Purges and Politics

In today’s New York Times, David Iglesias writes that he was purged because he didn’t file charges against Democrats that were unsupported by evidence.

Ms. [Rep. Heather] Wilson asked me about sealed indictments pertaining to a politically charged corruption case widely reported in the news media involving local Democrats. Her question instantly put me on guard. Prosecutors may not legally talk about indictments, so I was evasive. Shortly after speaking to Ms. Wilson, I received a call from Senator Domenici at my home. The senator wanted to know whether I was going to file corruption charges — the cases Ms. Wilson had been asking about — before November. When I told him that I didn’t think so, he said, “I am very sorry to hear that,” and the line went dead.

A few weeks after those phone calls, my name was added to a list of United States attorneys who would be asked to resign — even though I had excellent office evaluations, the biggest political corruption prosecutions in New Mexico history, a record number of overall prosecutions and a 95 percent conviction rate. (In one of the documents released this week, I was deemed a “diverse up and comer” in 2004. Two years later I was asked to resign with no reasons given.)

To those who say he was not doing his job:

As this story has unfolded these last few weeks, much has been made of my decision to not prosecute alleged voter fraud in New Mexico. Without the benefit of reviewing evidence gleaned from F.B.I. investigative reports, party officials in my state have said that I should have begun a prosecution. What the critics, who don’t have any experience as prosecutors, have asserted is reprehensible — namely that I should have proceeded without having proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The public has a right to believe that prosecution decisions are made on legal, not political, grounds.

What’s more, their narrative has largely ignored that I was one of just two United States attorneys in the country to create a voter-fraud task force in 2004. Mine was bipartisan, and it included state and local law enforcement and election officials.

After reviewing more than 100 complaints of voter fraud, I felt there was one possible case that should be prosecuted federally. I worked with the F.B.I. and the Justice Department’s public integrity section. As much as I wanted to prosecute the case, I could not overcome evidentiary problems. The Justice Department and the F.B.I. did not disagree with my decision in the end not to prosecute.

(Unfortunately, this New York Times article on purged prosecutor Carol Lam uncritically repeats the Bush Administration’s claims that she was dumped for failing to pursue immigration cases and not because she was prosecuting Duke Cunningham et al. There’s still no indication that anyone in the Justice Department ever actually discussed their concerns about immigration with her, which makes the immigration argument look more like the excuse than the reason.)

Also in this morning’s NY Times is this outstanding editorial

In nasty and bumbling comments made at the White House yesterday, President Bush declared that “people just need to hear the truth” about the firing of eight United States attorneys. That’s right. Unfortunately, the deal Mr. Bush offered Congress to make White House officials available for “interviews” did not come close to meeting that standard.

Mr. Bush’s proposal was a formula for hiding the truth, and for protecting the president and his staff from a legitimate inquiry by Congress. Mr. Bush’s idea of openness involved sending White House officials to Congress to answer questions in private, without taking any oath, making a transcript or allowing any follow-up appearances. The people, in other words, would be kept in the dark.

The Democratic leaders were right to reject the offer, despite Mr. Bush’s threat to turn this dispute into a full-blown constitutional confrontation.

Alas, if only the Times’s reporting were as good as its editorial writing. Weirdly, the Washington Post doesn’t offer an editorial today on the looming Constitutional crisis in Washington. But the reporting is a little better; Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein write,

The documents [the 3,000 pages released Monday] also show that the White House was more closely involved than had been known in attempting to contain the controversy as it began to spin out of control in recent weeks. Just two weeks ago, on March 5, White House lawyer William Kelley personally oversaw a meeting called to prepare and edit testimony by William Moschella, the principal associate deputy attorney general. Moschella told the House Judiciary Committee the next day that the White House was only tangentially involved in the dismissals.

With an attorney general seemingly focused on other matters, McNulty and other senior Justice officials struggled to cope with pressure from increasingly agitated lawmakers. A Justice spokesman sought to mislead a reporter by questioning the accuracy of his sources, as other officials revised the administration’s story and deflected queries from Congress about the firings. The dismissals would eventually be revealed as the result of a two-year-old plan, hatched in the White House, to sack U.S. attorneys seen as disloyal to the administration.

The dismissal process itself, the documents show, was chaotic and spiked with petty cruelties. Two senior officials joked caustically about U.S. Attorney Carol Lam in San Diego — who prosecuted the corruption case of former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) — calling her “sad” and saying her record was “hideous.”

It’s not beyond belief that the Washington crew wanted Lam to take on more high-profile immigration cases. It’s also not beyond belief that, Bushies being Bushies, no one at the Justice Department shared their concerns about immigration with Lam before they purged her. If there’s one thing Bushies are famous for, it’s their inability to manage their way out of a wet paper bag. But as I said above, it looks as if the immigration charge is more of an excuse than the real reason.

For all their vivid detail, the e-mails and other records shed little light on the Bush administration’s motives for carrying out the firings in the way it did. The new documents also provide little evidence that Justice officials sought to interfere with public corruption probes, as many Democrats and some of the prosecutors have alleged.

In Lam’s case, was not the purge itself the interference?

Along with documents released last week, the new records show that the firing lists drawn up by D. Kyle Sampson, a former Gonzales aide who resigned last week, frequently changed, rarely including the same group of allegedly inferior U.S. attorneys. Only four of those fired were included on an initial March 2005 ranking chart.

It was as if they took it into their heads to fire (make examples of?) some people, and it was just a matter of deciding which ones.

Repeatedly in the months leading up to the firings, Justice officials derided the U.S. attorneys who would lose their jobs in often sharp terms, the internal e-mails show.

Brent Ward, director of a Justice Department obscenity task force, opposed sending FBI and Justice officials to Las Vegas last August to persuade then-U.S. attorney Daniel G. Bogden to pursue more cases: “[T]o go out to LV and sit and listen to the lame excuses of a defiant U.S. attorney is only going to move this whole enterprise closer to catastrophe.”

There’s an unmistakable meanness and pettiness and arrogance behind these communications. The Bushies are like children, judging who’s cool and who’s not and who can sit at the same lunch table as the cool kids.

Today we might hear more about subpoenas. President Bush is already making noises about “executive privilege,” a claim that Glenn Greenwald takes apart here. Also, note that there is no precedent barring White House aides from testifying to Congress. The Talking Dog predicts an unsatisfactory deal will be struck. To this I say to Washington Dems — don’t you dare let us down on this one. I sorta kinda understand why it might be hard to pull together 218 votes on an Iraq resolution. But if Bush and Co. get off the U.S. attorney hook — that I do not forgive.

10 thoughts on “Purges and Politics

  1. Well, it’s a bit premature for them to be saying that the new documents shed little light given that no one has had time to go through them all. DKos is asking people to pick a section and go through them so we have some chance of keeping up.

  2. Scanning through the TPMuckraker doc dump thread, it appears that Lam had been pressured about immigration and had increased the number of prosecutions (had half her staff working on it). Her prosecutions of gun crimes were down, but I don’t recall anyone citing that as a reason for her dismissal.

    Someplace else there’s the story of Lewis(?) (mis)using an internal doc from one Border Patrol office as evidence against her, but the Border Patrol won’t back him up.

  3. Sorry, Issa, not Lewis (in comment 2, para 2). TPM has more here: http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/013170.php

    Lam was getting pressure, but not from DOJ. She apparently didn’t have enough staff, and was pissed that with half her staff on immigration, she was getting criticism from Congress (including Feinstein).

    The firearms thing was Chiara in Mich. Her emails are pretty amusing, as she knows she can make a fuss and bargains for another job.

    (Very difficult to make sense out of the unordered postings in vastly different styles on TPMuckraker.
    This site looks more promising:

  4. I seem to remember a certain little slogan that goes something like this: “If you’re not anything wrong you have nothing to worry about” That little ditty was all the rage in righty circles at the launch of the GWOT. Checkfuckinmate!

  5. Has anyone else wondered exactly why replacing most or all U.S. attorneys (practical or not) would occur to Karl Rove and the Bush White House in January 2005 (pre-Patriot reauthorization)?

    It is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process to recruit, interview, background check and shepherd a team of prosecutors through Senate approval. What administration in its second term would consider replacing them wholesale and thus divert valuable resources from pursuing its agenda. Unless that is the agenda.

    The appointment of Timothy Griffin, a Karl Rove protégée, to Little Rock raised my eyebrows. Griffin is a veteran of Team 2000, the GOP’s opposition research effort in 2000. The June 2004 Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200406/green) detailed some of their efforts at discrediting Vice President Al Gore. The GOP brought Griffin back for dirty tricks in 2004 as Bush’s director of opposition research and deputy communications director.

    Who better qualified (and strategically located in Little Rock) to reprise the right-wing’s muckraking “Arkansas Project” if a former first lady from Arkansas tops the Democratic ticket in 2008?

    And why just Hillary? By replacing all (or at least key) U.S. attorneys around the country with loyal operatives like Griffin, Bush and the GOP could be positioned to make mid-2008 the summer of the Democrats’ discontent. Pre-election news of investigation after meritless investigation of Democratic officials and candidates could help eat away at Democratic efforts to retake the White House and help keep the Bushies out of the slammer.

    As with the Arkansas Project and the Whitewater investigations during the Clinton years, there need not be any real fire to get the job done, only lots of smoke.

  6. I have a few disjointed comments & questions.

    First, I think Blue got it right. Little Rock (no disrespect to Arkansas intendied) is not the center of politics in the US. With 87 seats to pick from, why drop a Rove mover & shaker to an obscure appointment. Unless Hillary was a target.

    Second, one thing the White house is NOT offering up is INTERNAL memos on the replacements. You can bet there is a reason for that. If Congress can get those, then Meyers & ROve can ONLY hide behind the fifth amandment; false testimony, contradicted by their own memos, gets them a cell next to Libby.

    Third, of the memos leaked so far, who is the source? There has been no denial of the authenicity fo the memos that identified the role of the WH in the selection. Who leaked?

    Fourth, if the Subpeonas are served, and enforced, the crew CAN take the fifth. The counter to this is to offer them immunity from prosecution for any crimes that might have been committed, but NOT exempt them from prosecution for perjury if they fail to tell the truth under oath. Why let them off the hook? The truth about the politicization of Justice by the Prez, VP, and Gonzo is WAY more important than prosecuting Meyers & Rove.

    Deleting the internal memos might be construed as obstruction of justice in and of itself regardless of content. Bushies in the WH might be getting nervous about WHO is going to jail, particularly if it’s inside knowledge that Scooter was hung out to spare the VP. (Who wants to be the one to push the ‘delete’ button?)

    The courts might not be sympathetic to Bush & Co. The issue under investigation is the blatent politicization of the office of federal prosecutor throughout the country.If that corruption of JUSTICE (meaning fairness, not the department) is upheld for Republicans, it is also precident which stands for a Democratic president. (be careful what you wish for).

    Even a Bush-leaning judge can see the implications of a ruling, in a political climate where Democrats might damn well control the White House in the near future. Who (outside of the White House) would dare support the precident being set? I expect the Federal Courts & Republicans in Congress to think about this and come down with a serious case of integrity.

  7. To this I say to Washington Dems — don’t you dare let us down on this one.

    Two things:

    1) if Bush is offering to let them speak but not under oath, how can the Supreme Court find for executive privilege? I mean, his deal allows them to talk, only exempting them from any force of law if they lie. Thus, he’s permitting access to ‘privileged communications’ already, negating any legal claim he may have had.

    2) Remember what Cheney told Leahy? I don’t think Leahy will go soft here. He doesn’t have to worry about being re-elected unless he does, so the only one who might be able to undercut him is Reid. But again, why deal when you hold all the cards?

  8. Pingback: Republicans shocked---shocked!---by the Bush Administration « Later On

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