|May 4, 2007|
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“The Justice Department and its officials traditionally have been held to a standard of independence and non-partisanship not expected at other federal agencies.” So said Theodore Olson, President Bush’s lead counsel in Bush v. Gore and former Solicitor General, in 2000. “Whenever that barrier has been breached in the past, whenever politics has permeated the decision-making or the atmosphere at the Department of Justice, as occurred in Watergate, the consequences for the nation have been grave.” The breaches of the Bush administration in this regard are perhaps unparalleled. Among the revelations just this week: that a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have broken the law by using “political affiliation in deciding who to hire as entry-level prosecutors“; that the Justice Department’s hiring process was politicized beyond the attorneys to non-civil-service employees; and that members of Congress are so concerned about partisan prosecutions they have requested that the DOJ’s inspector general provide details about public corruption investigations organized “by the party affiliation of their targets.” Testifying before Congress yesterday, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey lamented this unprecedented politicization. “I don’t know how you would put that genie back in the bottle, if people started to believe we were hiring…for political reasons.”
ONLY LOYAL BUSHIES NEED APPLY: On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that it had launched an internal investigation into whether Monica Goodling — former counsel to Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House — “tried to fill vacancies for career prosecutors at the agency with Republicans loyal to the Bush administration.” If Goodling did seek to determine the political affiliations of job applicants before they were hired as prosecutors, that is “potentially a violation of civil service laws and a break with a tradition of nonpartisanship in the career ranks at the Justice Department.” The accusations against Goodling are “the most serious thing I have heard come up in this entire controversy,” Comey said during yesterday’s hearing. “If that was going on, that strikes at the core of what the Department of Justice is. You just cannot do that. … It deprives the department of its lifeblood, which is the ability to stand up and have juries of all stripes believe what you say and have sheriffs and judges and jailers — the people we deal with — trust the Department of Justice.”
BEYOND THE ATTORNEYS: Reports of Goodling’s explicit politicization of the hiring of prosecutors is even more troubling in light of news this week that Alberto Gonzales “signed a highly confidential order in March 2006 delegating to two of his top aides” — Goodling and former chief of staff Kyle Sampson — “extraordinary authority over the hiring and firing of most non-civil-service employees of the Justice Department.” The memo “suggests that a broad effort was under way by the White House to place politically and ideologically loyal appointees throughout the Justice Department, not just at the U.S.-attorney level,” the National Journal reported, quoting one official who said it was “an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on.” Another Justice Department official said the order “posed a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal-justice system” by potentially politicizing “the hiring of senior officials in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, which oversees all politically sensitive public corruption cases.”
THREATENING PROSECUTORS INTO SILENCE: More details have emerged this week showing that the Justice Department initiated an effort to silence several U.S. attorneys after learning that Congress planned to investigate their firings. Purged U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton told Congress that Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, called him and warned that Alberto Gonzales would publicly disparage his record unless he stayed quiet. “I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the Attorney General’s,” Charlton wrote in answer to questions from the House Judiciary Committee. Fired prosecutor Carol Lam said Elston “wanted her to pretend as though it was her decision to leave office.” John McKay, the fired prosecutor in Seattle, said “Elston’s tone was sinister” and that “he was prepared to threaten me further if he concluded I did not intend to continue to remain silent about my dismissal.” Elston resigned from the Justice Department several weeks ago, but according to a new report published yesterday in National Journal, his calls to the attorneys were ordered by his boss, Paul McNulty, who remains in his position. “At least one member of Congress has questioned whether the phone calls might constitute obstruction of justice.”
GONZALES CONTRADICTED AGAIN: During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, Gonzales maintained that the fired attorneys had performance problems, and that the decision to push them out was “justified and should stand.” But yesterday, Comey “lavished praise” on seven of the eight attorneys whose performance Gonzales disparaged. Comey “described Paul Charlton of Arizona as ‘one of the best,’ said he had a ‘very positive view’ of David Iglesias of New Mexico, and called Daniel Bogden of Las Vegas ‘straight as a Nevada highway and a fired-up guy.’ Of John McKay of Seattle, Comey said: ‘I was inspired by him,” and Carol Lam of San Diego was a “a fine U.S. attorney.”
SCIENCE — THREE CONSERVATIVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SAY THEY DO NOT BELIEVE IN EVOLUTION: During last night’s Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in California, a reader of Politico.com asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for a yes or no answer on whether he believed in evolution. McCain paused for a second before answering “Yes.” Politico’s Jim VandeHei, one of three moderators for the night, then opened up the question to the other nine candidates. Three candidates — Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AK) — raised their hands to say that they do not believe in evolution. While the three politicians’ lack of belief in evolution is shared by a slim majority of Americans, “outside of the precincts of the religious right, though, the scientific consensus about evolution is very close to unanimous.” The National Academy of Sciences, “the nation’s most prestigious scientific organization,” declares evolution “one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have.” President Bush’s scientific adviser John Marburger has called it “the cornerstone of modern biology.” But for years, conservative activists have been seeking to push evolution out of school classrooms in order to replace it with “intelligent design,” a theory that posits extra-natural, non-scientific phenomena as its basis. Despite McCain’s expressed belief in evolution, he appeared recently as the keynote speaker for the most prominent “intelligent design” advocacy group in the country, the Discovery Institute.
MILITARY — MCCAIN CLAIMS ‘OPEN SEXUALITY’ IN MILITARY IS ‘INTOLERABLE RISK’: In a letter released yesterday by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) expressed his support for the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that bans lesbians, gays, and bisexuals from serving openly in the military. McCain said he staunchly opposes openly gay servicemembers, asserting that “open sexuality within military presents an intolerable risk to morale, cohesion and discipline” and national security. McCain’s personal beliefs are antiquated and ill-informed. The overwhelming majority of the military supports equal rights for all servicemembers. Last December, a poll of servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent were “comfortable with lesbians and gays.” A 2004 poll found that a majority of junior enlisted servicemembers believed gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 16 percent in 1992. Furthemore, 55 percent of Americans believe “gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.” Since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was instituted, at least 11,000 servicemembers, hundreds of whom had with key speciality skills such as training in Arabic, have left the military. The military could attract as many as 41,000 new recruits if gays could serve openly.
“Deputy chief of staff Karl Rove participated in a hastily called meeting at the White House two months ago” to coach a top Justice Department official on what he should say to Congress about the prosecutorial purge. Investigators are suggesting that Rove’s attendance at the meeting shows that he may have been involved in an attempt to mislead Congress.
Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, made calls to the purged U.S. attorneys telling them to keep quiet about their dismissals. Elston recently told congressional investigators that those calls were placed at McNulty’s direction after he learned the prosecutors might testify before Congress about their dismissals.
Attacks in Iraq involving lethal armor-piercing weapons known as explosively formed projectiles hit a record high last month. “The number of attacks with the projectiles rose to 65 in April, said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.”
“World Bank directors put the finishing touches on their report into the pay raise for Paul Wolfowitz’s companion as the agency’s president blamed ‘ambiguous rules‘ for his involvement in her promotion.”
Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) announced they will propose legislation that would set an expiration date for the original Iraq war authorization on Oct. 11, 2007, the fifth anniversary of the Iraq resolution vote.
President Bush told congressional leaders that he would veto any legislation that weakened federal policies or laws on abortion. “In a two-page letter sent to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Mr. Bush said his veto threat would apply to any measures that ‘allow taxpayer dollars to be used for the destruction of human life.’”
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne heralds the Center for American Progress’s anti-poverty report issued last week. “The report deserves more attention than it has gotten,” he writes, “not because it breaks new ground but precisely because it brings together some of the most pragmatic ideas on poverty reduction.” Read highlights or the entire report.
Iran’s foreign minister walked out of a dinner of diplomats where he was seated directly across from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, complaining that the female violinist was dressed too revealingly. “I dont know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
And finally: “A high school student got a little taste of what it’s like to be Michigan’s governor — and didn’t find it too appealing.” After receiving a cell phone number that once belonged to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Katie Kamar started getting about six calls a day for Granholm. “This experience hasn’t given me any political aspirations,” she said. Granholm called Kamar to apologize for the calls she was receiving and “thanked her because she heard how courteous the young woman was on the phone.”