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It's become a staple of the Congressional hearings with Alberto Gonzales, the question: Who put the U.S. attorneys' name on the firing list?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) provided a devastating rundown of the testimony from Justice Department officials, all of them disavowing having selected the names for firing. In response, Gonzales gave his usual response that he'd "approved the list that was given to me." So, the mystery continues.

Feinstein followed up, asking Gonzales just how many U.S. attorneys he'd fired during his tenure as attorney general. Seeming flustered, Gonzales didn't know. "There may have been others." He said that he'd "be happy" to get back to Feinstein with the answer.

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In May, former acting attorney general James Comey testified that then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card rushed to the hospital room an incapacitated John Ashcroft on March 10, 2004 after Comey ruled that the president's warrantless surveillance program lacked sufficient legal authority to continue. Today, Gonzales gave two defenses of this ghoulish maneuver: first, that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress wanted the program to continue; and second, that they merely intended to "inform" Ashcroft of Comey's decision -- not get a convalescent AG to overrule his designated deputy.

Gonzales weaves through this new story, which he said gave "context" for the hospital excursion -- in which FBI Director Robert Mueller told his agents not to allow Gonzales to have Comey removed from Ashcroft's room -- to several senators. First, Gonzales told Arlen Specter (R-PA) that the trip to Ashcroft's hospital followed a meeting by the so-called "Group of Eight" -- the bipartisan congressional leaders briefed into the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program -- at the White House to convince them of the seriousness of its imminent expiration. Specter nearly blew a fuse when he understood that Gonzales was suggesting that Congress wanted Comey overturned:

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This one is just for fun. Given the extensive damage that Alberto Gonzales has done to the Justice Department's credibility, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) wanted to know why Gonzales thinks he's the man to fix it?

"That's a very good question, Senator," a smiling Gonzales replied, before continuing on to explain that he'd decided "to stay and fix the problems."

Nothing provides a tone-setter for today's confrontational Senate Judiciary Committee showdown with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales like a bracing denial of the facts. And that's what Gonzales gave to chairman Pat Leahy when Leahy asked about Gonzales's repeated statements to Congress that there weren't any problems with the way the FBI used their National Security Letter authorities to gain personal or financial information on U.S. citizens without warrants. In fact, the AG received repeated and timely notification about NSL abuse precisely when he was telling Congress that nothing was wrong.

Leahy started by asking, simply, if Gonzales wished to change his earlier testimony:

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If there's been a more brutal treatment of a cabinet official before Congress in recent memory, I haven't seen it.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA) failed to disguise their contempt for Alberto Gonzales in their opening statements. Leahy, after running down the laundry list of Gonzales' failures and instances of questionable testimony, said that the administration's stance on their surveillance programs was "just trust us." Well, "I don't trust you," said Leahy.

Specter was no more sparing in his criticism. Pointing out that the Justice Department suffered from a "lack of credibility, candidly, your credibility," Specter went on a tear of his own ("the list goes on and on"). On Gonzales' infamous visit to John Ashcroft's hospital bed in order to get the ill attorney general to sign off on the president's surveillance program, Specter said "It’s just decimating, Mr. attorney general, to your judgment and your credibility."

Below is Leahy's opening statement as prepared.

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The hearing just got going. We'll provide updates throughout.

For those at home, it's airing on C-Span3 and streaming on the Senate Judiciary Committee's website.

Via Think Progress: The U.S. Attorney in Cleveland Greg White touted his hard work for the Bush campaign as a credential when he applied for the job, according to new documents, saying that his “record” as county chairman for the Bush campaign “speaks for itself.” (Columbus Dispatch)

Iraq war veterans are suing the Department of Veterans Affairs for illegally denying or delaying claims for mental health treatment and disability pay, claiming that there is a backlog of 600,000 disability payments for vets, inadequate treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other shortcomings in the VA. The suit names VA secretary Jim Nicholson and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for failing to reform the system. (USA Today)

The U.S. ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker said Iraqis working for the American government in Iraq should be guaranteed refugee status so that they may enter the United States. Crocker said that if these Iraqis are not given the “hope” of a visa, they may quit. Although the Bush administration to give asylum to 7,000 Iraqis by this October, only 133 asylum requests have been granted since last October. (The Guardian)

Ex-Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) is being accused by his wife Gayle of physically and verbally abusing her. Just days before Sweeney lost the midterm election, a police report surfaced in which Gayle Sweeney accused Rep. Sweeney of “knocking her around.” At the time, Mrs. Sweeney called the report a fake, but she has now confirmed that her soon-to-be ex-husband (who filed for divorce last month) was abusive and she was subsequently coerced during the election to deny the report. (The Politico)

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Why should it just have been U.S. Attorneys? Or the General Services Administration?

Yes, Karl Rove -- who, the White House has insisted for years, isn't involved in foreign policy -- instructed his White House deputies to repeatedly brief State Department officials and U.S. ambassadors in key foreign missions about GOP electoral priorities. The push to enlist U.S. embassies into the service of Rove's dream of a permanent Republican majority, according to today's Washington Post, has been a feature of the last six years. They involved the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Peace Corps. Needless to say, all are expected to be non-political agencies.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is going to explore the depths of the White House's political outreach to foreign-policy officials during today's confirmation hearing for Henrietta Holsman Fore, nominated to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID employees apparently received two briefings for the White House in the last ten months.

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Congress won by T.K.O. two rounds ago, but Alberto Gonzales keeps coming back. He'll be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow for the third time since the U.S. attorney firings controversy blew up in March.

This time around, in addition to the usual battery of questions about the firings, he'll have to respond to Monica Goodling's revelation that Gonzales talked to her about her recollection of the firing process shortly after Congress launched its investigation. The Justice Department's internal probe of the firings has expanded to include whether Gonzales might have been improperly trying to shape Goodling's future testimony. He's also sure to get questions about why he falsely testified to Congress that he didn't know of any counterterrorism abuses by the FBI.

Beyond that, you can be sure he'll come armed with the usual I-think-I-may-be-aware-of-thats.

For those who can't wait, here are some highlights from prior hearings.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) announced his plans this week to start an Alaska awareness program where he'll guide Washington types around the state to demonstrate its unique needs -- which require lots of federal funds.

The guided tours will show capital politicos (maybe bloggers, too?) how vast and remote the state really is, especially for those in rural villages.

Interestingly, Stevens had a specific rule for the press conference where he unveiled his plan:

Stevens said he wouldn't answer any questions with the word "investigation" in them, which ruled out questions about the federal inquiry into renovations that doubled the size of his Girdwood home in 2000. No charges have been brought, but a federal grand jury has questioned people involved with it.