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Yesterday I reported that the Justice Department had written Congress that, against the advice of Alberto Gonzales, the president had shut down an internal department investigation into the administration's wireless wiretapping program. Bush's was an unprecedented and arbitrary (and still unexplained) move.

Democrats in the Senate want to know more. So yesterday Sens. Russ Feinfold (D-WI), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter following up.

In particular, the senators want to know the stated rationale behind Bush's decision. They also want to see documentation relevant to the stifled investigation. Why?

As they write in the letter: "Given the serious questions that have been raised about the Justice Department's credibility, we continue to believe it is important to review documents supporting the assertions in [the Justice Department's] letter."

In other words: we don't believe anything you say now, so just save your breath and hand over documentation.

Yet another lie.

One central aspect of the U.S. attorneys firing is that the Justice Department (via a staffer for then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA)) was able to slip in a provision to the Patriot Act Reauthorization bill that made it possible for the administration to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period without Senate confirmation. That way, the administration could install who they wanted for the rest of Bush's term -- like, say, Karl Rove's former aide.

Justice Official William Moschella told McClatchy ten days ago that he'd sought the change "without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House." Just a rogue operator.

But look at what's in the emails:

However, Moschella's e-mails suggest that he discussed the need for proposed changes with other Justice Department officials on Nov. 11, 2005, around the time when the bill was being drawn up.

"We support eliminating the court's role" in appointing interim U.S. attorneys, Moschella wrote to officials, including Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, "and believe the AG should have that authority alone."

So let's start with what the major papers gleaned from the documents dumped at 7:30 last night. Then I'll return to what people found in the comments.

McClatchy hits all the high points, the main one being, of course, that Alberto Gonzales sat in on a meeting about the firings on November 27 to review the firing plan. The firings occurred ten days later. During his "I take full responsibilty but I didn't know anything about it" press conference earlier this month, Gonzales said "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."

The response from a DoJ spokesman is that the meeting doesn't contradict Gonzales: "This meeting concerned the roll-out of the U.S. attorney plan. The information available to us does not indicate that there was discussion at this meeting about which U.S. attorneys should or should not be on the list." Huh. Still seems to me to be a discussion about "what was going on."

There are, of course, other highlights -- an email shows public relations officials from the Justice Department and the White House apparently brainstorming about how to sell the firings to the public.

DoJ's Tasia Scolinos wrote on November 21 to the White House's Catherine Martin, little more than two weeks before the firings: "The one common link here is 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."

Other emails between the two show Scolinos optimistic that the purge would go over quietly: "I don't see it as being a national story - especially if it phases in over a few months." Oops.

Her explanation:

Speaking with reporters on Friday evening, Ms. Scolinos said that when she sent that message she had only a fragmentary understanding of the plan to dismiss the prosecutors.


More soon.

After last Friday's document dump, Paul Kiel set up a post and discussion thread for digging through the 3000 pages for key nuggets and findings. And it was a TPM Reader who first flagged the email gap from mid-November through early December. So now we're doing it again. McClatchy News has just posted PDF copies of tonight's document dump. Pick one of the eleven pdfs and label your comment with the document and page number. So 1:13 would be for document one, page thirteen. Let the sleuthing begin.

President Bush shut down an internal Justice Department investigation into the administration's warrantless wiretapping program against the advice of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to a letter sent by a senior Justice Department official to Congress yesterday. To Democrats, it's yet another example of why Gonzales should step down.

The investigation, launched in January 2006 by the Department's internal watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) -- an office created in the wake of the Watergate scandal to prevent similar abuses by DoJ officials -- would have examined whether Department officials had properly reviewed the legality of the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance Program, which dates back to 2001.

But the probe was shut down when Bush denied investigators the security clearances necessary for the investigation. Such a denial was unprecedented and arbitrary.

Read More →

Some highlights from the piece just out from McClatchy:

Under President Bush, the Justice Department has backed tougher state voter identification laws and steered U.S. attorneys toward investigating voter fraud _ policies that critics say have been intended to suppress Democratic votes....

Since 2005, McClatchy Newspapers has found, Bush has appointed at least three U.S. attorneys who had worked in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division when it was rolling back long-standing voting rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters.

Another newly installed U.S. attorney, Tim Griffin in Little Rock, Ark., was accused of participating in efforts to suppress Democratic votes in Florida during the 2004 presidential election while he was research director for the Republican National Committee. He's denied any wrongdoing....

Several former voting rights lawyers, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of antagonizing the administration, said the division’s political employees reversed the recommendations of career lawyers in key cases and transferred or drove out most of the unit’s veteran attorneys.


And Rove's preoccupation with the issue:

Last April, while the Justice Department and the White House were planning the firings, Rove gave a speech in Washington to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He ticked off 11 states that he said could be pivotal in 2008. Bush has appointed new U.S. attorneys in nine of them since 2005: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. U.S. attorneys in the latter four were among those fired.

Rove thanked the audience for “all that you are doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the integrity of the ballot is protected.” He added, “A lot in American politics is up for grabs.”...

One audience member asked Rove whether he’d “thought about using the bully pulpit of the White House to talk about election reform and an election integrity agenda that would put the Democrats back on the defensive.”

“Yes, it’s an interesting idea,” Rove responded.


Go read the whole thing.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee extended an invitation for Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff Kyle Sampson to testify. If he didn't want to come voluntarily, the committee said, he'd be subpoenaed.

Today, via a letter from his lawyer to the committee, he accepted -- no subpoena necessary.

"Mr. Sampson looks forward to answering the Committee's questions," the letter reads. "We trust that his decision to do so will satisfy the need of the Congress to obtain information from him concerning the requested resignations of the United States Attorneys."

The hearing will take place at 10 AM next Thursday.

Following House Democrats yesterday, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) held a press conference today to send a simple message: let's talk.

As Schumer put it:

I hope the White House recognizes a ten letter word, C-O-M-P-R-O-M-I-S-E. That’s what its all about. And now both parties at this end of Pennsylvania want to sit down and negotiate, but we’re waiting for the White House.


Schumer pointed to Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) proposal to the White House yesterday as an indication that both Republicans and Democrats thought the White House offer of a private meeting with no oath and no transcript was unacceptable. Specter proposed to allow the aides to be questioned publicly by just a limited number of lawmakers without putting them under oath. "When you have the lead Democrat and the lead Republican closer to one another than the White House is to either of them, it really puts a burden on the White House," Schumer said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) -- who's said he doesn't see what "all the hubbub is about" -- met with White House counsel Fred Fielding today to discuss the dispute.

Update: More from Sen. Feinstein:

“This is not going to go away. It’s not going to diminish. We are very serious in the pursuit of truth here. And there is only one way that we are going to get that truth. And that is in the open with a transcript, so that everybody can hear the same thing....

“What has really surprised me is the defensive mode of this White House. It’s not really called for. This is all within our right. We are the supervisory body, the oversight body. We have the right to ask these questions, we have the right to issue these subpoenas. And the stonewalling of it, I don’t think achieves anything other than encourage the American people to believe that where there is smoke there really is fire.”

We hear there's likely to be another document release from the Justice Department sometime today.

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