TPM News

We may never see his like again. Well, at least not until the confirmation hearings for his successor.

Alberto Gonzales, the Justice Department's master of disaster, has resigned as U.S. Attorney General. Whenever there's been a Bush administration scandal, the president's longtime confidante has been there -- from torture to warrantless surveillance to the U.S. attorney firings that ultimately proved to be his downfall. Two weeks ago, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the department's inspector general to open a perjury investigation into Gonzales.

Well, now Leahy won't have Gonzales to kick around anymore. From the New York Times story breaking the news of his departure:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

Mr. Bush has not yet chosen a replacement but will not leave the position open long, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the Attorney General's resignation had not yet been made public.

Mr. Bush had repeatedly stood by Mr. Gonzales, an old friend and colleague from Texas, even as he faced increasing scrutiny for his leadership of the Justice Department, including his role in the dismissals of nine United States attorneys late last year and questions about whether he testified truthfully about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.


The administration is sticking with the line that Gonzales did nothing wrong. An anonymous official is quoted as saying, "The unfair treatment that he's been on the receiving end of has been a distraction for the department," the official said. For a roundup of what Gonzales did to receive such "unfair treatment," our own Paul Kiel compiled a list of the now-vanquished AG's greatest hits.

Gonzales is expected to have a press conference at 10:30 or so. Stay tuned.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Michael Joyce (R) has a problem of saying one thing and doing another.

Here’s what Joyce, who was indicted Monday on nine counts of money laundering and mail fraud, has said. Back in 2001, he was in a car accident. The injury was so bad that he had to forgo almost all physical activity. According to the narrative he filed with his insurance company, he couldn’t golf. He didn’t renew his scuba license because he couldn’t swim. And though he had received a primary nomination to the state Supreme Court, now the pain from his injuries meant that he couldn’t even imagine running an election campaign.

The only problem is, that’s not true. Okay, so some of it is true. Joyce was involved in a fender-bender with another car (at speeds around 5 miles per hour). The bump was minor, so no police or medics were called to the scene. And it is true that a year later Joyce filed insurance claims with both his insurer and that of the other driver; he received settlements totaling $440,000. And to be fair, even low-speed accidents can produce chronic injuries.

What doesn’t seem to be true is the idea that Joyce was suffering very much. He said he couldn’t play golf. But he turned in sixteen completed scorecards between the accident and the filing (who wants to lose his golf handicap?). He said he had forgone his scuba license. But a December 2001 check to the Professional Association of Driving Instructors says otherwise, as does a June 2002 scuba trip to Jamaica. Joyce says he had to abandon his hopes of a Supreme Court campaign, despite the support of his party. But the grand jury indictment says he received no such endorsement or nomination, and his local Republicans have so far agreed. You can see the full indictment here.

In fact, Joyce even found time in 2002 to pick up a few new hobbies. When he wasn’t driving around on the motorcycle he bought with the first round of his insurance money, Joyce was enjoying another new hobby: flying. Between April and October, he piloted a plane over fifty times. And in order to pilot, he had to sign off saying he that he was not experiencing physical limitations or problems. He even put some of his insurance windfall towards a down payment on a private plane.

Joyce is set to fight the indictment in court, promising to mount a “a vigorous legal defense.” Then again, he also said last week that he had no plans to abandon his reelection campaign. But this week, he announced that he will retire after this term. So it remains to be seen if this is the time Michael Joyce actually does what he says.

It's not just Barbour Griffith & Rogers, and it's not just Ayad Allawi. Ten different U.S. firms are registered through the Department of Justice's Foreign Agents Registration Act database as having active contracts with various Iraqi factions.

BGR isn't even making most of its Iraq-related money off Allawi: for the six-month period between January 1 and May 31, the Kurdistan Regional Government -- the political entity ruling the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq -- paid the firm $381,487.71 for its various services, which, from its mandatory reporting, includes a lot of phone calls to BRG President Bob Blackwill's old friend at the National Security Council, Meghan O'Sullivan.



A BGR lobbyist described as the point person on the Iraq contract, Loren Monroe, did not return TPMmuckraker's phone calls.

BGR is by a large margin the powerhouse firm representing Iraqi clients. Holding a contract that will be worth $100,000 come September 9 is the much smaller Focus on Advocacy and Advancement of International Relations, run by a certain Muthanna al-Hanooti out of Dearborn and Washington D.C. Since September 13, 2006, Hanooti has represented the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest constituent part of the larger Sunni parliamentary bloc, known as the Tawafuq. In its filing, the IIP lists its "suggestions for how to make Iraq a success story for democracy" -- which include not arbitrarily detaining Sunnis and negotiating with "the Iraqi Armed Resistance (not foreign fighters)" -- but the IIP is further away from power than ever. Last week, Nouri al-Maliki unveiled a new governing coalition that left the IIP, the rest of the Tawafuq and another Sunni faction in the cold. Attempts to contact Hanooti were unsuccessful.

Read More →

Alleged billion dollar thief Hazem Shaalan isn't Ayad Allawi's only infamous friend. Allawi is also a close ally of the head of Iraq's largest intelligence service -- a man who takes his billions from Washington, not Baghdad.

On the ground in Baghdad is a sprawling intelligence operation called the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS. Only INIS isn't really "National" at all. To the great chagrin of the Maliki government, it's financed and controlled by the CIA. And its boss is a longtime Allawi friend and CIA asset, Muhammed Shahwani.

Who's Muhammed Shahwani? He's a former Iraqi military officer who, along with Allawi, helped plot a botched coup against Saddam Hussein in 1996. Despite the failure, the CIA considered him a valuable asset, largely on the strength of his considerable knowledge of Saddam's military apparatus. In his memoir, ex-CIA Director George Tenet writes that when Shahwani returned to Iraq as part of "the Agency-sponsored Iraqi paramilitary group known as 'the Scorpions'" he became "key to developing a strong network inside Iraq for the Agency."

As a result, Shahwani, a member of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, was an obvious choice to lead the CIA-created INIS. Throughout the Coalition Provisional Authority era and the Allawi regime that followed it, Shahwani was a reliable fixture -- so much so that when the 2005 election saw Allawi's government replaced by a Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance, the agency decided that INIS was too valuable to hand over to the less-reliable UIA. (Concerns about sovereignty have their exceptions.) INIS had control over extensive files on Iraqis tied to the insurgency -- and many others not suspected of crimes -- and the UIA bristled when unable to get access to what it considered the rightful spoils of its electoral victory. "I prefer to call it the American Intelligence of Iraq, not the Iraqi Intelligence Service," a Shiite parliamentarian and militia commander told reporters Hannah Allam and Warren Strobel.

Read More →

To be fair in our coverage of Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) controversial $10 million Coconut Road interchange earmark, we should point out that there are locals who want to keep the extra-Constitutional language change. One of the more vocal advocates also appears to have a financial stake in the decision.

Last week when county authorities voted to ask Congress to use the money to widen Interstate 75, rather than for the pet project, there was some opposition. Heather Mazurkiewicz, who belongs to the citizens advisory board, which advises the Metropolitan Planning Organization, supported keeping the changed wording. According to theNews Press she was appalled that the county ignored her advice:

"I should be able to discuss the merits of this without a bias from you," she said. "We make recommendations to you. You don't make them to us."
As it turns out, Mazurkiewicz is married to a consultant who pushed for the project and attended the fundraiser that netted Young $40,000 right before the earmark appeared. Joe Mazurkiewicz spoke with the New York Times and CNN about the fundraiser and the funding. In his initial interview with the Times, Mazurkiewicz was a bit more candid about the fundraiser, saying he and other developers were looking for "a lot of money" and Young delivered. According to Young's contribution records, the Mazurkiewiczs gave Young's campaign $1,000 a few weeks after the February 2005 fundraiser.

How does Allawi pay for his lucrative contract with GOP lobbying powerhouse Barbour Griffith & Rogers? The obvious guess is that his old buddies at the CIA pay for him. But he may not need the agency's cash. One member of his coterie is suspected of participating in what an Iraqi public-corruption judge calls "possibly the largest robbery in the world" -- the theft of approximately $1 billion from the Iraqi treasury.

In mid-2004, Hazem Shaalan had it all: he had risen from being a small businessman in London before the war to becoming Ayad Allawi's defense minister. (Shaalan had been a member of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, but the relationship between Shaalan and Chalabi became acrimonious, with the INC accusing Shaalan of being a Baathist spy.) The defense ministry was Allawi's single biggest priority, as he owed his appointment -- made jointly by the U.S. and the United Nations -- to his promise of restoring stability to the insurgency-wracked country. Shaalan came through for him, fully backing the joint U.S.-Allawi decision to fight the Mahdi Army in the Shiite holy city of Najaf in August 2004.

But that wasn't all Shaalan did at the defense ministry.

Read More →

Christina Davidson at IraqSlogger, who broke the story that influential GOP lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers are promoting Iraqi parliamentarian Ayad Allawi to be the new prime minister, has another scoop. On Monday, BGR president Robert Blackwill -- President Bush's former Iraq coordinator at the White House -- signed a contract with Allawi worth $300,000 over six months to provide "strategic counsel" for the would-be-premier "before the US Government, Congress, media and others."

Reports Davidson:

The filings stipulate that Allawi is not supervised by, owned by, directed by, controlled by, financed by, or subsidized by any foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal.

While BGR registers him as an individual, rather than as a political party, they do identify him as head of the Iraq National Accord, and indicate they will not only represent Allawi, but also "his moderate Iraqi colleagues."


Coming up: who are Allawi's "moderate Iraqi colleagues" -- and how can they afford such a boutique lobbying firm?

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), following months of battling scandal that has prompted an FBI investigation, has decided not to seek reelection. Here are all of Renzi's highlights. (Arizona Star)

U.S. House Officials still won't allow investigators access to Mark Foley's computers, but they have told the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that there are no sexually explicit photos on the former lawmaker's hard drive. Of course, the investigators wanted to look for inappropriate emails from Foley, but I suppose that is still reassuring information. (Associated Press)

The secret's out. Private telecommunication companies did in fact play an integral role in the NSA warrantless surveillance program. We just thought we'd bring it up again, seeing as the man who informed the country is the same one who said openly discussing the program would cost American lives. Thanks, Mike Mcconnell. Democrats, towards whom some of McConnell's attacks were leveled, were duly shocked that the intelligence chief would be so cavalier in discussing information that was, well, classified. (Boston Globe)

Read More →

Now he tells us.

General Peter Pace became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2005, the first ever Marine to become senior military adviser to the president. Known as "Perfect Pete" inside the Pentagon, Pace was a consistent and steadfast supporter of the Iraq war. Throughout 2006, now considered something of a "lost year" in Iraq by war supporters, Pace painted a rosy picture of the war -- even describing it as going "very, very well" just weeks after the destruction of a major Shiite mosque sparked a new wave of intense sectarian fighting. Pace's boosterism cost him his job in June, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates declined to renominate him to another two-year term rather than face a grueling reconfirmation hearing.

Now that Pace is on his way out, though, he's singing a much different tune. The Los Angeles Times reports that Pace, following a recent trip to Iraq, will call for nearly half of the roughly 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq to come home by 2008.

Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military. This assessment could collide with one being prepared by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, calling for the U.S. to maintain higher troop levels for 2008 and beyond.

Petraeus is expected to support a White House view that the absence of widespread political progress in Iraq requires several more months of the U.S. troop buildup before force levels are decreased to their pre-buildup numbers sometime next year.

Pace's recommendations reflect the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who initially expressed private skepticism about the strategy ordered by Bush and directed by Petraeus, before publicly backing it.

Read More →

Yet another resignation from the Justice Department. Wan Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, announced today that he'll be leaving at the end of the month, according to a statement from the Justice Department.

Kim took the helm at the troubled Civil Rights Division in late 2005, just at the tail end of the stormiest period in the Division, when lawyers left the voting rights section, and other sections, in droves. Kim, like his predecessor, Alex Acosta, has never been anywhere near as controversial a figure as Division appointees Bradley Schlozman and Hans von Spakovsky, the two fingered by former Department lawyers as leading efforts to politicize the Division, the voting section in particular.

Nevertheless, the Division continued in the direction set by the prior Bush years under Kim's direction, often pursuing causes favored by conservatives (such as religious discrimination and human trafficking) to the detriment of the Division's traditional emphasis (such as protecting African-Americans from discrimination).

Kim follows a flurry of senior resignations in the past few months, including former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, his chief of staff Michael Elston, White House liaison Monica Goodling, chief of staff Kyle Sampson, Acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, and Schlozman, who had moved to a spot in the office that oversees U.S. attorneys.

The Department's release is below.

Read More →

TPMLivewire