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Justice: More than Mistakes

New documents "show an orchestrated effort to fire several U.S. attorneys, counter to Mr. Gonzales's previous assertions that the firings weren't instigated by the White House."

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GOOD NEWS

The Environmental Protection Agency is “at long last” moving forward with stricter national air pollution standards for lawn mowers and other dirty small engines.


STATE WATCH

CALIFORNIA: Lawmakers push to mandate the HPV vaccine for young women.

OKLAHOMA: “The Oklahoma House approved legislation Tuesday to lock in tuition rates for in-state college students.”

TEXAS: Over 20 percent of children in Texas are uninsured, the highest rate in the nation.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have lied under oath.

BUDGET BLOG: Income inequality still rising.

SWAMP LAND: Vice President Dick Cheney is less popular than torture.

THE BLOTTER: “Curveball” revealed.


DAILY GRILL

“Gen. Pace’s principles reflect the strong aversion of our Marines and soldiers to homosexual conduct.”
— Rep. Duncan Hunter, 3/14/07, on Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace’s remarks condoning homosexuality

VERSUS

A Dec. 2006 Zogby International poll found “that 73 percent of military members are comfortable with lesbians and gays.”
— Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 12/19/06


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 March 14, 2007
More than Mistakes
Go Beyond The Headlines
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More than Mistakes

Yesterday, the administration provided Congress with emails between White House aides and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s chief of staff Kyle Sampson, who resigned earlier this week. The documents “show an orchestrated effort to fire several U.S. attorneys, counter to Mr. Gonzales’s previous assertions that the firings weren’t instigated by the White House.” The emails included a list of attorneys Sampson thought the administration “should consider pushing out.” Gonzales said at a press conference yesterday, “I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.” Yet he pawned off responsibility to those working under him, saying, “I have 110,000 working in the department. Obviously, there are going to be decisions made that I’m not aware of all the time.” “I stand by the decision,” Gonzales concluded, “and I think it was the right decision.” Lawmakers are not accepting his non-apology. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) again repeated his calls for Gonzales to step down, citing the multiple ways in which Gonzales has misled the public about the affair. In the end, the affair is about more than just Gonzales’s future. “It’s flatly un-American for the law to be used as a political weapon,” the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin writes. “It erodes public confidence in the justice system, and offends the American commitment to fairness.” The firing of these eight U.S. attorneys “looks like a political purge, pure and simple, and President Bush and his White House are in the thick of it.”

WHITE HOUSE DIRECTLY INVOLVED: “We wish we’d been surprised to learn that the White House was deeply involved in the politically motivated firing of eight United States attorneys,” the New York Times writes this morning, “but the news had the unmistakable whiff of inevitability.” The emails showed an “orchestrated effort” by the Justice Department and the White House to purge attorneys they did not like. “I recommend that the Department of Justice and the Office of the Counsel to the President work together to seek the replacement of a limited number of U.S. Attorneys,” Sampson wrote to former White House counsel Harriet Miers in January 2006. Another email from Sampson to Miers contained a list of “USA [U.S. Attorneys] in the Process of Being Pushed Out.” Indeed, Karl Rove was deeply involved in the installment of his former assistant Tim Griffin as a replacement for Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins. “Tim said he got a call from Bud offering this idea that Tim come on board as a special [assistant U.S. attorney] while Bud finalizes his private sector plans,” Rove deputy Scott Jennings wrote to Sampson. “That would alleviate pressure/implication that Tim forced Bud out. Any thoughts on that?” “I think it’s a great idea,” Sampson responded. In another email, Sampson wrote that “getting [Griffin] appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.” Last month, the Justice Department told Schumer, “The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin.”

THE ‘CLINTON DID IT TOO’ DEFENSE FURTHER WEAKENED:  Last week in Little Rock, Rove claimed the attorney firings were “normal and ordinary” because Clinton did the same thing when he replaced all 93 U.S. Attorneys in 1993.  The difference, as former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta told The Progress Report, is that “the Clinton administration never fired federal prosecutors as pure political retribution.” The Clinton administration, like the H.W. Bush and Reagan administrations before it, asked for all U.S. Attorneys to resign at the beginning of their respective presidential terms. As the Carpetbagger blog reports, replacing all the prosecutors is not “remotely unusual” — “indeed, it’s how the process is designed.” “The Congressional Research Service has confirmed how unprecedented these firings are. … It found that of 486 U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, perhaps no more than three were forced out in similar ways — three in 25 years, compared with seven in recent months.” (Read the full CRS report here.) The new emails show the Justice Department knew what they were doing had never been done before. “In recent memory, during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, Presidents Reagan and Clinton did not seek to remove and replace U.S. Attorneys to serve indefinitely under the holdover provision,” Samson wrote.

GONZALES LIED UNDER OATH: Congress inserted a little-noticed provision into the Patriot Act in 2005 that allowed the President to install “interim” U.S Attorneys for an indefinite period of time, without Senate confirmation. Earlier this year, Gonzales promised the Senate Judiciary Committee he would not use the provision to bypass the Senate. “I am fully committed, as the administration’s fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney,” Gonzales said. Yesterday, Gonzales repeated this claim. “I believe fundamentally in the constitutional role of the Senate in advice and consent with respect to U.S. attorneys,” he said, “and would in no way support an effort to circumvent that constitutional role.” But emails from his chief of staff show the Justice Department had something else in mind. “I strongly recommend that as a matter of administration, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the AG to make USA appointments,” Sampson wrote to Miers. “[By sidestepping the confirmation process] we can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get 1.) our preferred person appointed and 2.) do it far faster and more efficiently at less political costs to the White House.” Sampson continued, “There is some risk that we’ll lose the authority, but if we don’t ever exercise it then what’s the point of having it?” The Washington Post notes that “as early as last August,” Justice officials “discussed bypassing the two Democratic senators in Arkansas, who normally would have had input into the appointment.”

A CONSERVATIVE SPLIT:
Right-wing blogs quickly dismissed the attorney firings as an “alleged scandal” and a “silly little, manufactured kerfluffle.” Right-wing lawmakers played down the incident as something that “has not been handled well.” “It’s going to be one of those cases where they exaggerate it, make it more than it is,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said. Yet other conservatives are hitting Gonzales hard. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was “flabbergasted” by the news that Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogdon had been fired, and said the situation had been “completely mishandled by the U.S. Attorney General.” (Bogdon received a “very positive” rating in his latest performance review.) “A good leader does not just fire someone for no good reason,” Ensign said. Top aides to Bush are reportedly concerned about the controversy’s effect. “I really think there’s a serious estrangement between the White House and Alberto now,” a source told the New York Times. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House is furious at him,” Rich Lowry writes at the conservative blog, The Corner. Bruce Fein, associate Deputy Attorney General for Reagan called Gonzales “an echo chamber of the White House,” adding, “When the president says, ‘Jump,’ he says, ‘How high?’

Under the Radar

MILITARY — JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN FACES BACKLASH AFTER HOMOSEXUALITY REMARK: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace faced a backlash yesterday after saying on Monday that homosexuality is “immoral” and comparable to adultery. In a “rare rebuke of the nation’s top military officer,” Sen. John Warner (R-VA) said he “strongly disagrees” with Pace’s views, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded during a press conference, “We need the most talented people, we need the language skills, we need patriotic Americans who exist across the board in our population. We don’t need moral judgment from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.” Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay man and the first American soldier to be seriously wounded in Iraq, expanded on their comments. “Judging gay men and women in the military for factors unrelated to their fitness to serve undermines our military’s effectiveness,” Alva said. “Certain leaders’ bigotry should not be a rational basis for discrimination. This kind of prejudice is going to continue to have a direct impact on our national security as we allow qualified gay men and women to lose their jobs for no good reason. This policy — and General Pace’s bigotry — is outdated, unnecessary and counter to the same American values our soldiers are giving their lives for each and every day.” Pace issued a “clarifying” statement yesterday, saying, “I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.” But he refused to apologize. 

MEDIA — NEW YORK TIMES BASELESSLY LAMBASTS GORE, CITES DISCREDITED SKEPTICS: Yesterday, the New York Times published an article with the headline “From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype,” which argued that some “scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore’s central points are exaggerated and erroneous.” The reporter, William Broad, wrote that “scientists are sensitive to [the film’s] details and claims” and that Gore has received criticism not “only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists.” But as Media Matters noted, of “the sources cited in the article, at least four have records of misinformation on the issue. Though three of these were identified as skeptics or as having expressed skepticism, in all four cases, their past statements or studies questioning global warming theory have been debunked or discredited by the scientific community — which Broad did not report.” For example, Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Richard Lindzen has repeatedly claimed that “there is no ‘consensus’ on global warming,” even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a group consisting of thousands of world’s foremost climatologists — recently issued a report that represents “history’s most definitive statement of scientific consensus on climate change.” Eighty-two percent of Americans believe global warming exists. The Times article also cited Bjorn Lomborg, the associate professor of statistics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, as someone who has been “long skeptical of catastrophic global warming.” But Broad fails to report that in Jan. 2002, “Scientific American ran a series of articles from four well-known environmental specialists that lambasted Lomborg’s book for ‘egregious distortions,’ ‘elementary blunders of quantitative manipulation and presentation that no self-respecting statistician ought to commit,’ and sections that were ‘poorly researched and…rife with careless mistakes.'”

ECONOMY — RISKY MORTGAGE PRACTICES SEND ECONOMY DOWNWARD: “New data on surging home foreclosures…sent stocks sliding Tuesday, with the Dow Jones industrials plunging more than 240 points in their second-biggest drop of the year.” The data, released in a recent report by the Mortgage Bankers Association, revealed that an increasing number of homeowners were unable to make their mortgage payments in 2006. The number of subprime mortgage borrowers, those with already weak credit histories, who have missed payments, has climbed to a four-year high. Many have fallen prey to “high flying lenders” who have capitalized on selling these risky mortgages to lower-income borrowers. Reacting to the new report, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CN) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said were considering legislation to restrict these risky mortgage lending practices and provide billions of dollars in aid in order to protect the borrowers. “What I’m worried about is we may have as many as two million foreclosures in the next 18 months for mortgages written after 1998. And we may have to do something to protect these homeowners that could otherwise lose everything,” Dodd said. The Center for American Progress detailed some of these disturbing problems in a report titled “The End of the Great American Housing Boom,” noting that increased vulnerability to risky loans is causing these homeowners to pile on debt at an unmanageable rate. “New congressional leaders must act more quickly than their predecessors to regulate lenders who each year push the American dream further out of reach for many Americans.”


Think Fast

The Senate voted 60-38 to approve legislation “to implement many of the remaining reforms suggested by the Sept. 11 commission.” Ten Republicans crossed party lines to approve the measure; Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) skipped the vote to fundraise in California. Bush has threatened to veto the bill “over a provision to expand the labor rights of 45,000 airport screeners.”

78: Percentage of Americans who “do not think the Bush administration has done enough to care for [Iraq war] veterans,” a new CBS/New York Times poll shows. “A majority of Republicans agree with all Americans overall on this issue.”

The New York Times reveals more “shameful details…on the neglectful care extended to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The Army’s inspector general reports that “more than nine out of 10 disabled veterans have been kept waiting for benefit evaluations beyond the 40-day limit set by the Pentagon. Some have waited up to a year and a half for benefits.”

“The federal government is sanctioning agreements that cost whistle-blowers their jobs after they expose safety and security lapses at nuclear facilities and toxic waste sites, Labor Department records show.” 

“The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush’s promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its own expert that the equipment would fail during a storm.”

A flurry of bombings shook Iraq today. Gen. David Petraeus “said car bombs are proving the biggest headache for troops trying to enforce a new security plan.” There has been a “recent rise in violence” in northern Iraq that many blame on insurgents fleeing a security crackdown in the capital.

Detroit auto makers are teaming up with Toyota “to slow gathering momentum in the Democratic Congress to legislate tightened fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks.” The automakers are expected to push for new guidelines that would allow them to “sell more large trucks.”

And finally: “American Pie” star Chris Klein was on Capitol Hill yesterday testifying before the House Appropriations subcommittee on the interior. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) asked him what it’s “really like to work with Reese Witherspoon.” “Amazing,” replied Klein. Today is also his 28th birthday and he plans to stick around D.C. and visit the Smithsonian museums.