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Ethics: Questions for Gonzales

Tomorrow, senators will have their first chance to question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about why the Justice Department fired eight well-respected U.S. attorneys. Gonzales released his opening statement and published an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday, "denying that any mistakes made by his department amounted to willful misconduct."

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GOOD NEWS

Tens of thousands of people gathered for marches in all 50 states this weekend, calling on Congress to cut global warming pollution by 80 percent by 2050. See photos and more here.


STATE WATCH

NEW YORK: City will provide free electronic medical records software to doctors, specifically to benefit poorer patients.

ALASKA: Audit finds “that nearly every other payment to a Medicaid provider contained an error” in Alaska.

MICHIGAN: “Trace amounts of pharmaceutical drugs, including Prozac and birth-control hormones,” are entering the state’s drinking water supply.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: PBS’s Gwen Ifill calls out NBC’s Tim Russert and the New York Times’s David Brooks for their silence on Don Imus.

AMERICA BLOG: 60 Minutes catches Don Imus using the N-word, which he had denied ever doing.

VOLOKH CONSPIRACY: Fox News gives the late Kurt Vonnegut a mean-spirited obituary.

MY DD: On democracy and social networks.


DAILY GRILL

“The day you set timelines and deadlines, you undo the ability to reconcile, you empower our enemy and give them a road map to defeat us.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), 4/15/07, on why setting a timeline is not an effective way to pressure the Iraqi government

VERSUS

“[Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)] said that he and Mr. Graham had warned Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that the patience of the American public was running out. … ‘We’re telling you, there’s been votes in both houses of Congress which portend, unless the American people see measurable success, that we’re going to be out of here,’ Mr. McCain said, recalling the message he had delivered to the Iraqi leader.”
— New York Times, 4/15/07, on how Graham and McCain used the prospect of a timeline to pressure the Iraqi government


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  April 16, 2007
Questions for Gonzales
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Questions for Gonzales

Tomorrow, senators will have their first chance to question Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about why the Justice Department fired eight well-respected U.S. attorneys. Gonzales released his opening statement and published an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday, “denying that any mistakes made by his department amounted to willful misconduct.” “What began as a well-intentioned management effort to identify where, among the 93 U.S. attorneys, changes in leadership might benefit the department, and therefore the American people, has become an unintended public controversy,” Gonzales wrote. But the Attorney General will need more than vague statements of denial on Tuesday in front of the Senate. Sixty-seven percent of the American public now believe “the prosecutors were fired by the Justice Department for political reasons, not on the basis of their performance.” “He’s got a steep hill to climb,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). “He’s going to be successful only if he deals with the facts.”

WHAT IS GONZALES HIDING?: Gonzales’s public statements have been filled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies, leaving doubts about how aboveboard he has been about the prosecutor purge and his ability to manage the Justice Department. On March 12, Gonzales stated, “I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.” But in sworn testimony on March 29, Gonzales’s former chief of staff Kyle Sampson stated, “I don’t think the attorney general’s statement that he was not involved in any discussions of U.S. attorney removals was accurate,” confirming that there were at least five discussions with Gonzales about the issue. In his opening statement, Gonzales writes that suggestions he “intentionally made false statements” about his involvement in the process have been “personally very painful” because he “always sought the truth.” But Gonzales was more than just “aware of the process,” as he states in his testimony for tomorrow. He personally approved the plan to fire a select number of U.S. attorneys, after determining that “replacing all 93 U.S. Attorneys would be disruptive and unwise.” Additionally, in Jan. 2005, while he was still White House counsel, Gonzales discussed the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys with White House adviser Karl Rove. “The attorney general has serious problems. … I have questions about whether he’s going to be able to generate the level of confidence that’s needed,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-NM).

WHY WERE THE U.S. ATTORNEYS FIRED?: On March 7, Gonzales wrote in a USA Today op-ed that the fired prosecutors had lost his “confidence.” He added that they were ousted “for reasons related to policy, priorities and management.” But in private interviews with staff members on the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Michael Battle, former director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, confirmed that he was “not aware of performance problems with respect to several” of the prosecutors when he called to fire them. While under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sampson insisted, “I did not have in mind any replacements for any of the seven who were asked to resign.” But a new e-mail released to the House Judiciary Committee shows that on Jan. 9, 2006 — a year before the prosecutors were fired — Sampson recommended replacements for almost every one of the U.S. attorneys on the administration’s hit list, suggesting that these prosecutors were fired to make way for partisan loyalists. One of the suggested replacements was Rachel Brand, who has been serving in the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) since June 2005. She helped push through the Bush administration’s controversial Supreme Court nominees, and ran the “murder boards” for Alito, Miers, and Roberts. Brand was also a member of the right-wing Federalist Society. At her May 2005 OLP nomination hearing, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said of Brand: “[S]he brings very little depth of experience to a position that is instrumental in setting out DOJ priorities and recommending new judges.”

HOW INVOLVED WAS THE WHITE HOUSE?: As more documents have emerged, it has become clear that the White House was involved in the prosecutor purge. In his opening testimony, Gonzales plans to state, “I also told him [Sampson] to make sure that the White House was kept informed since the U.S. Attorneys are presidential appointees.” But it is still impossible to get a full picture of the White House’s involvement because the it has refused to make top officials available for sworn testimony, and has lost more than five million e-mails generated between March 2003 and Oct. 2005. Even though the Republic National Committee claims it began archiving e-mails in 2004, the Committee said there appear to be no records from White House senior political adviser Karl Rove until 2005, leaving open “the possibility that Rove had personally deleted the missing e-mails.” New reports show that President Bush may have personally approved the firing of U.S. attorney David Iglesias, who received calls from Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) pressuring him to speed up a prosecution of Democrats before the Nov. 2006 election. At some point after the election, Domenici called Rove “and told him he wanted Iglesias out and asked Rove to take his request directly to the president.” Domenici and Bush then had a conversation about Iglesias, which occurred “sometime after the election but before the firings of Iglesias and six other U.S. attorneys were announced on Dec. 7.” “Really good attorney generals go out of their way to keep appearances straight as well as realities,” said Philip Heymann, a Harvard law professor and former deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. “I think something serious has been going on, and I think it’s terribly important that it come out. If politicians were going to the White House and saying they didn’t want this or that case brought, and the White House was letting the U.S. attorneys know by firing them, it would be terribly immoral and destructive.”

Under the Radar

IRAQ — MCCAIN, GRAHAM USED WAR CRITICS’ STRATEGY TO PRESSURE IRAQI GOVERNMENT: Echoing Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) Iraq speech last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) defended the Iraq escalation yesterday morning on Fox News and said that Congress’s efforts to set a withdrawal timeline would do nothing to pressure the Iraqi government to reach a political reconciliation. But as the New York Times revealed, when McCain and Graham sat down for dinner with Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki during their recent visit to Baghdad, they conveniently used those very calls for withdrawal from Congress as a means to “motivate the Maliki government:” “‘So how do you motivate the Maliki government? Well, one of the ways is go sit down and have dinner with him like Lindsey Graham and I did last week,’ [McCain] said. … ‘We’re telling you, there’s been votes in both houses of Congress which portend, unless the American people see measurable success, that we’re going to be out of here,’ Mr. McCain said, recalling the message he had delivered to the Iraqi leader. ‘No matter whether I happen to agree with it or not.'” Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) called out Graham and McCain for their double-talk in harshly attacking war critics publicly and then using the war critics’ strategy behind closed doors. This is not the first time war proponents have noted that calls for decreased troop presence have aided in their strategy with the Iraqi government. In February, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used the “restiveness in Washington” as part of her diplomatic strategy to increase pressure on the Iraqi government. Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he thought the “debate here on the Hill…[has] been helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government.”

ETHICS — LOST RNC E-MAILS COULD MEAN ‘POSSIBLE DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE’ IN ABRAMOFF PROBE: The Wall Street Journal reports today that “the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section is investigating connections between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House, a probe that may be affected by missing White House emails.” Abramoff pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges of fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials. According to lawyers involved in the case, he has been cooperating with federal prosecutors and FBI agents for more than a year regarding contacts between himself and White House officials, including Karl Rove. The Justice Department has made the potentially quid pro quo relationship a focus of their inquiry, though the White House denies that Abramoff ever “obtained official favors in exchange for giving Bush administration officials expensive meals and tickets to sporting events and concerts.” Investigators on Capitol Hill are worried that “the loss of an undetermined number of emails concerning official White House business” on Republican Party e-mail accounts could include the “possible destruction of evidence relevant to the Abramoff-White House inquiry.” While all of Abramoff’s e-mail correspondence with the White House is said to have been preserved and turned over to prosecutors, it is unclear “to what extent Mr. Rove and others in the White House may have exchanged messages among themselves, or with others outside, pertaining to Mr. Abramoff, and whether any of these may have been erased.” In 2006, the House Government Reform Committee revealed that Abramoff and his colleagues had billed their clients for over 400 contacts with White House officials between 2001 and 2004. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has placed the number of missing e-mails at “over five million.”

IRAQ — GENERAL EXPLAINS WHY HE REFUSED ‘WAR CZAR’ POSITION: Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration had plans to “appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” but that officials “had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job.” At least five retired generals have turned down the position. One of those generals, John J. Sheehan, said of his rejection of the job, “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going.” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino denied that the administration has had “trouble attracting very high-caliber talent.” When asked by a reporter, “Is there something broken that you’re trying to repair?” Perino said firmly, “I have not heard anybody say that the system is broken.” But in a Washington Post op-ed today titled “Why I Declined to Serve,” Sheehan reiterated his reservations about the administration’s ability to deal with the “Iraq problem.” He said that “before an implementation manager is brought on board,” the White House needs to address “critical resource issues in a bureaucracy that, to date, has not functioned well.” The general criticized the administration for its “constant refrain” that “we are going to ‘win,’ even as ‘victory’ is not defined or is frequently redefined.” He said further, “What I found in discussions with current and former members of this administration is that there is no agreed-upon strategic view of the Iraq problem or the region” and that “[t]hese huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff.” Sheehan concluded by stating, “We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan — and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq.


Think Fast

“About 70% of primary school students in a Baghdad neighborhood suffer symptoms of trauma-related stress such as bed-wetting or stuttering, according to a survey by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.”

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr pulled his six ministers out of Iraq’s beleaguered coalition government on Monday as he pushed his demand for a rapid withdrawal of US troops from the country.” Prime Minister Maliki’s government is expected to survive.

“Middle-class Americans, listen up: the I.R.S. is much more likely to audit you this year. Those caught cheating can expect to pay about $4,100 more on average in income taxes. … Audits of these middle-class taxpayers rose to nearly 436,000 last year, up from about 147,000 returns in 2000.”

“Americans by a narrow margin agree that Don Imus should have lost his nationally-syndicated radio show last week, but while whites are evenly divided on the issue a sizeable majority of African Americans support the firing, according to a poll released today.”

“Six years after declaring the U.S. killing of Korean War refugees at No Gun Ri was ‘not deliberate,’ the Army has acknowledged it found but did not divulge that a high-level document said the U.S. military had a policy of shooting approaching civilians in South Korea.”

“A defiant Paul D. Wolfowitz said Sunday that he would not resign as president of the World Bank in the face of controversy over his role in securing a State Department job and large raise for his girlfriend, a former communications official at the bank.”

67: Percentage of Americans, “including a narrow majority of Republicans,” who “see political motivations behind last year’s firings of eight chief federal prosecutors.” Americans also believe Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign by a margin of 45 percent to 39 percent.

“Rudy Giuliani will speak tomorrow at the university founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, a major appearance for the former mayor before a conservative crowd.”

And finally: Presidential sympathy for Britney Spears. During a speech yesterday at the Claremont Colleges, President Bill Clinton shifted from globalization to “express sympathy” for Spears, “whose unusual behavior since her separation from husband Kevin Federline culminated in February when she shaved her head bald. ‘A lot of people have trouble when they’re in their 20s and they’re instantly famous, and they have all these pressures going on,’ he said. ‘She should be allowed to go through it by herself.'”