TPM News

Who's in charge of how the Justice Department handles the investigations into the U.S. attorney firings?

Alberto Gonzales, we know, is holed up rehearsing his version of the story. And the Justice Department wrote last week to assure Democrats that Gonzales and his deputy, Paul McNulty, had nothing to do with the investigations relating to the U.S. attorneys purge.

Following the rules of succession at the Justice Department, according to the letter from Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling, the guy in charge of all that is Solicitor General Paul Clement.

That means Clement was in charge of personnel decisions relating to Monica Goodling (in other words, it was his call to make her the first ever DoJ official to stay on the payroll after pleading the Fifth), he's supervising the Department's joint investigation into the firings by the Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General, and he's in charge of which documents are doled over to Congress and which aren't.

So who is Clement? Since 2005, as Solicitor General, he's been the administration's face before the Supreme Court. Legal Times profiled him earlier this year. Can you guess which Supreme Court justice he used to work for?

Here's the latest instance of what is becoming a flourishing genre in the new Congress: the spurned chairman letter. It comes when oversight efforts are met with deafening silence from the administration.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice such a letter (pdf) today. Last month, Waxman wrote Rice, inviting her to an April 18 hearing on the Niger forgeries and the infamous sixteen words, and asking a list of questions about what she knew about the documents and how they got into the State of the Union address. What he got in return was a mostly irrelevant letter from one of Rice's subordinates forwarding previous correspondence that answered none of his questions. He's not happy and is pressing again for answers.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) delivered one of the classics of the genre last week, berating Alberto Gonzales for his silence in response to repeated requests for information over the past several months.

The administration's strategy, if indeed it is one, seems short-sighted. It's worked for the past six years. But the Dems are in charge now -- and anger and subpoena-power is a dangerous mix.

The Los Angeles Times delves deep into the issue of the White House's parallel RNC communications system today. Democrats, particularly the House's chief investigator, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), have been pushing to get their hands on those emails -- based on the suspicion that the White House has been using those alternate email addresses to avoid keeping a record that might be vulnerable to subpoena.

The piece doesn't satisfy my curiosity. Maybe, Tom Hamburger reports, they're chock full of revealing, embarrassing material (says one GOP activist, "There is concern about what may be in these e-mails") or maybe they're all long gone because the RNC has a policy of purging "some emails" after 30 days -- or maybe it'll be a long, long time before Congress sees any emails, because the White House is bound to fight it out based on a stretched claim of executive privilege.

But it's humorous to watch the administration justify the problem by pointing a finger at the Clinton White House, which first instituted a parallel communications system:

When Karl Rove and his top deputies arrived at the White House in 2001, the Republican National Committee provided them with laptop computers and other communication devices to be used alongside their government-issued equipment.

The back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes....

"The system was created with the best intentions," said former Assistant White House Press Secretary Adam Levine, who was assigned an RNC laptop and BlackBerry when he worked at the White House in 2002. But, he added, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Clinton's director of politcal affairs Doug Sosnik, quoted in the article, says that the Clinton White House did set aside a "small number of separate computers and cellphones."

But, of course, there's a difference here. The line between policy and politics wasn't so very blurry then. For instance, the recent focus on the White House's parallel system is due to Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings' use of his RNC address to communicate with the Justice Department's Kyle Sampson about the U.S. attorney purge. But no campaign computers or cellphones were used to communicate with the Justice Department during the Clinton years, Sosnik says.

Rove's habits are instructional. Rove, remember, has a White House address -- as well as an RNC-issued blackberry and laptop. But according to a former White House official quoted in National Journal, Rove "does ‘about 95 percent’ of his e-mailing using his RNC-based account."

So perhaps the system did start as an imitation of the Clinton system. But the similarities end there.

State GOP Official Pushed Voter Fraud Issue "For weeks, it was unclear who whined to the White House last year that not enough voter fraud cases were being prosecuted in Milwaukee. Sources tell No Quarter that Rick Wiley, then the executive director of the state GOP, directed a staffer in 2005 to prepare a 30-page report on election abuses in Wisconsin so Wiley could pass it along to a top White House official. 'The report was prepared for Karl Rove,' said a source with knowledge of the situation. 'Rick wanted it so he could give it to Karl Rove.'" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Read More →

The New York Times delivers the first major report on the surge's progress this morning, a painstaking effort involving statistics and on the ground reports. The verdict?

American casualties are down in Iraq's provinces, but way up in Baghdad. Sectarian killings are down, but increased use of car bombs has kept the civilian death toll high -- and anyway the beheadings seem to be surging again. And as the U.S. moves to confront insurgents, the groups seem to be fracturing, making the fight increasingly confusing.

Or as an American private in the First Battalion, Fifth Cavalry puts it:

“The insurgents, they see what we’re doing and we see what they’re doing. Then we get ahead, then they figure out what we’ve done and they get ahead.

“It’s like a game of cat and mouse. It’s just a really, really smart mouse.”

Now, remember that the whole logic for the surge was to provide stability in Baghdad so that the government could have some breathing room. But as the Times makes clear, there's nothing mixed about the political progress: there's been none.

Meanwhile, Muqtada al-Sadr seems to have ended whatever semblance of cooperation he'd offered as the U.S. tried to stabilize Baghdad. Earlier, his Mahdi Army had stood down on his orders as troops entered Sadr City. But there can be no doubt -- that time is over.

How better to sum up the situation than this: the Iraqi government was chronically undecided on whether to proclaim April 9th, the day Baghdad fell to the U.S., a national holiday. But, in the end, the holiday was forced on them:

Security remained so tenuous in the capital on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the U.S. capture of Baghdad that Iraq's military declared a 24-hour ban on all vehicles in the capital from 5 a.m. Monday. The government quickly reinstated Monday as a holiday, just a day after it had decreed that April 9 no longer would be a day off.

A subdued Bernie Kerik, the man who's taught Rudy Giuliani the value of background checks, made an appearance on Fox News today.

After weighing in on the Iran hostage resolution and inveighing against Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, Kerik was finally asked about reports that he was the target of a federal investigation.

He responded by rattling off every award and citation he'd received in his long public service career, allowed that he'd "made mistakes" (to which he'd pled guilty), and cautioned that "the U.S. attorney may do an investigation, he does not have to push criminal charges."

Unfortunately for Kerik, while the U.S. attorney doesn't have to charge him, it seems very likely that Kerik will eventually be indicted.

Monica Goodling's reign as the first ever sitting Justice Department official to plead the Fifth is over, CNN just reported. She'll resign tomorrow.

Update: More from the AP:

The top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales abruptly quit on Friday, almost two weeks after telling Congress she would not testify about her role in the firings of federal prosecutors.

"I am hereby submitting my resignation to the office of attorney general," Monica M. Goodling said in a three-sentence letter. There was no immediate reason given, but her refusal to face Congress had intensified a controversy that threatens Gonzales' job...

Calling her five-year stint at Justice an honor, Goodling told Gonzales in her letter, "May God bless your richly as you continue your service to America."

In the wake of what the U.S. attorney firings scandal has revealed about the Bush Justice Department, it's hard to imagine a more troubling scenario than this:

A Bush-nominated U.S. Attorney launches a corruption case during an election year that implicates the Democratic governor. He pushes the case, which targets an obscure state bureaucrat and obtains a conviction in June; she's sentenced to 18 months in prison in late September. The case is featured prominently by Republicans in attack ads against the governor.

But when the case is appealed (after the election), the circuit court, in a remarkable reversal, rejects the conviction out of hand, saying that the evidence against the bureaucrat "is beyond thin." Says one of the three circuit judges, "I'm not sure what your actual theory in this case is."

Well, it happened -- in Wisconsin. And the U.S. attorney in the case is Milwaukee's Steven Biskupic, appointed by Bush in 2002. Somehow he's been given the privilege of serving beyond his four year term.

Dozens of readers have written in, asking if this is what a "loyal Bushie" looks like. It's hard to see it otherwise.

Steve Benen has more.

The U.S. attorney firings scandal has laid bare the administration's -- and particularly Karl Rove's -- preoccupation with prosecuting voter fraud. But there's a flip side to this coin. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has virtually abandoned its traditional role, undertaken since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, of actively protecting African American voters from discrimination.

There's no greater demonstration of that fact than this simple fact: During the first five years of the Bush administration, the Justice Department's voting section only filed a single case alleging voting discrimination on behalf of African American voters. That's despite the fact that the section, part of the Civil Rights Division, was created mainly to protect African American voters from discrimination.

But during that same time period, the section managed to file the first ever "reverse" discrimination case under the Voting Rights Act.

That case, United States v. Ike Brown and Noxubee County, alleges that Brown, the chairman of Noxubee County's Democratic Executive Committee in Mississippi, has been trying to limit whites' participation in local elections. The case, filed in 2005, is currently being tried, and is likely to reach its conclusion later this month.

Read More →

update: For a more recent list, click here.

Alberto Gonzales is working hard to shore up support on the Hill, but there are a number of Republicans who aren't worth a phone call.

Below is a list of GOP lawmakers and other notables who want Gonzales gone. In the interest of clairty, we've chosen to limit it to those who've made unequivocal statements -- if the list included those who've merely expressed skepticism, it would be much, much longer.

Here it is:

The Senate:

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR)- "For the Justice Department to be effective before the U.S. Senate, it would be helpful."

Sen. John Sununu (R-NH)- "The president should fire the attorney general and replace him as soon as possible with someone who can provide strong, aggressive leadership."

The House:

Rep. Vern Elhers (R-MI)- "Since he's such a close, personal friend, he's hurt the President by what he's doing, he should have the politeness to offer his resignation."

Rep. Paul Gillmor (R-OH)- 'Given the totality of the circumstances, I think it would be better for the President and the Department if the Attorney General were to step down."

Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA)- "Even for Republicans this is a warning sign … saying there needs to be a change."

Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE)- "Frankly, until these statements came out that contradicted his first statement, I was backing him, saying that he shouldn't resign. Now I think that he should."

Other Notables:

The National Review Editorial Board- "Alberto Gonzales should resign. The Justice Department needs a fresh start."

Mark Corallo, Justice Department spokesman (2002-2005)- "Alberto Gonzales' loyalty to George Bush has got to trump George Bush's loyalty to Alberto Gonzales."

How much longer will the list grow after the April 17 hearing?

Note: If we've missed any other notable calls for the AG's head, let us know in the comments.