There was a revealing moment during the questioning by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). When pressed on the process of removing the U.S. attorneys and what Gonzales knew about it, Gonzales replied that since the judiciary committees had been interviewing all of Gonzales' aides, that investigators now know more about the firings that Gonzales does.
Kennedy also pressed on whether Gonzales had ever done an evaluation about whether the firings would affect certain ongoing prosecutions. Gonzales replied no, because the assistant U.S. attorneys in the offices are really the ones who handle the cases -- the U.S. attorneys are important, he allowed, but "this institution is built to sustain change." It doesn't matter all that much, who's in charge, apparently.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) also pulled no punches in his questioning.
He began by battering Gonzales with questions about how he could make false statements about his involvement in the process if he was properly prepared for the January Senate hearing and his March 13th press conference. Gonzales kept insisting that he'd been prepared, Specter demanded to know how he could have made such statements if he'd actually been properly prepared, and they went back and forth like that for a little bit.
And later in Specter's questioning, he asked how Gonzales could say that he wasn't involved in the process of eliminating certain U.S. attorneys if he'd sat in on a meeting last year when DoJ officials discussed the possible removal of Carol Lam. Gonzales responded by drawing an artful distinction between that meeting, which was in the course of his normal duties as attorney general, and the review process of U.S. attorneys. That conversation, Gonzales said, was "outside of the review process."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) was fast out of the gate, jumping right in with questions about the firing of David Iglesias.
Despite Gonzales' foggy recollections, some significant details emerged.
Gonzales could not recall details about his conversation with Karl Rove about voter fraud, although he testified that he did have such a conversation. He said that it covered three jurisdictions -- New Mexico, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He could not recall when or where or how it had occurred, only that it was in the fall of 2006.
He pinpointed the date of his conversation with President Bush about those same three jurisdictions as happening on October 11.
He also revealed that, when he spoke with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) in the fall of 2005 about David Iglesias, that Domenici said that Iglesias "was in over his head." Domenici was concerned that Iglesias didn't have personnel for public corruption cases. Domenici never requested that Iglesias be removed, Gonzales said -- he just questioned whether Iglesias was capable.
When pressed by Leahy, Gonzales could not say precisely why Iglesias was fired, nor when Iglesias' name appeared on the list.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is a key figure for Alberto Gonzales, since he's yet to call for his resignation, though seems close to doing so.
In his opening statement, Specter made it clear that Gonzales has a high hill to climb -- he has the "burden of proof," Specter said, then proceeding to run through some of the key contradictions between Gonzales' statements and testimony given by his former aides under oath.
Note: No, there's nothing wrong with your screen. It appears Specter has some sort of eye infection. Get well, senator!
RNC and Waxman Battle Over Right to Emails
"In a new letter to the Republican National Committee, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman writes that the RNC has provided only minimal information regarding White House officialsâ use of RNC e-mail accounts. Waxman reveals that the RNCâs response thus far has been to propose that any Congressional requests for emails be filtered through eight search terms, such as âpolitical briefing,â âHatch Act,â and â2008.ââ (Think Progress) Meanwhile, the RNC maintains that they want to work with Congress, but refuse to make available their entire database. "We are drawing a line in the sand on this," said a party executive. "For the first time, we are saying that we are not going to put up with this." (USNews)
Alberto Gonzales will sit down before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9:30 this morning. What to expect?
Well, from Gonzales, some notions of regret (though not about the firings themselves) and many failures to recollect details of conversations (coincidentally, the conversations everyone wants to hear about).
The papers this morning give us some indications of where the senators will focus their questioning.
One U.S. attorney in particular will be front and center -- New Mexico's David Iglesias. The New York Timesexplains why:
That case, perhaps more than any of the other ousters, demonstrates the interaction of the Republican Party, the White House, a prominent Republican senator and Mr. Gonzales that led up to the firings.
Investigators have already determined that Mr. Gonzales spoke directly three times with Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, about his complaints regarding David C. Iglesias, the stateâs former top federal prosecutor.
Administration officials have confirmed that Mr. Gonzales also spoke with President Bush and Karl Rove, the presidentâs chief political adviser, about the perceived lack of enthusiasm in Mr. Iglesiasâs office, among others, for prosecuting voting fraud cases, a top Republican Party priority. And investigators know that Mr. Iglesiasâs name was among the last to be added to the ouster list.
The Times adds that committee staffers think that "given the repeated instances in which Mr. Gonzales was directly involved in discussions related to Mr. Iglesias, it might be hard for the attorney general to refuse to testify about these discussions or any follow-up conversations or to deny any recollection of them." Oh, how they underestimate Gonzales.
But not to worry -- Iglesias won't be the sole focus. Senators will have a fine time prodding Gonzales about his numerous contradictions.
As for Gonzales, he will focus "particularly on reassuring Republican lawmakers," senators like Arlen Specter (R-PA) who haven't said yet that he should resign.
Conrad Burns, the senator from Montana who narrowly lost re-election last November due in large part to his association with Abramoff, continues to spend big money on his lawyer.
According to his recently filed campaign disclosure report, Burns paid more than $160,000 in legal fees to the law firm Powell Goldstein between January and March of this year. That means Burns' campaign has doled out more than $264,000 since he hired Ralph Caccia of that firm last April.
Burns is one of four lawmakers consistently reported to be in the sights of investigators. The other three are: ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who's in jail; Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), whose home was searched by the FBI last week, and ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).
The FBI has raided the Northern Virginia home of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), according to Congressional sources. No details are publicly available yet about the circumstances of the raid, but Doolittle and his wife, Julie, have been under federal investigation for their ties to the scandal surrounding imprisoned former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
More soon, I'm sure.
Update: Remember that a former key aide to Doolittle, Kevin Ring, who'd worked with Abramoff, resigned suddenly from his job late last week. As I wrote before, that's a clear sign that Ring may be preparing to plead guilty and implicate Doolittle.
Update: According to The Hill, the FBI searched the home last Friday -- the same day that Ring resigned.
As if the politicitization of the Justice Department wasn't plain enough already...
The Bush administration's purge of the Civil Rights Division has been well documented -- how career attorneys and analysts have been driven out and replaced with hard-line conservatives with little civil rights experience.
But it's not just in the Civil Rights Division that hiring practices have changed. According to a group of anonymous Justice Department employees who've penned a letter to the House and Senate judiciary committees, all possible entry-level hires at the Justice Department are now being screened by the deputy attorney general's office. And they seem to be looking for something in particular. (Update: You can read the letter here (pdf). It was obtained by John Bresnahan of The Politico.)
According to their letter, here's what happened when some of those employees sat down with Michael Elston, chief of staff to DAG Paul McNulty (both of them key figures in the U.S. attorney purge). They wanted to know why Elston's office had struck a number of promising applicants from the list of interviewees. From The Politico:
...Elston "was offensive to the point of (being) insulting."...
"Claiming that the entire group had not 'done their jobs' in reviewing applicants, (Elston) said that he had a 'screening panel' to go over the list and research these candidates on the Internet; he refused to give the names of those on his 'panel,'" the career employees wrote. "Mr. (Elston) said that people were struck from the list for three reasons: grades, spelling errors on applications and inappropriate information about them on the Internet."
So, in their own words, the career employees did some checking of their own. They reportedly detected a "common denominator" for "most of those" struck from the interview list: They had "interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a 'liberal cause' or otherwise appeared to have 'liberal' leanings. Summa cum laude graduates at both Yale and Harvard were rejected for interviews."
Meanwhile, Regent University grads have no problem getting their foot in the DoJ's door.
Update: House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) reacts:
"I take any accusations of undue politicization of career staff seriously. We have already identified concerns in Department's Civil Rights Division. These new accusations are clearly something we will want to consider as well."