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Can they all just get along?

From The New York Times:

White House officials said Wednesday that the search for a successor to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales would probably last at least several days. The officials said they were trying to strike a conciliatory tone with Senate Democratic leaders who will control the confirmation.

The officials said a nominee might not be announced until after President Bush had returned on Sept. 9 from Australia....

In hopes of smoothing the nominee’s way, senior White House officials have contacted Congressional leaders to sound them out about candidates.

The contacts are routine for all cabinet nominations, although Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was struck by the cooperative tone he had heard in a conversation about nominees with the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, who is overseeing the search.

“In the past,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview, “the White House has talked about consultation, but they were the most wooden conversations I ever had. This was the first time there was a real back and forth.”

Alberto Gonzales's resignation was just the latest in the steady flow of departures by senior Justice Department officials involved in the U.S. attorney firings. But Brian Roehrkasse, the Department spokesman who served as the leadership's attack dog as the firings scandal intensified, is staying where he is. In fact, Roehrkasse, formerly the deputy director of public affairs, was actually promoted to the top spot in the office earlier this month.

Just about every story in the major papers on the scandal this spring and summer featured Roehrkasse's rebuttals. That, of course, is his job. But just as a number of statements from Department officials to Congress have proven false, so have a number of Roehrkasse's public statements. And Roehrekasse surprised many with his personal attacks on the fired U.S. attorneys, most famously calling them "former disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress." The former prosecutors, of course, had been subpoenaed to appear.

Roehrkasse replaced the former director, Tasia Scolinos, after she retired from the Department. Scolinos is perhaps best known for her brainstorming on how to handle the U.S. attorney firings, for instance suggesting in an email that the "one common link" among the fired prosecutors was that "three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts." Scolinos' suggestion, of course, was duly employed.

Burt Brandenburg, who served as the Justice Department's director of public affairs during the Clinton administration, said being the DoJ's spokesperson is a tough job, dealing with complex issues in a highly politically charged atmosphere. "Every day's a Super Bowl," he said. But "there's a tradition of attorney generals of both parties that you have to be the grown-up, that you have to have some of the thickest skin in Washington and can't be as political as your critics.... You're held to a higher standard."

Roehrkasse has fallen well short of that standard, making a string of public statements about the firings that were dubious at best (e.g. that they were performance-related and part of a "routine process") and downright false at worst (like some of Gonzales'). Below is our brief round-up of the worst of the worst.

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Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) has already been convicted of a crime, and he and his co-defendant are in jail pending an appeal of their convictions. But according to a prosecutor on the case, Siegelman's efforts at getting his conviction overturned have crossed the line into obstruction of justice.

Speaking during a hearing for former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga said Siegelman and Scrushy had been doing things from behind bars to "manipulate events" - acts that could be considered a crime.

Feaga did not provide details to U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, and he would not elaborate in an interview outside the courtroom.

"It should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention" to what is going on, Feaga said, "and it will be more obvious in the coming months."


Siegelman, of course, has been arguing that the Republican U.S. attorney, at the prodding of Karl Rove, went to extraordinary lengths to secure a conviction against him, a popular Democratic former governor. Presumably Feaga is referencing the Siegelman legal team's attempts to drum up coverage of their claim that the original prosecution was politically motivated. But is that illegal? We'll have some perspective on that shortly.

A federal prosecutor filed court papers yesterday formally rejecting the assertion that he indirectly profited from the ill-gotten largesse of several-time-felon Thomas Kontogiannis.

Two weeks ago, attorneys for John Michael, who's facing money laundering charges in the Duke Cunningham scandal, issued a j'accuse of their own. It so happened that Phil Halpern, an assistant U.S. attorney on the Michael case, had an uncle named Leonard, who lived on the same Nassau County, New York cul-de-sac as Tommy K. Two years after Leonard died in 2003, Tommy K's daughter, Annette Apergis, bought the Halpern property using an account of her father's connected to laundering money for Cunningham-directed bribes. Michael attorney Ray Granger asked, essentially: What are the odds?

It gets weirder.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is going to donate $23,000 of her Presidential campaign funds to charity after it became public that the man who raised the cash is wanted in California. Norman Hsu is wanted for failing to appear in court for a 1991 charge of grand theft auto. But shirking the support of Hsu might be more costly than it first seems; Hsu has quietly become one of the largest campaign supporters in the country, and has claimed that he could bring in over $1 million to Hillary's campaign. (Associated Press, WSJ's Washington Wire)

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is desperately trying to find his way out-- of his guilty plea for lewd conduct. Craig has suggested that he will try to withdraw his plea, which in someone's mind will make this whole story go away. Legal analysts aren't so sure; although Craig could withdraw his plea, he then might face more serious charges, and be subject to the release of more details about his restroom romp. (LA Times)

Last December, four Marine Corps infantryman were charged with rampaging into Haditha, killing 24 civilians after one of their friends was killed by a roadside bomb. Today, the charges on two of the men have been dismissed and dismissal has been recommended for another man. Legal issues have thwarted the prosecutors, who were unable to even prove that the killings violated the American military code of justice. (NY Times)

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First was the war over the benchmarks. Now there's the war for whose benchmarks really mark the benches.

In May, Congress mandated that the Government Accountability Office produce an assessment of whether the U.S. and the Iraqi government are meeting eighteen indicators of political, economic and military progress in Iraq. Unlike the analysis produced by the Bush administration -- preliminarily delivered in July, and to be finalized by September 15 -- the GAO study has to give a stark yes-or-no answer for the achievement of each so-called benchmark. Sure enough, a draft of the study, leaked to The Washington Post, finds that only three of the eighteen benchmarks have been met -- while the July White House assessment said about half of them had been.

As the Post reports, the GAO report casts doubt on whether progress is being achieved in several of the areas the Bush administration has highlighted. July's White House report, for example, cited "an overall decrease in sectarian violence" in Baghdad. The GAO, by contrast, finds that "the average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July." The Iraqi security forces remain dysfunctional: the GAO cites pervasive sectarianism in the Iraqi Army units sent to Baghdad for the surge, while the White House called their performance "satisfactory."

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Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) isn't wasting any time. On August 4, literally the day that the Protect America Act passed the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to Conyers and intelligence committee chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), imploring them to come up with alternative legislation for foreign-to-domestic surveillance.

And this afternoon, Conyers announced that his House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the now-gutted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on September 5, the first Thursday back after the Congressional recess.

The current act expires in six months, but relentless pressure from liberals in the House to immediately scale back its vast powers is forcing Pelosi's hand. During the debate over the act on August 4, Conyers focused on "reverse targeting" -- warrantless surveillance of a person inside the U.S., potentially occurring when he or she speaks to someone abroad -- so expect the committee hearing to reflect that focus.

Who will Bush nominate to be the next attorney general?

Although there haven't been any signs so far that the administration is interested in working with Democrats to name a broadly acceptable replacement, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wants to talk it over.

"I look forward to working with you in your selection of a nominee to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States," Leahy wrote to Bush today. "I hope that you will engage with Senate leadership and share your thoughts so that meaningful consultation can result and the Senate will be better able to fulfill its constitutional advice and consent role. I am available to meet with you in Washington after Labor Day and urge that Senator Specter be included as well."

A couple of weeks ago, Leahy also wrote Bush to see if they couldn't work out a deal for the testimony of Karl Rove and other former White House aides.

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Long before he was internationally infamous as the Homeland Security secretary who dithered while New Orleans drowned, Michael Chertoff helmed the Justice Department's Criminal Division, placing him at the top of all federal criminal prosecutions. He left the position in 2003 to take a federal judgeship -- but not before severely misconstruing, under oath, a chain of events in the 2001 interrogation of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. As it turns out, a sworn statement, made by an attorney in the division's Terrorism and Violent Crime Section, John De Pue, contradicts Chertoff's testimony to Congress, something that can't bode well for his rumored nomination for attorney general.

Chertoff, in 2003, testified that he was unaware of internal dissent over a decision by the FBI to interview Lindh without the presence of his family-retained lawyer. "I have to say, Senator," he told Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), "that the Professional Responsibility [Advisory] Office was not asked for advice in this matter. I'm familiar with the matter. I was involved in it."

An account given by De Pue in 2002 casts serious doubt on Chertoff's statement. You can read his statement here.

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Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) -- whose home was raided by the FBI late last month -- told an NBC affiliate in Alaska, KTUU, he still isn't sure if he is the "target" of the federal investigation.

"I'm not sure I'm a target yet. I've not been told I'm a target. But as a practical matter, the situation -- I shouldn't have answered that question either," Stevens said. "I was not a target of those other investigations, is what I was saying."


As we've noted before, the "target" line is a favorite one of scandal subjects who want to sound as if things aren't all that bad. But it sounds like Stevens needs some convincing.

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