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White House Shifts Away from Wolfowitz For the first time since Paul Wolfowitz's employment imbroglio with Shaha Riza, the White House has shown signs of something other than unquestioned support itself from its former Deputy Secretary of Defense. The New York Times reports that Bush would be willing to have Wolfowitz resign voluntarily if the bank board dropped its drive to declare him unfit to remain in office. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that the World Bank Board is still deliberating what action to take against Wolfowitz.

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It took little more than 12 hours after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty announced that he will resign for Alberto "I accept responsibility" Gonzales to lay the U.S. attorney firings at his feet. As many have pointed out, Gonzales barely gave McNulty any time to turn around before he stabbed him in the back.

Actually, it was a clever double stab by Gonzales -- his resigned chief of staff Kyle Sampson (who's been stabbed before) collected the recommendations and it was McNulty's job to vet those recommendations. What's left for an attorney general to do?

But there is an important point to be made here. Everything that Gonzales said about the duties of the deputy attorney general is true. For instance:

The Deputy Attorney General has a unique position at the DOJ. Most of the operational authority and decisions are made by the Deputy Attorney General. He is the chief operating officer — that’s the way I’ve structured the Department. And so he occupies a very central place in the work of the Department....

Mr. Sampson provided the recommendations. The one person I would care about would be the views of the Deputy Attorney General because the Deputy Attorney General as a direct supervisor of the United States Attorneys...

Gonzales' appalling dereliction of duty has tended to obscure McNulty's appalling dereliction of duty. It shouldn't. There's plenty of blame to go around.

Here, for instance, is how McNulty's predecessor, James Comey, described the duties of the deputy attorney general:

"I was the direct supervisor of all the U.S. attorneys, and so dealt with them quite frequently on a variety of matters: resolving disputes, talking with them about resources, trying to support them in any way that I could."

"Trying to support them in any way that I could."

By contrast, we have a deputy attorney general who allowed himself to be steamrolled by his inferiors to fire eight U.S. attorneys for, in most cases, no apparent reason. And then after that was done, he helped smear their reputations in order to cover for the Department and the administration.

You need look no further than the case of U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden as a vivid example of this.

Here's McNulty meekly writing to Sampson two days before the firings that he was "a little skittish about [firing] Bogden... I'll admit I haven't looked at his district's performance." Later, he would tell congressional investigators that "he had hoped for some explanation for Bogden's inclusion on the list because he saw no apparent reason to fire him." Nevertheless, he testified to Congress that Bogden had been fired for "performance" reasons. He now says that he regrets the firing.

Maybe this was Gonzales' strategy -- to surround himself with such an eminently blameworthy staff?

What do you do if you're competing for a transportation contract with the Department of Homeland Security but don't actually own any buses? Get Duke Cunningham.

From The Blotter:

The Department of Homeland Security violated government regulations by awarding a multi-million-dollar contract to a limousine company with ties to the Duke Cunningham scandal, a recent investigation concluded....

What's more, the inspector general's report determined that DHS failed to conduct due diligence on Shirlington to ensure they could fulfill the terms of the contract, which required the company to run several shuttle buses for DHS employees and provide drivers and dispatchers for a fleet of government cars.

Shortly after Shirlington got the contract, it told DHS it did not have buses for the agency, according to the report. It said it did not have the money to buy new buses and asked for a cash advance from the department to help buy new ones, investigators found.

DHS declined the request. It took several weeks for Shirlington to lease new buses to ferry department employees to and from work, according to the report.

In his testimony today, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described an attempt by the White House in 2004 to go behind Comey's back -- even though he was the acting attorney general because Ashcroft was hospitalized -- to get John Ashcroft's signature on the reauthorization order for the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

Ashcroft at the time was in the intensive care unit of George Washington University Hospital with pancreatitis and was recovering from gall bladder surgery. Comey testified that the late night effort by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card to get Ashcroft to sign the order was a plan to "take advantage of a sick man."

But Tony Snow doesn't see what the big deal is: "Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?" (Yes, he got the organ wrong.)

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), along with subcommittee chair Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) wrote Alberto Gonzales today to press for details about the firing of U.S. Attorney for Kansas City Todd Graves and the subsequent hiring of Bradley Schlozman. They also took some time to point out that Gonzales' answers about Graves and Schlozman last week didn't hold up to scrutiny.

Gonzales testified, for example, that Gonzales had not mentioned Graves' firing before because his firing had been outside of the "process" -- that's despite the fact, the lawmakers, point out, that Graves was fired in exactly the same manner as the other eight U.S. attorneys (with a phone call from Justice Department official Michael Battle who assured the U.S. attorney that there was no particular reason he/she was being asked to step aside) only weeks after Graves' name appeared on Kyle Sampson's list of prosecutors to be fired.

And Gonzales was simply wrong, they write, when he argued that the Justice Department's lawsuit to purge Missouri's voter rolls, pushed by voter-fraud hawk Bradley Schlozman, was defeated mainly on jurisdictional grounds. On the contrary, they write, quoting portions of the judge's opinion against the Justice Deparment, the judge found that the suit was fundamentally flawed -- pointing out, for instance, that the Department had failed to show that any actual voter fraud had occurred as a result of ineligible voters being on the rolls.

Full text of the letter is below the fold.

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The search for a reason, any reason for U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden's firing continues.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that a Justice Department official had raised concerns about Bogden's performance on voter fraud. Maybe that was why he was canned?

Well, if so, it wasn't because Nevada Republicans were up in arms about it, reports The Las Vegas Sun. Despite the fact that Karl Rove had "made sure to mention it to state officials during a campaign swing through Las Vegas just months before the contested 2004 election," the Sun reports, there seem to have been no complaints at all:

Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, said he knew of no cases brought to the U.S. attorney’s office in recent years. Nevada Republicans say the same.

The biggest case Nevada had seen recently were allegations in 2004 that a Republican-financed group had shredded registration cards from Democratic voters. The FBI investigated but it appears the case was not forwarded to Bogden.

But as we've learned in New Mexico, Washington, and Missouri, there doesn't actually have to have been credible allegations of voter fraud in order for the administration to be unhappy with a U.S. attorney's lack of attention to it.

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) takes his case before a Washington, D.C. appeals court panel today, in a move to get back documents the congressman’s lawyers say were wrongfully snatched from his office by the FBI in a raid.

Jefferson has been the brunt of FBI searches and a battery of allegations after he accepted $100,000 from an undercover FBI informant last year, and then stashed the money meant to bribe the Vice President of Nigeria, in his freezer, wrapped in frozen food packaging and aluminum foil.*

The freezer cash isn’t at issue today, though.

Jefferson’s lawyers are going to argue that the Constitution’s “Speech or Debate” clause should have shielded their client from the search of his Congressional office. Politicians on both sides of the aisle rallied around Jefferson last year in support of his argument.

The clause, found here in Article 1, Section 6, reads:

They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

*Update: This post originally stated that Jefferson has been charged. He has not.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey detailed the desperate late night efforts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card to get the Justice Department to approve a secret program -- the warrantless wiretapping program.

According to Comey's testimony this morning, only when faced with resignations by a number of Justice Department officials including Comey, his chief of staff, Ashcroft's chief of staff, Ashcroft himself and possibly Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, did the White House agree to make changes to the program that would satisfy the requirements of the Justice Department to sign off on it (Comey refused to name the program, but it's apparent from the context and prior reports that this was the warrantless wiretapping program).

The events took place in March of 2004, when the program was in need of renewal by the Justice Department. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill and was hospitalized, Comey became the acting-Attorney General.

The deadline for the Justice Department's providing its sign-off of the program was March 11th (the program required reauthorization every 45 days). On that day, Comey, then the acting AG, informed the White House that he "would not certify the legality" of the program.

According to Comey, he was on his way home when he got a call from Ashcroft's wife that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital*. Comey then rushed to the hospital (sirens blaring) to beat them there and thwart "an effort to overrule me."

After Comey arrived at the hospital with a group of senior Justice Department officials, Gonzales and Card arrived and walked up to Ashcroft, who was lying barely conscious on his hospital bed. "Gonzales began to explain why he was there, to seek his approval for a matter," Comey testified. But Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales and told him that Comey was the attorney general now. "The two men turned and walked from the room," said Comey.

A "very upset" Andrew Card then called Comey and demanded that he come to the White House for a meeting at 11 PM that night.

After meeting with Justice Department officials at the Justice Deaprtment, Comey went to the White House with Ted Olson, then the Solicitor General to the White House. He brought Olson along, Comey said, because he wanted a witness for the meeting.

But Card didn't let Olson enter and Comey had a private discussion with Card. This discussion, Comey testified, was much "calmer." According to Comey, Card was concerned about reports that there were to be large numbers of resignations at Justice Department. Gonzales entered with Olson and the four had an apparently not very fruitful discussion.

The program was reauthorized without the signature of the attorney general. Because of that, Comey said, he prepared a letter of resignation. "I believed that I couldn't stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that Justice Department said had no legal basis."

At this point, according to Comey, a number of senior Justice Department officials, including Ashcroft, were prepared to resign.

When Comey went in on that Friday, March 12th to give the White House its customary morning briefing, Comey said that the president pulled him aside. They had a 15 minute private meeting, the content of which Comey would not divulge. But Comey did suggest at the conclusion of that conversation that the president speak with FBI Director Mueller. And so that meeting followed. Following that meeting, Comey said that Mueller brought word that the Justice Department was to do whatever was "necessary" to make the program into one that the Justice Department could sign off on.

Comey said that it took two to three weeks for the Justice Department to do the analysis necessary to have the program approved. During that time, the program went on without Justice Department approval. But following the Justice Department's suggested changes, the Justice Department (either Ashcroft or Comey) did sign off on the program.

More on this soon.

*Update: A commenter below rightly points out that, according to Comey, the call to Ashcroft's wife that Gonzales and Card were on their way to the hospital came from the president himself.

Update: Here's The New York Times' story last January first reporting word of Gonzales' bedside visit. Comey's, obviously, is a much fuller account.

Update: After hearing Comey's "shocking" account, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that it made him wonder anew how Gonzales could remain as the attorney general, since he evidently had so little respect for the rule of law.

Update: ThinkProgress has a transcript of Comey's testimony.

Former CIA Official Pleads Not Guilty "A former top CIA official pleaded not guilty Monday to new charges that he pushed a proposed government contract worth at least $100 million for his best friend in return for lavish vacations, private jet flights and a lucrative job offer. The indictment, returned last week, replaced charges brought in February against Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who resigned from the spy agency a year ago, and defense contractor Brent Wilkes. Foggo and Wilkes now face 30 wide-ranging counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Each faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said." (Associated Press)

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So Paul McNulty is on his way out, but as The Washington Post points out, his successor's confirmation is likely to be a flash point in the battle between the White House and Congress:

McNulty's pending departure may add to the tumult at the upper reaches of the Justice Department, where only Gonzales and a handful of others involved in the prosecutor dismissals remain. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and other top Democrats have indicated that they will not confirm any senior Justice nominees until they receive e-mails they have demanded from the White House and are allowed to conduct interviews about the firings.

Since McNulty has signalled that he'll remain in place until the administration nominates a successor, he could be there for a long while.