U.S. Attorney Updates

Stuff’s happenin’ almost faster’n I can keep up with it. This first is from the Greg Palast for the BBC, via Dan Froomkin:

A secret document obtained from inside Bush campaign headquarters in Florida suggests a plan – possibly in violation of US law – to disrupt voting in the state’s African-American voting districts, a BBC Newsnight investigation reveals.

Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called “caging list”.

It lists 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Florida.

An elections supervisor in Tallahassee, when shown the list, told Newsnight: “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.”

They had a list. Maybe a plan. It doesn’t appear to have been carried out. But then, Dan Froomkin says,

Republican National Committee e-mails about “caging” — a tactic that targets people for voter challenges — turned up on this Web site. Several of them had been sent by Tim Griffin, then the RNC’s research director, later Karl Rove’s deputy director of political affairs at the White House — and the man Rove got appointed as the interim replacement to one of the purged U.S. Attorneys.

It’s a spoof web site, but the emails appear to be real, sent to the domain georgewbush.org by mistake. Take a look and see what you think.

This afternoon Attorney General Alberto Gonzales accepted responsibility (sort of) for “mishandling” the U.S. attorney situation, but says he will not resign. I say “sort of” accepted responsibility because Gonzales seemed to claim ignorance — he doesn’t know why Congress wasn’t told earlier the White House was involved in the purge; Sampson failed to brief other Justice Department officials about his email correspondence with Miers.

Lordy, no one in this Administration every knows anything. Between their failure to communicate and their bad memories, they are reminding me of the Know Nothing Party.

Oh, and Sampson is still on the government payroll, in spite of the fact that he resigned.

Some of the documents discussed in this morning’s “This Is Huge” post are available for viewing on the House Judiciary Committee web site.

As usual, Dan Froomkin makes an essential point:

… this White House appears to have lost sight of a distinction that is critical to the maintenance of good government: That just because someone is a political appointee doesn’t mean they’re supposed to do their jobs primarily as partisans — or that they should be fired if they fail to do so to the satisfaction of political operatives in the White House.

That is particularly the case with law enforcement. Filling non-law enforcement jobs with political appointees who are incompetent or blindly partisan may well take a toll on the government’s ability to do function properly. (See, for instance, David E. Lewis in NiemanWatchdog.org.)

But in law-enforcement jobs — such as the attorney general, the director of the FBI, and the country’s 93 U.S. attorneys — overtly partisan behavior is a more troubling problem. While the men and women in those positions serve at the pleasure of the president, it is also a critically important part of their job to remain independent.

That’s because it’s flatly un-American for the law to be used as a political weapon. It erodes public confidence in the justice system, and offends the American commitment to fairness. It’s the sort of thing that, quite properly, can lead to impeachment.

Be sure to read all of Dan’s post today.

Finally for a Hell Just Froze Over alert — someone in the MSM complimented bloggers. No, really. Jay Carney posted at Time magazine’s Swampland:

Twelve days ago, after David Iglesias went public, I said that if there turned out to be a broad conspiracy behind the firing of the U.S. Attorneys, “I will take my hat off to Marshall and others in the blogosphere and congratulate them for having been right in their suspicions about this story from the beginning.”

My hat is off. Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo and everyone else out there whose instincts told them there was something deeply wrong and even sinister about the firings, and who dug around and kept writing about them while Iglesias decided whether to talk to the press or go quietly on to his next job, deserve tremendous credit.

When this story first surfaced, I thought the Bush White House and Justice Department were guilty of poorly executed acts of crass political patronage. I called some Democrats on the Hill; they were “concerned”, but this was not a priority. The blogosphere was the engine on this story, pulling the Hill and the MSM along. As the document dump proves, what happened was much worse than I’d first thought. I was wrong. Very nice work, and thanks for holding my feet to the fire.

‘Course, I’m not holding my breath for this admission to make it into the print edition …

Five Stages

You’ve no doubt heard of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). I’ve come to realize something like that goes on among righties whenever a new Republican scandal washes ashore. I propose that the five stages of reaction to a scandal are:

1. Ignoring
2. Belittling
3. Blaming the Media
4. Evoking Bill Clinton.
5. Boredom

That last stage allows the sufferer to return to stage 1 and ignore the issue. Also note that righties don’t necessarily go through these stages in order or even one stage at a time.

This is a working hypothesis; I might choose to revise the list in the future. Let me know what you think.

Anyway, I’ve been surfing about looking at reaction to the U.S. attorney scandal to find examples. Here we are:

Macsmind is at Stage 2, Belittling:

Business as usual folks, nothing to see here. Fact is that they weren’t doing their job (note this was suspected democrat voter fraud – like that never happens) – so (for those slow of mind) that means bye, bye.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News is even deeper into Stage 2, if that’s possible:

So basically, this whole non-scandal scandal is over one guy who was dragging in feet in investigating voter fraud. Yet, the White House is taking it on the chin.

In our current model, “belittling” is just a nudge away from “ignoring.” The bloggers are noting that something happened, but they mentally edit out parts of the story; such as, the lack of evidence of Republican allegations of voter fraud and the fact that some of the purged attorneys were pressured to bring indictments against Democrats before the midterm elections.

For example, see this March 7 story about former U.S. attorney John McKay of Washington State, who was pressured by a congressman about voter fraud allegations in the election of Governor Chris Gregoire, and also accused by the White House of “mishandling” an investigation into the alleged fraud.

Asked if his failure to convene a grand jury in the election probe was the reason he was denied a judgeship, McKay said he did not know.

But he said he was confident he and his staff had handled the case properly, adding that there was no evidence of voter fraud despite widespread complaints by Republicans in Washington state and the nation’s capital.

“Frankly, it didn’t matter to me what people thought,” McKay told a House Judiciary subcommittee. “There was no evidence of voter fraud.”

No evidence? A mere technicality. The Dems must be guilty because, well, they’re Dems.

Sister Toljah
and the Flopping Ace seem to be at Stages 2 and 3 at the same time. This is the Ace:

They were not doing their job. Their appointments were stripped.

But the left and our MSM want to bombard us with the appearance of evil.

Now, one could argue that “blaming the media” and “belittling” are pretty close to the same thing, and maybe I should roll them into one stage. But sometimes “blaming the media” can be so much more. Remember Jamil Hussein?

Mascmind and Dan Collins at Protein Wisdom are at Stage 4, Evoking Bill Clinton, recalling the Great Purge of U.S. Attorneys by Janet Reno in 1993. I explained here why that isn’t relevant.

Mr. Hawkins also provides a fascinating twist on Stage 4:

What they should be doing is exactly what the Clinton Administration would be doing in a situation like this, relentlessly and savagely attacking the other side, calling it a political witch hunt, and telling the public that this is exactly why we can’t have bipartisanship in Washington, because these jerks keep pulling stunts like this.

This whole thing is a big joke, but because the Bush Administration is still, STILL, for the most sticking with this “new tone,” mush and letting the Democrats use them as punching bags, the joke is on the Bushies.

In some cases “evoking Bill Clinton” means just the basic “Clinton did it, too” excuse, which is the foundation of all conservative ethics. Righties seem to think that Bill Clinton is the measure of all morals, and that they can’t be accused of doing anything wrong if Clinton did the same thing. But Mr. Hawkins’s post is a lovely example of psychological projection, either conscious or unconscious. David Neiwert at Orcinus has written some great posts on this, such as here and here. So “evoking Bill Clinton” describes a wide and complex range of behaviors.

James Joyner skipped to Stage 5:

For whatever reason, I’ve had trouble mustering an interest in the brouhaha over Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’ firing of some U.S. attorneys for “political reasons.” It’s been the topic of much discussion in the blogosphere and the halls of Congress but just hasn’t inspired me to write anything.

Front page stories in today’s NYT and WaPo, which have inspired another mini-surge in blog outrage, continue to leave me yawning.

I wrote in January 2006 that “When cornered, righties will either fall back on “Dems” (or “Clinton”) “did it too,” or else feign boredom. (Yawn. So Washington is corrupt. Who cares?).” It’s where they go when their only other option is admitting the truth.

It is worthy of note that the bulk of the Right Blogosphere only recently moved out of Stage 1. You know a Republican scandal is getting long legs when that happens.

This Is Huge

A White House document dump has provided new revelations about the U.S. Attorney purge. And the biggest revelation — although not a surprising one — is that the idea to fire U.S. Attorneys and replace them with politically compliant toadies originated in the White House.

I’m piecing together two news stories, one by David Johnston and Eric Lipton in today’s New York Times, and the other by Dan Eggen and John Solomon in today’s Washington Post. The story thus far:

In early 2005, White House legal counsel Harriet Miers asked D. Kyle Sampson, a justice department official, if it would be feasible to fire and replace all 93 U.S. attorneys. It appears the White House was unhappy with the attorneys because Republicans were alleging widespread voter fraud on the part of Democrats, and the attorneys were unwilling to bring indictments against the Democrats, most probably because the allegations were a fantasy. (Josh Marshall provides an archive of his posts on the voter fraud allegations going back to 2001.)

However, as Johnston and Lipton note, the documentation isn’t clear if the voter fraud issue was the real or only reason.

The documents did not provide a clear motive for the firings. Some suggested that department officials were dissatisfied with specific prosecutors, but none cited aggressive public corruption inquiries or failure to pursue voter fraud cases as an explicit reason to remove them.

As has been widely noted in the recent past, the pattern suggests that the White House and the Republican Party generally have been using the Justice Department as part of their election campaign process. In other words, Karl and Co. have been turning our criminal justice system into a Republican Party machine.

Sampson — who resigned yesterday, btw — replied to Miers that filling that many jobs at once would be too big a job. (The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the same thing at the time.) Instead, Miers and Sampson began working together on a select list of attorneys to replace. As they did this, Karl Rove and other White House officials helpfully relayed the complaints they were getting from Republican officials about the attorneys’ failure to indict Democrats on voter fraud.

Eggen and Solomon, WaPo (emphasis added):

The e-mails [between Miers and Sampson] show that Rove was interested in the appointment of a former aide, Tim Griffin, as an Arkansas prosecutor. Sampson wrote in one that “getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.”

Sampson sent an e-mail to Miers in March 2005 that ranked all 93 U.S. attorneys. Strong performers “exhibited loyalty” to the administration; low performers were “weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.” A third group merited no opinion.

In January 2006, Sampson sent a first list of attorneys to be fired to the White House. Four of the attorneys who would be fired were on this list: Chiara, Cummins, Lam and Ryan (the final list is here). This list also suggested Tim Griffin be one of the replacements.

Eggen and Solomon, WaPo:

In September, Sampson produced another list of firing candidates, telling the White House that Cummins was “in the process of being pushed out” and providing the names of eight others whom “we should consider pushing out.” Five on that list were fired in December; the others were spared. …

… Sampson also strongly urged bypassing Congress in naming replacements, using a little-known power slipped into the renewal of the USA Patriot Act in March 2006 that allows the attorney general to name interim replacements without Senate confirmation.

“I am only in favor of executing on a plan to push some USAs out if we really are ready and willing to put in the time necessary to select candidates and get them appointed,” Sampson wrote in a Sept. 17 memo to Miers. “It will be counterproductive to DOJ operations if we push USAs out and then don’t have replacements ready to roll immediately.

“I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments,” he wrote.

By avoiding Senate confirmation, Sampson added, “we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.”

[Update: See also Think Progress.]

Note that the Patriot Act provision came into being in March 2006, about a year after Miers and Sampson began work on their list. Coincidence? Not a chance.

Notice this little detail, from Eggen and Solomon:

Iglesias, the New Mexico prosecutor, was not on that list. Justice officials said Sampson added him in October, based in part on complaints from Sen. Pete V. Domenici and other New Mexico Republicans that he was not prosecuting enough voter-fraud cases.

You may remember that in October 2006 — shortly before the elections — Domenici had called U.S. attorney David Iglesias and asked him about the status of an investigation into a Democratic state senator. Domenici also spoke to President Bush. Then Bush spoke to Gonzales “to pass along concerns by Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud,” Johnston and Lipton write. Thus Iglesias was added to the purge list, even though he had received a “strong performer” rating from Miers and Sampson in the earlier stages of their list-making.

A White House spokeswoman insisted that the President did not call for the removal of any specific attorney. Nor did he know that Miers, Sampson, and Rove had been drawing up a list already. (Bush never seems to know anything that’s going on under his nose, does he? I find it hard to believe that Bush didn’t at least mention Iglesias to Sampson.)

A few weeks after the conversation between Bush and Gonzales, the Justice Department forced out seven prosecutors.

Johnston and Lipton, NY Times:

On Dec. 4, 2006, three days before the dismissals, Mr. Sampson sent an e-mail message to the White House with a copy to Ms. Miers outlining plans to carry out the firings

“We would like to execute this on Thursday, Dec. 7,” Mr. Sampson wrote. Because some United States attorneys were still in Washington attending a conference, he planned to postpone telling them they were being fired. He wrote, “We want to wait until they are back home and dispersed to reduce chatter.”

Eggen and Solomon, WaPo:

On the day of the Dec. 7 firings, Miers’s deputy, William Kelley, wrote that Domenici’s chief of staff “is happy as a clam” about Iglesias.

A week later, Sampson wrote: “Domenici is going to send over names tomorrow (not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool).”

Domenici is so busted.

E-mails show that Justice officials discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment, as early as last August. By mid-December, Sampson was suggesting that Gonzales exercise his newfound appointment authority to put Griffin in place until the end of Bush’s term.

Griffin’s appointment and his connection to Karl Rove was reported in Arkansas newspapers in mid-December. This was one of our first clues that something screwy was going on regarding the U.S. attorneys.

Miers resigned as White House counsel less than three weeks later, in early January.

As for D. Kyle Sampson, in a sidebar story the New York Times reports that he had been using his post as chief of staff to the attorney general to get named U.S. attorney in Utah, his home state, even though he had never worked as a full-time prosecutor. The White House and Justice Department backed Sampson, but Senator Orrin Hatch wanted Brett Tolman, “a one-time Utah federal prosecutor who had spent the previous three years working on antiterrorism issues for the Judiciary Committee staff.”

This suggests to me that Orrin Hatch has known about some of these shenanigans for some time. But let’s go on …

This put Mr. Sampson in an unusual position. As Mr. Gonzales’s chief of staff, he was fielding calls and letters from Mr. Hatch’s office, even though he was vying for the job that Mr. Hatch was writing about, two former officials from Mr. Hatch’s office said. That made at least some Senate officials uncomfortable.

“It was a little like the fox watching the hen house,” said one former Senate staff member, who asked not to be named because he now works in a different job.

Mr. Sampson did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Hatch finally made a personal appeal to Mr. Gonzales to drop his bid to nominate Mr. Sampson. After a four-month delay, President Bush nominated Mr. Sampson’s rival for the job last June.

Sampson — did I mention he resigned yesterday? — is a religious conservative (a Mormon) who “told the Brigham Young University news service that he admired Mr. Bush because the president recognized that politics and religious beliefs could not be separated.” Apparently Mr. Sampson’s religious beliefs didn’t teach him anything about ethics.

This really is huge. The “underlying crime” in the Watergate scandal was the White House’s illegal activities — such as money laundering and breaking into Dem Party offices to look for something incriminating — to ensure Nixon’s re-election in 1972. Now there is mounting evidence that the Bush White House and other Republican officials have been trying to use the entire federal criminal justice system to win elections for Republicans. I say this has Watergate beat all to hell. So far we know thatGonzales has lied to Congress about the reasons for purging the attorneys, and certainly more juicy bits will be revealed as time goes on.

Yesterday Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said he intends to subpoena Karl Rove if he doesn’t testify to Congress voluntarily. Stay tuned.