TPM News

Concerning The Philadelphia Inquirer's story about a "voter alert!" going out to New Jersey voters in a local election, the following statement was just released by Michael Drewniak, Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey:

A story published in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer which said the U.S. Attorney's Office flooded Camden with taped phone messages warning against buying votes in that city's recent election was false. Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office or the Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice had any role in the phone-message blitz.

As U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie noted, the U.S. Attorney's Office would never engage in such a practice, which clearly could have been used as a voter-suppression tactic. The U.S. Attorney's Office was not contacted to authenticate the matter or comment for the story, which implied the office sanctioned or was the source of the recorded phone-message blitz.

The Inquirer's story contained a transcript of the call, which cleverly gave the impression of coming from the U.S. attorney's office, while not actually saying that it was:

"Voters alert!" said the taped message. "Please note that it is a federal crime to be paid for a vote. I repeat, it is a crime. If you or your neighbor have been offered payment, please report it immediately to the U.S. Attorney's Office at 856-757-5026."

So now the question is: who paid for the robo calling? And where else have such robo calls been used?

On her last day in the Civil Rights Division's voting rights section, an African-American 33-year veteran of the Justice Department wanted to send her colleagues a message: "I leave with fond memories of the Voting Section I once knew," she wrote, "and I am gladly escaping the 'Plantation' it has become. For my colleagues still under the 'whip', hold on - 'The Times They are A Changing.'"

The woman, who retired in late December of last year, was not alone in seeing racial discrimination in the Civil Rights Division and the voting rights section in particular. The section, which is charged with protecting the voting rights of minorities, has seen a dramatic drain in African-American staff over the past few years. And a number of those who have remained have alleged discrimination -- according to a knowledgable source, at least two African-American employees have filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints against their supervisors, claiming they've routinely been passed over for promotions given to white staff.

Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME's Council 26, the union that represents non-attorney staff in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, told me that he frequently hears similar complaints:

“When I ask our members in the Civil Rights Division what’s their biggest problem, their answer is discrimination.... They tell me stories about minority employees being continually passed over for jobs that are given to white employees. They talk about disrespect from managers. They talk about explicitly racist comments that are made by attorneys, the same attorneys that have been brought in by the Republican political appointees that run [the Justice Department].

"While there are serious problems throughout the Civil Rights Division," Goldman said, "the worst offender is the voting section.”

Over the past two years, there's been a continual drain of African-American attorneys from the section. Six African-American attorneys have left; there are currently only two out of a total of approximately thirty-five, estimates Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting section.

Read More →

When your bid to build a bridge to nowhere is shut down, try to get federal funding for another bridge, to a different part of nowhere – where your friends own property.

John Stanton of Roll Call wrote a great story (Sub. Req.) that parses out the likely motivations for the Alaska Congressional delegation’s work over the last few months to snag federal cash for a bridge to connect an area where no one lives to Anchorage.

Why bother to invest in infrastructure to nowhere?

Well, it could make the remote area, called “Knik Arm,” a major suburb, but more importantly, folks with familial and political ties to Republican Rep. Don Young and Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski would profit:

If the area is successfully developed, that could mean a significant windfall for a number of people close to the Congressional delegation — including Young’s daughter, Joni, Stevens’ chief of staff and campaign manager and Murkowski’s state director — some of whom purchased land in the area just a few months before then-Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Young began substantive work on a massive highway bill in early 2003.

Read More →

Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House oversight committee, announced today that former CIA Director George Tenet has agreed to testify before his committee. The topic: the White House's hyping of false intelligence in the run-up to the war, specifically Iraq's alleged efforts to procure uranium from Niger.

June 19th's the date. And to make things even more interesting, Waxman has also scheduled Condoleezza Rice to appear at the same hearing. Waxman's committee has already issued a subpoena for Rice's testimony, a subpoena that Rice has signalled she will ignore. Waxman "continues to expect that she will comply with the congressional subpoena," notes the committee's press release. Rice had been scheduled to testify tomorrow.

Colleagues Cite Partisan Focus by Justice Official "Two years ago, Robin C. Ashton, a seasoned criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, learned from her boss that a promised promotion was no longer hers. 'You have a Monica problem,' Ms. Ashton was told, according to several Justice Department officials. Referring to Monica M. Goodling, a 31-year-old, relatively inexperienced lawyer who had only recently arrived in the office, the boss added, 'She believes you’re a Democrat and doesn’t feel you can be trusted.'" (NY Times)

Read More →

Just how many of the fired U.S. attorneys were canned because they didn't pursue claims of voter fraud fervently enough?

The Washington Post counts 'em up: we know that David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Washington had angered state Republicans by not bringing indictments after highly publicized investigations of alleged liberal malfeasance. And we know that Todd Graves of Kansas City perhaps disappointed the leadership in D.C. by refusing to sign a Justice Department lawsuit to purge Missouri's voter rolls. And we know that Steven Biskupic of Milwaukee, despite a state full of unhappy Republicans, narrowly avoided being fired because he was lucky enough to have a very powerful political patron.

So that's three firings and one near miss.

And now the Post adds another: Daniel Bogden of Nevada, who was among the seven U.S. attorneys fired last December 7th. Bogden's firing has remained the greatest mystery -- and the efforts by Justice Department officials to justify it the most pathetic (an official told Congress that they wanted "renewed energy" in Bogden's district). But voter fraud prosecutions had not been raised as a possible reason for Bogden's dismissal until now.

Here's what the Post adds: When Justice Department official Matthew Friedrich -- following up on Karl Rove's request last October to investigate voter fraud allegations in three jurisdictions (Philadelphia, Milwaukee, New Mexico) -- called Benton Campbell, chief of staff for the Criminal Division, Campbell told him that Nevada was also "a problem district."

It's not clear from the Post's account whether Friedrich brought this news back to Kyle Sampson or whether word of Nevada's "problem" made it back to the White House. But what we do know now is that there's reason to believe that displeasure with a lack of voter fraud prosecutions was behind at least four of the nine prosecutors fired last year. Somehow, all four were in battleground states.

Put that together with the Justice Department's efforts to install U.S. attorneys who are gung-ho about voter fraud prosecutions and the picture becomes clearer.

Today Richard A. Hertling informed the Senate Judicary Committee that Bradley Schlozman would not be able to testify before the Committee on May 15th because Schlozman will be on a previously scheduled vacation.

Text beneath the fold.

Read More →

Check out some snapshots from the Caribbean cruise businessman Warren Trepp sent Gov. Jim Gibbons (R.-NV) and his wife on in 2005.

Trepp is the founder of eTreppid, a company for which Gibbons helped secure federal contracts while a member of the House. Gibbons is now reportedly under FBI investigation for his involvement with Trepp.

You can see the photos here. (Be sure to scroll down for the group shot.) It looks like a good time.

The pictures accompany an NBC interview with Dennis Montgomery, who raised the bribery allegations in a lawsuit he filed against Trepp, his former business partner, over intellectual property infringement of software he says he created. During the interview, Montgomery describes just how certain he is that Trepp gave Gibbons $100,000 in cash and casino chips on the cruise.

Dennis Montgomery: There was a lot of alcohol and a lot of drinking. And that's when I first saw Warren give Jim Gibbons money.

Lisa Myers: How much?

Montgomery: Close to $100,000.

Myers: How can you know?

Montgomery: Because he gave him casino chips and cash.

Myers: Are you sure about what you saw?

Montgomery: I'm absolutely, positively sure.

No more absentee landlords!

It's hard work for Democrats undoing the damage of the Patriot Act Reauthorization bill passed last year, a huge bill that contained a number of provisions that affected U.S. attorneys.

Last month, the Congress passed* a bill reversing one of those provisions -- one that made it possible for the attorney general to indefinitely appoint U.S. attorneys without Senate confirmation.

Now Four Democrats are trying to undo another of those little-noticed provisions -- one that made it possible for certain U.S. attorneys to pull double duty in the Justice Department leadership. The provision was shepherded through by William Mercer, the principal associate deputy attorney general, who's also the U.S. Attorney for Montana. When the chief judge in his district, hopping mad that Mercer is gone almost all the time, charged that Mercer was violating the residency requirement for U.S. attorneys, Mercer had the law changed. And he's kept both jobs for two years.

But Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Jon Tester (D-MT) will introduce legislation on Monday to change the law back to what it was. “U.S. Attorneys cannot do their jobs adequately from Washington, D.C.," Feinstein said. "The position requires a huge commitment.”

The punchline to all this, remember, is that Justice Department officials have claimed that U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias was fired because he was an "absentee landlord," spending 30 days a year away from the office -- on Navy reserve duty.

*Update: A TPM reader points out to me that although both houses have passed a version of this bill, they have not yet been reconciled in conference. So the Congress hasn't yet passed a final version.

OK, one last clip from yesterday's hearing, one that I didn't get to yesterday out of sheer Gonzales fatigue.

But it encapsulates the absurdity of Gonzales' claim of "full responsibility" for the firings while at the same time hiding behind a review "process" that, as everyone now knows, was a joke.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked Gonzales a simple question: was it a mistake to fire the eight prosecutors?

And here we go down the rabbit hole...

Gonzales: ...I stand by the decision.

Sherman: So if you had it do all over again, these eight would be toast?

Gonzales: No, again, because we would have used a different process. And I don’t know if using a different process, the same recommendations would have come to me. I relied upon….

Sherman: I’m asking you whether you made a mistake, not whether you like your process. The conclusion to fire these eight, was that the right, best thing to do for the administration of justice?

Gonzales: I think... I stand by the decision. In hindsight, I’m not happy with the process. I know that… to me, the process was important, too. And I think using a different process, we may have come out with different recommendations to me, which would have made a difference… perhaps.

If I could dare to summarize: Gonzales stands by his decision to fire those eight, but if he had it to do all over again, he would have fired somebody else.

Amazing... Gonzales makes Kyle Sampson look like a model of directness.