Free Andy Card

Kenneth Walsh writes in U.S. News and World Report

President Bush is digging in his heels about making big staff changes at the White House, even as Republican strategists fret that he doesn’t realize the depth of his problems on Capitol Hill.

Advisers say that the more the media speculate on the need for a reshuffling and the more GOP “friends” make the case for new blood, the less likely change will be. Bush is very loyal to his inner circle and doesn’t want any of his senior aides to be embarrassed by appearing to be fired or demoted. He also doesn’t want to be pressured into anything.

Just as important, Bush doesn’t think a shakeup is needed. He is convinced that members of the Washington establishment are simply upset because his staff doesn’t play ball with them or give them special access. Inside the West Wing, advisers say some senior aides would have liked to resign quietly more than a year ago – and that includes Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counselor Dan Bartlett. But Bush wouldn’t let them go. He has a comfort level with his first-term aides and doesn’t want to replace them with strangers or “outsiders.”

I’ve written about this before (most recently here and here). Every now and then (and with increasing frequency, it seems) there is a flurry of news stories speculating that Bush is about to shake up his staff and bring in some new people. Here is one such story from last week, from the Associated Press.

Such stories are quickly followed by word from the White House — Staff Shakeup? We don’t need no steenking staff shakeup!

At this point prominent Republicans outside the administration are practically begging Bush to at least bring in a couple of new people even if he doesn’t let go of the old ones. Nothin’ doin’.

The pundits say this is because Bush is loyal. But I don’t see anything “loyal” about Bush working people to exhaustion while he clocks out early so he can be in bed by 10 pm. No, this is pure selfishness. Senior White House staff could drop dead at their desks and Bush still won’t want to replace them. There won’t be any staff shakeups unless, somehow, Bush is forced into it.

Why? I can only guess, of course, but I think it’s because Bush’s staff provides more than just a bubble. They are his nest of enablers who allow him to live his fantasy of being the perfect God-King. He resists new staff because he knows that new staff won’t be conditioned to play his head games. On the other hand, the old staff by now are extensions of himself, like his clothes. They are well-worn and comfortable, and they don’t pinch his ego anywhere.

If you’ve ever lived with or worked for someone who was really “difficult” — i.e., had some kind of character disorder or other quirk that had to be catered to, or else — you know what I mean. Such people are surrounded by invisible trip wires. It takes time to learn how to tiptoe around their disorder, whatever it is, to avoid setting them off. This is how people learn to be enablers, of course. But if the sicko is in a position of power the only way to stop enabling is to revolt and walk out the door. I’m surprised Karen Hughes got away with leaving the White House for a time and remained in Bush’s good graces.

Update:The Stuff That Happens” — re Iraq (emphasis added) —

Chances are that at the time George W. Bush did not have an inkling of how badly he was being served by the decision makers at the Pentagon. But the fact that Mr. Rumsfeld continues to hold his job tells us that Mr. Bush doesn’t care, that he prefers living in the same dream world that his secretary of defense inhabits.

In their wishful thinking, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld undoubtedly tell themselves what they tell us: that the Iraqi people are better off than they were under the brutal dictator, that the Iraqi security forces are gradually learning how to take over defense of their own country and that a unified government is still a good possibility. It’s true that many Iraqis are better off. Others are in far worse straits — their homes have been ruined, their relatives killed, their jobs evaporated and their ability to walk the streets in safety obliterated. Women’s rights are being threatened in the south, and sectarian warfare has put families with mixed Shiite-Sunni ancestry at risk in their own neighborhoods. It is hard to quantify relative degrees of misery and pain in these circumstances. But unlike the horrors of Saddam Hussein, the horrors of the present can be laid at America’s doorstep.

More More Junk Intelligence

This is an update to “Junk Intelligence” (and “More Junk Intelligence“), in which I revealed that the Right Blogosphere had mistaken an old document from the Federation of American Scientists for something generated by the Iraqi Intelligence Service: Juan Cole says I’m right. He also translates the mystery Arabic page.

What does the Arabic say?

    “The Institutions of the Apparatus of the Intelligence Service on the Internet:

    You will find enclosed information on the Apparatus that has been published on the internet. It has information on our organization, but it is clear that the information is relatively old. Otherwise, it does not do more than mention some correct and important matters . . .”

It then goes on to list the names of some agents. As an intelligence service, its main concern was with cover, apparently.

In other words, Iraqi intelligence notes the appearance of the document on the internet in 1997, and laments that it is very basic [‘does not do more than’] and then notes with some amusement how out of date it is (with the implication that Western intelligence on Iraq must be pretty bad). The “out of date” comment probably refers to the Western document’s preoccupation with WMD, which Iraqi Intelligence would have known was gone by then. It may also refer to personnel having been switched around. Note that the Iraqi comment does not endorse the internet document. It not only says it is “old” intelligence, which is very damning in intelligence work, but it also uses the word “some” when referring to what is accurate and important in it. “Some correct and important matters.” There will be those who read this as a blanket endorsement; it obviously is not.

Yeah, that’s a find, all right. Kind of makes the whole last three years worthwhile, all by itself.

Glenn Reynolds, who linked to the Investors Business Daily article that quoted the FAS document as proof of Saddam’s evil capabilities, has yet to print a retraction. He is, however, having a fine time making fun of a mistake made by the New York Times, for which the Times printed a correction.

As of this writing neither Lorie Byrd nor Cold Fury have issued corrections, either.

Being a rightie means never having to admit you’re wrong.

Today on the Tube

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is on ABC’s “This Week” saying that there’s been a “low-grade civil war” going on in Iraq for the past six months. He also asked the rhetorical question, are we better off, is the Middle East more stable, because we invaded Iraq? And he answered himself — no.

Channel flipping to NBC, I caught Andrew Sulivan telling Chris Matthews that Bush resists making any changes to his policies because he can’t admit he is wrong.

Update: The “This Week” roundtable, I kid you not — George Will, Cokie Robert, Sam Donaldson. Danger! Danger! Change channel! Change channel!

Ooo, on Meet the Press — Jack Murtha. Could be good.

Update: While we’re waiting for Murtha to come on, get this — Fred Barnes tells us which issues GOP candidates will run on for the midterm elections:

Party strategists, led by chairman Ken Mehlman, want to rejigger the debate so it’s about a choice between candidates, putting Democratic candidates on the defensive as well. In short, they want it to be a choice election, not a referendum election. …

… House Republicans, for their part, intend to seek votes on measures such as the Bush-backed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a bill allowing more public expression of religion, another requiring parental consent for women under 18 to get an abortion, legislation to bar all federal courts except the Supreme Court from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance, a bill to outlaw human cloning, and another that would require doctors to consider fetal pain before performing an abortion.

The BooMan says

I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything in there about ending the war in Iraq, bringing down the federal defecit, creating good jobs, extending health care coverage, providing better education, protecting the environment, or cleaning up the corruption in Washington. All I see is an agenda pulled straight out of James Dobson’s playbook.

This midterm election won’t be a referendum. I’ll be an intelligence test, for voters.

Murtha says, What they [the Bushies] are trying to do is paint Iraq as if there were progress so that we can get out. … We’re caught in a civil war. … There’s less than a thousand al Qaeda; the Iraqis will get rid of al Qaeda as soon as we get out of there.

The Bushies are trying to blame the military for their mistakes, Murtha says.

The troops themselves don’t know what our mission is.

Murtha says his vote for the war in 2002 was a mistake. Why can’t the rest of the Dems who voted for the war say this?

“You know who wants us in Iraq, Tim? Iran wants us in Iraq, China wants us in Iraq, al Qaeda wants us in Iraq.”

“The public doesn’t want rhetoric.”

Murtha predicts the Dems will re-take the House of Representatives in November.

Caught Holding the Black Bag?

You know you’re in Bizarro World when the last barricade between tyranny and liberty is … the director of the FBI.

Chitra Ragavan writes in the March 27 issue of U.S. News and World Report:

In the dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a small group of lawyers from the White House and the Justice Department began meeting to debate a number of novel legal strategies to help prevent another attack. Soon after, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to begin conducting electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects in the United States, including American citizens, without court approval. Meeting in the FBI’s state-of-the-art command center in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the lawyers talked with senior FBI officials about using the same legal authority to conduct physical searches of homes and businesses of terrorism suspects–also without court approval, one current and one former government official tell U.S. News. “There was a fair amount of discussion at Justice on the warrantless physical search issue,” says a former senior FBI official. “Discussions about–if [the searches] happened–where would the information go, and would it taint cases.”

FBI Director Robert Mueller was alarmed by the proposal, the two officials said, and pushed back hard against it. “Mueller was personally very concerned,” one official says, “not only because of the blowback issue but also because of the legal and constitutional questions raised by warrantless physical searches.”

An FBI spokesman told US News that the FBI has not conducted physical searches without consent or a court order. However, it is apparent that the Bush Administration thinks it can conduct physical searches without consent or a court order.

… in a little-noticed white paper submitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Congress on January 19 justifying the legality of the NSA eavesdropping, Justice Department lawyers made a tacit case that President Bush also has the inherent authority to order such physical searches. In order to fulfill his duties as commander in chief, the 42-page white paper says, “a consistent understanding has developed that the president has inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless searches and surveillance within the United States for foreign intelligence purposes.” …

…John Martin, a former Justice Department attorney who prosecuted the two most important cases involving warrantless searches and surveillance, says the department is sending an unambiguous message to Congress. “They couldn’t make it clearer,” says Martin, “that they are also making the case for inherent presidential power to conduct warrantless physical searches.”

TalkLeft reminds us that the U.S. engaged in physical monitoring of radiation levels mosques and homes without warrants. This monitoring sometimes required the agents involved to go on the property being monitored, which makes one suspect “radiation levels” was a smokescreen. The targets were almost all U.S. citizens.

(Reminds me of at least one Law & Order episode in which the cops want to enter an apartment but don’t have a warrant. Lenny says, “Do you smell gas?” And they break the door down to check for a gas leak but are really looking for the gun used in a homicide. Having to wait for a warrant does slow down the plot.)

U.S. News says that (once again) the Bushies site the famous Gorelick testimony from the Aldrich Ames hearings as their precedent for warrantless searches without noticing that after these hearings Congress changed the FISA provisions so that what was done without warrants then couldn’t be done any more. In other words, the Bushies are violating law that didn’t exist when the Clintons were checking out Aldrich Ames. The Clinton Administration adhered to FISA law as it existed at the time.

But how weird is it that the “strict constructionists” who just hate it when Supreme Court justices “make law” think that it’s fine for a a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration to “make law”?

Clearly, the Bushies put FBI director Mueller on the spot.

A former marine, Mueller has waged a quiet, behind-the-scenes battle since 9/11 to protect his special agents from legal jeopardy as a result of aggressive new investigative tactics backed by the White House and the Justice Department, government officials say. During Senate testimony about the NSA surveillance program, however, Gonzales was at pains to avoid answering questions about any warrantless physical surveillance activity that may have been authorized by the Justice Department. On February 6, Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, asked Gonzales whether the NSA spying program includes authority to tap E-mail or postal mail without warrants. “Can you do black-bag jobs?” Leahy asked. Gonzales replied that he was trying to outline for the committee “what the president has authorized, and that is all that he has authorized”–electronic surveillance. Three weeks later, Gonzales amended his answer to Leahy’s question, stating that he was addressing only the legal underpinnings for the NSA surveillance program but adding: “I did not and could not address operational aspects of the program, or any other classified intelligence activities.” In the past, when Congress has taken up explosive issues that affect the bureau, Mueller has made it a point, officials have said, to leave Washington–and sometimes the country–so as not to get pulled into the political crossfire. When Gonzales testified February 6, Mueller was on his way to Morocco.

The FBI gets a bit twitchy about black bags.

For the FBI, the very mention of the term “black-bag jobs” prompts a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. In 1975 and 1976, an investigative committee led by then Sen. Frank Church documented how the FBI engaged in broad surveillance of private citizens and members of antiwar and civil rights groups, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. The committee’s hearings and the executive-branch abuses that were documented in the Watergate investigation led to numerous reforms, including passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. The law created a special secret court tasked with approving electronic wiretaps in espionage and other national security investigations. After the Aldrich Ames spy case, Congress amended FISA to include approval of physical searches. After 9/11, the law was further amended to allow investigators to place wiretaps or conduct physical searches without notifying the court for 72 hours and to obtain “roving” wiretaps to allow investigators to tap multiple cellphones.

Of course, that’s not flexible enough for the Bushies. But then there’s the little problem of trying to get convictions with illegal evidence:

White House lawyers, in particular, Vice President Cheney’s counsel David Addington (who is now Cheney’s chief of staff), pressed Mueller to use information from the NSA program in court cases, without disclosing the origin of the information, and told Mueller to be prepared to drop prosecutions if judges demanded to know the sourcing, according to several government officials. Mueller, backed by Comey, resisted the administration’s efforts. “The White House was putting pressure on Mueller to broadly make cases with the intelligence,” says one official. “But he did not want to use it as a basis for any affidavit in any court.” Comey declined numerous requests for comment. Sources say Mueller and his general counsel, Valerie Caproni, continue to remain troubled by the domestic spying program. Martin, who has handled more intelligence-oriented criminal cases than anyone else at the Justice Department, puts the issue in stark terms: “The failure to allow it [information obtained from warrantless surveillance] to be used in court is a concession that it is an illegal surveillance.”

So what the hell is the point if you can’t get convictions?

Mueller has been criticized by some agents for being too close to the White House. His predecessor, Louis Freeh, made his break publicly from President Clinton, even returning his White House security access badge. Until recently, Mueller reported to the White House daily to brief Bush and Cheney. But Mueller has not shied away from making tough decisions. He refused to allow FBI agents to participate in CIA and Defense Department interviews of high-value prisoners because of the administration’s use of aggressive interrogation techniques. In Iraq and at the Pentagon-run camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it has been FBI agents who have called attention to what they viewed as abuse of detainees.

It is unclear how much resistance from the FBI the White House and the Justice Department will be willing to brook. What is clear, however, is the extraordinary extent to which officials in both places inject themselves in the bureau’s operations. In late 2004, President Bush asked then FBI Deputy Director Bruce Gebhardt, filling in for Mueller during the daily White House briefings, minute details about a suspected terrorism threat in Kansas. “Don’t worry, Mr. President,” responded Gebhardt, straight-faced. “We have Kansas surrounded.”

Chitra Ragavan also discusses the subject of a terrorism investigation who believes he was “black bagged.” For example, the subject had some run-ins with a man on his property who claimed to be part of a cleaning crew but who was, in fact, not cleaning.

On Friday’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann discussed the US News story with legal scholar Jonathan Turley. You can view the clip or read part of the transcript at Crooks and Liars. Sample:

Olbermann: (reading from a U.S. News & World Report press release) “Soon after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, lawyers in the White House and the Justice Department argued that the same legal authority that the same legal authority that allowed warrentless electronic surveillance inside the US, could also be used to justify physical searches of terror suspects homes & businesses without court approval.”

Olbermann: Doesn’t that send chills down your spine?

Turley: Well it does. It’s horrific, because what that would constitute is to effectively remove the 4th Amendment from the U.S. Constitution and the fact that it was so quick as a suggestion shows the inclinations, unfortunately, of this administration. It treats the Constitution as some legal technicality instead of the thing were trying to fight to protect. …

… This is something to be very concerned about. These are not trivial matters. We’ve seen a sort of broad-based assault on basic Constitutional rights in our country since 9/11. We have a President who ordered electronic surveillance by the NSA without warrants in something that constitutes a federal crime. Congress isn’t even holding serious hearings on that. So we have a system that has checks & balances but none of them seem to be working. At the same time, as we noted earlier, we have an attack on the Judiciary itself, all of this should present a picture of concern for any American.

If I see anyone from the Right expressing concern about this matter (instead of expressing outrage at us lefties for hating America), I’ll let you know. Don’t hold your breath.