New York Times editorial [emphasis added]:

In its fumbling attempts to explain the purge of United States attorneys, the Bush administration has argued that the fired prosecutors were not aggressive enough about addressing voter fraud. It is a phony argument; there is no evidence that any of them ignored real instances of voter fraud. But more than that, it is a window on what may be a major reason for some of the firings.

In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. By resisting pressure to crack down on “fraud,” the fired United States attorneys actually appear to have been standing up for the integrity of the election system. …

… There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in this country. Rather, Republicans under Mr. Bush have used such allegations as an excuse to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups. They have intimidated Native American voter registration campaigners in South Dakota with baseless charges of fraud. They have pushed through harsh voter ID bills in states like Georgia and Missouri, both blocked by the courts, that were designed to make it hard for people who lack drivers’ licenses — who are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities — to vote. Florida passed a law placing such onerous conditions on voter registration drives, which register many members of minorities and poor people, that the League of Women Voters of Florida suspended its registration work in the state.

The claims of vote fraud used to promote these measures usually fall apart on close inspection, as Mr. McKay saw. Missouri Republicans have long charged that St. Louis voters, by which they mean black voters, registered as living on vacant lots. But when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch checked, it found that thousands of people lived in buildings on lots that the city had erroneously classified as vacant.

The United States attorney purge appears to have been prompted by an array of improper political motives. Carol Lam, the San Diego attorney, seems to have been fired to stop her from continuing an investigation that put Republican officials and campaign contributors at risk. These charges, like the accusation that Mr. McKay and other United States attorneys were insufficiently aggressive about voter fraud, are a way of saying, without actually saying, that they would not use their offices to help Republicans win elections. It does not justify their firing; it makes their firing a graver offense.

Yes, yes, yes. That’s the critical point. It’s not whether Presidents can fire U.S. attorneys whenever they want to, because they can. It’s not how many were fired, or when, or whether Bill Clinton did it too. The critical issue is why.

And the why is that they would not use their offices to help Republicans win elections.

Update: And the spin spins. Dan Collins at Protein Wisdom provides us with another example of righties who can’t read:

Yeah, it would be kind of like being concerned about the behavior of the Flying Imams to investigate allegations of voter fraud, because it’s not about that–it’s all about their hidden agenda to suppress other people’s rights. I’ve read a lot of stuff that’s pissed me off in the NYT, but this earns them a big Collins “fuck you.”

And Rick Moran, who is not always literacy challenged, falls into the same hole:

The New York Times is pooh-poohing the idea that some of the USA’s were fired for not aggressively going after voting fraud cases. To the Times, voter fraud is just not important enough an issue to remove a US Attorney.

That is not what the Times wrote. This is what it wrote (emphasis added):

John McKay, one of the fired attorneys, says he was pressured by Republicans to bring voter fraud charges after the 2004 Washington governor’s race, which a Democrat, Christine Gregoire, won after two recounts. Republicans were trying to overturn an election result they did not like, but Mr. McKay refused to go along. “There was no evidence,” he said, “and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.”

See, m’loves, the problem was not that the attorneys didn’t investigate. The problem was that they didn’t bring charges, and they didn’t bring charges because they lacked evidence to bring charges.

Mr. McKay is not the only one of the federal attorneys who may have been brought down for refusing to pursue dubious voter fraud cases. Before David Iglesias of New Mexico was fired, prominent New Mexico Republicans reportedly complained repeatedly to Karl Rove about Mr. Iglesias’s failure to indict Democrats for voter fraud. The White House said that last October, just weeks before Mr. McKay and most of the others were fired, President Bush complained that United States attorneys were not pursuing voter fraud aggressively enough.

There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in this country. Rather, Republicans under Mr. Bush have used such allegations as an excuse to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups. They have intimidated Native American voter registration campaigners in South Dakota with baseless charges of fraud. They have pushed through harsh voter ID bills in states like Georgia and Missouri, both blocked by the courts, that were designed to make it hard for people who lack drivers’ licenses — who are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities — to vote. Florida passed a law placing such onerous conditions on voter registration drives, which register many members of minorities and poor people, that the League of Women Voters of Florida suspended its registration work in the state.

The claims of vote fraud used to promote these measures usually fall apart on close inspection, as Mr. McKay saw. Missouri Republicans have long charged that St. Louis voters, by which they mean black voters, registered as living on vacant lots. But when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch checked, it found that thousands of people lived in buildings on lots that the city had erroneously classified as vacant.

Surely there are isolated incidents of voter fraud here and there. But if righties want to claim that the purged attorneys weren’t doing their jobs, they need to cough up evidence that widespread voter fraud on the part of Democrats was going in in those attorneys’ jurisdictions. I am skeptical they will find it.

218 Votes

You may have seen the YouTube video of Rep. David Obey blowing up at an antiwar activist. Yes, Obey was rude, but I think there is fault on both sides here.

Let’s start with activists. Scott Lilly writes,

Tina Richards, the mother of an Iraq war veteran, took the time and energy last week to travel from the rural Missouri Ozarks to her nation’s capital without taking the time to learn what Congress had the power to do with respect to her issue (the war) or what the political realities within Congress made it possible for opponents of the war to accomplish. Accosted by Richards and a crew of young antiwar activists in a Rayburn Office Building hallway, Obey eventually lost patience and responded in the brutally frank but thoroughly honest manner that has been his hallmark. …

…If opponents of the Iraq War truly care about stopping the carnage, it is worth the time and trouble to understand the political process and work for the smartest strategy to end this engagement rather than the one that is most extreme or viscerally satisfying. Passion is only part of the equation. In many instances, passion alone can be counterproductive.

Lilly brings up the Vietnam era. Although the scene in the video isn’t exactly parallel, he has a point that many of the “mindless antics” of protesters in those days didn’t exactly help. This is a point I harp on from time to time; smart activism is grand, but stupid activism is worse than no activism at all.

Harold Meyerson said something similar:

Last week, as he was working to build support for amendments that would impose a 2008 deadline on U.S. combat activities in Iraq, Obey was accosted by Tina Richards, an antiwar activist and mother of a Marine. With YouTube immortalizing the encounter, Richards asked Obey why he was supporting the supplemental war appropriations bill to which the amendments would be attached and why Congress couldn’t just defund the war and bring the troops home now.

Obey erupted. “We can’t get the votes,” he shouted. “Do you see a magic wand in my pocket? We don’t have the votes for it.”

“We’re trying to use the supplemental,” he explained, “to end the war.” Obey has since apologized for blowing up, but that hasn’t deterred some antiwar bloggers from condemning him as some loony warmonger. In a similar vein, other antiwar protesters now ring Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home, calling on her to bring the troops home now.

In effect, what the protesters are doing is making the unattainable perfect the enemy of the barely-attainable good.

Code Pink has been protesting in front of Pelosi’s San Francisco home. I’ll come to that in a minute.

Because Obey is quite right: The votes aren’t there to shut down funding for the war. What he and Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership in both houses are about is finding some way to curtail the president’s determination to pass the war on to his successor regardless of the continuing cost to U.S. interests and lives. Attaching conditions to the appropriations bill is not a foolproof way to accomplish that, as Pelosi and Obey would readily admit. It is merely the best of the imperfect options to wind down U.S. involvement in Iraq, given the narrowness of their congressional majorities and the presence of George W. Bush in the White House.

The antiwar bona fides of Obey and Pelosi are not only in good order, they’re a lot more impressive than those of just about any Democrat running for president. In October 2002, breaking with then-House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt, Pelosi led the opposition to the bill authorizing the president to go to war in Iraq. Obey voted with Pelosi and spoke forcefully against U.S. involvement.

Back to Scott Lilly:

Well-meaning people can argue about whether or not such a strategy [defunding] would be good policy or whether or not it would be good politics. But there is little room for argument as to whether such a stance is a viable legislative strategy. There are 435 members of the House and if all are present and voting, 218 must support a proposition before it can even clear the House and be sent to the Senate.

If your opposition to the war extends beyond the blogesphere into the real world where laws are made and decisions have consequences, you have to think about 218 votes, where they might come from and what specific language might make it possible to attain them. It is hard work and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is a struggle that we will probably go through repeatedly in the coming months as the Congress and the White House face off on ways to put an end to our tragic involvement in Iraq.

Harold Meyerson:

What Pelosi and Obey understand that their critics on the left seem to ignore is that it will take numerous congressional votes and multiple confrontations with Bush to build the support required to end U.S. involvement. Thanks to the Constitution’s division of powers, Congress and the White House seem bound for months of fighting over the conditions attached to any approval of funds for continuing our operations in Iraq. Over time, as the war drags on, either enough Republicans will join their Democratic colleagues to put an end to U.S. intervention, or they will stick with Bush, thereby ensuring there will be a sufficient number of Democrats in the next Congress to end the war.

As a strategy for ending the war, that may not be a thing of beauty. It is, however, the best that our political and constitutional realities allow.

There was an op ed in yesterday’s New York Times by a couple of Clinton Administration justice department officials titled “The Purse Isn’t Congress’s Only Weapon.” They make a very strong argument that the “defunding” option is far from the only way to go, and may not be the best way to stop the war.

But Tina Richards got it into her head that the options are defunding or nothing. Tina Richards was on Hardball last Friday, and I will tell you frankly that she annoyed the hell out of me, because for someone who presumes to be an activist she is grossly naive and uninformed. Here’s part of the exchange.

MATTHEWS: You‘re smart. You‘re lobbying this issue. Why do you think a guy like Obey—he said it to you. I heard him say that. I watched the tape two or three times. He said, We can‘t cut off the funding because if we cut off the funding, we will be accused of cutting off armor and equipment for the soldiers fighting in the field.

RICHARDS: Exactly. And then he says that we can‘t get the votes. Yet you have the leadership of the Democratic Party, you have Nancy Pelosi, you have Steny Hoyer, you have Chris Van Holland (ph) all saying that, We can‘t get the votes, and then they use the Republican talking points as to what is happening if they do stop the funding. And it makes no sense. If they…

MATTHEWS: Well, they‘re saying two things. They‘re saying they don‘t have the 218 to pass the majority, and then they‘re saying, But if we do pass the majority, they‘ll kill us politically by saying, They‘ve cut off reinforcements to our troops in the field. You know that‘s what they‘re going to say.

RICHARDS: You know what? Yes. And I understand that the Republican talking points are exactly that. And the point is, is that our sons and daughters are dying over there every day. …

… MATTHEWS: How do we—how do you achieve your goal of ending this war in Iraq? How do you do it?

RICHARDS: There is the Lee amendment that asked for the fully funded withdrawal of the troops, which Obey had responded as a dismissal, not even to consider it, that I didn‘t know what I was talking about, without even looking…


MATTHEWS: … Barbara Lee of Oakland and Berkeley, yes.

RICHARDS: Yes. And he didn‘t even want to discuss that. And that was partly why I‘ve been on the Hill every single day…

MATTHEWS: But how many votes…

RICHARDS: … trying to lobby Congress.

MATTHEWS: … do you think Barbara Lee‘s proposal would do, where it says, We‘ll spend enough money to bring the troops home but not to keep them there? How many votes do you think that would get in the Congress?

RICHARDS: I think that if Nancy Pelosi…


RICHARDS: … and Steny Hoyer and the Democrat leadership stopped exerting pressure to hush everybody that is coming out against it and started to support it, I think that they would have the votes to pass it.

MATTHEWS: But they don‘t think so.

RICHARDS: Because they‘re not trying. They‘re using the Republican talking points. As long as they‘re using the Republican talking points…

MATTHEWS: Are you saying that they‘re really for the war?

RICHARDS: I‘m saying that they‘re trying to do what‘s politically savvy and not what‘s best for our troops.

MATTHEWS: How do you think they can actually get the 218 votes that are necessary to pass a majority and cut off the money?

RICHARDS: Well, I think…

MATTHEWS: They say they can‘t find those votes. I heard Obey yelling at you. He got overwrought there. You got him excited.

RICHARDS: I was hearing that, and then…

MATTHEWS: And he was saying, We just—I don‘t have a magic wand. He opened up his coat like this, he says, I don‘t have a magic wand in here. Where‘s my 218 votes? Could you help him do it? Would you have—do you have enough power in your group, or anybody in the anti-war forces, to get 218 Democrats to end this war?

MATTHEWS: I‘m just one person. I‘m a mother.

MATTHEWS: I know. You got…

RICHARDS: And I spoke with Reverend Nearwood (ph) the other day, and he said the power of a mother‘s love can bring down nations.

MATTHEWS: But can it get 218 votes in the House of Representatives?

Harold Meyerson:

There are those, of course, who object to Pelosi’s even having a strategy to end the war. The lead editorial in yesterday’s Post, for example, took Pelosi to task as playing politics with the war by attempting to craft legislation that could actually win votes from all wings of her party. “The only constituency” that “Pelosi ignored in her plan,” The Post complained, “are the people of the country that U.S. troops are fighting to stabilize.” Rather than heeding the needs of Iraqis, Pelosi is concentrating on the 2008 elections, The Post concluded.

My paper, I fear, is off by two years. If the United States is still in Iraq come November 2008, the Democrats will sweep to power. It’s the 2006 elections that are to blame for this nefarious Democratic plan to wind down the war, for the Democrats ran on precisely that platform, and, more to the point, they won on it. The only constituency that The Post ignored in its assessment of Pelosi’s plan, and the chief constituency she is trying to heed, is the American people. They have charged the Pelosis and Obeys with the messy task of ending this fiasco, which, to their credit, is exactly what Pelosi and Obey are trying to do.

That doesn’t mean activists should go home. Scott Lilly:

At a very minimum, I would urge my fellow Ozarker, Tina Richards, to refocus her efforts in at least one respect. Your representative in Congress is not Dave Obey; it is Jo Ann Emerson, who is also a member of the Appropriations Committee. Unlike Obey, however, she does not (at least openly) agree with you on the President’s Iraq policy. If you, your friends, and your neighbors would spend more time talking to Emerson, then Obey might find the votes for language that you and he would both like better than the language on which he will likely be forced to settle.

Exactly. Go after congress critters who support the bleeping war. Instead of whining, work to round up those 218 votes. I’ll say the same thing to the Code Pink twits who are camping out at Pelosi’s home — stop being stupid. Stop grandstanding and throwing publicity stunts and put your energies into compiling those 218 votes. There are plenty of other people in the House, including many Democrats, who need their feet held to fire; Pelosi is not one of them.

At Talk Left, Big Tent Democrat complains that Scott Lilly endorsed “doing nothing.” No, dear; he’s asking people who presume to be activists to stop being stupid about it.

I’ll say it again: The Vietnam era experience taught us that stupid activism is worse than no activism at all. Stupid activism plays into the hands of the opposition. If you’re going to be a stupid activist, please stay home. But if you can do your homework, understand the issues, and appreciate which people in congress are working for us and which aren’t, then by all means — be an activist.

I’m not going to let Pelosi and Obey off the hook entirely. I think they could be doing more to keep us informed of what they are up to. There’s so much noise in media that it is hard to separate what’s real from what’s propaganda. I checked Pelosi’s congressional web page, and there is no information on where she is at this moment on the Iraq issue. We need direct communication between Congress and people who oppose the war, and bloggers can play a part in that. For that matter, they could post information on Huffington Post or several other well-trafficked sites. There’s no excuse for anyone in Congress to rely only on the MSM to get their message out.

Tina Richards is from Salem, Missouri, which is a lovely community not too far from where I grew up. Her son, a Marine, has served two tours of duty. She is obviously sincere and passionate about ending the war, and she says on her web site that she wants Rep. Obey, who has apologized to her, to join her “in a calm and respectful dialogue that will allow us to find common ground to end ‘this stupid war.'”

But respect goes both ways, and frankly if I were Congressman Obey I wouldn’t want to “dialogue” with anyone — especially [someone who is] not a constituent — who hasn’t even tried to understand what the options are. If you are going to presume to be an activist on a particular issue, you really ought to learn something about it first. Just being passionate and well-intentioned is not enough.

David Sirota

Saul Alinsky’s famous mantra is that successful organizers and activists have to start with the world as it is, not as the utopia we want it to be. That is the difference between people serious about challenging power and people serious only about blowing off steam and promoting themselves. The war is too huge an issue to allow the latter to substitute for the former. We can stop the war – but only if we buckle down, get serious and do the hard, unglamorous work that it will take to be successful.


What would we do without Murray Waas? Today he writes,

Shortly before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales advised President Bush last year on whether to shut down a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration’s warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, Gonzales learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation, according to government records and interviews.

Bush personally intervened to sideline the Justice Department probe in April 2006 by taking the unusual step of denying investigators the security clearances necessary for their work.

My prediction: Although Bush will continue to stubbornly refuse to let him go, I suspect Alberto will be forced to resign eventually.

President Bush’s shutting down of the Justice Department probe was disclosed in July. However, it has not been previously reported that investigators were about to question at least two crucial witnesses and examine documents that might have shed light on Gonzales’s role in authorizing and overseeing the eavesdropping program.

There are a lot of juicy bits in Waas’s report, and you should read it all. But I want to crash ahead to “Hyper Hacks: What’s really wrong with the Bush Justice Department” by Lincoln Caplan at Slate.

The White House and DoJ are now under fire because, in disrespecting the post of U.S. attorney, they appeared to interfere with the independence of that office in a way that’s unprecedented. In the previous quarter-century, according to the Congressional Research Service, no more than five and perhaps only two U.S. attorneys, out of 486 appointed by a president and confirmed by the Senate, have been similarly forced out—in the middle of a presidential term for reasons not related to misconduct. “It would be unprecedented for the Department of Justice or the president to ask for the resignations of United States attorneys during an administration, except in rare instances of misconduct or for other significant cause,” White said when she testified in February about the Bush firings before much was known about them. Previous midterm removals include those of a Reagan U.S. attorney fired and convicted for leaking confidential information and a Clinton appointee who resigned under pressure after he lost a major drug case and allegedly went to an adult club and bit a topless dancer on the arm. This time, the stories are quite different.

Here’s a juicy bit I hadn’t heard before:

A previous low point for the Justice Department came almost two decades ago, during the Reagan years, when the switchboard sometimes answered, “Ninth Street Disillusionment Center” and the graffiti “Resign,” “Leave,” and “Sleaze” were scrawled on walls near the office of Attorney General Ed Meese. In 1988, six prominent Republicans resigned. Led by William Weld, then-head of DoJ’s criminal division and later the governor of Massachusetts, they said they believed that the Justice Department was too impaired to enforce the law. These political appointees left behind a dispirited bureaucracy. But Meese didn’t really tamper with the ranks of career attorneys, who don’t normally come and go with the president, or with the department’s basic apparatus for enforcement, including the U.S. attorneys’ offices.

Now, note this:

In the Bush years, by contrast, senior political appointees have applied a political litmus test to the work of career lawyers and punished them for failing it. William Yeomans, a lawyer in the department’s Civil Rights Division from 1981 until 2005, told part of this story in Legal Affairs, the magazine I edited. Many leading career attorneys—they number in the dozens—have been forced out, removed, or transferred. In a concerted effort by the Bush administration to remake the career staff, Yeomans says, these veterans were replaced by the hirees of political appointees, chosen with no input from the longtime career staff.

Yeomans also recounted the division’s retreat from defending traditional civil rights. Of many examples, the most dramatic involve lack of enforcement of the Voting Rights Act because the beneficiaries would likely support Democratic candidates.

Remember what Paul Krugman wrote awhile back —

Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.

You should read all of the Caplan article, too. And finally, Sidney Blumenthal writes that “All Roads Lead to Rove.”

Rove was the conduit for Republican political grievances about the U.S. attorneys. He was the fulcrum and the lever. He was the collector of information and the magnet of power. He was the originator, formulator and director. But, initially, according to the administration, like Gonzales, he supposedly knew nothing and did nothing.

Even after the administration alibis had collapsed, the White House trotted out Dan Bartlett, the cool and calm communications director, to engage in a bit of cognitive dissonance. There was no plot, and maybe Rove was involved in the thing that didn’t happen. “You’re trying to connect a lot of dots that aren’t connectible,” Bartlett said, adding, “It wouldn’t be surprising that Karl or other people were receiving these complaints.” Thus the “dots” are invisible and Rove is at their center.

To the extent that the facts are known, Rove keeps surfacing in the middle of the scandal. And it is implausible that Sampson, the latest designated fall guy, was responsible for an elaborate bureaucratic coup d’état. Nor is it credible that Gonzales — or Harriet Miers, who has yet to be heard — saw or heard no evil. Neither is it reasonable that Gonzales or Miers, both once Bush’s personal attorneys in Texas, getting him out of scrapes such as his drunken driving arrest, could be the political geniuses behind the firings. Gonzales’ and Miers’ service is notable for their obedience, lack of originality and eagerness to act as tools. The scheme bears the marks of Rove’s obsessions, methods and sources. His history contains a wealth of precedents in which he manipulated law enforcement for political purposes. And his long-term strategy for permanent Republican control of government depended on remaking the federal government to create his ultimate goal — a one-party state.

Read all of Blumenthal, too.

I predicted above that Alberto Gonzales will be forced to resign eventually. As Blumenthal writes, the White House’s first instinct is always to protect Karl Rove. If it comes to that, Bush will sacrifice Alberto to protect Karl.


I don’t have much to say about the confessions of Khalid Sheik Mohammed that others haven’t already said; see, for example, Kevin Hayden and Taylor Marsh. Given the nature of the, um, inducements to the confessions, we have no way to know how much is true and how much is I’ll tell you anything you want to hear. All we know for certain is that the Bush Administration is, once again, waving the bloody shirt of 9/11 to distract us from its political problems.

The Talking Dog:

No one is denying that KSM, or perhaps all of the other 14 “high value terrorists”, are creeps and bastards, who should be brought to justice. The problem, of course, is that after five years of being tortured, and there is no doubt whatsoever that that is what we have done, that anything KSM, or anyone else who was a guest of our “CIA black prisons” says, is tainted by that torture thing. Indeed, part of KSM’s script was to note that he was subject to torture, “but is still making his confession freely and voluntarily.”

Er, no. In a real court, once you start poisoning the tree, you may as well pour the whole bottle in, because the tree and all its fruit are poisoned. Period. KSM’s confession would not hold up in a real court– which is why the Bush Administration, helped along by its friends Senators Graham and McCain (who will themselves also eventually have to answer to God, if not eventual war crimes tribunals for their role in turning our country back to the early Middle Ages), changed the rules for the kangaroo courts military tribunals at Gitmo to permit such evidence obtained by coercion… or less euphemistically, torture.

Which is neither here, nor there, because it is extraordinarily unlikely that KSM or the other 13 “high value terrorist suspects”TM will ever see even the inside of a kangaroo courtroom; the name of their game, like the Gitmo game in general, is to slowly trickle out the innocent rubes we are holding there (it’s down to 385 now; a few seem to be released each month) until January 2009, when this all becomes some other President’s problem.

It will be interesting to see if there’s much public reaction at all to this news. I think by now all but the most die-hard Bushies realize they are being jerked around.