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Sen. Olympia Snow (R-ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have not called for the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, but they both offered harsh criticism of the Attorney General after discovering that their state’s US Attorney spent time on the now-infamous firing list. (Portland Press Herald)

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Meet Hans von Spakovsky, yet another major player in what McClatchy straightforwardly calls the administration's "vote-suppression agenda."

We've spent a lot of time introducing you to one of von Spakovsky's closest peers, Bradley Schlozman. Schlozman, you'll remember, presided over the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division with an iron hand, making sure that the division was stocked with hard-line Republicans and that career staff in the voting rights section in particular were punished when they stepped out of line. Schlozman was rewarded for his tenure there with an appointment as the U.S. attorney for Kansas City in 2006 -- he proved reliable there too, delivering voter-fraud indictments just days before the election. Schlozman will be appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks, alongside Todd Graves, the fired U.S. attorney he replaced.

Well, Von Spakovsky was Tweedledee to Schlozman's Tweedledum at the Civil Rights Division. The two worked together in overseeing the voting rights section, and in particular in ensuring that the section, which is tasked with stopping the implementation of voting laws that might impinge on the rights of minorities, did not block voter ID laws. As I reported last month, the two teamed up to make life hell for one section analyst who had had the temerity to object to Georgia's voter ID law (the one ultimately blocked by a federal judge who compared it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax).

But as McClatchy reports this morning, von Spakovsky did not confine his activities to the Justice Department. He was also busy making sure that the Election Assistance Commission, a tiny agency that serves as the government's election information clearinghouse, stayed in line. And that meant making sure that whatever research it published conformed to the voter-fraud orthodoxy. But unfortunately for von Spakovsky, the commission's chairman Paul DiGregorio was hard to control:

After the commission hired both liberal and conservative consultants to work on the studies in 2005, e-mails show that von Spakovsky tried to persuade panel members that the research was flawed.

In an Aug. 18, 2005, e-mail to Chairman DiGregorio, he objected strenuously to a contract award for the ID study to researchers at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, who were teaming with a group at Rutgers University.

Von Spakovsky wrote that Daniel Tokaji, the associate director of Moritz' election program, was "an outspoken opponent of voter identification requirements" and that those "pre-existing notions" should disqualify him from federal funding for impartial research.


So von Spakovsky (surprise, surprise) got him canned:

Last September, the White House replaced DiGregorio with Caroline Hunter, a former deputy counsel to the Republican National Committee. DiGregorio confided to associates that he was told that von Spakovsky influenced the White House's decision not to reappoint him, said the two people close to the panel.

Asked about his ouster, DiGregorio said only that he "was aware that Mr. von Spakovsky was not pleased with the bipartisan approaches that I took."


Now, von Spakovsky, like Schlozman, was also rewarded for his time in the Civil Rights Division. He was given a recess appointment to sit as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission in December 2005. A confirmation hearing --which you can expect to be contentious -- is scheduled for June 13th.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Weeks before the 2006 midterm election, then-New Mexico U.S. Atty. David C. Iglesias was invited to dine with a well-connected Republican lawyer in Albuquerque [Pat Rogers] who had been after him for years to prosecute allegations of voter fraud....

Rogers, reached by telephone in Albuquerque, recalled a brief discussion of voter fraud at the lunch, but he challenged much of Iglesias' account.

Rogers said the primary purpose of the gathering was to discuss the U.S. attorney's failure to move on corruption cases, not voter fraud. Rogers also said that it was he who invited the other employee of the office to attend and that he was presenting them with concerns of others in law enforcement, including concerns raised in a newspaper article that described how the FBI had finished its work on a public corruption matter and turned it over to the U.S. attorney.


That's one hell of an alibi.

Remember that the "public corruption matter" Rogers is referring to here is the investigation of a prominent New Mexico Democrat -- the investigation that Republicans hoped would deliver an indictment before the election. And that's the same investigation that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) had called Iglesias about that same month.

So what Rogers is saying is that he wasn't meeting with Iglesias to pressure him to indict Democrats on voter fraud charges. No! He was meeting with Iglesias to pressure him to indict a Democrat on corruption charges.

It's the whole story of Iglesias' firing. It's not clear if the lack of voter fraud indictments, Republican disappointment at the pace of his public corruption investigations, or both led to his firing. But all the evidence shows that one or both of them did. And it all amounts to the same thing: Iglesias was canned for not indicting Democrats.

When it became apparent in March that the Justice Department would be forced to turn over all the documents relevant to the U.S. attorney firings, Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, made a round of phone calls.

He wanted to apologize to the five U.S. attorneys whom he had listed on a November 1st email as "other possibilities" for firings (yesterday Elston's lawyer claimed that Elston had never intended for any of those U.S.A.s to be fired). But it sounds like a lot of the calls went like this:

Colm F. Connolly, the chief federal prosecutor in Delaware, said Elston called "to inform me that there was an e-mail that was going to be turned over to Congress and, although it was not to be disclosed publicly, often times Congress would leak things and this could be public at some point."

Connolly said he "expressed disappointment" and asked how the e-mail was prepared. He said Elston told him "that there was this firing process in the works at the time, and he had been asked to find out whether there were any other U.S. attorneys about whom there had been concerns."

Connolly said Elston told him that he collected names by "speaking to people" but that he "could not remember who he spoke with, and he said he could not remember what the concerns were as they related to me."


In other words, 'Sorry for almost getting you fired and sorry I can't remember why I almost got you fired.'

Remember that Elston, as the chief of staff to the DAG, plays a key role in overseeing the U.S. attorneys. I'm guessing this won't help that working relationship.

Having read my share of press gaggle transcripts, my mouth doesn't fall open for just anything. But Tony Fratto's determined efforts this morning deserve appreciation.

"It's important for any public official to have as much confidence as he can garner. And that's going to ebb and flow," Fratto counseled, "but it will not ebb and flow with this President and this Attorney General." So there.

Excerpt below.

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30 and climbing.

In a story this morning, McClatchy ups The Washington Post's toll of 26 U.S. attorneys to 30. So now we're up to one-third of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys who were once tagged for firing over the course of Kyle Sampson's two-year "process."*

To make all that brainstorming easier to wrap your head around, the Post ran a great graphic that shows which U.S. attorneys appeared on what list and when. We've incorporated the Post's information into a document collection series of the firing lists so you can see how the lists were presented in the various emails.

So now we know who, how, and when. But why? It's clear from local press reports that the vast majority of the U.S. attorneys once targeted for firing never heard any complaints from their superiors about their performance. So the search continues.

*Update: Today's Post also added the four names:

Sources yesterday identified four other current or former U.S. attorneys included on a Jan. 1 list that grouped a dozen prosecutors into three tiers. They include current U.S. Attorneys Matthew Mead of Wyoming and Eric Melgren of Kansas and former prosecutors James K. Vines of Nashville and Michael G. Heavican of Nebraska.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons (R) has had a few brushes with the law recently over vacationing with defense contractors and grabbing a woman in a parking garage. Now that federal investigators are bearing down on him over an alleged cash-for-contracts scheme, Gibbons is likely to remain in the limelight.

Federal investigators are probing former Republican House member Gibbons’ involvement with the tiny Nevada software company eTreppid Technologies. Gibbons admits he opened doors for the company, which has secured millions of dollars in defense contracts. Gibbons has, in some instances, called gifts from eTreppid appropriate because of his longtime friendship with the company's owner Warren Trepp. Other times Gibbons has denied accepting lavish gifts. Gibbons and Trepp lived the high life together at least once on a Caribbean cruise, of which there are photos, but it's unclear who picked up the tab. At a minimum, Gibbons has accepted $100,000 in campaign contributions from Trepp, according to disclosure records.

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It's a brand new muck format. Tell us what you think.

Following yesterday’s stunning revelation by the Washington Post that 26 US attorneys had been considered for dismissals, professionals all around the country are trying to figure out what the Justice Department felt they were doing wrong. Local papers in Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia ask their own attorneys. The consensus? Says stunned USA Dunn Lampton (MS): “I don’t have a clue.”

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It would be wrong to call the House ethics committee incompetent. Because, really, it ably strives to make itself as irrelevant and impotent as possible.

Please take a moment out of your day to appreciate its efforts.

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

The House ethics committee has declared that an earmark requested by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) to build a commuter transit center near a handful of properties he owns would not be an impermissible financial conflict because any benefit to Calvert would be shared by other similarly situated landowners.


Just let that sit a little bit. Calvert used his power as a lawmaker to appropriate $5.6 million in taxpayer dollars to build a transit center that's within walking distance of seven of his properties (ranging from office and/or retail buildings to a storage facility). But there's no conflict there, mostly because any financial benefit Calvert achieved “would be experienced as a member of a class of landholders in the vicinity of the transit Center.” You can read the ethics committee's opinion letter here. Here's a map of Calvert's properties (click to enlarge):



In other words, because Calvert's aren't the only buildings that might financially benefit from the transit center, there's no conflict. Or as the committee puts it in its own artfully contorted language: "We conclude that it is within your discretion for you to conclude that your properties do not constitute a financial interest in the earmark supporting the Corona Transit Center."

OK, so let's just say that I'm a property-rich lawmaker who wants to push the boundaries and play the earmark game for all its worth. What would it take for me to get into trouble? Just how self-serving of a project would actually garner the House ethics committee's disapproval?

“You’d have to be remodeling your kitchen,” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense told me.

The committee's ruling is great news for Calvert (whose earmarking shenanigans have attracted attention before) and the growing group of lawmakers in the "honest graft" game (Justin had a great round-up over at ABC yesterday). And it's yet another indication that the House ethics committee actually has a lower standard for wrongdoing than our criminal justice system, which is why far more lawmakers have come under federal investigation in the past several years than have been investigated by the ethics committee (Calvert is no exception).

The Washington Post reported this morning that Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, had suggested five U.S. attorneys to be fired in November of last year, just a month before the firings.

Now Elston's lawyer is saying that you got him all wrong. Elston didn't mean for those U.S. attorneys to be fired. No. He was just passing along some names suggested to him by others. Totally different. From The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"At no time did Mike ever believe that any of the U.S. attorneys mentioned in the Nov. 1 e-mail should be dismissed," Driscoll said in a statement. "To the contrary, Mike's view is that the five U.S. attorneys mentioned in the e-mail are among the department's best."...

Elston simply passed on the names suggested to him by others after he was asked in October to find out if concerns existed about any U.S. attorneys that top Justice Department officials were not aware of, according to Driscoll.

"Mike did what was requested of him, and forwarded the names that others had suggested," Driscoll stated. "...Mike recommended that they not be added to the list of those whose resignations would be requested, and to his knowledge, they never were."


You can read Elston's email here. Funny, I'm not seeing "Don't Fire These Prosecutors" in the subject line (actually, it's "Other Possibilities").

Note: Elston's suggestions, remember, were the most curious -- including Mary Beth Buchanan, Pittsburgh's U.S. attorney, who's very close to the department leadership and was even consulted on which U.S. attorneys should be fired.

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