TPM News

Earlier today, D.C.-area madam Jeane Palfrey held a press conference after her status hearing. CNN was there:

As CNN notes, the government is seeking a gag order against Palfrey to prevent her from releasing information about her clients.

Since the government seized her assets, Palfrey has floated the idea of selling off her business' phone records to fund her defense.

...And on to the White House.

The House Judiciary Committee requested a host of documents from the White House today related to the administration's firing of a group of U.S. attorneys. The committee is also seeking to interview at least one current official in the White House's counsel's office, William Kelley, Deputy Counsel to the President, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. (Former USA for Seattle John McKay has told reporters that, in a meeting with Kelley and Miers, he was asked about accusations that he had "mishandled" an investigation of Democratic voter fraud in the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election.)

The committee sought the documents in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding signed by Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA). By next Friday, March 16th, the committee wants all records of communications within the White House regarding the firings, all records of communications with members of Congress concerning the fired attorneys, the names of any members of Congress who were advance notice of the firings, and the names of anyone in the White House who was involved in the firings.

Update: You can see the letter to Miers here (pdf) and the one to Fielding here (pdf).

There have been a number of reader questions about the study highlighted in Paul Krugman's column today that shows the politicization of federal investigations during the Bush administration -- namely that federal investigations have targeted Democrats far more than Republicans.

The study, which we first reported a month ago, is now online in its full glory at ePluribus Media.

And because I know many readers are interested, here's a breakdown provided to me by the study's authors of the prosecutions by the offices of seven of the eight ousted prosecutors (click to enlarge):

One of the central issues of prosecutor purge scandal is whether the adminstration was planning to install party loyalists in place of the fired United States attorneys -- a scheme made possible by a law change slipped into the PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill last year.

There is a host of evidence that that's in fact what the administration had intended to do, and though it seems to have gone largely unnoticed, the plainest proof of this was offered yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Speaking to The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Reid "said he understood the [Justice Department] planned to take advantage of a loophole and fill its new vacancy in Nevada without submitting its choice for customary Senate review and confirmation." He then is quoted saying: "That's what they told [former USA for Nevada Daniel] Bogden."

Really? Who's "they?" And when was Bogden told this? When I asked, a spokesman for Reid's office declined to elaborate, calling Reid's conversation with Bogden a private conversation.

Bogden has already testified to the House about a conversation he had with acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, who told him that he was being bumped to give someone else a chance to "build their resumes." Perhaps Mercer also told him that the administration planned to circumvent Senate confirmation? It's not clear.

The Review-Journal goes on to cite a "legal source familiar with the appointment process" who told them that "it seemed clear that the administration was preparing to 'parachute in' a new U.S. attorney in Nevada, possibly from outside the state, under the Patriot Act umbrella."

But Bogden's case isn't the only one where there are indications that the administration was preparing to "parachute in" a replacement.

Read More →

The Los Angeles Times makes the case that Carol Lam was fired because she "ignored immigration issues," as the administration has argued.

By contrast, here's the Justice Deparment making the case for Carol Lam's handling of broder prosecutions three months before she was fired. Somehow, the letter doesn't merit a mention in the Times' piece.

From the AP:

Slapped even by GOP allies, the Bush administration is beating an abrupt retreat on eight federal prosecutors it fired and then publicly pilloried....

The Justice Department is shifting from offense to accommodation.

"In hindsight, we should have provided the U.S. attorneys with specific reasons that led to their dismissal that would have helped to avoid the rampant misinformation and wild speculation that currently exits," Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Friday. "We will continue to work with Congress to reach an accommodation on providing additional information."

It was a striking reversal for an administration noted for standing its ground even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Gone were the department's biting assertions that the prosecutors were a bunch of "disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress."

And the department no longer tried to shrug off the uproar as "an overblown personnel matter," as Gonzales had written in an opinion piece published Thursday in USA Today.

Agency officials also ceased describing majority Democrats as lawmakers who would "would rather play politics" than deal with facts.

Plame to testify before House committee "Former CIA officer Valerie Plame, who was exposed after her husband, former diplomat Joe Wilson, criticized President Bush's prewar intelligence, will testify next week before a House committee probing how the White House dealt with her identity. But it is unclear whether Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who was invited by Chairman Henry Waxman to appear before his committee, will accept the invitation." (MSNBC)

Read More →

Every day it's something new. Today it's the Justice Department's Inspector General who throws more gasoline on the bonfire. From The Washington Post:

A Justice Department investigation has found pervasive errors in the FBI's use of its power to secretly demand telephone, e-mail and financial records in national security cases, officials with access to the report said yesterday.

The inspector general's audit found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations -- some of which were potential violations of law -- in a sampling of 293 "national security letters."...

Fine found that FBI agents used national security letters without citing an authorized investigation, claimed "exigent" circumstances that did not exist in demanding information and did not have adequate documentation to justify the issuance of letters.

The PATRIOT Act, of course, gave the FBI an extraordinary amount of flexibility in seeking information without the nuisance of probable cause. The bureau only need certify that the records are "sought for" or "relevant to" an investigation "to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities."

"In 2005 alone," the Post reports, citing the audit, "the FBI issued more than 19,000 such letters, amounting to 47,000 separate requests for information."

But the FBI apparently ignored even those flimsy requirements. The most glaring abuse appears to concern the so-called "exigent letters":

The report identified several instances in which the FBI used a tool known as "exigent letters" to obtain information urgently, promising that the requests would be covered later by grand jury subpoenas or national security letters. In several of those cases, the subpoenas were never sent, the review found.

The review also found several instances in which agents claimed there were exigent circumstances when none existed. The FBI recently ended the practice of using exigent letters in national security cases, officials said last night.

Just a coincidence that they ended the practice right before the IG's report was released, I guess.

As a result of the laxity with NSLs, the FBI seems to be swimming in personal information: "In an unknown number of other cases, third parties such as telephone companies, banks and Internet providers responded to national security letters with detailed personal information about customers that the letters do not permit to be released."

Now, although officials tell the Post that the "known problems may be the tip of the iceberg in an internal oversight system that one of them described as 'shoddy,'" the inspector general's report apparently states that these were not "manifest deliberate attempts to circumvent statutory limitations or departmental policies." In other words, the FBI agents didn't know they were breaking the law or the rules. What's worse, they apparently didn't care enough to check.

Update: The Post reports:

Members of Congress vowed today to conduct investigative hearings -- and consider reining in parts of the Patriot Act -- following revelations of pervasive problems in the FBI's use of national security letters to secretly obtain telephone, e-mail and financial records in terrorism cases.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Linda Sánchez (D-CA) pushed for the Justice Department to make six Justice Department officials available for questioning about the department's purge of eight U.S. attorneys.

"We ask that you make available to us several officials at the Department for follow-up questioning next week and that you provide us with certain critical documents and information," they write. You can read it in full here.

In a statement, Conyers said that this week's hearing "provided an important first look into what may be a much larger and wide-ranging problem at the Department of Justice and in the Administration as a whole."

Conyers and Sanchez want to talk to the same group sought by the Senate Judiciary Committee, namely:

-- Mike Elston, we know, made the now infamous not-at-all-threatening phone call to former USA Bud Cummins.

-- Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson and the Justice Department's White House liaison Monica Goodling were involved in generating the list of prosecutors to fire.

-- Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer told two of the fired prosecutors that they were being replaced in order to free up the spot for someone else.

-- Michael Battle, who will be stepping down at the end of next week, actually made the calls firing the prosecutors.

-- and Paul McNulty, the Deputy Attorney General who has already testified before the Senate about the firings.

So we're just getting started.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the meeting senators from the Judiciary Committee had with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this afternoon:

“While we didn’t get any better explanation for these unprecedented firings, two important developments came from this meeting. First, the Attorney General told us the Administration would not oppose our legislation requiring Senate confirmation for all U.S. Attorneys. Second, in one form or another, each of the five Department of Justice witnesses will be made available to us for questioning. The details and venue are still being worked out, but we are hopeful they will cooperate."

And from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who authored the bill:
“The Administration has withdrawn their objection to my legislation, and I welcome that. It is a step in the right direction.

My concerns have been that the firing of people with strong performance reviews all at one time – a number of whom were involved in corruption cases – sends an adverse signal to the rest of the U.S. Attorneys as well as to the general public.

They may be hired by the President, but they serve the people, and they should not be subjected to political pressure.

We have to pass this legislation, and we have to get it in place. We must ensure that these appointments are carefully scrutinized and confirmed by the Senate – now and in the future.”