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Ethics: The Wrong Fall Guy

Yesterday, the number two official at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, announced that he would depart later this summer, becoming the "fourth and highest-ranking Justice Department official to resign since the uproar began in Congress over the dismissals of the United States attorneys."

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GOOD NEWS

The number of bald eagles in the United States has hit the highest level since World War II.


STATE WATCH

CONNECTICUT: Eight gay couples take the fight for full marriage rights to the state Supreme Court.

CALIFORNIA: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) slashes state funding for the blind, elderly, and poor.

OKLAHOMA: State insurance commissioner uncovers “widespread misconduct” by a major health insurance provider.

POLITICS: See how much your state pays its governor.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Right-wing pundit Robert Novak: “Poor [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales” is terrible, “but there are a lot of bad people in this administration.”

BOOMAN TRIBUNE: The president of CBS blames Katie Couric’s bad ratings on her being a woman rather than the poor quality of the CBS Evening News.

ELECTION CENTRAL: Fox News segment on illegal voting features B-roll of only African-American voters.

BLOG FOR CLEAN AIR: President Bush’s executive order on greenhouse gases may “sideswipe the greenhouse gas standards developed by the state of California and adopted by 11 other states.”


DAILY GRILL

“The Defense Department began blocking access on its computers to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other Web sites yesterday, severing some of the most popular ties linking U.S. troops in combat areas to their far-flung relatives and friends.”
— Washington Post, 5/15/07

VERSUS

“[T]he military has stepped up its campaign to upload official videos to the Web, including on YouTube, to help portray U.S. combat efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in a favorable light.”
— Post, 5/15/07


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  May 15, 2007
The Wrong Fall Guy
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The Wrong Fall Guy

Yesterday, the number two official at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, announced that he would depart later this summer, becoming the “fourth and highest-ranking Justice Department official to resign since the uproar began in Congress over the dismissals of the United States attorneys.” The media have been speculating about the announcement for some time. The New York Times reported last week that McNulty told associates he was “considering whether to step down soon.” In mid-April, the Wall Street Journal claimed he was looking for a “quiet exit.” In a letter written to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday, McNulty made no mention of the attorney firings as the reason for his departure. “The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career,” he wrote. McNulty, who in the 1990s worked for House Republicans during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, provided a number of statements relating to the attorney firings that fueled the investigation. Privately, he blamed others in the department for “misleading him on the matter” and for keeping him out of the loop on the firings process. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said McNulty is the wrong fall guy. “It seems ironic that Paul McNulty who at least tried to level with the committee goes while Gonzales who stonewalled the committee is still in charge.” As McNulty departs, the nomination process for his successor should provide Congress a renewed opportunity to get answers regarding the White House’s role in the firing of the prosecutors.

MISLED CONGRESS: As Deputy Attorney General, part of McNulty’s job was to oversee the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys. He and Gonzales approved the list of prosecutors to be dismissed last fall. Documents show McNulty also “attended numerous meetings about the prosecutors’ firings – both at the Justice Department and the White House, including at least one that Rove attended.” On Feb. 6, 2007, McNulty told a Senate panel that most of ousted prosecutors were fired for “performance-related” issues. But as the performance records of the fired attorneys became public, it was revealed that nearly all of them held positive job evaluations from the Department of Justice. McNulty appeared to know that not all the firings were based on performance. One fired U.S. attorney — Nevada’s Daniel Bogden — said that in a phone conversation with McNulty prior to his firing, he was told performance “did not enter into the equation” as a reason for his firing. McNulty also told Congress that “the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys in December was made solely by the Justice Department. He was furious, aides said, after learning later that [Gonzales’s chief of staff Kyle] Sampson had been talking to the White House about potential firings since at least January 2005. McNulty acknowledged providing inaccurate information to Congress about the dismissals, “but blamed the errors on inadequate preparation by others more deeply involved in the removals.”

A RIFT WITH GONZALES: In his February testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, McNulty acknowledged during contentious testimony that fired-U.S. attorney Bud Cummins had been let go simply because the administration wanted to name former Republican National Committee operative Timothy Griffin in his place. In that hearing, Schumer asked, “So, in other words, Bud Cummins was fired for no reason. There was no cause?” McNulty answered, “No cause provided in his case, as I am aware of it.” That revelation sparked additional inquiries, as Congress sought to determine whether the firings were based on illegitimate reasons. One day after his testimony, a Justice Department spokesman sent an e-mail to other aides saying Gonzales was “extremely upset” that McNulty acknowledged the true cause for the firing. Since that time, “there has been tension” between backers of McNulty and Gonzales loyalists, who blame McNulty “for accelerating the furor over the ousters by prompting prosecutors to speak openly about their dismissals.” While McNulty’s testimony “infuriated” Gonzales, “eventually, McNulty’s position proved to be correct.”

SCAPEGOAT FOR THE WHITE HOUSE: McNulty was “largely left out of the loop when Gonzales” in early 2005 ordered his chief of staff to identify top prosecutors for dismissal. McNulty has said he was not aware of the plans until last fall, “two months before the firings were executed.” McNulty told one fired attorney that he’d had only “limited input” in the firing process. Former Attorney General William Barr said recently, “This doesn’t seem to be a stink bomb of [McNulty’s] making. … I’d hate to see him made the scapegoat; the main screwups were not his.” Schumer has expressed a similar sentiment, stating a few weeks ago, “No one has said McNulty was at the center of this.” Commenting on McNulty’s dismissal, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) said yesterday that key questions remain unanswered. “We continue to wait for answers: Who developed the list of the U.S. attorneys to be fired? How did U.S. attorneys end up on that list? What happened to the public corruption cases those U.S. attorneys were investigating at the time of their departures?” And as Congress seeks the answers to those questions, it will undoubtedly call upon Paul McNulty to help provide answers. “As we press on with our investigation, we look forward to his cooperation,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI).

Under the Radar

CONGRESS — TENET AGREES TO COOPERATE WITH CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION INTO NIGER FRAUD: Former CIA Director George Tenet has agreed to cooperate with a House investigation into the White House’s fraudulent pre-war claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapon. That assertion — the infamous “16 words” in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address — was a critical part of the administration’s case for war. In a new statement, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced that Tenet will provide a deposition on the issue and testify before the committee on June 19: “Mr. Tenet has agreed to cooperate with the Committee’s inquiry into whether the White House overstated Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium from Africa and its nuclear threat in making the case for war. Mr. Tenet has agreed to provide a deposition to the Committee prior to the hearing.” Under Tenet, the CIA had debunked the claims about uranium and Niger months before the 2003 State of the Union. The CIA “even demanded it be taken out of two previous presidential speeches.” Tenet now says the 16 words made it into the State of the Union because he delegated the review of that speech to his deputies. Tenet has been far more willing to discuss the Niger claims than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Waxman has been forced to subpoena Rice to appear at the hearing along with Tenet, and thus far Rice maintains she will not comply, claiming she has already answered Waxman’s questions “in full.” Also last month, the State Department refused to allow intelligence analyst Simon Dodge to be interviewed by House investigators; weeks before the 2003 State of the Union, Dodge examined the documents supposedly from Niger and determined they were “probably a hoax” and “clearly a forgery.”

CONGRESS — ALASKA CONGRESSMEN ATTEMPT TO EARMARK ‘BRIDGE TO NOWHERE’ FOR PERSONAL PROFITEERING: In 2005, Congress defeated the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark spearheaded by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), which would have spent $200 million to connect mainland Alaska to an island home to 50 people. Roll Call reported yesterday that members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are persisting in making another bridge in the Alaskan tundra. Their pet project this time is for a bridge in the sparsely populated Knik Arm region, and the earmark “could mean a significant windfall for a number of people close to the Congressional delegation…some of whom purchased land in the area.” Both Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) have several relatives and former aides who own land or stock in companies with property in the Knik Arm region. Most notorious, however, is Stevens, whose underlings stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from the bridge, including his former chief of staff and at least two former aides, each of whom owns tens of acres of land in the area. Sen. Stevens’s cronyism here is a continuation of years of abuse of power for personal gain. His son, Ben Stevens has received millions of dollars in consulting fees from several of Sen. Stevens’ projects (see the list HERE). For example, Sen. Stevens secured more than $10 million in federal aid to put the 2001 Special Olympics Winter Games in Anchorage. Ben Stevens ran those Olympics and received over $700,000 in salary for doing so. Sen. Stevens also helped settle a disputed contract favorable to VECO, an Alaskan oil company which recently pleaded guilty to bribing at least four Alaskan officials, including paying over $200,000 in bribes to Ben Stevens.

POVERTY — GIVING PRISONERS A SECOND CHANCE: With more than two million people in prison, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Ninety-five percent of the men and women in prison will eventually return to their communities. This means that over 600,000 prisoners will be released to their communities each year. “Most are low-income minority men, and most return to high poverty communities. They reenter their communities with significant barriers to successful returns,” such as ill health, dependence on drugs, poor education, and a lack of vocational training. Presently, two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, and about half return to prison. In the Center for American Progress’s Task Force on Poverty’s recently released report, From Poverty to Prosperity, which lays out a national strategy to cut poverty in half, one of the conclusions was that “our nation could reduce crime, strengthen communities, and reduce poverty through a dedicated effort to help exiting prisoners find employment and reintegrate into their communities.” While much of the work must be done in the states, on the federal level, “a helpful first step would be passing the Second Chance Act of 2007 (H.R. 1593), which would provide demonstration and mentoring grants to states and nonprofits, create a National Offender Reentry Resource Center, establish a federal reentry Task Force, and enhance many currents reentry programs.” Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who introduced the bill in the House, recently said of the Second Chance Act: “It will reduce recidivism. It will help reunite families and protect communities. It will enhance public safety and save taxpayer dollars. It is the humane thing to do. It is the responsible thing to do. It is the right thing to do.” Contact your members of Congress today and tell them to pass the Second Chance Act.


Think Fast

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday defended the decision to place scandal-plagued Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) on the Appropriations Committee. “Where do you draw the line?” Boehner asked. “We do not want a blanket allegation to rise to the level of credibility where we are basing our decisions on it. It’s unfair.”

“The military system of determining whether detainees are properly held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, includes an unusual practice: If Pentagon officials disagree with the result of a hearing, they order a second one, or even a third, until they approve of the finding,” a practice that critics label “do-overs.”

“A United Nations human rights official said he was barred from visiting an immigration detention center in New Jersey yesterday. It was the second time he was denied access to an American immigration jail on a weeklong monitoring tour.”

U.S. forces swept up 2,000 prisoners a month in March and April, almost twice the average from the second half of last year.” As of the end of March, 20,000 people were crammed into overcrowded Iraqi-run prisons, detention camps, and police stations, where detainees are often tortured.

“U.S. Embassy employees in Iraq are growing increasingly angry over what they say are inadequate security precautions in the heavily fortified Green Zone.” Most staff members “still sleep in trailers that one described as ‘tin cans’ that offer virtually no protection from rocket and mortar fire. The government has refused to harden the roofs because of the cost, one employee said.” 

Stretched thin by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the “number of senior captains, or captains closest to promotion, stands at just 51 percent of the Army’s requirements,” according to an Army memo.

Shirlington Limousine, the transportation service linked to the Duke Cunningham scandal, “was not qualified to receive” its Homeland Security Department contract and “instead was given an unfair advantage over its competitors by DHS officials,” the inspector general has found.

Debate over Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank has “ruptured the bank’s governance system so deeply that finance officials in many countries worry that it may be irreparable whatever happens to Mr. Wolfowitz. If he refuses to resign, many said he might find it hard to travel or issue directives. If he leaves, a fight over choosing his successor is sure to erupt.”

Americans get the poorest health care and yet pay the most compared to five other rich countries,” according to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund.

And finally: “It seems the Capitol is now manifestly beyond salvation.The Center for Christian Statesmanship, launched in 1995 to convert members of Congress and their aides to evangelical Christianity, has shuttered its operations in Washington.” CQ suggests “the group brought in fewer converts than hungry staffers. Its best-attended Hill function had been its monthly ‘Politics and Principle’ luncheons, which supplemented evangelical appeals with complimentary sandwiches.”