Gonzales says warrantless wiretapping at an end; FISA court may be issuing unconstitutional "blanket" authorizations
- January 17: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy that the NSA will no longer wiretap domestic phones without proper warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.
The domestic, warrantless wiretapping was conducted by the NSA's "Terrorist Surveillance Program," and has long been criticized for spying on Americans without warrants or judicial oversight. But a review of the process reveals that the FISA court may just be issuing unconstitutional "blanket" authorizations of wiretaps without reviewing each individual request. The Justice Department says it has worked out what it calls an "innovative" arrangement with the FISA court that provides the "necessary speed and agility" to provide court approval to monitor international communications of people inside the United States without jeopardizing national security. In reality, the new program of "compliance" seems designed, at least in part, to derail lawsuits challenging the program in conventional federal courts. Ann Beeson of the ACLU says, "It's another clear example of the government playing a shell game to avoid accountability and judicial scrutiny."
- A legal expert for the progressive news blog CorrenteWire says the fawning media coverage of the new wiretapping procedures gives far, far too much credit to the Bush administration, and ignores the realities of the case. When, for example, the New York Times prints the headline, "Court to Oversee US Wiretapping in Terror Cases," CorrenteWire's "Lambert" simply counters, "Wrong. The court has always 'overseen' wiretapping. Bush simply broke the law, and declined to involve them. ...The issue is not merely wiretapping of voice, but interception of email. The [mainstream media] has confused this issue from day one; the technical and legal issues are completely different." Of the so-called "surprise reversal," Lambert observes, "This is no such thing. All Bush and Gonzales are trying to do is evade accountability with a vaguely worded letter and...a secret decision by a single judge in a non-adversarial setting, instead of having compliant Republicans rewrite the law to offer them blanket amnesty. Like sharks, they never change. Circle and eat, circle and eat. The Republican drive to evade accountability and replace the Constitution with authoritarian rule is just as strong today as it was [on] November 6. For them, nothing has changed except for the Kabuki. ...Under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court always had jurisdiction over the program. Bush broke the law, and according to the decision in ACLU vs. NSA committed over thirty felonies, one for each time he purportedly authorized the program. So, Bush 'agreed' to obey the law, but when the executive 'agrees' to obey the law, do we really have a Constitutional system of government anymore? Or do we have a king?" Like the editor of this site, Lambert finds the idea of an "innovative" agreement with the FISA court unsettling, but the Times reporters, like almost all of the media representatives, have not asked what the term means.
- Even some Republicans are not fooled. Representative Heather Wilson notes that administration officials "have convinced a single judge in a secret session, in a nonadversarial session, to issue a court order to cover the president's terrorism surveillance program." Wilson is calling for further investigation. The ACLU's Anthony Romero sums up the entire debacle by saying simply, "It's not academic when the president violates the law." Lambert adds to Romero's conclusion, "When you've got a president who commits thirty felonies and only then decides to obey the law, it's 'not academic.' It's a f*cking Constitutional crisis, is what it is. Yet our famously free press refused to cover the story. And even the good guys are getting it wrong."
- The next day, Gonzales faces tough questions from members of Leahy's committee, but refuses to offer many details of the NSA's domesticy spying program in the name of "national security." Gonzales's own resistance is sandbagged by a letter from a letter from the FISA court's presiding judge, offering to detail some of its new authority with lawmakers if allowed to by the Bush administration. "Are you saying that you might object to the court giving us a decision that you publicly announced?" demands Leahy. "Are we a little Alice in Wonderland here?" Gonzales replies, "There is going to be information about operational details about how we're doing this that we want to keep confidential."
- Bush, of course, denies any changes have taken place except to have the court's blessing, a complete reversal of reality. "The courts yesterday said I did have the authority," he told reporters. "That's important. And the reason it's important that they verify the legalities of the program is it means it's going to extend, make it extend beyond my presidency. This is a really important tool for future presidents to have. ...Nothing has changed in the program except the court has said we've analyzed it and it's a legitimate way to protect the country." Of course, Bush has it backwards. Bush has always insisted that he has the power to conduct the surveillance under a congressional resolution authorizing the war on terrorism and under his constitutional role as commander-in-chief. The administration has repeatedly argued that it would be impossible to require a court order each time the NSA wanted to wiretap international phone calls of a suspected al-Qaeda agent.
- In hearings beginning in both chambers of Congress, lawmakers say that while they welcome the reversal by the Bush administration, which had previously opposed review by the so-called FISA Court, they want to know more about how judges might consider evidence when approving government requests to monitor phone calls and e-mails between the United States and abroad. "I'd like to know if there's an intention to do this on an individual basis, or at least on a case-by-case basis where five, six, ten, 20, 100 individuals are involved, or is it broader brush than that?" asks Democratic senator Charles Schumer. "Because if it's a very broad brush approval and again, because it's secret we have no way of knowing, it doesn't do much good." When Gonzales answers, "They meet the legal requirements under FISA," Schumer replies, "I think we have to assume these are broad program warrants, barring some comment from you. If it's a broad program warrant, it really isn't very satisfying in terms of protection that the Constitution requires." Schumer's Republican colleague Arlen Specter says he isn't sure the FISA court has the blanket authority to approve all eavesdropping requests, even though Justice Department attorneys have assured him warrants would target individuals. "From their description to me, I think we need to know more on the oversight process," he says. Leahy is far blunter: he accuses the Justice Department of being "complicit" in devising "government policies which threaten our basic liberties and overstep the bounds of our Constitution," citing not only the domestic spying program, but Gonzales's own legal justification for detaining and interrogating suspected terrorists at secret prisons run by the CIA.
- Democratic senator Russ Feingold corners Gonzales about his support for warrantless, illegal domestic wiretapping and eavesdropping, focusing on Gonzales's implied accusations that Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee were anti-American for opposing such wiretapping: "It is a disgrace and disservice to your office and the President to have accused people on this committee of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists." Gonzales counters, "I didn't have you in mind or anyone on the committee when I referred to people who oppose eavesdropping on terrorists. Perish the thought." But Feingold is not falling for Gonzales's smarmy dodge: Oh, well it's nice that you didn't have us 'in your mind' when making those accusations, but given that you and the President were running around the country accusing people of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists in the middle of an election, the fact that you didn't have Congressional Democrats in 'mind' isn't significant. Your intent was to make people think that anyone who opposed the 'TSP' did not want to eavesdrop on terrorists, even though that was false. No Democrats oppose eavesdropping on terrorists." Gonzales's lame rejoinder? "I wasn't referring to Democrats." Progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald sourly observes, "So, apparently, all those speeches Bush officials and their supporters have spent the last year giving accusing people of opposing eavesdropping on terrorists, and all the television commericals making the same accusations throughout the months leading up to the election, were not about Democrats at all, but were about random bloggers who are against all eavesdropping. [Gonzales only mentions unspecified bloggers as being critical of the NSA's eavesdropping program.] Where?"
- FISA Court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote a letter, released during the hearing, saying she has no objection to giving lawmakers copies of orders and opinions relating to the secret panel's oversight of the spy program, but that she needs authorization from Gonzales to do so. "If allowed, the Court will, of course, cooperate with the agreement," she wrote. Neither Gonzales nor National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, testifying separately before the House Intelligence Committee, are willing to authorize such disclosure, with Negroponte saying there may be separation of powers issues involved in turning over information to Congress about the program.
- Officials refuse to not say whether case-by-case basis decisions on surveillance of Americans are now made by FISA judges or by NSA officials.
- Last August, a federal judge in Detroit declared the spying program unconstitutional, saying it violated the rights to free speech and privacy and the separation of powers. The Justice Department launched an appeal of that decision, but now is considering whether to ask a three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based appellate court to dismiss the case. Some legal analysts say the administration's pre-emptive move could effectively make the court review moot, but Democrats and civil rights advocates say they will press for the courts and Congress to continue their scrutiny of the program of wiretapping without warrants, which began shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. (TPM Muckraker [link to letter], New York Times, New York Times, CorrenteWire, Bloomberg News, New York Times/Washington Monthly, Unclaimed Territory/Crooks and Liars [link to video])
- January 17: In an address to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that the nation's courts should defer to the will of the president in national security cases.
"A judge will never be in the best position to know what is in the national security interests of our country," he says. Any judge who challenges Bush's interpretation of the law, Gonzales inplies, is "activist." Last year, US District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled the administration's warrantless surveillance program illegal, and the Supreme Court struck down its treatment of detainees in Guantanamo. Both were ruled flatly unconstitutional. While Gonzales insists that these judges, and others like them, are "apply[ing] an activist philosophy that stretches the law to suit policy preferences, and are attempting to make their own policy judgments, what the judges are actually doing is upholding the law.
- This is an astonishing stance for the highest law enforcement official in the land to make. As an editorialist at Buzzflash writes, "The courts are not telling us what we have to do, or even what we should do. They simply prevent what we can't do according to the Constitution. That's their job, and in a nation run by Gonzales and the rest of the Bush Administration we should be darn glad the founding fathers decided to create a third, independent branch. If only [Supreme Court] Justice [John Paul] Stevens would point out that, though 'a judge will never be in the best position to know what is in the national security interests of our country' like Gonzales said, the executive branch is hardly in the best position to fairly proclaim its own constitutional powers. Bush and Gonzales are the real activists." (Buzzflash)
- January 17: The Defense Department's acting inspector general, Thomas Gimble, says the Pentagon has hidden at least $1.4 billion in other agencies' accounts instead of returning unspent money to the US Treasury, as required by law.
Gimble says Pentagon offices between 2002 and 2005 used the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Interior Department "to 'park' or 'bank' funds that were expiring." GSA and Interior then spent the money on Pentagon contracts, circumventing the law, according to Gimble. Pentagon officials did this because they either wanted to hire a particular company, spend money before it had to be returned or could not respond quickly enough to Defense Department customers, Gimble says. In written responses to Gimble and other federal investigators, Pentagon and Interior officials have acknowledged problems with their contracting processes and said they are working to fix them. GSA officials have returned $600 million in unused funds to the Defense Department. When his office started its work, Gimble says, the Pentagon had "unclear" policies about how to use such accounts. The Pentagon's chief financial officer issued new, clearer policies in October, he says. In testimony to a Senate Armed Service panel, Gimble tells of a $100 million office space contract for the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) that he says is more evidence of a pattern of poor oversight of military contracts. Often, he says, Pentagon contracting officers award billions of dollars in deals without proper planning, documentation or oversight. The 10-year, $100 million CIFA lease is "one of the potentially most serious problems" his investigators found with contracts made through an Interior Department office, Gimble says. That arrangement of using Interior, he says, is supposed to save time and money but often results in expensive and possibly illegal deals. Such contracts also make "end runs" around Congress and higher-level agency officials and hide how the Pentagon spends its money.
- Democrats on the panel are angered by the revelations and say the Pentagon needs to clean up its act. "If there's not accountability when something like that happens, we might as well throw in the towel," says Claire McCaskill. (USA Today)
- January 17: Former Democratic senator John Edwards, one of the three major Democratic candidates for president in 2008, sends a strongly worded e-mail (written by his campaign manager, former congressman David Bonior) to his supporters lambasting Bush's Iraq policies as well as Democrats too fainthearted to declare their principled opposition to the war.
Iraq war and occupation
Edwards repudiates the claim that "Congress does not have the power to stop [Bush's] proposed escalation of the war in Iraq." "That's bull," the e-mail reads. "I can assure you that Congress does have the power to stop this escalation. Some [in Congress] are calling for symbolic statements that do nothing to stop the escalation. If you hear a member of Congress say 'non-binding resolution,' then you're really hearing them say 'pass the buck.' And some members of Congress are waiting for --- well, we don't know what they're waiting for." Edwards's campaign e-mail says he is "calling on Congress to stand up and take responsibility by using its power to prevent this war from getting any worse." He is calling on Congress to block funding for Bush's escalation. (John Edwards/BradBlog)
- January 17: Investigative journalist Robert Parry slams the mainstream media for presenting the upcoming trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby as little more than a case of Libby fudging some facts when questioned by, in Parry's characterization, "overzealous investigators."
Lewis Libby perjury trial
Of course there is far more to the story. The story is not whether Libby hedged the truth, but of Bush's attempts to shut down legitimate critics of his Iraq war policies, and about Bush's own honesty. In 2003, Bush was riding high -- in Parry's words, "swagger[ing] a modern-day king fawned over by courtiers in the government and the press[,] and protected by legions of followers who bullied citizens who dared to dissent." Parry says the essence of Libby's crimes rest in his former position as "a top enforcer responsible for intimidating Americans who wouldn't stay in line behind the infallible Bush."
- Libby's foremost target among the innumerable Iraq war critics was former US ambassador Joseph Wilson. In mid-2003, Wilson was one of the first critics of his level of prominence to, in Parry's words, "question the official consensus of Bush's wisdom, courage and integrity." The story of Wilson going public with evidence that Bush and his officials warped and manufactured intelligence to panic Americans into believing they were under imminent threat of an Iraqi nuclear attack is well documented throughout this site. In return, Bush officials tried to discredit Wilson by leaking the identity of his wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and by mounting an unrelentingly savage attack on Wilson's credibility and his character, a campaign that continues even today. The following article is an invaluable primer -- Plame/Libby 101, if you will -- on the scandal behind the Libby trial.
- Wilson himself wrote in his memior, The Politics of Truth, that the decision to go after Wilson was reached in Dick Cheney's office. Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, asked Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, a neoconservative ally in the State Department, to prepare a memo on Wilson. The June 10, 2003 memo named Plame as Wilson's wife. CIA director George Tenet soon after told Cheney that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and played a part in the selection of her husband to journey to Niger to find the truth about the allegations of Iraq's supposed attempt to buy yellowcake uranium from that country. These two facts -- Plame's work for the CIA and her minimal involvement in Wilson's Niger trip (see related items throughout this site) -- became the basis for the administration's attack strategy against Wilson. Libby turned to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a reliable mouthpiece for neoconservative propaganda who had already played a crucial role in helping the administration build its specious case for war with Iraq. It is not clear whether Libby told Miller of Plame's identity. Around that same time, conservative columnist Robert Novak received a from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's office offering an interview. Novak, who is anything but trustworthy, says that he was surprised by Armitage's contact. "During his quarter of a century in Washington, I had had no contact with Armitage before our fateful interview," Novak wrote in September 2006. "I tried to see him in the first 2 ½ years of the Bush administration, but he rebuffed me -- summarily and with disdain, I thought. Then, without explanation, in June 2003, Armitage's office said the deputy secretary would see me. Novak believes the call from Armitage came in late June 2003, two weeks before Wilson wrote his July 6 op-ed that destroyed the Iraq-Niger allegations. As Parry notes, "In other words, Armitage's outreach to Novak and Libby's briefing of Miller came at virtually the same time."
- Cheney was angered by Wilson's op-ed proving that the claims of Iraqi uranium buys from Niger were baseless. His notes read, in part, "Have they [CIA officials] done this sort of thing before? Send an Amb[assador] to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?" The last question shows that Cheney was aware that Wilson's wife was with the CIA, and that she was in the position -- one of the key CIA officials working with WMD issues -- to have had a hand in Wilson's assignment to check out the Niger allegations. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the man who will shortly begin trying Lewis Libby in a federal courtroom, wrote in a court filing, "Those annotations support the proposition that publication of the Wilson Op-Ed acutely focused the attention of the Vice President and the defendant -- his chief of staff -- on Mr. Wilson, on the assertions made in his article, and on responding to these assertions."
- On July 6, 2003, Armitage called Carl Ford, the assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, at home and asked him to send a copy of Grossman's memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Since Powell was preparing to leave with Bush on a state visit to Africa, Ford forwarded Grossman's memo to the White House for delivery to Powell. Two days later, Libby gave Judith Miller more details about the Wilsons, telling the reporter that Plame worked at a CIA unit responsible for weapons intelligence and non-proliferation. Miller wrote down the words "Valerie Flame," an apparent misspelling of her maiden name. That same day, Novak had his interview with Armitage. Novak later recalled that Armitage divulged Plame's identity toward the end of an hour-long interview. In September 2006, well after the time he revealed what he knew to the Fitzgerald investigation, Novak wrote that Armitage "told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counter-proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission." Novak added that he thought Armitage seemed to want the information published. Novak then called Karl Rove, one of his most useful and well-worn sources, to confirm the Wilson-Plame story. Rove confirmed it, becoming Novak's second source. Novak insisted in July 2003, "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me. [Bush administration officials] thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."
- White House officials who were accompanying Bush on his Africa trip tried to plant the same anti-Wilson stories. Bush was being asked at every stop about the Niger-yellowcake deceit, and about the infamous "16 words" from the January 2003 State of the Union address. Eventually, press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that the yellowcake allegation was "incorrect" and should not have been included in the speech. On July 11, 2003, CIA Director Tenet took the fall for the State of the Union screw-up, apologizing for not better vetting the speech, even though the CIA and Tenet had intervened at least four times earlier to have references to the Iraq-Niger uranium deal removed from other speeches. Parry observes, "The admission was one of the first times the Bush team had retreated on any national security issue. Administration officials were embarrassed, incensed and determined to punish Wilson." Time reporter John Dickerson, who was on the Africa trip, recalled later that Bush officials pushed him to pursue the seemingly insignificant question of who had been involved in arranging Wilson's trip. While Bush was meeting with the president of Uganda, one "senior administration official" pulled Dickerson aside and told him that "some low-level person at the CIA was responsible for the mission." Dickerson "should go ask the CIA who sent Wilson," Dickerson recalled being told in February 2006. A second "senior administration official" pulled Dickerson aside shortly after and told him the same thing. "This official also pointed out a few times that Wilson had been sent by a low-level CIA employee and encouraged me to follow that angle," Dickerson recalled. "What struck me was how hard both officials were working to knock down Wilson," Dickerson recalled. "Discrediting your opposition is a standard tactic in Washington, but the Bush team usually played the game differently. At that stage in the first term, Bush aides usually blew off their critics. Or, they continued to assert their set of facts in the hope of overcoming criticism by force of repetition." Not this time.
- Dickerson's Time colleague, Matthew Cooper, was getting the same message from Rove. On July 11, Rove tried to steer Cooper away from writing about Wilson's information about Iraq-Niger and instead towards questioning whether Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife, "who apparently works at the agency [CIA] on WMD issues," Cooper noted. Cooper later got the information about Wilson's wife confirmed by Cheney's chief of staff Libby, who was peddling the same information to Judith Miller. On July 12, 2003, in a telephone conversation, Libby and Miller returned to the Wilson topic. Miller's notes contain a reference to a "Victoria Wilson," apparently another misspelled reference to Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame.
- All the pushing worked. On July 14, 2003, Novak published a column citing two unnamed adminstration sources (Armitage and Novak) outing Plame as a CIA official, and smearing Wilson's Niger trip as a case of nepotism and political partisanship. Plame's career was destroyed. Dozens of CIA assets throughout Europe and Asia, who had worked through the undercover Plame, were jeopardized, sometimes facing torture and murder, because of Plame's sudden outing. But Plame, her career (including her usefulness as a senior official working on finding out about Iran's nuclear program), and the lives of her assets were all collateral damage for the vengeful White House. And the damage was just beginning.
- On July 20, NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell told Wilson that "senior White House sources" had called her to stress "the real story here is not the 16 words but Wilson and his wife." The next day, MSNBC's Chris Matthews told Wilson, "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says and I quote, 'Wilson's wife is fair game.'"
- CIA officials, angered by the damage done to Plame's spy network, lodged a complaint with the Justice Department about whether the leaks amounted to an illegal exposure of a CIA officer. But the initial investigation was under the direct control of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Thus protected, Bush and other White House officials confidently denied any knowledge of the leak. And Bush even vowed to fire anyone who leaked classified material. Press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters on September 29, "The president has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." The next day, Bush himself had the affrontery to tell the public how determined he was to find the source of the leak. "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true." But, as Parry notes, "even as Bush was professing his curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of some secrets about the Niger uranium issue and had ordered Cheney to arrange for those secrets to be given to reporters.
- When Libby testified much later that Bush had approved the selective release of intelligence in July 2003 to counter the escalating criticism surrounding the bogus Iraq-Niger claims, Bush himself began courting legal danger. According to Fitzgerald, Libby testified that he was told by Cheney that Bush had approved a plan in which Libby would tell Judith Miller about the CIA's secret analysis. "Defendant's participation in a critical conversation with Judith Miller on July 8  occurred only after the Vice President advised defendant that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE," the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, Fitzgerald wrote in a court filing. Bush was part of the anti-Wilson scheme. Bush had helped orchestrate the Plame outing. And Bush was part of the attempt to cover it up.
- Some administration officials have privately admitted that the Plame outing was an act of retaliation against Wilson for being one of the first mainstream public figures to challenge Bush on the WMD intelligence. In September 2003, a White House official told the Washington Post that at least six reporters had been informed about Plame before Novak's column. The official said the disclosure was "purely and simply out of revenge."
- In late 2003, Ashcroft bowed to a firestorm of criticism and recused himself from presiding over the investigation. The US Attorney in Chicago, Fitzgerald, was named as the special prosecutor. The White House was alarmed at the aggressiveness of Fitzgerald's pursuit of the investigation.
- Yet the White House attempts to paint Wilson as a partisan flake, a lunatic, and a traitor, continued, aided and abetted by Novak and their other confreres in the right-wing -- and mainstream -- media. The Republican leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee made misleading and derogatory claims about Wilson's honesty in a WMD report. The Republican National Committee posted an article entitled "Joe Wilson's Top Ten Worst Inaccuracies and Misstatements," which itself used glaring inaccuracies and misstatements to discredit Wilson.
- Fitzgerald indicted Libby in October 2005, charging him with five counts of perjury, lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. Libby resigned from Cheney's staff. In a court filing on April 5, 2006, Fitzgerald added that his investigation had uncovered a "concerted" effort by the White House to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Wilson because of his criticism of the administration's handling of the Niger evidence. But even that didn't stop the Wilson bashing.
- In late summer 2006, authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn promoted an angle in their book, Hubris, that identified the State Department's Armitage as Novak's original source on the CIA identity of Valerie Plame. (Editor's note: Hubris is a key source for some of the material in this Web site.) The Isikoff-Corn disclosure was quickly cited by the mainstream Washington press corps as vindication for the Bush administration and yet another reason to dump on Joe Wilson. Since the "conventional wisdom" held that Armitage wasn't part of the administration's neocon inner circle and was a skeptic about the Iraq War, the major news media jumped on the story as evidence that there never had been a White House conspiracy to punish Wilson by outing his wife.
- "It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity -- is untrue," a Washington Post editorial concluded on September 1, 2006. The Post editorial followed the lead of the White House in blaming Wilson for being responsible for ending his wife's career. The astonishing editorial even denies Wilson's role in debunking the Iraq-Niger connection, and says that Wilson "ought to have expected" retaliation from the White House and from conservative journalists such as Novak. Parry calls the editorial something between "an argumentative smear [and] a willful lie." Parry writes, "Along with other government investigators, Wilson did debunk the reports of Iraq acquiring yellowcake in Niger and those findings did circulate to senior levels, explaining why CIA Director Tenet struck the yellowcake claims from other Bush speeches." And there's a more direct reason why the Post was so eager to go after Wilson: "In shifting the blame for exposing Plame's identity away from the White House and Novak and onto Wilson, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt also absolved himself since he published Novak's column revealing Plame's identity in the first place."
- Parry continues, "Contrary to the Post's assertion that Wilson 'ought to have expected' that the White House and Novak would zero in on Wilson's wife, a reasonable expectation in a normal world would have been just the opposite. Even amid the ugly partisanship of today's Washington, it was shocking to many longtime observers of government that any administration official or even an experienced journalist would disclose the name of a covert CIA officer for such a flimsy reason as trying to discredit her husband. And only in this upside-down world would a major newspaper be so irresponsible and so dishonest as to lay off the blame for exposing a CIA officer on her husband because he dared criticize lies told by the President of the United States, deceptions that have led the nation into a military debacle and to the deaths of more than 3,000 American soldiers.
- The New York Times went in a slightly different direction: on September 2, it attacked Fitzgerald for continuing to pursue the Plame investigation for over two years after Armitage admitted in secret grand jury testimony to revealing Plame's name to Novak. But the Times. and the other news outlets who followed that tack, ignored the long-time connection between Armitage and Karl Rove. Parry writes that "Armitage and Rove developed a friendship and a close working relationship when Bush was lining up Powell to be his Secretary of State.... In those negotiations, Armitage stood in for Powell and Rove represented Bush -- and after that, the two men provided a back channel for sensitive information to pass between the White House and the State Department," according to a former senior Bush administration official. Parry writes, "The significance of this detail is that it undermines the current 'conventional wisdom' among Washington pundits that Armitage acted alone -- and innocently -- in July 2003 when he disclosed Plame's covert identity to Novak, who then turned to Rove as a secondary source confirming the information from Armitage. When one considers the Armitage-Rove connection, and the alacrity with which Novak and other journalists were pressured to "investigate" Wilson, it seems clear that Armitage and Rove were, in Parry's words, "collaborating on the anti-Wilson operation, not simply operating on parallel tracks without knowing what the other was doing.
- Parry's conservative source finds the story, promulgated by Isikoff and Corn, that Armitage, supposedly an inverterate gossip, accidentally let Plame's name slip, ludicrous. "Armitage isn't a gossip, but he is a leaker," the source says. "There's a difference." Parry also notes that in 1998, Armitage was one of the 18 signatories to a seminal letter from the neoconservative Project for the New American Century urging Bill Clinton to oust Saddam Hussein by military force if necessary. Armitage joined an array of neoconservative icons, such as Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, William Kristol, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. Many of the signers, including Donald Rumsfeld, would become architects of Bush's Iraq policy five years later. But the mainstream news media seized on what Parry terms the "Armitage-as-innocent-gossip version of events" as proof that Rove and the White House had gotten a bum rap on the Plame affair. On September 7, 2006, Washington Post columnist David Broder went so far as to write that publications which had made allegations about White House wrongdoing "owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts."
- Parry concludes, "As the Libby case finally gets underway, the trial will offer another opportunity for the major news media to climb back into that time machine and travel back to the happier era when everyone who mattered in Washington just knew that George W. Bush was always right and anyone who thought otherwise must be a 'conspiracy theorist.'" (Consortium News [multiple sources])
- January 17: While others call for moderation and diplomacy in the US's dealings with the Middle East, an influential group of Christian Zionists with intimate access to Bush are calling for all-out war with Iran as a prelude to Armageddon.
The organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), is headed by San Antonio "megapastor" John Hagee, and not only has Bush's ear, but has regularly scheduled discussions with Bush's senior national security staff. Hagee and his flock are celebrating what they believe is the imminent destruction of civilization as we know it, the return of Jesus Christ, and their own presumed redemption and ascension to Heaven. And they intend to make it all happen sooner rather than later. Hagee and some of his most nationally known disciples, such as Rod Parsley, have met with a number of Republican -- and a few Democratic -- lawmakers, and, most notably, deputy national security advisor Elliot Abrams. Reporter Sarah Posner writes, "That the president's top national security advisor on Middle East policy met with the popular author of a best-selling book that claims that God requires a war with Iran demonstrates just how intensely politics trumps policy (and human lives) for this unhinged administration."
- The emboldened Hagee has preached since his meeting with Abrams that "most Americans are simply not aware that the battle for Western Civilization is engaged" and "don't want to believe that Iran would use nuclear weapons against mighty America. They will!" As the bloody fighting between Israel and Hezbollah raged last August, Hagee organized a grassroots lobbying campaign to blitz the White House switchboard with callers opposed to a cease-fire. Members were urged to call the White House to "congratulate" Bush on using the term "Islamofascists" and on his "moral clarity." In October, Hagee, in front of 5,000 church members and visitors, threw a weekend-long "Night to Honor Israel." The rhetoric was flying throughout the weekend, with analogies to Hitler vying with denouncements of "appeasement" and vitrolic anti-Muslim rhetoric. Posner writes, "But what masqueraded as Biblically mandated generosity toward the Jews was nothing more than a political rally for a war not just against Iran, but against Islam, and for the dominance of Christianity (Hagee's brand, of course)." By year's end, Hagee was thundering about Iran "reloading for the next war" and claiming that he had "reason to believe that Iran will face a military preemptive strike from Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons." Hagee was infuriated by the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to negotiate diplomatically with Iran, calling the ISG "anti-Israel" and saying, "America's problems with Iran have nothing to do with Israel. Iran's president has said he intends to use nuclear weapons against the United States of America. My father's generation would have considered this statement a declaration of war and bombed Iran by this time."
- What may be most frightening about Hagee's rhetoric is how correct some of it is. It is likely that Bush has already signed secret orders authorizing military action against Iran. And Bush's own rhetoric of recent weeks has been aimed at ginning up support among Americans for action against Iraq by, in Posner's words, using "his tried (but by no means true) device of uttering the words 'Iran, 'nuclear weapons' and '9/11' in the same breath." Posner concludes, "His saber rattling won't work for the majority of Americans outraged by his conduct of the Iraq war and opposed to its escalation. But for his listeners gearing up for the end times -- a segment of American evangelicals increasingly united around this issue -- Bush fired up the grandiose rhetoric of a final showdown: 'The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time.'" (AlterNet)
- January 17: The conservative smear campaign against Democratic senator and prospective presidential candidate Barack Obama continues.
Conservative smear campaigns
Conservative political commentator Dick Morris lies to his readers in a column published in the Washington insider magazine The Hill, saying falsely that Obama voted against "a Senate reform banning the increasingly widespread practice of legislators hiring their family members on their campaign or PAC [political action committee] payrolls." In reality, Obama actually voted against a motion to table, or kill, the amendment. That same day, Morris, to his credit, retracts his allegation, admits his error, and apologizes to Obama for his "mistaken reading of the record." But a number of news and commentary outlets ignore Morris's retraction and print the original lie, sometimes with their own derisive commentary. Some of these outlets include the Washington Times the Salem, Oregon Statesman Journal, which both reprinted the Morris column the day after Morris's retraction. Other media outlets who either cited or republished the article include US News & World Report, the conservative news website NewsMax, right-wing pundit David Horowitz's FrontPageMag, the right-wing website Human Events Online, and the conservative website Family Security Matters. The Hill has yet to publish a correction, and neither have the other news sites and publications cited above. On the other side of the coin, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz notes on January 18 that "Morris was flat-out wrong" about Obama, and that Morris had made this false allegation on the January 16 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes. Kurtz quotes a spokesman for Obama saying: "Dick obviously took a ready-fire-aim approach when he wrote this column. Hopefully next time he'll check his facts before criticizing a politician for a position he didn't take." (The Hill/Washington Times/MediaMatters)
- January 17: The conservative smear campaign against Democratic senator and prospective presidential candidate Barack Obama continues.
Conservative smear campaigns
Appearing on conservative hatemonger Glenn Beck's nightly talk show on CNN Headline News, Time magazine's Mike Allen attacks Obama over Obama's profession of faith. Allen, supposedly a nonpartisan journalist, says that he doubts many of those who cheered during Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention when Obama said, "We worship an awesome God in the blue states, too," in Allen's words, "know that Obama had 100 percent from Planned Parenthood when he was in the state legislature." Allen is obviously trying to say that anyone who professes to be a Christian, as Obama does, must be lying if he is also pro-choice -- the meaning behind the "Planned Parenthood" reference. (CNN/MediaMatters)
- January 17: The progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org releases a commercial in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the earliest and most influential presidential primary states, documenting Republican senator and likely presidential candidate John McCain's repeated flip-flops on Iraq.
AlterNet's Joshua Holland notes acerbically, "The group is trying to drive a wedge between John McCain and a fawning media that's pumped out mountains of nonsense about what a straight-shooting, independent-minded and, above all else, moderate voice McCain has been in the US Senate." McCain's repeated changes of heart go back as far as 1990, when, less than three weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait, McCain said that Americans shouldn't support a ground war in the Middle East because "we cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood." Less than two months later, though, McCain decided that such a war was necessary, and cast the appropriate vote. not only contemplated the possibility, he voted to go to war on behalf of Kuwait.
- His back-and-forth pas de deux with Bush's Iraq policy is even more, well, back-and-forth. In September 2002, McCain joined Dick Cheney and the more overtly bloodthirsty neoconservatives in predicting a "cakewalk" in Iraq, saying, "As successful as I believe we will be, and I believe that the success will be fairly easy, we will still lose some American young men or women." Later that month he told CNN, "We're not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad...we're not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies." And in early 2003, he told MSNBC viewers, "We will win this conflict. We will win it easily." This month, however, he told MSNBC viewers that he knew all along the Iraq war was "probably going to be long and hard and tough," and that he was "sorry" for those who voted for the war believing it would be "some kind of an easy task." "Maybe they didn't know what they were voting for," he said. Perhaps they listened to McCain in September 2003 before casting their vote.
- Of course, McCain is most notable now for his push for a "surge," the media-friendly name for a troop escalation. McCain is now insisting that a mere 20,000 more troops in Baghdad and Anbar will do the trick. In late 2003, he said that "another 20,000 troops" would be enough to quell the "classic insurgency" erupting in Iraq. In November 2003, McCain added, "I believe victory is still attainable...but without additional combat forces, we will not win this war."
- Former Clinton treasury secretary Robert Reich wrote in November 2006, "What's most important for the morale of the troops is knowing they'll be coming home soon, not hearing some politician say we need more troops when there's no possible chance of that happening. I think McCain knows Iraq is out of our hands -- it's disintegrating into civil war, and by 2008 will be a bloodbath. He also knows American troops will be withdrawn. The most important political fact he knows is he has to keep a big distance between himself and Bush in order to avoid being tainted by this horrifying failure. Arguing that we need more troops effectively covers his *ss. It will allow him to say, 'If the president did what I urged him to do, none of this would have happened.'" Holland writes, "But if McCain thought that he was safe in advocating a troop buildup -- safe because Bush would never be insane enough to call for escalating an unpopular war just a couple of months after American voters delivered his party a powerful message that they had lost confidence in those running it -- he underestimated the president's capacity for stubborn self-delusion." Democrat John Edwards began calling the escalation policy the "McCain Doctrine," hanging it around McCain's neck and causing McCain no end of discomfort. In early January, McCain tried to distance himself from the policy, saying that the "surge" would need at least 30,000 troops to be effective and adding, "a small size [deployment] would be the worst of all options to exercise, in my view." Just a day later, he went to the American Enterprise Institute with his friend and fellow escalation supporter Senator Joseph Lieberman and said: "We are not specific on numbers, we don't have -- we are talking about three or four combat brigades, in Baghdad, and one or two more in Anbar province. We are not that much detailed-oriented." Holland paraphrases blogger Steve Benen, who says in response that "McCain's been moving the goalposts in an attempt to preemptively distance himself from a policy that's all but guaranteed to fail."
- MoveOn's ad is now trying to pin the responsibility for cheerleading the "surge" back where it belongs, directly on McCain, criticizing him for "leading the charge" to send more American troops to "a failed war." In a statement, MoveOn's Tom Matzzie says, "This Congress was elected with a mandate to end the disaster in Iraq. MoveOn is going to demand that members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, show leadership that the president won't." (AlterNet [link to video, multiple sources])
- January 17: The White House Correspondents Association hires aging comic Rich Little to provide the entertainment for its annual Gridiron Dinner, which honors, and roasts, political and journalistic figures in Washington, in April.
Conservative media slant
Last year's guest, Stephen Colbert, blasted the media, the Bush administration, and Bush himself, in a presentation that many found hysterically funny, but which angered and offended some journalists and Bush officials. The San Francisco Chronicle writes of the 2006 dinner, "The performance -- and the traditional media's initial lack of reporting on his remarks -- made Colbert a hero with the truth-to-power crowd; a video of his remarks was one of the year's most downloaded. Of course, the scowl on the president's face and the snippy comments of some of the scorned media types afterward offered a less giddy review. And it was another example of how a story ignored by the mainstream media could achieve a major buzz in the blogosphere and on video-sharing sites. So with that hip, edgy performance fresh in mind, the Correspondents Association has announced its decidedly safer headliner for this year's April 21 bash: impressionist Rich Little, mimic of dozens of celebrities -- most of whom are dead." Little, whose career as a comedian and impressionist peaked in the 1970s, and who dedicates a section of his Web site to the memory of Ronald Reagan, is considered a "safe, non-threatening" choice for entertainment. Correspondents Association President Steve Scully, who booked both Colbert and Little, says that the association has tried to book comedians such as Will Ferrell, Billy Crystal, and David Letterman, but doesn't have the money to offer such comedic luminaries.
- What makes this more than a minor non-event is the fact that Little has confirmed that he understands he is not to bash Bush or even mention the war in Iraq. "They got a lot of letters" after Colbert's routine, Little says. "I won't even mention the word 'Iraq.'" Instead, Little will stick to his usual schtick of impersonating past presidents. Little adds, "They don't want anyone knocking the president. He's really over the coals right now, and he's worried about his legacy." Attytood's Will Bunch, a prominent Philadelphia journalist, counters, "OK, free speech means you also have a right NOT to say anything or criticize anybody. But for the White House press corps to instruct Little not to 'knock' the president smacks of a kind of censorship, from the very people that we've placed in the front line trenches of free speech. We won't belabor the point, because it's too obvious, but America desperately needs a press corps that's more eager to offend the White House, not less eager." (San Francisco Chronicle, Attytood)
- January 18: The BBC learns that in May 2003, Iran offered the Bush administration a significant package of concessions, but was spurned by Dick Cheney and his cabal of rampant neoconservatives.
War with Iran
The information comes from Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, who shares a letter with the BBC's Newsnight program. The letter came from the highest levels of the Bush administration. Tehran proposed ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and helping to stabilize Iraq following the US-led invasion. It also offered concessions towards making its nuclear program more transparent. In return, it asked for Washington to end its hostility towards Iran, to end the sanctions the US has imposed on Iran, and to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and repatriate its members. Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls that though the State Department was intensely interested in the offer, Cheney's office was not, and that was that. "We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that," says Wilkerson. "But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil'... reasserted itself." (See the page and further items later in this site for more information.)
- Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now. Since that time, Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah inflicted significant military losses on Israel in the 2006 conflict and is now claiming increased political power in Lebanon. The Palestinian militant group Hamas won power in parliamentary elections a year ago, opening a new chapter of conflict in Gaza and the West Bank. The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran following its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program. (BBC)
- January 18: The Pentagon predicts that the steadily rising costs of the Iraq war will reach $8.4 billion a month this year, as heavy replacement costs for lost, destroyed and aging equipment mount.
Iraq war and occupation
The Pentagon has been estimating last year's costs for the war at about $8 billion a month, having increased from a monthly "burn rate" of around $4.4 billion during the first year of fighting in fiscal 2003. After factoring in costs for the war in Afghanistan, costs will come in at around $9.7 billion a month. Bush is expected to ask for an additional $100 billion in "emergency" war costs in February. Democrats, while unwilling to defund troops already in the field, are skeptical of Bush's latest "emergency" request. "We would like to get a better grasp of the cost of the Iraq war and the global war on terrorism -- a way of accounting of costs to date and projecting costs to come." says John Spratt, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. Since fiscal 2001, Congress has approved $503 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other aspects of the US "global war on terrorism," according to Congressional Budget Office testimony. Of that, $344 billion has gone for military, diplomatic and other security costs in Iraq. Most of the funds have been provided on an emergency basis, outside regular budget procedures. Critics say that obscures the true cost of the war and results in less congressional oversight, particularly in the replacement of older equipment with newer, more expensive equipment. One particular focus is Bush's readiness to request funding for two "Joint Strike Fighter" aircraft that are several years away from being ready for deployment, along with massive funding for ballistic missiles and other big-ticket items unrelated to the Iraqi combat theater. (Reuters)
- January 18: Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki promises to crack down on Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents and militias, and warns that even the Mahdi Army, the militia of his political patron Moqtada al-Sadr, is not above the law.
Iraq war and occupation
"We will not allow any politicians to interfere with this Baghdad security plan...whether they are Sunnis or Shi'ites, Arabs or Kurds, militias or parties, insurgents or terrorists," al-Maliki says in a rare interview. Few actually believe al-Maliki's assertions. Al-Maliki also continues to assert his differences with the US, suggesting that American miscalculations have worsened the bloodshed in Iraq, and warning that his patience for political negotiation with warring factions was wearing thin. "When military operations start in Baghdad, all other tracks will stop," al-Maliki says. "We gave the political side a great chance, and we have now to use the authority of the state to impose the law and tackle or confront people who break it." Al-Maliki says that if Iraqi security forces were given sufficient training and equipment, they could stabilize the country enough to allow the withdrawal of US troops starting in three to six months -- a period in which President Bush's proposed troop buildup would still be underway. He adds that if better US training and supplies had come earlier, lives could have been saved. "I think that within three to six months our need for the American troops will dramatically go down," he says. "That's on the condition that there are real strong efforts to support our military forces." (Los Angeles Times)
"The Constitution does not say that every citizen has the right to habeas corpus." -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, January 18
"I would never, ever make a change in a United States Attorney position for political reasons, or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it." Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, lying to Congress, January 18 --
- January 18: Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, slams Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the US's rendition and torture of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained on suspicion of having ties to terrorism, and sent to Syria, where he was regularly tortured for almost a year before being released uncharged.
US torture allegations
Leahy thunders, "We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held and he'd be investigated. We also knew damn well if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured." (CNN/Crooks and Liars [link to video])
- January 18: The Pentagon announces new rules for detainee trials that will allow terrorism suspects to be convicted and even executed using nothing more than coerced statements and hearsay testimony, a flagrant violation of the US Constitution.
Attack on civil liberties
The announcement is expected to provoke a Congressional challenge. Congressional Democrats say they will hold hearings and revive legislation on the plan. Human rights organizations say that the regulations would allow evidence that would not be tolerated in civilian or military courtrooms.
- According to the 238-page manual that contains the new rules, a detainee's lawyer could not reveal classified evidence in the person's defense until the government had a chance to review it. Suspects would be allowed to view summaries of classified evidence, not the material itself. The new regulations lack numerous protections used in civilian and military courtrooms, such as against coerced or hearsay evidence. They are intended to track a law passed last fall by Congress restoring Bush's plans to have special military commissions try terror-war prisoners. Those commissions had been struck down earlier in the year by the Supreme Court.
- Conservative Democratic House member Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says he planned to scrutinize the manual to ensure that it does not "run afoul" of the Constitution. And Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First, says, "No civilized nation permits convictions to rest on coerced evidence, and reliance on such evidence has never been acceptable in military or civilian courts in this country.,"
- Officials think that with the evidence they have now, they could eventually charge 60 to 80 detainees. The Defense Department is currently planning trials for at least 10. There are almost 400 people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban being held at the military's prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About 380 others have been released since the facility was opened five years ago.
- Last September, the then-Republican-led Congress sent Bush a new law granting wide latitude in interrogating and detaining captured enemy combatants. The legislation prohibited some abuses of detainees, including mutilation and rape, but granted the president leeway to decide which interrogation techniques were permissible.
- In outlining the maximum punishment for various acts, the new manual includes the death penalty for people convicted of spying or taking part in a "conspiracy or joint enterprise" that kills someone. The maximum penalty for aiding the enemy -- such as providing ammunition or money -- is lifetime imprisonment. As required by law, the manual prohibits the use of statements obtained through torture and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as prohibited by the Constitution. But it allows some evidence obtained through coercive interrogation techniques if obtained before December 30, 2005, and deemed reliable by a judge. Congress and the White House agreed last year that hearsay -- a witness quoting someone else -- can be allowed as evidence if a judge rules the testimony is reliable. According to the manual, this is necessary because witnesses, such as military personnel or foreigners, may not be available to testify. Democratic senator Christopher Dodd says he believes the Pentagon's top lawyers assigned to defend detainees were excluded from the preparation and review of the manual. Last fall, critics of Bush's plan for military commissions charged that the administration ignored the advice of uniformed legal experts. Dodd, a presidential candidate, will introduce a bill addressing flaws in the manual "that are impediments to the effective and credible prosecution of suspected terrorists." (AP/Yahoo! News)
- January 18: A bipartisan group of senators announces a formal resolution of opposition yesterday to Bush's escalation of troops in Iraq.
Iraq war and occupation
The senators call instead for more diplomacy, international cooperation and an "appropriately expedited" transfer of military responsibilities to Iraqi security forces. The nonbinding resolution, which could come to a vote within two weeks, moves Congress a major step closer to a public confrontation with the Bush administration over war policy. A Senate vote would be followed quickly by action in the House. But even before the resolution's introduction, prominent lawmakers, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, were pushing for far tougher measures that could cut off funding for the war and legislatively thwart Bush's "surge" of 21,500 additional troops. The resolution is drafted by Democrats Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, and Republican Chuck Hagel. "I will do everything I can to stop the president's policy, as he outlined it Wednesday night," Hagel says, referring to Bush's speech last week. "I think it is dangerously irresponsible." Clinton says that she will vote for the resolution, but adds, "we will eventually have to move to tougher requirements on the administration to get their attention." The resolution is also supported by Republican Olympia Snowe. Three other measures have also been introduced, including multiple proposals demanding congressional authorization before additional troop deployments.
- Bush officials are marshaling Senate opposition, summoning half a dozen skeptical Republican senators to the White House, and sending Dick Cheney to the Senate GOP's weekly policy lunch. Some Republicans are speaking out. Lindsey Graham, one of the staunchest supporters of the escalation, says the resolution is "the worst of all outcomes...a symbolic going-to-the-pier before the troops ship off to say, 'We believe in you, but you're going to lose.'" And John Cornyn calls the resolution nothing more than a "political ploy." But even some formerly reliable Republicans are bailing. Norm Coleman says of the White House meeting, "The bottom line is: I went there with concerns, I left with concerns/" And George Voinovich, another Republican doubter, adds, "I think we clarified for them what the reality is."
- Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators such as Republicans John Warner, Gordon Smith and Susan Collins, and Democrat Ben Nelson, are working on their own "constructive, nonpartisan resolution that expresses the opposition of the Senate to the surge." Smith says that if the Democratically sponsored resolution can use another term than "escalation," which he calls a partisan term, then he may be willing to sign on to that resolution.
- The resolution is blunt, declaring that "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq." And it goes well beyond a simple statement of opposition. Drawing heavily from the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, it calls for an acceleration of the training of Iraqi forces and the use of US troops to secure Iraq's borders to prevent meddling by its neighbors. It requests an "appropriately expedited timeline" for the transfer of internal security duties to the Iraqi government, and it urges the administration to "engage nations in the Middle East to develop a regional, internationally-sponsored peace and reconciliation process." The resolution will come before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after Bush's January 23 State of the Union speech, and is likely to be presented for a vote to the full Senate the next week. Some lawmakers, and many antiwar activists, call the resolution toothless. Biden, though, says, "The single most important thing to do is generate a consensus here in the United States Congress. I cannot believe that the president of the United States would not pay heed to a bipartisan resolution" from the Senate. Biden, of course, knows that Bush will do just that, ignoring and mocking any such resolution. In that case, say many Democrats, Congress will take stronger action.
- Clinton, an expected contender for the White House, has proposed limiting troop levels in Iraq to about 135,000, bolstering troop strength in Afghanistan, and delivering both Bush and Iraq an ultimatum: Disarm the sectarian militia, reach agreement on Iraqi oil-revenue sharing, amend the Iraqi constitution to ensure minority rights, and convene a regional peace conference -- or lose funding for the fledgling Iraqi security forces. Clinton is toughening her stance on Iraq after taking heavy criticism from antiwar activists and others in the party for her initial support of the war, and her more muted criticisms of the occupation. Fellow Democrat Christopher Dodd, another presidential candidate, proposed his own bill, demanding that Bush seek congressional authorization before any additional troop deployments to Iraq. The bill differs only slightly from one introduced by Edward Kennedy that would require congressional authorization before any money could be spent on additional troops. House Democrats introduced several other measures, most of which were in line with the growing consensus that Congress should demand the right of reauthorization. House Republicans have countered with a bill to block the cutoff of any funds that would affect troops in the field, while Senate GOP leaders neared completion of their own resolution calling the Iraq war part of the "global struggle" against terrorism and saying the president's new policy will ensure victory in Iraq. (Washington Post, AP/Yahoo! News)
- January 18: The Democratically controlled House rolls back billions of dollars in oil industry subsidies, completing the last of six high-priority issues that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised would be passed in her "first 100 hours" plan for Congress.
Supporters say the elimination of oil subsidies will encourage a move towards renewable fuels; critics complain that the legislation will reduce domestic oil production and increase reliance on imports. The bill may face difficulty in the Senate, where the narrow Democratic majority may face opposition from Republicans like Charles Grassley, who calls the bill "another pig in the poke." The legislation will impose a "conservation fee" on oil and gas taken from deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; scrap nearly $6 billion worth of oil industry tax breaks enacted by Congress in recent years; and seek to recoup royalties lost to the government because of an Interior Department error in leases issued in the late 1990s that cost the government $1 billion in revenue and will eventually cost over $10 billion. Democrats say the legislation could produce as much as $15 billion in revenue. Most of that money would pay to promote renewable fuels such as solar and wind power, alternative fuels including ethanol and biodiesel and incentives for conservation. "The oil industry doesn't need the taxpayers' help. ...There is not an American that goes to a gas pump that doesn't know that," says House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Pump prices topped $3 per gallon last year as the oil industry earned record profits. Republican congressman Don Young says the bill is "Communist red, and "amounts to a taking of private property" by forcing oil companies to renegotiate leases they view as valid contracts. The White House is expected to fight for the continuation of tax breaks for oil companies, which saved the various firms over $700 million every year. (AP/Yahoo! News)
- January 18: The Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, Earl Devaney, says the $10 billion "mistake" made by Interior over royalty payments for oil drilling shows a "shocking, cavalier management approach to an issue with such profound financial ramifications, a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling."
Oil profiteering and the "oiligarchy"
More than 1,000 leases signed in 1998 and 1999 were inked without the clause that requires companies to pay royalties for oil drilled on federal land. The omission of this requirement, called a price threshold, will cost the federal government as much as $10 billion over 25 years, according to the Government Accountability Office. Johnnie Burton, director of the Minerals Management Service, which oversees the drilling leases, testified before Congress last fall that she'd only recently found out the price thresholds were left out. But Devaney's investigation found that Burton lied to Congress: she knew about the mistake as early as 2004. Devaney told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that after Burton was shown a series of e-mails suggesting she'd been advised of the situation, the director conceded she "probably had been told of the omission in 2004...but speculated that she was probably told of the mistake in conjunction with being informed that the solicitor's office had opined that nothing could legally be done to remedy the issue."
- So far, Interior is resisting calls from some Congressional Democrats to fire or transfer Burton. Senator Wyden has said that Burton needs to be transferred, because "[s]omething needs to be done to show that people responsible for these mistakes face some consequences." But Stephen Allred, Interior's assistant secretary for land and minerals management, argues that the initial mistakes didn't occur under current management, and Burton should not be held responsible. "My experience with Director Burton, is that I've found her to have the highest integrity and be a competent person," says Allred. "I have not seen a reason yet to make a change in her status" The chairman of the Energy Committee, Jeff Bingaman, says, "It's obvious there's a lot of blame to spread around on this issue. The entire matter raises questions about management and organization of the department."
- Devaney says he has found no evidence that the omission of the price thresholds was deliberate. But he adds that this "costly bureaucratic mistake" results from a process that has too many people involved, but no one held responsible or accountable. "People are getting these voluminous documents, putting their initials on top, and passing it along to the next official. It's a process that can be fixed, but it's broken right now." Allred says the department intends to review the MMS's processes and procedures. As of now, about 20% of the leases in question have been renegotiated so that companies will begin paying royalties as of October 1, 2006. Allred blames Congress for not working to bring the rest of the leaseholders into line. Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, says Congress should act aggressively: "It's our responsibility to decide to make this right on the behalf of the American tax payers. The companies that have these contracts are benefiting from a mistake and laughing all the way to the bank. We need to make it clear we're open for business only to the companies that will work with us in good faith to make this right." (Federal Times)
- January 18: Democratic senator and leading presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton offers her harshest criticism yet of Bush's Iraq war strategy, continuing her evolution from war supporter to outspoken war critic.
Iraq war and occupation
She has joined the backers of a bipartisan Senate resolution opposing the escalation of troops to Iraq. Clinton has realized, belatedly in some eyes, that she cannot be a viable presidential candidate for Democrats if she doesn't break with her previous support of the Iraq occupation and take a stronger stance against the war. She does not yet support a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
- Just returned from a weekend visit to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clinton says Bush's new proposal threatens the missions in Iraq, where she said more troops are not the answer, and in Afghanistan, where she said additional troops are badly needed. "The president's team is pursuing a failed strategy in Iraq as it edges closer to collapse, and Afghanistan needs more of our concerted effort and attention," she says. She intends to offer resolution that would freeze troops levels in Iraq, and cut funding for Iraqi security forces if they do not meet stringent conditions and performance benchmarks. Her legislation would establish conditions for the US government as well, such as certifying that the Iraqi government had disarmed the sectarian militias and made constitutional changes to ensure rights for all ethnic minorities, as well as requiring participating in diplomatic activities with Iraq's neighbors. If those conditions are not met, the legislation would require a congressional resolution authorizing the mission in Iraq. That could take away from the administration the authority that Congress granted in October 2002 that led to the invasion and that was supported by many Democrats, including Clinton.
- Clinton is viewed as the most hawkish of Democratic presidential candidates, with former senator John Edwards taking perhaps the most vocal stance against the war. Clinton has slowly, and not always steadily, moved in recent weeks towards a more prominent antiwar stance; a month ago, she said that had she known in 2002 what she knows now, she would not have voted for the resolution giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq, a position already advocated by Edwards and fellow senator John Kerry (who, days later, will announce that he will not run for the presidency in 2008). Perhaps the most powerful challenger to Clinton's presidential aspirations is fellow senator Barack Obama, who has consistently opposed the war from its outset.
- Clinton, who met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over the weekend, is pessimistic that he will do what is necessary to bring order to Baghdad. "The Iraqi government is not committed to taking the steps both militarily and politically that would help them to gain control over Baghdad and other places in the country," she says. Tom Matzzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org, which has been pushing to block the new troop deployments, has challenged Clinton to follow through. "A key test is how any senator puts words into action," he said in a statement. (Washington Post)
- January 18: Washington Post reporter John Soloman attempts to insinuate that former Democratic senator and current presidential candidate John Edwards betrayed his union supporters when he recently sold his $5.2 million Georgetown mansion.
Conservative smear campaigns
According to Solomon, Edwards sold the house to Paul and Terry Klaassen, who are "currently cooperating with a government inquiry in connection with accounting practices and stock options exercised by them and other company insiders. They are also the focus of legal complaints by some of the same labor unions whose support Edwards has been assiduously courting for his presidential bid." The Klaassens are the founders of what Solomon describes as "the nation's largest assisted-living housing chain for seniors," Sunrise Senior Living. The implication of Solomon's article is that Edwards is somehow "in bed" with either the unions, who are suing the Klaassens, or with the Klaassens.
- However, the implication falls apart under casual scrutiny. Solomon, who has assiduously tried to smear Democratic politicians in the past, quoted a representative of one of the two unions involved, the Service Employees International Union, whose spokesman says the union is "reserving judgment" on the deal. However, Solomon did not bother to contact the second union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. A UFCW spokeswoman tells reporter Greg Sargent of the Horse's Mouth that his union has absolutely no problem with the deal, and confirms that Solomon never contacted the UFCW. The spokeswoman, Jill Cashen, says, "Our position is that if someone has their house on the market, and they sell it to someone who wants to buy it, we don't believe that's really a relevant story. He has every right to sell his house on the free market to whomever can afford it." Of Edwards's sale to a company with which the union is in legal entaglements, Cashen says, "He sold his home to them. It isn't like he's creating an ongoing business relationship with them." Sargent writes, "I think this is pretty surprising. In his story Solomon is using the fact that these unions are at odds with the buyer of Edwards' home in order to suggest that there was something untoward about what Edwards did. Yet he didn't even contact one of the unions to see if they had a problem with the sale. That's striking. What's more, we now know officially that the union doesn't have a problem with it at all."
- Solomon's fellow Post reporter, Jonathan Weisman, has no more use for the story than does Sargent. He says, "I for one was looking for more of a connection between the Edwards and the buyers. I didn't see it. Frankly, I bought a house from some people named Buckmaster DeWolf and Rosemary Ratcliffe. I love their names but I met them for about 15 minutes as we signed our papers. So what?"
- The real story here is not some fictional lapse of ethics or judgment by Edwards, but instead the story is of yet another smear attempt by a well-regarded Washington journalist against a prominent Democrat -- with the collusion of the Post. TPM Muckraker maintains an archive of John Solomon's many smear attempts against Democratic politicians and lawmakers.
- Almost two weeks later, Post ombudsman Deborah Howell calls the story "accurate but misleading," insamuch as Solomon is trying to build a scandal against Edwards out of nothing. "I kept waiting to read about the connection between the Klaassens and Edwards that would make this sale unseemly; it wasn't there," she writes. (Washington Post, Horse's Mouth, Talking Points Memo. Washington Post)