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At TPM, we've been taking a hard look at the U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic. And so, apparently, have Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A number of Democratic committee members signed a letter today to Alberto Gonzales seeking answers:

We are concerned whether or not politics may have played a role in a case brought by Stephen Biskupic, the United States Attorney based in Milwaukee, against Georgia Thompson, formerly an official in the administration of Wisconsin’s Democratic governor. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was reportedly so troubled by the insufficiency of the evidence against Ms. Thompson that it made the unusual decision to issue an order reversing Ms. Thompson’s conviction and releasing her from custody immediately after oral arguments in her appeal.

Democrats are seeking all documents related to Biskupic's handling of that case, including "[a]ll communications between the Department of Justice and any other outside party, including political party officials, regarding the case against Ms. Thompson or the United States Attorney’s handling of that case."

Since Biskupic's district has come up again and again in relation to voter fraud -- Karl Rove's hobby horse --,the Democrats also want to know about that and ask for all related documents.

You can read the letter here, signed by Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

One last chance, or the subpoenas come out.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee along with ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday to ask again for certain withheld documents relevant to the U.S. attorney firings. If Gonzales doesn't turn them over by tomorrow, the committee will issue subpoenas for them on Thursday, they write. You can read the letter here.

The committee wants all the relevant documents, all the lists, all the rankings of U.S. attorneys, every scrap of paper.

In particular, the committee members asked for Gonzales' cheat sheets on the firings -- The Washington Post reported last week that he was reviewing “thousands of pages of documents related to his upcoming testimony" to get ready.

They also targeted documents reported on by The American Spectator last week. The mag reported that certain files in the Deputy Attorney General's office had not been turned over to Congress: "the files include overviews and evaluations of at least a dozen current and now-former U.S. Attorneys, which were prepared by DAG and EOUSA staff to brief Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and his chief of staff Michael Elston."

The Washington Post today reports on how the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales has placed six of its 93 U.S. attorneys in top positions at the department.

The meat of the piece has to do with canned U.S. attorney David Iglesias. One of the department's cover stories for firing him, remember, was that he was an "absentee landlord." As department official William Moschella told Congress last month: "Quite frankly, U.S. attorneys are hired to run the office, not their first assistants."

Well, not only are there six U.S. attorneys who are absent from their offices full-time, but one of them is Bill Mercer -- the U.S. Attorney for Montana, the acting Associate Attorney General, and an architect of the purge.

Iglesias was gone from his office 45 days each year to do his Navy reserve duty. As I noted last week, the Office of Special Counsel has launched an investigation into whether Iglesias was wrongfully terminated.

But Mercer is gone all the time -- giving the chief judge in his district, Judge Donald W. Molloy fits:

Molloy wrote a letter to Gonzales in October 2005 demanding that Mercer be replaced.

Molloy wrote that Mercer's absence had led to "a lack of leadership" in the Montana office and created "untoward difficulties for the court" and for career prosecutors. The judge also questioned whether Mercer complied with residency requirements.

Gonzales wrote back the next month that Mercer was handling both jobs admirably, and suggested that Mercer's absence would be short-lived.

Relations between Mercer and Molloy have not improved since. Molloy berated Mercer during a court hearing last year, accusing him of bringing weak cases to court to pump up statistics and telling him: "You have no credibility -- none."

"Your lawyers are not getting their briefs in on time," Molloy said. "You're in Washington, D.C., and you ought to be here in Montana doing your work. Your office is a mess."

"Performance related." Ha.

Abramoff Could Get Sentence Reduced "Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff may be getting out of jail earlier than he expected, NBC News learned on Monday. A federal judge Monday granted the government's request for a new hearing to determine an appropriate reduction in Abramoff's sentence, a reward based on his continued cooperation with investigators in several federal probes." (NBC News)

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Once again, the Bush White House shows that it has its finger firmly on the pulse of the Iraqi people.

From the press gaggle yesterday with National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe:

QUESTION: Have you got any reaction to Muqtada al Sadr's urging his followers to rise up against the U.S. forces in Iraq?

MR. JOHNDROE: You know, the reports I've seen are that Sadr has urged his various militias, who are, again I remind everyone, operating outside the rule of law in Iraq, to not fight Iraqi security forces. And I think this sort of comment is not surprising, given these Iraqi security forces are having some success against the Jaish al Mahdi militias. And so we, the United States, and you heard Prime Minister Maliki say, everyone operating outside the rule of law need to -- will be dealt with.

And I note today that Sadr called for massive protests. I'm not sure that we've seen that, those numbers materialize and the numbers that he was seeking in his call from his hangout in Iran. But Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions. And that was something they could not do under Saddam. And while we have much more progress ahead of us -- the United States, the coalition and Iraqis have much more to do -- this is a country that has come a long way from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

From today's New York Times:

Tens of thousands of protesters loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric, took to the streets of the holy city of Najaf on Monday in an extraordinarily disciplined rally to demand an end to the American military presence in Iraq, burning American flags and chanting “Death to America!”

Everybody's in on it -- and I mean everybody. From The Reno Gazette-Journal:

Gov. Jim Gibbons said Monday he’s heard a rumor that Democrats paid the Wall Street Journal to publish stories about his relations with a defense contractor and that the coverage is designed to help Democrats in the 2008 election.

Asked about rumors of a conspiracy among Democrats against him, Gibbons said he heard the same thing but did not name a source.

“I have heard that the Democrats have paid to have these Wall Street Journal articles written,” Gibbons said. The Journal has reported that Gibbons is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly accepting unreported gifts or payments from a Reno company that was awarded secret military contracts when Gibbons was in the U.S. House.

Gibbons said he first met the Journal reporter who broke the stories, John R. Wilke, when Wilke was in Elko the night of the debate between Gibbons and Democratic rival Dina Titus of Las Vegas. Gibbons said Wilke was brought to Elko by the Titus campaign.

“When I met this guy, (Wilke), he was brought to Elko by the Dina Titus campaign and that is where I met him. So I don’t know what his agenda is, but there is nothing there with any of these allegations.”

Now, let's take a step back and see how high and wide this conspiracy goes. Not only has the (apparently conservative) Wall Street Journal been paid to write these stories about poor Jim Gibbons, but since those stories revealed a federal corruption investigation into his dealings with a defense contractor when he was in Congress, that means the (ostensibly Republican run) Justice Department is in on it too -- the FBI, the U.S. attorneys' office in Washington, everyone. And how about this for a kicker: Wilke's last story revealed that Gibbons' wife had a consulting contract with a defense contractor for which Gibbons had earmarked millions in federal dollars. There's only one conclusion to be drawn: Gibbons' wife is on it too.

Come to think of it, that cocktail waittress who alleged in October that Gibbons drunkenly assaulted her... she was also on the Dems' dole, for sure. Where does it end?

Not since ex-Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) was brought down by the liberal conspiracy to have him investigated by the FBI has my worldview been so shaken.

Note: It should go without saying that the Journal denies Gibbons' allegation... but anyway the Journal denies Gibbons' allegation.

Who's in charge of how the Justice Department handles the investigations into the U.S. attorney firings?

Alberto Gonzales, we know, is holed up rehearsing his version of the story. And the Justice Department wrote last week to assure Democrats that Gonzales and his deputy, Paul McNulty, had nothing to do with the investigations relating to the U.S. attorneys purge.

Following the rules of succession at the Justice Department, according to the letter from Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling, the guy in charge of all that is Solicitor General Paul Clement.

That means Clement was in charge of personnel decisions relating to Monica Goodling (in other words, it was his call to make her the first ever DoJ official to stay on the payroll after pleading the Fifth), he's supervising the Department's joint investigation into the firings by the Office of Professional Responsibility and Inspector General, and he's in charge of which documents are doled over to Congress and which aren't.

So who is Clement? Since 2005, as Solicitor General, he's been the administration's face before the Supreme Court. Legal Times profiled him earlier this year. Can you guess which Supreme Court justice he used to work for?

Here's the latest instance of what is becoming a flourishing genre in the new Congress: the spurned chairman letter. It comes when oversight efforts are met with deafening silence from the administration.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice such a letter (pdf) today. Last month, Waxman wrote Rice, inviting her to an April 18 hearing on the Niger forgeries and the infamous sixteen words, and asking a list of questions about what she knew about the documents and how they got into the State of the Union address. What he got in return was a mostly irrelevant letter from one of Rice's subordinates forwarding previous correspondence that answered none of his questions. He's not happy and is pressing again for answers.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) delivered one of the classics of the genre last week, berating Alberto Gonzales for his silence in response to repeated requests for information over the past several months.

The administration's strategy, if indeed it is one, seems short-sighted. It's worked for the past six years. But the Dems are in charge now -- and anger and subpoena-power is a dangerous mix.

The Los Angeles Times delves deep into the issue of the White House's parallel RNC communications system today. Democrats, particularly the House's chief investigator, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), have been pushing to get their hands on those emails -- based on the suspicion that the White House has been using those alternate email addresses to avoid keeping a record that might be vulnerable to subpoena.

The piece doesn't satisfy my curiosity. Maybe, Tom Hamburger reports, they're chock full of revealing, embarrassing material (says one GOP activist, "There is concern about what may be in these e-mails") or maybe they're all long gone because the RNC has a policy of purging "some emails" after 30 days -- or maybe it'll be a long, long time before Congress sees any emails, because the White House is bound to fight it out based on a stretched claim of executive privilege.

But it's humorous to watch the administration justify the problem by pointing a finger at the Clinton White House, which first instituted a parallel communications system:

When Karl Rove and his top deputies arrived at the White House in 2001, the Republican National Committee provided them with laptop computers and other communication devices to be used alongside their government-issued equipment.

The back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes....

"The system was created with the best intentions," said former Assistant White House Press Secretary Adam Levine, who was assigned an RNC laptop and BlackBerry when he worked at the White House in 2002. But, he added, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Clinton's director of politcal affairs Doug Sosnik, quoted in the article, says that the Clinton White House did set aside a "small number of separate computers and cellphones."

But, of course, there's a difference here. The line between policy and politics wasn't so very blurry then. For instance, the recent focus on the White House's parallel system is due to Karl Rove's deputy Scott Jennings' use of his RNC address to communicate with the Justice Department's Kyle Sampson about the U.S. attorney purge. But no campaign computers or cellphones were used to communicate with the Justice Department during the Clinton years, Sosnik says.

Rove's habits are instructional. Rove, remember, has a White House address -- as well as an RNC-issued blackberry and laptop. But according to a former White House official quoted in National Journal, Rove "does ‘about 95 percent’ of his e-mailing using his RNC-based account."

So perhaps the system did start as an imitation of the Clinton system. But the similarities end there.

State GOP Official Pushed Voter Fraud Issue "For weeks, it was unclear who whined to the White House last year that not enough voter fraud cases were being prosecuted in Milwaukee. Sources tell No Quarter that Rick Wiley, then the executive director of the state GOP, directed a staffer in 2005 to prepare a 30-page report on election abuses in Wisconsin so Wiley could pass it along to a top White House official. 'The report was prepared for Karl Rove,' said a source with knowledge of the situation. 'Rick wanted it so he could give it to Karl Rove.'" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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