Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ex-Aide Details a Loss of Faith in the President

via TPM

In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle to break so publicly with him.

He said his decision to step forward had not come easily. But, he said, his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s presidency is so great that he feels a sense of duty to go public given his role in helping Mr. Bush gain and keep power.

“Just being quiet is not an option when I was so publicly advocating an election.”

read the article

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bud Cummins on the Prosecutor Purge

Daily Kos

Fired U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins writes at Salon, making strong case for what this administration has done to the rule of law:

In recent weeks, I have been asked continually whether I think any number of specific prosecutions and other activities by the Department of Justice around the country reveal "politicization" of the department by the Bush administration. The answer is: I have no specific information about that. But the question goes to the most important issue highlighted by the controversy over the dismissal of myself and seven other United States attorneys: the credibility of the Department of Justice.

The president had an absolute right to fire us. We served at his pleasure, and that meant we could be dismissed for any reason or for no reason. And we all accepted that fact without complaint. When challenged by Congress, the leaders of the Department of Justice could have refused to explain. Or, they could have explained the truth. But apparently the truth behind some or all of the firings was embarrassing. So, instead, they said it was because of "performance." We didn't accept that, because it wasn't the truth.

In spite of statements and representations to the contrary, there was no credible performance review process prior to the firings -- at least, not using the definition of "performance" known to most people. There is not one document to evidence such a review. The department's leaders did not consult any of the reports or the people that could have provided information relevant to the performance of the U.S. attorneys they fired. In fact, in the case of my seven colleagues, they actually fired some pretty damn good U.S. attorneys -- and knowledgeable people in those attorneys' communities back home know that to be the truth. Nobody seems to believe the department's explanations....

Put simply, the Department of Justice lives on credibility. When a federal prosecutor sends FBI agents to your brother's house with an arrest warrant, demonstrating an intention to take away years of his liberty, separate him from his family, and take away his property, you and the public at large must have absolute confidence that the sole reason for those actions is that there was substantial evidence to suggest that your brother intentionally committed a federal crime. Everyone must have confidence that the prosecutor exercised his or her vast discretion in a neutral and nonpartisan pursuit of the facts and the law....

You only get one chance to hold on to your credibility. My team, which holds temporary custody of the Department of Justice, has blown it in this case. The Department of Justice will be paying for it for some time to come. Lots of sound investigations and convictions are now going to be questioned. That is a crying shame, because most of the 110,000 employees to whom the attorney general referred in a recent news conference, are neutral, nonpartisan public servants and do incredible work. A lot of President Bush's political appointees have done a lot of great work, too. Sadly, because of the damage done by this protracted scandal, which the administration has handled poorly at every turn, none of that good work is currently being recognized. And more ominously, the credibility of the Department of Justice may no longer be, either.

The credibility of the Department of Justice was shot when John Ashcroft was named Attorney General. But it got worse. If you looked up the definition of the worst man for the job of Attorney General, you would find a picture of Alberto Gonzales. The damage done by this lackey goes far behind the investigations and convictions that most definitely will be now called into question. It extends to the complete trashing of the rule of law upon which this country was founded, all the way to the Great Writ of habeas corpus.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

L.A. Times Opinion: Bush's long history of tilting Justice

via DailyKos

THE SCANDAL unfolding around the firing of eight U.S. attorneys compels the conclusion that the Bush administration has rewarded loyalty over all else. A destructive pattern of partisan political actions at the Justice Department started long before this incident, however, as those of us who worked in its civil rights division can attest.

I spent more than 35 years in the department enforcing federal civil rights laws — particularly voting rights. Before leaving in 2005, I worked for attorneys general with dramatically different political philosophies — from John Mitchell to Ed Meese to Janet Reno. Regardless of the administration, the political appointees had respect for the experience and judgment of longtime civil servants.

Under the Bush administration, however, all that changed. Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

At least two of the recently fired U.S. attorneys, John McKay in Seattle and David C. Iglesias in New Mexico, were targeted largely because they refused to prosecute voting fraud cases that implicated Democrats or voters likely to vote for Democrats.

This pattern also extended to hiring. In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman's central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure.

Schlozman, for instance, was part of the team of political appointees that approved then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's plan to redraw congressional districts in Texas, which in 2004 increased the number of Republicans elected to the House. Similarly, Schlozman was acting assistant attorney general in charge of the division when the Justice Department OKd a Georgia law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls. These decisions went against the recommendations of career staff, who asserted that such rulings discriminated against minority voters. The warnings were prescient: Both proposals were struck down by federal courts.

Schlozman continued to influence elections as an interim U.S. attorney. Missouri had one of the closest Senate races in the country last November, and a week before the election, Schlozman brought four voter fraud indictments against members of an organization representing poor and minority people. This blatantly contradicted the department's long-standing policy to wait until after an election to bring such indictments because a federal criminal investigation might affect the outcome of the vote. The timing of the Missouri indictments could not have made the administration's aims more transparent.

This administration is also politicizing the career staff of the Justice Department. Outright hostility to career employees who disagreed with the political appointees was evident early on. Seven career managers were removed in the civil rights division. I personally was ordered to change performance evaluations of several attorneys under my supervision. I was told to include critical comments about those whose recommendations ran counter to the political will of the administration and to improve evaluations of those who were politically favored.

Morale plummeted, resulting in an alarming exodus of career attorneys. In the last two years, 55% to 60% of attorneys in the voting section have transferred to other departments or left the Justice Department entirely.

At the same time, career staff were nearly cut out of the process of hiring lawyers. Control of hiring went to political appointees, so an applicant's fidelity to GOP interests replaced civil rights experience as the most important factor in hiring decisions.

For decades prior to this administration, the Justice Department had successfully kept politics out of its law enforcement decisions. Hopefully, the spotlight on this misconduct will begin the process of restoring dignity and nonpartisanship to federal law enforcement. As the 2008 elections approach, it is critical to have a Justice Department that approaches its responsibility to all eligible voters without favor.

. . .. ... ..... ........ oOo ........ ..... ... .. . .

& flash forward: the geebus 6.18.2008

Yahoo releasing API to mail service

In addition to the recently announced unlimited storage feature on Yahoo’s email service, the company will be releasing an API to allow third party developers to create new and innovative features for the mail service. “There is tremendous potential for additional usage of Mail. By providing more user experiences, we believe we will increase engagement and utilization of the platform,” said John Kremer, vice president of Yahoo Mail.

The company will also be compensating developers for driving demand for Yahoo’s premium service. As an incentive, developers will earn $10 for every new premium account they help to set up.

With the intense competition between Yahoo, Microsoft and Google for the domination of free email services, the move to open up innovation might give Yahoo the much needed boost.

rich dialogue with my GOP friend

Today's info-age dialogue with my staunch GOP friend. I was responding to his email sending along a link to this piece by Byron York (National Review Online). In return, he got one of my tablet-pc html hyperlinked emails, channeling TPM:


Here's the whole exchange (between me & my friend, that is; not Sen. Feinstein & Sampson).

Serious BS

Daily Kos

You know, I imagine somewhere it might be considered funny that the entire Department of Justice can't figure out why the hell a handful of U.S. Attorneys were fired when they themselves fired them, after spending over a year arranging for it, and that they must continually revise their statements on the matter because their past statements keep being demonstrated to be bullshit. But in that the entire premise of the Bush administration is that the entire American population is made up of morons who would actively believe that aforementioned lying bullshit, I'm not exactly sure where the joke is.

full post

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wired 15.04: The See-Through CEO

Wired 15.04: The See-Through CEO:

"Secrecy is dying. It's probably already dead.2 In a world where Eli Lilly's internal drug-development memos, Paris Hilton's phonecam images, Enron's emails, and even the governor of California's private conversations can be instantly forwarded across the planet, trying to hide something illicit - trying to hide anything, really - is an unwise gamble. So many blogs rely on scoops to drive their traffic that muckraking has become a sort of mass global hobby. Radical transparency has even reached the ultrasecretive world of Washington politics: The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation has begun putting zillions of public documents in elegantly searchable online databases, leaving it to interested citizens to connect the dots. One adroit digger recently discovered that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert had earmarked $200 million for a highway to be built near a property he had a stake in. When the property was sold, Hastert made a 500 percent profit on his original investment, provoking a wave of negative coverage.

All of which explains why the cult of transparency has so many high tech converts these days. Transparency is a judo move. Your customers are going to poke around in your business anyway, and your workers are going to blab about internal info - so why not make it work for you by turning everyone into a partner in the process and inviting them to do so?"

A picture is worth a thousand words

Reason for Suspicion

By Paul Kiel
TPM Muckraker

Having spent some time digging into the administration's stated reason for U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's firing, it's time to cleanse the palate with the reasons why we're so suspicious.
So here we go.

-- Lam was never confronted over her approach to immigration prosecutions, the given reason for her dismissal.

-- In November, shortly before Lam was fired, a Justice Department official brainstormed about how to explain firing several U.S. attorneys: "The one common link here is that three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DoJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts."

-- Lam was fired midway into a historic, wide-reaching public corruption investigation that targeted a number of Republican members of Congress and the executive director of the CIA. Even Karl Rove has acknowledged the reasonableness of not dismissing U.S. attorneys who are leading "high profile cases, important investigations" -- though for some reason, this one didn't qualify.

-- Despite the fact that it was one of the highest profile federal investigations being undertaken at the Department, Lam's investigation into Duke Cunningham and others is never mentioned in the Justice Department emails that have been released. Not once. This must have been discussed at the highest levels, but we've seen no record of those communications.

-- The FBI's bureau chief in San Diego has said, "I guarantee politics is involved" in Lam's firing. When asked about the given rationales for her ouster (that she pursued corruption cases to the detriment of gun and border prosecutions), he responded “What do you expect her to do? Let corruption exist?”

-- May 11, 2006, the day after Lam informed the Justice Department that she planned to execute a search warrant on CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo and the same day that it was reported that her investigation had spread to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson wrote to a White House official: "The 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."

-- On January 5th, 2007, less than a month after Lam had been told she was fired, but before it had been made public, Sampson wrote to his Justice Department colleagues, "... we granted 1-month extensions for [U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden] and [Western Michigan's Margaret Chiara], but not Carol -- right?" Lam was widely known to be leading a grand jury investigation into Foggo and others. Ultimately, she was granted a fifteen day extension, from January 31 until February 15; she ordered her office to bring the indictment against Foggo before she stepped down, and she succeeded.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I didn't do anything wrong because I didn't do anything wrong

Nonsense and more nonsense

from MSNBC interview with Gonzales this afternoon:

Williams: The — so the list came to you toward the end for you to sign off on. But you were not involved in deciding who should be on or off the list during the process?

Gonzales: I was not involved in the deliberations during the process as to who-- who should or should not be — asked to resign.

Williams: If that —

Gonzales: I depended on the people who knew about how those United States attorneys — were performing — people within the department — who — who would have personal knowledge of — about these individuals, who would have, based upon their experience, would know what — what would be the appropriate standards that a United States Attorney should be asked to — to achieve.

Williams: Given that, then how can you be certain that none of these U.S. Attorneys were put on that list for improper reasons?

Gonzales: What I can say is this: I know the reasons why I asked you — these United States attorneys to leave. And it — it was not for improper reasons. It was not to interfere with the public corruption case. It was not for partisan reasons. I also — we also know that there's nothing in the documents that indicates that they were asked to leave for improper reasons. But all — but lastly, just to be sure, I have asked for an internal — review by the Office of Professional Responsibility, working with the Office of Inspector General. And, of course, the Congress is going to be doing its own review because I want to know as well if, in fact, there were improper reasons, we — we should know about it. And there will be accountability.

Williams: To put this question another way — if you didn't review their performance during this process, then how can you be certain that they were fired for performance reasons?

Gonzales: I — I've given — I've given the answer to the question, Pete. I know — I know the reasons why I made the decision. Again, there's nothing in the documents to support the allegation that there was anything improper here. And there is an internal — department review to answer that question, to reassure the — the American people that there was nothing improper that happened here.

Williams: Given that, how difficult is it going to be — you just said there's a shortage of documentation here. How hard is it going to be to make the case to Congress that they were not fired for improper reasons if there isn't a lot of documentation on the reasons they were put on the list?

Gonzales: I didn't — I don't think that I said there was a shortage of documentation. Listen, what I will say is this. The — the — the evaluations of individual United States attorneys is — is not solely contained within the documents.
Obviously, people have personal observations, personal views that may not be reflected in those documents. Those will — will be presented — to the Congress at the appropriate time.


from the same interview:

Williams: Can you answer some of the questions that have come up over the weekend? As you know, there was a — an email that came out Friday night that showed that ten days before the firings there was a meeting in your office which you attended to discuss the firings. And yet when you talked to us here at the Justice Department two weeks ago, you said you were not involved in any discussions about the firings. Can you — can you explain what seems like a contradiction?

Gonzales: Let — let me just say — a wise senator recently told me that when you say something that is either being misunderstood or can be misunderstood, you need to try to correct the record and make the record clear. Let me try to be more precise about my involvement. When I said on March 13th that I wasn't involved, what I meant was that I — I had not been involved, was not involved in the deliberations over whether or not United States attorneys should resign.

After I became attorney general, I had Kyle Samson coordinate a department review of the performance of United States attorneys. And I expected him to — to consult with appropriate Department of Justice officials who had information and knowledge about the performance of United States attorneys. From time to time, Mr. Samson would tell me something that would confirm in my mind that that process was ongoing.

For example, I recall him mention to me that — inquiry from the White House about where were we in — in identifying underperformers? And there are other similar type reminders that occurred during this process that I'm going to discuss specifically with the Congress. I was never focused on specific concerns about United States attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign. I was more focused on identify — or making sure that the White House was a prop — was appropriately advised of the progress of our review.

And I was also concerned to ensure that the appropriate Department of Justice officials, people who know — knew about the performance of — of United States attorneys, that they were involved in the process.


U.S. News has a different story if its scoop turns out to be right (also from TPM, of course):

When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday about the controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys, he's unlikely to throw any big bombs at the Bush administration that are of the magnitude of a direct link between Bush's political advisor Karl Rove and the dismissals, a close associate of Sampson's tells U.S. News. But Sampson will set off some fireworks by contradicting a key assurance that Gonzales made to Congress and the American public last Tuesday that he was not in the loop during the long deliberations leading up to the firings.

Gonzales probably spoke to Sampson 20 times a day, and had a morning management meeting daily on a range of issues with Sampson and other key officials also involved in the U.S. Attorney deliberations. Gonzales had delegated the replacement plan for U.S. Attorneys largely to Sampson and was monitoring it at "the 30,000 feet level," Sampson's associate says. But Sampson will testify that the Attorney General not only discussed the idea while he was still White House counsel and signed off at the end, but also was "aware of the arc of the whole process" in between, says this source. "The idea that there were no discussions on this overall issue," says the source, "the Attorney General could not have meant to say that."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

TPM: In case you don't see what this is all about

Given the amount of attention we've given to the US Attorney Purge, there's been no end of right-wing nutjobs who've written in asking just what the big deal is. In most cases, these are just attacks dressed up as questions. And I do my best -- not always successfully -- to ignore them. But interspersed in that mess of emails are a few who seem to be asking, genuinely, what the big deal is. Perhaps they're critics of the president or conservatives who genuinely don't see it. So here's how I'd answer that question.

For all the intensity and hostility awash in our politics, there are some lines we just assume aren't going to be crossed, lines that are so basic that the civil compact itself can't easily survive if they're not respected.

One of those is the vote. Whoever's in power and however intense things get, most of us assume that the party in power won't interfere with the vote count. We also assume that the administration won't use the IRS to harrass or imprison political opponents. And we assume that criminal prosecutions will be undertaken or not undertaken on the facts.

Yes, there's prosecutorial discretion. And the grandstanding, press-hungry DA is almost a cliche. But when a politician gets indicted for corruption we basically all assume it's because they're corrupt -- or, given the assumption of innocence, that the prosecution is undertaken because the prosecutor believes their case is strong and that the defendent committed the crime.

Now, again, life is made of grey areas. And our laws and regulations often take into account that even people of good faith may not be able to impartially investigate their own. That's why we had the Independent Counsel statute. The partisan affiliation of prosecutors and judges often hangs in the background of cases. And probably most Democrats and Republicans feel a bit better when a member of their party is brought down by a prosecutor of the same party because then you can assume -- whatever fairness or unfairness may have been involved -- that partisanship wasn't a factor.

So, all of this is to say that no system is perfect and partisan affiliation may distort the justice system at the margins.

But none of what we're seeing here is at the margins. What we seem to see are repeated cases in which US Attorneys were fired for not pursuing bogus prosecutions of persons of the opposite party. Or vice versa. There's little doubt that that is why McKay and Iglesias were fired and there's mounting evidence that this was the case in other firings as well. The idea that a senator calls a US Attorney at home just weeks before a federal elections and tries to jawbone him into indicting someone to help a friend get reelected is shocking. Think about it for a second. It's genuinely shocking. At a minimum one would imagine such bad acts take place with more indirection and deniability. And yet the Domenici-Iglesias call has now been relegated to the status of a footnote in the expanding scandal, notwithstanding the fact that there's now documentary evidence showing that Domenici's substantial calls to the White House and Justice Department played a direct role in getting Iglesias fired.

So what you have here is this basic line being breached. But not only that. What is equally threatening is the systematic nature of the offense. This isn't one US Attorney out to get Democrats or one rogue senator trying to monkey around with the justice system. The same thing happened in Washington state and New Mexico -- with the same sort of complaints being received and acted upon at the White House and the Department of Justice. Indeed, there appears to have been a whole process in place to root out prosecutors who wouldn't prostitute their offices for partisan goals.

We all understand that politics and the law aren't two hermetically sealed domains. And we understand that partisanship may come into play at the margins. But we expect it to be the exception to the rule and a rare one. But here it appears to have become the rule rather than the exception, a systematic effort at the highest levels to hijack the Justice Department and use it to advance the interest of one party over the other by use of selective prosecution.

-- Josh Marshall

Talking Points Memo

For some, it is a matter of outrage that President Bush has renewed his support for Alberto Gonzales even after new evidence has emerged that the Attorney General has repeatedly lied about the US Attorney Purge. Myself, I see it more as a matter of confirmation and almost a welcome one in that it confirms the nature of the debate we're having.

This isn't a case where Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of the president's standards or bungled some process. This is the standard. The Attorney General has done and is doing precisely what is expected of him.

Consider this.

When Alberto Gonzales went up to the Hill earlier this year and answered questions about the US Attorney firings, he lied about why they'd been fired. When evidence revealed that what he had told the Senate was not true, he told the country in his televised press conference that he hadn't been directly involved in the process and thus had not knowingly misled the Senate. Friday's document dump showed that that too was a lie. These of course are only the most conspicuous examples and I leave aside the numerous instances of his aides lying on his behalf.

It is not too much to say that everything that has come out of Alberto Gonzales' mouth on this issue has been a lie. Sure, that sounds like hyperbole. But it's just a factual summary of what the public record now shows. On the very day his second lie was being exposed Gonzales was publicly claiming "it’s reckless and irresponsible to allege that these decisions were based in any way on improper motives."

And the president is fine with all of this. Fine with the fact that the Attorney General has not only repeatedly lied to the public but has also been exposed as repeatedly lying to the public. He's fine with at least two US Attorneys being fired for not giving in to pressure to file bogus charges to help Republican candidates.

Of course he's fine with it. Because it comes from him. None of this is about Alberto Gonzales. This is about the president and the White House, which is where this entire plan was hatched. Gonzales was just following orders, executing the president's plans. This is about this president and this White House, which ... let's be honest, everyone on both sides of the aisle already knows.

-- Josh Marshall

Unpulled Punches


Daniel Bogden, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada until his ouster by the Bush Administration, sat down this week for an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, and doesn't pull many punches. We pick up after the December 7 phone call in which he was asked to resign:

[Bogden] started asking questions, and finally reached acting - Associate Attorney General William Mercer, the No. 3 man at Justice. . . .

"He says, 'The administration has a short two-year window of opportunity where they can get candidates out to your positions, where they can get the resume together, they can have the experience of the U.S. attorney in their background that would make them a more viable candidate for future judgeships, for political office.' " . . .

At least, that's what he was told behind the scenes.
Initially, Bogden didn't talk to the media:
Then Gonzales testified before Congress.

"He raises his right hand and he says this isn't political, this isn't political, this isn't political, and I knew damn well it was political."

Next, McNulty testified that the firings were related to "unspecified performance issues."
One of those alleged performance-related issues was Bogden's refusal to take an obscenity case being pushed by Brent Ward, the head of Justice's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. Bogden recounts the episode:

Last year Ward and some of his team came to an adult video awards conference in Las Vegas.

"They go in there, and in their super-sleuthing work, they come up with the name of an individual who may be selling obscene videos over the Internet," Bogden said. . . .

Ward's team wanted to send a message and wanted Bogden to take it on.
He declined, citing the weakness of the case, and staff levels at his office, which had declined under the Bush administration despite Nevada's growth.

Then the e-mails emerged recently revealing Ward's harsh words about him.

"It just enraged me," Bogden said. "You see those e-mails and the things they say about me and the other attorneys, people who are very respected. And they are just demeaning and belittling and unprofessional."
A lack of professionalism within the crew running the Justice Department is not the worst of the many offenses committed in this scandal, but it is one of the reasons--perhaps the primary reason--so many people from both sides of the aisle have been so appalled by what has emerged thus far. It's not just that the department's explanations for why the USAs were dismissed don't stand up to any scrutiny or that this whole affair has all the hallmarks of a political purge. Both of those things are true. But the lack of professionalism at the highest levels of the department signals to those familiar with how things used to work at DOJ that long-held standards of conduct have been breached.

Once that breach occurs, anything can happen.

-- David Kurtz

GOP support for attorney general erodes

WASHINGTON - Republican support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales eroded Sunday as three key senators sharply questioned his truthfulness and a Democrat joined the list of lawmakers who want him to resign over the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

"We have to have an attorney general who is candid and truthful. And if we find out he's not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on," said Sen. Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department.

Specter, R-Pa., said he would wait until Gonzales' scheduled April 17 testimony to the committee on the dismissals before deciding whether he could continue to support the attorney general. He called it a "make or break" appearance.

To Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record), R-Neb., Gonzales "does have a credibility problem. ... We govern with one currency, and that's trust. And that trust is all important. And when you lose or debase that currency, then you can't govern. And I think he's going to have some difficulties."

Hagel cited changing stories from the Justice Department about the circumstances for firing the eight U.S. attorneys. "I don't know if he got bad advice or if he was not involved in the day-to-day management. I don't know what the problem is, but he's got a problem. You cannot have the nation's chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility," Hagel said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record), R-S.C., said Gonzales has been "wounded" by the firings. `He has said some things that just don't add up," said Graham, who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., called for Gonzales to step down over his conflicting statements on how involved he was in the dismissals last fall. Democrats contend the prosecutors' firings were politically motivated.

Feinstein, whose state lost two U.S. attorneys in the purge — in San Diego and San Francisco — joined a growing number of Democrats and Republicans in calling for Gonzales' ouster. She said she now believes Gonzales has not told the truth about the firings.

"I believe he should step down," said Feinstein, also on the committee. "And I don't like saying this. This is not my natural personality at all. But I think the nation is not well served by this. I think we need to get at the bottom of why these resignations were made, who ordered them, and what the strategy was."

Gonzales has said he participated in no discussions and saw no memos about plans to carry out the firings on Dec. 7 that Democrats contend were politically motivated.
His schedule, however, shows he attended at least one hourlong meeting, on Nov. 27, where he approved a detailed plan to execute the prosecutors' firings.

The White House has stood by Gonzales, saying the documents do not conflict with Gonzales' earlier statements. "The president continues to have confidence in the attorney general," a spokesman said Saturday.

Gonzales maintains the firings were proper, but also has said he relied heavily on his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to plan the prosecutors targeted for dismissal. Sampson, who resigned under fire March 12, is scheduled to appear Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the dismissals.

The committee chairman, Sen. Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), said he is concerned the Bush administration is trying to make Sampson "the fall guy."

"And yet we find so many e-mails that contradict what the attorney general has said, contradict what the deputy attorney general has said, contradict what the White House has said. Mr. Sampson's right in the middle of it," said Leahy, D-Vt. "We're going to ask him under oath. ... I want him to say exactly what happened."

Leahy's committee also has authorized subpoenas for presidential political adviser Karl Rove and other top White House staff linked to the firings in more than 3,000 e-mails, calendar pages, memos and other documents the Justice Department has released.

President Bush has offered to grant a limited number of lawmakers private interviews with the aides with no transcript and without swearing them in — which senators from both parties have rejected. A House Judiciary subcommittee also has authorized subpoenas in the matter.

Specter appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," Feinstein spoke on "Fox News Sunday," Hagel was on "This Week" on ABC while Leahy and Graham appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

We'll get through all this because there are enough good people like this out there

from Washington Post via Talking Points Memo

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.

"The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision -- demands issued without a showing of probable cause or prior judicial approval -- to obtain potentially sensitive information about U.S. citizens and residents. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me.

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.

Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn't abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.

Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Latest Document Release

McClatchy Newspapers

PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (1)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (2)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (3)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (4)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (5)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (6)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (7)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (8)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (9)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (10)
PDF Documents released 3-23-07 (11)

More coverage U.S. attorneys scandal

Documents Show Gonzales Approved Firings

Mail Tribune :: Online Newspaper Edition - AP News Stories:

"Earlier Friday, a staunch White House ally, Sen. John Cornyn, summoned White House counsel Fred Fielding to Capitol Hill and told him he wanted 'no surprises.'

'I told him, 'Everything you can release, please release. We need to know what the facts are,'' Cornyn said."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in a November meeting, according to documents released Friday that contradict earlier claims that he was not closely involved in the dismissals.

The Nov. 27 meeting, in which the attorney general and at least five top Justice Department officials participated, focused on a five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors, Justice Department officials said late Friday.

There, Gonzales signed off on the plan, which was crafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

On March 13, in explaining the firings, Gonzales told reporters he was aware that some of the dismissals were being discussed but was not involved in them.

"I knew my chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers - where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district, and that's what I knew," Gonzales said last week. "But that is in essence what I knew about the process; was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. That's basically what I knew as the attorney general."

Later, he added: "I accept responsibility for everything that happens here within this department. But when you have 110,000 people working in the department, obviously there are going to be decisions that I'm not aware of in real time. Many decisions are delegated."

read the whole article...

I'll link to these "documents" when I see them and we'll see if this is what it sounds like.

p.s. I got it before Josh. (ok, his time says 9:54, but it wasn't there when I started...I type slowly on the tablet....anyway, who cares)

Voter Fraud Indeed

McClatchy: Bush Admin Pushes Partisan "Voter Fraud" Cases

Some highlights from the piece just out from McClatchy:

Under President Bush, the Justice Department has backed tougher state voter identification laws and steered U.S. attorneys toward investigating voter fraud _ policies that critics say have been intended to suppress Democratic votes....

Since 2005, McClatchy Newspapers has found, Bush has appointed at least three U.S. attorneys who had worked in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division when it was rolling back long-standing voting rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters.

Another newly installed U.S. attorney, Tim Griffin in Little Rock, Ark., was accused of participating in efforts to suppress Democratic votes in Florida during the 2004 presidential election while he was research director for the Republican National Committee. He's denied any wrongdoing....

Several former voting rights lawyers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of antagonizing the administration, said the division’s political employees reversed the recommendations of career lawyers in key cases and transferred or drove out most of the unit’s veteran attorneys.

And Rove's preoccupation with the issue:

Last April, while the Justice Department and the White House were planning the firings, Rove gave a speech in Washington to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He ticked off 11 states that he said could be pivotal in 2008. Bush has appointed new U.S. attorneys in nine of them since 2005: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. U.S. attorneys in the latter four were among those fired.

Rove thanked the audience for “all that you are doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the integrity of the ballot is protected.” He added, “A lot in American politics is up for grabs.”...

One audience member asked Rove whether he’d “thought about using the bully pulpit of the White House to talk about election reform and an election integrity agenda that would put the Democrats back on the defensive.”

“Yes, it’s an interesting idea,” Rove responded.

Go read the whole thing.

SOX for FOX: Good Governance

Doing the Right Thing on Iraq - A Different Perspective

Daily Kos

I had the opportunity last week to spend some time in DC with the Democratic House Caucus as they debated the Iraq Supplemental bill. In fact, I was given the opportunity to speak to the Caucus for a few minutes. Against the advice of several "consultants" who wanted me to just show up, be bland and ask for financial support, I couldn't let this golden chance slip by without giving them my take on the Iraq situation from a different angle.

Prior to running for Congress, I've spent my professional career in the business world, mostly helping start-ups and small growth companies to "get going" and become established. While the US Government is clearly not a business entity, there are many similarities in the way the Government is run to the way large and small companies operate.

So, in the Caucus room I addressed one of the main criticisms coming from the other side of the aisle - that Congress is "micromanaging" the war.

I told our Dem Representatives that perhaps we should use the language of the free market so often used by Republicans and their corporate sponsors. The way I see it, Congress is the Board of Directors of the largest, most important enterprise in the history of the world - the United States of America - and the President is the CEO. But he’s a weak CEO surrounded by a bad management team. In these circumstances, there isn't a company worth it's salt in America where the Board should not step in to set strategic, and sometimes tactical, parameters. In fact, in these circumstances, any Board has a fiduciary obligation, a responsibility, to its shareholders – in this case, every American citizen – to intervene with purpose, decisiveness and conviction to change the strategic course of the organization. If we've learned anything from the recent corporate scandals at Enron, MCI, etc., it should be that while some of the scandals arose from bad people purposefully doing bad things, these corporate frauds were enabled largely because of ineffective Board oversight and unconscionable Board inaction.

In the business world, strong Board action in the face of a ineffective CEO/management team that is pursuing a rigid and ill-planned strategy isn’t micromanaging – its called good governance. And, in my view, it‘s good politics.

I can tell you that the arguments I heard in the Dem House Caucus were by and large impassioned and heartfelt. And leadership is working hard to come up with a solution. But here in the west, after knocking on nearly 20,000 doors across Wyoming last year, I KNOW that people want straight talk and a Representative who will stand up for his/her convictions.

This is Congress' chance to show the American people that they have the courage to hold others accountable, and that they have the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing regardless of political calculation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

No Oversight?

The Carpetbagger Report

Forgive the redundancy after having just mentioned this, but it’s worth paying special attention to the new White House talking point.

Tony Snow on ABC:

“The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn’t have oversight ability.”

Snow on CBS:

“The legislative branch has no oversight responsibility over the White House.”

Snow during press briefing:

“[T]he Congress does have legitimate oversight responsibility for the Department of Justice. It created the Department of Justice. It does not have constitutional oversight responsibility over the White House, which is why by our reaching out, we’re doing something that we’re not compelled to do by the Constitution, but we think common sense suggests that we ought to get the whole story out, which is what we’re doing.”

Look, I know these guys are into all kinds of strange ideas about a unitary executive, but this is ridiculous. If the legislative branch doesn’t have oversight responsibilities over the White House, does Snow think the White House has to answer to anyone?

I was struck by Snow’s notion that Congress “created the Department of Justice.” Historically, that’s true; the legislative branch was responsible for establishing cabinet agencies, which lawmakers then fund and oversee, even though the agencies are part of the executive branch.

I won’t get into a lengthy, turgid poli sci thesis here, but this new argument seems to be that the legislative branch may pay the White House’s bills, but that doesn’t mean it can serve as a check on the White House’s power. If that’s literally the best the Bush gang can come up with, they’re in trouble.

Alex, in the last thread, pointed to this helpful report (.pdf) from the Congressional Oversight Manual.

The Constitution grants Congress extensive authority to oversee and investigate executive branch activities. The constitutional authority for Congress to conduct oversight stems from such explicit and implicit provisions as:

1. The power of the purse. The Constitution provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” Each year the Committees on Appropriations of the House and Senate review the financial practices and needs of federal agencies. The appropriations process allows the Congress to exercise extensive control over the activities of executive agencies. Congress can define the precise purposes for which money may be spent, adjust funding levels, and prohibit expenditures for certain purposes.

2. The power to organize the executive branch. Congress has the authority to create, abolish, reorganize, and fund federal departments and agencies. It has the authority to assign or reassign functions to departments and agencies, and grant new forms of authority and staff to administrators. Congress, in short, exercises ultimate authority over executive branch organization and generally over policy.

3. The power to make all laws for “carrying into Execution” Congress’s own enumerated powers as well as those of the executive. Article I grants Congress a wide range of powers, such as the power to tax and coin money; regulate foreign and interstate commerce; declare war; provide for the creation and maintenance of armed forces; and establish post offices. Augmenting these specific powers is the so-called “Elastic Clause,” which gives Congress the authority “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” Clearly, these provisions grant broad authority to regulate and oversee departmental activities established by law.

4. The power to confirm officers of the United States. The confirmation process not only involves the determination of a nominee’s suitability for an executive (or judicial) position, but also provides an opportunity to examine the current policies and programs of an agency along with those policies and programs that the nominee intends to pursue.

5. The power of investigation and inquiry. A traditional method of exercising the oversight function, an implied power, is through investigations and inquiries into executive branch operations. Legislators often seek to know how effectively and efficiently programs are working, how well agency officials are responding to legislative directives, and how the public perceives the programs. The investigatory method helps to ensure a more responsible bureaucracy, while supplying Congress with information needed to formulate new legislation.

6. Impeachment and removal. Impeachment provides Congress with a powerful, ultimate oversight tool to investigate alleged executive and judicial misbehavior, and to eliminate such misbehavior through the convictions and removal from office of the offending individuals.

Keep in mind, based on Snow’s comments today, this isn’t the executive privilege argument, this is the executive privilege argument on crack. The principle of executive privilege, while fluid, addresses a president’s need for candor from advisors. As the president said the other day, “[I]f the staff of a President operated in constant fear of being hauled before various committees to discuss internal deliberations, the President would not receive candid advice, and the American people would be ill-served.”

But today’s argument goes much further and suggests Congress lacks the authority to ask the White House questions at all. And given the frequency with which Snow used the argument today, we can expect to hear quite a bit more about this in the coming days.

I have a hunch this is going to get ugly.

Letter from House Judiciary Committee to Fred Fielding

TPM Muckraker

(Responding to Fielding, Mar. 20, 2007.)

Click image to enlarge.

. . .. ... .. . .

TPM timeline

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Prosecutor Says Bush Appointees Interfered With Tobacco Case -

via Think Progress

Prosecutor Says Bush Appointees Interfered With Tobacco Case -

"The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government's racketeering case.

Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's office began micromanaging the team's strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government's claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers."

She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.

"The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public."
Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a lawyer at Justice, said three political appointees were responsible for the last-minute shifts in the government's tobacco case in June 2005: then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler's deputy at the time, Dan Meron.

News reports on the strategy changes at the time caused an uproar in Congress and sparked an inquiry by the Justice Department. Government witnesses said they had been asked to change testimony, and one expert withdrew from the case. Government lawyers also announced that they were scaling back a proposed penalty against the industry from $130 billion to $10 billion.

High-ranking Justice Department officials said there was no political meddling in the case, and the department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) concurred after an investigation.

Yesterday was the first time that any of the government lawyers on the case spoke at length publicly about what they considered high-level interference by Justice officials.

Eubanks, who retired from Justice in December 2005, said she is coming forward now because she is concerned about what she called the "overwhelming politicization" of the department demonstrated by the controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Lawyers from Justice's civil rights division have made similar claims about being overruled by supervisors in the past.

Eubanks said Congress should not limit its investigation to the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys.

"Political interference is happening at Justice across the department," she said. "When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general's office, politics is the primary consideration. . . . The rule of law goes out the window."

read on Durbin Destroys White House Spin In Gonzales Scandal Durbin Destroys White House Spin In Gonzales Scandal:

"'We have an unusual circumstance we face right now. Never before in history has a President and an Attorney General fired a group of U.S. attorneys en masse, in a group, other than the expected turnover… with the change of administration,' said Durbin.

'We asked the Congressional Research Service if they could undertake an analysis of U.S. attorney firings that occurred other than the changeover of a Presidency. This is what they found: Only 2 U.S. attorneys out of 486 confirmed by the Senate over the past 25 years have been fired in the middle of a Presidential term for reasons unrelated to misconduct -- 2 out of 486. So for some to argue that this is routine, to fire those attorneys, the facts say otherwise. Only 2 out of 486 have been fired in the midst of their term.'"
According to Durbin, Cragan and Shields compiled a database of Federal indictments and investigations undertaken by U.S. attorneys against elected officials and political candidates since Bush first took office in 2001 and found that U.S. attorneys across the nation have investigated 298 Democrats and just 67 Republicans -- nearly 5 times as many Democratic officials as Republicans.

"These statistics are troubling, and we have to look into them," said Durbin. "The firings of the U.S. attorneys and documents that have been turned over to Congress really call into question the legitimacy of all prosecutions brought by the U.S. attorney in cases involving partisan interests."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Why I Was Fired by David C. Iglesias

NYTimes Editorial by David C. Iglesias via TPM

WITH this week’s release of more than 3,000 Justice Department e-mail messages about the dismissal of eight federal prosecutors, it seems clear that politics played a role in the ousters.
Of course, as one of the eight, I’ve felt this way for some time. But now that the record is out there in black and white for the rest of the country to see, the argument that we were fired for “performance related” reasons (in the words of Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty) is starting to look more than a little wobbly.

United States attorneys have a long history of being insulated from politics. Although we receive our appointments through the political process (I am a Republican who was recommended by Senator Pete Domenici), we are expected to be apolitical once we are in office. I will never forget John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, telling me during the summer of 2001 that politics should play no role during my tenure. I took that message to heart. Little did I know that I could be fired for not being political.

Politics entered my life with two phone calls that I received last fall, just before the November election. One came from Representative Heather Wilson and the other from Senator Domenici, both Republicans from my state, New Mexico.

Ms. Wilson asked me about sealed indictments pertaining to a politically charged corruption case widely reported in the news media involving local Democrats. Her question instantly put me on guard. Prosecutors may not legally talk about indictments, so I was evasive. Shortly after speaking to Ms. Wilson, I received a call from Senator Domenici at my home. The senator wanted to know whether I was going to file corruption charges — the cases Ms. Wilson had been asking about — before November. When I told him that I didn’t think so, he said, “I am very sorry to hear that,” and the line went dead.

A few weeks after those phone calls, my name was added to a list of United States attorneys who would be asked to resign — even though I had excellent office evaluations, the biggest political corruption prosecutions in New Mexico history, a record number of overall prosecutions and a 95 percent conviction rate. (In one of the documents released this week, I was deemed a “diverse up and comer” in 2004. Two years later I was asked to resign with no reasons given.)

When some of my fired colleagues — Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas; Paul Charlton of Phoenix; H. E. Cummins III of Little Rock, Ark.; Carol Lam of San Diego; and John McKay of Seattle — and I testified before Congress on March 6, a disturbing pattern began to emerge. Not only had we not been insulated from politics, we had apparently been singled out for political reasons. (Among the Justice Department’s released documents is one describing the office of Senator Domenici as being “happy as a clam” that I was fired.)

As this story has unfolded these last few weeks, much has been made of my decision to not prosecute alleged voter fraud in New Mexico. Without the benefit of reviewing evidence gleaned from F.B.I. investigative reports, party officials in my state have said that I should have begun a prosecution. What the critics, who don’t have any experience as prosecutors, have asserted is reprehensible — namely that I should have proceeded without having proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The public has a right to believe that prosecution decisions are made on legal, not political, grounds.

What’s more, their narrative has largely ignored that I was one of just two United States attorneys in the country to create a voter-fraud task force in 2004. Mine was bipartisan, and it included state and local law enforcement and election officials.

After reviewing more than 100 complaints of voter fraud, I felt there was one possible case that should be prosecuted federally. I worked with the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s public integrity section. As much as I wanted to prosecute the case, I could not overcome evidentiary problems. The Justice Department and the F.B.I. did not disagree with my decision in the end not to prosecute.

Good has already come from this scandal. Yesterday, the Senate voted to overturn a 2006 provision in the Patriot Act that allows the attorney general to appoint indefinite interim United States attorneys. The attorney general’s chief of staff has resigned and been replaced by a respected career federal prosecutor, Chuck Rosenberg. The president and attorney general have admitted that “mistakes were made,” and Mr. Domenici and Ms. Wilson have publicly acknowledged calling me.

President Bush addressed this scandal yesterday. I appreciate his gratitude for my service — this marks the first time I have been thanked. But only a written retraction by the Justice Department setting the record straight regarding my performance would settle the issue for me.

David C. Iglesias was United States attorney for the District of New Mexico from October 2001 through last month.

Senate Votes to Revoke Power to Replace Prosecutors

By a vote of 94 to 2, the Senate voted to restore the previous system for naming federal prosecutors. Under that system, when a vacancy occurred, the attorney general was allowed to name an interim United States attorney to serve for up to 120 days while the administration submitted a nominee for permanent appointment to the Senate. If a nominee is not confirmed within that period, the federal district court could then name a replacement.

The measure the Senate approved today, if it is enacted into law, would undo language in the USA Patriot Act that had allowed the White House to bypass the Senate in naming prosecutors. It must still be approved by the House, but passage seems assured in that chamber, since it has a stronger Democratic majority than the Senate does.

The president can veto the measure, but the lopsided margin in the Senate suggests that a veto could be overridden. And the Justice Department has indicated that it will not oppose the change.

Judiary Committee Hearing on FBI Use of National Security Letters: Conyers Opening Remarks

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blog This, Geebus

A Key Moment In The History Of Blogging?
March 17, 2007 -- 10:02 AM EST

I'm linking to this piece in the Los Angeles Times not just because it lavishes well-deserved praise on Josh, Paul and the increasingly far-flung TPM Empire, but also because it gets at a point that I've flogged on and off since this blog was born nearly a year ago.

That point is this: For all its flaws, the blogosphere is increasingly home to real live journalism, and it's only a matter of time until folks at the big news orgs accept this fact -- indeed, they'd be doing themselves a favor if they accepted it sooner rather than later.

From the LAT:

It's 20 or so blocks up town to the heart of the media establishment, the Midtown towers that house the big newspaper, magazine and book publishers. And yet it was here in a neighborhood of bodegas and floral wholesalers that, over the last two months, one of the biggest news stories in the country — the Bush administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys — was pieced together by the reporters of the blog Talking Points Memo.

The bloggers used the usual tools of good journalists everywhere — determination, insight, ingenuity — plus a powerful new force that was not available to reporters until blogging came along: the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude...

The blogs that have captured the most attention are those that devote themselves mainly to politics and public affairs. These are almost always run by partisans of one side or the other. In that, they are nearly the opposite of the sort of coverage presented in traditional media, whose coverage at least attempts to be neutral on questions of policy.

This neutrality is a favorite target of bloggers who say that mainstream journalism objectivity disguises hidden biases of the form, if not the writer. The bloggers contend that these biases can render neutrality into bland, even neutered reporting that rewards those intent on manipulating it.

This is a key passage, and not just because I've spent a fair amount of time stepping over plants and flowers to get to TPM World Headquarters in the heart of the floral district. This is as fair a statement -- for now, anyway -- as we're likely to get in a big newspaper about the enterprise we've all agreed to call "blogging." And it gets at two points. First, the more obvious one: Blogging isn't just a challenge to journalism, it's a new kind of journalism which -- while it has tons and tons of work to do -- is starting to boast successes that are compelling practitioners of the older form to recognize its legitimacy.

More broadly -- and lest you dismiss this as overly self-hyping, keep in mind that this blog and its author had no significant role in the Attorney Purge coverage -- it's not outlandish to suppose that we'll look back at the Attorney Purge story as another key moment in the history of blogging. Perhaps we'll see it as a moment at which the perceptions of the blogosphere harbored by many professional journalists underwent another fundamental shift -- even a transformative one.

-- Greg Sargent

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bill Maher on the Domestic Surveillance Program

"I mail myself a copy of the Constitution every morning just on the hope they'll open it and see what it says."

Update: Here is the video via Crooks and Liars

Mickey Kaus with some strange logic

Mickey Kaus with some strange logic here:

"It was only 8 of 93 [U.S. Attorney's]. Only 2 or 3 of these are deeply fishy. There are deeply fishy things in every administration."

Well Mickey. Maybe there used to be "deeply fishy things in every administration," but that rhetorical trick doesn't make it acceptable (and that was before the blogosphere and the Internet).

There is a new sheriff in town and it's called the collective.

Ding-a-link to Robert Wright

"The idea that the Chief of Staff of the Attorney General's office would be numb to the fact, you know, would be insufficiently familiar with the whole idea of the America Constitution to know that we are not looking for "loyalty to the President" and Attorney General, as people, in our U.S. Attorneys...(interrupted)..."

Listen, in context, here.

Gonzales' unprecedented efforts to block a FISA investigation

from Glenn Greenwald

Earlier this week, I wrote about the clear connection between (a) revelations that the FBI has been violating the law with respect to its use of National Security Letters (NSLs) and, specifically, its failure to maintain the requisite records to enable Congress to exercise oversight of NSLs, and (b) President Bush's declaration in the form of a signing statement that he need not comply with those very NSL reporting and auditing requirements. Beyond the signing statement, recent statements made by Alberto Gonzales make this connection as clear as can be.

As I noted in the post below, Gonzales -- in June, 2006 -- appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and either refused to answer or claimed he was unable to answer a long list of questions on countless topics. He agreed at the hearing to provide follow-up answers in writing. But for the next six months, the DOJ ignored that promise and provided nothing. It was only once Democrats took over Congress did the DOJ finally get around to answering those inquiries, and did so in the form of a January 18, 2007 letter from the DOJ's Richard Hertling (recently posted by the FAS here - .pdf).

One of the topics about which Gonzales was asked repeatedly was the President's unprecedented use of signing statements to declare his power to ignore various laws. In particular, Gonzales was asked about the signing statement issued by Bush when he signed the re-authorization of the Patriot Act into law, which is when Bush proclaimed his power to ignore the auditing and reporting requirements concerning NSLs. This is how the DOJ answered those questions in its recent letter:

That is Bush-speak for: the President will comply with the law only to the extent he chooses to. The DOJ's answer then goes on to cite multiple instances where prior Presidents have noted their power to maintain national security and classified information, but none where they proclaimed the right to ignore laws.

Glaringly, the DOJ simply refused to say that the administration would comply with the auditing and reporting requirements imposed by Congress when it re-authorized the NSL power. Instead, it emphasized that it need not do so. This is why the FBI violated the law and simply ignored the legal requirements governing NSL. The President declared that he has the power to break those laws, and the DOJ itself will not even answer the question directly as to whether it would comply with those laws, but instead offers all sorts of evasive answers which make clear that it believes it has the right to ignore those parts of the law.

All sorts of Bush apologists are trying to claim that the NSL law-breaking is simply a matter of accidental record-keeping failures or some sort of petty bureaucratic negligence. It is not. It is systematic and deliberate lawbreaking -- lawbreaking which the President openly assigned himself the right to authorize and which the DOJ, as Gonzales' letter reflects, plainly endorses. The very laws which the FBI was revealed to be breaking are the same laws the President proclaimed the power to break and which the DOJ refused to agree to obey.

The connection between, on the one hand, the President's signing statement on NSL reporting requirements (and, now, the DOJ's pointed refusal to agree to abide by that law) and reports that the FBI has been breaking those laws, on the other, still has not been reported by any national media (other than the Post's Dan Froomkin). Isn't it time to rectify that? If the President proclaims the right to break a law, and the DOJ refuses to say it will obey that law when asked directly, and it is then revealed that that very law has been broken -- repeatedly and in quite dangerous ways -- aren't those facts rather vital to understanding what happened here?

The Gavel » Blog Archive » Hearing on Disclosure of CIA Identity:No White House Investigation

The Gavel » Blog Archive » Hearing on Disclosure of CIA Identity:No White House Investigation:

from Letter to Josh Bolton, White House Chief of Staff from Henry Waxman, Chairman House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (3/16/07):

"Taken as a whole, the testimony at today’s hearing described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House. The first breach was the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity. Other breaches included the failure of Mr. Rove and other officials to report their disclosures as required by law, the failure of the White House to initiate the prompt investigation required by the executive order, and the failure of the White House to suspend the security clearances of the implicated officials"

Hat Tip to the Blogosphere

How TalkingPointsMemo Beat the Big Boys on the U.S. Attorney Story
It's almost too perfect. A mainstream reporter mocks a story a blogger has been working to break, asserting that "it all makes perfect conspiratorial sense!", and that the blogger is "seeing broad partisan conspiracies where none likely exist," only to backtrack a few weeks later when the story explodes across the front pages of the major dailies.

If you wanted to force the issue -- and we would be surprised if some MSM-hating critic doesn't -- the episode illustrates perfectly how the Washington press corps ignores the blogosphere at its own peril. But the story, and its implications, are actually far more complicated -- and for journalism, heartening -- than that.

Still, the image is great. While the mocking reporter, Time magazine's Washington bureau chief Jay Carney, was busy dumping, via Times Swampland blog, on the story of U.S. Attorneys being fired across the country, Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo, and two of his reporters at his offshoot site,, Paul Kiel and Justin Rood, were busy reporting, using a variety of sources that had been largely untapped by the mainstream press.

To be fair, Carney wasn't dismissing the story out of hand, but his snark hardly masked his belief that Marshall & Co. were out on a partisan limb, hyping a story that just wasn't there.

As we now know, there is most definitely some "there, there," and the press has been all over the story for more than a week, discovering that the paper trail that led to the firings leads, on some level, to the White House. Many (including two Republican members of Congress) have called for Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to step down, and the Democratic controlled Congress is licking its chops to hold hearings and issue subpoenas.

Despite his early misgiving about the story, on March 2 Carney finally came around, saying this his "hat is off" to TalkingPointsMemo and "everyone else out there whose instincts told them there was something deeply wrong and even sinister about the firings." And then came the words that bloggers have so longed to hear: "The blogosphere was the engine on this story," Carney wrote, "pulling the Hill and the MSM along...what happened was much worse than I'd first thought. I was wrong. Very nice work, and thanks for holding my feet to the fire."

But before bloggers crack open the bubbly and start dancing around burning piles of dead tree media, it's important to remember that Marshall and his team of bloggers were hardly the only ones paying attention to the story. TPM reporter Paul Kiel says that David Kurtz, a reader of TPM who posts for Marshall on the weekends on TalkingPointsMemo, noticed some stories in the Arkansas papers about Timothy Griffin -- a former adviser to Karl Rove -- replacing Bud Cummins, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Then on January 12, TPM's Justin Rood flagged a piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune that raised questions about the firing of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, and according to Kiel, "that's when our collective hair caught fire, and over the next couple days, putting Griffin's appointment together with Lam's [story], and then the other firings as they were reported, we went back and tried to put the pieces together."

At the time -- mid-January -- TPM's reporters were surveying media around the country and following up links to local papers sent in by readers, "so it was kind of a mix of what you might call blog reporting and traditional reporting," or what might be termed a kind of "wisdom of crowds" method of reporting, combined with some good old-fashioned banging of the phones.

Kiel also credits McClatchy and the Las Vegas Review Journal with doing some good early reporting on the burgeoning story concerning how the Bush administration had forced some attorneys out and replaced them with party loyalists.

This mixing of tips from readers, hitting the phones, and ferreting out tidbits in local papers was exactly what Marshall had in mind when he launched TPM as an investigative reporting blog last year. "What I wanted to do is create a blog where bloggers could do original reporting full-time, and pay them salaries," he says. "Most bloggers aren't full-time journalists, and it's a commitment of time that is nearly impossible unless you have the financial resources to pay people a living."

That said, Marshall seems to be blazing a unique middle ground between "citizen journalism" and true investigative reporting, while not buying in to some of the more robust claims by some in the blogosphere (particularly on the right) that this "new journalism" is crushing traditional news-gathering operations. In fact, if it weren't for reporters at smaller newspapers around the country raising alarms in the first place, the story would likely have died a quiet death.

As someone who spent years inside the world of traditional print reporting, Marshall knows that the resources newspapers and magazines can bring to a story still dwarf what he and his team can do. "To the extent that we're competing head to head with the Post and the Times," he says, "we're gonna get creamed." But the U.S. Attorney story is a case where his operation was able to run with a story in a way that the big newsrooms can't, or won't. "Obviously, they've got hundreds of reporters and we've got two or three," he says, but now that the story has blown up, the big boys with the stocked newsrooms are going to be getting the lion's share of the major scoops. And on some level, that's just fine with Marshall. "This is sort of the nature of our role in the journalistic ecosystem," he says. "Once a story catches fire, the big players are going to start getting the big scoops...and we think that's great because we think we've played a big role in breaking the story in the first place."

The most important part in keeping on top of the U.S. Attorney story while the mainstream media dragged its heels comes from the relationship bloggers have with their readers, one which mainstream reporters don't have. Marshall says that while readers send in relevant articles from local papers and news broadcasts, he and his staff don't accept everything at face value, and fact check it just like any news organization would. Where TPM benefits in the initial fact-gathering process is that the blog, like most blogs, has a more intimate relationship with its readers, who send in tips. "We have a readership of about 100,000 people," he says, "and that means that in any city around the country we've got a bunch of readers who are reading the local papers. So we'll often find out if something happens that's only reported in some small paper -- we basically have an intelligence gathering service that mainstream reporters don't have because they don't have the same kind of relationship with their readers."

Obviously, sites like TPMuckraker are few and far between, since most bloggers don't have the time and resources to spend all day reporting and checking out stories. But in a way, this model of reporting is a great example of straddling the divide between old school shoe-leather reporting and the more aggregate method of Web reporting. And with the U.S. Attorney story at least, TPM's staff was able to weave the disparate strands of information into a coherent whole -- well before most, if not all, of the big D.C. newsrooms. Just ask Jay Carney.


Kos has the story of the story of the story too.