- March 23: New documents released by the Justice Department to Congress show that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was, contrary to his assertions, heavily involved in the firings of eight US attorneys.
US Attorney firings
Gonzales attended an hourlong meeting on November 27, 2006, just ten days before seven of the eight were told of their firings. Gonzales has continually claimed that he knew little or nothing about the plans to fire the attorneys, and has attempted to pin the blame on his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. "We never had a discussion about where things stood," Gonzales said on March 13. "What I knew was that there was an ongoing effort that was led by Mr. Sampson...to ascertain where we could make improvements in US attorney performances around the country."
- The meeting came as Sampson was finalizing the list of attorneys to be fired. DOJ spokesman Brian Roehrkasse tries to say that the new information doesn't contradict Gonzales's earlier protestations of ignorance: "This meeting concerned the roll-out of the US attorney plan. The information available to us does not indicate that there was discussion at this meeting about which US attorneys should or should not be on the list."
- Additionally, the documents, mostly internal e-mails, show that Gonzales was also lying about the extent of the White House's involvement in the firings. "Another late-night document delivery has produced evidence of the attorney general's involvement much earlier than he previously acknowledged," says John Conyers, the Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "This puts the attorney general front and center in these matters, contrary to information that had previously been provided to the public and Congress." Senator Charles Schumer, another Democrat, says that Sampson's upcoming testimony might force Gonzales to resign. "If the facts bear out that Attorney General Gonzales knew much more about the plan than he has previously admitted, then he can no longer serve as attorney general," he says.
- In a December 3, 2006, e-mail released Friday night, Scott Jennings, one of presidential adviser Karl Rove's aides, asked Sampson if he had a list of "all vacant, or about-to-be vacant, US Attorney slots." Sampson sent Jennings a list the next day. Jennings, a political operative, had earlier passed along complaints from Republican Party activists about US attorney David Iglesias, who was fired from his job in New Mexico. Some Republicans were angry that Iglesias hadn't been more aggressive in investigating Democrats. The e-mails also show that administration officials struggled to find a way to justify the firings and considered citing immigration enforcement simply because three of the fired prosecutors were stationed near the border with Mexico. While the e-mails don't provide evidence of partisan motives for the firings, they seem to undercut the administration's explanation that the prosecutors were dismissed for poor performance. "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," DOJ public affairs specialist Tasia Scolinos told Catherine Martin, a White House communications adviser, in an e-mail. Martin replied, "Which ones are they?" Scolinos expected the attorneys to simply disappear, writing Martin, "I think most of them will resign quietly -- they don't get anything out of making it public. I don't see it as being a national story -- especially if it phases in over a few months." Scolinos has explained that at the time she sent the e-mail to Martin, she had only a "fragmentary understanding" of the plan to fire the attorneys. (McClatchy News [includes PDF files of the released documents], TPM Muckraker)
- March 23: The released e-mails also prove that Gonzales is not the only liar in the Justice Department.
US Attorney firings
DOJ official William Moschella told the press ten days ago that he'd sought the changes in the USA Patriot Act to allow the attorney general to replace US attorneys without Senate confirmation "without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House," in an apparent attempt to fall on his sword and take the blame for himself. But he discussed the need for changes with others on November 11, 2005, around the time when the bill was being drawn up: "We support eliminating the court's role" in appointing interim US attorneys, Moschella wrote to White House and DOJ officials, including Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys, "and believe the AG should have that authority alone." (McClatchy News)
- March 23: The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin says that securing the testimony of Karl Rove in the US attorney firing scandal is essential for one simple reason: based on Rove's history, the entire farrago of political manipulation and criminal activities may well have been his idea, "and may be even more complicated than it initially appeared."
US Attorney firings
Froomkin's "Rovian theory" goes something like this: The eight US attorneys were fired, not only to purge the Justice Department of prosecutors who weren't compliant enough to attack Democrats and protect Republicans, but also to install ideologues who have no such scruples. Since a Bush administration henchman sneaked in a provision in the law to ensure that those attorneys would never face Senate confirmation hearings -- note that said henchman has been rewarded with one of those prized US attorney positions -- there are no more safeguards to prevent these positions from being filled by partisan, unqualified hacks.
- Froomkin quotes one reader, Charles Posner: "Dan -- I think everyone is looking at the Justice Dept. scandal form the wrong end -- it's not the firing, but the hiring that's the crux of the issue. Rove has a plan and a list. The plan is to install partisans in the prosecutors' office in order to target Democratic congressmen. Of course, Rove can hand pick each prosecutor without Congress's involvement as allowed by the secret provisions of the Patriot Act. Now, where's his list?" Interesting that "ordinary" citizens are asking this kind of hard question and the country's journalists are not -- but then again, ordinary citizens aren't dancing with "MC Rove" on stage during the White House correspondants' dinner.
- Froomkin then begins a long and useful summation of recent events in the US attorney case, many -- but not all -- cited earlier in this page. Fired US attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas was unaware that the skids had long been greased for him to be replaced by Rove protege Tim Griffin, with Rove working with then-White House counsel Harriet Miers to allow Griffin to land the post. The then-chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, used the change in the law to bypass input from Arkansas's two Democratic senators, who didn't want a former Republican National Committee operative in charge of a US attorney's office. Gonzales himself lied about the move when he assured citizens and Congressional questioners that no such move had ever been planned. Griffin has ducked behind the law, saying in injured tones that because of Democrats' unfair belittling, he will not seek Senate confirmation for his position, but will remain strictly on an interim basis. The problem is, the law lets him remain in his post as an "interim" prosecutor for as long as he and George W. Bush want him there. (In fact, none of the eight replacements for the fired prosecutors have been confirmed by the Senate, nor does it look like they ever will be.)
- And evidence now shows that Bush himself, contrary to the lies from press secretary Tony Snow, was part of the decision to fire Cummins and replace him with a party hack. Sampson wrote to an aide on July 25 that the DOJ would merely pretend to "consult" with Democratic senator Mark Pryor on Cummins's replacement, and stall Pryor with a false tale of being mired in background checks on Griffin. Cummins was perhaps the first, but certainly not the last, to lose his job in Sampson's two-year ideological jihad against US attorneys who weren't sufficient loyalists -- or in his own words, weren't "loyal Bushies." E-mails to and from Sampson show that Cummins had been targeted for removal as early as March 2005. After the initial lies about Cummins's "performance" being an issue, DOJ officials reluctantly admitted that the only reason Cummins was fired was to make room for Griffin.
- And, as also covered above, Cummins is wondering whether he was fired in part because of the election-year investigation he opened on Republican officials in Missouri in the middle of one of the most closely contested Senate races in the country.
- Margaret Chiara of western Michigan may have been a victim of the same kind of game. She was told in November 2006 that she was being fired to make room for another "loyal Bushie." Chiara said, in interviews reported above, that she was told she had to resign to make room for "an individual they wanted to advance." No one would tell her the name of her more politically acceptable replacement. Only after DOJ officials smeared her performance record did Chiara speak out.
- The other shoe can be heard smashing into the floor when recent reports -- as always, covered above -- show that Sampson and another major player in the firings were themselves angling for US attorney positions. Sampson had actually been selected to take over the Utah prosecutor's position. And Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque lawyer who has long represented the GOP's state party and party officials, and who was instrumental in the removal of New Mexico prosecutor David Iglesias, was recommended to replace Iglesias by GOP senator Pete Domenici. Domenici himself put illicit and unethical pressure on Iglesias to press forward with an election-year investigation of local Democrats, an investigation Iglesias found to be unwarranted. Rogers now says he never wanted the job, and took himself out of the running for consideration, but only after the entire sordid story became public.
- As for Sampson, he lost out in a battle between himself and Brett Tolman, who had the backing of Utah's two Republican senators, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett. Tolman is the staffer for GOP senator Arlen Specter who secretly placed the now-infamous provision into the Patriot Act reauthorization that allows Bush to appoint US attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.
- Froomkin turns his attention to the subject of Karl Rove's elusive e-mails concerning the firings. The White House has continued to refuse to turn them over, citing "executive privilege," and simultaneously has claimed that the e-mails have been, uh, lost. The executive privilege claim is hogwash, writes National Journal reporter Alexis Simendinger. He writes, "White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove may have forfeited potential claims of executive privilege over the dismissals of eight US attorneys -- if he communicated about the latter outside the White House e-mail system, using his Republican National Committee e-mail account or RNC equipment. Or at least that's a legal possibility posed by rapidly advancing electronic technology and the evolving work habits of busy White House officials.... According to one former White House official familiar with Rove's work habits, the president's top political adviser does 'about 95%' of his e-mailing using his RNC-based account. Many White House officials, including aides in the Political Affairs Office, use the RNC account as an alternative to their official government e-mail addresses to help keep their official and political duties separate. Although some White House officials use dual sets of electronic devices for that purpose, Rove prefers to use his RNC-provided BlackBerry for convenience...." This, too, has been noted above. Rove, like so many other White House officials, routinely uses an RNC account at the domain gwb43.com as well as other private e-mail accounts. Not only is such usage constitute a complete negation of "executive privilege," but is illegal according to the law, which requires all White House officials to send and receive e-mails on official accounts, which are stored for future public and legal reference. Thousands of suspect White House e-mails from Rove, Miers, political affairs aide Scott Jennings, and others, are on private RNC accounts (and most likely have been deleted). The relative few that have been released were sent through official Justice Department accounts.
- But Rove's testimony, even if it cam be compelled, is problematic. Rove is a consummate liar who sees no legal, ethical, or moral reason to tell the truth if a lie will serve him better. Salon's Joe Conason wrote, "The proposal to interview the president's chief political counselor without an oath or even a transcript is absurd for a simple and obvious reason. ...Rove is a proven liar who cannot be trusted to tell the truth even when he is under oath, unless and until he is directly threatened with the prospect of prison time." As cited above, Conason notes that only after four trips before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury and the threat of a criminal indictment did Rove's memory about his role in outing CIA agent Valerie Plame suddenly improve. Conason wrote, "Not only did Rove lie, but he happily let others lie on his behalf, beginning in September 2003, when Scott McClellan, then the White House press secretary, publicly exonerated him of any blame in the outing of Plame. From that autumn until his fifth and final appearance before the grand jury in April 2006, the president's 'boy genius' concealed the facts about his leak of Plame's CIA identity to Time magazine correspondent Matt Cooper. There is no reason to believe that Rove would ever have told the truth if Fitzgerald had not forced Cooper to testify before the grand jury and surrender his incriminating notes, with a contempt citation and the threat of a long sojourn in jail. Indeed, there is no reason to think that even knowing Cooper had testified would have made Rove testify accurately. He failed to do so from July 2005 until April 2006, after all. But in December 2005, Fitzgerald impaneled a new grand jury and started to present evidence against him.... The president and all his flacks can stand before the public and act as if Rove should be treated like a truthful person whose words can be believed -- and not as someone who lies routinely even in the direst of circumstances."
- James Moore, co-author of two books about Rove that have been excerpted for this site, recently wrote for the Los Angeles Times, "Whether Rove chats or testifies, Congress will surely be frustrated. Asking Rove questions is simply not an effective method of ascertaining facts. Reporters who, like me, have dogged the presidential advisor from Texas to Washington quickly learn how skilled he is at dancing around the periphery of issues. Any answers he does deliver can survive a thousand interpretations. Few intellects are as adept at framing, positioning and spinning ideas. That's a great talent for politics. But it's dangerous when dealing with the law.... If Rove winds up under oath before Congress, members will get a command performance by a man with masterful communications skills. They can expect to hear artful impressions, bits of information and a few stipulated facts. But they should not expect the truth."
- Of all people, White House press secretary Tony Snow inadvertently gave the perfect soundbite-characterization of Rove; when asked by ABC's Diane Sawyer, "Why not let Karl Rove go up there and show he has nothing to hide? Testify, under oath, and with a transcript? Let everyone see it?" Snow replied, "This is what I love, this Karl Rove obsession. Let's back off. First, the question is: Do you want Karl Rove on TV, or do you want the truth?" Sawyer shot back: "Why can't you have both?"
- Snow also seems to be bent on redefining the role of Congress to suit his president. Yesterday and today, he has said numerous times that Congress has no oversight authority over the executive branch, a talking point that any 8th-grade civics student could ably refute. Snow told CNN, "There's another principle, which is Congress doesn't have the legislative -- I mean oversight authority over the White House." To MSNBC, "First, the White House is under no compulsion to do anything. The legislative branch doesn't have oversight." And to his former network, Fox: "Congress doesn't have any legitimate oversight and responsibilities to the White House." He expended a few more words for ABC: "The executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn't have oversight ability. So what we've said is we're going to reach out to you -- we'll give you every communication between the White House, the Justice Department, the Congress, anybody on the outside, any kind of communication that would indicate any kind of activity outside, and at the same time, we'll make available to you any of the officials you want to talk to...knowing full well that anything they said is still subject to legal scrutiny, and the members of Congress know that." But at a press briefing, he admitted that "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." Apparently, Rove is teaching Snow very, very well.
- For a good overview of Congress's oversight responsibilities, see this document from the State Department. (Washington Post)
"If [Karl] Rove winds up under oath before Congress, members will get a command performance by a man with masterful communications skills. They can expect to hear artful impressions, bits of information and a few stipulated facts. But they should not expect the truth." -- James Moore, March 23
- March 23: Margaret Chiara, the ousted US attorney for western Michigan who has until now said little about her firing, now says that the Bush administration lied when it claimed she was fired, like the other seven US attorneys, for performance reasons.
US Attorney firings
Chiara says that she was told last November that she was being forced out to make way for another lawyer the Bush administration wanted to groom, not because of management problems. Chiara says that a senior Justice Department official told her that her resignation was necessary to create a slot for "an individual they wanted to advance." The identity of the likely replacement was not disclosed, she says. Only after Justice Department officials attributed her firing to poor performance as a manager, even though her 2005 evaluation praised her management skills, did she decide to speak out, she says. "To say it was about politics may not be pleasant, but at least it is truthful," she says. "Poor performance was not a truthful explanation."
- DOJ spokesman Brian Roehrkasse refuses to directly discuss Chiara's firing, but merely reiterates the administration's generic explanation: the reasons for the eight firings "include policy and priority differences, failure to achieve results in priority areas, office management and a desire to see new energy and leadership in certain offices."
- The DOJ accused Chiara of a number of professional lapses in its recent statements justifying the individual firings, saying that her "office has become fractured, morale has fallen" during her tenure, and added that "the problems here have required an on-site visit by management experts." Not true, says Chiara; in 2005, the DOJ sent an official from Washington at her request to mediate a disagreement she was having with another senior lawyer who has since left the office. In 2006, she also asked the department for assistance in identifying who in her office wrote anonymous letters accusing her former deputy, Phillip Green, of improprieties. The accusations have stalled his nomination by Bush to serve as the United States attorney in southern Illinois.
- Chiara says that none of these "performance issues" were raised when Michael Elston, the deputy attorney general's chief of staff, informed her that she would soon be asked to leave. Instead, she said, according to a November 5 e-mail message she wrote detailing the conversation, Elston told her that she had "erroneously assumed that good service guaranteed longevity," and noted that she and other prosecutors were "being asked for their resignations without good cause." Chiara says that under her tenure, her office increased felony convictions by 15%, nearly doubled the number of firearms cases, and brought the first obscenity case under an initiative started by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Her office also successfully prosecuted Michigan's first death-penalty case since 1938, even though she is personally opposed to capital punishment. She also complied with an order from the department's headquarters to pursue the death penalty in a drug-related murder case she believed did not merit it. Chiara said she had never received calls from elected officials or politicians asking about politically delicate matters before her office, as happened with prosecutors David Iglesias and John McKay.
- Robert Holmes Bell, the chief federal judge in the Western District of Michigan, praises Chiara as one of the most competent US attorneys he had encountered in two decades on the federal bench, and says that the charges of poor management were unjustified. "I feel a certain loss that someone of her caliber is leaving prematurely," Bell says.
- Chiara says she had intended to remain silent about her dismissal, but became distressed by the department's comments about her. "There is irreparable professional damage here, unless it is corrected or retracted," she says. (New York Times/CREW
- March 23: The recent spate of e-mails and other documents released by the Justice Department illustrate just how
US Attorney firings
carefully the ouster of fired US attorney Bud Cummins of Arkansas was managed, and how his replacement, Karl Rove protege Tim Griffin, was maneuvered into place.
- In April 2006, Griffin, a Rove aide and longtime GOP operative, sent Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a flattering letter written about himself by Cummins -- though it is highly doubtful Cummins knew that Griffin was maneuvering to replace him. Further e-mails show that Rove and White House counsel Harriet Miers were keenly interested in placing Griffin in the position. The documents also show that Justice and White House officials were preparing for President Bush's approval of the appointment as early as last summer, five months before Griffin took the job.
- The questions remain of exactly why the DOJ and the White House were so bent on inserting Griffin, a partisan Bush loyalist, in the position over the veteran Cummins, a more moderate Republican with an exemplary record of service. Many Democrats and others believe Griffin may have been sent to Little Rock to help dig out dirt on up-and-coming 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
- The e-mails show how Sampson and other Justice officials prepared to use a change in federal law to bypass input from Arkansas's two Democratic senators, who had expressed doubts about placing a former Republican National Committee operative in charge of a US attorney's office. The evidence runs contrary to assurances from Gonzales that no such move had been planned. "This was a very loyal soldier to the Republicans and the Bush administration, and they wanted to reward him," says Democratic senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas. "They had every right to do this, but it's the way they handled it, and the way they tried to cover their tracks and mislead Congress, that has turned this into a fiasco for them." Griffin, in turn, says he is being unfairly maligned by Democrats. He has already said he will not seek Senate confirmation for the position, an assertion that is essentially meaningless because under the USA Patriot Act, he has the job as long as Bush wants him there.
- In political circles, Griffin is widely considered an aggressive and accomplished Republican political operative. He was research director at the RNC during Bush's 2004 campaign, and he went to work for Rove at the White House in 2005. He also was a key member of the 2000 effort to counter Al Gore's challenge to Bush's Florida electoral "victory." But some DOJ loyalists have come to Griffin's defense. "He's more qualified to hold that position than most of the people who came to that job in the first term," says Mark Corallo, who worked as the Justice Department's communication director when John Ashcroft was attorney general. "How can anyone blame Karl Rove for weighing in on behalf of someone who worked for him who happens to be thoroughly qualified for the job?" Griffin has no real experience as a civilian prosecutor; he worked for ten years as a prosecutor in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the Army Reserve, and served a brief tour of duty in Iraq.
- Cummins's dismissal differs from the firings of the seven other ousted federal prosecutors in several respects. Cummins was told he was being removed last June, and the rest were told on December 7. Justice Department officials also have not publicly said Cummins's departure was related to his performance in office, as they have with the others. They acknowledged last month that he was fired simply to make room for Griffin. But documents show that Cummins was clearly a target of Sampson's two-year effort to fire a group of US attorneys who did not qualify as what he called "loyal Bushies." He was recommended for removal as early as March 2005. "Was it because Tim Griffin was working for Karl Rove?" Cummins said earlier this week. "I don't know, and I don't think it really matters at this point."
- The e-mails show just how aggressively Griffin sought the appointment. On April 27, for example, he used a private e-mail account to send a note to Sampson. "Kyle, This might also be helpful," Griffin wrote, enclosing the flattering, four-paragraph note that Cummins had written nearly four years earlier, after Griffin had worked in his office as a special assistant US attorney. "Just thought you should have it," Griffin said. On June 13, about a week before Cummins was informed of his termination, Sampson wrote to Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Gonzales and his liason to the White House, to tell her that a colleague had the necessary pre-nomination paperwork for Griffin. He said that he would speak the following morning with Michael Battle, chief of the office that oversees US attorneys, and make sure that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's office "knows that we are now executing this plan." Sampson's note suggests the plan was not new: "I did tell them this was likely coming several months ago." By July 25, a White House aide wrote to Sampson to ask whether she could begin trying to win over Pryor. "Is that a problem since he has not yet been nominated for US attorney?" the aide wrote, referring to Griffin. Sampson replied, "If the president has already approved Griffin, then part of our 'consultation' (to meet the 'advice and consent' requirements of Constitution) would be to tell them we were going to start a BI on Griffin," using shorthand for a background investigation. "I assume this has already happened."
- Griffin was never formally nominated, in part to avoid any conflict with Pryor, who viewed Griffin with suspicion and disfavor. Instead, Sampson and his cohorts devised ways to hire Griffin into the Justice Department's criminal division until he could be moved into the US attorney's spot. On August 18, Rove aide J. Scott Jennings used an RNC e-mail address to arrange a telephone call about Griffin with Sampson and Goodling. "Tell us when, Scott, and we'll be on it," Sampson replied. Less than an hour later, Goodling wrote to Sampson to fill him in on the latest complications. "We have a senator prob, so while wh is intent on nominating, scott thinks we may have a confirmation issue," she wrote. "The possible solution I suggested to scott was that we [DOJ] pick him up as a political...and then install him as an interim" US attorney. "I agree but don't think it really should matter where we park him here," Sampson replied, "as AG will appoint him forthwith to be USA." Days later, Justice officials arranged to hire Griffin into a political position in the Washington headquarters, at a salary of $142,900, then transfer him immediately to work in the US attorney's office in Little Rock and await his nomination. As a result of this plan, Griffin had been in Little Rock for more than a month when he received an official Justice Department notice that he would be interviewed for the position of interim US attorney. Goodling already had alerted him that the interview would be a formality, e-mails show. Goodling and Battle were two of the three interviewers during the session. (Washington Post)
- March 23: The Washington Post prints an extraordinary letter, from an anonymous source confirmed through contacts with the source's attorney and with other documents.
The writer actually preferred to be named, but the Post chose not to reveal the name of the author after confirming that he or she is, in the Post's words, "legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter."
- The author writes, "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."
- The author writes that he [the editor of this site chooses to use the "he" pronoun strictly for convenience], as "the president of a small Internet access and consulting business," received a National Security Letter (NSL) in 2004 ordering him to provide the FBI with sensitive information about one of his clients. "There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had," he writes. "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."
- The author chose not to turn over the information, and instead filed a lawsuit with the assistance of lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In November 2006, "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." The author calls life under the gag order "stressful and surreal." He writes, "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."
- He continues, "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," he continues. "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."
- He concludes, "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."
- The editor of this site applauds the writer's patriotism, integrity and courage. (Washington Post)
- March 23: An examination of the attorneys and other hires by the Justice Department shows that the entire department has become heavily politicized,
Partisan Bush appointees
backing laws that erode minority voting rights and pressing US attorneys to investigate specious claims of Democratic voter fraud, all in an effort to suppress Democratic votes and ensure Republican election victories. Bush, his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and other Republican political advisers have highlighted voting rights issues and what Rove has called the "growing problem" of election fraud by Democrats since Bush took power in the tumultuous election of 2000. None of the voter fraud cases investigated have turned up any evidence of any sort of orchestrated attempts by Democrats to encourage people without proper voting certification to vote. Nevertheless, since 2005, at least three US attorneys, all former officials in the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, have been appointed after compiling records of helping to roll back longstanding voting-rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters. One of those appointed US attorneys, Tim Griffin, took part in the efforts to suppress minority voting in Florida in 2004, while he was a research director for the Republican National Committee.
- It is patently obvious that, considering the controversial firings of eight US attorneys, the relentless voter-fraud campaign, and the changes in Justice Department voting rights policies, that the Bush administration may have been using its law enforcement powers for partisan political purposes. Two of the eight fired attorneys say that their ousters were prompted by the Bush administration's dissatisfaction with their investigations of alleged Democratic voter fraud. Bush has said he's heard complaints from Republicans about some US attorneys' "lack of vigorous prosecution of election fraud cases," and administration e-mails have shown that Rove and other White House officials were involved in the dismissals and in selecting a Rove aide to replace one of the US attorneys. Nonetheless, Bush has refused to permit congressional investigators to question Rove and others under oath.
- Last April, while the Justice Department and the White House were planning the firings, Rove gave a speech in Washington to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He ticked off 11 states that he said could be pivotal in the 2008 elections. Bush has appointed new US attorneys in nine of them since 2005: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. US attorneys in the latter four were among those fired. Rove thanked the audience for "all that you are doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the integrity of the ballot is protected." He added, "A lot in American politics is up for grabs." The department's civil rights division, for example, supported a Georgia voter identification law that a court later said discriminated against poor, minority voters. It also refused to oppose an unusual Texas redistricting plan that helped expand the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, as well as locking down a Republican majority in the Texas legislature. That plan was partially reversed by the US Supreme Court. Frank DiMarino, a former federal prosecutor who served six US attorneys in Florida and Georgia during an 18-year Justice Department career, says that too much emphasis on voter fraud investigations "smacks of trying to use prosecutorial power to investigate and potentially indict political enemies."
- Several former voting rights lawyers say the division's political appointees reversed the recommendations of career lawyers in key cases and transferred or drove out most of the unit's veteran attorneys. Bradley Schlozman, who was the civil rights division's deputy chief, agreed in 2005 to reverse the career staff's recommendations to challenge a Georgia law that would have required voters to pay $20 for photo IDs and in some cases travel as far as 30 miles to obtain the ID card. A federal judge threw out the Georgia law, calling it an unconstitutional, Jim Crow-era poll tax. Schlozman has said his intention was to "depoliticize the hiring process." He claims, falsely, to have "hired people across the political spectrum." Schlozman's claim is derailed by former voting rights section chief Joseph Rich, who says that longtime career lawyers whose views differed from those of political appointees were routinely "reassigned or stripped of major responsibilities." In testimony to a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing this week, Rich said that 20 of the 35 attorneys in the voting rights section have been transferred to other jobs or have left their jobs since April 2005 and a staff of 26 civil rights analysts who reviewed state laws for discrimination has been slashed to 10. He said he has yet to see evidence of voter fraud on a scale that warrants voter ID laws, which he said are "without exception...supported and pushed by Republicans and objected to by Democrats. I believe it is clear that this kind of law tends to suppress the vote of lower-income and minority voters."
- Another Bush appointee, Alex Acosta, who ran the CRD from the fall of 2003 until he was named interim US attorney in Miami in the summer of 2005, made sure that the department didn't file a single suit alleging that local or state laws or election rules diluted the votes of African-Americans. In a similar time period, the Clinton administration filed six such cases. Those kinds of cases, Rich testified, are "the guts of the Voting Rights Act."
- During this week's House judiciary subcommittee hearing, critics recounted lapses in the division's enforcement. A Citizens Commission on Civil Rights study found that "the enforcement record of the voting section during the Bush administration indicates this traditional priority has been downgraded significantly, if not effectively ignored." Democrat Jerrold Nadler, who chaired the hearing, said after one such testimony, "The more stringent requirements you put on voting in order to get rid of alleged voter fraud, the more you're cutting down on legitimate people voting."
- Former US attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico has said he thought that "the voter fraud issue was the foundation" for his firing and that complaints about his failure to pursue corruption matters involving Democrats were "the icing on the cake." John McKay, the ousted US attorney for western Washington state, looked into allegations of voter fraud against Democrats during the hotly contested governor's race in 2004. He said that later, when top Bush aides interviewed him for a federal judgeship, he was asked to respond to criticism of his inquiry in which no charges were brought. He didn't get the judgeship, and was later fired. Rove talked about the Northwest region in his speech last spring to the Republican lawyers and voiced concern about the trend toward mail-in ballots and online voting. He also questioned the legitimacy of voter rolls in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. 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.
- Bud Cummins, the Republican-appointed US attorney in Arkansas who was fired, says he had "serious doubts" that any US attorney was failing to aggressively pursue voter fraud. "What they're responding to is party chairmen and activists who from the beginning of time go around paranoid that the other party is stealing the election," Cummins says. "It sounds like to me that they were merely responding to a lot of general carping from the party, who had higher expectations once the Republican appointees filled these posts that there would be a lot of voting fraud investigations. Their expectations were unrealistic." Cummins was replaced by Griffin, a protege of Rove's who stands accused of being part of an attempt to wipe likely Democratic voters off the rolls in Florida in 2004 if they were homeless or military personnel. (McClatchy News)
- March 23: The now-familiar talking point that "Bill Clinton started the whole firing of US attorneys"
US Attorney firings
began in the Justice Department three weeks ago, when DOJ officials settled on that false claim to attempt to rebut the chorus of Democratic accusations that the Bush administration had wrongly injected politics into law enforcement when it dismissed eight US attorneys. DOJ spokeswoman Tara Scolinos first suggested that the Bush administration and its various mouthpieces begin spreading the idea that, instead of defending its own indefensible actions, the entire problem started when Clinton replaced every sitting US attorney when Janet Reno became attorney general in 1993. Naturally, the talking point has been quite successful, not only among right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers, but among mainstream pundits as well. As usual, the facts are far more complicated.
- In a March 4 memo titled "Draft Talking Points," Scolinos asked, "The [White House] is under the impression that we did not remove all the Clinton [US attorneys] in 2001 like he did when he took office. Is that true?" Kyle Sampson, the then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, replied that it was true to an extent. "Clinton fired all Bush [US attorneys] in one fell swoop. We fired all Clinton [US attorneys] but staggered it out more and permitted some to stay on a few months," Sampson wrote. Minutes later, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty replied to the same memo. "On the issue of Clinton [US attorneys], we called each one and had them give us a timeframe. Most were gone by late April. In contrast, Clinton [Justice Department] told all but a dozen in early March to be gone immediately," McNulty said, which, as demonstrated below, is not quite true. Either way, the difference is trivial. Within months of their president's taking office, both Clinton and Bush officials had replaced virtually the entire slate of 93 US attorneys with their own choices.
- What Scolinos and other officials chose to ignore is that the pattern goes back at least as far as Ronald Reagan. Within his first two years in office, Reagan had replaced 89 of the 93 US attorneys. Clinton had 89 new attorneys within his first two years, and George H.W. Bush had 88 new attorneys within his first two years. So the elder Bush, Clinton, and the younger Bush have all followed the precedent laid down by Reagan. Bush's current problem is the fact that his White House and DOJ orchestrated the firings of eight US attorneys for unacceptably partisan, and possibly illegal, reasons.
- However, the Clinton talking point ignores the last twenty years of history. Instead, Scolinos and her superiors at DOJ and the White House have successfully planted the idea that Reno, Clinton's attorney general, did something extreme and unprecedented.
- Pennsylvania's attorney general, Tom Corbett, recalls the 1993 firings quite clearly. In that year, he was the US attorney in Pittsburgh and the liason between the outgoing Bush administration and the newcomers with Clinton. Corbett recalls that all 93 expected to be replaced within days, if not weeks or months. "We had been asking them for months: 'When do you want our resignations?'" Corbett recalls. He received an answer from Clinton's associate attorney general, Webster Hubbell, in mid-March 1993, approximately two months after Clinton's inauguration. "He said, 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is the attorney general wants you to stay until your successor is confirmed. The bad news is she wants your resignations by the end of the week,'" Corbett recalls. The relatively sudden request for all 93 resignations was a bit surprising to Corbett and his colleagues. "We knew this was coming, but it broke with tradition to do it this way," he says. "It didn't make for a smooth transition. By the end of that week, they had backed off a bit. Over the course of the next few months, they made the changes. It was how the message was delivered more than what actually occurred." And some of the Bush-era attorneys stayed on the job into 1994. Reagan appointee John Smietanka of Michigan recalls, "I knew I would be resigning, but I wasn't sure of the timing. I ended up serving for one year of the Clinton administration."
- Smietanka's predecessor, James Brady, was the US attorney under Jimmy Carter. He recalls, "When Carter lost in November of 1980, I resigned," says Brady, who later became president of the National Association of Former US Attorneys. "Nobody asked me, but that's the tradition of the office. US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, and when a new administration comes in, everybody knows you will have a new US attorney."
- Many former US attorneys draw a sharp distinction between the political nature of the appointment and the apolitical role of law enforcement. "The process of selection is political, but once you are there, you can't be political," says Clinton-era US attorney Daniel French of Syracuse, New York. "I don't think there is anything wrong with [former White House Counsel] Harriet Miers saying, 'We want all new people in office.'" However, French points out, there would be serious problems if an administration interfered in a politically sensitive prosecution. Former US attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who served under both Bushes and who voluntarily resigned his position in 2006, says, "In my opinion, [the Clinton and Bush firings are] not comparable. When you have a transition between presidents -- especially presidents of different parties -- a US attorney anticipates that you will be replaced in due course. But the unwritten, No. 1 rule at [the Justice Department] is that once you become a US attorney you have to leave politics at the door."
- Meanwhile, Republicans continue to hammer on the Clinton talking point. "There is no question that US attorneys, like all political appointees, serve at the pleasure of the president," says GOP senator Mel Martinez. "That was true when Bill Clinton's Justice Department replaced all 93 US attorneys, and it remains true today." (Los Angeles Times, TPM Muckraker
- March 23: Bush's choice for associate attorney general, Bill Mercer, is in jeopardy because of the controversy over the firings of eight US attorneys.
US Attorney firings
Mercer, under consideration for the number 3 spot at the Justice Department, has been blocked by Congressional Democrats until he can be questioned about his role in the firings. Mercer is currently the US attorney for Montana.
- Mercer's name frequently pops up among more than 3,000 pages of e-mail exchanges among department and White House officials discussing the dismissals. The Senate Judiciary Committee has authorized a subpoena for Mercer as part of its investigation into the matter. His nomination is pending before that committee. "In order for the committee to conduct a full and fair consideration of Mr. Mercer's nomination, it needs all the facts, including those that may arise as part of its investigation into the mass firings of the US attorneys," says Tracy Schmaler, press aide for the chairman, Patrick Leahy. Mercer has served as acting associate attorney general in Washington since he was nominated in September. At the same time, he is the chief federal prosecutor in Montana, double-duty that has prompted criticism back home. "I don't think it's appropriate for Mr. Mercer to hold both of these jobs," says Democratic senator Jon Tester. "Montana needs a full-time US attorney." A spokesman for Montana's other senator, Democrat Max Baucus, says Baucus is hearing from lawyers and judges in the state who say Mercer's prosecutor's office is stretched too thin. Mercer's top deputy in Montana, Kurt Alme, said last week that Mercer makes decisions from Washington and still handles a large share of his duties.
- Mercer is not the only US attorney to serve in temporary jobs at DOJ, and the practice is coming under increasing criticism as the department comes under more scrutiny. Democratic representative William Delahunt has criticized the department for allowing the US attorney in Massachusetts, Michael Sullivan, to serve for the past six months as acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Bush this week nominated Sullivan for the job permanently, and his nomination is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is expected to continue in both roles pending Senate confirmation for the ATF job. Delahunt, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, says it is unusual for Sullivan to perform two demanding full-time jobs. He blames the department and a "lame duck" administration for Sullivan's double duty. "Justice is in disarray right now," Delahunt says. "There are not many applicants for these particular jobs that have the appropriate background. ...When you combine all of these factors, you have creeping paralysis."
- Chuck Rosenberg, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, also has two roles. He was named interim chief of staff at the Justice Department last week, after chief of staff Kyle Sampson resigned in the uproar over the fired prosecutors. Rosenberg was confirmed by the Senate as US attorney last June. Several other US attorneys have done temporary duty at the department, including Patrick Fitzgerald of the Northern Illinois district. Fitzgerald led the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity that brought the indictment and perjury and obstruction of justice convictions of Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. (AP/Guardian)
- March 23: Washington Post political columnist and reporter Dan Froomkin sums up the "Rovian theory" behind the US attorney firings quite succinctly:
US Attorney firings
"The eight US attorneys were fired not only to purge the Justice Department of some prosecutors who were insufficiently willing to use the power of their offices to attack Democrats and protect Republicans --- but also to install favored people who wouldn't have such scruples. And, thanks to a provision snuck into law by a Bush administration henchman (who has since been granted a job as -- you guessed it -- a US attorney) there would be none of those pesky safeguards to prevent those jobs going to unqualified hacks. Or, as White House Watch reader Charles Posner wrote to me in an e-mail yesterday: 'Dan -- I think everyone is looking at the Justice Dept. scandal from the wrong end -- it's not the firing, but the hiring that's the crux of the issue. Rove has a plan and a list. The plan is to install partisans in the prosecutors' office in order to target Democratic congressmen. Of course, Rove can hand-pick each prosecutor without Congress's involvement as allowed by the secret provisions of the Patriot Act. Now, where's his list?" (Washington Post)
- March 24: A senior British military official in Basra admits that there is no proof of any Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents.
Iraq war and occupation
Lieutenant Colonel Justin Maciejewski, stationed in Basra, says that there is no proof of the Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq, as claimed by both US and British military and civilian officials, though he believes the Iranians are indeed providing such support. He says that local community leaders tell him that Iranian agents are paying Iraqis $500 a month to carry out attacks. "All the information we are getting from the locals...is that the vast majority of the violence against us is inspired from outside of Iraq and the people here very much believe that that is Iran," he says. "There is nothing I have seen that would disprove what they are telling me." Maciejewski adds that the "modern and quite sophisticated weaponry" could not be old munitions left over from the Iran-Iraq war. Both the US and Britain have accused Iran of supplying armor-piercing explosive devices detonated by infrared triggers, but they have been unable to prove it.
- Iraqi militia chiefs admit that hundreds of their fighters have crossed the poorly-guarded border into Iran for training by the Al-Qods Force, a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard that is believed to have trained guerrillas in Lebanon, Bosnia and Afghanistan. The US Central Command claims there are 150 Iranian agents in Iraq, though this is impossible to confirm. "There are very few Iranian nationals in Iraq, or at least very few carrying Iranian documents," one diplomat says, "but they have so much influence on the ground, they are able to operate effectively at arm's length." An Iranian opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, claims Tehran pays 31,690 Iraqis under Al-Qods command, though the NCRI's claims are, by nature, unreliable. The NCRI claims that most of the Iranian-trained Iraqis are affiliated with the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a rival political organization which was based in Iran until the overthrow of Saddam. The Badr Brigade has been accused of operating death squads targeting Sunni Muslims. The NCRI even names the commanders of Iranian units in Iraq and procedures for delivering arms and cash across the border.
- "I don't doubt that the Iranians do have very great influence in Iraq, but they are not manipulating everything behind the scenes," says Toby Dodge of Queen Mary College. "They can keep the pot boiling, and raise or lower the temperature, but they don't create things." Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has claimed accusations that Tehran is arming insurgents are an attempt to find a scapegoat for US "defeats and failures." (Guardian)
- March 24: Dick Cheney launches another verbal attack on House Democrats over their vote to impose deadlines on the continued US military occupation of Iraq,
Iraq war and occupation
saying that by casting those votes, they are refusing to support the American troops and are sending a message to terrorists that America will retreat in the face of danger. "They're not supporting the troops. They're undermining them," Cheney tells a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition at the oceanside Ritz-Carlton hotel in Manalapan, Florida. The $124 billion House legislation would pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year but would require that combat troops come home from Iraq before September 2008 -- or earlier if the Iraqi government does not meet certain requirements. Cheney calls it a myth that "one can support the troops without giving them the tools and reinforcements they need to carry out their mission." Bush has promised to veto the legislation, and Cheney says Bush will not withdraw troops before there is stability in Iraq. (Washington Post)
- March 24: Documents released by the Justice Department prove that, in direct contradiction to statements by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Gonzales took part in a November 27 meeting where plans for firing eight US attorneys were discussed.
US Attorney firings
Gonzales, who told reporters on March 13 that he had not participated in any discussions about the removals, is still insisting that he has done nothing wrong and is resisting calls for his resignation. As has become his wont, he says he simply doesn't recall the meeting.
- At the November 27 meeting, Gonzales and at least five top Justice Department officials discussed a five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors, Gonzales's aides confirm. There, Gonzales signed off on the plan, which was drafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Gonzales approved Sampson's detailed "roll out" plans for the firings. Another Justice aide closely involved in the dismissals, White House liaison Monica Goodling, has also taken a leave of absence. Goodling's participation in the firing plans is further proof of the extent of White House involvement in the firings.
- The five-step plan approved by Gonzales involved notifying Republican home-state senators of the impending dismissals, preparing for potential political upheaval, naming replacements and submitting them to the Senate for confirmation. Six of the eight prosecutors who were ultimately ordered to resign are named in the plan.
- While the documents proving Gonzales's participation in the firings was released as part of the latest "document dump" from the DOJ, the documents contain an enormous and highly suspect gap, from November 27 through December 7, the day when the eight attorneys were informed of their dismissals. If Gonzales participated in further meetings about the upcoming firings, those documents have not been disclosed. DOJ spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos asserts again that Gonzales wasn't involved in the process of selecting which prosecutors would be asked to resign, but admits, "[H]e did sign off on the final list." Scolinos, apparently believing that the media and the public are too stupid to read, says that there is no "inconsistency" between the November 27 meeting and Gonzales's denials. She argues that Gonzales was simply emphasizing at the news conference that he was not involved in the details of Sampson's plans.
- 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 lied. "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." Asked to explain the difference between Gonzales' comments and his schedule, Justice spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says that Gonzales had relied on Sampson to draw up the plans on the firings. "The attorney general has made clear that he charged Mr. Sampson with directing a plan to replace US attorneys where for one reason or another the department believed that we could do better," he says. "He was not, however, involved at the levels of selecting the particular US attorneys who would be replaced."
- Congressional Democrats have had enough of Gonzales's lies and evasions. "Clearly the attorney general was not telling the whole truth, but what is he trying to hide?" asks Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid's Senate colleague Charles Schumer adds, "A good lawyer will tell you, when the story keeps changing, it's usually because someone has something to hide ...The attorney general, more than any other Cabinet officer, must always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If the facts bear out that Attorney General Gonzales knew much more about the plan than he has previously admitted, then he can no longer serve as attorney general." In the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers says, "This puts the attorney general front and center in these matters, contrary to information that had previously been provided to the public and Congress." Even Republicans are beginning to rebel against the wall of fog from the White House and the DOJ; on March 23, GOP senator John Cornyn summoned White House counsel Fred Fielding to Capitol Hill and told him he wanted "no surprises." Cornyn said, "I told him, 'Everything you can release, please release. We need to know what the facts are." And yesterday, Republican house member Paul Gillmor said Gonzales has become a "lightning rod" for criticism: "It would be better for the president and the department if the attorney general were to step down." On the flip side, former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie says that Gonzales didn't say what he said: "He didn't say he wasn't involved."
- The firings were apparently not widely known throughout the Justice Department. Scolinos apparently did not learn of the plan until November 17, 2006, nearly two years after Sampson and the White House first began talking about replacing prosecutors. (ABC News, Washington Post. MSNBC, New York Times, AP/Idaho Statesman)
"...[I]n this case it looks like that authority was delegated down through Harriet Miers, Karl Rove, Judge Gonzales and all the way down to a bunch of 35-year-old kids who got in a room together and tried to decide who was most loyal to the president." -- former US attorney Bud Cummins