TPM News

In Sen. Pat Leahy's (D-VT) letter to the White House today was a bit of news. A bit of bad news for Alberto Gonzales.

According to Sen. Leahy, Kyle Sampson has told congressional investigators that when Alberto Gonzales finally nixed the plan to permanently install Karl Rove's former aide as a U.S. attorney without Senate confirmation, Rove's senior aide Sara Taylor was "upset." And according to Sampson's testimony, Gonzales didn't say no until late in the game -- when the U.S. attorney firings controversy was already gaining steam. That's not what Gonzales told Congress.

When Gonzales testified before the Senate last month, he claimed that he'd always rejected the idea of using a Patriot Act provision to appoint handpicked U.S. attorneys and keep them in place indefinitely without Senate confirmation as "interim" U.S. attorneys. In a December 19, 2006 email to the White House, Kyle Sampson had specifically advocated using the provision to install Timothy Griffin, Rove's former aide who was installed as the U.S. attorney for Little Rock, over the objections of the state's two Democratic senators. But Gonzales said that he'd never seen that email and he'd never considered Sampson's plan. "I didn't consider it and wouldn't consider it," Gonzales testified.

Read More →

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), following up an angry letter last night to Alberto Gonzales, wrote White House counsel Fred Fielding today to warn that if the White House did not stop stonewalling the committee's U.S. attorney firings investigation, then "I will have no choice but to issue subpoenas to try to get to the truth in this matter."

Leahy first requested interviews with Karl Rove and other White House staff two months ago. Leahy's request was met with a White House offer to have Rove and others interviewed privately with no oath and no transcript. Efforts by Leahy and others, including ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), to get the White House to moderate its offer have been unsuccessful.

During those two months, the Senate and House judiciary committees have been steadily accumulating evidence of White House involvement in the firings. And so Leahy's writing again. You can read the letter here.

Some excerpts below the fold.

Read More →

We'll have video of James Comey's testimony yesterday soon over at TPM (Update: Here it is.), but until then, a TPM Reader writes in to provide some context:

Trust the Washington press corps to lunge for the process story, and ignore the substance.

When the warrantless wiretap surveillance program came up for review in March of 2004, it had been running for two and a half years. We still don't know precisely what form the program took in that period, although some details have been leaked. But we now know, courtesy of Comey, that the program was so odious, so thoroughly at odds with any conception of constitutional liberties, that not a single senior official in the Bush administration's own Department of Justice was willing to sign off on it. In fact, Comey reveals, the entire top echelon of the Justice Department was prepared to resign rather than see the program reauthorized, even if its approval wasn't required. They just didn't want to be part of an administration that was running such a program.

This wasn't an emergency program; more than two years had elapsed, ample time to correct any initial deficiencies. It wasn’t a last minute crisis; Ashcroft and Comey had both been saying, for weeks, that they would withhold approval. But at the eleventh hour, the President made one final push, dispatching his most senior aides to try to secure approval for a continuation of the program, unaltered.

Read More →

Yes, this sort of thing has become sadly routine.

George W. Bush appointed a senior manufacturing industry lobbyist to oversee consumer lawsuits filed against companies whose interests he pushed, reports The New York Times.

And the lobbyist, Michael E. Baroody, will get a $150,000 severance package from the National Association of Manufacturers.

But, not to worry, Baroody has assured everyone that the payment won’t influence his impartiality.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for any of Karl Rove's emails in the Department's possession that might be relevant to the U.S. attorney firings. The deadline was 2 PM yesterday. The deadline came and went. And now Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) are angry.

“You ignored the subpoena, did not come forward today, did not produce the documents and did not even offer an explanation for your noncompliance,” the senators wrote in a letter to Alberto Gonzales today. “Your action today is in defiance of the Committee’s subpoena without explanation of any legal basis for doing so.” You can read the letter here.

The senators set a new deadline, this Friday at May 18, 10 AM. If the Justice Department does not respond to the subpoena, the senators ask that they at least explain why they're not responding "so that the Chairman and the Committee can assess any objections to the subpoena or privileges claimed by the Department."

"The Committee intends to get to the truth," they conclude.

Looks like James Comey's testimony yesterday has added new momentum to the already crowded Gonzales resignation bandwagon. Here's Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) today:

“The American people deserve an Attorney General, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead. Comey’s testimony yesterday brings to light the latest episode in a series of questionable actions by Attorney General Gonzales. It is another part of a pattern of flawed decision making by the Attorney General.

“America is a nation of laws. In the interest of the American people, Alberto Gonzales should resign now."

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.

Read More →

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.)

TPMLivewire