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"I want to assure you and the American people that I will be an independent Attorney General. I will be the people's lawyer," Eric Holder told the Senate judiciary committee moments ago, in response to a question form Sen. Herb Kohl.

Holder's answer suggests the extent to which the shadow of Alberto Gonzales hangs over the curent nominee's confirmation, which began this morning. Much of Senate Judiciary chair Pat Leahy's opening statement was an argument that Holder is the man to fix the problems of politicization at DOJ under Gonzales that we've chronicled at TPMmuckraker over the last two years.

Said Leahy, after noting the department's report, released Tuesday, into politicized hiring under Gonzales:

Americans must be able to trust their Justice Department. That trust must not be squandered or taken for granted. We need leaders who are prepared to take the laboring oars of a Justice Department whose dedicated law enforcement professionals have been misused and demoralized. Eric Holder is such a leader.


Just as revealingly, Republicans have centered their opposition to Holder on the claim, without much evidence, that, in fact, he's likely to be a second Gonzo. Earlier this month in a speech on the Senate floor, ranking GOPer Arlen Specter laid out the argument:
Mr. Gonzales left office accused of politicizing the Justice Department, failing to restrain Executive overreaching, and being less than forthcoming with Congress ... I am convinced that many of Attorney General Gonzales' missteps were caused by his eagerness to please the White House. Similarly, when Mr. Holder was serving as DAG to President Clinton, some of his actions raised concerns about his ability to maintain his independence from the president.


As their main exhibits in this case, Specter and other GOPers have cited Holder's 2001 pardon, as a top DOJ official in the Clinton administration, of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, which it appeared was supported by the president. GOPers have also condemned Holder's support for clemency for members of the FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist group, at a time when Hillary Clinton was seeking a Senate seat in New York, which has a large Puerto Rican population.

Already this morning, Specter has grilled Holder on these issues, declaring, in reference to Rich: "The indicators are that you were very heavily involved and yet you testified that you were only casually involved. So there's a question of candor there."

Holder responded:
I made mistakes ... in the Rich matter. I've accepted the responsibility of making those mistakes...I should have made sure that all the prosecutors in that case were informed of what was going on. I made assumptions that turned out not to be true ... I've learned from that experience. I think that, as perverse as this might sound, I will be a better Attorney General should I be confirmed, having had the Marc Rich experience.


It's great that Holder has learned from his mistakes. But, Specter's grandstanding notwithstanding, the entire attack is pretty bogus to begin with.

There's just not much of a comparison between the level of politicization that DOJ saw under Gonzales -- when US Attorneys were removed for not bringing cases that reflected the White House's political priorities, and officials actively sought to avoid hiring liberals -- and Holder's sins during the last administration. And that excludes the numerous examples, cited by Leahy and other Holder supporters in recent weeks, of Holder acting in ways counter to the president's interest while at DOJ.

But leaving aside the minor political theater over Holder, the prominence of Gonzales' record in these hearings, as a negative marker against which to measure Holder, is perhaps the strongest testament to the unprecedented damage that the former Attorney General, and the president, did to the department.

A former military prosecutor filed a declaration yesterday claiming that the system for handling evidence at Guantanamo Bay is so chaotic that it makes a fair prosecution nearly impossible. In his work on one detainee's case, Darrel Vandeveld found that evidence was often missing, false, or unreliable. The declaration was made in support of the release of a detainee held at the facility for six years. (Washington Post)

A federal judge has issued an order for the Bush administration to preserve electronic messages. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that employees of the Executive Office of the President turn over any emails from March 2003 to October 2005. The issue of missing emails arose during the scandal involving the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA employee, and this time frame will cover the first two years of the investigation into that affair. The White House has previously claimed to have "lost" emails from this period that could possibly relate to the scandal. (Associated Press)

A federal judge ordered the release of a detainee from Guantanamo Bay yesterday, arguing that the evidence is too weak to warrant further detention. One of the prosecution's claims, that Mohammed El Gharani was a member of an al Qaeda cell in London in 1998 has come under suspicion, as Gharani was only 11 at the time. (Washington Post)

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Yesterday we picked out a shocking excerpt from the DOJ report on politicized hiring, in which then-Voting Rights chief John Tanner told Brad Schlozman over email in 2004 that he liked his coffee "Mary Frances Berry style -- black and bitter." Berry, an African-American, was at the time the chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, which works, among other things, to protect Americans' right to vote.

As we noted, this wasn't the first known case of Tanner making racially insensitive remarks. He left the voting-rights section soon after sparking a furor by saying that voter ID laws discriminate against the elderly, and therefore not against African-Americans, because African-Americans die younger.

But it turns out that Tanner didn't stop working on voting issues for DOJ -- he just found a new perch from which to do it. After a short stint with the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices, he showed up again last April working on election-related issues for the Alabama Law Institute, and still being paid by the Justice Department under a federal program, the Associated Press reported at the time. (Thanks to reader Ally for the catch.)

What exactly has Tanner been working on? Says AP:

At the institute, his work will include writing about getting Justice Department approval of city annexations and new boundaries for political districts, such as legislative districts.


In other words, DOJ's response to the outrage provoked by Tanner's racist comments was to ... send him to Alabama to help with the racially charged work of redrawing political districts. Great idea!

Is the department still paying Tanner's salary today? DOJ's press office didn't immediately get back to us on that, claiming it didn't have access to the information right away.

But it looks like the answer is yes. According to that AP story from April:
[Tanner] is participating in the federal government's program to loan personnel to other government agencies. The Justice Department is paying Tanner's salary and benefits to be in Alabama through next spring.


We reached Tanner at the Law Institute. When we said we were from TPM, he told us he'd call us back, but hasn't yet.

George Bush and Dick Cheney are continuing to insist we haven't committed torture. But that's now been contradicted by the Bush administration official whose job is to decide whether to bring Guantanamo detainees to trial.

"We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani," the convening authority of military commissions, Susan Crawford, told the Washington Post's Bob Woodward. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" (for prosecution).

Al-Qahtani is a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the 9/11 attacks.

According to the Post, the techniques used included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, which left al-Qahtani in a "life-threatening condition."

Crawford told Woodward:

The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge (to call it torture).


The Post adds:
[Crawford] is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.

An Associated Press review of Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton's official correspondence found that she directly intervened six times on behalf of companies who donated to her husband's foundation. The issue of the Clinton Foundation has already created a headache for the senator, with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) insisting that the foundation no longer accept donations from foreign governments. (Associated Press)

The trial of Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr was essentially reset after U.S. military commission officials secretly withdrew and then re-issued charges against the defendants in the case, according to Khadr's defense lawyer. The move is known as "withdrawal and re-referral" and nullifies all prior proceedings against defendants. The top Pentagon official in charge of commissions withdrew charges on December 17; a new trial date is yet to be determined. Khadr, a Canadian, is the only Western citizen still being held at the facility. (CBC News)

A new rule enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency will make it easier for industrial operations to expand without having to apply for new pollution permits. The most recent midnight regulation issued by the Bush administration allows plants to exclude emissions from unrelated activities when calculating whether or not new pollution control measures will be needed. The rule is part of an effort by the Bush administration to make over a pollution-control initiative called the New Source Review. (Washington Post)

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Over the weekend, President-Elect Obama said we should "look forward as opposed to looking backwards" on the question of prosecuting Bush administration officials for torture, illegal wiretapping, and other possible crimes committed in the name of national security.

But yesterday, the House Judiciary committee got behind a very different approach, releasing a nearly 500-page report that recommends establishing a blue-ribbon commission -- along the lines of the 9/11 commission, but with subpoena power -- to investigate whether crimes were committed. (Last week, as we reported over at Election Central, Judiciary chair John Conyers and nine other lawmakers introduced a bill to set up such a commission.)

The report also advocates an investigation by the Justice Department, potentially involving a special prosecutor. And in addition to focusing on issues of torture, wiretapping, and the like, the report also recommends continuing to probe matters like the leaking of the name of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the US Attorney firings.

It'll be interesting to see how Democrats will reconcile Conyers' aggressive stance, which seems to enjoy broad support among the party's base, with Obama's more cautious approach.

There's been some confusion today over the question of whether Sen. Carl Levin intends to publicly release ten contracts, signed by the Treasury Department with banks receiving bailout funds, that Treasury has agreed to give him.

We just got the following statement from Levin's office:

Senator Levin intends to release the documents, consistent with Senate rules, after reviewing them for proprietary information.


So that clears that up.

But it leaves a larger, related confusion. As we reported earlier this afternoon, many of the firms that received bailout funds (including a number that appeared in Levin's list) have filed, with the SEC, the "Letters of Agreement" they signed with Treasury. These letters appear to be detailed contracts spelling out the terms of the transactions in question, and are publicly available on the SEC site.

We've asked Sen. Levin's office what additional information is included in the contracts he's referring to, and will keep you posted.

So we're confused about something.

Yesterday, as we reported, Sen. Carl Levin announced that the Treasury Department had agreed to release the contracts for bailout funds that it signed with 10 firms -- though it remains unclear whether Levin's office will release them publicly.

But at least some of those companies appear to have filed documents with the SEC covering their receipt of the funds. These "Letters of Agreement" are contracts signed by bailout czar Neel Kashkari and firm executives, which spell out in detail the amount of capital the firms are receiving, on what terms, and even cover issues like executive pay limits.

For instance, here's the one for AIG (not technically a part of the TARP program) which seems similar to what Levin has obtained.

And here's the agreement Treasury came to with American Express, signed by the firm's CEO Kenneth Chenault.

And the database appears to contain similar Letters of Agreement for hundreds of other companies that have receive TARP funds -- though it's not clear that it contains such letters for all the firms Levin has asked for.

We called Levin's office to ask whether there's additional information -- beyond what's in the SEC filings -- contained in the contracts Treasury has agreed to hand over, but have not yet received a response.

Late Update: And here's what seems to be Bank of America's "Letter of Agreement" with Treasury, signed October 26. B of A is another firm that Treasury has agreed to release its contract for, according to Levin's announcement. It has received $15 billion in TARP funds.

And here's the same thing for Bank of New York Mellon, which got $3 billion in TARP funds back in October, and is another firm for which Treasury has agreed to its release the contract to Levin.

It looks like Bradley Schlozman will escape prosecution, at least for now, despite having been found in a DOJ report to have broken the law by politicizing hiring decisions at the department, and then lying about it to a Senate committee.

But a flood of readers has written in to ask whether Schloz might still be disbarred in the state of Kansas, where he's currently practicing law.

So we called the state's disciplinary administrator, who would handle the issue. Stanton Hazlett told TPMmuckraker that Schlozman has been registered in the state since 1994, but no complaints about him have been filed.

Indeed, Hazlett at first said he wasn't familiar with Schlozman's name, and asked us to send him the DOJ's report released this morning. Eventually, he said that he did recall the allegations of politicized hiring, but wasn't aware that Schlozman had lied to Congress about it. Unsurprisingly, Hazlett suggested that he would take such a matter very seriously.

We'll keep you posted on any developments...

Late Update: The Washington Post reports:

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility chief H. Marshall Jarrett said they would refer their findings to legal disciplinary authorities.


According to one TPMmuckraker source: "DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility routinely refers findings of ethics violations by Justice Department lawyers to the state bar associations in states where that lawyer is licensed to practice".

So perhaps those complaints will soon start coming in.

Good news for those still hoping we'll get to the bottom of the White House's role in the US Attorney firings.

The Associated Press reports:

A federal judge says the incoming administration of Barack Obama must be given copies of documents the Bush White House has been withholding from Congress on the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.

The order by U.S. District Judge John Bates is a minor victory for the House Judiciary Committee.

...

The House committee was concerned that the documents would no longer be readily available once they were shipped to the National Archives when President George W. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.


The White House has refused to provide the crucial documents, which were subpoenaed by Rep. John Conyers' Judiciary committee. In addition, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and Josh Bolten - all senior White House officials at the time of the firings, have so far defied subpoenas issued by the committee.

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