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The revelations come fast and furious.

Last night, the AP reported that when the local press revealed that Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-AZ) was under investigation just weeks before the election, his top aide called U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton's aide to ask about it. Charlton was one of the U.S. attorneys who was fired little more than a month later. And even though Charlton's aide had reported the contact to the Justice Department (as the rules dictate), that report was not among the thousands of pages the Justice Department turned over to congressional investigators.

And now this. From The Wall Street Journal:

As midterm elections approached last November, federal investigators in Arizona faced unexpected obstacles in getting needed Justice Department approvals to advance a corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, people close to the case said.

The delays, which postponed key approvals in the case until after the election, raise new questions about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other officials may have weighed political issues in some investigations....

Investigators pursuing the Renzi case had been seeking clearance from senior Justice Department officials on search warrants, subpoenas and other legal tools for a year before the election, people close to the case said....

...the investigation clearly moved slowly: Federal agents opened the case no later than June 2005, yet key witnesses didn't get subpoenas until early this year, those close to the case said. The first publicly known search -- a raid of a Renzi family business by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- was carried out just last week....

...the Renzi case -- like many that involve members of Congress -- is being handled jointly by the local U.S. attorney and the department's public-integrity section. In such cases, a senior department official must approve requests for wiretaps and warrants and other formal legal steps.


There's another revelation in the piece: that investigators had lobbied Washington for clearance to tap Renzi's phone for months. That clearance was only given in October of last year. And unfortunately for the investigators, word broke of the investigation in late October -- disrupting their wiretap.

The allegations against Renzi are complicated, involving a land swap, allegedly channeling a kickback through a family company, etc. The Journal laid it all out in a piece this last weekend.

All this raises a question. The bosses at main Justice seem to have been similarly reluctant to proceed with regard to the Duke Cunningham probe. As TPM reported a couple of weeks ago, U.S. Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam had to wait sometimes for months for clearance on certain moves in her investigation. So is there a pattern here?

Continuing to backpedal after the FBI raided one of his family busineses last week, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) said in a statement today that he'll be resigning "all my committee assignments." Renzi already resigned from his seat on the sensitive House Intelligence Committee last week. He also holds seats on the Committee on Financial Services and Committee on Natural Resources.

This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal detailed the tangled business dealings that have investigators probing whether Renzi received a kickback on a land deal.

Here's Renzi's full statement:

"For several weeks, I have been the subject of leaked stories, conjecture, and false attacks about a land exchange. None of them bear any resemblance to the truth.

"So that no one can question the motivation behind the land exchange, which I and other leaders from both parties have argued is critical to the future of Arizona, I have spoken to Congressman Pastor who will introduce a new version of the Resolution Copper land exchange. In addition, I will take a leave of absence from all my committee assignments. I will continue to focus on important district work and issues critical to my constituents."

Earlier today, I noted the Office of Special Counsel's sprawling investigation into Karl Rove and others in the administration, reported by The Los Angeles Times. But there was something missing from the LA Times piece -- that Bloch himself is under investigation and something of an open joke among watchdog groups.

Justin over at The Blotter has the highlights:

...government watchdogs have accused Bloch himself of similar behavior. In April 2005, they and others complained the White House appointee had allowed his office to "sit on" a complaint that then-White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice used government funds to travel in support of President Bush's re-election bid.

By contrast, they said, Bloch ordered an immediate on-site investigation of a complaint that Bush's challenger for the White House, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., improperly campaigned in a government workplace, which had been filed around the same time.


Bloch is under investigation by the White House-run President's Committee on Integrity and Efficiency for that and a host of other infractions, which means, as David Corn summarizes, "The investigator [is] investigating officials who oversee the agency that is investigating the investigator."

That's all a long way of saying that there are a number of questions about Bloch's pledge to "not leave any stone unturned."

When Ty Clevenger, a line attorney in the Civil Rights Division, forwarded a friend's resume to deputy division chief Bradley Schlozman, he was expecting questions about his friend's experience as a lawyer. But what Schlozman wanted to know, according to Clevenger, was whether his friend was a Republican.

Clevenger, a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association, told Schlozman that his friend was conservative. He just wasn't sure how active his friend was politically. The friend never got an interview.

It's the most direct account yet of politicization at the Justice Department. There have been many other signs -- and not just the administration's preference for "loyal Bushies" as U.S. attorneys. Last week, a group of anonymous Justice Department employees wrote to the House and Senate judiciary committees to complain about politicization in the department's hiring process. The deputy attorney general's office, they alleged, was screening department applicants to eliminate Democrats.

"We take allegations like this one very seriously," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) told me, reacting to Clevenger's account. "Specific to the Civil Rights Division, we are investigating complaints of politicization both in hiring and prosecutions. The Justice Department is not the place for this type of political cronyism, and we will get to the bottom of it."

Clevenger, who graduated from Stanford Law School in 2001, told me that he came to work at the Civil Rights Division when a friend, also a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA), asked him if he'd be interested working there. Clevenger said yes and gave him his resume. Relatively soon, he received a call from Schlozman, then the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who asked him to come in for an interview.

It's certainly not surprising that the RNLA was used as a recruiting ground for the division -- as McClatchy detailed last month, at least 25 members of the RNLA work in the Justice Department, including at least 10 in the Civil Rights Division.

But apparently membership in the RNLA was not the only way that Schlozman gauged applicants. In an interview with McClatchy last month, Schlozman claimed that he'd tried to "depoliticize the hiring process" at the Civil Rights Division.

But Clevenger found quite the opposite to be the case.

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From Roll Call (sub. req.):

With Attorney General Alberto Gonzales vowing to remain in his job and President Bush standing by him, Senate Democratic leaders are seriously considering bringing a resolution to the floor expressing no confidence in Gonzales, according to a senior leadership source....

The vote would be nonbinding and have no substantive impact, but it would force all Republican Senators into the politically uncomfortable position of saying publicly whether they continue to support Gonzales in the wake of the scandal surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Here's the story told by Mark Geragos, Brent Wilkes' lawyer: then-U.S. Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam was so determined to bring an indictment against Wilkes before she was forced from office in February that she leaked details of the case to reporters to force the Justice Department's hand.

You can read the motion to dismiss that he filed in the case yesterday here. Geragos argues that the leaks prejudiced members of the grand jury investigating Wilkes, and that the case should be thrown out.

Wilkes, remember, is one of the defense contractors who allegedly bribed Duke Cunnigham. Lam's office filed two indictments two days before she left office, indicting Wilkes for his dealings with Cunningham and for his dealings with Dusty Foggo, formerly the executive director of the CIA.

Last month, Geragos claimed in court that Lam was "meeting resistance from bosses in the Justice Department, who had rejected drafts of indictments against Wilkes and former CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, saying they needed revisions." It wasn't clear what Geragos' source for those claims were, and he didn't expand on them in his filing yesterday. Though, as TPM has reported, those bosses did drag their feet on the Cunningham investigation, delaying the approval of indictments for sometimes months.

There's no doubt that leaks did occur. Geragos quotes one of the prosecutors as saying that the leaks were "embarrassing... reprehensible and inexcusable." Whether those leaks were part of "a deliberate campaign by the former United States Attorney, Carol Lam, to use Mr. Wilkes and the other defendants here in her political squabble with the Justice Department’s main office in Washington D.C." and "a gesture of defiance by Carol Lam as she was forced out of office," as Geragos argues, is another matter.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 14.

Apparently I wasn't paying close enough attention to the hearing last week, because I missed this.

From The Hill:

Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers discussed firing ex-U.S. Attorney Debra Yang, who was leading an investigation into lucrative ties between Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and a lobbying firm before she left her government post voluntarily last fall, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) charged in a hearing last week.

Feinstein has repeatedly questioned the circumstances surrounding Yang’s departure, but until last week she provided no reasons for her suspicions. Last Thursday, however, during the questioning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales late in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Feinstein flatly stated that Miers had discussed “whether to remove Debra Yang from Los Angeles.”

A Feinstein spokesman indicated only that the senator had learned that Miers had considered ousting Yang “through interviews” and did not respond to repeated questions to elaborate. Andrew Koneschusky, a spokesman to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is leading the probe, also did not respond to questions about whether Miers had targeted Yang and any evidence Feinstein may have about it.

Yang resigned last October, months before Democrats began reviewing the Justice Department’s decision to fire eight other federal prosecutors. According to a report in the American Lawyer, she was lured away by a $1.5 million-plus offer to become a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP, which is defending Lewis in the probe.

Security Breakdown at the White House? "Security practices at the White House are dangerously inadequate say current and former employees of the security office there, according to a letter sent today from the House Oversight Committee to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, asking that he cooperate with the committee's investigation into the alleged security lapses. 'These security officials described a systemic breakdown in security procedures at the White House,' wrote the chairman of the committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)." (ABC's The Blotter)

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You know it's bad news for the White House when agencies you'd never even heard of start launching investigations into the administration.

This time, it's the Office of Special Counsel, a federal investigative unit that's charged with monitoring federal employees, not to be confused with a special counsel or special prosecutor such as Patrick Fitzgerald. The OSC is charged with policing Hatch Act violations and protecting whistleblowers, among other duties. It's a permanent federal agency, and it's prosecutions are not criminal prosecutions.

But the OSC does have teeth. If it successfully prosecutes a federal employee before the Merit Systems Protection Board (which acts as its judge), then that employee can be terminated. That employee, in this instance, is Karl Rove.

Well, it's Rove and others in his office... and possibly others still. Here's how The Los Angeles Times frames the OSC investigation:

... the Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House....

"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. "We will not leave any stone unturned."


Bloch (who is, by the way, a Bush appointee) seems to have combined a host of investigations -- 1) whether U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias was wrongly terminated due to his Navy reserve service, and 2) the White House's use of RNC-issued email accounts to conduct government business, and 3) Rove's and his deputy's presentations to federal employees about Republican electoral prospects -- into one big stew pot of wrongdoing.

Of all three, Rove's now-infamous briefings would seem to be the most fertile investigatory ground for Bloch. As Tom Hamburger reports, Rove has been giving those presentations to federal employees since the beginning of the administration:

...Rove and his top aides met each year with presidential appointees throughout the government, using PowerPoint presentations to review polling data and describe high-priority congressional and other campaigns around the country....

A former Interior Department official, Wayne R. Smith, who sat through briefings from Rove and his then-deputy Ken Mehlman, said that during President Bush's first term, he and other appointees were frequently briefed on political priorities.

"We were constantly being reminded about how our decisions could affect electoral results," Smith said.


Employees, Hamburger reports, "got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans."

It's hard to imagine how such presentations are not violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits using federal resources for political ends. But that doesn't mean that the White House isn't already trying out a line of defense. Yesterday, 25 Democratic senators wrote the White House to demand answers about the presentations. And the White House replied, via a spokesman:
"It is entirely appropriate for the president's staff to provide informational briefings to appointees throughout the federal government about the political landscape in which they implement the president's policies and priorities."


It sounds so innocuous, doesn't it? Much more innocuous than the slides themselves.

Update: A number of readers have written in to point out that Bloch, who heads up an agency that is supposed to protect federal whistleblowers, is himself under investigation for intimidating and threatening his own employees. Doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Shakespeare's Sister has more.

Yet another shoe drops in the Jack Abramoff investigation. A former aide to Rep. Don Young (R-AK), Mark Zachares, looks set to plead guilty to corruption charges.

The Justice Department filed a criminal information today on Zachares, laying out the facts to which he'll be pleading guilty. You can read it here. A plea hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow.

According to the document, Zachares and Abramoff had what they called their "two year plan": Zacheres would work for Abramoff on the inside, taking advantage of his congressional position to throw business Abramoff's way, and eventually, when Zachares left Congress, Abramoff would reward him. As the information reads: Abramoff "would 'credit' Zachares with the 'business' Zachares... referred or developed for Abramoff's firm, and would ultimately employ Zachares as a lobbyist credited 'with business,' warranting a high annual salary."

In addition to the usual stream of junkets, meals, and sports tickets, Abramoff also funneled $10,000 to Zachares through one of his phony charities. In return, Zachares referred clients and provided a number of favors for Abramoff's various clients.

The document does not implicate Rep. Young, but it does mention that in 2002, Abramoff "assisted Zachares in obtaining his position as a staffer on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee," which Young chaired. And Young has come up often in the course of the Abramoff scandal.

My call to Young's office was not immediately returned.

Update: Some background on Zachares, courtesy of The Washington Post last year below.

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