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Look out! It's Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on a talking point rampage!

Here's a compilation from Hatch's Meet The Press appearance this Sunday, during which the senator, apparently not a TPM reader, repeated more times than I can count that there's "not a shred of evidence" of impropriety in the U.S. attorney firings. And in an impressive reframing, he called Monica Goodling's choice to plead the Fifth Amendment "gutsy."

Readers are encouraged to compile "shreds of evidence" for Sen. Hatch's future reference in the comments.

During the same appearance, Russert asked Hatch whether he would serve as the next attorney general. Hatch seemed shocked at the idea, stuttering and bubbling over with modesty. Somehow, he managed to add that if duty called, “I would serve this country any way I could.”

When asked about Hatch's possible candidacy as AG, Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) responded, "The rumor on the Hill this week was that he was actively running for it." And Leahy noticeably declined to say if Hatch would have an easy time being confirmed by his committee. Here's that video:

Senator Demands Attorney General Clear Iglesias' Name "Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote Gonzales on Friday demanding that the attorney general clear David Iglesias' name. Schumer's letter came the day after Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, testified before Congress that in hindsight, he would not have recommended Iglesias for dismissal." (USA TODAY)

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Immediately following Alberto Gonzales' now famous March 13 press conference, during which Gonzales accepted full responsibility for (while expressing total ignorance of) the U.S. attorney firings, the White House said that Gonzales would soon be making the trek to Capitol Hill to explain himself.

The next day, Bush said that he'd talked to Gonzales "about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it very clear to members in both political parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made, making very clear about the facts.” Tony Snow added soon after: "the attorney general, I think, is going to be doing some outreach to members of Congress to explain what went on."

But that outreach never occurred. And when the Senate Judiciary Committee finally scheduled Gonzales' testimony, the two parties agreed on April 17, a full month after Gonzales' press conference. Chairman Pat Leahy says that the committee wanted an earlier date, but Gonzales objected.

That was before Kyle Sampson testified.

Now, the administration has suddenly realized that postponing Gonzales' testimony only feeds the fire. Now, Gonzales can't testify soon enough. Gonzales had a Justice Department official ask for an earlier hearing date. And White House counselor Dan Bartlett hit the airwaves this Sunday to say, "Let's move it up and let's get the facts.... Let's have the attorney general there sooner rather than later."

But the Democrats are just fine with the way things are.

That's because in the meantime, staffers for the House and Senate judiciary committees will be conducting private interviews with seven Justice Department officials involved in the purge. And when Gonzales appears before the committee, senators will be armed with transcripts from those interviews to check the AG's story. Says Leahy: "We're, in effect, interrogating a number of people leading up to it... The 17th is now the time…. It's the date the hearing will take place."

Given Gonzales' penchant for memory lapses, it'll be handy for the senators to know just what he's forgetting.

There has been an assumption that Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, is pleading the Fifth simply because of her role in preparing false testimony to Congress. That is, at least, the impression given by her lawyer's letter to the investigating committees.

But this profile in Legal Times shows that Goodling is far from just a mid-level aide who played a peripheral role in the purge. On the contrary, she's very well-connected and apparently one of the main drivers behind the process of selecting U.S. attorneys.

Just look at how Legal Times describes Goodling's role in the interviews to select U.S.A. replacements:

Interviews for U.S. Attorney replacements took place with only a handful of people: David Margolis, the department's top-ranking career official and a 40-plus year veteran; a member of the White House Counsel's Office; the head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys; and Goodling.

Charles Miller, whom Gonzales appointed as interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, interviewed with the panel in the fall of 2005. "They asked me what I'd done to support the president," Miller says. It wasn't a question Miller expected. He told them he'd voted for Bush.

But a former prosecutor who did not get a U.S. Attorney post was left with a sour feeling after his interview in 2006. "Monica was in charge, in essence, of the interview," recalls the former supervisory assistant U.S. Attorney. "I walked out of that room and thought, 'Wow, I've just run into a buzz saw.'"

It can't be surprising, then, that Goodling got her start in national politics in 1999 by working in the Republican National Committee's war room for political opposition research. There, she was working directly underneath Tim Griffin, then the deputy research director of the RNC who bragged that his shop made the bullets in the war against Democrats -- and later the administration's pick to be the U.S. attorney for eastern Arkansas. Goodling, of course, played a key role in helping install her old boss in the spot last year.

But Goodling worked alongside a number of others who went on to hold prominent positions in the Justice Department:

Among Goodling's close associates were Barbara Comstock, head of opposition research for the RNC and later the chief spokeswoman for Ashcroft; Griffin, Comstock's deputy...; and Mark Corallo, who in 2003 took the helm of the Justice Department's Public Affairs Office after Comstock.

The whole thing is worth reading.

Poor Rudy. All he did was choose one crooked guy to run New York City's police force (OK, OK, and then to run the Department of Homeland Security... well, and he also chose Kerik to be his business partner, but that's it), and people just won't let it go.

From The New York Times:

Buffeted once again by bad news about his disgraced former police commissioner [Bernard Kerik], Rudolph W. Giuliani said Saturday that he should have looked more closely into the commissioner’s background and acknowledged that it may cause voters to question his judgment....

“I think I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him, however you want to describe that,” Mr. Giuliani said in his first extended public comments on the latest revelations about Mr. Kerik. “It’s my responsibility, and I’ve learned from it,” he said, adding, “I’ll make sure that I do a much better job of checking into people in the future.”

That would ring hollow coming from anyone. But coming from a former U.S. attorney, it sounds profoundly dishonest.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that -- in addition to pleading guilty last year to accepting illegal gifts from a mobbed-up contractor -- Kerik is likely to be charged with several felonies (tax evasion, filing false information to the government, and conspiracy to commit wiretapping) by federal prosecutors. It's not clear if this federal investigation is the same one that was reported to focus on the hundreds of thousands of dollars that disappeared from a nonprofit affiliated with New York City's Department of Corrections when Kerik headed the agency. It's hard to keep track, you know.

In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) today, Justice Department official Monica Goodling's lawyer informed the committtee that she would plead the Fifth if called.

The committee struck a deal last night for the testimony of eight Justice Department officials, Goodling among them.

Goodling's letter was nearly identical to an earlier letter sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But there was one interesting detail in the letter: "Ms. Goodling remains actively employed by the Department of Justice, though she is temporarily and voluntarily using some of her accrued leave time," John Dowd, Goodling's lawyer, writes [my emphasis].

So just to be clear: the departure from the Justice Department of the two aides (Goodling and Kyle Sampson) at the center of the U.S. attorney firings has lent the appearance that they were called to task. But that's not at all true. Sampson left voluntarily, even remaining on the payroll for a number of days after he resigned -- until questions were raised. And Goodling hasn't really left at all. And, despite having pled the Fifth, she apparently plans to return to her job as if nothing ever happened.

Much to the chagrin of the White House, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants to hear from Susan Ralston.

Jack Abramoff's former personal assistant, Ralston became Karl Rove's assistant in 2001, where she was his "implant" at the White House.

But after a report last October by Waxman's committee (then chaired by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA)) showed that Ralston had accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from Abramoff without compensating him, she abruptly resigned.

At the time, the White House was clear that Ralston's resignation meant the end of the issue. "She recognized that a protracted discussion of these matterrs would be a distraction to the White House and she's chosen to step down," said deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino. "We support her decision and consider the matter closed."

But it's not closed, according to Waxman, who, in a letter sent today, invited Ralston to appear before the committee on Thursday, April 5, to answer questions about Abramoff's access to the White House.

The deposition* will also be a good opportunity for Waxman to press for more details about White House employees' use of outside email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee. Ralston used such outside accounts when corresponding with Abramoff, even writing to him once, “I now have an RNC blackberry which you can use to e-mail me at any time. No security issues like my WH email.”

*Update/Correction: Ralston will appear for a deposition, not an open hearing as this post originally stated.

OK, indulge me just a little bit more.

This morning, I wrote about Julie MacDonald, the Bush appointee at the Fish and Wildlife Service, who, when she isn't ignoring agency scientist recommendations about endangered species, spends her time emailing copies of internal documents to industry lobbyists. MacDonald, in my humble opinion, is vying with General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan for Hack of the Week.

Just for an extra special view into MacDonald's mind, here's another highlight from the inspector general's report (pdf). In this episode, MacDonald unwinds by sharing internal agency documents with a virtual friend and demonstrates that she trusts the feedback of her fellow gamer, who's apparently quite young, and her child over agency scientists:

MacDonald confirmed that she also sent the Delta Smelt document [the Delta smelt fish is an endangered species] to an on-line game friend through his father's e-mail account. MacDonald said she is acquainted with the on-line friend through internet role-playing games. She said she engages in these games to relieve the stress created by her job; however, she said she has not played while at work. When asked why she would e-mail an internal [Department of Interior] document to a private citizen, MacDonald replied, "I was irritated [with what was happening regarding the subject of the document] and tried to explain my irritation over the phone; however, I sent it to him to read for a better understanding."

MacDonald could offer no explanation as to why she sent her child an e-mail containing an internal DOI/FWS document other than she feels frustrated at times and likes to have third party reviews of these documents. MacDonald opined that she sent FWS documents to the on-line game friend and her child to have another set of eyes give an unfiltered opinion of them, negative comments included.

Ed. Note: Thanks to TPM Reader PT.

Inspiring words from the AG:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, amid a growing clamor for his resignation, acknowledged Friday confusion about of his role in firing eight U.S. attorneys but said he doesn't "recall being involved in deliberations" over which prosecutors were to be ousted.

"I believe in truth and accountability and every step that I've taken is consistent with that principle," Gonzales said when asked why he is not heeding calls to resign. "I am fighting for the truth as well."

Gonzales said he had his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, coordinated performance evaluations for the 93 U.S. attorneys "to see where changes might be appropriate."

"I signed off on the recommendations and signed off on the implementation plan, and that's the extent of my involvement," he told reporters....

Of course, Gonzales' denial that he was involved in "any deliberations" about firing the U.S. attorneys doesn't mean much. If Sampson's testimony yesterday was any guide, there doesn't appear to have been any deliberations at all.

Maybe it's a coincidence.

White House political director Sara Taylor is out the door at the White House, according to Washington Wire. Taylor came up a number of times yesterday during the Kyle Sampson hearing as having worked closely with Sampson (along with another Karl Rove aide Scott Jennings) to install Rove's former aide Tim Griffin as the U.S. Attorney in eastern Arkansas.

"Barry Jackson, a longtime aide to Karl Rove, also is thought to be leaving soon.... All the departures appear to be more-or-less routine turnover," reports the Washington Wire.