Ethics: Avoiding The Axe

The media have given extensive coverage to the eight U.S. attorneys purged by the Bush administration. But only recently have reporters started looking at the remaining prosecutors -- and what it took for some of them to keep their jobs.



“Google is using its popular online mapping service to call attention to atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan.”


ALABAMA: “A proposal that could raise the minimum wage in Alabama from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour faces a key vote today.”

WASHINGTON: Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) is expected to sign a recently passed domestic-partnership bill for gay and lesbian couples.

MARYLAND: State legislature votes to make Maryland a national leader in solar power.


THINK PROGRESS: White House cites ‘experience from September 11th’ to justify staying in Iraq.

THE PLANK: Wall Street Journal dishonestly criticizes media coverage of chlorine attacks in Iraq to justify war.

TALKING POINTS MEMO: Why it’s unlikely San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was fired for lax immigration enforcement.

THE DUCK OF MINERVA: Counter-terrorism vs. counter-proliferation, and where Bush administration priorities lie.


A conservative blog cites “proof” that “Al Sadr and the mainstream media missed the mark on this one,” by claiming that the “aerial shot from Najaf, Iraq yesterday shows a protest of 5,000-7,000 Al-Sadr devotees.”
— Gateway Pundit blog, 4/10/07, providing a photo of Baghdad, not Najaf


“Draped in Iraqi flags and chanting anti-American slogans, tens of thousands of Iraqis swept into the southern city of Najaf on the call of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to mark the fourth anniversary of the ouster of President Saddam Hussein, calling for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq.”
— Washington Post, 4/9/07


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  April 11, 2007
Avoiding The Axe
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Avoiding The Axe

The media have given extensive coverage to the eight U.S. attorneys purged by the Bush administration. But only recently have reporters started looking at the remaining prosecutors — and what it took for some of them to keep their jobs. Since last March, the Justice Department has named at least nine U.S. attorneys with strong partisan ties to the Bush administration. Most have “few, if any, ties to the communities they’ve been appointed to serve, and some have had little experience as prosecutors.” Career prosecutors have begun to protest the mismanagement and partisanship of some of the remaining Bush appointees, who are causing turmoil across the country. “The terrible truth is, U.S. attorney’s offices are demoralized,” said a former Justice Department lawyer. “The morale throughout the country is as low as it has ever been.” Several of them are also serving double-duty as Justice Department officials in Washington, blurring the line between politics and justice. Ousted U.S. attorney David Iglesias states that one of the “most important tenets” of a U.S. attorney’s office is to never “mix politics with prosecutions.” But unfortunately, statistical evidence shows that many of the remaining U.S. prosecutors “decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.” 

CRONIES CAUSING TURMOIL: Appointing unqualified conservative loyalists can lead to turmoil and rebellion in U.S. attorneys’ offices, as the Bush administration is now learning. Last week, four top staffers to Rachel Paulose, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, voluntarily demoted themselves in protest of Paulose’s “highly dictatorial style” of managing. Paulose also “earned a reputation for quoting Bible verses and dressing down underlings.” One federal attorney said that in Paulose’s office, “[d]isagreement is treated as disloyalty.” According to news reports, the staffers’ dramatic moves were “intended to send a message to Washington — that 33-year-old Paulose is in over her head.” The Bush administration tried to prevent the resignations by taking the unusual step of sending a “top justice official to Minneapolis Thursday to mediate the situation.” That same Justice official — John Kelly, the chief of staff and a deputy director in the U.S. attorney’s executive office in Washington — will now join Paulose in Minnesota as her first assistant. Paulose’s background indicates that the Justice Department handpicked her because of her personal connections, rather than her professional qualifications. “She was a special assistant to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, worked as a senior counsel for deputy attorney general Paul McNulty and is best buds with Monica Goodling — the assistant U.S. Attorney who recently took the Fifth rather than testify before Congress.” She created controversy when her lavish swearing-in ceremony last month included a professional photographer, a color guard, and a choir. “This is another example of the proud corps of U.S. attorneys being deprofessionalized,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) has called on Congress to look into the case, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has written to the Justice Department requesting information that shows “any political pressure by the Justice Department or White House.”

POLITICAL PROSECUTIONS TO ‘ESCAPE THE AXE’: As Congress investigates the politicization of the United States attorney offices by the Bush administration, it should review the extraordinary events that took place recently in a federal courtroom in Wisconsin. “The case involved Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges just as her boss, a Democrat, was fighting off a Republican challenger. It just might shed some light on a question that lurks behind the firing of eight top federal prosecutors: what did the surviving attorneys do to escape the axe?” writes the New York Times. This case indicates that U.S. Attorney in Wisconsin — Steven Biskupic — went after the Bush administration’s political opponents to avoid the Justice Department’s hit list. In 2005, the Wisconsin state Republican party prepared a report for Karl Rove that attacked Biskupic for not going after voter fraud aggressively enough. Biskupic’s decision to then go after Thompson, who was sentenced shortly before the 2006 election, was a boon to the Republican gubernatorial candidate in the 2006 election, who “ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson’s ‘corruption’ to [Democratic Gov. Jim] Doyle.” Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Thompson “was wrongly convicted of making sure a state travel contract went to a firm linked to Gov. Jim Doyle’s re-election campaign and freed her from an Illinois prison.” The federal judges, acting with “unusual speed,” “assailed the government’s case” and said that Biskupic’s evidence was “beyond thin.” Two University of Minnesota professors “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.”

HYPOCRISY AND DOUBLE STANDARDS: Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that Kevin O’Connor, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, will become Gonzales’s new chief of staff. O’Connor will remain Connecticut’s U.S. attorney for four to six months, when “he and the attorney general will determine whether he continues to hold both positions.” The Washington Post reports that at least six other sitting U.S. attorneys “also serve as aides to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales or are assigned other Washington postings, performing tasks that take them away from regular duties in their districts for months or even years at a time.” Acting Associate Attorney General William W. Mercer “has been effectively absent from his job as U.S. attorney in Montana for nearly two years — prompting the chief federal judge in Billings to demand his removal and call Mercer’s office ‘a mess.'” Internal Justice Department documents referred to ousted U.S. attorney David Iglesias as an “absentee landlord,” and officials have justified his firing by charging he spent too much time away from the office. Iglesias did leave the office for 45 days each year. But he did so because he’s a a captain in the Navy Reserve. “It’s a double standard and it’s hypocritical,” Iglesias said. “Not one judge from my district wrote a letter to main Justice saying I was gone too much. … Most of my absences were military-related.” “I can’t think of a time when there’s been this many U.S. attorneys doing double duty at one time,” said Dennis Boyd, executive director of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, which represents current federal prosecutors.

Under the Radar

IRAQ — RED CROSS SAYS SITUATION IN IRAQ IS ‘EVER-WORSENING’: “The situation for civilians in Iraq is ‘ever-worsening,’ even though security in some places has improved as a result of stepped-up efforts by U.S.-led multinational forces,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said today in a report entitled Civilians Without Protection: The Ever-worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq. The Red Cross is one of the few major international humanitarian groups to maintain a presence throughout Iraq as security has deteriorated. The report states that “hospitals were stretched to the limit by daily mass casualties, malnutrition was on the rise and power shortages were becoming more frequent around the country. … Thousands of Iraqis continued to be forced out of their homes owing to military operations, generally poor security and the destruction of houses.” Furthermore, unemployment and hardship levels have been rising as an estimated one-third of the population is now living in poverty. Despite the current U.S. troop escalation, said Pierre Kraehenbuehl of the Red Cross, “We’re certainly not seeing an immediate effect in terms of stabilization for civilians currently. That is not our reading.” The Red Cross report starkly contrasts with rhetoric from members of Congress, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who in a recent visit to Baghdad said that “you and I could walk through those neighborhoods [in Baghdad] today.” Kraehenbuehl “said it was so dangerous for Red Cross workers to move around in Baghdad that ‘we don’t have on a day-to-day basis a full picture of absolutely every situation.'” “The outlook is bleak, particularly in Baghdad and other areas with mixed communities, where the situation is likely to worsen,” the Red Cross added.

ENVIRONMENT — KERRY AND GINGRICH AGREE CLIMATE CHANGE MUST BE ADDRESSED ‘VERY ACTIVELY’: On Tuesday morning, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich engaged in an “environmental version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates,” with a focus on climate change. The two long-time statesmen generally agreed on most of the fundamental points, particularly that “the evidence is sufficient” that climate change is both a real phenomenon and that humans have contributed to it. They differed, however, on how best to address the issue. Kerry, who recently wrote a book on the environment with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, advocated “setting government standards for carbon emissions that free markets then could find ways to meet,” an approach commonly known as cap-and-trade. Gingrich, who has his own upcoming book on the environment, preferred a program of tax incentives aimed at getting “industry and consumers to change to cleaner and renewable technologies.” Asked by Kerry to respond to conservatives who are “resisting the science” of global warming, such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), Gingrich admitted that acknowledging the scientific consensus around global warming “is a very challenging thing to do if you’re a conservative” because they associate environmentalism with “bigger government and higher taxes.” He neglected to mention, however, that there are also lucrative rewards for global warming skeptics who side with the deep pockets of the oil lobby.

Today in a visit to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will make a “major policy address” in which he is expected to claim that “slow but steady progress is being made” in Iraq. Further, he will “call out” those who support strategic redeployment from Iraq as “representing the easy, foolish choice of surrender.” McCain’s speech will likely also include criticism of the mainstream media for “under-reporting the good news from Iraq.” According to early drafts of the speech released to the San Francisco Chronicle, McCain will praise the “measurable progress” made since the beginning of the so-called “surge,” though the Chronicle noted that “McCain’s supporters” insist he is not “declaring ‘mission accomplished.'” The Washington Post reports that McCain’s audience at VMI will likely be “generally receptive” to his message, but not free of critics. One cadet described the war in Iraq as “irresponsible” and everyone interviewed by the Post is “said to know of someone who has been killed or seriously wounded in Iraq.” The Post found that while over 1,000 VMI alumni have served in Iraq and eight have been killed, the cadets are said to focus little on the war: “It’s one of those unsaid subjects. … Everybody knows what’s going on, but it’s not a big topic.” McCain’s address will be aired live at 11:30 A.M. EST on C-SPAN.

Think Fast

Two bombs went off today in Algiers killing 30 people, “the first such attacks in Algeria’s capital in years. … Residents said it was the first time since the 1990s that a powerful bomb targeted the centre of the Mediterranean city, where police had stepped up security following an upsurge in attacks by suspected Islamist insurgents in the countryside.”

U.S. forces in Baghdad “are now planning a massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with newly issued ID cards to enter.”

A new Bloomberg/LA Times poll finds that six in 10 “Americans expect a recession within a year and disapprove of President George W. Bush’s handling of the economy even though the unemployment rate is at a five-year low.”

Despite the fact that Sens. John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton are not taking part in the Fox News presidential debate co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the CBC released a statement last night “announcing that it stands by its plan.” The statement said the caucus “will determine the format and select the panelists for the debates.”

National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has circulated a draft bill that would expand the government’s surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, liberalizing how that law can be used. “The court-approved surveillance could include planting listening devices and hidden cameras, searching luggage and breaking into homes to make copies of computer hard drives.”

“Sunni militants and residents of the Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil fought a fierce daylong battle with the Iraqi Army and American soldiers on Tuesday in what appeared to be the most sustained confrontation since the start of the security plan to calm violence in the capital.” Fighting began after Iraqi soldiers raided a Sunni mosque.

“Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army’s top young officers.”

Yesterday, the Bush administration agreed to allow North Koreans suspected of money laundering and counterfeiting U.S. dollars to get their money back as part of a deal to “ensure that North Korea shuts down its nuclear reactor by the end of the week.” Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton blasted the administration’s decision, saying the retreat is “an image of surrender that is going to be hard to erase.”

“Companies including Procter & Gamble Co. and Staples Inc. are pulling advertisements from Don Imus’ show due to the shock jock’s on-air racial slur about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.”

And finally: Rush Limbaugh is giving away eight, 80-gig video iPods to people who sign up for his e-mail newsletter. Now, “Phillip Torrone of Make magazine and Adafruit Laser Services, a laser-etching etching service for iPods and MacBooks, has kindly offered to etch OxyContin pills for free onto any Rush Limbaugh iPod.” Torrone stated, “I’ll etch pills all over it for free with my laser. We can then auction it off and give the $ to a group Rush [haters].”

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