Article

ETHICS: No Confidence

The nonbinding resolution introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) would express the "sense of the Senate" that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "no longer holds the confidence of the American people."

June 11, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ETHICS

No Confidence

Today, the Senate will hold a very rare no confidence vote. The nonbinding resolution introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) would express the “sense of the Senate” that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “no longer holds the confidence of the American people.” The White House and its conservative allies have written off the vote, with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow stating that it will have “no effect” on President Bush’s confidence in Gonzales. “[T]here’s an attempt to pull this thing like a piece of taffy, seeing if there’s any political advantage in it,” said Snow on Fox News Sunday. “There’s not.” Snow’s comments undermine the seriousness of the no confidence vote and the bipartisan dissatisfaction with Gonzales. As Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) recently noted, this vote is a “historical black mark.”

BUSH’S ‘CONSIGLIERE’: Since Bush swore him in on Feb. 3, 2005, Gonzales has steadily politicized the Justice Department. His involvement in the prosecutor purge demonstrates his willingness to abuse his position and exploit the agency, whose mission is to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” Yesterday, Snow tried to claim, “Nobody found anything untoward.” But throughout his tenure serving Bush, Gonzales has not only fired qualified U.S. attorneys, but driven away respected civil rights officials and replaced them with political appointees, pushed laws that discriminate against minorities, and overseen the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties. As the New York Times recently wrote, Gonzales “has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency.” “Whether it was the torture memo, whether it’s Guantanamo, whether it’s Geneva Convention, whether it’s U.S. Attorneys, whether it’s ‘I don’t know, I can’t recall,’ a department as major as this, I don’t think the American people are well served,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “I’m hopeful this can be worked out. But there comes a time when you have to say what you think, and this is what I think.” According to a recent poll, 63 percent of the American public don’t believe Gonzales is telling the truth about the U.S. attorney dismissals, and a majority believe Gonzales should resign.

RIGHT-WING HYPOCRISY: “The bottom line is the only person who thinks the attorney general should remain attorney general is the president,” notes Schumer. “He’s gotten virtually no support from even Republicans in the Senate, just a handful have supported him, six have called for him to step down, a dozen more have said very negative things about him.” But unfortunately, many of these Senate conservatives who have used criticism of Gonzales as a public relations stunt are now unwilling to oppose the President and support the no confidence vote. On April 19, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) told Gonzales that “the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.” But he has now said that he will oppose today’s no confidence vote and will instead introduce an unrelated pet amendment, “expressing ‘no confidence’ in Congress’ ability to cut wasteful spending or balance the budget.” The five other conservative senators are still “unwilling to tip their hands about how they will vote,” despite previously publicly calling on Gonzales to resign.

ERODING CIVIL RIGHTS: This vote of no confidence comes “after five months of investigation and the disclosure of thousands of pages of internal Justice Department documents” that contradict Gonzales’s explanations for why the U.S. attorneys were dismissed and what role the White House played in the process. But even before the prosecutor purge, Gonzales steadily politicized the Justice Department. The Washington Post reports today that at “least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law.” As the Justice Department spokesman admits, “immigration judges are considered civil service employees who may not be chosen based on political factors.” In the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, just 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003 have strong civil rights backgrounds, compared to 77 percent in 2001-2002. These political appointees have aggressively gone after so-called voter fraud, which is, as the New York Times noted, the Bush administration’s “code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people.” In 2004, high-ranking Justice political appointees overruled the Department’s attorneys and analysts who “recommended rejecting” Georgia’s voter ID law “because it was likely to discriminate against black voters.” More recently, the Bush adminstration has attempted to cover-up the partisan firings by accusing several of the ousted U.S. attorneys of failing to aggressively pursue charges of voter fraud, even though there has been very little evidence of any such fraud.

TWISTING CIVIL LIBERTIES: Last month’s dramatic testimony by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described the shocking lengths that the White House went to in order to gain legal sanction for its warrantless wiretapping program. He revealed that Bush called then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s wife to seek permission for former chief of staff Andrew Card and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to visit a debilitated and hospitalized Ashcroft at his bedside. Testifying before Congress in Jan. 2006, Gonzales claimed, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed.” But Comey said that he and several other top Justice officials threatened a mass resignation over the program in 2004. Last week, Gonzales again contradicted himself, stating that he and Comey were referring to the same program. “Comey’s testimony related to a highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people sometime ago,” he said. If Gonzales is now telling the truth, that can only mean that he lied under oath in 2006.

CRAFTING TORTURE: In 2005, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote that “Gonzales is supposed to be a singular American success story.” In reality, as he noted, Gonzales’s elevation has had unfortunate “Orwellian” consequences for America’s human rights record, paving the way for abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. As White House counsel in 2002, Gonzales prepared a memo for Bush that detainees captured in Afghanistan were not eligible for Geneva Convention protections: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” He also “argued that dropping Geneva would allow the president to ‘preserve his flexibility’ in the war on terror.”

UNDER THE RADAR

CIVIL LIBERTIES — POWELL URGES CLOSURE OF GUANTANAMO: Yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press, Gen. Colin Powell strongly condemned the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, calling it “a major problem for America’s perception” abroad. He said, “If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo — not tomorrow, this afternoon.” He also called for an end to the military commission system the Bush administration has created to try Guantanamo detainees. “I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system,” Powell said. He scoffed at criticism that the detainees would have access to lawyers and the writ of habeas corpus: “So what? Let them. Isn’t that what our system’s all about?” “[E]very morning I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds,” Powell said. “[W]e have shaken the belief that the world had in America’s justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open… We don’t need it, and it’s causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.” Despite such vocal criticisms from Powell, members of both houses of Congress, and the President’s own promises to close the prison, the administration has “transferred three suspected terrorists to the Guantanamo Bay prison since March.” “The three detainees are the first to arrive in Guantanamo Bay since 2004, with the exception of those who were abruptly transferred last fall when Bush closed secret CIA prisons in Europe after their existence became known.” Human Rights Watch noted that such new arrivals and a significant drop in the number of detainees released this year suggests that “Guantanamo is getting its second wind, and becoming a permanent option” for the administration. A lawyer from the Brennan Center for Justice added, “It shows that the administration still believes Guantanamo is a viable way to hold people indefinitely without due process.”

HUMAN RIGHTS — DESPITE CONDEMNING GENOCIDE, U.S. WORKING WITH SUDANESE SPIES IN IRAQ WAR: Despite President Bush’s recent condemnation of the genocide in Darfur and his issuance of economic sanctions on the Sudanese government, the LA Times reports today that “Sudan has secretly worked with the CIA to spy on the insurgency in Iraq.” Claiming Sudan’s spies have often been in a “better position than the CIA” to muster information on al Qaeda and insurgent groups, the Bush administration considers Sudan a “valuable” resource in Iraq “because the Sunni Arab nation is a crossroads for Islamic militants making their way to Iraq and Pakistan.” “Sudanese can go places we don’t go. They’re Arabs. They can wander around,” said a source familiar with the CIA’s program. The cooperation in the Iraq war underlies a dichotomous U.S. foreign policy. Despite listing Sudan as a “state sponsor of terror,’ the U.S. also considers Sudan “a strong partner in the War on Terror.” Additionally, “[t]he U.S.-Sudan relationship goes beyond Iraq. Sudan has helped the United States track the turmoil in Somalia, working to cultivate contacts with the Islamic Courts Union and other militias in an effort to locate al Qaeda suspects hiding there. Sudan also has provided extensive cooperation in counter-terrorism operations, acting on U.S. requests to detain suspects as they pass through Khartoum.” Last month, a bipartisan group of Senators wrote a letter to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell questioning the close association with Sudan. As Bush’s recent sanctions were weak on enforcement, “critics accuse the Bush administration of being soft on Sudan for fear of jeopardizing the counter-terrorism cooperation.”

IMMIGRATION — JUSTICE DEPARTMENT EMPHASIZED POLITICAL TIES OVER EXPERIENCE FOR IMMIGRATION JUDGES: During her testimony to Congress last month, former Justice Department liaison to the White House Monica Goodling admitted that she “considered party affiliation in screening applicants to become immigration judges.” Goodling’s revelation led to the expansion of an internal Justice Department investigation “into whether aides to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales improperly took into account political considerations in hiring employees.” The probe had not previously included an inquiry into the hiring of immigration judges. Today, an analysis by the Washington Post demonstrates just how much “the Bush administration increasingly emphasized partisan political ties over expertise in recent years in selecting the judges who decide the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrants,” despite laws that preclude such considerations. As the New York Times noted last month, “unlike federal judges, immigration judges are civil service employees, to be appointed by the attorney general based on professional qualifications, not their politics.” “At least one-third of the immigration judges appointed by the Justice Department since 2004 have had Republican connections or have been administration insiders, and half lacked experience in immigration law, Justice Department, immigration court and other records show.” Among the recently appointed, politically-connected judges are “a New Jersey election law specialist who represented GOP candidates, a former treasurer of the Louisiana Republican Party, a White House domestic policy adviser and a conservative crusader against pornography.” “Immigration law is very complex,” said Denise Slavin, an immigration judge since 1995 in Miami. “So generally speaking, it’s very good to have someone coming into this area with [an] immigration background. It’s very difficult, for those who don’t, to catch up.”

THINK FAST

American commanders are turning to a strategy “that they acknowledge is fraught with risk: arming Sunni Arab groups that have promised to fight militants linked with Al Qaeda who have been their allies in the past.” Critics say the plan “could amount to the Americans’ arming both sides in a future civil war.”

“The Taliban carried out an apparent attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, firing rockets that missed him by several hundred yards as he spoke to a group of elders. No one was injured.”

“In what may be a sign of things to come, the lawyers for I. Lewis Libby Jr. last month invoked the rarely used courtroom tactic: the ‘bloggers can be mean’ defense.” Libby’s lawyers urged the judge not to publicly release letters written in support of their client, given “the real possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the Internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers.” 

“Acting under pressure from Congress, the CIA has decided to trim its contractor staffing by 10 percent. It is the agency’s first effort since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to curb what critics have decried as the growing privatization of U.S. intelligence work, a circumstance that has sharply boosted some personnel costs.”

“A tribal coalition formed to oppose the extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq, a development that U.S. officials say has reduced violence in Iraq’s troubled Anbar province, is beginning to splinter, according to an Anbar tribal leader and a U.S. military official familiar with tribal politics.”

“Senate Democrats opened the door to reviving the stalled immigration measure on Sunday, calling on Republicans to resolve their internal divisions and produce an agreement on how to move the legislation forward.”

And finally: HHS Secretary requests meeting with dead Senator. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt called Sen. Craig Thomas’s (R-WY) office Thursday afternoon to request a meeting with the late senator. Thomas passed away on Monday after a seven month battle with leukemia. The Washington Post writes, “Needless to say, grief-stricken Thomas staffers were stunned.”

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GOOD NEWS

The anti-poverty campaign of U2 frontman Bono — dubbed ONE Vote ’08 — “is promoting a $30 million effort to pressure Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to make the oft-forgotten issue a priority.”

STATE WATCH

UTAH: African-American activists work to persuade state politicians to recognize “Juneteenth,” commemorating the end of slavery.

COLORADO: Representatives fight federal government’s efforts to expand drilling in the state.

ECONOMY: Tens of states are seeing higher than expected budget surpluses.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: The Assault On Reason, Paris Hilton Edition.

THINK PROGRESS
: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: “You can safely bet” that the list of fired attorneys came from the White House.

TECH INSIDER: Office of Special Counsel report on General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan’s violations delivered to President Bush.

BOB GEIGER: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) offers no confidence in Congress amendment to accompany no confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

DAILY GRILL

“Those disagreements [between former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and the White House] did not — were not about the particular activities that the president has publicly described, that we have termed the Terrorist Surveillance Program.”
— Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury, 6/7/07

VERSUS

“Mr. Comey’s testimony related to a highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people sometime ago.”
— Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 6/5/07