Under the Radar
ADMINISTRATION — NO PRECEDENT FOR ‘EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE’ IN PROSECUTOR PURGE: Yesterday, President Bush announced that he would offer “key members” of his staff, including Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, to be “interviewed” by “relevant members” of congressional committees about events surrounding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. These interviews would be conducted off the record “with no transcript, with no oath.” The Senate rejected his offer. The prohibition of testimony from White House aides and the promised opposition to any congressional subpoenas is, according to Bush, an attempt to protect his executive privilege to receive “candid” and confidential advice from White House staffers. But as Salon’s Glen Greenwald notes, the protections from subpoenas granted by executive privilege have been ruled by the Supreme Court (in U.S. v. Nixon – 1974) to be relevant only when there exists a need “to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets.” Similar reasoning was used by “District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson in her decision denying Clinton’s attempt to rely on this privilege to resist Ken Starr’s subpoenas.” The Congressional Research Service has identified 31 individuals from the Clinton administration who testified — under oath — on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, yesterday, White House Press Secretary Snow told the National Review’s Byron York that “we feel pretty comfortable with the constitutional argument” of executive privilege. But in a March 1998 op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Snow attacked President Clinton for trying to “to shield virtually any communications that take place within the White House. … Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.”
ETHICS — JUSTICE DEPARTMENT USED MATERNITY LEAVE AS EXCUSE TO APPOINT GRIFFIN: In June 2006, the Justice Department fired Bud Cummins as U.S. attorney in Arkansas and replaced him with Karl Rove-protege Tim Griffin. Traditionally, the Justice Department works with the state’s senators to come up with a replacement U.S. attorney. But in a Feb. 6 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) confirmed that the Bush administration ignored his objections to Griffin. In a Dec. 26, 2006 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse explained that they “temporarily” appointed Griffin, rather than Bud Cummins’s deputy Jane Duke, because Duke was on maternity leave. On Jan. 11, Pryor wrote a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and took issue with the Justice Department’s excuse: “I am astonished that the reason given by your office for the interim appointment is that the First Assistant U.S. Attorney is on maternity leave and therefore would not be able to perform the responsibilities of the appointment. … This concerns me on several levels, but most importantly it uses pregnancy and motherhood as conditions that deny an appointment.” The Pregnancy Discrimination Act states that employers, including the federal government, cannot discriminate on the “basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Therefore, based on Roehrkasse’s explanation, the Justice Department is either 1) guilty of sexual discrimination or 2) guilty of using sexual discrimination as an excuse for appointing a “loyal Bushie” as a federal prosecutor.
IRAQ — IRAQI ARMY FILLED WITH NONEXISTENT ‘GHOST SOLDIERS’: Faced with a civil war and mounting insurgency, U.S. military and government officials have frequently described the transfer of power from U.S. forces to the Iraq army as vital to winning the counterinsurgency effort. But “more than three years and $15 billion into the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraqi forces, ‘ghost soldiers‘ still help fill Iraq’s army ranks and no one knows how many trained policemen remain on the job, the Pentagon and U.S. government investigators report.” These ghost soldiers are “soldiers and policemen who exist only on paper — a fraudulent device by which units can receive additional per capita resources, and corrupt officials can collect nonexistent recruits pay.” In its latest report, the Pentagon claimed that 328,700 Iraqi security force personnel had been trained, double the number of two years ago. But it also added that “the actual number of present-for-duty soldiers is about one-half to two-thirds of the total due to scheduled leave, absence without leave, and attrition.” Because of the high rate of attrition, local authorities have hastily replaced these soldiers with men who have not even gone through U.S.-overseen training. As a result of these problems, the U.S. Baghdad command estimates less than 70 percent of Interior Ministry personnel are present for duty on an average day. The House continues to debate an $124 billion appropriations bill this week which would set tighter benchmarks for handing over authority to the Iraqi army. If such benchmarks are not met, then the legislation calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal by next fall. President Bush has declared he would veto the House proposal if it passes.