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Highlights from this morning's White House press gaggle, during which spokesman Scott Stanzel did his best to explain the White House's email retention policies to a very skeptical press corps.

Here's one highlight in particular. Until 2004, the RNC automatically deleted the emails of White House staff after 30 days. But after that, the policy was changed. The RNC wouldn't delete the email, but the staffers' themselves could. But to do that, they would not only need to delete the email but then delete it again from the trash folder (there's a larger question of whether even that would actually delete the email, but we'll get to that later). A reporter asked if that didn't mean that certain staffers had made two affirmative decisions to delete certain emails. Stanzel responded:

Since 2004, the RNC has had a policy of excluding White House staff from their automatic deletion policy, which means that the RNC every 30 days has automatic deletion policy. Since 2004, it's our understanding, that White House staff who have political email accounts provided by the RNC have been excluded from that policy. And in terms of the double delete, what you're talking about is the user's ability, if they are sitting at their laptop, and decide that, 'gosh, I've got a hundred emails here that I just -- are cluttering up my inbox, I want to put them in the deleted file, and I right-click the deleted items to empty my deleted file.' It's possible, possible, that those records could have been lost....

More below.

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It's been a busy day at the Senate Judiciary Committee:

A U.S. congressional panel investigating the firing of federal prosecutors authorized subpoenas on Thursday for e-mails the White House has declared may be missing.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., challenged the White House assertion, saying, "It's not a question of e-mails being lost, it's e-mails they don't want to retrieve."

The White House disclosed on Wednesday some of its staffers, including President George W. Bush's senior political adviser, Karl Rove, and several of his deputies, wrote e-mail messages on official business on Republican Party accounts, and some may have been wrongly deleted.

On a voice vote, the Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for these and other White House documents as well as for records it has sought from the Justice Department.

The panel also authorized subpoenas for Associate Deputy Attorney General William Moschella, and Scott Jennings, an aide to Rove, permitting Leahy to sign subpoenas compelling the Bush administration to surrender hundreds of new documents and force Moschella and Jennings to reveal their roles in the firings.

The votes authorize subpoenas to be issued if the administration records are not turned over and if Moschella and Jennings decline to appear before the panel.

Update: Here's the rundown, from a press release from the committee:

The authorization approved Thursday covers all documents in the possession, control or custody of the Department of Justice and the White House related to the committee’s ongoing investigation. Another authorization for subpoenas was approved by the committee for J. Scott Jennings, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs; and William E. Moschella, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General.

The Committee is expected to vote on a similar authorization next week for Sara M. Taylor, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Political Affairs.

Update: Here's video of Leahy this morning expressing his, ahem, skepticism about the White House's story on the emails.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel spent about 80 minutes yesterday trying to explain to reporters how it was that the White House had "mishandled" Karl Rove's and dozens of other staffers' emails.

Despite all that explaining, the situation is crystal clear. 22 White House staffers also have an RNC-issued email account. Dating back to 2001, it's been about 50 staffers total. Through 2004, the RNC simply deleted all of those emails after 30 days -- that policy changed then, though that didn't stop the erasing. The staffers themselves could clean out their accounts. The White House only recently began preventing that.

Stanzel blamed the oversight on insufficient guidance. The rationale for the parallel email system, remember, is that it is a violation of the Hatch Act to use government resources for political purposes. The Clinton White House also had a similar parallel system. But since the distinction between politics and official duties is blurred beyond distinction in the Bush White House, many staffers have understandably erred on the side of politics. As Stanzel puts it:

"I can say that historically the White House didn't give enough guidance to staff on how to avoid violating the Hatch Act while following the Records Act. We didn't do a good enough job."

But it's apparent from emails that the White House avoided the governmental email system because it was vulnerable to investigators. The Hatch Act just provided a good excuse. In 2003, for instance, a lobbyist for Jack Abramoff Kevin Ring wrote him that emails about Abramoff's clients shouldn't be sent to White House addresses because "it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc." That warning, Ring told The Washington Post, came from Jennifer Farley, a deputy in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Susan Ralston, Rove's personal aide, used RNC provided email accounts when corresponding with Abramoff, her old boss.

And remember that Karl Rove reportedly uses his RNC-provided account for approximately 95% of his communication.

In other words, it was an open secret at the White House that the parallel system was to be used for everything you didn't want coming out later -- an understanding that was most likely never made explicit, but a situation that was carefully preserved by not providing apparently any parameters for what sort of communication should be done via the White House system.

In 5 Years, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud "Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews. Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year." (NY Times)

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From McClatchy Newspapers:

In his day job, Christian Adams writes legal briefs for the voting rights section of the Justice Department, a job that requires a nonpartisan approach.

Off the clock, Adams belongs to the Republican National Lawyers Association, a group that trains hundreds of Republican lawyers to monitor elections and pushes for confirmation of conservative nominees for federal judgeships.

Vice President Dick Cheney credited the 3,000-member association in 2005 with helping the Republicans win the previous two presidential elections. Last year, President Bush's political adviser Karl Rove shared with the group his insights on winning elections in key battleground states. At a conference the association organized last month, speakers called the controversy over whether eight U.S. attorneys had been fired for partisan political reasons "farcical" and "ridiculous."

According to the group's Web site, Adams is one of dozens of Bush administration appointees or civil servants who are members, including at least 25 in the Justice Department, nine in the Department of Defense and others in the Labor and Commerce departments, the White House and the Office of Special Counsel, which oversees investigations into allegations of ethical misconduct by government employees.

It's sad. The Bush Justice Department, the Republican National Lawyers Association...who can tell the difference?

Here's what the evidence shows. Karl Rove wanted evidence that there had been a Democratic criminal conspiracy to stuff the ballot box in Milwaukee and New Mexico in 2004. But the U.S. attorneys there didn't deliver. In the case of New Mexico's David Iglesias, that likely cost him his job. Wisconsin's Steve Biskupic only avoided being fired by the skin of his teeth.

Iglesias and Biskupic were the only U.S. attorneys in the country to have launched task forces to investigate voter fraud in the 2004 elections. There's arguably not another U.S. attorney in the country to have so thoroughly investigated such allegations. A review of Biskupic's manifold efforts demonstrates that without a doubt.

Despite that fact, Karl Rove and President Bush himself passed along complaints to Alberto Gonzales in October 2006 about Biskupic's and Iglesias' performance on voter fraud. Iglesias was fired. Biskupic, for some reason, wasn't. But it looks like it was a very close call.

Here's a look at Biskupic's long-running investigation into voter fraud in the 2004 election, Karl Rove's longstanding preoccupation with it, and Biskupic's near escape from being fired.

In the 2004 election, John Kerry took Wisconsin by a scant 11,813 votes. The Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee (72% for Kerry) was key to that effort. But there were problems with the records in Milwaukee -- large discrepancies between the numbers of voters and votes. Republicans screamed bloody murder, saying that the faulty records provided a prime opportunity for fraud.

So in response, Biskupic formed his Joint Election Fraud Task Force in January of 2005. The U.S. attorney's office, the FBI, the District Attorney, and the metropolitan police department teamed up to investigate. Over the following two years, they'd identify individual cases for prosecution and determine whether there had indeed been a broad-based conspiracy by Democrats to stuff the ballot.

Even as Biskupic was investigating, Republicans kept the pressure on. In August of 2005, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Republicans Rick Wiley sent a letter to Biskupic outlining nine voter fraud cases that demanded prosecution. Biskupic replied with a letter (pdf) knocking down all nine of Wiley's pet cases.

At about the same time, in the middle of 2005, Wiley had one of his staff members prepare a lengthy memo (see page 10) called "Fraud in Wisconsin 2004: A Timeline/Summary." According to Daniel Bice of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the report was prepared for Karl Rove.

But Rove was already interested. We know this because one of the documents released by the Justice Department last month appears to be a printout from his computer of a February 2, 2005 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article about the city's voter records. A study by the paper had found sizeable discrepancies between the number of votes and voters in the records for more than a dozen wards.

How can we tell that this was printed off of Rove's computer? Well, though the letters are cut off, you can see "ROVE_K" among the file information at the bottom (click to see the whole page):

Rove was clearly interested, circling words (like Milwaukee) in the piece and scribbling in the margin "Discuss w/ Harriet" (see image on the right) -- Harriet presumably referring to White House counsel Harriet Miers.

So as early as February of 2005, Rove was paying close attention to Milwaukee.

But Biskupic would disappoint him. In December of 2005, Biskupic announced in a press conference that his investigation had yielded no evidence of a broad conspiracy. He said that his office would pursue isolated cases of suspected fraud (see the note below for those results) -- ultimately, eighteen cases.

All that didn't stop Rove from harping on voter fraud in Milwaukee. In April of 2006, during a speech before the Republican National Lawyers Association, Rove touched on voter fraud, and the case of Milwaukee in particular. When an audience member, saying that the Democratic Party "rests on the base of election fraud," asked about the issue, Rove said, "yes, this is a real problem. What is it -- five wards in the city of Milwaukee have more voters than adults?" (Actually the article he'd printed out showed that seventeen wards had had more votes than voters.)

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Finally, we hear from Christopher Baker of Shirlington Limousine. Now that his champion Duke Cunningham's in the slammer, he's lost his contract with the Department of Homeland Security, and he's not happy about it.

And in the interview, he finally airs his views on the characters in the Cunningham saga. Brent Wilkes? He's a nice, upstanding guy. But Mitch Wade? He's got a "bad spirit."

But above all, he wants the world to know that he's no pimp. Just bad luck with customers.

From The Hill:

A Washington transportation company that was questioned in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham investigation is on the verge of losing its contract with the Department of Homeland Security, but has gone to federal court to keep it.

Shirlington Limousine and Transportation Inc. filed a lawsuit last week accusing the department of “caving” to “political pressures” surrounding the Cunningham case by illegally changing its shuttle-services contract to exclude Shirlington....

In an interview, Baker said he did nothing wrong in his interaction with Cunningham, Wilkes and Wade, or in his performance of the Homeland Security contract. He said he became a scapegoat in the Cunningham scandal and was a convenient target for Democrats in election-year politics.

“It’s like someone has an axe to grind and they’re just going to make it happen,” Baker said. “I feel like one of the Rutgers girls. All this happens, and now I’m treated like I’m a pimp.”

Baker, who testified before a grand jury in the Cunningham case, said he started driving Wilkes in 1994. He said he drove Cunningham on occasion, but that he usually saw Cunningham driving himself in a green sport-utility vehicle.

Most of the time, he said, “I saw Mr. Cunningham in his green truck. On certain occasions I drove him to the Hill or to his apartment. Duke Cunningham was a self-sufficient gentleman. He liked to drive himself.”

He said he believes Cunningham and Wilkes started off as decent men steered into making mistakes.

“I believe Duke Cunningham to be a good man who made stupid decisions,” he said. “He has been a supporter of me as an African-American businessman.”

Of Wilkes, he said, “He was a winer and a diner. He liked to take people to eat. If a young lady gets in the car, or he asks us to pick up a young lady, we don’t know who it is. We’re drivers.”

As for any prostitution occurring, he said, “It might have happened. I don’t know anything about it. And from driving Brent Wilkes, I question it happening.”

He said he continues to believe that Wilkes was a decent person until he got involved with Wade.

“Brent Wilkes has morals,” Baker said. “He crossed his morals getting involved with Mitch Wade. Mitch Wade had a bad spirit.”

From The Los Angeles Times:

Most Americans believe Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales should resign because of the controversy over his office's firing of federal prosecutors, and a big majority want White House aides to testify under oath about the issue, the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

The survey, conducted Thursday through Monday, found that 53% said Gonzales should step down because he claimed he had no role in the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys last year — an account later contradicted by Justice Department documents and congressional testimony by his top assistant....

Respondents were divided along party lines as to whether Gonzales should resign. Among Democrats, 68% said he should do so; among Republicans, 33% said he should depart.

Independents tip the balance — 57% said they supported calls for his resignation, while 22% said they thought he should stay.

Clearly the question about Gonzales was very narrowly tailored -- it based the question about whether he should step down on his denial that he was involved in "discussions about what was going on." I could think of a host of other reasons -- that his subordinates lied to Congress, that he personally lied to senators, that he's politicized and demoralized the ranks of federal prosecutors and done heavy damage to the rule of law -- but apparently that's enough for most people to say that he should go. Not a good sign.

The poll also found that 74 percent of the public (and 49 percent of Republicans) think that Karl Rove and other White House aides should testify before Congress under oath.

Panel Said to Alter Finding on Voter Fraud "A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times. Instead, the panel, the Election Assistance Commission, issued a report that said the pervasiveness of fraud was open to debate." (NY Times)

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Here's another legacy for the Bush administration: plummeting fraud, identity theft, and civil rights investigations by the FBI.

The reason is plain: in the wake of 9/11, the administration ordered the FBI to reorganize with a heavy influence on counterterrorism. Hundreds of agents were reassigned, and many who weren't were put on the beat anyway. Far fewer agents were left to handle other investigations.

When FBI Director Robert Mueller asked Attorney General John Ashcroft and then Alberto Gonzales for help, he was rebuffed, according to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Says a former FBI assistant director: "We were told to do more with less."

But, of course, they've done less with less. The P-I gives a rundown:

-- Overall, the number of criminal cases investigated by the FBI nationally has steadily declined. In 2005, the bureau brought slightly more than 20,000 cases to federal prosecutors, compared with about 31,000 in 2000 -- a 34 percent drop.

-- White-collar crime investigations by the bureau have plummeted in recent years. In 2005, the FBI sent prosecutors 3,500 cases -- a fraction of the more than 10,000 cases assigned to agents in 2000....

-- Civil rights investigations, which include hate crimes and police abuse, have continued a steady decline since the late 1990s. FBI agents pursued 65 percent fewer cases in 2005 than they did in 2000.

The result is not pretty:

"There's a niche of fraudsters that are floating around unprosecuted," said one recently retired top FBI official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They are not going to jail. There is no law enforcement solution in sight."...

By the time the bureau started putting together its fiscal 2007 budget in mid-2005, "we realized we were going to have to pull out of some areas -- bank fraud, investment fraud, ID theft -- cases that protect the financial infrastructure of the country," [Dale Watson, who left in 2002 as the FBI's executive assistant director over counterterrorism programs] said...

[FBI Assistant Director Chip Burrus] acknowledges that the bureau has reduced its efforts to fight fraud. He likened the FBI's current fraud-enforcement policies -- in which losses below $150,000 have little chance of being addressed -- to "triage." Even cases with losses approaching $500,000 are much less likely to be accepted for investigation than before 9/11, he said.

There is "no question" that America's financial losses from frauds below $150,000 amount to billions a year, Burrus said. The top security official for a major American bank agreed, saying unprosecuted fraud losses easily total "multibillions."

The whole thing is worth a read.