TPM News

Straight from the horse's mouth.

Joseph D. Rich was chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil right division from 1999 to 2005. Today he penned an Op-Ed in The Los Angeles Times, and he didnt' mince words:

Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.


And Rich gives a specific example of the type of U.S. attorney this administration prefers -- a "loyal Bushie" to be sure:

In March 2006, Bradley Schlozman was appointed interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo. Two weeks earlier, the administration was granted the authority to make such indefinite appointments without Senate confirmation. That was too bad: A Senate hearing might have uncovered Schlozman's central role in politicizing the civil rights division during his three-year tenure....

Missouri had one of the closest Senate races in the country last November, and a week before the election, Schlozman brought four voter fraud indictments against members of an organization representing poor and minority people. This blatantly contradicted the department's long-standing policy to wait until after an election to bring such indictments because a federal criminal investigation might affect the outcome of the vote. The timing of the Missouri indictments could not have made the administration's aims more transparent.


Read the whole thing.

Waxman Reveals New Use Evidence Showing White House Use of Political Email Accounts "U.S. News reported recently that several White House aides said that they stopped using the White House system except for purely professional correspondence. In a new letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, House Government and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman reveals new e-mail communications that provide further evidence that White House employees were trying to circumvent the archives system." (Think Progress)

Read More →

The Wall Street Journal continues (sub. req.) to make life miserable for Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons. The paper first reported a month ago that Gibbons was under federal investigation for improper gifts (possible bribes) from a defense contractor.

Now the paper reports that Gibbons' business as a legislator was intertwined with a second defense contractor:

The wife of Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons was hired as a consultant to a defense contractor at the same time that her husband, who was then a member of Congress, helped the company get funding for a no-bid federal contract.

Dawn Gibbons got about $35,000 in consulting fees in 2004 from Sierra Nevada Corp., of Sparks, Nev., the company said. Mr. Gibbons, a five-term Republican who served on the armed services and intelligence committees, sought funding that year for Sierra Nevada for a $4 million contract to develop a helicopter radar-landing system.


If this seems like déjà vu, it's because the role of wives has been key in the Jack Abramoff investigation. Abramoff often selected lawmakers' and staffers' wives for busy work --- one former staffer, Tony Rudy, has pled guilty for accepting bribes from Abramoff in the form of consulting work for his wife.

There are more than shades of similarity here. Gibbons has the same defense lawyer as Abramoff: Abbe Lowell. And Lowell tells the Journal that Mrs. Gibbons "had a pre-existing relationship" with the contractor that began long before Mr. Gibbons was elected to Congress and had "no knowledge" of the federal contract. Just a coincidence.

Now, there's another major revelation in the Journal story, one that touches on the U.S. attorney scandal. John Wilke reports that "a federal grand jury in Washington has begun to issue subpoenas for documents, according to witnesses contacted in recent weeks."

A lot of the suspicion over U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden's firing has centered on the assumption that it was his office leading the investigation against Gibbons. Not the case, reports Wilke: "Mr. Bogden wasn't involved in the Gibbons probe, which was initiated by prosecutors in Washington."

The House Judiciary Committee has worked out an agreement to have transcribed interviews with at least eight current and former employees of the Justice Department behind closed doors. The committee said that the deal followed a series of phone and written negotiations.

The first interview will be today with Michael Elston, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's chief of staff. Following will be interviews with McNulty, Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis; the former director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys Michael Battle; Monica Goodling, the DOJ's liaison to the White House (now on leave); acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer; and Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. Goodling, of course, has already said that she'd plead the Fifth. Congressional interviews are typically not under oath, but false statements are prosecutable (just ask David Safavian and Steven Griles).

Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and the other leaders have agreed that "investigators would keep the content of the interviews confidential pending consultation with Department officials." It's not clear when or if such a release might come, or if the interviews will be followed by open hearings.

The Justice Department is far from the only government agency troubled by politicization under the Bush administration. All you have to do is spin the wheel.

So today, it's the Fish and Wildlife Service! And at the center of it is one Julie A. MacDonald, appointed by Bush to be the deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the Interior Department. The very ugly details of her malfeasance have been exposed by an inspector general report. (Update: MacDonald, by the way, has a degree is in civil engineering and has no formal educational background in natural sciences.)

Ms. MacDonald, whose job is to oversee policy decisions on endangered species and other wildlife, sent internal agency documents to industry lobbyists (e.g. she twice sent "internal Environmental Protection Agency documents — one involving water quality management — to individuals whose e-mail addresses ended in 'chevrontexaco.com,") and generally ran roughshod over agency scientists.

Here's how she works: MacDonald just made stuff up. If scientists recommended a certain action, MacDonald would alter the recommendation or simply ignore it if it threatened industry or landowners in any way.

Some examples of her scientific method:

MacDonald tangled with field personnel over designating habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, a bird whose range is from Arizona to New Mexico and Southern California. When scientists wrote that the bird had a "nesting range" of 2.1 miles, MacDonald told field personnel to change the number to 1.8 miles. Hall, a wildlife biologist who told the IG he had had a "running battle" with MacDonald, said she did not want the range to extend to California because her husband had a family ranch there.


And:

MacDonald argued with Hall over the Kootenai River sturgeon, a fish in Montana and Idaho that needs a certain level of river flow in order to spawn. Field biologists determined that the sturgeon's needed flow level ranged between 2.3 and 5.9 cubic feet per second, but MacDonald instructed them to cite only the 5.9 figure, which would have aided dam operators. After Hall demanded she put the request in writing, the report noted, "she ultimately relented and they kept the 2.3 to 5.9 range."


And:

...Ms. MacDonald lobbied for a decision to combine three different populations of the California tiger salamander into one, thus excluding it from the endangered-species list, and making the decision legally vulnerable. A federal district judge overturned it in 2005., saying the decision was made “without even a semblance of agency reasoning.”


The Interior Department's Inspector General has referred the case to Interior's top officials for "potential administrative action." We'll see if she gets a scolding or a pat on the head.

Here it is, the culmination of the hearing, where a very, very tired Kyle Sampson admits that if he had it to do all over again, well...

Still fightin'. Reacting to Kyle Sampson's testimony that "I don't think the Attorney General's statement about not being involved in any discussions about USA removals is accurate," Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse released the following statement:

The Attorney General recently clarified his statements from a March 13 press conference, as Mr. Sampson stated during the testimony. The Attorney General explained in a recent interview on March 26, 2007, "[f]rom time to time, Mr. Sampson would tell [him] something that would confirm in [his] mind that that process was ongoing." During the interview, the Attorney General stated he "was never focused on specific concerns about United States Attorneys as to whether or not they should be asked to resign." Rather, as the Attorney General has already explained, his discussions with Mr. Sampson were focused on ensuring that appropriate people were aware of and involved in the process. Furthermore, the Attorney General explained -- consistent with Mr. Sampson’s testimony today -- in an interview on March 14 that he directed Mr. Sampson to lead the evaluation process, was kept aware of some conversations during the process, and that he approved the recommendations to seek the resignations of select U.S. Attorneys.

Here, Kyle Sampson claims that it didn't even cross his mind, nor was it an issue, that Carol Lam was in the middle of a sprawling public corruption investigation when she was fired.

Here it is, under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kyle Sampson admits that Carol Lam was never told of the Justice Department's disaffection with her performance on immigration prosecutions, the supposed reason for her firing.

Under questioning from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Sampson testifies about his "bad idea" to circumvent Senate confirmation for the appointment of Tim Griffin as the U.S. Attorney in Eastern Arkansas.

"I did not think the White House would consider doing that in 92 districts," he said, meaning that he only intended to use it for Griffin. "In my discussions at the staff level with folks at the White House, I believe it was a consideration then... at the staff level, we discussed it." But he says it wasn't adopted by "the principals" (meaning Harriet Miers).



Upon further questioning by Specter, he admits that he spoke with Gonzales about the idea. "I don't think he liked the idea very much," Sampson says. He's then asked whether Gonzales specifically rejected it and says that he did after speaking with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) about the appointment of Griffin. But it's unclear when that conversation was.

Sampson says it could have been in late December or early January. When Specter asks whether that was after Sampson wrote in a December 19, 2007 email that they should use the provision, Sampson says it was.

He says he has no recollection of Harriet Miers rejecting the idea.

TPMLivewire