TPM News

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew essentially nothing about the partisan culture and violations of federal law that were routine at the agency under his watch.

That's what we heard today from Glenn Fine, the Department of Justice Inspector General.

Fine told lawmakers on Capitol Hill today that his investigators interviewed Gonzales for their report, which found numerous senior officials were illegally using partisan considerations when hiring some prosecutors and judges.

The IG was emphatic. Take a look:

Should federal judges interpreting the new U.S. wiretapping law be able to hear and consider legal arguments from outside parties like the American Civil Liberties Union?

The Bush administration says no.

The Department of Justice filed court papers yesterday seeking to block the ACLU -- and any other third party -- from submitting briefs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the classified forums that will be primarily responsible for translating the federal law signed last month into practice.

The DOJ argues that any briefs the ACLU might file would be ill-informed because its lawyers cannot access the classified information at the heart of many FISA cases, and the proceedings would just clog the flow of cases

"The collective effect of these restrictions is to make any meaningful participation by the ACLU...impossible. ... Indeed, allowing third-parties to use this Court as a general forum to present facial challenges to the Government's surveillance activities could cause a flood of litigation that would district this Court from its important national security functions."
But the ACLU, which has filed a lawsuit seeking access to the FISA court, says the new law is public and complex and the judges should be able to consider a wide range of views when handing down important rulings. Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU's National Security Project said in a statement today:
"If the government's request is granted, the court won't hear arguments from anyone except the government and those arguments will be presented to the court in secret briefs. ... Especially because the new surveillance law departs so significantly from the standards that have applied to government surveillance for the last 30 years, any proceedings relating to the new law's constitutionality should be adversarial and as informed and transparent as possible."
Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, supports the ACLU's position. He wrote a paper in 2004 calling for greater participation in the FISA court.

"The DOJ is taking an expansive view of executive power and narrow view of judicial power, Swire told TPMmuckraker in an interview today. "Under the government's view, the judges seem required to uphold an unconstitutional system because the judges are forbidden from getting briefing from anyone other than the executive branch."

While there is limited precedent for third-party involvement in the typically classified proceedings under the 1978 FISA law, the new technologies that prompted lawmakers to updat the law law may also warrant new procedures, Swire said.

"The 1978 version of FISA targeted one individual at a time or sometime one terrorist organization. The new approach sweeps far more broadly and it looks more like an administrative system than a traditional judicial wiretap order."

"In light of those changes and the constitutional challenges to those changes, the court would be well served to be briefed with multiple viewpoints," Swire said.

The DOJ argues that the ACLU already has an opportunity to contest the constitutionality of the FISA law a lawsuit currently pending in New York's Southern District.

For those in a quandary about what the House Judiciary Committee's contempt citation of Karl Rove means, we refer you to the currently pending House Judiciary Committee v. Harriet Miers, et al.

Following the path of Miers, we see that after the committee votes on contempt, the resolution is then passed to the entire House. If the House approves the contempt of Congress resolutions, it goes to the DOJ for action.

But since Rove is claiming executive privilege, it is unlikely the DOJ will take any action -- at least they certainly didn't for Miers.

After the predicted DOJ demurring occurs, the House has passed a resolution that allows the HJC to file suit against the parties held in contempt-- which brings us back around to where we started: HJC v. Miers.

According to Press Secretary Dana Perino, the president and White House have "overall disappointment" in former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' politicized Justice Department.

Transcript from White House Press Briefing with Perino today:

QUESTION: Dana, what's your reaction to the Justice Department report where they -- the report essentially says, yes, that there was inappropriate influence on politics and ideology that was part of our hiring and firing practices?

PERINO: Well as I have read the coverage of it -- I haven't read the report, but as I read the coverage of it, there's obviously information in there that would cause concern to anybody. And we agree with Michael Mukasey that -- the Attorney General -- that there was concern. There should be concern any time anyone is improperly using politics to influence career decisions. We believe that is improper. We could absolutely not defend that. And we are pleased that the Attorney General has taken steps to change it there at the Justice Department.

QUESTION: Can I infer from that that President Bush is disappointed in Alberto Gonzales?

PERINO: I think that if you look at the report, and it is in line with what the Attorney General said at the time, which was that he was not aware of that going on. And so I don't think there's anything -- disappointment doesn't necessarily go to the Attorney General.

QUESTION: You don't think it would change -- it doesn't change the President's . . .

PERINO: No, I don't. The whole situation -- the whole situation in terms of the politicization -- or accusations of politicization -- if you look at career hires that should not have had any sort of questions put towards them as to what sort of party they represent, or what affiliation they might belong to, or who they might vote for -- those are inappropriate for career positions. And the President is glad that the -- Attorney General Mukasey made sure that that is no longer ongoing at the Justice Department. And it's nothing that we could defend, and we never have.

QUESTION: But you won't go so far as to say that, looking at Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department, President Bush is disappointed this was going on?

PERINO: Well, I think that we are -- overall disappointment in the situation, sure.


To see Perino express the White House's disappointment in living color, click below:

We wrote late Monday about the possibility of Margaret Chiara, one of the the nine fired U.S. attorneys, being dismissed over the rumors that she was in a lesbian relationship with assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Hagen. The OIG report released on Monday morning disclosed that Hagen was refused a promotion at Main Justice after Monica Goodling got wind of stories about her alleged sexual orientation and her rumored relationship with Chiara.

In a statement yesterday to the Los Angeles Times, Chiara stated she agreed that the stories were the source of her firing:

"I could not begin to understand how I found myself sharing the misfortune of my former colleagues," Chiara said of the eight other U.S. attorneys who were fired. "Now I understand."

Justice officials said after her firing that Chiara was let go because of mismanagement and because she had caused morale in her office to sink. Chiara said Monday she believed those concerns were raised by the same people who spread rumors about her and Hagen.

"I guess now I am persuaded with deep regret that this is what was the basis," she added. "There is nothing else."


The next phase of Inspector General's report is due out any day now. Maybe it will shed more light on the issue of why Chiara, and the other dismissed U.S. attorneys, lost their presidential appointments.

Throughout the investigation of improper political influence on the Department of Justice's hiring process, the DOJ's inspector general interviewed 85 people -- but only one from the White House.

The IG, Glenn Fine, testifying this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Karl Rove aide Scott Jennings was the only White House official he sought to interview for his report released Monday.

"Why were no others at the White House questioned?" Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) asked Fine.

"From the evidence that we had, both emails and discussions, we did not see that others were involved in this process, and we questioned the person who was involved," Fine said, referring to Jennings.

The process Fine was referring to was the partisan screening of prospective prosecutors and judges.

Yet Fine did note at least one exception, an example his report cited of a prospective immigration judge who was appointed after Rove expressed support for the candidate.

Fine was said he did not believe any of the misconduct described in his 140-page report called for criminal prosecution for false statements.

"We looked at that and clearly in our judgment and in the judgement of prosecutors who have been working on this case, we do not think there was a sufficient basis for a criminal prosecution for false statements."

Late Update: Here's the exchange between Specter and Fine.

The House Judiciary Committee has just voted to hold Karl Rove in contempt for failing to respond to a subpoena to face questioning from the Committee on the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

The final vote was 20 ayes and 14 nays. With Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) voting "absolutely, 100% aye."

In a memo on the Full Committee meeting, Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) summarized the facts surrounding Rove's refusal to even appear before the committee and assert executive privilege:

Mr. Rove has refused even to appear before the Committee and assert whatever privileges that he believes may apply to his testimony, relying on excessively broad and legally insufficient claims of "absolute immunity" - never recognized by any court - in declining to appear.

The former mayor of Newark was sentenced to two years in prison yesterday for selling city land to a 39-year-old mistress who is close to half his age. Former mayor Sharpe James apologized to his family and admitted to making "a mistake" before going into custody. (AP)

General Norton Schwartz, the Bush administration's nominee to be the next Air Force Chief of Staff, will face an uncommon second round of classified questioning from the Senate today. Schwartz faces questions over testimony he gave after the initial invasion of Iraq and concerns that he withheld information. (LA Times)

Former Dallas district attorney Henry Wade's legacy is in shambles seven years after his death. Some 19 convictions for murder, rape, and robbery that Wade and two of his trained successors won have been overturned due to DNA exonerations. No other county in America has freed more innocent people in recent years than Dallas. (AP)

Read More →

The House Judiciary Committee's ongoing battle with Karl Rove continues today, with a vote on holding the former White House Chief of Staff in contempt.

Rove has refused to answer to a subpoena to testify before Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) committee, answering only in writing to questions from the minority representation of the HJC.

The vote is the first thing on the committee's agenda for their meeting today which starts at 10:15 AM ET. Be sure to check back for updates on the outcome of the proceedings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will get a chance to grill Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn Fine today about the report he released Monday.

Fine's 140-page report detailed incidents of DOJ officials violating federal law by using political considerations in the hiring of some federal prosecutors and judges.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has harshly criticized the DOJ for the misconduct outlined in the report.

TPMLivewire