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From McClatchy Newspapers:

The Bush administration's decision to fire nine U.S. attorneys last year has created a new problem for the White House: The controversy appears to be discouraging applications for some of the 22 prosecutor posts that President Bush needs to fill....

In Florida, the panel that's evaluating candidates and making recommendations to the White House has received only two applicants for the vacancy left by U.S. Attorney Paul Perez in Tampa - even after it extended the May 3 deadline to apply. Perez, who resigned in March, left for a private-sector job. He's said that he wasn't forced out.

"I personally was disappointed we didn't have more," said Michael J. Grindstaff, the chairman of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. "I was wondering if there was a way to attract more applicants."

It's been apparent from very early in the U.S. attorney scandal that Tim Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove who was appointed the U.S. attorney for Little Rock, was different from the others.

Emails show that White House and Justice Department officials worked together for months to install Griffin, dating back to last summer. Rove's aides in the White House Office of Political Affairs were intimately involved. Up until now, however, there had been no evidence of direct communication between Rove and Griffin about the appointment. But an email contained in documents released earlier this week shows Griffin directly emailing Rove and his deputies in the White House Office of Political Affairs (click to enlarge):



David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico who was among those fired last year, told me that he thought the direct contact was "really inappropriate and over the line." The only time he ever contacted anyone there, he said, was to return phone calls about job opportunities. He'd twice been considered for positions, he said: once as director for Executive Office of United States Attorneys and another time as the assistant secretary of homeland security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The White House had called to see if he was interested in the appointments; he told them he was not. He said that he'd never heard of a U.S. attorney speaking to someone in the Office of Political Affairs for any other reason.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

The email, dated February 16, 2007, shows Griffin forwarding a copy of a local news article about his announcement that he would not seek Senate confirmation. Griffin wrote Rove, three of his deputies, and Christopher Oprison of the White House counsel's office that he was "glad" that he "did this" ("this" presumably being his announcement not to seek the nomination), and explaining why he'd taken a "swipe" at Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR).

Griffin had been a controversial figure ever since his December 15th appointment, due not least to his ties to Rove. But Sen. Pryor had been most alarmed by the administration's apparent scheme -- which Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson laid out in a December 19, 2006 email that was later turned over to Congress in March -- to appoint Griffin indefinitely without Senate confirmation, via a little noticed provision in the USA PATRIOT ACT Reauthorization bill. Griffin's appointment drew even more scrutiny after it was revealed in January that at least six other U.S. attorneys besides Griffin's predecessor Bud Cummins had been fired by the administration.

“It’s unfortunate," Griffin is quoted as saying in the article, "that Sen. Pryor is blaming the administration for using a law that he voted for to appoint me, apparently with the excuse that he didn’t know what he was voting for when he voted." After explaining in the email to Rove why he'd said that, Griffin added, "I am going to go back to focusing on my job until I am told otherwise."

Responding to the email, Michael Teague, spokesman for Sen. Pryor, wondered how many other contacts Griffin had with Rove. "This is just an email. Was he calling him every day?"

In fact, the email was only produced by the Justice Department because Oprison of the White House counsel's office had forwarded it on to Monica Goodling at the Justice Department, who forwarded it to Kyle Sampson the same morning. Despite requests from Congress, the White House has not produced any emails related to the firings.

Sampson's and Oprison's appearance in the email raises an additional question.

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From the AP:

Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby betrayed the public's trust and deserves to spend 2 1/2 to 3 years in prison for obstructing the CIA leak investigation, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Friday....

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton has broad discretion over Libby's fate. Walton faces two important questions: whether to send Libby to prison and, if so, whether to delay the sentence until his appeals have run out.

Libby's lawyers have not filed their sentencing documents yet but are expected to ask that he receive no jail time. They have said that if Walton orders prison time, they will ask that Libby be allowed to remain free during appeals.

Monica Goodling says she was given the green light to hire immigration judges based on their political qualifications. So how'd that happen? And who's been getting the gig?

As a story in The Legal Times last year explained, immigration judges are different from other federal judges in that they're civil service employees -- meaning that there's a formal application process with the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review.

But, Jason McLure reported, "according to an immigration-judge hiring policy released by the Justice Department, the attorney general also has the option to pre-empt the formal vetting process and directly hire a judge of his choosing."

It was apparently this option that allowed Goodling, and others at the department before her, to do their thing.

So who's been getting the gig? The Times last year profiled one of those judges, Garry Malphrus.

A former Republican aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Malphrus also worked on the White House's Domestic Policy Council before becoming a judge. But he really showed his stripes in 2000, when Malphrus joined other Republicans in making a ruckus (chanting, pounding on windows and doors) outside the Miami-Dade Elections Department -- the so-called "Brooks Brothers Riot" -- during the Bush-Gore recount.

Malphrus, of course, had no immigration experience when he got the job, McLure reports. He had that in common with a number of his peers, who had similar backgrounds:

Among the 19 immigration judges hired since 2004: Francis Cramer, the former campaign treasurer for New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg; James Nugent, the former vice chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party; and Chris Brisack, a former Republican Party county chairman from Texas who had served on the state library commission under then-Gov. George W. Bush.


But why bother becoming an immigration judge? Well, the salary isn't bad ($113,904 in 2006) and "unlike his former colleagues at the White House, as a career civil service employee, Malphrus won’t be out of work should Republicans lose the White House in 2008." And as a friend of Malphrus tells McLure, "I think he's just working his way up the totem pole."

Now, here's the thing. Malphrus and all the others cited in McLure's piece were appointed before Goodling became White House liaison in April, 2005.

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Former U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger excoriated the Justice Department following Monica Goodling’s testimony Wednesday that mentioned his excessive concern with Indian affairs. Heffelfinger, who was a U.S. Attorney under both Bushes, claimed “something is fundamentally broken within the Department of Justice.” (Star Tribune)

The House passed a bill yesterday requiring lawmakers to publicly disclose not only their individual fundraisers, but also the lobbyists that bundle the individual gifts. (NY Times)

Yesterday, an anonymous Senator put a hold on the bipartisan Freedom of Information Act of 2007. Yes, a secret hold is blocking a bill that would promote openness and accountability in government. (Public Citizen’s Congress Watch)

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More answers, more questions.

The Justice Department's Inspector General has broadened his investigation of the U.S. attorney firings, The Los Angeles Times and New York Times report this morning, to cover Monica Goodling's and others' political hiring of career employees at the department.

And there would seem to be plenty of material there for investigation. For instance, Goodling admitted on Wednesday that she'd openly taken political factors into account in hiring immigration judges.

For good reason, those are civil service positions, not political positions -- and they're supposed to be governed by civil service laws (meaning people are supposedly hired for their professional qualifications, not their partisan ones). They handle matters like deportation proceedings and political asylum requests. And there are only 226 of them. As the NY Times points out, approximately 75 of those "have been appointed during the Bush administration," 49 of those during Gonzales' tenure. So there can be no doubt that Goodling's political hiring practices have had an impact on the nation's immigration proceedings.

Now, in her testimony, Goodling said that Kyle Sampson had told her that there was no problem with taking politics into account in hiring immigration judges. And the reason, he said, was that the department's Office of Legal Counsel had said it was OK. But...

Justice Department officials said no such opinion existed.

They also denied Goodling's assertion that the hiring of immigration judges had been frozen after the department's civil division raised concerns about using a political litmus test.

"There is no disagreement within the department, including between the civil division and the Office of Legal Counsel, about whether the civil service laws apply to the appointment of immigration judges," said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. "They do apply."


As Marty Lederman puts it, "Something is happening here, but we don't know what it is. Goodling obviously knew that her conduct in this regard was dubious, and testified about it even though no one had raised any question about it previously, so as to ensure that her immunity would extend to this episode, as well. (She was very well-advised by John Dowd.)"

To hear Goodling tell it, she was assured by the attorney general's chief of staff that there was a legal basis for stocking the nation's immigration courts with political loyalists -- when no such legal basis existed. And the Justice Department now disavows this activity all together. So how much did Alberto Gonzales know about this? And how much did the White House know? More questions...

General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan was such a hit in her hearing with the House oversight committee last time around, Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants her back. You can read Waxman's letter to Doan here (pdf).

Waxman wants to know if Doan tried to smear agency employees who testified against her in an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel. All the employees who were witnesses, she told investigators, were biased against her -- they were poor performers who "will not be getting promoted and they will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature."

The Office of Special Counsel recently concluded its investigation of Doan and found that she'd violated the Hatch Act, a finding which could lead to her termination. On January 26th, Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings gave a presentation at GSA headquarters about Republican political prospects. According to several witnesses, Doan asked "How can we help our candidates" at the conclusion of the presentation. After some participants offered suggestions, Jennings asked that the session be taken "off-line." It's against the law to use federal resources for political ends.

Now, Doan has testified that she doesn't remember ever saying anything about "helping our candidates." And she apparently tried very hard to convince investigators that all those witnesses were disgruntled. "There's not a single one of those who did not have somewhere in between a poor to totally inferior performance."

Except that wasn't true, investigators found. So Waxman wants to know why she'd say such a thing. The hearing is scheduled for June 7.

Smearing employees who don't toe the line seems to be something of a hobby with the Bush administration, Waxman notes:

Over the past five months, it's become clear that the Justice Department falsely raised issues about the competence of the eight U.S. Attorneys who were dismissed last December. That tactic has been condemned across our country and by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. It would be remarkable if you adopted that same tactic in trying to discredit GSA employees who cooperated with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Office of Special Counsel.

Since they weren't subjected to the Justice Department's vigorous Why-Did-We-Fire-Them brainstorming sessions, former U.S. attorneys Thomas Heffelfinger (Minnesota) and Todd Graves (Kansas City) got their first taste of it yesterday during Monica Goodling's testimony. They didn't like it.

Of Heffelfinger, who stepped down in February of last year (he says he resigned voluntarily, though that was just a month after he appeared on one of Kyle Sampson's firing lists), Goodling said that she'd heard he "spent an extraordinary amount of time" working on his work related to his position as chairman of the subcommittee of U.S. attorneys that deals with American Indian issues.

Heffelfinger's response: "I did spent a lot of time on it... That's what I was instructed to do [by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft]". And:

"If it's true that people within the Department of Justice were critical of the amount of time I was spending on Indian issues, I'm outraged... Are they telling me I spent too much time trying to improve public safety for Native Americans, who are victims of violent crime at a rate 2½ times the national population? If they are, then shame on them."


And of Graves -- who was asked to resign in January of last year?

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In a press conference today, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had agreed to bring the no-confidence resolution concerning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to the Senate floor after the immigration bill -- meaning probably the second week of June. The Senate has a one week recess next week.

The resolution itself is a brief one, simply expressing no confidence in Gonzales. "Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled: It is the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and the American people."

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