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There you go. The Senate Judiciary Committee just voted to authorize the issuance of subpoenas for White House officials. As with the House committee, there's going to be one last round of negotiations before the committees pull the trigger.

And the two parties have a long way to go in those negotiations. Here, for instance, is Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) characterization of the White House's offer for Karl Rove and other White House officials to testify behind closed doors, not under oath, and without a transcript: "What they are offering is nothing, nothing, nothing."

Here's the video:

Prosecutors Says Bush Appointees Interfered "The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government's racketeering case. Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's office began micromanaging the team's strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government's claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers." (Washington Post)

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It's almost too perfect. The only U.S. attorney fired by the administration in December who undeniably had performance issues was begrudingly added to the list at the last minute -- and only then because of a federal judge's threat that he would go to Congress with complaints about the prosecutor's performance.

The Los Angeles Times tells the story of San Francisco's Kevin Ryan today, who, as the scandal over the firings began to simmer early this year, telephoned the Justice Department to assure them that he's still a "company man."

Unlike seven other fired federal prosecutors who may have run afoul of the administration for political reasons, San Francisco U.S. Atty. Kevin Ryan was a team player for Bush and had influential Republican support. A friend of the president even went to bat for Ryan after his firing.

"You would have to know Kevin," said UC Hastings College of the Law professor Rory Little. "You can't find a stronger supporter of the Bush administration agenda."

His tenure, however, was plagued by morale problems and accusations that he was a bad manager. A number of the office's most experienced lawyers left....

Even with the unrest, Ryan's support in Washington held during the first few months that planning for the ousters was underway. In an e-mail from D. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, to Harriet Miers in March 2005, Ryan was in a category described as "strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General." Other U.S. attorneys who were later fired were listed in a column recommending termination.

The following January, Sampson added Ryan to a list of federal prosecutors who might be removed based on performance evaluations. But he was left off later firing lists in September and November, e-mails show.


Ryan only was added to the list in early December, after a federal judge warned the Justice Department that she was "going to ask members of Congress to get her a copy of the blistering evaluations the department had done of Ryan earlier that year." The emails strongly suggest that Ryan was fired in order to prevent that from happening.

Just let that sink in. In the only case where there was a strong case for firing, the DoJ had to be extorted to do it.

It was not always that way at the DoJ. Remember that, before he left in August of 2005, then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey* generated his own list of U.S. attorneys to be fired. Only his list was completely different from the list finally generated by Alberto Gonzales' deputy, Kyle Sampson -- save one name: Kevin Ryan.

U.S. News explained the discrepancy:

In principle, [a former Justice Department official] says, Comey was not opposed to removing incompetent people.

However, Comey's definition of incompetence turned out to be quite different from Sampson's and had nothing to do with politics, says the former official.


*Update: This erroneously read "Paul McNulty" earlier, who's the current Deputy Attorney General.

We reported earlier that people were asking questions about the Justice Department's handling of the Jack Abramoff investigation. Now New Hampshire Democrats are raising questions about another DoJ investigation into Republican wrongdoing -- the New Hampshire phone jamming case.

In a detailed, 10-page letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) signed by Kathleen Sullivan, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and Paul Twomey, a lawyer for the Democrats, they argue that the investigation, which targeted prominent operatives in the Republican Party, was stalled and mishandled.

On Election Day in 2002, Republicans schemed to jam the phone banks for Democratic get out the vote efforts. Two Republicans involved in the plan pled guilty, and James Tobin, formerly the New England Regional Political Director for the Republican National Committee, was convicted for his role. The case took years to play out; the first guilty pleas in the case were not until the summer of 2004, and Tobin was not indicted until after the 2004 election.

One of the reasons the investigation was stalled, Democrats argue, is that "all decisions had to be reviewed by the Attorney General himself" -- first John Ashcroft and then Alberto Gonzales. To back up that claim, the Democrats say that lawyers working on the case were told by prosecutors that delays in the case were due to the extreme difficulty in obtaining authorization from higher levels at DOJ for any and all actions in the case.

A lawyer for one of the Republicans in the case backs up that claim. John Durken, the lawyer for Allen Raymond, a Republican whose consulting firm managed the jamming, says that the lead prosecutor in the case told him during one meeting that Ashcroft was involved in every decision. "He said, 'Every decision in this case goes all the way up to Ashcroft’s desk.'" Durken told me that such a fact didn't "surprise" him, given the political nature of the case.

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As Josh noted and The Politico reported last night, there appeared to be an 18-day gap in the emails released by the Justice Department Monday night, a gap right after Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson said that they should run the purge plan by the White House and Karl Rove in particular.

But for what it's worth, a couple of TPM readers found an email in the gap (between November 15th and December 4th). You can read the email here, in which DoJ official Michael Elston forwards a review document concerning the Nothern District of California to another DoJ employee and asks that it be printed.

The U.S. Attorney for California's Northern District, Kevin Ryan was ultimately fired because of poor management, the Justice Department has said, an argument apparently supported by the department's evaluation of Ryan's performance.

That's the only document we've been able to find in that time period. If anyone has spotted anything else, please let us know in the comments.

Update: And Thinkprogress finds another email. So that's two.

Contrary to Justice Department and administration officials' attempts to paint U.S. Attorney Carol Lam as recalcitrant on prosecuting immigration cases, an internal email shows that she was "willing to change course if people think that would be beneficial" regarding her handling of criticism on the cases. Lam volunteered to stay silent despite all the personal criticism because she did not want to put the DoJ in a bad light by complaining publicly about the lack of department resources.

The email, written by Associate Deputy Attorney General Ronald Tenpas in May of 2006 and sent to numerous high level Justice Department officials, relays a conversation that Tenpas had with Lam about her office's handling of immigration cases. The conversation followed complaints made by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other Republicans about the number of border prosecutions in Lam's district.

The email reads:

FYI Carol Lam, USA Southern California, called me earlier today to discuss matters related to the criticism Congressman Issa has been directing at the District re its practices in prosecuting/not prosecuting alien smuggling.... She wanted to communicate the following:

1. In her view, although the unrebutted criticism is making the Department look bad, she has been sitting quiet rather than attempting to respond publicly by explaining the resource limitations that she maintains affect the office's ability to do more smuggling cases; 2. She is willing to change course if folks think that would be beneficial; 3. She notes that she has never even met with Congressman Issa and would be happy to do so if that is thought useful; and 4. She will do anything else that the DAG would wish, including continuing to stand silent despite the personal criticism to which she thinks she is being subject through these comments.

She acknowledged understanding that it may be the judgment that continued silence is the best option of a set of limited options. I explained to her that, given the larger debate going on related to immigration, we would probably evaluate her observations and her offer in the context of wanting to contribute to the Administration's overall goals with respect to immigration reform.

One way or another, somebody such as myself or PADAG or CoS should probably follow-up with her to confirm our guidance lest any silence be construed as lack of guidance/indifference to her activity.


Karl Rove has claimed publicly that Lam was ordered by the attorney general to make immigration prosecutions a priority, and refused, and the Justice Department has publicly cited Lam's immigration policy as the reason for her removal.

*But Lam was apparently more than willing to change her department's policy on immigration cases* -- a policy that favored fewer, high-profile prosecutions over many more, lower-profile cases. But, despite the continued internal grumbling at the Justice Department, that request to change her policies never came, as Lam has testified under oath. Instead, she was abruptly fired.

Update/Correction: As a reader pointed out below shortly after this post went up, this might involve a misreading of the email. The line " She is willing to change course if folks think that would be beneficial" apparently refers to Lam's stance on staying silent in response to criticism, rather than her office's immigration policy.

Considering the overall context of the email, however, it's apparent the conversation that took place between two people on the same side of a debate trying to develop a PR strategy. In other words, if the Justice Department didn't agree with Lam's policy on immigration prosecutions, they would have been on Issa's side, not Lam's. But there was apparently no discussion about revising the policy, because that wasn't what was at issue.

Ed. Note: thanks to muchomaas for catching this in the comments.

As former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins has written, "Once the public detects partisanship in one important decision, they will follow the natural inclination to question every decision made, whether there is a connection or not."

Today, the nonpartisan congressional watchdog Democracy 21 sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty asking whether there had been political interference in the investigation and prosecution of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"Based on issues that have been raised in the firing of the eight U.S Attorneys , we're all in a position to want some assurance that there hasn't been political interference in the case," Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21's president, told me. "This still remains the worse congressional corruption scandal in 30 years. There are lesser players who have been convicted. But there are still big players here, including sitting and former members of Congress whose cases apparently have not yet been resolved. "

Citing concerns about the slow pace of the investigation and high turnover of prosecutors and supervisors working on the case, Wertheimer also asks Gonzales what resources the Justice Department has committed to the investigation.

You can read the letter here.

This is one of the high profile public corruption cases we haven't talked a lot about. From The Arizona Republic:

Two weeks after Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton was ordered to give up his post, he sent an e-mail to a top Justice Department official asking how to handle questions that his ouster was connected to his investigation of Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz.

Charlton, one of eight federal prosecutors forced to resign last year, never received a written response....

When the first list of U.S. attorneys targeted for ouster was drafted, Charlton's name was not on it. But his name was on a subsequent list, drafted in September. Although the Renzi inquiry was not yet public, it is likely the Justice Department was aware of the investigation, said a former U.S. attorney who is familiar with the protocol when a sitting lawmaker is involved.

Just reported on CNN. More soon.

Update
: The subpoenas are for testimony from Karl Rove, his deputy Scott Jennings, former White House counsel Harriet Miers, deputy White House counsel William Kelley, and Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson. They also seek more documents from the White House.

From House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI):

"The White House's offer provides nothing more than conversations. It does not allow this Committee to get the information we need without transcripts or oaths... This motion allows the Committee to pursue good faith negotiations. We are continuing our talks with the White House, along with the Senate, but we must protect the interest of the Congress and the American people by maintaining the option to move forward with our investigation with or without continued cooperation from the Administration."

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