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Yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to grovel for forgiveness. Over the past several years, the FBI has used thousands of National Security Letters to improperly obtain private information on citizens. The reasons, according to Mueller: "mistakes, carelessness, confusion, lack of training, lack of guidance and lack of adequate oversight."

The senators spent some time scolding him, but relented after it was clear he wouldn't fight back. Mueller's penitence, Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) soothingly observed, "seems to be a break from many in this administration now."

But the hearing was also a golden opportunity to grill Mueller on the firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wanted to know whether Mueller had ever gotten wind of election fraud cases that should have been indicted, but were not (remember, U.S. attorneys work hand-in-hand with the FBI). Mueller responded that he'd never heard, nor asked about such a thing. Schumer followed up, asking whether the administration had consulted him about the prosecutors' performance on election fraud investigations. Again, no. Was he consulted at all about any of the prosecutors' performance before the firings? No.

The bottom line: though powerful Republicans were upset with the decisions not to indict Democrats for voter fraud, the investigators on the ground were not. Mueller said that regional offices do customarily pass complaints about U.S. attorneys up the chain for "serious cases."

There was another fruitful line of questioning.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) wanted to know why the bureau chief for San Diego Dan Dzwilewski had complained to the press about Carol Lam's firing, said that he "guaranteed" politics was involved, and that without her, a number of ongoing investigations might be jeopardized. Specter didn't want to hear that from the press -- he wanted to hear that sort of thing from Mueller.

Mueller responded that Dzwilewski hadn't passed such complaints up the chain, and that "my understanding is that our chief out there believes he was misquoted, but that our investigations were continuing, without any diminishment."

Misquoted? Sen. Dianne Feinstein followed up:

FEINSTEIN: Well, we followed up and I had my chief counsel call them to verify what they said. And they said, yes, they said it. But they also said they'd been warned to say no more. Are you aware that they had been warned to say no more?

MUELLER: Yes, I am.

FEINSTEIN: And why would that be?

MUELLER: Because I do not think it's appropriate for us to comment on personnel decisions that are made by the Department of Justice....

FEINSTEIN: Well, I profoundly disagree that he was commenting on a personnel matter per se. He was simply saying that it would affect cases that were ongoing. And I think he's entitled to his opinion.

The Chicago Tribune has video of today's press conference -- in it, you can see that after the third question about the U.S. attorney firings, Gonzales decided he didn't want any more and simply left. No one got to ask him why his chief of staff thought Patrick Fitzgerald was a mediocre prosecutor. From The Tribune:

Gen. Alberto Gonzales today cut short a press conference about Internet safety, leaving the room at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago when reporters questioned him about the firings of U.S. attorneys.

The questioning was to have lasted about 15 minutes, but it ended after less than three.

Having spent some time digging into the administration's stated reason for U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's firing, it's time to cleanse the palate with the reasons why we're so suspicious.

So here we go.

-- Lam was never confronted over her approach to immigration prosecutions, the given reason for her dismissal.

-- In November, shortly before Lam was fired, a Justice Department official brainstormed about how to explain firing several U.S. attorneys: "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."

-- Lam was fired midway into a historic, wide-reaching public corruption investigation that targeted a number of Republican members of Congress and the executive director of the CIA. Even Karl Rove has acknowledged the reasonableness of not dismissing U.S. attorneys who are leading "high profile cases, important investigations" -- though for some reason, this one didn't qualify.

-- Despite the fact that it was one of the highest profile federal investigations being undertaken at the Department, Lam's investigation into Duke Cunningham and others is never mentioned in the Justice Department emails that have been released. Not once. This must have been discussed at the highest levels, but we've seen no record of those communications.

-- The FBI's bureau chief in San Diego has said, "I guarantee politics is involved" in Lam's firing. When asked about the given rationales for her ouster (that she pursued corruption cases to the detriment of gun and border prosecutions), he responded “What do you expect her to do? Let corruption exist?”

-- May 11, 2006, the day after Lam informed the Justice Department that she planned to execute a search warrant on CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo and the same day that it was reported that her investigation had spread to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson wrote to a White House official: "The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."

-- On January 5th, 2007, less than a month after Lam had been told she was fired, but before it had been made public, Sampson wrote to his Justice Department colleagues, "... we granted 1-month extensions for [U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden] and [Western Michigan's Margaret Chiara], but not Carol -- right?" Lam was widely known to be leading a grand jury investigation into Foggo and others. Ultimately, she was granted a fifteen day extension, from January 31 until February 15; she ordered her office to bring the indictment against Foggo before she stepped down, and she succeeded.

The administration has repeatedly argued that U.S Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam was fired because she failed to make immigration cases a priority. Either that's true, or it's a cover story.

Yesterday I laid out Lam's performance on immigration. It's clear that in another administration, Lam would have been commended, not fired.

But it's clear from the emails that certain senior Justice Department officials just didn't like Lam -- and seemed to harbor a wish that she not succeed.

"There are good reasons not to provide extensive resources to [Carol Lam's district]," wrote Bill Mercer, a senior Justice Department official in May of 2006, responding to a suggestion that the Department provide Lam with more prosecutors. "Other border districts have done substantially more. It will send the message that if your people are killing themselves, the additional resources will go to folks who haven't prioritized the same enforcement priority."

Five days later, Mercer suggested a "range of options" for dealing with Lam, the first one being "replace Carol." The third one was to add prosecutors "immediately after Carol's successor is named."

Read More →

From The Chicago Tribune:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is likely to face questions about the allegedly mediocre status of U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald when he arrives here Tuesday for a scheduled round table discussion and press conference.

Gonzales is supposed to be at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse to discuss the "Project Safe Childhood" campaign designed to protect kids from online predators. But he's likely to be asked to field inquiries about Fitzgerald being ranked as undistinguished on a chart sent to the White House from the Justice Department in 2005, as well as the controversial fall firings of a group of U.S. attorneys.

We'll get you word of how that went later. Via Firedoglake.

Josh broached the issue of Monica Goodling's invocation of the Fifth last night, and since then a number of lawyers have written in to say that it's really not so complicated.

Here's TPM Reader/Lawyer DL:

Although Dowd's letter on Goodling's behalf is a model of lawyerly obfuscation, Ms. Goodling's affidavit, which is attached to the letter, invokes the magic word "self-incrimination," and therefore appears to satisfy the foundation for asserting the privilege.

And another TPM reader, this one a lawyer in D.C., is even more frank:

Monica Goodling does have a good faith basis for pleading the Fifth Amendment - just not the ones in her lawyer's letter that are getting all the attention.

Under the federal False Statements statute, 18 USC 1001, it is a felony to cause another person to make a false statement to Congress. Since McNulty has allegedly told Senator Schumer that he made a false statement to Congress based on information provided to him by Monica Goodling, Goodling could very well be prosecuted for a Section 1001 violation.

All the rest of the crap in her lawyer's letter is intended to sooth as much as possible White House anger at her for invoking the Fifth.

Soon, it will be on its way to the president's desk. And for those curious about the roll call, only 72 Republicans voted against.

So both houses voted overwhelmingly to ensure Senate confirmation for U.S. attorneys. What a difference a scandal can make.

DOJ Official Ignored White House Guidance "The firestorm over the fired U.S. attorneys was sparked last month when a top Justice Department official ignored guidance from the White House and rejected advice from senior administration lawyers over his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The official, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, ignored White House Counsel Harriet Miers and senior lawyers in the Justice Department when he told the committee last month of specific reasons why the administration fired seven U.S. attorneys." (ABC News)

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Finally, some clarity.

The New York Times provides the history of U.S. concern over Iran's role in Iraq, reporting that in July, 2005, the U.S. sent a diplomatic protest to Iran over the use of allegedly Iranian-made explosives (EFPs) being used against coalition troops in Iraq by Shiite groups.

Somehow these concerns culminated in the U.S. military's infamous, anonymous EFP press briefing in mid-February.

It was a long road. But let's focus in on one thing. It's always been a credible allegation that Iran would in some fashion be supplying its Shiite proxies in the civil war, but let's set that aside. That's not the allegation that the U.S. made in that briefing and immediately thereafter. Rather, the administration clearly made a choice to focus on the evidence that Iranian manufactured weapons were being used in Iraq and stay silent on the crucial detail of who they were being used by. The briefing referred to Iranian support of generic "extremists," without specifying Sunni or Shiite.

The reason for this choice was clear: the vast majority of U.S. casualties come at the hands of Sunni insurgents, not Shiite. But suddenly Iran was elevated to being the major enemy there. Soon senior State Department officials were claiming that Iran is "the most disruptive, negative force in the Middle East." Move over, Al Qaeda.

But it's clear from the Times' piece that there was never any ambiguity -- on the part of the U.S. military, at least -- as to whom Iran might be supplying with weapons.

And that briefing? It wasn't for the purpose of galvanizing public support for a war against Iran, no. It was merely a tactical decision: Baghdad, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., then the top American commander, approved plans to brief the news media on the E.F.P. issue — a reversal for military officials, who had been reluctant to highlight the effectiveness of the weapons for fear of encouraging their use.

“Our intelligence analysts advised our leaders that the historical Quds Force pattern is to pull back when their operations are exposed, so MNF-I leadership decided to expose their operations to save American lives,” said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for Multinational Forces-Iraq, as the American-led command is known.

I guess we all just overreacted then?

Update: And while we're at it, it's worth mentioning again that the claim that Iran is the only possible supplier for EFPs in Iraq has been debunked.

From an interview tonight with NBC:

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I asked for their resignation not for improper reasons. I would never have asked for their resignations to interfere with a public corruption case or in any way to interfere with an ongoing investigation. I just wouldn't do that. And if you look carefully at the documentation we've provided to Congress, there's no evidence of that....

I directed the Department officials participate in interviews and hearings before the Congress. As I've indicated, I've asked OPR to be involved, to work with the Office of Inspector General so we can reassure the American public that nothing improper happened here. I've got nothing to hide in terms of what I've done. And we now want to reassure the American public that nothing improper happened here.

If I find out that, in fact, any of these decisions were motivated, the recommendations to me were motivated for improper reasons to interfere with the public corruption case, there will be swift and -- there will be swift and decisive action. I can assure you that.

PETE WILLIAMS: Meaning people would be fired?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Absolutely. Because there is no place for that. Our prosecutors have to-- there has to be no question about the integrity, the professionalism, undue influence of prosecutions in connection with public corruption kinds of cases. And if I find out that any of that occurred here involving the Department of Justice officials, yes, they will be removed.

Gonzales also explains the discrepancy between his March 13 statement that "I was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" and the revelation that he participated in just such a meeting about what was going on ten days before the firings.

What he really meant, he explains, was that he wasn't involved in the nitty-gritty: "I was never focused on specific concerns about United States Attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign." And no wonder. The reasons kept changing.