Article

Justice: The Most Loyal ‘Loyal Bushie’

Attorney General Gonzales has steadily politicized the Justice Department, putting partisan administration priorities above the best interests of the American people.

  Features
 

GOOD NEWS

At Saturday’s health care forum, Democratic presidential candidates for the first time “were united…in pledging to provide universal health care to all Americans.”


STATE WATCH

MISSOURI: Gov. Matt Blunt (R) announces that he will cut off all program funding to Planned Parenthood.

TEXAS: Lawmakers this session filed more global warming related bills than at any other time in legislative history.

CIVIL RIGHTS: Six states “consider stiffer new punishments by adding attacks on homeless to state hate crime laws.”


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Presidential candidates should catch up to the American people on universal coverage.

TAYLOR MARSH: Liveblogging from the weekend’s presidential health care forum. (MyDD, Swampland, and Blog for Our Future have more.)

CROOKS AND LIARS: Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol calls on President Bush to replace Alberto Gonzales.

DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD DAILY: Donald Rumsfeld: the newest guest editor of the LA Times?


DAILY GRILL

“I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.”
— Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, 3/12/07, claiming no personal involvement in the U.S. attorney firings

VERSUS

“Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in a November meeting, according to newly released documents.”
— AP, 3/23/07


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  March 26, 2007
The Most Loyal ‘Loyal Bushie’
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The Most Loyal ‘Loyal Bushie’

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not fit to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Since President Bush swore him in on Feb. 3, 2005, Gonzales has steadily politicized the Justice Department, putting partisan administration priorities above the best interests of the American people. His involvement in the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge demonstrated his willingness to abuse his position and exploit the agency, whose mission is to “ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.” He has not only fired qualified U.S. attorneys, but driven away respected civil rights officials and replaced them with political appointees, pushed laws that discriminate against minorities, and overseen the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties. Now, both liberal and conservative lawmakers, pundits, members of the media, and the American public are pushing for Gonzales’s resignation. As the New York Times recently wrote, Gonzales “has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush’s rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them.”

LYING UNDER OATH: On March 12, Gonzales assured the nation that he did not participate in the administration’s dismissal of eight well-respected U.S. attorneys: “I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.” But e-mails released over the weekend show that the attorney general “was told of the dismissal plan on at least two occasions, in 2005 when the plan was devised and again in late 2006 shortly before the firings were carried out.” On Nov. 27, 2006, Gonzales met with at least five top Justice Department officials and developed a “five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors.” This inconsistency is just the latest from the attorney general on the prosecutor purge. On Jan. 18, Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that the Bush administration never intended to take advantage of a Patriot Act provision that allows the President to appoint “interim” U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period of time, without Senate confirmation. But e-mails from Dec. 2006 show that Gonzales’s then-chief of staff Kyle Sampson intended to use this provision to make an end-run around the Senate, writing, “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?” Gonzales also told the Senate, “I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it.” This claim has turned out to be false too, raising the possibility that Gonzales lied under oath. The Justice Department has admitted that it fired the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, Bud Cummins, for political reasons — to install a Karl Rove-protege. Evidence continues to mount that multiple attorneys were pushed out because they weren’t “loyal Bushies.”

SUPPRESSING MINORITY VOTERS: The Justice Department has attempted to cover-up the partisan firings by accusing several of the ousted U.S. attorneys of failing to aggressively pursue charges of voter fraud. Like the administration’s efforts to push out the lead prosecutor in the Jack Abramoff investigation in 2002, the more recent firings suggest that the White House allowed politics to govern the administration of justice. Republican leaders, such as the New Mexico GOP chairman, complained to Karl Rove that the former prosecutor David Iglesias didn’t go after voter fraud aggressively enough. Former U.S. attorney in Washington John McKay upset White House officials and state GOP leaders when he refused to convene a federal grand jury to investigate voter fraud in the hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election, which had been certified in favor of the Democratic candidate. But McKay says his office thoroughly reviewed every allegation of voter fraud in the 2004 election and “concurred with the state trial court judge that there was no evidence — and let me just emphasize, zero evidence — of election voter fraud in that election.” Iglesias, who was called “inattentive” to voter fraud by New Mexico GOP officials, had actually been “heralded for his expertise in that area [voter fraud] by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes.” As the New York Times notes, “In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. By resisting pressure to crack down on ‘fraud,’ the fired United States attorneys actually appear to have been standing up for the integrity of the election system.”

POLITICIZING CIVIL RIGHTS: The push to find voter fraud where there is no evidence is part of Gonzales’s politicization of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Nearly 20 percent of the division’s lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration’s conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas.” A Boston Globe report in June 2006 concluded that Gonzales was “filling the permanent ranks [at the Justice Department] with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights.” Just 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003 have strong civil rights backgrounds, compared to 77 percent in 2001-2002. In 2004, high-ranking Justice political appointees overruled the department’s attorneys and analysts who “recommended rejecting” Georgia’s voter ID law “because it was likely to discriminate against black voters.”

ERODING CIVIL LIBERTIES: Politics has trumped civil liberties during Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department. Gonzales advised the President to shut down “a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration’s warrantless domestic eavesdropping program,” when he “learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation.” Last week, Sharon Y. Eubanks, the “leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies,” said that “Bush loyalists” in Gonzales’s office “repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government’s racketeering case.” “The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said,” Eubanks said. “And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public.” More recently, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine concluded that FBI agents often demanded Americans’ personal data “without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances.” The administration’s abuses of requirements imposed by Congress were “precisely the provisions which President Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a ‘signing statement‘ as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act’s renewal into law.”

Under the Radar

HEALTH CARE — PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES UNITE AROUND NEED FOR UNIVERSAL COVERAGE: On Saturday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Service Employees International Union co-hosted the New Leadership of Health Care presidential forum. The candidates “united in pledging to provide universal health care to all Americans but differed over how quickly the changes could be achieved.” Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said, “We need a movement. We need people to make this the number one voting issue in the ’08 election.” Clinton “assailed the health insurance industry and said she would prohibit insurers from denying coverage or charging much higher premiums to people with medical problems.” Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) “was the only candidate who came to the forum having put forth a specific plan for universal coverage and said it would cost $90 billion to $120 billion a year.” Speaking two days after he announced that his wife’s breast cancer has returned, Edwards said,  “It’s not right that a woman has to go through–or anyone has to go through–this kind of struggle and have to worry about the medicine they need, the health care that they need. No American should have to worry about that.” Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) added, “The most important challenge is to build a political consensus around the need to solve this problem.” Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) “offered a potpourri of ideas to achieve universal coverage, including tax credits to help people buy insurance and an option to let people ages 55 to 64 buy coverage through Medicare.” Explaining how he proposed to provide universal health care, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) said, “If you get rid of tax cuts for top 2% of income earners, end this war in Iraq…we ought to provide the resources to really move in this direction.”  Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) “offered the most sweeping proposal, to create ‘a universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care system providing Medicare for all.'” “Health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said. Another candidate, former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), called for “a universal single-payer plan.” Alternet, The Politico, Blog for Our Future, and MyDD  have round-ups of what each of the candidates said.

ETHICS — GSA ADMINISTRATOR MAY HAVE USED POSITION FOR UNLAWFUL POLITICAL PURPOSES: Earlier this month, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) discovered that the head of the General Services Administration (GSA), Lurita Alexis Doan, may have violated federal law by using her position for “political purposes.” Based on information provided to Congress by witnesses, Doan and White House deputy director of political affairs J. Scott Jennings “joined in a videoconference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates.” During the meeting, Doan asked how the GSA could “help ‘our candidates’ in the next elections” and consequently explored “how to exclude House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from an upcoming courthouse opening in San Francisco and how to include Republican Senator Mel Martinez.” According to Waxman, Doan’s remarks were “confirmed by ‘multiple sources.'” The investigation may also “raise questions” about the role Jennings, whose name has name has also surfaced in reference to the improper dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys. Previously, questions arose surrounding Doan’s attempts to award a $20,000 no-bid GSA contract to a firm headed by Edie Fraser, an individual with whom Doan has had a “long-standing,” undisclosed business relationship. As the Post reports today, Doan had taken the “unusual step of personally signing the no-bid arrangement.” Doan’s inappropriate, and potentially unlawful, actions came just two months after Fraser helped provide Doan the “political support” needed to secure her post at the GSA. In a statement on March 7, Doan dismissed Waxman’s assertions as “scurrilous” personal attacks and said she would be “delighted to have the opportunity to set the record straight” when she appears before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

HUMAN RIGHTS — FIRST MILITARY TRIBUNAL AT GUANTANAMO TO OPEN TODAY: “The newly reconstituted U.S. military trial system takes up its first case today with the arraignment of Australian terrorism suspect David Hicks.” His trial comes after the United States received heavy pressure from the Australian government to bring Hicks to trial, as the case has provoked protests and outrage within the Australian public. Originally detained in 2002 for allegedly fighting on behalf of the Taliban, Hicks has been held without trial for five years in Guantanamo Bay. “Five years of confinement at Guantanamo have proved harsh. Mr Hicks, who is allowed out of his small cell for just two hours a day, has shown signs of depression. He has complained repeatedly about his treatment and his lawyers believe he is emotionally and mentally fragile.” While pressure from human rights groups persists, the White House on Friday maintained that Guantanamo will remain open until at least 2009. “Very few countries want these people back, and, therefore, what you have to do is to work through a procedure where you do, in fact, bring them to justice,” said White House spokesperson Tony Snow. It was recently revealed that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both have urged that the detention facility be shut down but “high-level discussions about closing Guantanamo came to a halt after Mr. Bush rejected the approach” and “Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States.”


Think Fast

Bob Novak writes, “With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress. … The saving grace that some Republicans find in the dispute over U.S. attorneys is that, at least temporarily, it draws attention away from debate over an unpopular war.”

Despite President Bush’s recent change in rhetoric, top White House economic officials stilll don’t consider today’s income inequality “an inherently bad thing. … The administration hasn’t yet offered any sweeping proposals to resist the market forces producing inequality — and probably won’t.”

Five U.S. soldiers were killed Sunday in roadside bombings, four of them in the Diyala province east of the capital — a religiously-mixed area where insurgents fleeing the Baghdad crackdown are believed to have sought refuge. Diyala has seen “fierce fighting in recent months.”

Lawyers for New York City are rejecting calls to release police records of spying activities conducted on progressive activist groups in the lead-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention. The lawyers say “the documents should remain secret because the news media will ‘fixate upon and sensationalize them.’”

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) said last night during an interview on 60 Minutes, “There’s not a single person in America that should vote for me because Elizabeth has cancer… Do not vote for us because you feel some sympathy or compassion for us. That would be an enormous mistake.”

Is CNN building bridges to the longtime Fox News-friendly Bush administration? That’s the message one could take from CNN’s guests at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner at the Washington Hilton this Wednesday. CNN is hosting top Bush adviser Karl Rove, as well as Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

The LA Times writes, “[N]early all the major 2008 presidential candidates — both announced and presumed — are wrestling with the technology that has made such successes of MySpace, Facebook, MeetUp and other social networking sites.” To see which tools the candidates are using and how they stack up to one another, check out NetTrends ‘08.

“The senior American envoy in Iraq, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks last year with men he believed represented major insurgent groups in a drive to bring militant Sunni Arabs into politics,” the New York Times repots. “He is the first American official to publicly acknowledge holding such talks.”

And finally: Get your tickets early. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) “is getting into the documentary filmmaking business and he’s out to tell “the other side of the story.” Santorum said last week “that he is planning two film projects in part to counter what he characterized as the stream of left-wing documentaries coming from Hollywood and independent filmmakers.”