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Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) takes his case before a Washington, D.C. appeals court panel today, in a move to get back documents the congressman’s lawyers say were wrongfully snatched from his office by the FBI in a raid.

Jefferson has been the brunt of FBI searches and a battery of allegations after he accepted $100,000 from an undercover FBI informant last year, and then stashed the money meant to bribe the Vice President of Nigeria, in his freezer, wrapped in frozen food packaging and aluminum foil.*

The freezer cash isn’t at issue today, though.

Jefferson’s lawyers are going to argue that the Constitution’s “Speech or Debate” clause should have shielded their client from the search of his Congressional office. Politicians on both sides of the aisle rallied around Jefferson last year in support of his argument.

The clause, found here in Article 1, Section 6, reads:

They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

*Update: This post originally stated that Jefferson has been charged. He has not.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey detailed the desperate late night efforts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card to get the Justice Department to approve a secret program -- the warrantless wiretapping program.

According to Comey's testimony this morning, only when faced with resignations by a number of Justice Department officials including Comey, his chief of staff, Ashcroft's chief of staff, Ashcroft himself and possibly Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, did the White House agree to make changes to the program that would satisfy the requirements of the Justice Department to sign off on it (Comey refused to name the program, but it's apparent from the context and prior reports that this was the warrantless wiretapping program).

The events took place in March of 2004, when the program was in need of renewal by the Justice Department. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill and was hospitalized, Comey became the acting-Attorney General.

The deadline for the Justice Department's providing its sign-off of the program was March 11th (the program required reauthorization every 45 days). On that day, Comey, then the acting AG, informed the White House that he "would not certify the legality" of the program.

According to Comey, he was on his way home when he got a call from Ashcroft's wife that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital*. Comey then rushed to the hospital (sirens blaring) to beat them there and thwart "an effort to overrule me."

After Comey arrived at the hospital with a group of senior Justice Department officials, Gonzales and Card arrived and walked up to Ashcroft, who was lying barely conscious on his hospital bed. "Gonzales began to explain why he was there, to seek his approval for a matter," Comey testified. But Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales and told him that Comey was the attorney general now. "The two men turned and walked from the room," said Comey.

A "very upset" Andrew Card then called Comey and demanded that he come to the White House for a meeting at 11 PM that night.

After meeting with Justice Department officials at the Justice Deaprtment, Comey went to the White House with Ted Olson, then the Solicitor General to the White House. He brought Olson along, Comey said, because he wanted a witness for the meeting.

But Card didn't let Olson enter and Comey had a private discussion with Card. This discussion, Comey testified, was much "calmer." According to Comey, Card was concerned about reports that there were to be large numbers of resignations at Justice Department. Gonzales entered with Olson and the four had an apparently not very fruitful discussion.

The program was reauthorized without the signature of the attorney general. Because of that, Comey said, he prepared a letter of resignation. "I believed that I couldn't stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that Justice Department said had no legal basis."

At this point, according to Comey, a number of senior Justice Department officials, including Ashcroft, were prepared to resign.

When Comey went in on that Friday, March 12th to give the White House its customary morning briefing, Comey said that the president pulled him aside. They had a 15 minute private meeting, the content of which Comey would not divulge. But Comey did suggest at the conclusion of that conversation that the president speak with FBI Director Mueller. And so that meeting followed. Following that meeting, Comey said that Mueller brought word that the Justice Department was to do whatever was "necessary" to make the program into one that the Justice Department could sign off on.

Comey said that it took two to three weeks for the Justice Department to do the analysis necessary to have the program approved. During that time, the program went on without Justice Department approval. But following the Justice Department's suggested changes, the Justice Department (either Ashcroft or Comey) did sign off on the program.

More on this soon.

*Update: A commenter below rightly points out that, according to Comey, the call to Ashcroft's wife that Gonzales and Card were on their way to the hospital came from the president himself.

Update: Here's The New York Times' story last January first reporting word of Gonzales' bedside visit. Comey's, obviously, is a much fuller account.

Update: After hearing Comey's "shocking" account, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that it made him wonder anew how Gonzales could remain as the attorney general, since he evidently had so little respect for the rule of law.

Update: ThinkProgress has a transcript of Comey's testimony.

Former CIA Official Pleads Not Guilty "A former top CIA official pleaded not guilty Monday to new charges that he pushed a proposed government contract worth at least $100 million for his best friend in return for lavish vacations, private jet flights and a lucrative job offer. The indictment, returned last week, replaced charges brought in February against Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who resigned from the spy agency a year ago, and defense contractor Brent Wilkes. Foggo and Wilkes now face 30 wide-ranging counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Each faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said." (Associated Press)

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So Paul McNulty is on his way out, but as The Washington Post points out, his successor's confirmation is likely to be a flash point in the battle between the White House and Congress:

McNulty's pending departure may add to the tumult at the upper reaches of the Justice Department, where only Gonzales and a handful of others involved in the prosecutor dismissals remain. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and other top Democrats have indicated that they will not confirm any senior Justice nominees until they receive e-mails they have demanded from the White House and are allowed to conduct interviews about the firings.

Since McNulty has signalled that he'll remain in place until the administration nominates a successor, he could be there for a long while.

Oversight, the Bush administration way.

The White House's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been an open joke ever since it was launched as a result of a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission's 2004 report. The panel was supposed to keep a sharp eye on the government's possible infringement on citizens' civil liberties. But it turns out that it's a bigger joke than people even realized.

Yesterday, one of the board's five handpicked members, Lanny Davis, resigned. Davis, a former Clinton White House official, left over "administration attempts to control the panel’s agenda and edit its public statements."

Now, we already knew that the board had virtually no power or independence. Here's how Justin described it last November:

The board can't demand documents; it can't force bureaucrats who actually implement the program -- and who might be aware of malfeasance -- to speak with them under oath. Instead, its sole and complete authority is to take the administration at its word.

But apparently even this powerless watchdog was too much of a threat to the White House. According to The Washington Post, the White House "made more than 200 revisions" to the board's annual report to Congress this April, some of them deletions of entire passages.

Like, for instance:

Davis charged that the White House sought to remove an extensive discussion of recent findings by the Justice Department’s inspector general of FBI abuses in the uses of so-called “national security letters” to obtain personal data on U.S. citizens without a court order. He also charged that the White House counsel’s office wanted to strike language stating that the panel planned to investigate complaints from civil liberties groups that the Justice Department had improperly used a “material witness statute” to lock up terror suspects for lengthy periods of time without charging them with any crimes.

And the reason for striking the passage about the "material witness statute"?

Chairman Carol E. Dinkins told board members March 29 that the White House counsel's office had asked to delete the passage, fearing the revelation might inflame the ongoing political controversy over the administration's dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys.

OK, so the White House deleted two passages. The first was a discussion of an already completed investigation, the results of which had already been made public. Presumably the White House didn't want to reopen old wounds. The second was spiked because it was inconvenient from a PR perspective. You get the picture.

But it gets even better. Here's the White House's unapologetic response when asked why it had been tying the hands of its internal watchdog:

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino called the editing "standard operating procedure," saying it was appropriate because the board remains legally under the supervision of the Executive Office of the President.

"When you have a formal document going to Congress from any part of the Executive Office of the President, it stands to reason that it must be formally reviewed before it is released," Perino said Monday evening.

I think what Perino's describing is more accurately described as "undersight."

Although Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty cites "the financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service" in his resignation letter as the reasons behind his "long overdue transition," it's apparent to everyone why he's leaving now, and why he's been rumored to be on his way out since late March.

From the AP:

...his ultimate decision to step down, [two senior Department of Justice] aides said, was hastened by anger at being linked to the prosecutors' purge that Congress is investigating to determine if eight U.S. attorneys were fired for political reasons. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about McNulty's decision.

McNulty also irked his boss, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, by testifying in February that at least one of the fired prosecutors was ordered to make way for a protege of Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser. Gonzales, who has resisted lawmakers' calls to resign, maintains the firings were proper, and rooted in the prosecutors' lackluster performances.

Here's a statement just put out by the Department of Justice:

The Department of Justice will be losing a dynamic and thoughtful leader with the departure of Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Paul announced today that he would leave the Department later this summer after more than eight years of service.

In his position as Deputy Attorney General, for which he was confirmed in March 2006 and served in an acting capacity since November 2005, Paul has been an effective manager of day-to-day operations. He has also been the principal driver of the Department’s policies and efforts to prevent corporate fraud and stop those who seek to defraud the taxpayers through fraudulent procurement practices. In addition, he has made significant contributions to establishing the rule of law in Iraq. Before serving as Deputy, Paul was U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, where he successfully prosecuted some of our Nation's highest profile cases in the War on Terror. From 1990-1993, he served in the Department as the director of the Office of Policy and Communications under Attorney General William P. Barr.

Paul’s long career in public service includes his work for the U.S. Congress and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and there can be no doubt that the Nation has benefited from his selfless dedication to good government.

Paul is an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney who has been valued here at the Department, by me and so many others, as both a colleague and a friend. He will be missed. On behalf of the Department, I wish him well in his future endeavors.

The AP is reporting that Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty will resign according to "two Justice Department officials." We'll have more when it becomes available.

Kyle “Dusty” Foggo and Brent Wilkes head to federal court today where they will likely plead not guilty to new conspiracy and money laundering charges.

Indictments against the pair came Friday that expand the charges filed against them in February.

In addition to the old charges, in the new indictment, Foggo, former executive director of the CIA, is accused of slipping his lifelong friend, Wilkes, a $132 million federal contract to “provide commercial cover for CIA air operations.”

You can see the portion of Foggo’s indictment describing the scam here.

The indictment says Wilkes was patently unqualified to handle the task, seeing that he had no prior air-support experience.

How, then, did Wilkes get such a contract?

According to the indictment, Foggo had been funneling Wilkes classified government documents, despite Wilkes’ lack of security authorization, that seemed to prepare him for the pitch.

In exchange for Foggo’s cooperation, Wilkes took his pal on vacation to exotic locations like Hawaii and Scotland, offered Foggo rides in a private jet and treated him to fancy dinners at such restaurants as the Capital Grille (which recently won Consumer Reports’ award for the best hamburger in America). Judging by the $344.78 bill rang up by Foggo, he probably ordered something else.

Was U.S. Attorney for Nevada Daniel Bogden fired because he didn't prioritize voter fraud prosecutions? That's the latest theory at least.

Bogden's firing has elicited a number of strained rationales from the Justice Department, but we've heard precious little from Bogden himself.

For his part, Bogden says he doesn't know why he was fired, but since we're engaging in a guessing game, he ought to get a shot too.

There have been a number of "theories" for his dismissal, he wrote (pdf) in answers given to Congress. And "one of the noteworthy articles of interest pertaining to my situation," he wrote, "was an article that recently appeared in the Las Vegas Review Journal...."

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