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Ethics: “I Don’t Recall”

What emerged from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday was a picture of an inept manager who was, at best, unaware of major personnel decisions being made within his department, and at worst, complicit in the Bush administration's plan to politicize the ranks of the U.S. attorneys.

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GOOD NEWS

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) has decided to “sign legislation establishing civil unions to prevent and end discrimination against gays in New Hampshire,” making his state the fourth “to adopt civil unions and the first to do so without first having a court fight over denying gays the right to marry.”


STATE WATCH

MICHIGAN: State legislators introduce bill to lift stem cell research restrictions in Michigan.

NEW YORK: Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) “outlined a broad plan to reduce energy consumption 15 percent statewide by 2015.”

IMMIGRATION: The number of bills circulating through states concerning undocumented immigration has doubled since last year.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Iraqis “curse” U.S. security plan following deadliest day since escalation began.

TPMMUCKRAKER: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: Criticism of me damages Department of Justice employees.

FP PASSPORT: “Now can we pay attention to Kirkuk? Please?”

CAMPUS PROGRESS: “MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson: Bad at this whole ‘factual reporting’ thing.”


DAILY GRILL

“[T]here was a change made there that was not connected to, as was said, the performance of the incumbent, but more related to the opportunity to provide a fresh start with a new person in that position.”
— Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, 2/6/07, on why the Justice Department fired U.S. attorney Bud Cummins

VERSUS

“A month later, … a spokesman for Gonzales, said McNulty’s testimony had ‘upset’ the attorney general, who ‘believed Bud Cummins’s removal involved performance considerations.'”
— Washington Post, 4/20/07

VERSUS

GONZALES: Mr. Cummins was asked to resign because there was another well-qualified individual that the White House wanted to put in place there, that we supported, because he was well-qualified. …
GRAHAM: And it’s no problem with Mr. Cummins performance, it was just a preference for somebody new in the second term.
GONZALES: I would say that’s a fair statement.
— Gonzales responding to Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), 4/20/07


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  April 20, 2007
“I Don’t Recall”
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“I Don’t Recall”

What emerged from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday was a picture of an inept manager who was, at best, unaware of major personnel decisions being made within his department, and at worst, complicit in the Bush administration’s plan to politicize the ranks of the U.S. attorneys. He uttered the phrase “‘I don’t recall’ and its variants (‘I have no recollection,’ ‘I have no memory’) 64 times,” claiming, “I don’t have anything to hide.” Yet at the same time, Gonzales asked the Senate to trust him: “I believe I can continue to be effective as the attorney general of the United States.” Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) wondered, “Since you apparently knew very little about the performance about the replaced United States attorneys, how can you testify that the judgment ought to stand?” After a full day of testimony, what is clear is that the Attorney General has repeatedly lied to the American public. Gonzales yesterday promised, “The moment I believe I can no longer be effective I will resign as attorney general.” President Bill Clinton told Larry King last night on CNN, “The best thing he could do for this president that he served so loyally is to step aside.”

LIES AND INCONSISTENCIES: Throughout this scandal, Gonzales has simultaneously said that he is “ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department,” while at the same time shirking responsibility: “I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.” Yet documents show that Gonzales was involved and approved plans to fire several of the prosecutors in an hour-long meeting on Nov. 27. Earlier in the month, Gonzales former chief of staff Kyle Sampson told congressional investigators that the Attorney General was “inaccurate,” or “at least not complete” in asserting that he had no role in the prosecutor purge deliberations. Yesterday, Gonzales finally conceded the obvious — that he was involved — but still failed to fully explain why at least eight highly-respected U.S. attorneys were fired. Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), he also admitted that he “made these decisions without ever looking at the performance reports” of the U.S. attorneys. He said that at the time he approved the firings, he didn’t even know why two of the prosecutors — Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Margaret Chiara of Michigan — were on the list. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Gonzales’s explanations “a stretch,” adding that he thought the prosecutors were fired because of personality conflicts and “made up reasons.”

RUNNING OUT THE CLOCK: Much of this controversy centers around whether the Bush administration intended to install conservative loyalists as U.S. attorneys, taking advantage of a little-noticed provision slipped into the Patriot Act in 2005, which allows the Attorney General to name “interim” prosecutors who can serve indefinitely without Senate approval. On Jan. 18, Gonzales assured the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I am fully committed…to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney.” This statement has turned out to be untrue. In early December, Gonzales allowed Sampson to go forward with a plan to avoid Senate input on the nomination of Karl Rove-protege Tim Griffin as U.S. attorney in Arkansas. But then in a meeting on Dec. 15, Gonzales promised Sen. Mark Pryor (R-AR) that he would “look for someone else” instead of Griffin, in response to Pryor’s objections. Despite this promise, Sampson then sent out an e-mail four days later to carry out the Griffin plan” “We should gum this to death. [A]sk the senators to give Tim a chance…then we can tell them we’ll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock.” Pryor said “he still believes the attorney general lied to him by stating that he intended to seek Senate confirmation for Griffin.”

BLAMING CAREER PROFESSIONALS: “The Department of Justice should never be reduced to another political arm of the White House — this White House or any White House,” Leahy said yesterday. Yet under Gonzales, this characterization is exactly what the Justice Department has become. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) yesterday noted that during the Clinton administration, there were just four people — the president, the vice president, the deputy White House counsel and the White House counsel — who could participate in these kind of discussions with the Justice Department “regarding pending criminal investigations and criminal cases.” But under the Bush administration, there are 417 White House officials eligible to have such discussions, blurring the line between justice and politics. Gonzales tried to push some of the blame on to the career professionals in the Justice Department, stating, “And all the credit, everything that we do, the credit goes to them. And so, when there are attacks against the department, you’re attacking the career professionals.” The career professionals have nothing to do with the scandals Gonzales and the political appointees at the Justice Department have created. In 2005, Bush’s political appointees reversed the career staff’s recommendations to challenge a Georgia photo-ID law that a federal judge later likened to a “modern-day poll tax.” More recently, a “Group of Concerned Justice Department Employees” wrote an anonymous letter  revealing that “the non-political ranks of Justice employees…are consistently and methodically being eroded by partisan politics.”

VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE: After the hearing yesterday, the White House issued a statement saying that the President was “pleased with the Attorney General’s testimony.” He was the only one who came away pleased though. “[S]everal very loyal Republicans made it clear to CNN that they were really dripping with disappointment.” Two senior White House aides also characterized Gonzales’s testimony to CNN as “going down in flames. … One prominent Republican describing watching his testimony as ‘clubbing a baby seal.'” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) called on Gonzales to resign: “I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.” Sixty-three percent of the American public believes Gonzales is lying about his role in the prosecutor purge and 52 percent believe he needs to step down.

Under the Radar

IRAQ — ROVE: ‘I WISH THE IRAQ WAR NEVER EXISTED’; IT WAS ‘OSAMA BIN LADEN’S IDEA’: On a visit to Ohio yesterday, White House senior political adviser Karl Rove claimed he never wanted the war in Iraq. “I wish the war were over,” Rove said. “I wish the war never existed. … History has given us a challenge.” History shows Rove was exceptionally eager in 2002 for the upcoming Iraq war, anxious to reap what he viewed would be the political gains for conservatives leading another military conflict. In Jan. 2002, Rove told conservatives that “Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe. … We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America’s military might and thereby protecting America.” In June 2002, Rove was giving PowerPoint presentations candidates advising them to “focus on the war” in their fall campaigns. In Aug. 2002, Rove was chairing the White House Iraq Group, whose mission was to “develop a strategy for publicizing the White House’s assertion that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States.” In Sept. 2002, Time reported that when friends asked whether President Bush planned to invade Iraq, Rove was known to reply, “Let me put it this way: If you want to see Baghdad, you’d better visit soon.” Former White House counterterrorism director Richard Clarke later wrote that the Iraq “crisis was manufactured, and Bush political adviser Karl Rove was telling Republicans to ‘run on the war.'” Rove also claimed yesterday in a question-and answer period after his speech that it was Osama bin Laden, not Bush, who decided to launch the Iraq war: “I think it was Osama bin Laden’s [idea].” Rove’s comments are part of re-emerging tactic by the Bush administration to associate the ongoing war in Iraq with 9/11. Rove and company appear to have forgotten that Bush said 9/11 had “nothing” to do with the war in Iraq.

ETHICS — FBI RAIDS BUSINESS TIED TO ARIZONA CONGRESSMAN RICK RENZI: Late Thursday night, Roll Call reported that the FBI had raided a family business tied to Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) earlier in the day. “Today, the FBI came to my family’s business to obtain documents related to their investigation,” Renzi said in a statement. “I view these actions as the first step in bringing out the truth. Until this matter is resolved, I will take a leave of absence from the House Intelligence Committee. I intend to fully cooperate with this investigation.” The business that was targeted is the Patriot Insurance Agency, which is located in Sonoita, Arizona. Though details of the inquiries are sparse, the Justice Department “has been running a two-track investigation into Renzi regarding a land deal, as well as a piece of legislation he helped steer that may have improperly benefited a major campaign contributor.” The exact land deal and legislation in question have not been named, but Renzi has faced previous scrutiny for legislation he sponsored “that dealt hundreds of millions of dollars to his father’s business while, according to environmentalists, devastating the San Pedro River.” Renzi’s promotion of an Oct. 2005 land deal that netted former business partner James Sandlin $4.5 million has also raised questions. The Arizona investigations into Renzi were spearheaded by former U.S. attorney Paul Charlton, who was among the eight U.S. attorneys forced to resign last year. Some critics have suggested that the Renzi investigation may have been a factor in Charlton’s dismissal, though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales denied the charge in testimony before Congress yesterday.

MILITARY — PENTAGON CONFIRMS BUSH IS HYPING FALSE IRAQ DEADLINE: Yesterday, the AP put out a report confirming that President Bush has been hyping a false Iraq spending deadline. For weeks, Bush has been trying to force Congress to abandon its support for an Iraq withdrawal timeline by claiming that a “clean” Iraq spending bill must be signed by mid-April or U.S. troops will suffer. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report showing that the Army actually has enough money in its existing budget to operate through June. The Bush administration and its conservative allies disputed the CRS’s findings. But now, the CRS numbers have been confirmed by the Pentagon. “The Pentagon says it has enough money to pay for the Iraq war through June, despite warnings from the White House that troops are being harmed by Congress’ failure to quickly deliver more funds,” according to the AP’s report. “The Army is taking a series of  ‘prudent measures’ aimed at making sure delays in the bill financing the war do not harm troop readiness, according to instructions sent to Army commanders and budget officials April 14.”


Think Fast

“In more than five hours of often-combative testimony” yesterday, Alberto Gonzales, “grim-faced, clasping his hands and hunched over, struggled to offer a coherent explanation for the dismissals” of eight U.S. Attorneys. He “appeared frustrated, weary and at times combative,” and “angered” committee members “as he invoked a faulty memory more than 50 times.”

The U.S. military is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall in Baghdad “to cut off one of the capital’s most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further Balkanization of Iraq’s most populous and violent city.”

“A suicide bomber breached Baghdad’s heavy security presence again Thursday, killing a dozen people in a mostly Shiite district a day after more than 230 people died in one of the Iraq war’s deadliest episodes of violence.”

A new national poll shows “a third of Americans say global warming ranks as the world’s single largest environmental problem, double the number who gave it top ranking last year.” Seven in 10 Americans want federal action on global warming, and about half of those surveyed think the government should do “much more” than it is doing now.

“A bill giving Washington, D.C. its first full seat in Congress cleared the House yesterday, marking the city’s biggest legislative victory in its quest for voting rights in nearly three decades.” But the bill doesn’t appear to have enough votes to break a Senate filibuster, and President Bush has vowed a veto.

“The number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans visiting Department of Veterans Affairs walk-in clinics has more than doubled since 2004, while the clinics’ staff has increased by less than 10%, agency records show.”

“In an early morning statement Friday, the World Bank’s board said that Thursday’s meeting to discuss issues raised by President Paul Wolfowitz’s handling of the terms of his girlfriend’s employment…ended without a final resolution. The board asked an ad hoc committee for ‘early recommendations‘ on what action, if any, to take.”

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), a strong proponent of gun-rights who once served on the National Rifle Association’s board of directors, is leading talks with the NRA in hopes of resurrecting a bill to “bolster the national background-check system and potentially block gun purchases by the mentally ill.”

And finally: “Oklahoma already has the strawberry as its official fruit, so the state Senate cleared the way Tuesday to declare the watermelon the state vegetable.” The Senate debated over whether the watermelon is a fruit or vegetable. “I guess it can be both,” State Sen. Don Barrington (R) conceded.