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And another one of Gale Norton's former colleagues falls. This time, it's Italia Federici, the founder of a conservative environmental group that served as Jack Abramoff's gateway to the Interior Department.

Legal Times reports that Federici received a target letter from investigators in January. Target letters are frequently a warning of an indictment.

Federici's ex-boyfriend, Steven Griles, formerly the #2 at the Interior Department, also received a target letter in January. And he pled guilty last month to lying to Congressional investigators about his relationship with Federici and Abramoff.

Federici ran a nonprofit called the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), a conservative think tank, which she founded with Gale Norton, who became Bush's Secretary of the Interior. As a result, Federici was well connected in the Interior Department. So she and Abramoff had a deal. Abramoff's clients pumped $500,000 into her organization; in return, she ensured that people inside the department knew about his tribal clients' needs.

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The Washington Post goes front page today with a piece headlined, "How Bogus Letter Became a Case for War."

The subject, of course, is the Niger yellow cake forgeries, the letter that led to Bush's 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address, and eventually, in part, to the invasion of Iraq.

But there's a funny thing about the piece -- something symptomatic of most of the reporting on the Niger forgeries. It doesn't really tell how a bogus letter became a case for war. In that story, the beginning and the end would be of utmost importance -- the beginning being the origin of the documents, the end the Bush administration's suppression of their fraudulence.

But the Post story doesn't cast light on either of those parts of the story. Instead, the piece is mostly about an almost irrelevant aspect of the story, the sale of the documents by Rocco Martino, a former Sismi (Italy's intelligence service) agent, to an Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba. The sale occurred in October, 2002 -- long after they were acquired by the U.S. from Sismi, and almost six months after Joseph Wilson's fated trip to Niger to investigate whether such a sale was even possible.

About the Bush administration's use of the documents, the Post reports, "dozens of interviews with current and former intelligence officials and policymakers in the United States, Britain, France and Italy show that the Bush administration disregarded key information available at the time showing that the Iraq-Niger claim was highly questionable." Nothing new there.

And about the documents' origins -- the only unanswered question from the whole farce? It's addressed in two sentences at the very end of the piece:

It remains unclear who fabricated the documents. Intelligence officials say most likely it was rogue elements in Sismi who wanted to make money selling them.

It's actually not so much of a mystery. It's just that the Italians, for some reason, don't want to get to the bottom of it.

Matthew Dowd, principled dissenter? Or grieving, over-protective parent driven mad by heartbreak?

Yesterday, Matthew Dowd, a former top strategist for Bush, publicly broke wtih the administration in The New York Times. His reasons were clear from the piece: Bush, he said, had become more "secluded and bubbled in.” And he cited a series of President's Bush's blunders (Abu Ghraib, Katrina, the war in Iraq) to explain his loss of confidence in Bush's leadership.

But Jim Rutenberg, the author of the piece, also wrote that Dowd's was an "intensely personal story of a political operative who at times, by his account, suppressed his doubts about his professional role but then confronted them as he dealt with loss and sorrow in his own life." Ruternberg noted that "in the last several years, as he has gradually broken his ties with the Bush camp, one of Mr. Dowd’s premature twin daughters died, he was divorced, and he watched his oldest son prepare for deployment to Iraq as an Army intelligence specialist fluent in Arabic."

The White House, in reacting to Dowd's criticism, has chosen to focus on the personal nature of Dowd's break.

On Face The Nation yesterday, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said that Dowd was "going through personal turmoil" and that having a son in Iraq "can only impact a parent's mind as they think through these issues."

White House spokesperson Dana Perino amplified that talking point today, emphasizing Dowd's "personal hardship" and that "war brings out a lot of emotions in people." As you can see on the video, when challenged by reporters on this ("It's really about him and not about you, about the president and the White House and the things that he's seen go wrong?") Perino went into a death spiral of talking points, almost losing her way in the middle of a meandering sentence.

Late Update (4/3): And President Bush piled on during his press conference today.

Who's that Justice Department official who apologized to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about providing false testimony to Congress? And which one's taking the Fifth? And which one threatened the fired U.S. attorneys to keep quiet or else?

Well, to complement our still-growing timeline, we've added a U.S. attorney firings scandal section to our reference section if you ever need refreshing on the players. (Answers: Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, DoJ White House liaison Monica Goodling, and McNulty's chief of staff Michael Elston.)

As you can see from the lack of a Karl Rove or Alberto Gonzales entry, we've still got some work to do, but we think you'll find it useful. And as always, please let us know if you find any mistakes or think we've missed something.

I'm not exactly sure what I imagined, but it wasn't this.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a profile yesterday of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the D.C. madam who has threatened to go public with her high-flying clients' names. Apparently Palfrey ran her business from her home in California, where she kept what you might call a low profile:

Palfrey has lived in Vallejo since 1991, when she purchased her house. Neighbors described her as a recluse who kept her blinds closed and came outside only to feed other people's cats...

The only real communication anyone in the neighborhood had with her was when she called the police and fire departments on her next-door neighbor, Michelle Gandley, who had put out tiki lamps for a Hawaiian luau party....

Palfrey's other house is adjacent to a country club and golf course in Escondido and is for sale for $439,000. Her neighbors there also described her as reclusive and unfriendly.

"I don't think she is a people person," said Lois Weldon, who lives nearby.

Look out! It's Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on a talking point rampage!

Here's a compilation from Hatch's Meet The Press appearance this Sunday, during which the senator, apparently not a TPM reader, repeated more times than I can count that there's "not a shred of evidence" of impropriety in the U.S. attorney firings. And in an impressive reframing, he called Monica Goodling's choice to plead the Fifth Amendment "gutsy."

Readers are encouraged to compile "shreds of evidence" for Sen. Hatch's future reference in the comments.

During the same appearance, Russert asked Hatch whether he would serve as the next attorney general. Hatch seemed shocked at the idea, stuttering and bubbling over with modesty. Somehow, he managed to add that if duty called, “I would serve this country any way I could.”

When asked about Hatch's possible candidacy as AG, Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) responded, "The rumor on the Hill this week was that he was actively running for it." And Leahy noticeably declined to say if Hatch would have an easy time being confirmed by his committee. Here's that video:

Senator Demands Attorney General Clear Iglesias' Name "Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote Gonzales on Friday demanding that the attorney general clear David Iglesias' name. Schumer's letter came the day after Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, testified before Congress that in hindsight, he would not have recommended Iglesias for dismissal." (USA TODAY)

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Immediately following Alberto Gonzales' now famous March 13 press conference, during which Gonzales accepted full responsibility for (while expressing total ignorance of) the U.S. attorney firings, the White House said that Gonzales would soon be making the trek to Capitol Hill to explain himself.

The next day, Bush said that he'd talked to Gonzales "about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it very clear to members in both political parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made, making very clear about the facts.” Tony Snow added soon after: "the attorney general, I think, is going to be doing some outreach to members of Congress to explain what went on."

But that outreach never occurred. And when the Senate Judiciary Committee finally scheduled Gonzales' testimony, the two parties agreed on April 17, a full month after Gonzales' press conference. Chairman Pat Leahy says that the committee wanted an earlier date, but Gonzales objected.

That was before Kyle Sampson testified.

Now, the administration has suddenly realized that postponing Gonzales' testimony only feeds the fire. Now, Gonzales can't testify soon enough. Gonzales had a Justice Department official ask for an earlier hearing date. And White House counselor Dan Bartlett hit the airwaves this Sunday to say, "Let's move it up and let's get the facts.... Let's have the attorney general there sooner rather than later."

But the Democrats are just fine with the way things are.

That's because in the meantime, staffers for the House and Senate judiciary committees will be conducting private interviews with seven Justice Department officials involved in the purge. And when Gonzales appears before the committee, senators will be armed with transcripts from those interviews to check the AG's story. Says Leahy: "We're, in effect, interrogating a number of people leading up to it... The 17th is now the time…. It's the date the hearing will take place."

Given Gonzales' penchant for memory lapses, it'll be handy for the senators to know just what he's forgetting.

There has been an assumption that Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's liaison to the White House, is pleading the Fifth simply because of her role in preparing false testimony to Congress. That is, at least, the impression given by her lawyer's letter to the investigating committees.

But this profile in Legal Times shows that Goodling is far from just a mid-level aide who played a peripheral role in the purge. On the contrary, she's very well-connected and apparently one of the main drivers behind the process of selecting U.S. attorneys.

Just look at how Legal Times describes Goodling's role in the interviews to select U.S.A. replacements:

Interviews for U.S. Attorney replacements took place with only a handful of people: David Margolis, the department's top-ranking career official and a 40-plus year veteran; a member of the White House Counsel's Office; the head of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys; and Goodling.

Charles Miller, whom Gonzales appointed as interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, interviewed with the panel in the fall of 2005. "They asked me what I'd done to support the president," Miller says. It wasn't a question Miller expected. He told them he'd voted for Bush.

But a former prosecutor who did not get a U.S. Attorney post was left with a sour feeling after his interview in 2006. "Monica was in charge, in essence, of the interview," recalls the former supervisory assistant U.S. Attorney. "I walked out of that room and thought, 'Wow, I've just run into a buzz saw.'"

It can't be surprising, then, that Goodling got her start in national politics in 1999 by working in the Republican National Committee's war room for political opposition research. There, she was working directly underneath Tim Griffin, then the deputy research director of the RNC who bragged that his shop made the bullets in the war against Democrats -- and later the administration's pick to be the U.S. attorney for eastern Arkansas. Goodling, of course, played a key role in helping install her old boss in the spot last year.

But Goodling worked alongside a number of others who went on to hold prominent positions in the Justice Department:

Among Goodling's close associates were Barbara Comstock, head of opposition research for the RNC and later the chief spokeswoman for Ashcroft; Griffin, Comstock's deputy...; and Mark Corallo, who in 2003 took the helm of the Justice Department's Public Affairs Office after Comstock.

The whole thing is worth reading.

Poor Rudy. All he did was choose one crooked guy to run New York City's police force (OK, OK, and then to run the Department of Homeland Security... well, and he also chose Kerik to be his business partner, but that's it), and people just won't let it go.

From The New York Times:

Buffeted once again by bad news about his disgraced former police commissioner [Bernard Kerik], Rudolph W. Giuliani said Saturday that he should have looked more closely into the commissioner’s background and acknowledged that it may cause voters to question his judgment....

“I think I should have done a better job of investigating him, vetting him, however you want to describe that,” Mr. Giuliani said in his first extended public comments on the latest revelations about Mr. Kerik. “It’s my responsibility, and I’ve learned from it,” he said, adding, “I’ll make sure that I do a much better job of checking into people in the future.”

That would ring hollow coming from anyone. But coming from a former U.S. attorney, it sounds profoundly dishonest.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that -- in addition to pleading guilty last year to accepting illegal gifts from a mobbed-up contractor -- Kerik is likely to be charged with several felonies (tax evasion, filing false information to the government, and conspiracy to commit wiretapping) by federal prosecutors. It's not clear if this federal investigation is the same one that was reported to focus on the hundreds of thousands of dollars that disappeared from a nonprofit affiliated with New York City's Department of Corrections when Kerik headed the agency. It's hard to keep track, you know.