Loose Lips

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Bush Administration, Congress, U.S. Attorneys

D. Kyle Sampson is scheduled to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee today. The Senate might also vote on the Iraq War “emergency” appropriations bill. If there are any significant developments I will post about them as quickly as I can.

First — Sampson and the U.S. Attorney scandal. Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in today’s Washington Post:

The attorney general’s former chief of staff plans to testify today that other Justice Department officials knew about the “origins and timing” of the effort to fire eight U.S. attorneys, which began two years earlier in the White House, according to prepared testimony for a Congressional hearing.

But D. Kyle Sampson — who resigned earlier this month ahead of revelations that White House political officials helped direct the dismissals — also will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that he “never sought to conceal or withhold material fact about this matter” while helping prepare witnesses for Congress. Lawmakers are seeking to determine whether top Justice Department officials misled them while testifying on the matter in recent months. …

… Sampson’s prepared remarks offer few clues about the role of Gonzales, who has sought to distance himself from his former chief of staff. Gonzales is under increasing pressure from lawmakers to step down for mishandling the firings and their aftermath.

The statement indicates that Sampson will emphasize the involvement of numerous other Justice officials in the dismissals — including Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty — while distancing Gonzales from the nitty-gritty details. Sampson’s statement also says that he “let the attorney general and the department down” by failing to better manage the political response to the firings, which he describes as an “ugly, undignified spectacle,” according to the statement.

Kevin Drum asks:

Gonzales has already told us he knew nothing about the two-year process to fire a bunch of U.S. Attorneys, and in this meeting he knew nothing about any of the specific grievances the USAs brought up. Sounds like a real hands-on kind of guy. What exactly does he think the job of Attorney General is all about?

It appears to me that Gonzales is still primarily George Bush’s attorney more than he is an attorney general. Instead of actually running the Justice Department, he has seemed more focused on enabling President Bush to do whatever he wants, which is the job he’s been doing for many years.

Stuart Taylor writes at Atlantic Monthly:

Gonzales was plucked by then-Gov. Bush of Texas from a big law firm where he was a relatively undistinguished partner. As the governor’s counsel, he sent Bush superficial memos that cleared the way for executions of more than 50 death-row inmates by dismissing their clemency petitions, while sometimes ignoring evidence of ineffective counsel, mitigating circumstances, and even possible innocence. His 20-some judicial opinions as a Bush appointee on the Texas Supreme Court were unimpressive, as have been his public performances as White House counsel and attorney general. People outside the administration who have tried to engage him in serious discourse about complex issues sometimes come away shocked by the superficiality of his knowledge and the shallowness of his analysis.

As White House counsel from 2001 through 2004, Gonzales had his fingerprints on Bush’s most grandiose and insupportable claims of power in the war on terrorism. These included Bush’s claim of virtually unlimited power to imprison for years, incommunicado, without real judicial review, anyone in the world whom he labeled an “enemy combatant.”

Gonzales also implicitly approved the infamous August 1, 2002, Justice Department legal opinion asserting that Bush had the authority to abrogate federal criminal laws and treaty obligations and to order (if he chose) wholesale use of torture in wartime interrogations.

David Kirkpatrick and Jim Rutenberg write in today’s New York Times that Gonzales was, perhaps, not as disengaged from the U.S. Attorney firings as Sampson might claim. And, of course, Karl Rove played a critical role also.

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.

“What Karl would say is, ‘Look, if this senator who has been working with the president on the following things really wants this person and we think they are acceptable, why don’t we give the senator what he wants?’ ” said one former administration official. “ ‘You know, we stiffed him on that bill back there.’ ” [emphasis added]

Further into the Kirkpatrick & Rutenberg article we find:

In New Jersey, Mr. Rove helped arrange the nomination of a major Bush campaign fund-raiser who had little prosecutorial experience.

That would be Christopher J. Christie.

Mr. Christie has brought public corruption charges against prominent members of both parties, but his most notable investigations have stung two Democrats, former Gov. James E. McGreevey and Senator Robert Menendez. When word of the latter inquiry leaked to the press during the 2006 campaign, Mr. Menendez sought to dismiss it by tying Mr. Christie to Mr. Rove, calling the investigation “straight out of the Bush-Rove playbook.” (Mr. McGreevey resigned after admitting to having an affair with a male aide and the Menendez investigation has not been resolved.)

Yesterday’s “document dump” of emails included one from Kyle Sampson with “RE: Draft response to Reid/Durbin/Schumer/Murray letter re Cummins-Griffin” in the subject line. Sampson had prepared a statement to the Senators claiming that Karl Rove was not involved in the appointment of Rove’s aide Tim Griffin to replace U.S. Attorney “Bud” Cummins. We now have copious evidence that Rove was very much involved. The Office of the White House Counsel signed off on Sampson’s “testimony.” Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker has more to say about this here and here.

Righties generally remain stuck on stupid — they’re still arguing that Presidents can hire and fire U.S. attorneys whenever they like, for any reason, so what’s the big deal? [Update: See Josh Marshall on this point.] Stuart Taylor at the Atlantic (link above) responds to this:

As for the U.S. attorneys, there is a world of difference between firing such a political appointee for 1) being a Democrat; 2) failing to press the president’s law enforcement agenda; 3) overstaying his or her welcome in a job that the White House wants for a political favorite; 4) prosecuting Republican lawmakers; or 5) failing to bring election-fraud prosecutions against Democrats on a timetable designed to help Republicans at the polls.

The first three are standard operating procedure. The last two—if they happened—would be unethical and arguably illegal. A minimally competent attorney general would instantly appreciate the difference. Did Gonzales? Perhaps. But the succession of misleading and contradictory statements from him and his aides—which may further weaken the presidency by fueling congressional demands for testimony by White House officials—inspire no confidence. Nor do Gonzales’s comments (as reported by Newsweek) to three senators who visited his office to discuss the matter: “Why do I have to prove anything to you?” And “everyone [fired] was in the bottom tier.” In fact, some had glowing performance evaluations.


Glenn Greenwald adds
:

Much of the U.S. attorneys scandal has focused, as it should, on the question of whether the firings were motivated by various prosecutors’ refusal to pursue partisan-motivated but frivolous cases (or to suppress valid investigations for partisan reasons). But it is true that every administration has the right to prioritize the types of prosecutions which U.S. attorneys ought to pursue. And the DOJ e-mails that have been released reveal much about the unbelievably misplaced investigative priorities of the Bush administration.

In a time when we are supposedly facing the gravest and most epic War Ever to Save our Very Civilization, they are demanding that scarce law enforcement resources be squandered on the pettiest though still quite invasive and liberty-infringing matters. In Reason, Radley Balko has a great review of some of these issues.

The Radley Balko article cited by Glenn is a solid indictment of DoJ mismanagement under the Bush Administration, bringing up several critical issues (such as wiretapping) other than the U.S. Attorneys. See also “Prosecutors Assail Gonzales During Meeting” and “The Myth of Voter Fraud.”

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1 Comment

  1. Swami  •  Mar 30, 2007 @7:04 pm

    “Firing a prosecutor for failing to find wide voter fraud is like firing a park ranger for failing to find Sasquatch”

    Ain’t that the truth!



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