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House Committee Asks for More Records of Political Briefings Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) of the House Oversight and Government reform Committee “asked 27 federal departments and agencies yesterday to turn over information related to White House briefings about elections or political candidates, substantially widening the scope of a congressional investigation into the administration's compliance with the law that restricts partisan political activity by government employees. (Washington Post)

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George Bush insulates himself from reality! The administration didn't seriously entertain the notion that Iraq didn't have WMD's! Dick Cheney is an asshole!

OK, so the revelations in George Tenet's new book aren't going to shock anyone, but they are notable considering the source.

Tenet will appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday to roll out his new memoir, which will be released next week. The New York Times got a copy. And, well, are you shocked by this?

“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.


I didn't think so.

Most talk about the book so far has centered on Tenet's head-scratching explanation for his "slam dunk" comment. It took place in a private 2002 White House meeting:

During the meeting, the deputy C.I.A. director, John McLaughlin, unveiled a draft of a proposed public presentation [on Iraq's possession of WMDs] that left the group unimpressed. Mr. Tenet recalls that Mr. Bush suggested that they could “add punch” by bringing in lawyers trained to argue cases before a jury.

“I told the president that strengthening the public presentation was a ‘slam dunk,’ a phrase that was later taken completely out of context,” Mr. Tenet writes. “If I had simply said, ‘I’m sure we can do better,’ I wouldn’t be writing this chapter — or maybe even this book.”


I'm not sure that the distinction between Tenet's intended meaning and the administration's interpretation of the comment is quite as glaring as he wants it to be. But his broader point -- that the "slam dunk" comment was far from the watershed moment it's been made out to be because Bush's and Cheney's minds were already made up -- is a solid one. But then, we already knew that.

Among other unsurprising revelations, the book portrays the president as slow to accept the reality in Iraq. This description comes from The Los Angeles Times, which got details of the book from two former CIA officials who've read it:

...[T]he book describes warnings from the CIA station in Baghdad that were greeted with dismay and mounting suspicion within the White House, including a November 2003 assessment that described the situation as an insurgency.

After that assessment was leaked to the press, Bush summoned Tenet and other CIA officials to the White House and warned that he didn't want anyone in his administration to use the term "insurgency," according to the officials.

"There's a lot of stuff in the book that paints a picture of an administration wrapped in its own beliefs, not being able to handle information that was contrary to those beliefs," said the former official who commented about Tenet's view of Cheney.


Shocked?

According to Dana Perino, there's not a thing wrong with the presentations given by Karl Rove and his deputies to agencies throughout the federal government.

Perino was in full spin mode during the White House briefing today, at one point calling a reporter's question about the presentations "ridiculous." As we detailed earlier, the presentations detailed the electoral prospects for Republicans, giving employees the "not-so-subtle" suggestion that they should do what they could to help. It's against the Hatch Act to use government resources for poltical ends, and Rove and his aides seem to have gambled that dropping such hints went right up to the line without crossing it.

According to Perino, the briefings just provided information. And what could be wrong with that?

Q: But why? Why do they [the federal employees] need this information?

Perino: Why are you asking these questions? You’re asking for information as well. I mean, it’s the same thing.


For a fun drinking game, try taking a swig every time Perino says "poltical" or "information" or "landscape" during this Q&A:



Here are all the buzz words tied up into one neat quote:

"There’s nothing wrong with political appointees providing other political appointees with an informational briefing about the political landscape in which they are working.”

So far, Bradley Schlozman has been a minor character in the U.S. attorneys scandal. He ought to be a major one.

To put the case succinctly: Schlozman was the most aggressively political of the political appointees in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. And the administration installed him as the U.S. attorney in a key swing state in an election year. And to clinch it all, as we'll see in our next post, he delivered.

Schlozman was appointed to be the interim U.S. attorney in western Missouri on March 23, 2006 -- just two weeks after the president had signed the USA Patriot Act into law; the bill contained a provision that allowed interim U.S. attorneys to serve indefinitely.

There are indications that Schlozman's predecessor, Todd Graves, was forced out. He resigned suddenly, and local news reports noted in passing that he quit without having his next job lined up. And there is strong circumstantial evidence that his name appeared on one of Kyle Sampson's list of U.S. attorneys to fire shortly before he resigned.

By the time Schlozman arrived in Missouri, he'd already left a strong imprint at the Justice Department. The career attorneys and analysts who worked under him in the Civil Rights Division's voting section describe what can fairly be described as a reign of terror.

Bob Kengle, formerly the deputy chief for the voting section, told me that Schlozman "led by power":

"What he sought to inculcate into people was a fear that if you disagreed, if you asked for reconsideration on something, if you pointed out something that was not correct in a decision that had been made, then you’d pay for it."


Kengle, who joined the division in 1984, said that Schlozman would change performance evaluations for lawyers and analysts who disagreed with him. Two weeks ago, we reported on the experience of Toby Moore, a geographical analyst with the section who quit after invoking Schlozman's ire. Moore's sin, among others, was objecting to a Georgia voter I.D. law that would later be compared to a Jim Crow-era poll tax by a federal appeals judge.

Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting section, had a similar experience with Schlozman. "He was universally despised by career people. He was the most disdainful and vitriolic guy I've ever dealt with, and he had it in for everybody." Rich described Schlozman as "very central" in the department's hiring. As I reported earlier this week, Schlozman apparently gauged potential recruits by whether they were active Republicans.

Rich and Kengle left the division together in 2005. "I reached my personal breaking point," Kengle said.

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Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing Thursday next week to testify about his involvement in the plan to fire certain U.S. attorneys. The committee will vote on authorizing a subpoena for Comey's testimony on Tuesday.

Comey's expected to shed light on the early part of the purge process -- and perhaps explain why his list of U.S. attorneys was so different from Kyle Sampson's.

Before Comey left the Justice Department in the summer of 2005, he reportedly generated his own list of U.S. attorneys to fire. But as U.S. News has reported, Comey's list was completely different than the list generated by Sampson -- save one name:

...a former Justice official says that Comey's list bore little resemblance to the list of those fired last year. The only prosecutor on the fired list who also was on Comey's list was Kevin Ryan, in San Francisco, who, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, had "widespread management and morale problems in his office."


A former Justice official explained the discrepancy: "Comey's definition of incompetence turned out to be quite different from Sampson's and had nothing to do with politics."

From The Hill:

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) failed to disclose a $200,000 payment he received from a business partner in 2005 in apparent violation of House ethics rules. Prosecutors could use the omission as evidence that Renzi intended to conceal a transaction he knew to be controversial or even improper.

The $200,000 was a payment from James Sandlin to settle a debt related to a previous business transaction involving land in northeast Arizona, one of the lawmaker’s attorneys, Grant Woods, told a newspaper last week.

This explanation might have been expected to dispel suspicion that Sandlin gave Renzi an illegal gift in exchange for action Renzi took to help Sandlin sell a $4 million parcel of land.

But Renzi’s claim that Sandlin’s $200,000 payment was a legitimate business transaction is weakened by the fact that he failed to disclose it in his personal financial disclosure report for 2005 filed with the House clerk.

Political Briefings at US Agencies Disclosed "White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday. The previously undisclosed briefings were part of what now appears to be a regular effort in which the White House sent senior political officials to brief top appointees in government agencies on which seats Republican candidates might win or lose, and how the election outcomes could affect the success of administration policies, the officials said." (Washington Post)

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The entire scheme has been laid out before us. The question now is whether Karl Rove will get away with it.

Here's the scheme, as revealed over the past month: Rove and his deputies traveled to various agencies throughout the government, lecturing management there about Republicans' political prospects. Which House and Senate members were in trouble? Which Democratic seats were vulnerable? What were the major issues in the election?

But there was a line to be drawn: no commands were to be given -- because such a directive would be a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of government resources for political ends.

On the contrary, the government officials receiving the briefing were supposed to get the hint -- as Tom Hamburger reported, "employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans." The briefing simply gave them the tools to be helpful in the next election. They were supposed to take the ball and run with it.

The Washington Post reports today that Rove and his deputies gave such briefings to at least 15 different agencies (ranging from NASA to the Department of Homeland Security). But one briefing in particular continues to shine a light on all the rest: the one given this January to officials at the General Services Administration, the government's massive procurement agency.



Rove's deputy Scott Jennings simply showed up and gave the briefing (the slides (pdf) for which have been obtained by the House oversight committee -- that's one of them above). Employees were supposed to get the "not-so-subtle" message. But unfortunately for Jennings, GSA chief Lurita Doan doesn't do "not-so-subtle." From today's Post:

At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. The briefer, J. Scott Jennings, said that topic should be discussed "off-line," the witnesses said. Doan then replied, "Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up," according to an account given by former GSA chief acquisition officer Emily Murphy to House investigators, according to a copy of the transcript.

"Something was going to take place potentially afterwards" regarding Doan's request, GSA deputy director of communications Jennifer Millikin told investigators she concluded at the time.


Doan was obviously supposed to come to the tacit understanding that such things should be discussed "off-line." But, as anyone who watched Doan testify before the House last month can attest, she doesn't think well on her feet.

Now, the White House has adopted the line that the briefings were simply to provide employees a look at "the political landscape." And apparently that talking point has been widely distributed, as R. Jeffrey Smith from the Post found:

By the end of yesterday afternoon, all of those describing the briefings on the record had adopted a uniform phrase in response to a reporter's inquiries: They were, each official said, "informational briefings about the political landscape."


It's all about plausible deniability. As Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel -- the office that is charged with investigating Hatch Act violations -- tells Smith, "Political forecasts, just generally . . . I do not regard as illegal political activity." Bloch, remember, is the one who announced to the world earlier this week that he'd leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of Karl Rove. (There's more on Bloch here.)

The burning question here is this: what about those agency officials who are smarter than Doan? The briefings have been going on since the beginning of the Bush administration. Somebody got the hint, had that "offline" conversation, and successfully helped "our candidates." How many? When? Where?

Yet another questionable prosecution brought by U.S. Attorney for Milwaukee Steve Biskupic has been reversed by an appeals court.

This time, it was one of the voter fraud prosecutions Biskupic's office pushed, as part of a joint task force his office created with local prosecutors to investigate whether Democrats had conspired to steal the 2004 election.

From the AP:

The supervisor of a voter registration drive did not commit a crime during the 2004 election when he failed to stop others from submitting fraudulent voter registration forms, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The court reversed the conviction of Damien Jones on one count of falsifying statements relating to voter registration as party to a crime. Jones, 27, supervised a voter registration drive for a liberal-leaning group in Racine and Kenosha.

The appeals court said he was guilty of poor supervision but that is not a crime.

"We recognize the trial court's concern about voter fraud, and we respect the integrity of the electoral process," Judge Daniel Anderson wrote for the District 2 Court of Appeals. "However, one cannot be convicted of a nonexistent crime."...

Prosecutors initially said Jones took part in the fraud and encouraged the conduct, but after further investigation they acknowledged he was not personally involved and those beneath him were responsible.

In a plea agreement, they agreed to drop the charges in exchange for Jones' guilty plea to a single violation of being party to the crimes....

The appeals court ruled Jones could withdraw his guilty plea, saying state laws "do not criminalize poor supervision of voter registration."


It's been a bad month for Biskupic, who had a prominent prosecution overturned and learned that he'd once been on a list of U.S. attorneys to be fired.

Update/Clarification: The prosecution resulted from Biskupic's joint voter fraud task force with local prosecutors. Some of the cases targeted by the task force were pursued by Biskupic's office, some were pursued by local prosecutors The case above was one of the cases pursued by local prosecutors, which is why it was heard by a state court.

Update/Correction: I'm proud to say that it's rare that I get something wrong, and it's even rarer that I get things grossly wrong, but I'm ashamed to say that this post fits that description. Biskupic's task force was in conjunction with the Milwaukee County D.A., not the Racine County D.A. (directly to Milwaukee County's south), which brought the charges discussed above. Biskupic's office had nothing to do wtih the case. I sincerely regret the error.

The Jack Abramoff investigation has certainly come roaring out of its hibernation.

Next on the list, apparently, is Tom DeLay's former right-hand man, Ed Buckham. From The Houston Chronicle:

...prosecutors could decide within weeks whether to bring charges against former DeLay staff chief Edwin Buckham, according to sources close to the investigation who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The decision should give a clear signal on whether DeLay remains in legal jeopardy, the sources said.


As we've noted before, Buckham was the main cog in DeLay's operation and a close associate of Abramoff.

And he also -- to further burnish his status as a distinguished muckrakee -- acted as the lobbyist for Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor who was recently indicted for bribing Duke Cunningham and CIA #3 Dusty Foggo.

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