Monday, April 30, 2007

GOP Pols Getting Nervous About Iraq

Even Bush's loyal Republican allies look to be preparing to jump ship on the Iraq war if tangible results from the "surge" are not seen by sometime this Fall.

By September, the troop buildup will have been underway for more than six months. Unless there is dramatic improvement in Iraq, public support for the war will probably have eroded further. And by September, skittish Republicans will be four months closer to starting their reelection campaigns.

Petraeus, who calls himself "a qualified optimist" on the war, has warned that his report may not satisfy anyone who wants a purely bullish assessment.

"People always want to get a sense of thumbs up or thumbs down," he said in an interview last week. "What I'd like to provide is a nuanced paragraph. And what we'll end up with is something in between."

But nuances may no longer be enough to keep Republicans from breaking ranks. GOP leaders warn that they will need dramatic evidence of progress — something that has been in short supply in Iraq — to maintain support for the war.

"We need to get some better results from Iraq both politically, economically and militarily, and that needs to happen in the foreseeable future," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a Bush administration loyalist.

Several moderate Republicans have warned that they are preparing to switch sides unless the troop "surge" shows results.

"If the president's new strategy does not demonstrate significant results by August, then Congress should consider all options — including a redefinition of our mission and a gradual but significant withdrawal of our troops next year," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who last week voted against the withdrawal bill.

Democrats acknowledge that they are a long way from amassing the two-thirds majority needed in the House and Senate to override a presidential veto on any future war legislation. But they note that if a significant number of Republicans join them in supporting a withdrawal of combat troops, the pressure on Bush will increase.

"The deadline to start [a withdrawal] is going to be driven by the facts on the ground and public opinion, rather than legislation," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a leading member of the House's Out of Iraq caucus. "By August or September … they will be overwhelmed by the facts."

Dramatic improvements in Iraq are unlikely in the next few months, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the independent Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"All September can do is provide a preliminary assessment of the surge in Baghdad," he said. "There's a tendency in Washington to try to get everything done by 2008. But a lot of this [military effort] has to go on to 2010 or 2013 if you're going to succeed. Only failure is quick."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Iraq Assessment Put Off Until Fall

Failure in Iraq will be due to the inadequacies of Maliki, they are now saying.

The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush's top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

That prospect would entail a dramatically longer commitment of frontline troops, patrolling the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad, than the one envisioned in legislation that passed the House and Senate this week. That vote, largely symbolic because Democrats do not have the votes to override the promised presidential veto, set deadlines that would lead to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of March 2008. ...

Several American officials who have spoken recently with Mr. Maliki say they believe that he would like to achieve the kind of political reconciliation that Mr. Bush outlined in January as the ultimate goal of the troop increase. But they say the Iraqi prime minister appears to have little ability to manage the required legislation, including bills requiring fair distribution of oil revenues among Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and reversing the American-led de-Baathification that barred many Sunnis from participation in the new government. ...

But the new view of Mr. Maliki's limitations was put bluntly by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, who spent the week pressing Congress not to put limits on either the timing or conduct of his operations, as he described what he discovered upon returning to Iraq after a two-year hiatus. ...

But the Democrats say that if there is no measurable success by August, they believe several more Republicans will defect from Mr. Bush's camp and vote for a staged pullout. Moderate Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who grudgingly backed the administration in the Senate vote this week, have said they are not willing to back an open-ended commitment.

Other Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to explain the political strategy more clearly, arguing that the troop increase is merely a tactic, and not one that can be sustained for long.

"We've tried that with the president several times," said a Republican who spoke with him about the issue in the past week. "But he knows that it doesn't pay to say what you expect Maliki to get done."

Friday, April 27, 2007

Next Round Of Iraq Spending Negotiations Underway

After President Bush vetoes the Iraq war supplemental over his objections to restrictions on his conduct of the war, a second bill will be presented absent some of the provisions of the first.

Details of the legislation to follow is beginning to leak from the hill.

The provision most likely to survive the next round is a set of political and diplomatic benchmarks for the Iraqi government. The language all but certain to be dropped, or at least diluted, would require troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1. ...

A significant number of Republicans support the benchmarks -- possibly enough to override a second veto, should Bush resort to that. The measures would prod Baghdad officials to build up military forces, crack down on militias and sectarian violence, protect minority rights and manage Iraq's extensive petroleum reserves. ...

As the second phase of the spending debate unfolds, antiwar lawmakers are pressuring Democratic leaders to seek the most stringent terms possible. One idea is to pass a shorter-term funding bill -- possibly in the $30 billion to $40 billion range -- that would allow Congress to revisit the war in several months.

One champion of this approach is Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a senior appropriator with strong military ties, who has emerged as one of Bush's strongest critics. Murtha is advocating a 60-day bill that would provide enough funds for operations, maintenance and personnel while carrying the current legislation's provisions on benchmarks and readiness standards for deploying troops.

Senate Democrats worry that a shorter duration would be impractical. But yesterday, Reid confirmed that it was in the mix. "We have a lot of things we'll look at -- that's one of the things," he said.

Democratic leaders expect the negotiations on a new bill to run at least through mid-May. Although Bush has demanded the money as soon as possible, a report last month from the Congressional Research Service found that the Army has adequate funding to carry it through the end of July.

Under other alternatives, the toughest provisions of the war funding bill would shift to a defense policy bill that will come before the House next month, or would be broken out and beefed up in a separate bill in coming weeks.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Renzi Aide Made Inquiries Into Investigation

Last year we noted that there was a federal investigation into the activities of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ). See Feds Looking At Arizona Republican.

In more recent developments, his wife's business was recently searched by the FBI, and now his office has been linked to the U.S. Attorney scandal.

The top aide to Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) called the office of Arizona's U.S. attorney about six weeks before the prosecutor was fired, inquiring about a federal probe into the congressman's role in a land deal that benefited a former business partner and political patron.

The former U.S. attorney, Paul K. Charlton, told House investigators this week that his office alerted the Justice Department's headquarters about the call from Renzi's chief of staff, Brian Murray, because he considered it potentially improper, according to congressional sources who spoke about the probe on the condition of anonymity. ...

The incident means that Charlton was the third of eight U.S. attorneys forced to resign last year who had reported to Justice officials that Republican members of Congress or their staffs made inappropriate overtures to their offices about politically sensitive investigations they were supervising. ...

(Sen. Charles E. Schumer) drew attention to suggestions, first published in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, that Justice officials delayed the investigation into Renzi to help him win reelection. ...

According to internal Justice documents, Charlton's name first appeared on a list of U.S. attorneys to be fired in a Sept. 13 memo, many months after most of the other chief prosecutors who ultimately would be dismissed on Dec. 7. ...

The former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, David C. Iglesias, has told Congress he felt pressured to speed up an indictment of Democrats during phone calls last October from Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-N.M.). And former U.S. attorney John McKay of Seattle has said he was called by the chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) about a preliminary inquiry into voter fraud in Washington state.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hey, Isn't That . . . ?

Vice President Cheney exiting his motorcade in Foggy Bottom to scattered boos from pedestrians as he went to visit his doctor at George Washington University. A spokeswoman later said doctors were checking on that blood clot in his lower left leg -- seems to be improving, they say.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New Investigation Of Rove

(T)he Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

First, the inquiry comes from inside the administration, not from Democrats in Congress. Second, unlike the splintered inquiries being pressed on Capitol Hill, it is expected to be a unified investigation covering many facets of the political operation in which Rove played a leading part.

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

Bloch declined to comment on who his investigators would interview, but he said the probe would be independent and uncoordinated with any other agency or government entity. ...

"This is a big deal," Paul C. Light, a New York University expert on the executive branch, said of Bloch's plan. "It is a significant moment for the administration and Karl Rove. It speaks to the growing sense that there is a nexus at the White House that explains what's going on in these disparate investigations."

The 106-person Office of Special Counsel has never conducted such a broad and high-profile inquiry in its history. One of its primary missions has been to enforce the Hatch Act, a law enacted in 1939 to preserve the integrity of the civil service.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Big Week Ahead For War Funding Debate

It is the freshman Democrats in Congress who are pushing hardest for legislative restrictions on the president's conduct of the war. That stands to reason, since they were elected specifically to address the concerns of the American people on that issue.

Four years after the fall of Baghdad, as US forces see the highest casualty levels of the war, Congress faces votes this week over the terms under which it will continue to fund the Iraq campaign.

Democrats, who won control of the House and Senate on an election-year promise to wind down America's combat role in Iraq, are scaling back expectations that they can muster enough votes to force President Bush to change course.

But a congressional debate over the matter set for this week, they say, will step up pressure on Iraqi leaders to reach a political settlement that could help end the war – and show that antiwar forces are gaining momentum on Capitol Hill.

At issue is whether lawmakers will set a date for withdrawal of most US armed forces. Last month, the House voted to require Mr. Bush to end a US combat role in Iraq by the end of August 2008. The Senate set a target date five months earlier. Bush says he will veto any bill that includes any such timetable, and Republicans say they have ample votes to uphold that veto. ...

Many Democratic lawmakers say they are flooded with calls from constituents urging them to live up to their campaign promises on the war.

Rep. James Moran (D) of Virginia met over breakfast recently with 30 constituents at the Table Talk Restaurant in Alexandria, Va. They wanted to know why he had voted to support funds for another year of war, after campaigning to end it.

"It's a shame I had to disappoint the people who voted for me, because they are the ones who count in the end. But it was the most definitive statement against this war that the Congress has yet had.... It went as far as we could possibly go and still get 218 votes [for passage]," he says.

The post-veto vote on war funds will be even harder, he predicts. "It will come back and pass as a clean supplemental, but not with my vote."

In the House, 42 Democratic freshmen – who voted unanimously with their leadership in support of the war-funding bill – are the key both to their party's continuing control of the House and to the standoff with the White House over Iraq.

"New members were instrumental in framing the legislation to hold the Bush administration and Iraq government accountable," says Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Waxman Ready To Issue Subpoenas

Funny, but I don't recall this kind of thing happening to the Bush administration when the GOP controlled Congress.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) sought yesterday to pressure the Bush administration into divulging sensitive policy information, scheduling a committee vote for Wednesday on his plan to issue four subpoenas for the information.

In letters to officials at the White House, the Republican National Committee and the State Department, Waxman wrote that he scheduled the vote because he has not received documents and testimony needed for the committee's wide-ranging investigations. ...

One letter reiterated Waxman's request for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to appear before his committee. He said Rice has repeatedly failed to explain what she knew about Iraq's alleged interest in buying uranium from Niger before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Waxman said he wants to examine how White House officials such as Rice, then national security adviser, used intelligence on Iraq, given what he described as Rice's erroneous statement in June 2003 that "no one . . . in our circles" was aware that the Niger evidence was based on forged foreign documents. ...

In a separate letter to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, Waxman complained that the White House has not set a timetable for responding to his request for information about a 2002 White House contract with a company called MZM, whose president at the time, Mitchell Wade, pleaded guilty last year to bribery and election contribution fraud.

And Waxman reiterated to former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. that he expects him to appear at a hearing about the leak of information about Valerie Plame's employment at the CIA. ...

Finally, Waxman wrote Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan that the House committee plans to subpoena "a limited set of e-mails related to whether Bush Administration officials have used federal resources to help Republican political candidates."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gonzales Reconfirmation Hearing Goes Swimmingly

During Attorney General Gonzales' "reconfirmation hearing" yesterday, the beleaguered chief law enforcement officer of the nation committed no errors grievous enough to force President Bush to send him packing.

His answers were at times in variance with the known facts. But that probably won't bother his boss.

His job looks safe, considering his long friendship with the president. At least until any new evidence surfaces in the U.S. attorney dismissal scandal.

His most marked deviation yesterday from an earlier explanation involved an eighth U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins of eastern Arkansas, who was told by Justice officials last June that he would have to resign. He was to be replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, an aide to Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.

For the past two months, Justice officials have seesawed publicly about why Cummins was removed. In early February, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, testifying before the same committee at which Gonzales appeared yesterday, said the Arkansas prosecutor had done a satisfactory job and was removed only to make room for Griffin.

A month later, documents and a Justice spokesman offered a contradictory explanation. Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for Gonzales, said McNulty's testimony had "upset" the attorney general, who "believed Bud Cummins's removal involved performance considerations."

Yesterday, Gonzales went back to the original explanation, saying that Cummins "was asked to resign because there was another well-qualified individual that the White House wanted to put in place there, that we supported." Asked whether it was accurate that Cummins had no job-performance problems, Gonzales replied: "I would say that's a fair statement."

His memory sure was fuzzy, though.

The hearing was billed as Gonzales's chance to explain the contradictions, omissions and falsehoods in his response to the firings. But instead of contrition, the attorney general treated the committee to a mixture of arrogance, combativeness and amnesia. Even his would-be defenders on the Republican side were appalled.

"Mr. Attorney General, most of this is a stretch," said Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

"Why is your story changing?" demanded Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

"Significantly, if not totally, at variance with the facts," said Arlen Specter (Pa.), the committee's ranking Republican.

"Really deplorable," said John Cornyn (R-Tex.). After this blow, from an administration loyalist and an old Texas friend, Gonzales stuttered in his reply.

Gonzales had weeks to prepare for yesterday's hearing. But the man who sat at the witness table sounded like the sort of person who forgets where he parked his car.

Explaining his role in the botched firing of federal prosecutors, Gonzales uttered the phrase "I don't recall" and its variants ("I have no recollection," "I have no memory") 64 times. Along the way, his answer became so routine that a Marine in the crowd put down his poster protesting the Iraq war and replaced it with a running "I don't recall" tally.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reid Compares Iraq War To Vietnam in White House Meeting

The confrontation between Congress and President Bush over the funding of the war continued yesterday.

But it looks like Bush will get his supplemental appropriation when the politics finish playing out. The Democrats simply don't have the votes to override a presidential veto.

After weeks of acrimonious sparring over financing the next phase of the war, President Bush and Congressional leaders softened their tone on Wednesday but failed to resolve their differences over a timeline for removing most American combat troops from Iraq next year.

Mr. Bush met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the White House for nearly an hour, the first face-to-face discussion since the House and Senate passed emergency Iraq spending bills last month with provisions to end the war. Democrats said they would send the president legislation by the end of next week, despite his pledge to veto it. ...

The White House, though, said Mr. Bush had no intention of signing any legislation that included a call for a troop withdrawal. Democrats do not have enough support to override a veto, so the debate over financing the troops remains at an impasse.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said, "The president, obviously, as you already know, is not going to accept language that specifies a date for surrender or language that micromanages the efforts of our military in Iraq."

The discussions took place on one of the deadliest days of the year in Baghdad, where at least 171 people were killed in bombings. Democrats said the violence underscored the urgency of finding a new direction in Iraq, one that did not place American troops in the middle of a civil war.

At the beginning of the meeting, Mr. Bush declared, "People have strong opinions around the table and I’m looking forward to listening to them." And for the next hour, according to participants and aides in the room, a frank conversation unfolded between the president and the 10 legislative leaders seated around the table in the Cabinet Room.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may not get invited back to the White House by President Bush anytime soon:

Several officials said the session was polite. But they said it turned pointed when Reid recounted a conversation with generals who likened Iraq to Vietnam and described it as a war in which the president refused to change course despite knowing victory was impossible. Bush bristled at the comparison, according to several officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. One quoted him as saying, "I reject" the comparison.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Immunity For Goodling Being Considered

If she is so afraid to incriminate herself, then a grant of immunity to compel testimony would be the perfect solution.

The confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys escalated again yesterday as Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they are weighing an offer of immunity to a potential key witness in the investigation.

At the same time, the Republican National Committee yesterday turned down congressional demands that it hand over e-mails related to the firings, angering Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).

Frustrated by Monica M. Goodling's refusal to testify, committee Democrats said they may grant limited-use immunity to the former counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

Such a grant of immunity, which would require the approval of two-thirds of the nearly 40-member panel, would free Goodling to speak about the plan to fire the U.S. attorneys and the dismissals' aftermath, without fear that prosecutors could use her testimony in a criminal proceeding. Goodling has invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

Conyers cited Goodling's dual role as Gonzales's aide and the Justice Department's liaison to the White House for the unusual immunity offer, saying she could "clear up the many inconsistencies and gaps surrounding this matter."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Gonzales Testimony Postponed Until Thursday

The Attorney General's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee has been postponed until Thursday, and there have been several additional developments in the scandal.

A congressional investigation into the justice department’s controversial firing of US attorneys broadened on Monday after a senior Democratic lawmaker asked to interview eight more officials.

The list released on Monday by John Conyers, chairman of the House judiciary committee, included four current and acting US attorneys and Matthew Friedrich, the chief of staff and a former counsel to Alberto Gonzales, the embattled US attorney-general.

Mr Conyers said he wanted to interview the officials "on a voluntary basis" regarding the circumstances behind the firing of eight US attorneys last year, representations that were made to Congress about the dismissals, and related matters.

The former top aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has told Congressional investigators that Mr. Gonzales was "inaccurate," or "at least not complete" in asserting that he had no role in the deliberations about individual United States attorneys who were later dismissed, a Democratic senator said Monday.

The statements by D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Mr. Gonzales, during an interview with investigators on Sunday, were made public as the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a hearing that had been scheduled for Tuesday in which Mr. Gonzales was to appear to defend his actions in the dismissals.

Sampson said Gonzales probably participated in a meeting last summer about Carol Lam's performance as U.S. attorney in San Diego, Schumer said. Another Justice official also recalls Gonzales's attendance at the meeting, Schumer and Senate aides said yesterday.

According to Schumer, Sampson also said Gonzales told him early last month that Bush had complained in October about prosecutor David C. Iglesias of New Mexico. Gonzales later told NBC News he did not recall the conversation with Bush.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Gonzales' Story Breaking Down On Eve Of Testimony

The former Justice Department official who carried out the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year told Congress that several of the prosecutors had no performance problems and that a memo on the firings was distributed at a Nov. 27 meeting attended by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, a Democratic senator said yesterday.

The statements to House and Senate investigators by Michael A. Battle, former director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, represent another potential challenge to the credibility of Gonzales, who has said that he never saw any documents about the firings and that he had "lost confidence" in the prosecutors because of performance problems. ...

Schumer said Battle also contradicted Gonzales's assertion at a March 13 news conference that he had not seen any documents or participated in any discussions about the firings. A memo related to the dismissals was passed out at a Nov. 27 meeting attended by Gonzales and others, Battle told investigators.

When Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales faces angry Senate Democrats on Tuesday, he will acknowledge that he made a range of mistakes in the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys last year and will apologize to them and their families, but he will insist that even though the White House was originally behind the terminations, none of the prosecutors were fired for political reasons.

In what has been described as a make-or-break appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the nation's top federal law enforcement officer will say:

"I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain. I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason."

He also will tell the committee, "I firmly believe that these dismissals were appropriate."

In an unusual move, the Justice Department released Gonzales' testimony Sunday, two days before the hearing.

You can preview Gonzales' entire testimony here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Fed Agencies To Be Required To Report Data Mining Programs To Congress

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved legislation to require federal agencies to report to Congress on details of any data mining programs they have. ...

By a voice vote, the panel approved and sent the bill (S. 236) to the Senate. For six weeks, the committee put off action on the measure while staff members wrangled behind closed doors on fine points of the measure. A similar bill (S. 4) that emerged from the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee passed the Senate as part of the so-called 9/11 bill. ...

Under the legislation, each head of an agency engaged in or developing a data mining program would have to submit a detailed report within 180 days of the bill's enactment. The report would have to contain a "thorough description" of all aspects of the data mining program.

If there are classified, sensitive law enforcement, proprietary business information or trade secrets, they would have to be put into a separate annex to the main report unavailable to the general public.

The main debate on the bill centered on an amendment by Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., to specifically expose members of Congress or staff members to fines and two year prison sentences for leaking to the media classified material within a report's annex.

By a voice vote, the committee defeated Kyl's amendment after an argument by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., that hearings were needed to determine the scope of his plan. He argued that "all existing laws apply to [leaks of] data mining" Kyl differed and said there were loopholes in current criminal statutes. A Feingold amendment spelling out applicable, existing criminal statutes that would apply to leaks was approved on a party line, 10-9 roll call.

The basic bill was a voice vote-approved substitute by Feingold that made clarifying changes to the original measure.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

E-Mails From WH Re DOJ Scandal Now Missing

The potential for a fallback "mix-up" like this is the reason that alternate lines of communication were being used by Rove, et. al.

The White House acknowledged yesterday that e-mails dealing with official government business may have been lost because they were improperly sent through private accounts intended to be used for political activities. Democrats have been seeking such missives as part of an investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Administration officials said they could offer no estimate of how many e-mails were lost but indicated that some may involve messages from White House senior adviser Karl Rove, whose role in the firings has been under scrutiny by congressional Democrats.

Democrats have charged that Rove and other officials may have used the private accounts, set up through the Republican National Committee, in an effort to avoid normal review. Under federal law, the White House is required to maintain records, including e-mails, involving presidential decision-making and deliberations. White House aides' use of their political e-mail accounts to discuss the prosecutor firings has also fanned Democratic accusations that the actions were politically motivated. ...

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is investigating the use of outside accounts, issued a statement saying that the White House disclosure is "a remarkable admission that raises serious legal and security issues," adding: "The White House has an obligation to disclose all the information it has."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lynch Added To Tillman Disinformation Hearing

The bullshittery about Jessica Lynch fighting off her Iraqi attackers with a pair of revolvers was a dead giveaway that this was a manufactured story to rally the home front. In some versions, she was armed with pearl-handled revolvers -- just like Patton.

A US House committee announced yesterday that it would hold hearings on misleading military statements that followed the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch in Iraq.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said an April 24 hearing, titled "Misleading Information from the Battlefield," would be part of its investigation into whether there was a strategy to mislead the public.

The plan comes two weeks after the Pentagon released the findings of its own investigations into Tillman's death, and three years after he was killed.

The committee has been quietly investigating the case since then and decided to add Lynch to the scope of its probe. It will "examine why inaccurate accounts of these two incidents were disseminated, the sources and motivations for the accounts, and whether the appropriate administration officials have been held accountable," the panel said on its website. ...

Lynch, as a 21-year-old Army supply clerk, became one of the most visible faces of the war when she was rescued from an Iraqi hospital after being captured by Iraqi forces on April 1, 2003. She had been among six members of her convoy captured during an attack; 11 US soldiers were killed during the fighting.

Her videotaped rescue by special forces branded Lynch a hero at a time the US war effort seemed bogged down. It also stirred complaints of government media manipulation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NY Joins 'Super Tuesday' Primary

Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed legislation Monday moving New York's presidential primary to Feb. 5, further setting the stage for a mid-winter political showdown that could leave Americans with the longest general election campaign ever. ...

Nearly a dozen other states, including California and New Jersey, have already moved their primaries or caucuses to Feb. 5. A dozen more are considering such moves, setting the stage for what is quickly becoming known as "Super-Duper Tuesday" just 22 days after the leadoff Iowa caucuses.

"Moving the primary date to February, we will help secure New York's large and diverse population an influential voice in selecting the 2008 presidential nominees," said Spitzer.

In New York, the shift could mean a big early haul of national convention delegates for Clinton, a New York senator, and for Giuliani, a former New York City mayor. The state had been scheduled to hold its primary on March 4 until Giuliani allies began pressing for the earlier date. The Clinton camp quickly gave its blessing and the measure won overwhelming approval from New York's Republican-led state Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly last month.

"It's certainly good for both candidates from New York," said former state GOP Chairman William Powers, a co-chairman of Giuliani's New York campaign.

Bill Gardner, the New Hampshire secretary of state who sets the date for the traditional first-in-the-nation primary, said the move by New York and the other states likely means the entire nominating process will be over on Feb. 5. He called that "a rush to judgment" that might not be good for politics.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back Channel E-Mail Skullduggery

Who could turn down a free laptop?

Apparently not high-level White House staffers.

When Karl Rove and his top deputies arrived at the White House in 2001, the Republican National Committee provided them with laptop computers and other communication devices to be used alongside their government-issued equipment.

The back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes.

Now, that dual computer system is creating new embarrassment and legal headaches for the White House, the Republican Party and Rove's once-vaunted White House operation.

Democrats say evidence suggests the RNC e-mail system was used for political and government policy matters in violation of federal record preservation and disclosure rules.

In addition, Democrats point to a handful of e-mails obtained through ongoing inquiries suggesting the system may have been used to conceal such activities as contacts with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted on bribery charges and is now in prison for fraud.

Democratic congressional investigators are beginning to demand access to this RNC-White House communications system, which was used not only by Rove's office but by several top officials elsewhere in the White House.

The prospect that such communication might become public has further jangled the nerves of an already rattled Bush White House.

Gonzales Having Trouble Cramming For Senate Testimony

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has virtually wiped his public schedule clean to bone up for his long-awaited April 17 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—a session widely seen as a crucial test as to whether he will survive the U.S. attorney mess. But even his own closest advisers are nervous about whether he is up to the task. At a recent "prep" for a prospective Sunday talk-show interview, Gonzales's performance was so poor that top aides scrapped any live appearances. During the March 23 session in the A.G.'s conference room, Gonzales was grilled by a team of top aides and advisers—including former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie and former White House lawyer Tim Flanigan—about what he knew about the plan to fire seven U.S. attorneys last fall. But Gonzales kept contradicting himself and "getting his timeline confused," said one participant who asked not to be identified talking about a private meeting. His advisers finally got "exasperated" with him, the source added. "He's not ready," Tasia Scolinos, Gonzales's public-affairs chief, told the A.G.'s top aides after the session was over, said the source.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Rough Sailing For Gonzales

Big news today about a noteworthy alumnus of Pat Robertson's Regent University's School of Law.

A top aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales resigned on Friday, becoming another casualty of the political storm that has rocked the Justice Department in the aftermath of last year's dismissals of eight United States attorneys.

The aide, Monica Goodling, had helped to coordinate those dismissals with the White House, an episode that has provoked demands for Mr. Gonzales’s dismissal. Even Mr. Gonzales's allies, including President Bush, say the dismissals were bungled from a public relations and political standpoint.

Ms. Goodling, who has been on leave as the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, notified the Senate Judiciary Committee through her lawyer on March 26 that she would invoke her constitutional right not to testify in the panel's inquiry about the dismissals — not because she had anything to hide, the lawyer said, but because she did not expect fair treatment in the current climate of political hostility.

In a three-sentence resignation letter, Ms. Goodling wrote to Mr. Gonzales, "May God bless you richly as you continue your service to America."


Goodling's resignation also comes amid signs of sinking morale in some U.S. attorney's offices. In Minneapolis, three top managers staged a revolt Thursday, choosing to demote themselves rather than work for the newly confirmed U.S. attorney there, who is a former Gonzales aide, officials said. The department was so alarmed that it sent a Washington-based Justice official to Minneapolis this week to try to talk the three out of their plans, officials said. ...

The discontent in Minnesota centers on U.S. Attorney Rachel K. Paulose, 34, who previously worked for Gonzales and his deputy, McNulty. She is part of a wave of more than a dozen Bush administration insiders appointed as federal prosecutors over the past two years, according to government records. ...

David Schultz, a law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., said the Minneapolis U.S. attorney's office had been relatively free of discontent in recent administrations.

"You never really hear political rumblings out of that office, so it comes as some surprise to see three people step down like this all at once," Schultz said. "It raises the question of whether attorneys are starting to become uncomfortable about the politicization that seems to be going on at Justice."

Paulose replaced veteran prosecutor Thomas B. Heffelfinger, who served as U.S. attorney under both President Bush and President George H.W. Bush. Heffelfinger abruptly resigned early last year to enter private practice.

Heffelfinger has said that he does not know whether he was slated for removal. E-mails from Sampson indicate that two U.S. attorneys targeted for dismissal resigned in early 2006; Heffelfinger is one of two who quit during that time to enter private practice. Heffelfinger declined to comment yesterday.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Standoff Over DOJ Documents

The Justice Department is refusing to release hundreds of pages of additional documents related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, setting up a fresh clash with Capitol Hill in a controversy that continues to threaten Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's hold on his position.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, whose investigators have been allowed to view, but not obtain copies of, the records in question, is preparing subpoenas for those papers as well as for all e-mails or documents from the Justice Department and the White House connected to the dismissals of the prosecutors.

The new sparring comes as Senate Democrats postponed a long-planned budgetary appearance by Gonzales that had been scheduled for next week. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee panel overseeing the Justice Department budget, blamed Gonzales's "leadership failures" yesterday for the postponement and demanded that the prosecutor controversy be settled before he makes his plea for a budget increase. ...

The move to call off the budget hearing makes Gonzales's scheduled April 17 appearance before the judiciary panel even more of a make-or-break moment for Gonzales. ...

(T)rust in Gonzales among Capitol Hill Democrats has evaporated amid revelations from the almost 4,000 pages of documents the Justice Department has released to date, some of which have contradicted a string of statements from the attorney general about the dismissals. ...

Senate Democrats now want all Justice Department documents related to the firings, including the previously unreleased ones deemed too sensitive for release by the agency. Democratic investigators were upset to learn about the additional batch of records in recent visits to the department, according to a Senate aide who requested anonymity to talk freely about the standoff.

The aide said the Senate Judiciary Committee "has lodged objections several times" about not being given the new documents. They were discovered over the past two weeks as staff investigators for the House and Senate judiciary panels, working in a special office inside the Justice Department, reviewed the censored portions of e-mails and other records that had already been sent to Capitol Hill in redacted form, according to Justice Department and Senate aides.

Under an earlier agreement between Congress and the department, congressional aides are allowed to examine the uncensored documents but not to make copies or to take any notes.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mitt "Field and Stream" Romney

In boasting about his lifelong experience as a hunter, Mitt Romney may have shot himself in the foot.

The Republican presidential contender has told audiences on several occasions, most recently this week in gun-savvy -- and early voting -- New Hampshire, that he has been a longtime hunter. But it turns out he has been on only two hunting trips.

Critics said it was the latest example of a White House aspirant willing to say anything to reach the Oval Office.

"Whether he's pretending to be a hunter, misleading people about loaning his campaign millions of dollars or signing a no-new-tax pledge he once mocked to hide his tax-raising record, he'll say absolutely anything to distance himself from his real record," said Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. ...

In a question-and-answer session Tuesday in Keene, N.H., Romney spoke of his experience with hunting in a manner that suggested a close affiliation with the sport.

"I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I've been a hunter pretty much all my life," he told a man sporting a National Rifle Association cap.

Yet the former Massachusetts governor's hunting experience came during two trips at the bookends of his 60 years: as a 15-year-old, when he hunted rabbits with his cousins on a ranch in Idaho, and last year, when he shot quail on a fenced game preserve in Georgia.

Abramoff Scandal Continuing

Italia Federici, the head of a Republican environmental advocacy group, has been told by federal investigators that she is a target for criminal prosecution in the corruption inquiry involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Justice Department told Ms. Federici that she faced up to five charges in the influence-peddling scandal that has produced convictions against one lawmaker, two senior Bush administration officials and several Congressional aides. Mr. Abramoff entered a guilty plea as part of an agreement to cooperate with prosecutors.

Ms. Federici was a co-founder of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, along with Gale A. Norton, former secretary of the interior, and Grover Norquist, founder of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform. Investigators are looking at the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Ms. Federici’s environmental advocacy council received from Mr. Abramoff’s Indian tribal clients and from energy and mining companies.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Conyers Says Goodling Not On Solid Ground Invoking Blanket Fifth

House Democrats on Tuesday requested a private interview with an aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales who has asserted her constitutional right not to testify at a public hearing about the dismissals of United States attorneys.

Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sought the interview in a letter to a lawyer for the aide, Monica Goodling, who is on leave as the Justice Department's liaison to the White House.

Ms. Goodling helped coordinate the dismissals with the White House. Her lawyer, John M. Dowd, informed House and Senate panels last week that she would not testify, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Mr. Conyers's letter said that House lawyers wanted to question Ms. Goodling to evaluate the legality of her refusal to testify. It said she could not assert the privilege as a blanket justification not to appear.

"We are concerned that several of the asserted grounds for refusing to testify do not satisfy the well established bases for a proper invocation of the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination," the letter said. "The Fifth Amendment privilege, under longstanding Supreme Court precedents, does not provide a reason to fail to appear to testify; the privilege must be invoked by the witness on a question-by-question basis."

The letter was also signed by Representative Linda T. Sanchez, a California Democrat who is the chairwoman of the subcommittee conducting the inquiry.

A key Justice Department official who helped orchestrate the ouster of eight U.S. attorneys last year has again rebuffed requests to talk to congressional investigators about her role in the dismissals, with her lawyer saying Tuesday that she would not even agree to an informal interview with Capitol Hill Democrats.

Monica M. Goodling, who is on leave from her job as special counsel to Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, rejected the House Judiciary Committee's request that she appear before panel investigators for a closed-door session about her involvement in the decisions to remove the federal prosecutors. ...

In a related development, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sent a letter to Gonzales asking how he planned to deal with Goodling's decision to invoke her 5th Amendment rights. He had agreed to allow his top aides to be questioned about the firings.

"Who do we talk to at the Department of Justice?" the senators asked. "The office of the attorney general appears to be hopelessly conflicted."

The Justice Department had no immediate response.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Supreme Court Rules in First Global Warming Case

The Supreme Court rebuked the Bush administration yesterday for refusing to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, siding with environmentalists in the court's first examination of the phenomenon of global warming.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by improperly declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions standards to control the pollutants that scientists say contribute to global warming.

"EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. The agency "identifies nothing suggesting that Congress meant to curtail EPA's power to treat greenhouse gases as air pollutants," the opinion continued. ...

The decision in Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. also reinforced the division on the Supreme Court, with its four liberal members in the majority and its four most conservative members dissenting. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's role as the key justice in this term's 5 to 4 decisions was again on display, as he sided with Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter.

The case dates from 1999, when the International Center for Technology Assessment and other groups petitioned the EPA to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions for new vehicles. Four years later, the EPA declined, saying that it lacked authority to regulate greenhouse gases and that even if it did, it might not choose to because of "numerous areas of scientific uncertainty" about the causes and effects of global warming. Massachusetts, along with other states and cities, took the agency to court.

Monday, April 02, 2007

GOP's Ohio Problem

Although the presidential election is 19 months away, the Republican Party has a real and growing problem in Ohio that could cost it the White House in 2008.

Simply put, the GOP brand is in trouble in Ohio, more so than it is nationally. That matters because in 2004 Ohio was the key to an Electoral College majority, and could well be the same in 2008. ...

There are a myriad of reasons why the Republican problems are magnified in Ohio:

  • The war in Iraq and President Bush are at least as unpopular in Ohio as both are nationally, perhaps even slightly more so.

  • The previous Republican governor, Bob Taft, left office in January with a job approval rating in the teens - the lowest in the country - after an administration beset by scandal and loss of support even among Republicans.

  • The Ohio economy is not doing as well as the rest of the country. In fact, two-thirds of Ohioans told a Quinnipiac University poll last month that the state's economy was "not so good," or "poor."

  • New Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has a job approval rating in the same Quinnipiac poll of 53 percent favorable, 12 percent unfavorable.

That Quinnipiac poll last month also found that among Ohio voters, Democrats won eight of the nine match-ups when voters were asked to choose between the three leading Republican candidates - former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- and their Democratic counterparts, Sens Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. The ninth, between Giuliani and Obama, showed a tie.

Of course, if the Republicans in 2008 were to carry Pennsylvania and lose Ohio, they would net a gain of one more electoral vote than in 2004. And even if they lost Ohio, they could still win the presidency, for instance, by taking Wisconsin or New Hampshire, both of which voted Democratic by a smaller margin than Ohio went Republican in 2004.

Nevertheless, the Ohio political climate is problematical for the GOP. It will require the Republicans to focus on a state in which they have assumed in the past they were in better shape than most of its Frost Belt neighbors.

A lot can happen in the next 19 months to return Ohio's political climate to its historically GOP-friendly atmosphere, but unless it does, Republicans ought to worry about their 2008 prospects.