“The first affordable combination anti-malarial drug tailored for children will soon be available across Africa, potentially saving millions of lives,” thanks to a $21 million, two-year joint effort by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative and pharmaceutical manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis.
OKLAHOMA: State house committee approves legislation to stop public benefits for undocumented immigrants.
SOUTH CAROLINA: State may reject the national Real ID program.
CIVIL RIGHTS: Anti-gay rights group is planning a “fifty-state strategy” to pass bans on same-sex marriage.
WAR ROOM: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says that U.S. troops can skip counterinsurgency training in California and get it in the deserts of Iraq.
CREW BLOG: Misleading anti-abortion ads running on the Washington, D.C. metro.
FOIA BLOG: Coalition of Journalists for Open Government’s “scathing” new report on the government’s record backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests.
“I’m grateful to reporters for bringing this problem to our attention, but very disappointed we did not identify it ourselves.”
— Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 2/23/07, on poor living conditions at Walter Reed
“Top officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, including the Army’s surgeon general, have heard complaints about outpatient neglect from family members, veterans groups and members of Congress for more than three years.”
— Washington Post, 3/1/07
Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.
Pushing Out Justice
One of the most “important tenets” of a U.S. attorney’s office is to never “mix politics with prosecutions.” But it appears that the Justice Department has done just that, recently firing eight well-respected U.S. attorneys and replacing them with partisan Bush administration loyalists. Many of these ousted prosecutors were working on high-profile corruption cases and received high marks on their job evaluations by the Justice Department. All appear to be “victim[s] of strong-arm political pressure from Washington,” pushed out to make room for political cronies. At each turn, Justice Department officials have made up different excuses for the firings, from insisting that the prosecutors stepped down on their own to claiming that they were fired for “performance-related” reasons. None of these charges have stood up. A little-noticed provision in the Patriot Act allows these “interim” Bush appointees to serve indefinitely, without Senate approval. Conservative senators are now blocking a repeal of this measure. “I think Americans need to have full confidence that their federal prosecutors are above politics,” said one of the ousted prosecutors, David Iglesias, highlighting why it is necessary for all of these Bush appointees to be held up to public scrutiny.
CLAIM #1 — THEY WERE BAD AT THEIR JOBS: On Feb. 6, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that six U.S. attorneys were fired in Dec. 2006 for “performance-related” reasons. But in reality, these prosecutors were highly respected in their fields and received praise in job evaluations from the Justice Department shortly before they were told to resign. Similarly, at least four of the fired prosecutors said that Michael Battle, head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, never cited performance issues — or gave any reason at all — as the reason for their forced resignations. John McKay, the former U.S. attorney in Washington, recounted his conversation with Battle: “When I was composed enough to ask him why [I was being fired], he told me he couldn’t answer any of my questions. … He said nothing about performance issues or management or anything else.” In fact, five of these prosecutors had positive job reviews. Just months before firing him, Battle sent McKay a “congratulatory letter for the laudatory report issued by the Justice Department audit team.” Daniel Bogden, the former U.S. attorney in Nevada, “was described in his last job performance evaluation in 2003 as being a ‘capable’ leader who was highly regarded by the federal judiciary and investigators.” Former U.S. attorney in California Carol Lam was “‘well respected‘ by law enforcement officials, judges and her staff” in her 2005 evaluation. Paul Charlton, former U.S. attorney in Arizona, was “described as being respected by his staff, federal investigators, judges and Native American leaders for ‘his integrity, professionalism and competence.'” A Justice Department official also confirmed that Iglesias “received a positive evaluation last year.”
CLAIM #2 — THEY WEREN’T TEAM PLAYERS: After media reports began revealing that the U.S. attorneys were all given positive job evaluations, the Justice Department changed its excuse for the forced resignations, claiming that the attorneys were rogue prosecutors. “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities,” said one official. But as the New York Times noted, “each case report included a statement that each of the ousted prosecutors had established strategic goals set by the Justice Department in high priority areas like counterterrorism, narcotics and gun violence.” Bogden said that his office had “done more gun cases, drug cases, gang cases, child exploitation cases, identity theft cases than any office has done in any five year period of time.” A Justice Department review of Iglesias’s job performance, dated Nov. 2005, concluded that he had a strategic plan that “complied with the department’s priorities.”
CLAIM #3 — THERE’S NO COVER-UP: What the ousted prosecutors all have in common — in addition to strong job evaluations — is that they were “overseeing significant public-corruption investigations at the time they were asked to leave. Four of the probes target Republican politicians or their supporters.” In the case that has received the most attention, Lam oversaw the public corruption case of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, which resulted in his guilty plea and the indictments of a defense contractor and a former CIA official. With Lam’s departure, it is unclear whether her successor will continue to pursue the corruption investigation. Similarly, Charlton’s office was “investigating charges involving land deals and influence peddling against Republican Congressman Rick Renzi (R-AZ),” Bogden was “looking into campaign law violations by at least one member of the state’s Congressional delegation,” and Cummins was investigating Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R). Kevin Ryan, the former U.S. attorney in California, wasn’t pursuing public corruption, but as Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Scott Lilly notes, he likely “stepped on the toes of a number of their [the Bush administration’s] most generous contributors with his high profile investigations of back-dated stock options given to numerous executives in major corporations.” Iglesias, who was pursuing a federal probe of a kickback scheme, believes he was fired because he “refused to speed up an indictment of local Democrats a month before November’s congressional elections.” Iglesias “said that two members of Congress called separately in mid-October” and “appeared eager…for an indictment to be issued before the elections in order to benefit the Republicans.” “I believe that because I didn’t play ball, so to speak, I was asked to resign,” Iglesias noted.
CLAIM #4 — IT’S NOT POLITICAL: The Justice Department continues to insist that the firings weren’t political. “I would never, ever make a change in the United States attorney position for political reasons,” said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. “When I hear you talk about the politicizing of the Department of Justice, it’s like a knife in my heart,” said McNulty. But the Justice Department itself has admitted that at least one of the U.S. attorneys — H.E. “Bud” Cummings in Arkansas — was pushed out to make way for Bush loyalist Timothy Griffin, the former research director at the Republican National Committee and a “37-year-old protege” of Karl Rove. According to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK), the Justice Department originally tried to claim that Cummins resigned on his own, which McNulty later admitted was untrue. Salon notes, “Some former Justice Department officials say they believe the administration’s moves are a politically driven power grab — aimed not only at a tighter grip on policy from Washington, but also at creating openings with which to reward their friends and build up a bench of conservative loyalists positioned to serve in powerful posts in future administrations.” Similarly, Sen. John Ensign (R-AZ) was reportedly “told that the decision to remove U.S. attorneys, primarily in the West, was part of a plan to ‘give somebody else that experience’ to build up the back bench of Republicans by giving them high-profile jobs.” Since last March, the administration has named nine U.S. attorneys — including Griffin — with Bush administration ties. These appointees include a former counselor to Gonzales and a protege of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
CLAIM #5 — IT WASN’T DONE TO AVOID CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT: In 2005, a member of Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) staff slipped into the Patriot Act a little-noticed provision that allows the attorney general to appoint replacement U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period of time. Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure “that would take away the executive branch’s unchecked power on U.S. attorney appointments” and restore the system to the pre-2005 rules. It would allow the attorney general “to appoint a replacement for 120 days, with the district court then stepping in and appointing a new interim U.S. attorney if the Senate has not approved a permanent one.” Conservatives are now blocking the full Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR). Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) requested an analysis from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) into whether previous administrations have also fired prosecutors without justification, but the Justice Department has refused to cooperate with the investigation, according to the CRS analyst. Today, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on issuing subpoenas to four of the eight dismissed prosecutors and the Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, “will send letters to those fired before voting next week on compelling their testimony.” “In order to get the full picture of why these U.S. attorneys were fired, we need to hear from the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys themselves,” said Conyers.
Under the Radar
HEALTH CARE — LAWMAKERS VOW TO BLOCK WHITE HOUSE EFFORT TO DEFUND OFFICE OF WOMEN’S HEALTH: The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Women’s Health (OWH) “just had more than one-quarter of this year’s $4 million operating budget quietly removed.” The office had stood up for scientific research that ultimately led to the approval of the emergency contraceptive Plan B. Because the remaining $2.8 million has already been spent or allocated, the funding cut will “effectively halt further operations for the rest of the year.” Yesterday, a group of senators — Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach demanding a halt to the agency’s efforts to de-fund the office. The letter stated: “As Congress moves forward with the budget and appropriations process, we will pursue every course to make certain that this funding is restored. We intend to use every tool at our disposal to make sure that the OWH has the resources it needs to safeguard women’s health.” The Bush administration has done little to promote — and a great deal to impede — the functions of the OWH. Susan Wood, the office’s former director, resigned in 2005 over the politically-motivated delay surrounding the approval of Plan B. The administration then moved to appoint an “FDA veteran trained in animal husbandry who spent much of his career in the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine” to oversee the office. Fierce opposition caused the administration to reconsider that appointment. Women’s health advocates believe the reported funding cuts are “payback” for OWH’s stance on Plan B and is the beginning of an effort to shut the office down completely. “We must work together in Congress to sustain funding for the Office of Women’s Health so that vital women’s health research is not halted for political retribution,” Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) said.
RADICAL RIGHT — CONSERVATIVE ACTIVISTS DESCEND ON WASHINGTON D.C. FOR ‘LARGEST CPAC EVER’: Today marks the beginning of the 2007 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering sponsored by the American Conservative Union. Billed as the “largest CPAC ever,” the three-day event will be kicked-off this evening with a “Presidential Banquet” which will include speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and Amb. John Bolton. In addition, the banquet’s opening ceremonies will include the Pledge of Allegiance led by Ret. Col. George “Bud” Day who, in 2004, called Sen. John Kerry the “Benedict Arnold of 1971.” Throughout the weekend, CPAC’s attendees will have the opportunity to hear from some of the “nation’s leading conservative authors” and activists including Michelle Malkin, Dinesh D’Souza, and Grover Norquist. The conference’s panel discussions will include such topics as, “Why Are Liberals Hell-Bent on Raising Our Taxes?,” “Loony Ladies of the Left: How to Combat the Radical Feminists on Your Campus,” and “The Left’s Repeated Campaign Against the American Soldier.” “But lest you think CPAC is going to be all business this year,” Newt Gingrich will be in attendance using the “power of prizes” to “unleash the creative, entrepreneurial spirit of conservatives.” He will be sponsoring both a trivia game entitled the “Wining the Future Text Message Challenge” and a YouTube video contest entitled the “Winning the Future Goose that Laid the Golden Egg YouTube Contest.” While the event has been considered “a key event for conservative candidates,” The Washington Times is reporting today that CPAC’s organizers felt “dissed” last week when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) rejected an invitation to speak at the event.
HOMELAND SECURITY — WHITE HOUSE THREATENS TO VETO COUNTERTERRORISM BILL IF IT CONTAINS LABOR PROTECTIONS: Yesterday, the Senate began debate on legislation that would strengthen homeland security by enacting recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The legislation includes provisions that would let states delay adopting standardized drivers’ licenses and means to better secure cargo entering the nation. The bill, however, faces a rocky road ahead as the White House declared it would veto the bill if it contains language that would allow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees to unionize. Led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), 36 conservative senators have pledged to sustain President Bush’s veto, enough to prevent a congressional override. “Under the proposal, the security officers would not have the right to strike, and the union would not have the power to negotiate wages. But it would be authorized to bargain on their behalf to establish work rules to govern overtime and temporary transfers, and to protect them if they file a grievance.” Currently the Department of Homeland Security, which houses TSA, has the unhappiest workers in the federal government. TSA employees are frequently required to work unscheduled overtime, suffer from a 30 percent illness and injury rate compared to 5 percent for all federal employees, and have an attrition rate 10 times higher than the federal average.
Walter Reed officials have known of the deplorable conditions for at least three years. Joyce Rumsfeld, the wife of then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, was taken to Walter Reed last October “by a friend concerned about outpatient treatment.” Mrs. Rumsfeld was told that her husband was being given a rosy picture of the hospital. Walter Reed officials proceeded to ban the friend who brought Mrs. Rumsfeld in.
For five years, the United States accused North Korea of pursuing a secret path to developing enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb, an accusation that “resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship.” Now, the administration has quietly admitted its intelligence may have been faulty.
Amb. Tim Carney, a U.S. coordinator for Iraq’s reconstruction, said on NPR yesterday, said the post-war decision to exclude Iraqis from governing the country was “incompetent, foolish, dubious in all of its aspects.” Carney was recently flown to Baghdad by the administration to avoid testifying before a congressional committee.
Bush administration regulators approved children’s lunch boxes that were laden with more than 10 times hazardous levels of lead, then lied about it and refused to release details of their tests, an AP investigation revealed. The administration’s excuse: food in the lunch boxes “may have an outer wrapping, a baggie, so there isn’t direct exposure.”
Military reporter James Crawley says yesterday’s Army Times revelation “that Walter Reed patients had been barred from speaking with reporters is not the first case of tightened restrictions. In recent months, he says several MRE members have reported similar crackdowns. What’s worse, many of the denials are apparently in reaction to the potential negativity of a planned story.”
The departing U.S. attorney in New Mexico, David Iglesias, charged yesterday “that two members of Congress attempted to pressure him to speed up a probe of Democrats just before the November elections.” All the members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have denied involvement except for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM), who have not responded to “repeated requests” for comment.
Six months since his last visit to New Orleans, and one month after failing to mention the Gulf region in his State of the Union address, President Bush “will find is a city of extremes, where life abounds in isolated areas and is eerily lacking in others.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) “is in talks to become the Philadelphia Inquirer’s newest op-ed columnist.”
And finally: Richard Simmons gets Hill staffers sweatin’. Roll Call reports, “Simmons was in the Capitol and House office buildings on Wednesday, spreading joy — and some unsolicited advice — to unsuspecting staffers. … He accosted one group of House staffers leaving the Longworth cafeteria. ‘I need to check your lunches,’ Simmons announced, according to one of the surprised, sandwich-toting aides. ‘He approved of our sandwiches, but made me look him in the eye and promise not to eat my chips.'”