the White House, and Gonzales, now the attorney general. His account appears to present yet another challenge to the embattled Gonzales, who has strongly defended the surveillance program’s legality and is embroiled in a battle with Congress over the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

It’s like something out of The Sopranos, but even Tony and his boys have the decency to leave someone who is in pain alone and allow them to get their rest. They wait until he’s back on his feet before they ambush him.

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card eventually got around it by going to the president, who allowed the warrantless wiretapping program to go on without the approval of the Justice Department, and in the process avoided mass resignations (vide the Saturday Day Night Massacre). Nothing like a little turf war to get the juices flowing.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gonzales continues to dig himself in deeper. Yesterday he found a new person to blame for the firings of the eight or more U.S. attorneys: Paul McNulty, his deputy who had just announced his resignation.

“You have to remember, at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general,” Gonzales said at the National Press Club. “The deputy attorney general would know best about the qualifications and the experiences of the United States attorneys community, and he signed off on the names,” he added.

Those comments appear to differ, at least in emphasis, from earlier remarks by Gonzales, who has previously laid much of the responsibility for the dismissals on his ex-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson. They stand in contrast to testimony and statements from McNulty, who has acknowledged signing off on the firings but has told Congress he was surprised when he heard about the effort.

At some point Mr. Gonzales, in true Republican and loyal Bushie fashion, will figure out a way to blame it all on the Clinton administration.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Going Number 2

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty’s resignation from the Justice Department makes him the fourth top-level — and highest-ranking — official to decide to spend more time with his family. He says the purge of the U.S. attorneys had nothing to do with his decision to leave.

In a one-page letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, McNulty said he will leave his post in late summer because of the “financial realities” brought on by “college-age children and two decades of public service.”

McNulty, 49, said in an interview that the political tumult over the prosecutor dismissals — including his role in providing inaccurate information to Congress — did not play a part in his decision. He said he has not lined up a job but is considering his options.

“It’s been a big issue for the past few months, but the timing of this is really about other things,” McNulty said. He said he timed the announcement to coincide with a prosecutor conference in San Antonio, which he attended, and sought to leave enough time for an orderly transition before his departure.

Sure, let’s take him at his word. He can probably make a lot more money in private practice. Okay…

But it’s also been no secret that Mr. McNulty has been the one official at the DOJ who has been cooperating with the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has made the relationship between him and Mr. Gonzales a little dicey.

No matter how they spin it, Mr. McNulty’s departure isn’t good news for the White House and the attorney general.