Friday, April 20, 2007

A Higher Standard?

The White House released a statement late yesterday saying that President Bush is “pleased” with how Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did at his hearing yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After hours of testimony in which he answered all of the Senators’ questions and provided thousands of pages of documents, he again showed that nothing improper occurred. He admitted the matter could have been handled much better, and he apologized for the disruption to the lives of the U.S. Attorneys involved, as well as for the lack of clarity in his initial responses.

The Attorney General has the full confidence of the President, and he appreciates the work he is doing at the Department of Justice to help keep our citizens safe from terrorists, our children safe from predators, our government safe from corruption, and our streets free from gang violence.

Okay, let’s parse this out.

1. “…he answered all of the Senators’ questions…” This is true; he didn’t sit there like a potted plant. It might have been better if he had. Most of the time he answered the questions with “I don’t recall” or some variation on that theme. I don’t think that’s what the senators had in mind when they asked the questions.

2. “…he again showed that nothing improper occurred.” That’s a stretch, to quote Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Mr. Gonzales was either so clueless as to the facts of the matter — or said he was — that based on what he said, there was no way to conclude what the hell happened. And to make it even more interesting, he accused fired U.S. attorney David Iglesias of not doing his job by not reporting the improper phone calls from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) to the Justice Department when there’s every reason to suspect that people at the Justice Department or the White House probably put Mr. Domenici and Ms. Wilson up to it.

3. “He admitted the matter could have been handled much better, and he apologized for the disruption to the lives of the U.S. Attorneys involved, as well as for the lack of clarity in his initial responses.” Yeah, yeah; talk is cheap. What are you going to do about making amends? How about giving them their jobs back, not to mention their reputation?

4. “The Attorney General has the full confidence of the President” This clause is usually followed by “and he appreciates the service he has given to the country and hopes that he will keep in touch while he spends more time with his family.” Instead we get “he appreciates the work he is doing at the Department of Justice to help keep our citizens safe from terrorists, our children safe from predators, our government safe from corruption, and our streets free from gang violence.” How about that? The White House tosses in 9/11, of course, (“Hey, lookit the kitty!”) but the kicker is the line about “government safe from corruption…” Boing! My Irony Meter has smoke coming out of it. Carol Lam, the fired U.S. attorney in San Diego was dumped because she was investigating corrupt congressmen in southern California like Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Her problem was that she was investigating Republicans.

Just for grins, let’s take the president at his word that he is “pleased” with how Mr. Gonzales did in spite of the leaks that are coming out from staffers in the West Wing that his performance in front of the Committee made the Hindenburg disaster look like a campfire. If the president thinks that Mr. Gonzales is truly doing a bang-up job as A.G., what does that tell you about the standards this White House has set for its Cabinet members, and what kind of deep shit are we in if this is his idea of the best and brightest? As Sen. Charles Schumer noted, “Anyone watching these hearings has to wonder if Gonzales is less qualified than the US attorneys that he fired.” After all the sanctimony and pomposity of the Republicans going after Bill Clinton for his questionable ethics and morality, you would expect them to hold their own to a higher standard of competency and accountability. Oh, but wait: no one has accused Mr. Gonzales of getting a blow job. Well, that makes all the difference.

As Glenn Greenwald notes at Salon.com, the reason the Attorney General retains the full confidence of the president is because a lot of other people don’t. It isn’t a question of competence, which in this White House seems to be a standard that is measured in terms of loyalty and subservience as opposed to just about anywhere else where it means you actually do your job well. It is a matter of adolescent, if not infantile, petulance and stubbornness on the part of Mr. Bush. The president will not dismiss Mr. Gonzales because if he did, he would be caving in to others, and he has demonstrated time and again that that is not something he will ever do. It isn’t a matter of loyalty to Mr. Gonzales; the Attorney General’s judgment and competency is beside the point. It is Mr. Bush’s pride that is on the line: he is the one who appointed Mr. Gonzales, and to admit that he made a mistake is not in his nature; it never has been, and now that his long-time friend is under the gun, he will stand behind him because if he didn’t, he’d be seen as weak. (Using the term “friend” to describe the relationship between Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Bush is somehwat misleading since apparently Mr. Bush defines a friend as someone who will be a complete toady to him while basking in his glory, and the favor will be returned only as long as it’s good for him to do so; not unlike the high school jock who befriends the geek only as long as he can raid the geek’s dad’s liquor cabinet.)

The fact that Alberto Gonzales has lost the confidence of many Republicans and supporters of the president doesn’t matter, and unless there’s a tremendous outbreak of conscience at the Justice Department, he will likely be the Attorney General up until January 20, 2009. The fact that the Attorney General will be ineffective and the Justice Department will be hobbled by this scandal is of little concern to a president who cares more about his own ego and his image as The Decider than how well the government he’s in charge of does its job. That’s the only higher standard that matters to him.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mr. Gonzales Does Not Recall

If I told my boss “I don’t recall” as many times as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did this morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’d be fired, and rightly so. He’s even taking heat from Republicans like Lindsey Graham (R-SC). True to form, however, Orrin Hatch (R-UT) gave him a big sloppy kiss, but what did you expect; and Sam Brownback (R-KS) went through the list of the fired prosecutors and let Mr. Gonzales put forth his reasons for their termination. Most of them sounded lame; nothing to the point of “Well, he didn’t send me a birthday card,” but pretty damn close.

He got testy with Chuck Schumer (not a good idea) and he tried to make it sound like Dick Durbin was knocking the entire Justice Department because he was criticising the A.G. Durbin’s comeback was pretty good; it was along the lines of “that’s like saying if I criticise the president’s war policy, I’m knocking the soldiers, and that’s bullshit” (obvious paraphrasing).

Mr. Gonzales thinks he can still be an effective leader of the Justice Department. I think it’s safe to say that that is a minority opinion both in the hearing room and just about anywhere else.

The hearing resumes at 2:00 p.m. ET. Listen/watch on CPAN 3.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nothing Else Matters

C. Kyle Sampson, former Chief of Staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is going before the Senate Judiciary Committee today to basically take the fall for the U.S. Attorny purge, to shield his former boss from the brunt of the damage, to say that no one really meant to conceal anything, it was all a big political misunderstanding, it’s not really that big a deal anyway, and all this press and publicity is just a witch hunt now that the Democrats are back in power.

Not so fast. As Josh Marshall points out, “This investigation is about whether Sampson and his crew corrupted the justice system by purging US Attorneys who wouldn’t use their prosecutorial powers to help the Republican party.”

It’s a pattern that is seen throughout the administration, including the GSA, as the torturous testimony of Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration showed yesterday. The White House Office of Political Affairs was trying to get the GSA to help target congressional Democrats in 2008, and held a meeting for GSA employees, complete with a Power Point slide show, to get their point across. Ms. Doan repeatedly said that she didn’t recall the meeting, the slide show, or getting up at the end of it and telling her co-workers to “help our candidates,” something that would be in violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity in the workplace. (With all the forgetting that’s going on in the Bush administration, I’d seriously look into seeing if these people need to be tested for some kind of short-term memory loss. They’re certainly not writing things down.)

It’s a pattern that says that the most important thing to the Bushies isn’t the efficient running of the government and doing it to serve all the people of the country; it’s about keeping Republicans in office, period. Nothing else matters.

It would be naive to think that every administration, Republican or Democratic, doesn’t keep at least one eye on the political ramifications of its actions, and any president who is elected who doesn’t incorporate politics into his policies would be betraying the very reason he ran for office in the first place. Almost every president has pushed the envelope on mixing partisan politics with national leadership, including FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, Ronald Reagan, and Clinton, and that’s not even considering the blatant examples further back in our history like Andrew Jackson. But there are limits to this, and each president who has gone over the line has been slapped down, thrown out of office, or threatened with impeachment. Certainly Richard Nixon found that out, and the Bushies are finding it out now. Granted, they had a free ride for six years, so it’s not surprising that they’re a bit startled to find that — whoa, dude — there is such a thing as Congressional oversight.

The other disturbing element to all of this is that there is a sense of determined revenge and vindictiveness to these scandals. The Republicans were bent on getting back at the Democrats for “voter fraud” when, in fact, it was the Republicans who were really determined to make things hard for those who might vote for Democrats. (Vide the attempts by the Georgia legislature to require photo ID for all voters. Not everyone has one.) The Republicans are determined to get their judges on the bench not just because they want their people there — something to which they are entitled to in our modified patronage system — but to roll back the progress made in our society since the 1950’s: overturn rulings on abortion rights, gay rights, or the display of religious symbols in the public square — and missing out on the irony of appointing activist judges to overturn the rulings of “activist judges,” including the five who invented a whole new interpretation of the concept of states’ rights to put Mr. Bush in office in the first place.

As many have said, the Republicans don’t want to govern; they want to rule, and they planned to put in place a permanent majority to do it. That’s one thing they have over the Democrats; they’re willing to do anything to win, and how they get there — whether through honest debate or by fraud, deception, and intimidation — doesn’t matter as much as just getting the brass ring. It’s too bad that they have proved time and again that they only thing they know how to do with power is keep trying to get more of it, and nothing else.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Appearance of Contradiction

From the New York Times:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senior advisers discussed the plan to remove seven United States attorneys at a meeting last Nov. 27, 10 days before the dismissals were carried out, according to a Justice Department calendar entry disclosed Friday.

The previously undisclosed meeting appeared to contradict Mr. Gonzales’s previous statements about his knowledge of the dismissals. He said at a news conference on March 13 that he had not participated in any discussions about the removals, but knew in general that his aides were working on personnel changes involving United States attorneys.

Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told reporters on Friday evening that Mr. Gonzales’s attendance at the hourlong meeting was not inconsistent with his past remarks.

“He tasked his chief of staff to carry this plan forward,” Ms. Scolinos said. “He did not participate in the selection of the U.S. attorneys to be fired. He did sign off on the final list.”

For an administration that proclaimed oh so loudly and piously that they would do everything they possibly could to restore “honor and integrity” to governing and scorned the machinations and the obfuscations of the Clinton administration, the Bushies certainly do seem to be doing their best to prove that they are better than the previous administration: they obfuscate better, they manipulate the news better, and they parse their words to the fine point that even defining what “is” is now sounds clunky and amateurish by comparison to the knife-edge of delineating whether or not the Attorney General actually “met” with his people over the dismissal of the eight U.S. attorneys.

David Brooks brought up a valid point last night in his roundtable discussion with Mark Shields on PBS’s News Hour; this in itself is not a scandal that will bring down the presidency of George W. Bush. It probably ranks up there with Iran-Contra, and it certainly is more important than one man, one woman, and a cigar, but it’s not on the level of Mr. Nixon directly ordering the FBI to stay out of an investigation. Be that as it may, it does fit into the pattern that this administration has shown of putting politics and partisan loyalty above the goals and objectives of good government, which is to serve the needs of all the people, not just the ones who voted for your guy, and that, coupled with the ruthless manner in which they deal with their opponents — or “enemies,” as former (whew) House Majority Leader Tom DeLay called them — makes one extremely suspicious of the intentions of this administration. They’ve already demonstrated a cavalier attitude towards the truth in putting forth their reasons for going to war in Iraq, and they have clearly shown that they do not appreciate — or even understand — the consequences that come from such behavior. They have been shameless in their attempts to propagandize their points of view to the degree that they violate their own standards in putting out packaged information via bought-and-paid-for colleagues in print and on TV. As if they didn’t trust that people like Armstrong Williams weren’t already doing enough toadying for them, they had to pad it with a little cash just to be sure.

Mr. Brooks also said that this scandal provides a relief for the Democrats because it takes them away from the hard task of governing; who wants to spend hours laboring over a budget bill or some other such boring stuff such as ending the war in Iraq when there’s breaking news about whether or not Karl Rove will testify under oath before the House Judiciary Committee? But that’s not really fair. If the Congress of the United States allows the kind of behind-the-scenes political manipulations to go on without some kind of examination, then they would be contradicting what the people of this country voted for last November. The electorate didn’t have a chance to replace the president, so they did the next best thing; they voted in Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and now they are expecting them to do their job, which includes bringing some accountability and oversight to the table. As Sen. Boxer (D-CA) noted the other day when she shut down the rants of Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) during the testimony of former Vice President Al Gore, elections have consequences.

The wishful assumption on the part of Mr. Brooks and other Republicans is that the Democrats are incapable of multitasking. This scandal can prove that theory wrong as well as prove that the Democrats can do the bidding of the people. If the Democrats were to let this scandal in the Department of Justice go by without holding the Attorney General and all the others involved accountable, the appearance of contradiction would be on them. That, in itself, would be a scandal.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Purge Brackets

So I got it wrong yesterday on the departure of Attorney General Gonzales, and thinking about it, I should have known that Mr. Bush would take a defiant stand. Given his past behavior, it’s predictable that he would not throw his friends under the bus until it became apparent that this scandal will have an effect on him personally — after all, everything is always about him. In addition, because of his rather adolescent ego, the last thing Mr. Bush will ever do is give the impression to Congress that he can he rolled until he figures out a way to turn it around and make it look like it was his idea in the first place (vide the firing of Donald Rumsfeld).

In the spirit of the NCAA March Madness, Reader RW at Talking Points Memo, which has become the de facto source for all the reliable information about this scandal, put out this bracket:

My Purgegate bracket goes like this: Wed-Thurs. Stonewalling and statements. Fri. morning—secret negotiations. Fri. Afternoon, 4:30. White House agrees to allow testimony under oath for all persons requested, claims victory. 12:35 PM Saturday—Gonzales resigns, stating that he felt his continuing presence was hindering the Administration’s efforts to protect American from the terrorists.

Works for me. How about you?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bush to Congress: Up Yours

President Bush is going on the defensive, basically engaging in a game of Chicken with the House and Senate over the Attorney General.

President Bush warned Democrats Tuesday to accept his offer to have top aides testify about the firings of federal prosecutors only privately and not under oath, or risk a constitutional showdown from which he would not back down.

Democrats’ response to his proposal was swift and firm. “Testimony should be on the record and under oath. That’s the formula for true accountability,” said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush, in a late-afternoon statement at the White House, said, “We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants. … I proposed a reasonable way to avoid an impasse.”

This has Nixon and Watergate written all over it. Nixon, as you may recall, lost his pissing match with Congress. And when the Congress subpoenaed the Clinton White House over any number of things and there was initial resistance, the Republicans screamed like banshees about obstruction of justice and partisan politics.

I wonder if it occurs to the President or anyone in the White House whether or not it’s worth it to go balls to the wall over this, and it also makes me think that if they’re going to be this combative over something that is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively minor political screw-up (once again, it’s not the action but the cover-up that’s the real problem), imagine how uncooperative they’re going to be when it comes to the really important stuff, such as the war in Iraq and how we got into that mess.

The fun is just beginning, and for those of you who missed out on the summer of 1973: Senator Sam Ervin and the Senate Watergate Hearings, John Dean testifying, the secret tapes, and later on the Saturday Night Massacre… yeah, it felt a lot like this. Ah, sweet history of life…

Update: For an excellent backgrounder on how the Republicans viewed Bill Clinton’s claims of executive privilege, read Glenn Greenwald’s posting here. It includes this rather interesting cite from the United States Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon (1974):

The President’s need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the court. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument that even the very important interest in confidentiality of Presidential communications is significantly diminished by production of such material for in camera inspection with all the protection that a district court will be obliged to provide.

So there.

Place Your Bets

Via Talking Points Memo:

*THE PRESIDENT WILL MAKE A STATEMENT ON THE U.S. ATTORNEY MATTER SHORTLY AFTER RETURNING FROM KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI AT 5:45 PM, EDT, TODAY, MARCH 20, 2007, IN THE DIPLOMATIC RECEPTION ROOM

Okay, I’m going out on a limb here, but did anyone pick today for the announcement that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will now be spending more time with his family?

Bonus Round: Any bets on his replacement?

Update: Wow, got that one wrong. Now you know why I don’t buy lottery tickets.

The Dump

Three thousand pages of notes, e-mails, and — more than likely — one or two Chinese take-out menus were dumped on House and Senate Judiciary Committees who are investigating the firing of the U.S. attorneys. It’s going to take a while to go through all of the documents, and certainly there will be some embarrassing, mystifying and and just plain unfathomable information gleaned from them. Anyone whose ever worked in an office and had to grope through files searching for an answer to an obscure question about who did what when and why can understand what the Congressional staffers are up against.

There’s going to be a lot of “Aha!” moments, but probably a lot more “Huh?” moments. Already some early leaks are showing contradictions to what the Justice Department and the Attorney General and his staff has said, as well as some documents that seem to confirm — or deny — the claim that the U.S. attorneys were removed for not playing the right kind of political Calvinball with the White House and the political arm of the DOJ. It all depends on how you read them.

Josh Marshall and his intrepid readers at TPMmuckraker* are combing through the documents, which are posted at the House Judiciary Committee’s website, and he’s also asking for your help. So if you have some time — and a computer that doesn’t have issues with PDF files — head on over there and lend them a hand in digging through the piles. (Oh, and if you come across one of those menus, order up some General Tsao’s chicken for me.)

*TPM is also conducting a little fundraiser for their efforts. If you feel so inclined, drop them some coin.

Monday, March 19, 2007

More of That Was Then, This is Now

If you are one of those defenders of the White House who claim that it’s no big deal for the Attorney General to replace U.S. attorneys as he or she wishes — like Paul Gigot who said this weekend,

U.S. attorneys are political appointees. They’re prosecutors appointed by the president, who serve at his pleasure. So presumably the president can dismiss them. What did the administration do wrong in this case?

— it might do well to remember what a cool reception just such an action got from Mr. Gigot during the Clinton administration.

All of which raises the deeper issue of who is really running Justice. Ms. Reno says dismissing the 93 [U.S.] attorneys was a “joint decision” with the White House, which means the White House decided and she announced it. Her letter asked the U.S. attorneys to send their resignation letters “care of John Podesta, assistant to the president and staff secretary, with a copy to me.” Independent justice?

Funny; nobody seemed to object in January 2001 when the Bush administration replaced all 93 U.S. attorneys. It was S.O.P. As Glenn Greewald notes, it’s unusal now.

To suggest, then, that this controversy has arisen by virtue of some “double standard” — prompted by nothing more than routine firings of U.S. attorneys which “Clinton did, too” — is frivolous on its face. When Bush engaged in the routine matter of replacing all U.S. attorneys at the start of his administration, nobody objected.

The scandal derives from the highly unusual effort to cherry-pick prosecutors for firings, in the middle of an administration, for blatantly political purposes (as well as the subsequent false statements, including by top DOJ officials to Congress, about what occurred). It is true that Bush did what Clinton did — back in 2001, when nobody objected. What he has done now is manifestly not what Clinton did (or any President other than, perhaps, Richard Nixon), which is what accounts for the scandal.

It always seems ironic that the loyal Bushies will always hold up the Clinton administration as their excuse for just about anything they do; the same administration whose intelligence warnings about Al-Qaeda were ignored by the Bushies just because it came from a Democratic administration, and the same administration that left a multibillion dollar budget surplus only to have it given away by the Bushies to the rich, Halliburton, and, on shrink-wrapped pallets, to the Iraqi insurgents. I don’t remember the Clinton administration doing anything like that.

But Wait, There’s More

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told ABC News that he didn’t see any inappropriate political motives behind the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year. Oh, really?

The U.S. attorney in San Diego notified the Justice Department of search warrants in a Republican bribery scandal last May 10, one day before the attorney general’s chief of staff warned the White House of a “real problem” with her, a Democratic senator said yesterday.

The prosecutor, Carol S. Lam, was dismissed seven months later as part of an effort by the Justice Department and the White House to fire eight U.S. attorneys.

A Justice spokesman said there was no connection between Lam’s firing and her public corruption investigations, and pointed to criticisms of Lam for her record on prosecuting immigration cases.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a television appearance yesterday that Lam “sent a notice to the Justice Department saying that there would be two search warrants” in a criminal investigation of defense contractor Brent R. Wilkes and Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, who had just quit as the CIA’s top administrator amid questions about his ties to disgraced former GOP congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

The next day, May 11, D. Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, sent an e-mail message to William Kelley in the White House counsel’s office saying that Lam should be removed as quickly as possible, according to documents turned over to Congress last week.

“Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following,” Sampson wrote, referring to “[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

The FBI raided Foggo’s home and former CIA office on May 12. He was indicted along with Wilkes on fraud and money-laundering charges on Feb. 13 — two days before Lam left as U.S. attorney.

Issuing a subpoena for the White House gang — Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and who knows who else — just got a little easier.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday Reading

A Delicate Balance: Politics and prosecutors have always been mixed, according to Adam Liptak.

Ever since he fired eight federal prosecutors, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been criticized for injecting politics into a realm where it doesn’t belong.

But the people he fired, United States attorneys, have always inhabited a world that is an odd hybrid of politics and purity.

They are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, and they often use their jobs as political steppingstones. Rudolph W. Giuliani, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, started his political career as the United States attorney in Manhattan.

And United States attorneys are, as the top federal law enforcement officials in the nation’s 94 judicial districts, cogs in a vast executive-branch bureaucracy, subject to its rules and charged with carrying out its shifting policies, which are themselves influenced by politics.

The Reagan administration, for instance, liked to prosecute pornography; the Clinton administration cared about guns; and the current administration has pushed for more capital prosecutions.

“U.S. attorneys are the branch offices of the Department of Justice,” said Douglas W. Kmiec, a former Justice Department official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. “It’s an employer-employee relationship.”

As a legal matter, at least, that means the Justice Department was within its rights in the recent dismissals, said Rory Little, a former Justice Department official in the Clinton administration who is on an American Bar Association task force on prosecutorial ethics.

“It has always been a patronage position,” Mr. Little said. “Can the president fire a U.S. attorney for any reason at all? The answer is yes.”

At the same time, United States attorneys are by custom insulated from politics and have, except when administrations change, great job security. They are meant to make individual prosecutorial decisions based only on the facts of the cases before them, without regard to political consequences.

As special counsel in the prosecution of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago, pursued a narrowly focused case without apparent concern for its political ramifications.

Speaking to United States attorneys in 1940, Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, who later became a distinguished Supreme Court justice, said the power of the position is enormous and easily perverted.

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” Mr. Jackson said. That power, he said, must be shielded from politics and even from the Department of Justice.

As Jay Leno noted, you know how unpopular the administration is when when people are coming to the defense of lawyers.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: The Toledo Blade calls for those who say they want to end the war to prove it.

The failure of Congress to pass decisive legislation to limit the Iraq war reflects more closely the personal and political interests of its individual members than the will of the American people.

It is clear that the great majority of Americans are ready to see the Iraq war draw to an end. It has been going on for four years, longer than World War II. The financial cost of the conflict stands at more than $400 billion, money that could have been spent on legitimate and far more pressing needs of the American people – health care, education, infrastructure repair and replacement, and devising ways to stem the catastrophic flow of jobs overseas.

The U.S. death toll now stands at more than 3,200; the new scandal over the inadequate care of wounded veterans of the war underscores the full dimension of the price of this war to the country. Finally, no one can yet give a cogent reason for why America is fighting in Iraq.

But Congress either doesn’t get it or doesn’t have the courage to bring the matter to an end. The way to do that is perfectly obvious, and it’s the same means Congress used to bring the Vietnam War to an end: Cut off the money to fight it.

Instead, lawmakers are letting themselves be distracted by the fallacious argument that to support the troops, the Congress has to provide whatever money President Bush demands. This time it is a supplemental appropriation of some $125 billion, on top of the administration’s regular budget proposal of nearly $500 billion in spending on the military.

Congress, and particularly the Senate’s gallery of presidential candidates, needs to stop the relentless campaign preening and bring this pointless war to an end.

That Was Then, This Is Now: Frank Rich looks back with 20/20 hindsight on statements made four years ago about the war in Iraq.

Tomorrow night is the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s prime-time address declaring the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the broad sweep of history, four years is a nanosecond, but in America, where memories are congenitally short, it’s an eternity. That’s why a revisionist history of the White House’s rush to war, much of it written by its initial cheerleaders, has already taken hold. In this exonerating fictionalization of the story, nearly every politician and pundit in Washington was duped by the same “bad intelligence” before the war, and few imagined that the administration would so botch the invasion’s aftermath or that the occupation would go on so long. “If only I had known then what I know now …” has been the persistent refrain of the war supporters who subsequently disowned the fiasco. But the embarrassing reality is that much of the damning truth about the administration’s case for war and its hubristic expectations for a cakewalk were publicly available before the war, hiding in plain sight, to be seen by anyone who wanted to look.

By the time the ides of March arrived in March 2003, these warning signs were visible on a nearly daily basis. So were the signs that Americans were completely ill prepared for the costs ahead. Iraq was largely anticipated as a distant, mildly disruptive geopolitical video game that would be over in a flash.

Now many of the same leaders who sold the war argue that escalation should be given a chance. This time they’re peddling the new doomsday scenario that any withdrawal timetable will lead to the next 9/11. The question we must ask is: Has history taught us anything in four years?

Read the rest here courtesy of jurassicpork at Welcome to Pottersville.

The Mystery of William Shakespeare: Who exactly was the man who wrote those 37 plays?

“Who’s there?” That’s not just the opening line of “Hamlet.” When it comes to Shakespeare, that, as the melancholy Dane would say, is the question. Who’s there, really, behind all those extraordinary plays and brilliant characters?

It’s the authorship question, and half a millennium after the Bard wrote his works, it won’t go away. But don’t expect any discussion of it during Washington’s Shakespeare Festival. It’s missing amid all the celebrations — just as it’s always missing from official considerations of Shakespeare.

The authorship question is the elephant in the living room of modern Shakespearean criticism. According to today’s Shakespeare scholars, the greatest poet of the English language was a possibly Catholic businessman and sometime actor from Stratford-upon-Avon who did well by writing. Unlike every other writer in history, he didn’t put himself or his experience into his work. If he had a motive for writing, it was to earn six pounds per play. Or perhaps, after his son Hamnet died at 11, he memorialized him in “Hamlet.”

These are the views promoted in a seemingly endless procession of books that roll off the presses every year — all grounded in little tangible fact. Mark Twain quipped that every relevant fact known about the Stratford author would fit on a postcard, and another century of literary biography hasn’t changed that. Shakespearean professionals begin by noting that there is a Shakespeare monument in Holy Trinity Church at Stratford and go on from there to imagine almost everything else. They have to. They have a monument without a man.

Outside the university, though, populist resistance to the author from Stratford has persisted for two centuries. Skeptics have been divided on their support for one candidate or another — Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth I or Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford — but we all believe that the real author was forced to conceal his identity and allow his works to be published under another man’s name.

We are not just unrepentant conspiracy theorists who lie awake at night concocting unverifiable historical scenarios and contriving pseudoscientific cryptograms while ignoring the undeniable facts of Shakespeare’s career. We’re struck by the fact that all the speculation the biographers engage in to fill the gaps in our knowledge of Shakespeare reveals a man who contradicted the literary thumbprint of his creation in every way. Their author was a huge commercial success — but “Hamlet” satirically inveighs against buyers and sellers of land. Their author never left England — but 16 of the plays are set in Italy or the Mediterranean. There is no evidence that their author owned any books — but the man who wrote Shakespeare clearly devoured all the most important books of his generation.

“Shall I set down the rest of the Conjectures which constitute [Shakespeare’s] giant Biography?” Twain wrote in 1909. “It would strain the unabridged Dictionary to hold them.” In 1984, Richmond Crinkley, the late director of educational programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library, acknowledged that “doubts about Shakespeare arose early. They have a simple and direct plausibility.” Henry James was blunt: “I am ‘sort of’ haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world.”

The list of skeptics reads like a Who’s Who of the English-speaking world: Washington Irving, James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Helen Keller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Malcolm X, Leslie Howard, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Michael York, Jeremy Irons, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and many more. And the ranks keep growing.

But modern Shakespearean studies are founded on the undeviating principle that rational authorities — i.e. “Shakespeareans” — do not discuss the authorship question. Beyond this, we seem to be deeply invested in a view of the Bard as a creator in our own image. Born to a comfortable middle-class existence, he evades the stark class realities of Elizabethan society and conquers the literary world through Will-power, re-creating the lives of kings, queens and courtiers simply by deploying his superabundant imagination.

As an occasional theatre scholar, I’m of the opinion that while it is intriguing to speculate who really did write those plays, in the end it doesn’t really matter; they are some of the most thrilling and inspiring words ever put down on parchment, and I don’t care if it was Shakespeare, Bacon, Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth I, or Teddy the Wonder Lizard. “Love looks not with the eye but with the mind and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”

Doonesbury: Get a job.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Loyal Bushies

Two quotes from stories about the US attorney scandal got my attention today.

The first is from a New York Times article entitled “Rove Is Linked to Early Query Over Dismissals.”

“As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys — underperforming ones,” Mr. Sampson wrote.

In the message, Mr. Sampson said, “The vast majority of U.S. Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc.”

Mr. Sampson is the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The second is from Mr. Rove himself.

White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove alleged Thursday that Democrats are “playing politics” with the controversy surrounding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

The Clinton administration took similar actions, Rove maintained.

“We’re at a point where people want to play politics with it, and that’s fine,” Rove said after delivering a speech at Troy State University. “I would simply ask that everybody who’s playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration and see if they had the same superheated political rhetoric then that they’re having now.”

What Mr. Rove fails to note in his comment about the Clinton administration is that the US attorneys are chosen for a four-year term that coincides with the president’s term, so that when Mr. Clinton came into office, the attorneys in office were replaced as a matter of course. As rubber hose notes, there have only been eight instances of mid-term replacements. (And I’ve always wondered why the right wing is so eager to cite the actions of the hated Clinton administration as a justification for their own actions.)

Of course, in Mr. Rove’s world, “playing politics” is only a bad thing when the other party does it, so his complaint is disingenuous; after all, he is the senior political adviser to the president with a rank only nominally lower than Chief of Staff. (The CNN article mistakenly labels Mr. Rove as “White House Chief of Staff.” That would be Josh Bolten.) Seeing things through the political lens is the only reason Mr. Rove has a job. While it’s easy to paint him as the evil genius who controls every string in the operation of the White House and the federal government, the evidence is mounting that that’s exactly what is going on and has been since before Mr. Bush took office. (After all, someone had to organize the “spontaneous demonstrations” at the Miami-Dade County Election Commissioner’s office during the Florida recount in 2000.)

But what I find mystifying is why the Attorney General and the people at the Justice Department and the White House risk charges of perjury and contempt of Congress by trying to cover up their political motives behind the firings. After all, the Bush administration has never been shy about their political motivations for doing anything, so why start now? Mr. Rove’s goal in life is to create a permanent Republican majority, so you would think that he and his associates would not be afraid to say they wanted to replace the US attorneys who were not “loyal Bushies.” But they act as if they are ashamed of it.

Could it be that they realize that what they’ve done is so blatantly political that even they are embarrassed to own up to it?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tick…Tick…Tick…

The clock is running out on Attorney General Gonzales. If you watched what President Bush had to say yesterday about the attorney purge, his support for the AG was tepid at best, and getting him to echo the “mistakes were made” line and then say he was not happy tells you that unless Mr. Gonzales is completely without clue, he will have his letter of resignation on the President’s desk before the week is out. Compare that to the support the president was giving Donald Rumsfeld up until the day he was fired, and it’s like night and day.

Rule Number One of “serving at the pleasure of the president” — i.e. being a Cabinet member — is that you never let the president take the bullet. He may be deeply involved in the formation of policy, he may even be the one who orders you to do something odious like fire prosecutors who aren’t going after enough Democrats, but the bottom line is that you never remove the layer of insulation. You are the one who takes the fall, not the president. This is the way of the world in the West Wing.

In the case of the current administration, this insulation also covers Karl Rove. As Sidney Bluemthal notes in his piece in Salon.com, Mr. Rove is in charge of the plan to basically remake the federal government in the image of the Bush administration; a permanent Republican majority run by loyalists.

To the extent that the facts are known, Rove keeps surfacing in the middle of the scandal. And it is implausible that Sampson, the latest designated fall guy, was responsible for an elaborate bureaucratic coup d’état. Nor is it credible that Gonzales — or Harriet Miers, who has yet to be heard — saw or heard no evil. Neither is it reasonable that Gonzales or Miers, both once Bush’s personal attorneys in Texas, getting him out of scrapes such as his drunken driving arrest, could be the political geniuses behind the firings. Gonzales’ and Miers’ service is notable for their obedience, lack of originality and eagerness to act as tools. The scheme bears the marks of Rove’s obsessions, methods and sources. His history contains a wealth of precedents in which he manipulated law enforcement for political purposes. And his long-term strategy for permanent Republican control of government depended on remaking the federal government to create his ultimate goal — a one-party state.

[…]

This effort began two generations ago with Richard Nixon’s drive to forge an imperial presidency, using extralegal powers of government to aggrandize unaccountable power in the executive and destroy political opposition. Nixon was thwarted in the Watergate scandal. We will never know his full malevolent intentions, but we do know that in the aftermath of the 1972 election he wanted to remake the executive branch to create what the Bush administration now calls a “unitary executive.” Nixon later explained his core doctrine: “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Karl Rove is the rightful heir to Nixonian politics. His first notice in politics occurred as a witness before the Senate Watergate Committee. From Nixon to Bush, Rove is the single continuous character involved in the tactics and strategy of political subterfuge.

The problem with Mr. Gonzales and Ms. Miers is that they foolishly believed that they had the support of the president and the White House in engineering the plan — which they did — and that if somehow it got out that the US attorneys were being removed for political reasons — which they were — that they would have the unswerving support of the president and the White House. (It’s amazing that Ms. Miers didn’t learn this from her twenty minutes of ignominy as the nominee for the Supreme Court.) They counted on Mr. Bush’s well-known loyalty to his friends, but they forgot that Mr. Bush’s loyalties only extend so far as to how it makes him look, not how he will cover for them if they drop the ball.

So Mr. Gonzales will, after testifying before Congress and finally telling the truth — which in itself would be a first — dutifully take the hit (Ms. Miers has already left the White House), resign with apologies to the president for having embarrassed him; not by actually doing what he was told to do but by letting the word leak out. The right wing will, just as it has done with Rumsfeld, former Treasury Secretary Snow, Heckuvajob Brownie, and John Bolten, wipe him from the memory banks and demand that we move on; there are more Democrats out there to call “faggot.”

And Karl Rove will still be in the White House. No matter what happens, he will never take the hit. He is the One Ring; throw him into the fires of Mount Doom and all of Mordor will collapse.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tactical Retreat

John M. Broder follows up on my noting of the use of the passive voice when admitting fault… but not really.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales fell back on a classic Washington linguistic construct on Tuesday when he acknowledged that “mistakes were made” in the dismissals of eight federal prosecutors last year.

The phrase sounds like a confession of error or even contrition, but in fact, it is not quite either one. The speaker is not accepting personal responsibility or pointing the finger at anyone else. It is a construction that other officials, from Richard M. Nixon’s press secretary to Ronald Reagan to John H. Sununu and Bill Clinton, have used when someone’s hand was caught in the federal cookie jar.

It is similar to a form of apology often heard here and in Hollywood, perhaps most memorably by Justin Timberlake’s press agent after the 2004 Super Bowl halftime incident involving Janet Jackson. “I am sorry if anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance,” the agent said.

[…]

The nonconfessions inspired William Schneider, a political guru here, to note a few years ago that Washington had contributed a new tense to the language. “This usage,” he said, “should be referred to as the past exonerative.”

General Peter Pace has also joined the ranks of the users of this tense in his attempt to explain his views about gays in the military; he is retreating to the safe haven of “I should not expressed my personal views on the matter.” He goes on to say that it’s not an apology, though; that keeps him in good stead with the hard-core homophobes in the service and the Congress, and he isn’t caving in on his personal views, in spite of the fact that he’s in the minority among Americans and most of the rank and file in the military. I’m sure he sees it, as Captain Louis Renault would say, as “a wise tactical retreat.”

Liar, Liar

The New York Times calls bullshit on both the White House and AG Gonzales.

The White House still says Mr. Bush was not involved in the firings, but newly released documents show that he personally fielded a senator’s political complaint about David Iglesias, who was fired as United States attorney in New Mexico. The papers suggest that the United States attorney in Arkansas was fired just to put a Rove protégé in his place, and a plan was mapped out by administration officials to “run out the clock” if lawmakers objected.

Among the documents is e-mail sent to Ms. Miers by Kyle Sampson, Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, ranking United States attorneys on factors like “exhibited loyalty.” Small wonder, then that United States Attorney Carol Lam of San Diego was fired. She had put one Republican congressman, Duke Cunningham, in jail and had opened an inquiry that put others at risk, along with party donors.

More disturbing details have come out about Mr. Iglesias’s firing. We knew he was ousted six weeks after Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, made a wildly inappropriate phone call in which he asked if Mr. Iglesias intended to indict Democrats before last November’s election in a high-profile corruption scandal. We now know that Mr. Domenici took his complaints to Mr. Bush.

After Mr. Iglesias was fired, the deputy White House counsel, William Kelley, wrote in an e-mail note that Mr. Domenici’s chief of staff was “happy as a clam.” Another e-mail note, from Mr. Sampson, said Mr. Domenici was “not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool” before getting his list of preferred replacements to the White House.

Given what’s in those documents, it was astonishing to hear Mr. Gonzales continue to insist yesterday that he had no personal knowledge of discussions involving the individual attorneys. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, was right on the mark when he said that if Mr. Gonzales didn’t know what Mr. Sampson was doing, “he doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on” at his department. Fortunately, last year’s election left Democrats like Mr. Schumer in the majority, with subpoena power. Otherwise, this and so many other scandals might never have come to light.

Mr. Gonzales, who has shown why he was such an awful choice for this job in the first place, should be called under oath to resolve the contradictions and inconsistencies in his story. Mr. Gonzales is willing to peddle almost any nonsense to the public (witness his astonishingly maladroit use of the Nixonian “mistakes were made” dodge yesterday). But lying to Congress under oath is another matter.

It’s almost nostalgic to harken back to the days when the Republicans took to the floor of the Senate, the House, and any cluster of microphones to thunder on about the Rule of Law; this was their mantra as they pursued the Clintons over Whitewater, Vince Foster, the FBI files, the travel office, and Monica Lewinsky… those were the days when any transgression, any misstatement, any fudge was grounds for a Congressional investigation, subpoenas, and Dan Burton shooting melons in his backyard.

It now seems the administration and its hacks got caught up in their idea of living by the Law of Rule; as long as we rule, we make the laws. Those days — we hope — are gone.

Josh Marshall has an excellent post on the central point of the issue:

We now have abundant evidence that they were fired for not sufficiently politicizing their offices, for not indicting enough Democrats on bogus charges or for too aggressively going after Republicans.

Bingo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Gonzales: “Mistakes Were Made”

From CNN:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday that “mistakes were made” regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and he accepts responsibility for the ordeal.

“My pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here,” he said. “As we can all imagine, in an organization of 110,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of justice, nor am I aware of all decisions.”

However, despite calls for his resignation, Gonzales said he was not stepping down.

Note the use of the passive voice — “mistakes were made” — as if they just sorta, y’know, happened, and even when he says he accepts responsibility, he passes the buck by saying he can’t know everything. Even the stuff that happens when Republican senators, congresspeople, and the White House tell you to “take care of the problem”? Uh huh; nice try.

Oh, and did I miss the part where he’s reinstating the fired attorneys?

Firing Line

The revelations about the firings of the eight US attorneys keep on coming. Documents released yesterday are showing that the White House, including President Bush, Karl Rove, and then-Counsel (and almost Supreme Court Justice) Harriet Miers were involved; the motivations were strictly political; officials from the Justice Department, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, lied to Congress about it; and that people in both the White House and the Justice Department knew that if the word got out that the real motivations for replacing them was because they weren’t seen as team players, there would be a lot of questions asked and more than just the attorneys in question would lose their jobs over it.

How right they were. Congress is about to invite Mr. Rove to testify before them, and Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson has resigned, and he won’t be the last to go.

Lawmakers requested the documents as part of an investigation into whether the firings were politically motivated. While it is unclear whether the documents, which were reviewed yesterday by The Washington Post, will answer Congress’s questions, they show that the White House and other administration officials were more closely involved in the dismissals, and at a much earlier date, than they have previously acknowledged.

Seven U.S. attorneys were fired on Dec. 7 and another was fired months earlier, with little explanation from the Justice Department. Several former prosecutors have since alleged intimidation, including improper telephone calls from GOP lawmakers or their aides, and have alleged threats of retaliation by a Justice Department official.

But the Supreme Irony Award of the Week goes to this:

The dismissals took place after President Bush told Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October that he had received complaints that some prosecutors had not energetically pursued voter-fraud investigations, according to a White House spokeswoman.

The White House was concerned about voter fraud? That’s like Al Capone being concerned that there were too many hand-guns on the street.

We’ve gotten way beyond the point where anyone is shocked or surprised to find that Karl Rove is involved in this, and after he skated clear of being indicted in the Libby case, it’s not surprising that he’s letting it be known that he’s the one calling the shots in appointing US attorneys. He knows that Gonzales is expendable — I stand by my wager that he will be gone by the end of the month — but the only person who can get rid of Karl Rove is President Bush, and he won’t fire Rove unless Rove tells him to.

This will also have repercussions in the Senate, particularly for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), who was instrumental in getting David Iglesias, the US Attorney in Albuquerque, out of office.

One e-mail from Miers’s deputy, William Kelley, on the day of the Dec. 7 firings said Domenici’s chief of staff “is happy as a clam” about Iglesias. Sampson wrote in an e-mail a week later: “Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool).”

To quote the lyrics of one of my guilty-pleasure songs, “We’ve Only Just Begun…”

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Shadow of John Mitchell

It usually takes a couple of months for the outrage to catch up with the facts, but it looks like things are moving rapidly towards an implosion at the Justice Department. I’m sure that somewhere there’s a betting pool giving odds that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales won’t be in office by the end of the month.

Yesterday Sen. Chuck Schumer called for Mr. Gonzales to resign, and the McClatchy newspapers have been all over the story of New Mexico Republican Party chair Allen Weh’s ham-handed attempts to pin U.S. Attorney David Iglesias’ dismissal on his “incompetence” (since when has incompetence been a criterion for dismissal in the Bush administration?) and Karl Rove’s Mafia Don-like assertion that “he’s gone.” All that’s missing is a largemouth bass wrapped in a bullet-proof vest that says that Iglesias sleeps with the fishes in the Elephant Butte reservoir.

It’s one thing to wave off the outrage of the Democrats, the editorial board of the New York Times, and Paul Krugman, but when you get prominent Republicans pissed off as well, you know that there is something going on. According to Joe Conason in Salon.com, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada is angry over the firing of Daniel G. Bogden, whose appointment Ensign advocated five years ago.

Told last December that Bogden was being fired for “performance reasons,” Ensign listened incredulously on Tuesday as a Gonzales aide admitted that there were no problems with Bogden’s performance of his duties. The next day Ensign told the Las Vegas Review-Journal (via TPM Muckraker):

“What the Justice Department testified yesterday is inconsistent with what they told me,” said Ensign. “I can’t even tell you how upset I am at the Justice Department.” Did he believe he had been misled? “I was not told the same thing [in December] that I was at the hearing, let me put it that way.” He knew that he had been disrespected — along with fundamental concepts of American government.

It also brings into sharp focus the fact that Mr. Gonzales has been little more than a bagman for Mr. Bush and his political agenda since before he landed at the Justice Department.

It’s one thing to be a lackey in the Cabinet and hold a post that doesn’t have an impact on the everyday lives of the citizens, but it’s quite another to be a toady and be the top law enforcement officer in the country. Justice should be above politics, and we’ve learned through bitter past experience what happens when the Attorney General is little more than a campaign chairman with a law degree; remember John Mitchell, the first Attorney General in the Nixon administration?

There are some eerie similarities between Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Mitchell:

As attorney general, Mitchell believed that the government’s need for “law and order” justified restrictions on civil liberties. He advocated the use of wiretaps in national security cases without obtaining a court order and the right of police to employ the preventive detention of criminal suspects. He brought conspiracy charges against critics of the Vietnam War, and demonstrated a reluctance to involve the Justice Department in civil rights issues. “The Department of Justice is a law enforcement agency,” he told reporters. “It is not the place to carry on a program aimed at curing the ills of society.”

On February 21, 1975, Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and sentenced to two and a half to eight years in prison for his role in the Watergate break-in and cover-up, which he dubbed the White House horrors. Tape recordings made by President Nixon and the testimony of others involved confirmed that Mitchell had participated in meetings to plan the break-in of the Democratic party’s national headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. In addition, he had met, on at least three occasions, with the president in an effort to cover up White House involvement after the burglars were discovered and arrested. In 1972, he warned reporter Carl Bernstein about a forthcoming Watergate-related article: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.” This threat against the Washington Post publisher is considered the most famous threat in the history of American journalism.

Mr. Mitchell may be dead, but his legacy, it seems, lives on.