We all can get along. At least for the time being.
After the House intelligence committee threatened to issue subpoenas yesterday, the Justice Department backed down. Now the CIA will begin forking over documents relating to the destruction of the torture tapes, and the committee will hear from their second witness, the CIA's general counsel John Rizzo.
The DoJ seemed keen to paint Congress' reaction to their letter last Friday as an overreaction. Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told the New York Times that "the department has 'no desire to block any Congressional investigation' and has not advised the C.I.A. against cooperating with the committee." And the AP relays that Department officials "denied they had changed their stance on the investigation."
And indeed, if you look at their letter to the committee from last Friday, where they "respectfully request" that the committee sit on their thumbs until the DoJ probes into the tapes' destruction wraps up, they have a point. They were just askin'. But somehow the graciousness and subtlety of the letter was lost on the House intelligence committee, who pronounced themselves "stunned" that the Department would move to block their investigation and said that, indeed, they'd been "notified that the Department of Justice has advised CIA not cooperate with our investigation."
Really, if the DoJ was just asking, it should have been pretty clear off the bat that the answer was "no." But apparently the threat of subpoenas was needed to drive the point home.
Now, while The Washington Post, straightforwardly calls this a reversal on the Department's part, the Times hedges, calling it a "partial resolution." Take, for instance, Roehrkasse (take him, please!):
âThe wisdom, propriety and appropriateness of the decision to destroy these tapes are worthy and compelling subjects of an oversight investigation,â Mr. Roehrkasse said. But he said officials were still concerned that a Congressional inquiry could cause âdisruption of our initial witness interviews, the delay and disruption of our document collection, and the tainting of any future criminal prosecutorial action because of Congressional grants of immunity to witnesses.â
Accordingly, things will get interesting when it comes to Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who ordered the tapes' destruction. The committee wants to talk to him in January, along with Rizzo. But, with Rodriguez's lawyer crying about witchhunts and scapegoats, that's going to be hairy:
Officials said Mr. Rodriguezâs appearance before the committee might involve complex negotiations over legal immunity at a time when the Justice Department and the intelligence agency were reviewing whether the destruction of the tapes broke any laws.
The Bush administration is dropping a plan to take control over the promotions of military lawyers, following an outpouring of alarm over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly objected to the White House's policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism.
Under the proposal, first reported by the Globe on Saturday, politically appointed lawyers in the Pentagon would have gained the power to veto the appointment or promotion of any member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal officers group.
Jeez. Not only is Hans von Spakovsky's FEC nomination bound up in the Senate, but one of his pet causes, having states reject voter applications if the data does not match driver's license or Social Security records, has hit a snag in Florida.
Civil rights groups argued that the policy amounted to "disenfranchisement-by-bureaucracy." Now a federal judge has agreed:
U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle on Tuesday sided with the NAACP's request for a preliminary injunction suspending Florida's 2-year-old "voter match" law while courts decide whether it violates federal laws protecting the right to vote....
Lawyers for Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning contended the matching process is required to prevent voter fraud....
But in his order Tuesday, Mickle wrote that Florida's match law "stands as an obstacle" to the objectives of the federal Help America Vote Act, by making it harder to vote.
"Though it is true that prevention of voter fraud and prevention of voter disenfranchisement were both goals of HAVA, the impetus for the Act was to respond to the millions of votes that went uncounted -- not the millions of incidents of voter registration fraud," Mickle wrote.
In a direct challenge to President Bush, a House panel said Wednesday it has prepared subpoenas to force CIA officials to testify about the agency's secret destruction of interrogation videotapes.
The Justice Department had blocked the officials from appearing at a closed hearing before the panel this week, citing the department's ongoing investigation into the destruction of videotapes of the harsh interrogation of two al-Qaida suspects in 2002. The CIA destroyed the tapes in 2005.
The House Intelligence Committee's threat marked the second challenge to a White House attempt to shut down independent investigations into the matter, and escalates a fight over which branch of government properly has jurisdiction.
It seems they haven't issued the subpoenas yet. This is more of a last chance threat for the DoJ to back down. Ball's in your court, Mr. Mukasey.
Today, Mark Filip, the administration's nominee to be Michael Mukasey's deputy, had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And much like his future boss did during his hearing, Filip (like Mukasey, a former federal judge) treaded lightly, seeming deferential while also proving elusive on certain key questions. Here's video:
When Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA ) asked whether waterboarding is torture, he punted, parroting Mukasey's answer exactly. Like Mukasey, Filip called the practice "repugnant." But stopped short, explaining that since Mukasey is conducting a review, he couldn't "get out in front of him on that question." He added: "if I am confirmed... I would view it like any other legal question and take a long hard look at it, and if I had a view other than his, I would tell him so."
Kennedy responded that after what Mukasey went through at his hearing, "We thought you'd be able to give a response."
When Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) pushed Filip on the Justice Department's recent stance that Congress had to sit on its thumbs until the Department finished its probe of the CIA's destruction of its torture tapes, he got pretty much the same result. To Specter, the issue is clear (see video below) that Congress has "pre-eminence over the Department of Justice on these investigations."
Specter asked if Filip agreed. He dodged: "I would hope, Senator, that I don't have to pick between the two." Some sort of agreement could be worked out with Congress, he said. When Specter tried again, all he got was "I would work very hard to find common ground."
The situation right now, to refresh your memory, is devoid of common ground. The Department has asked the CIA to refuse all Congressional requests until its probe wraps up.
But Specter said that he remains optimistic. He spoke with Mukasey the day before, he said, and hoped that conversation was just "the beginning" of more discussions.
Victory! Or not quite. The White House's public freak-out over the New York Times has won them... a correction to the Times' sub-headline:
Catherine Mathis, senior vice president of corporate communications for the newspaper, stated that the sub-headline has been changed, adding that a correction would be printed. However, Mathis also pointed out that the White House did not challenge the contents of the article.
A TPM Reader runs through how the Times might phrase that correction:
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Maybe Harry Reid knows how to play this game after all.
Last week, the Senate Democratic leader confused the political world by deciding to put two different versions of a Senate surveillance overhaul up for a floor vote, with the base text being the version despised by civil libertarians. The Solomonic decision pleased no one, and Reid ended up yanking the bill until next month after liberal opposition -- most notably, a filibuster by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) -- jeopardized passage of anything.
Reid, however, has to keep his eyes on two calendars. The first calendar has February 1 circled on it. That's the date the Bush administration's broad surveillance measure, known as the Protect America Act, expires. Failure to pass a new bill by that date opens Democrats to the inevitable GOP charge that they're BFF with Osama bin Laden. The second calendar is the primary schedule. As Dodd has demonstrated, placing the surveillance debate in the context of the presidential race makes passing a bill more difficult, as candidates jockey to appease liberal constituencies that passionately oppose the legalization of President Bush's warrantless surveillance program.
So what's left for Reid to do? Punt. Quoth The Hill:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he would seek to extend a controversial interim wiretapping law through February to avoid the early presidential primary season.
Reid said Senate Democrats might have a better chance of resolving internal disputes and moving a rewrite of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) once the early primaries have concluded.
The White House pushback is focused exclusively on 1) the President, 2) Dana Perino and 3) Tony Fratto. However, "administration officials" and "senior administration officials" have certainly commented on the story. To wit:
" Administration officials have said that Justice Department and White House lawyers, including longtime Bush aide Harriet E. Miers, had recommended against destroying the tapes."
Seems to me that the White House wants to have it both ways. They officially decline to comment while on background administration officials offer exculpatory details. This is reminiscent of their position on the Plame scandal. At the outset there were blanket denials of responsibility followed up by repeated "no comments." It also highlights this administration's penchant for selective leaking.
As is now world-famous, last week, guards for Blackwater shot down Hentish, a dog living at The New York Times's Baghdad compound. With the single pull of a trigger, the already P.R.-troubled security company forced the American people to choose whether they love dogs more than they hate reporters.
But don't send Blackwater to the pound just yet. According to Eason Jordan, former CNN exec and current potentate of IraqSlogger, the Times bureau is home to many a snarling canine. One even took a bite out of Jordan himself:
It was a stunning, painful sneak attack that landed me in the emergency room of the U.S. Army's hospital in Baghdad's Green Zone.
The attacker: Scratch, one of The New York Times' Baghdad bureau dogs, whose vicious bite opened three deep gashes in my right hand, sending blood spewing in all directions.
I'm a proud dog owner, and if Blackwater or anyone else messes with Kingsley, I'm violating D.C.'s handgun ban. But it's hard not to sympathize with what Jordan writes:
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Back in August, we pointed out that Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse, unlike virtually the entire senior leadership at the Department, survived the U.S. attorney scandal. In fact, he more than survived it: Despite serving as Alberto Gonzales' attack dog (and giving statements that ranged from misleading to lies), he emerged with a promotion to director of public affairs at the DoJ.
It's all too much for former U.S. Attorney for Little Rock Bud Cummins, who often found himself on the wrong end of Roehrkasse's spin, to bear. So in this issue of the Washington Monthly, he takes aim, calling on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to fire Roehrkasse.
After noting some of hiss biggest whoppers, he observes that the "pattern of deception employed by this young man is deeply unsettling to me....
Now, I don't have any way of knowing how Brian Roehrkasse came to make so many dubious or misleading statements. I've never met the man or communicated with him directly. For all I know, his superiors were writing them, and he was simply reading them. But once you realize you are being repeatedly marched out to say untrue things, integrity dictates that you push back or resign before you do it again. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me over a dozen times, I'm a willing liar."