Saturday, March 31, 2007

Looking Bad For Kerik

Federal prosecutors have told Bernard B. Kerik, whose nomination as homeland security secretary in 2004 ended in scandal, that he is likely to be charged with several felonies, including tax evasion and conspiracy to commit wiretapping.

Kerik's indictment could set the stage for a courtroom battle that would draw attention to Kerik's extensive business and political dealings with former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who personally recommended him to President Bush for the Cabinet. Giuliani, the front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination according to most polls, later called the recommendation a mistake. ...

During a recent meeting, federal prosecutors told Kerik's attorneys that they are preparing to charge Kerik with filing false information to the government when Bush nominated him to the Cabinet, according to the legal sources.

Prosecutors are also prepared to charge Kerik with violating federal tax laws, alleging that he did not declare on his tax returns gifts he received while serving as New York's corrections commissioner, including costly renovations to an apartment he had bought, the sources said. The FBI is investigating loans Kerik received while he was in private business with Giuliani, the sources said, as well as information Kerik had omitted from a mortgage application.

Kerik turned down last month an offer to plead guilty to federal charges that would have required him to serve prison time. His attorney, Kenneth Breen, said in an interview that his client had done nothing wrong. ...

The case against Kerik that federal prosecutors are preparing could generate uncomfortable political attention for Giuliani because it focuses on Kerik's activities while the two men were in government together and were jointly running Giuliani-Kerik, which was paid millions of dollars for advising upstart companies, doing federal work and consulting with clients overseas. ...

Kerik's legal troubles could damage the law-and-order image that is the bedrock of Giuliani's campaign, said Republican political consultant Nelson Warfield, who is not aligned with any 2008 candidate. "Kerik has potential to undermine his image as a competent leader and someone best fit to fight terrorism," Warfield said. "Either he had fundamentally bad information about Kerik, or he was reckless in not knowing enough about a man who was that close to him." ...

In addition to charges involving false information and tax law, the U.S. attorney's office in New York City is also threatening to charge Kerik with conspiracy to commit illegal wiretapping in his dealings with the 2006 GOP candidate for New York attorney general, Jeanine F. Pirro, the sources said.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sampson Recommended Firing Fitzgerald

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was more deeply involved in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys than he has sometimes acknowledged, and Gonzales and his aides have made a series of inaccurate claims about the issue in recent weeks, the attorney general's former chief of staff testified yesterday.

In dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson also revealed that New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias was not added to the dismissal list until just before the Nov. 7 elections, after presidential adviser Karl Rove complained that Iglesias had not been aggressive enough in pursuing cases of voter fraud. Previously, Rove had not been tied so directly to the removal of the prosecutors. ...

Sampson said he even suggested firing U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald of Chicago while Fitzgerald was prosecuting Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff for perjury. Sampson said he immediately dropped the idea, which he raised at a White House meeting last year, when he received negative reactions from then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers and her deputy, William Kelley.

In his daylong appearance on Thursday, Mr. Sampson shed no new light on why Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, first proposed the dismissals after the 2004 election. ...

Asked whether Mr. Rove, who testified several times before Mr. Fitzgerald's grand jury, had ever expressed an opinion about removing Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Sampson said: "To the best of my recollection, no. I don't remember that." ...

Mr. Sampson disputed suggestions that (Carol) Lam was removed because of her office's corruption investigation of former Representative Randy Cunningham, a Republican, who was convicted in 2005. ...

None of the dismissals were intended to interfere with political corruption investigations, he said. "During this process, I never associated asking the U.S. attorneys to resign with any investigation," Mr. Sampson said.

Sampson provided new detail of Gonzales's involvement, testifying in response to questioning that he had at least five discussions with his boss about the project after Gonzales first approved the idea in early 2005 and that the attorney general was aware which prosecutors were under consideration for dismissal.

"I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate," Sampson said. "I remember discussing with him this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."

Sampson added later that "the decision makers in this case were the attorney general and the counsel to the president" -- Miers.

The conservative Washington Times has a slightly different take on the revelations which came out during Mr. Sampson's testimony:

On the matter of the fired federal prosecutors, Democratic senators failed to unearth any bombshells from D. Kyle Sampson, during nearly seven hours of sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. One Republican senator on the panel said that after the long day of questioning, Democrats had found no smoking gun on the substantive issues.

"It's a waste of time. They have no evidence, just innuendo. They're just looking for anything they can use to hurt the White House," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

U.S. Attorney Scandal Festers

Here's a brief roundup of the latest on the U.S. attorneys scandal.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales endured blunt criticism Tuesday from federal prosecutors who questioned the firings of eight United States attorneys, complained that the dismissals had undermined morale and expressed broader grievances about his leadership, according to people briefed on the discussion.

About a half-dozen United States attorneys voiced their concerns at a private meeting with Mr. Gonzales in Chicago.

Several of the prosecutors said the dismissals caused them to wonder about their own standing and distracted their employees, according to one person familiar with the discussions. Others asked Mr. Gonzales about the removal of Daniel C. Bogden, the former United States attorney in Nevada, a respected career prosecutor whose ouster has never been fully explained by the Justice Department.

While Mr. Gonzales's trip was part of a long-scheduled tour, he has been meeting in recent days with prosecutors in an effort to repair the damage caused by the dismissals. President Bush has backed Mr. Gonzales, but his tenure at the Justice Department may still be in peril as lawmakers in both parties have called for his resignation, questioned his credibility and raised doubts that he can lead the department.

His former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, is to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. In his prepared testimony, Mr. Sampson, who resigned two weeks ago, said the prosecutors were fired not for political reasons, but because they failed to follow the president's priorities. He is likely to be closely questioned about the extent of Mr. Gonzales's involvement in planning the firings.

Karl Rove has had a larger role in White House dealings with the Justice Department than previously known:

Almost every Wednesday afternoon, advisers to President Bush gather to strategize about putting his stamp on the federal courts and the United States attorneys' offices.

The group meets in the Roosevelt Room and includes aides to the White House counsel, the chief of staff, the attorney general and Karl Rove, who also sometimes attends himself. Each of them signs off on every nomination.

Mr. Rove, a top adviser to the president, takes charge of the politics. As caretaker to the administration’s conservative allies, Mr. Rove relays their concerns, according to several participants in the Wednesday meetings. And especially for appointments of United States attorneys, he manages the horse trading.

Mr. Rove's role has put him in the center of a Senate inquiry into the dismissal of eight United States attorneys. Democrats and a few Republicans have raised questions about whether the prosecutors were being replaced to impede or jump-start investigations for partisan goals.

Political advisers have had a hand in picking judges and prosecutors for decades, but Mr. Rove exercises unusually broad influence over political, policy and personnel decisions because of his closeness to the president, tenure in the administration and longstanding interest in turning the judiciary to the right.

In Illinois, Mr. Rove once reprimanded a Republican senator for recommending the appointment of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, a star prosecutor from outside the state, to investigate the state’s then-governor, a Republican. In New Jersey, Mr. Rove helped arrange the nomination of a major Bush campaign fund-raiser who had little prosecutorial experience. In Louisiana, he first supported and then helped scuttle a similar appointment.

In the months before the United States attorneys in New Mexico and Washington State were ousted, Mr. Rove joined a chorus of complaints from state Republicans that the federal prosecutors had failed to press charges in Democratic voter fraud cases. While planning a June 21, 2006, White House session to discuss the prosecutors, for example, a Rove deputy arranged for top Justice Department officials to meet with an important Bush supporter who was critical of New Mexico’s federal prosecutor about voter fraud.

And in Arkansas, newly released Justice Department e-mail messages show, Mr. Rove's staff repeatedly prodded the department's staff to install one of his protégés as a United States attorney by ousting a previous Bush appointee who was in good standing.

Senate Democrats and a few Republicans have called for Mr. Rove to testify publicly about the dismissals.

The document dump from the DOJ has yielded evidence of such a fruitful bounty that several top Democratic lawmakers are looking higher -- to the White House -- for additional goodies:

The chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees, John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), respectively, urged the Bush administration to turn over internal e-mails and comply with their ongoing investigation of the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys.

In a letter to Fred Fielding, Conyers and Leahy asked the White House counsel to turn over all relevant e-mails to the committees for their investigation.

"We hope that you will reconsider your 'all or nothing' approach with respect to documents you identified that you would be willing to provide," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you to provide all relevant documents without delay."

The chairmen asked Fielding to turn over "internal" e-mails, defined as those sent between White House staff, to their committees for review. In the conditions Fielding offered to the chairmen last week, the administration would not provide any e-mails that were exchanged between staffers.

"Thus, while we do not agree with you that what you describe as 'internal' White House documents should be off limits, we recognize that you view them as a separate category and you disagree whether those should be shared with the Committees," Conyers and Leahy wrote.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Rudy The Rock (Head)?

It remains a mystery why anyone considers Giuliani to be an authority on national security matters. Much less a viable candidate for president.

Inconspicuous incontinence under pressure doesn't ordinarily qualify someone for the highest office in the land.

Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani on Tuesday called the Democratic-controlled Congress' challenge to President Bush's policy in Iraq "a terrible mistake" and equated it with waving a white flag in the war against terrorism.

"I can't imagine in the history of war anybody announcing a timetable to run out and retreat," he said at an appearance at a delicatessen in this suburb just over the George Washington Bridge from New York City. "I think it's a terrible mistake. To put up the white flag and announce a timetable for retreat seems like a very bad strategy to me."

Giuliani's remarks came on the heels of the U.S. Senate narrowly passing a nonbinding timeline that would have U.S. combat troops home by next March. President Bush is likely to veto the resolution.

"I hope that the president vetoes it," Giuliani said. "The full focus of our energies should be on supporting the troops that are there and trying to act against terrorism, trying to create an Iraq that acts as a bulwark against terrorism instead of a headquarters for terrorism."

Listen to this kook:

He also didn't mince words when asked what he would do as president if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued to flirt with developing nuclear weapons.

"What I would do is make clear to him that he's not going to have nuclear weapons. That's not an option. Containment may have worked with the Soviets, but as far as I can recall, the Soviets weren't planning to come here and kill us. They didn't blow up the World Trade Center twice. We've got a different kind of enemy here. Ahmadinejad has to be clear that we're not going to let him move to the stage where he can have nuclear weapons."

Leahy Wants Answers

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., sent a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demanding to know if senior counselor Monica Goodling is still a Justice Department employee and whether other key employees remain with the agency or have hired lawyers.

The letter came one day after news that Goodling, who also served as Justice's liaison to the White House, would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than discuss with Congress whether she had a role in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Justice recently announced she had taken a leave of absence.

The letter also seeks the employment status of three other aides mentioned as possible witnesses: Michael Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty; acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer and Michael Battle, the former top official in the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys.

The letter contends Gonzales assured Leahy and other senators during a March 8 meeting that the four employees and his former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, would cooperate with the panel's investigation so there would be no need for subpoenas.

ERA Back In Play

Federal and state lawmakers have launched a new drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, reviving a feminist goal that faltered a quarter-century ago when the measure did not gain the approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures.

The amendment, which came three states short of enactment in 1982, has been introduced in five state legislatures since January. Yesterday, House and Senate Democrats reintroduced the measure under a new name -- the Women's Equality Amendment -- and vowed to bring it to a vote in both chambers by the end of the session.

The renewed push to pass the ERA, which passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly in 1972 and was ratified by 35 states before skidding to a halt, highlights liberals' renewed sense of power since November's midterm elections. From Capitol Hill to Arkansas, legislators said they are seizing a political opportunity to enshrine women's rights in the Constitution. ...

The amendment consists of 52 words and has one key line: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." That sentence would subject legal claims of gender discrimination to the same strict scrutiny given by courts to allegations of racial discrimination. ...

The ERA, originally introduced in Congress in 1923, gained popularity in the mid-1960s. In March 1972, it cleared the first of two hurdles: passing both chambers of Congress by the required two-thirds vote.

Thirty state legislatures ratified it the next year. Congress extended by three years its seven-year deadline for ratification, but the decade passed without approval by the required 38 states. ERA backers have since introduced the resolution in every Congress, but only now do they believe they have a realistic chance of success.

Legal scholars debate whether the 35 state votes to ratify the amendment are still valid.

In 1997, three professors argued in the William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law that the ERA remained viable because in 1992 the Madison Amendment -- which affects congressional pay raises -- became the 27th constitutional amendment 203 years after it first won congressional approval. Under that precedent, advocates say, the ERA should become part of the Constitution once three-quarters of the states ratify it, no matter how long that takes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Scandal Gets More Interesting

The U.S. attorney firing scandal is heating up big time.

Monica Goodling, the Department of Justice official who said Monday that she'll invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than talk to lawmakers, is a frequent figure in department e-mails released so far as part of the congressional investigation into the firings and hirings of U.S. attorneys.

Goodling, 33, is a 1995 graduate Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., an institution that describes itself as "committed to embracing an evangelical spirit."

She received her law degree at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. Regent, founded by Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, says its mission is "to produce Christian leaders who will make a difference, who will change the world."

E-mails show that Goodling was involved in planning the dismissals and in later efforts to limit the negative reaction. As the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, she could shed light on the extent of White House involvement in the dismissals.

She may have a good reason to be concerned:

The Justice official who allegedly pointed a finger at Goodling and other aides is either Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty or Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, the only two officials to testify so far.

And an editorial in today's New York Times spotlights the interesting timing of the release of the incriminating document about the Attorney General's participation in a meeting about the dismissal of the U.S. attorneys:

Last Friday night, the Justice Department released a calendar entry that directly contradicts Mr. Gonzales's insistence that he was out of the loop. It shows that he attended an hourlong meeting on Nov. 27 to discuss the upcoming firings of seven of the prosecutors. Previously, he had insisted that he never "had a discussion about where things stood."

The release of the calendar entry is disturbing because it suggests not only that Mr. Gonzales may have personally approved the firings — something he has denied — but that the Justice Department has been dishonest in its responses to Congress. The department had already released what it claimed was a full set of relevant documents, and it now says it simply overlooked the ones released on Friday. But the information about the Nov. 27 meeting may have been released because Mr. Gonzales's chief of staff, who was present at it, has agreed to testify before Congress this week.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sampson Going To Bat For The Team

We are getting a preview of the gooper talking point that the defenders of Alberto Gonzales will be using to cast doubt upon whether the U.S. Attorney flap is related to obstruction of justice or other tampering with ongoing federal investigations.

The story will be "bureaucratic bungling" on the part of DOJ, not Rovian political skullduggery.

Gonzales' former number two will apparently be offering up this interpretation in his testimony later this week.

Friends say D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, believes that bureaucratic bungling rather than intentional wrongdoing was at the root of controversy over replacement of eight U.S. attorneys. Officials in both parties say Sampson’s testimony this Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee could provide a crucial roadmap to what happened, with Gonzales’ credibility at stake.

After the Justice Department released e-mails on Friday night that appeared to contradict the assertion by Gonzales that he had not been "involved in any discussions" about the firings, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the committee, said on Saturday: "The Sampson testimony is now more crucial than ever. He was at the center of it all. He can tell us what the attorney general knew, when he knew it, and what he did about it." ...

The friends say Sampson, 37, does not plan to deliver bombshells, and say that Democrats looking for plots and schemes will be disappointed. Like other Republicans, Sampson will contend there was no underlying sin, just a botched response.

"He is not personally of the opinion now, based on what he knows, that anybody at the Department of Justice did anything intentionally wrong," said a friend familiar with Sampson's thinking.

Sampson is testifying voluntarily, sparing the committee from having to decide whether to subpoena him. "He doesn't feel that he has anything to hide," the friend said. "He doesn’t feel that there's any aspect of this story that he can't explain publicly. He's hoping to contribute what he knows in the hope that getting the truth out, as fully as it can be gotten out, will ultimately help calm the situation rather than aggravate it."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

NYPD Intelligence Division Cast Wide Net For 2004 RNC

For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews. ...

In hundreds of reports stamped "N.Y.P.D. Secret," the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law, the records show.

These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies. ...

In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities. A police report on an organization of artists called Bands Against Bush noted that the group was planning concerts on Oct. 11, 2003, in New York, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Between musical sets, the report said, there would be political speeches and videos.

"Activists are showing a well-organized network made up of anti-Bush sentiment; the mixing of music and political rhetoric indicates sophisticated organizing skills with a specific agenda," said the report, dated Oct. 9, 2003. "Police departments in above listed areas have been contacted regarding this event."

Police records indicate that in addition to sharing information with other police departments, New York undercover officers were active themselves in at least 15 places outside New York -- including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montreal, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C. -- and in Europe. ...

(T)he broad outlines of the pre-convention operations are emerging from records in federal lawsuits that were brought over mass arrests made during the convention, and in greater detail from still-secret reports reviewed by The New York Times. These include a sample of raw intelligence documents and of summary digests of observations from both the field and the department's cyberintelligence unit. ...

On Wednesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the convention lawsuits are scheduled to begin depositions of David Cohen, the deputy police commissioner for intelligence. Mr. Cohen, a former senior official at the Central Intelligence Agency, was "central to the N.Y.P.D.'s efforts to collect intelligence information prior to the R.N.C.," Gerald C. Smith, an assistant corporation counsel with the city Law Department, said in a federal court filing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Who Are You Going To Believe, The Documents or The AG?

Maybe it depends on your definition of "involved."

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

The calendar entry was among more than 280 pages of Justice Department documents released Friday night and immediately provoked further criticism of Mr. Gonzales in Congress, where the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have authorized subpoenas for sworn public testimony of presidential aides and senior department officials.

The hour-long November meeting in the attorney general's conference room included Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and four other senior Justice officials, including the Gonzales aide who coordinated the firings, then-Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson, records show.

Documents detailing the previously undisclosed meeting appear to conflict with remarks by Gonzales at a March 13 news conference in which he portrayed himself as a CEO who had delegated to Sampson responsibility for the particulars of firing eight U.S. attorneys.

"I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," Gonzales said.

Investigation of GOP Congressmen is Ongoing, Says Feds

The former No. 2 official in the Interior Department yesterday admitted lying to the Senate about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who gained the official's intervention at the agency for his Indian tribal clients.

J. Steven Griles pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a felony for making false statements in testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in November 2005 and in an earlier interview with panel investigators. He is the 10th person -- and the second high-level Bush administration official -- to face criminal charges in the continuing Justice Department investigation into Abramoff's lobbying activities. ...

Several of the more than 40 career law enforcement officials working on the Abramoff task force said there is a vigorous, ongoing investigation of current and former Republican members of Congress.

Among those who have been convicted or pleaded guilty in the scandal besides Abramoff are ... several former congressional aides who had become lobbyists, including two who had worked for former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). DeLay resigned from Congress last year and is a figure in the continuing probe, sources familiar with the investigation have said.

The plea deal, which does not require Griles to cooperate in the continuing investigation, gives the government a felony conviction without having to use Abramoff as a trial witness. The former lobbyist could be a star witness if the government brings charges against other political figures unwilling to plead guilty.

Friday, March 23, 2007

U.S. Has No Idea of Extent of Looted Iraqi Ammo

"Coalition forces" were too busy trying to protect the oil infrastructure and searching for phantom WMD to properly secure the ammo dumps.

Now, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Four years after invading Iraq, the U.S. military still does not know how many tons of explosives were stolen from the country's massive prewar stockpiles or how many weapons caches remain unsecured, according to a government audit made public Thursday.

Many of the looted munitions have since made their way into the roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices responsible for the bulk of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq.

The Government Accountability Office report cites a lack of manpower, inadequate planning and misplaced priorities in the military's failure to account for and immediately secure weapons during and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The number of unaccounted-for munitions "could range significantly from thousands to millions of tons," says an unclassified version of the report released at a congressional hearing.

The report warns that some weapons stockpiles still may be vulnerable to looting and could fall into the hands of insurgents and terrorists. As recently as October, government investigators could not confirm that all weapons sites had been physically secured, and said that there apparently had been no nationwide tally by the Defense Department.

Nice One, Congressman!

A first-term congressman from Michigan who compared parts of Iraq to Detroit and Harvey, Ill., an economically depressed Chicago suburb, defended the comments Thursday.

Rep. Tim Walberg said those were just two examples of communities where safety and city services are comparable to 80 percent to 85 percent of Iraq.

Walberg, a Republican, said on Detroit radio station WJR-AM that U.S. troops in Iraq tell him the military is succeeding.

"People are walking around communities (in Iraq) as safe as they are walking around — at the very least — in Detroit and Chicago and other places," he said.

Walberg made similar comments Monday on a Lansing radio show, drawing criticism from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's office and Harvey Mayor Eric J. Kellogg.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tobacco Settlement Skullduggery Update

We first mentioned this example of outrageous administration malfeasance back in June of 2006 (see Tobacco Settlement Skullduggery).

Now, one of the participants is confirming our suspicions that there was more to the sudden reduction of the monetary settlement required from the tobacco companies than was being advertised.

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

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

Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a lawyer at Justice, said three political appointees were responsible for the last-minute shifts in the government's tobacco case in June 2005: then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler's deputy at the time, Dan Meron.

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

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

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

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

Eubanks said McCallum, Keisler and Meron largely ignored the case until it became clear that the government might win. ...

Two weeks before closing arguments in June, McCallum called for a meeting with Eubanks and her deputy, Stephen Brody, to discuss what McCallum described as "getting the number down" for the $130 billion penalty to create smoking-cessation programs. ...

During several tense late-night meetings, McCallum repeatedly refused to suggest a figure, Eubanks said, or give clear reasons for the reduction. Brody refused to lower the amount. Finally, on the morning the government was to propose the penalty in court, she said, McCallum ordered it cut to $10 billion.

A potentially fruitful adjunct to the U.S. Attorney scandal is sitting there for the taking.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bush Rebukes Congress on Aides' Testimony

Under growing political pressure, the White House offered to allow members of Congressional committees to hold private interviews with Karl Rove, the president's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff; Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel; and two other officials. It also offered to provide access to e-mail messages and other communications about the dismissals, but not those between White House officials.

Democrats promptly rejected the offer, which specified that the officials would not testify under oath, that there would be no transcript and that Congress would not subsequently subpoena them.

"I don't accept his offer," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "It is not constructive, and it is not helpful to be telling the Senate how to do our investigation or to prejudge its outcome."

Although the president said he did not approve of the way the Department of Justice had provided a shifting series of explanations for the sackings, he publicly reaffirmed his support for Mr Gonzales, reiterating that he still has confidence in his old friend from Texas.

An influential Republican with close White House ties said the attorney-general's position was not safe. He said Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, had not lined up a replacement for the attorney-general, but that he "knows all the potential choices", he said.

And then there's a mysterious 18-day gap in the chronology of the DOJ e-mails and other memos which were turned over Monday night to the House Judiciary Committee.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Names Floated As Possible Replacements For Gonzales

The White House began floating the names of possible replacements for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Monday as the Justice Department released more internal documents related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

One prominent Republican, who earlier had predicted that Gonzales would survive the controversy, said he expected both Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty to resign soon. Another well-connected Republican said that White House officials have launched an aggressive search for Gonzales' replacement, though President Bush hadn't decided whether to ask for his resignation. ...

Possible replacements for Gonzales include Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Security and Exchange Commission Chairman Chris Cox, White House anti-terrorism adviser Fran Townsend, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and former Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson.

Internal administration documents collected by congressional investigators contradicted Justice Department assurances that the White House played no role in the firings. The documents also indicated that Gonzales might have known more about the plan for dismissals than he'd acknowledged.

The House Judiciary Committee document dump can be found here.

More White House Obfuscation on Global Warming

The White House selectively made several hundred changes in scientific reports to exaggerate uncertainty about the human contribution to global warming, a House committee reported Monday, citing newly released administration documents.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released its first findings in a months-long investigation into allegations the Bush administration doctored scientific evidence about global warming. The panel’s Democratic majority pointed to hundreds of changes recommended to several reports on global warming prepared in 2003.

Chairman Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., said the first eight boxes of documents the panel received since its initial hearing in January suggest “serious abuse” by White House officials. Waxman said science alone should drive policy decisions on global warming.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Lam Dismissal May Have Been Obstruction

When the Senate Judiciary Committee gets D. Kyle Sampson under oath, the White House and AG Alberto Gonzales may have a "real problem" of their own making: evidence of Obstruction of Justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Supplemental To Force DOD To Issue Tillman Report

Buried in the $124 billion House version of the wartime supplemental appropriation is an order to the Defense Department to release a report on the April 2004 death in Afghanistan of Army Spc. Patrick Tillman.

Tillman, who gave up a professional football career to join the Army after the 2001 terrorist attacks, was killed in what was later revealed to be a friendly-fire incident, although his family initially was given another story in which Tillman was killed by enemy forces. ...

What made the incident all the worse for the family was that Army leaders knew Tillman had been killed by friendly fire but did not tell them, which helped feed complaints from the Tillmans and other families that they were not being told the truth about war casualties.

Suit Filed Over Ejection From Bush Event

Two of the "Denver Three" -- three people who were ejected from a March 2005 taxpayer-financed Bush Social Security event in Denver for having a suspicious bumper sticker on their vehicle -- are taking their case to court (again).

Two people who were removed from a presidential event in 2005 filed a lawsuit on Thursday against three White House staff members on the grounds that their rights to free speech had been violated.

The two, Leslie Weise and Alex Young, were ejected from a speech given in Denver by President Bush because they arrived in a car with an antiwar bumper sticker, despite having done nothing disruptive, according to the A.C.L.U. of Colorado, which is representing them. The lawsuit names Steven A. Atkiss, James A. O'Keefe and Greg Jenkins, all of whom worked for the Office of Presidential Advance at the time, as being responsible for the removal. Ms. Weise and Mr. Young filed an initial lawsuit in 2005 against two other individuals working at the speech.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Senate Rejects Dems Iraq Withdrawal Measure

In an ominous sign for the Democratic legislative campaign to end the war in Iraq, the Senate on Thursday rejected a resolution that would have required President Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. combat troops within 120 days after it was enacted.

Two Democrats joined one independent and all but one Republican to reject the measure, 50 to 48, marking the third time in the last six weeks that an antiwar resolution has foundered in the closely divided Senate. ...

The White House has repeatedly indicated that Bush would veto any measure that would restrict his ability to conduct the war. And Thursday, a spokeswoman touted the resolution's defeat and issued a warning to House Democrats pushing their own withdrawal plan.

The prospects that either the House or the Senate measure would will win final passage were always considered slim, given that the Senate legislation needed a so-called supermajority of 60 to advance. Even so, the White House issued forceful veto threats, sending a clear signal to Republicans where the president stood. The White House also worked behind the scenes this week to keep Republicans on board.

Two Democratic Senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, crossed party lines to oppose the withdrawal plan. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent and staunch supporter of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, voted as expected with the Republicans. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican running for president, was campaigning in Iowa at the time of the vote.

Democrats asserted that the only alternative to their plan was endorsing, once again, the status quo in Iraq. In a debate steeped in anger and dismay, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia declared, "We were wrong to invade, we were wrong to think victory would be quick or easy, and we are wrong to stay on in occupation that earns us only hatred — with no end, no end, no end in sight."

Republicans declared that the resolution would be devastating to the American war effort, "like sending a memo to our enemy," or "giving notice to the other side of when we're going to depart," in the words of Mr. McConnell.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

House Passes Open-Government Bills

In a bipartisan confrontation with the White House over executive branch secrecy, the House ignored a stern veto threat and overwhelmingly passed a package of open-government bills yesterday that would roll back administration efforts to shield its workings from public view.

Even top Republicans supported three bills that would streamline access to records in presidential libraries, expand safeguards for government whistle-blowers, and strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which guides public requests for government documents. All were approved with veto-proof majorities.

The White House issued tough statements on all three bills, saying, for example, that the presidential records act was "misguided, and would improperly impinge on the President's constitutional authority, in violation of settled separation of powers principles."

The three bills are: the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007; the Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 2007; and the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Gonzales Thinks He Will Skate

In a widening storm over the firings of top federal prosecutors, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales admitted Tuesday that "mistakes were made" and promised accountability, but pleaded ignorance of the details of the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys.

Gonzales, a longtime confidant of President Bush, said he wouldn't step down in the face of heated criticism of his management of the Justice Department.

Gonzales has come under increasingly harsh scrutiny as new information about the politically tinged circumstances of the firings has come to light. And last week, the Justice Department's inspector general issued a scathing report documenting the FBI's abuse of surveillance powers under the USA Patriot Act, raising new questions about Gonzales' ability to lead the nation's chief federal law-enforcement agency.

"I am here because I've learned from my mistakes, because I accept responsibility and because I'm committed to doing my job, and that is what I intend to do here on behalf of the American people," Gonzales said at a news conference in which he defended the firings.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Gonzales' acceptance of responsibility didn't go far enough and he repeated a call, first made Sunday, for Gonzales to step down.

D. Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, came up with a checklist. He rated each of the prosecutors with criteria that appeared to value political allegiance as much as job performance.

He recommended retaining "strong U.S. attorneys who have … exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general." He suggested "removing weak U.S. attorneys who have ... chafed against administration initiatives."

Those words are enshrined in some 150 pages of e-mails and other documents the White House turned over Tuesday to the Senate and House Judiciary committees. The panels are looking into allegations that the firings were motivated by political reasons rather than the prosecutors' performance, as the Justice Department has said.

"Does this reflect what [Bush] wants in [terms of] openness and candor in his administration?" (Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Judiciary committee chairman) asked, voicing frustration and anger over Justice's initial dismissal of the prosecutor firings as routine personnel decisions. Leahy listed several witnesses whom he plans to question publicly, including Gonzales and his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, who resigned yesterday, as well as senior Bush adviser Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

With Mr. Bush traveling in Mexico, the White House insisted that the president's role had been minimal and laid the blame primarily on Harriet E. Miers, who was White House counsel when the prosecutors lost their jobs and who stepped down in January.

"The White House did not play a specific role in the list of the seven U.S. attorneys," said Dan Bartlett, Mr. Bush's counselor, referring to a Justice Department roster of those to be dismissed. But he said the White House, through Ms. Miers's office, ultimately "signed off on the list."

Mr. Bartlett said it was "highly unlikely" that Mr. Rove would testify publicly to Congress but added, "That doesn't mean we won't find other ways to try to share that information."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

GOP Angry That Muslim Group To Be Allowed To Use Hill Conference Room

House Republicans reacted angrily yesterday after learning that a Democratic colleague had approved the use of a conference room inside the Capitol for a controversial non-profit group.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) expressed disappointment with the decision to allow the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to hold a discussion today on "Global Attitudes on Islam-West Relations: U.S. Policy Implications" in the Capitol building. He cited the group's unwillingness to denounce radical Islamic group Hamas and radical Shiite militia and political party Hezbollah.

"Despite numerous opportunities, CAIR has repeatedly refused to condemn terrorist action by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah," said Hensarling. "It is hard enough for members of Congress to reserve meeting rooms in the Capitol, and I am sure that there are many other places for groups to meet in private offices throughout Washington."

CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil-liberties group, has 32 offices and chapters in the United States and Canada. It has long walked a fine line on the issues of Hamas and Hezbollah but is widely accepted as a prominent Islamic group, according to Firas Maksad, a Middle East analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy.

Maksad pointed out that its executive director, Nihad Awad, breaks fast during Ramadan with President Bush every year.

"CAIR is one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, Muslim organizations in the United States," said Maksad. He added that CAIR may be avoiding overt condemnation of Hamas and Hezbollah because both are considered legitimate political parties in the Muslim world.

Prosecutor Purge Idea Came From White House

The White House was deeply involved in the decision late last year to dismiss federal prosecutors, including some who had been criticized by Republican lawmakers, administration officials said Monday.

Last October, President Bush spoke with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, the White House said Monday. Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, was among the politicians who complained directly to the president, according to an administration official. ...

The role of the president and his advisers in the prosecutor shakeup is likely to intensify calls by Congress for an investigation. It is the worst crisis of Mr. Gonzales's tenure [sic] and provoked charges that the dismissals were a political purge threatening the historical independence of the Justice Department.

The idea of dismissing federal prosecutors originated in the White House more than a year earlier, White House and Justice officials said Monday. ...

On Monday Congressional Democrats demanded more information from the White House about the ousters, calling on Mr. Rove to testify about any discussions he had had about federal prosecutors. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said he would seek a subpoena for Mr. Rove's testimony if he did not appear voluntarily.

The (Justice Department) aide in charge of the dismissals -- (Gonzales') chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson -- resigned yesterday, officials said, after acknowledging that he did not tell key Justice officials about the extent of his communications with the White House, leading them to provide incomplete information to Congress.

Monday, March 12, 2007

California To Be Part Of 2008 "National Primary" Day

The decision to move up California's 2008 presidential primary by four months promises to make the most populous state something it hasn't been in decades -- a potent player in picking White House nominees.

For years the state has been a place candidates visited mostly for one thing -- money, sucked up in Hollywood or Silicon Valley. But with the primary about to move to Feb. 5, candidates are jostling for media attention, endorsements and donor checks with an intensity not seen in a generation.

In recent days Rudy Giuliani pumped hands in San Diego, John Edwards told Los Angeles students to "change America," John McCain shared a stage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Hillary Rodham Clinton talked clean energy with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"In the past, California has only been the state where politicians come and pick your pockets," Democratic contender Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, said on a Los Angeles stop Wednesday.

"Now, California issues like protecting the environment, growth, traffic, water will be important," he predicted.

California's new clout is not assured. By rescheduling to Feb. 5 from June, California joins what McCain strategist John Weaver calls an emerging "national primary" -- a day when as many as 19 states could hold presidential contests.

The cluster of Feb. 5 states could eventually include New York, Florida, Illinois and New Jersey, diluting what could otherwise be the impact of a standalone contest. Still, it brings California's rich prize of delegates much closer to the front, where it most counts, and the candidates are reaching out for it.

You'd have to go back to 1972 to find a presidential primary with make-or-break drama in California, says political scientist John Pitney of California's Claremont McKenna College. That year, Democrat George McGovern defeated former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, tightening his grip on the Democratic nomination.

The "El Salvador Option"

For a couple of months, military strategists have been pushing a plan that -- they boast -- is reminiscent of the U.S. strategy in El Salvador in the 1980's.

Those who favor such a plan surely realize how the rest of the world views the human rights abuses that marked that Reagan-era policy, and should at least have the common sense to call it something else.

American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails or is derailed by Congress.

Such a strategy, based in part on the U.S. experience in El Salvador in the 1980s, is still in the early planning stages and would be adjusted to fit the outcome of the current surge in troop levels, according to military officials and Pentagon consultants who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing future plans.

But a drawdown of forces would be in line with comments to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month that if the "surge" fails, the backup plan would include moving troops "out of harm's way." Such a plan also would be close to recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, of which Gates was a member before his appointment as Defense Department chief.

A strategy following the El Salvador model would be a dramatic break from President Bush's current policy of committing large numbers of U.S. troops to aggressive counterinsurgency tactics, but it has influential backers within the Pentagon. ...

The El Salvador case study contrasts with the soldier-heavy example of Vietnam and the current buildup in Iraq. In El Salvador, the U.S. sent 55 Green Berets to aid the Salvadoran military in its fight against rebels from 1981 to 1992, when peace accords were signed.

Years after, the U.S. role in El Salvador remains controversial. Some academics have argued that the U.S. military turned a blind eye to government-backed death squads, or even aided them. But former advisors and military historians argue that the U.S. gradually professionalized the Salvadoran army and curbed the government's abuses.

El Salvador veterans and experts have been pushing for the model it provides of a smaller, less visible U.S. advisory presence.

In recent congressional hearings and in private Pentagon meetings, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made several references to the El Salvador campaign. The senior Pentagon official said Pace's repeated references were a signal that in the chairman's view, success in Iraq may not depend on more combat troops.

Although Pentagon officials said the effort in Iraq would have to be much larger than the 55 advisors used in El Salvador, that model has influenced planning. Officials note that they are thinking about using thousands of advisors — although not tens of thousands — in the next phase of Iraq strategy.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"Though This Be Madness, Yet There is Method in it"

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Justice Anthony Kennedy faced a problem he never had in his day job at the Supreme Court.

The defendant has been dead for 400 years, ordinarily reason enough to dismiss criminal charges. But the show, as they say, must go on. So Kennedy had to dream up a way to bring Hamlet back to life, at least long enough to put him on trial for an unusual evening that mixes Shakespeare and the law.

Kennedy will preside for the fourth time at the trial of Hamlet, an unscripted performance that tries to determine whether the Danish prince is insane or should be held responsible for the death of Polonius.

The purpose is to make Shakespeare more accessible, and also to explore vexing modern legal issues, like the insanity defense.

"Hamlet is the greatest dramatic composition in the history of literature. He continues to perplex us. It is so difficult," Kennedy said in an interview in his court office. "If people can be interested in that, then the easier plays follow."

The trial will take place March 15 in a sold-out, 1,100-seat theater at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The trial is part of the capital's six-month Shakespeare festival.

Almost every year since 1994, at least one Supreme Court justice has participated in a mock trial that uses a Shakespeare play to explore the American legal system.

Valerie Plame To Testify Before Congress

Valerie Plame, the CIA operative exposed after her husband criticized President Bush's march to war, will testify next week before lawmakers probing how the White House dealt with her identity, the chairman of the panel said Thursday.

Also invited to testify March 16 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is Patrick Fitzgerald, who this week won conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of obstruction and perjury in the case, said Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Waxman said Plame has accepted the invitation and Fitzgerald has not responded. In a letter to the prosecutor, Waxman proposed a meeting with ranking Republican Tom Davis of Virginia to discuss the terms of any testimony.

The hearing will be the first public forum at which Plame has agreed to answer questions. ...

"The Committee will receive testimony from Ms. Wilson and other experts regarding the disclosure and internal White House security procedures for protecting her identity from disclosure and responding to the leak after it occurred," according to Waxman's statement.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Justice IG Finds Abuse of National Security Letters

A Justice Department investigation has found pervasive errors in the FBI's use of its power to secretly demand telephone, e-mail and financial records in national security cases, officials with access to the report said yesterday.

The inspector general's audit found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations -- some of which were potential violations of law -- in a sampling of 293 "national security letters." The letters were used by the FBI to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents or visitors between 2003 and 2005. The FBI identified 26 potential violations in other cases. ...

The letters enable an FBI field office to compel the release of private information without the authority of a grand jury or judge. The USA Patriot Act, enacted after the 2001 attacks, eliminated the requirement that the FBI show "specific and articulable" reasons to believe that the records it demands belong to a foreign intelligence agent or terrorist.

That law, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed national security letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

Now the bureau needs only to certify that the records are "sought for" or "relevant to" an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." ...

(Inspector General Glenn A. Fine's) audit, which was limited to 77 case files in four FBI field offices, found that those offices did not even generate accurate counts of the national security letters they issued, omitting about one in five letters from the reports they sent to headquarters in Washington. Those inaccurate numbers, in turn, were used as the basis for required reports to Congress.

Officials said they believe that the 48 known problems may be the tip of the iceberg in an internal oversight system that one of them described as "shoddy."

The report identified several instances in which the FBI used a tool known as "exigent letters" to obtain information urgently, promising that the requests would be covered later by grand jury subpoenas or national security letters. In several of those cases, the subpoenas were never sent, the review found.

The review also found several instances in which agents claimed there were exigent circumstances when none existed. The FBI recently ended the practice of using exigent letters in national security cases, officials said last night.

The report, mandated by Congress over the Bush administration's objections, is to be presented to several House and Senate committees today.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

House, Senate Dems Put Forward Troop Withdrawal Legislation

House Democratic leaders intensified their debate with President Bush over Iraq today as they announced legislation that would pull American combat troops out of Iraq before the fall of 2008.

"Only then can we refocus our military efforts on Afghanistan to the extent that we must," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. She said the Iraq withdrawal deadline would be attached to legislation providing nearly $100 billion requested by the Bush administration for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and money to expand health care for veterans.

Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the leadership’s proposal "will essentially redirect more of our resources to the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us and who are giving Al Qaeda sanctuary."

Hours after the House Democrats’ announcement, leading Democrats in the Senate, where a vote on Iraq has been stalled, offered a resolution calling for the beginning of a "phased redeployment" of American troops within four months, with all combat forces to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008.

Despite the Democrats' advantage in the House (233 seats, to 201 for the Republicans), the leadership's proposal seems to have very little chance of advancing, since Republicans are nearly united against it and Democrats are split, with some conservatives saying it goes too far in aiming to wind down the war in Iraq and liberals saying it does not go far enough.

Don't Hold Your Breath For A Final Outcome In Libby Case

No surprise here, the wheels of justice turn slowly for the rich and well connected in the USA.

As I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's attorneys began mapping his appeals yesterday, legal experts predicted that Vice President Cheney's former top aide has an excellent chance of avoiding prison time for his perjury convictions until late 2008, perhaps until after the presidential election.

Libby was convicted Tuesday of four felony counts of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice. He faces a likely prison term of 1 1/2 to three years when he is sentenced June 5 for concealing his role in the leak of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity to the news media.

But if Reggie B. Walton, the presiding federal judge, allows Libby to put off reporting to prison while he appeals his conviction, as expected, it could take until January 2009 for Libby's lawyers to exhaust his appeals, which could go all the way to the Supreme Court. ...

Lawyers and legal experts expect Walton to sentence Libby to at least some prison time. But assuming Libby takes his conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel could issue a decision as early as June or July of 2008. If Libby lost that appeal, he could ask for a rehearing or for the full appellate court to consider his case. That decision could take three months, and if he were turned down, Libby could petition the Supreme Court to hear his case.

And on the matter of the near certainty -- either sooner or later -- of a presidential pardon for Libby, it all depends on what happens at his sentencing hearing on June 5:

(I)f Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald insists that Libby begin serving his sentence right away and Walton agrees, it could force the question sooner. "Then the issue could ripen very fast," said Bradford A. Berenson, a former Bush White House lawyer, who said he expects a debate within the White House about what to do.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fired U.S. Attorneys Testify About Improper Pressure From Lawmakers

Six fired U.S. attorneys testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that they had separately been the target of complaints, improper telephone calls and thinly veiled threats from a high-ranking Justice Department official or members of Congress, both before and after they were abruptly removed from their jobs. ...

Another former prosecutor, John McKay of Seattle, alleged for the first time that he received a call from the chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), asking about an inquiry into vote-fraud charges in the state's hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election. McKay said he cut the call short. ...

Yesterday's testimony featured new allegations of threatened overt retaliation against the prosecutors, as former U.S. attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock said a senior Justice Department official warned him on Feb. 20 that the fired prosecutors should remain quiet about their dismissals. Cummins recounted in an e-mail made public yesterday that the official cautioned that administration officials would "pull their gloves off and offer public criticisms to defend their actions more fully."

"It seemed clear that they would see that as a major escalation of the conflict meriting some kind of unspecified form of retaliation," Cummins wrote in the e-mail, which he sent as a cautionary note to fellow prosecutors. ...

"The whole series of events has been remarkable and unprecedented," said Mary Jo White, who served for nine years as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York during the Clinton and Bush administrations. "It's not a matter of whether they have the power to do it; it's a matter of the wisdom of the actions taken. It shows a total disregard for the institution of the U.S. attorney's offices and what they stand for."

Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during the testimony that "if the allegations are correct, there has been serious misconduct in what has occurred."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cheney "Very Disappointed" By Libby Verdict

A federal jury today convicted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, finding the vice president's former chief of staff guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice, while acquitting him of a single count of lying to the FBI.

And President Bush is "sad for Libby's family."

'Nuff said.

More U.S. Attorney Dismissal Skullduggery

Another name has been added to the list of U.S. Attorneys who lost their jobs under murky circumstances.

The former federal prosecutor in Maryland said Monday that he was forced out in early 2005 because of political pressure stemming from public corruption investigations involving associates of the state's governor, a Republican.

"There was direct pressure not to pursue these investigations," said the former prosecutor, Thomas M. DiBiagio. "The practical impact was to intimidate my office and shut down the investigations."

Mr. DiBiagio, a controversial figure who clashed with a number of Maryland politicians, had never publicly discussed the reasons behind his departure. But he agreed to an interview with The New York Times because he said he was concerned about what he saw as similarities with the recent firings of eight United States attorneys.

His office had been looking into whether associates of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had improperly funneled money from gambling interests to promote legalized slot machines in Maryland. Mr. DiBiagio said that several prominent Maryland Republicans had pressed him to back away from the inquiries and that one conversation had so troubled him that he reported it to an F.B.I. official as a threat.

But he said that the Justice Department had offered little support and that that made it "impossible for me to stay."

Several current and former officials in the Baltimore office said Mr. DiBiagio voiced concerns in 2004 that the corruption inquiries were jeopardizing his career, a view that they shared.

Meanwhile, the other lawmaker who had been suspected of contacting New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has now admitted as much, while maintaining that it was not as sinister as it looks.

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) acknowledged yesterday that she contacted a federal prosecutor to complain about the pace of his public corruption investigations, as the Senate ethics committee signaled that it had opened a preliminary inquiry into a similar communication by her state's senior senator, Pete V. Domenici (R).

Wilson denied allegations from former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias that she pressured him to speed up a political corruption investigation involving Democrats in the waning days of her tight election campaign last fall. ...

Iglesias, one of seven U.S. attorneys fired by the Justice Department on Dec. 7, is expected to tell Congress today that Wilson and Domenici were trying to sway the course of his investigation. Domenici acknowledged Sunday that he called Iglesias about the corruption case but said he did not pressure him. The telephone calls to Iglesias by Domenici and Wilson appear to put them in conflict with congressional ethics rules that bar contacts with federal agency officials during most active investigations.

And then there's this:

Democrats are questioning the timing of the resignation of a Department of Justice official who called to fire several U.S. attorneys late last year.

Michael Battle, a former U.S. attorney who serves as the director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, will leave his post voluntarily March 16.

The circumstances surrounding Battle's departure add to questions Democrats plan to ask about whether politics played any role in the firings of seven U.S. attorneys, some of whom were pursuing public-corruption cases against GOP lawmakers. The House and Senate Judiciary committees will hold hearings featuring the testimony of several of the fired U.S. attorneys today to investigate the matter. ...

Battle called six federal prosecutors in early December to fire them, and reportedly was unhappy about doing so.

A Justice Department spokesman told the Associated Press that Battle "was not involved in the actual decision-making."

"This raises another question about a subject where there are already too many unanswered questions," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will chair today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with U.S. attorneys, said in a statement. "While Mike Battle, a man of integrity, must issue the customary denial, the timing of this resignation asks whether he’s another casualty of the U.S. attorney imbroglio."

Monday, March 05, 2007

XM Declines To Hire Ashcroft As Lobbyist, So Former AG Signs With Merger Opponent

What this story doesn't say is that John Ashcroft had offered his services as a lobbyist to XM Satellite Radio following the announced merger with Sirius.

When rebuffed by XM, the former Attorney General was hired by a major opponent of the merger to exert influence upon his successor as head of the Justice Department, Alberto Gonzales.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, hired by opponents of the deal, has blasted the proposed merger of Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. (SIRI) and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. (XMSR), saying their merger would leave only one provider in the market.

Ashcroft, who served as head of the Justice Department for four years until January 2005, was hired by the National Association of Broadcasters to examine the merger scenario.

The NAB, which represents traditional radio broadcasters, has been a fierce critic of the $13 billion merger since it was announced last week.

In a letter sent on February 27 to his replacement as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, Ashcroft concludes "...the proposed Sirius/XM merger, which reduces the number of competitors from two to one, raises most serious competition concerns."

Ashcroft compared the current merger to the attempted takeover by satellite provider Echostar Communications Corp. (DISH) of Hughes Electronic Corp. In that instance, he said, a merger would have reduced the competitors in the satellite television market in many areas from three to two.

"The Department recognized that reducing competition from three to two was anticompetitive and opposed the transaction, which was eventually abandoned," he said.

He also draws comparisons with the attempted tie-up between Echostar and DirectTV Group Inc. (DTV), in which the FCC reaffirmed its rule of not granting a single commercial license for satellite TV. That deal also wasn't allowed.

Domenici Admits Contacting Fired Fed Prosecutor

It all depends on your definition of "pressure."

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) acknowledged yesterday that he contacted the U.S. attorney in Albuquerque last year to ask about an ongoing corruption probe of Democrats, but said he "never pressured him nor threatened him in any way."

Domenici also said in a statement that he told the Justice Department it should replace U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias, one of eight federal prosecutors fired in December. ...

Legal experts say it violates congressional ethics rules for a senator or House member to communicate with a federal prosecutor regarding an ongoing criminal investigation.

Domenici's remarks came four days after Iglesias alleged that two New Mexico lawmakers called him in mid-October and pressured him about the pace of the investigation. Iglesias said he believes the calls were at the root of his dismissal.

When asked last week about Iglesias's allegations, Domenici said: "I have no idea what he's talking about."

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.) has yet to comment; the rest of the New Mexico congressional delegation has denied placing any calls to Iglesias.

Two sources with knowledge of the calls have said Wilson made the first contact, followed by Domenici about a week later. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be named discussing the matter before a congressional hearing tomorrow. ...

Domenici said in his statement that he called Iglesias to ask about a criminal probe of courthouse construction kickbacks, which the FBI had turned over to Iglesias's office. Officials say the probe centers on a former Democratic state senator; no charges have been filed in the case.

"I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what time frame we were looking at," Domenici said. "It was a very brief conversation, which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period."

Domenici is not specific about when the call took place, saying only that he made it "late last year." Iglesias said the calls occurred in mid-October.

At that time, Wilson, a close Domenici ally, was locked in a tight reelection battle with state Attorney General Patricia Madrid (D). Their race included widespread discussion of alleged corruption among New Mexico Democrats. ...

The House Judiciary subcommittee has issued subpoenas for Iglesias, Bud Cummins of Little Rock, Carol Lam of San Diego and John McKay of Seattle. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also asked Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas and Paul K. Charlton of Phoenix to testify, in addition to the four others.

"No one believes anymore these U.S. attorneys were fired for any good reason," said Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "and we will start to uncover the real truth at our hearing on Tuesday."