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Critics Doubt Official Looking Into Rove "Even as Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch moved forward with plans for a sweeping probe of the Bush administration, several advocacy groups complained that his ties to the administration and to conservative groups, as well as his record on gay rights and whistle-blowers, made him the wrong man for the job. 'There is a serious question as to whether Bloch will just provide cover for an administration that is covering for him,' said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democratic-leaning group." (LA Times)

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Congrats to Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) for issuing the boldest denial of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

A lot of lawmakers have said they never met Abramoff, or they never met him in their office, or when they met him, they didn't like him, or they wouldn't recognize him if they saw him, etc. But Feeney has gone above and beyond:

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) says he is not worried that the Justice Department is looking into his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and is voluntarily cooperating with the investigation....

...Feeney denied having any kind of relationship with Abramoff.

“There’s no relationship,” he said flatly.

Feeney, remember, was one of seven people Abramoff took on a golf junket to Scotland in 2003. He flew over on a private jet. He played golf with Abramoff twice a day there.

Now, even though a sham charity covered the cost of Feeney's trip, Abramoff was not someone who, when it came to lawmakers, was interested in charity. Consider some of the others who joined Abramoff on his junkets: ex-Rep. Bob Ney (jail), Mark Zachares (pled guilty), Neil Volz (pled guilty), David Safavian (convicted), ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (under investigation), etc., etc.

Feeney, no doubt, was not an exception. Here's McClatchy on Abramoff's strenuous efforts to cooperate with prosecutors:

"He's talking so much he doesn't have time to eat," one lawyer involved in the matter quipped, insisting upon anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. "Everybody who had business dealings with the guy should be nervous."...

Feeney is among those who might be nervous over the ex-lobbyist's chatter, said the knowledgeable lawyer.

The revelations come fast and furious.

Last night, the AP reported that when the local press revealed that Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-AZ) was under investigation just weeks before the election, his top aide called U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton's aide to ask about it. Charlton was one of the U.S. attorneys who was fired little more than a month later. And even though Charlton's aide had reported the contact to the Justice Department (as the rules dictate), that report was not among the thousands of pages the Justice Department turned over to congressional investigators.

And now this. From The Wall Street Journal:

As midterm elections approached last November, federal investigators in Arizona faced unexpected obstacles in getting needed Justice Department approvals to advance a corruption investigation of Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, people close to the case said.

The delays, which postponed key approvals in the case until after the election, raise new questions about whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other officials may have weighed political issues in some investigations....

Investigators pursuing the Renzi case had been seeking clearance from senior Justice Department officials on search warrants, subpoenas and other legal tools for a year before the election, people close to the case said....

...the investigation clearly moved slowly: Federal agents opened the case no later than June 2005, yet key witnesses didn't get subpoenas until early this year, those close to the case said. The first publicly known search -- a raid of a Renzi family business by the Federal Bureau of Investigation -- was carried out just last week....

...the Renzi case -- like many that involve members of Congress -- is being handled jointly by the local U.S. attorney and the department's public-integrity section. In such cases, a senior department official must approve requests for wiretaps and warrants and other formal legal steps.

There's another revelation in the piece: that investigators had lobbied Washington for clearance to tap Renzi's phone for months. That clearance was only given in October of last year. And unfortunately for the investigators, word broke of the investigation in late October -- disrupting their wiretap.

The allegations against Renzi are complicated, involving a land swap, allegedly channeling a kickback through a family company, etc. The Journal laid it all out in a piece this last weekend.

All this raises a question. The bosses at main Justice seem to have been similarly reluctant to proceed with regard to the Duke Cunningham probe. As TPM reported a couple of weeks ago, U.S. Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam had to wait sometimes for months for clearance on certain moves in her investigation. So is there a pattern here?

Continuing to backpedal after the FBI raided one of his family busineses last week, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) said in a statement today that he'll be resigning "all my committee assignments." Renzi already resigned from his seat on the sensitive House Intelligence Committee last week. He also holds seats on the Committee on Financial Services and Committee on Natural Resources.

This past weekend, The Wall Street Journal detailed the tangled business dealings that have investigators probing whether Renzi received a kickback on a land deal.

Here's Renzi's full statement:

"For several weeks, I have been the subject of leaked stories, conjecture, and false attacks about a land exchange. None of them bear any resemblance to the truth.

"So that no one can question the motivation behind the land exchange, which I and other leaders from both parties have argued is critical to the future of Arizona, I have spoken to Congressman Pastor who will introduce a new version of the Resolution Copper land exchange. In addition, I will take a leave of absence from all my committee assignments. I will continue to focus on important district work and issues critical to my constituents."

Earlier today, I noted the Office of Special Counsel's sprawling investigation into Karl Rove and others in the administration, reported by The Los Angeles Times. But there was something missing from the LA Times piece -- that Bloch himself is under investigation and something of an open joke among watchdog groups.

Justin over at The Blotter has the highlights:

...government watchdogs have accused Bloch himself of similar behavior. In April 2005, they and others complained the White House appointee had allowed his office to "sit on" a complaint that then-White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice used government funds to travel in support of President Bush's re-election bid.

By contrast, they said, Bloch ordered an immediate on-site investigation of a complaint that Bush's challenger for the White House, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., improperly campaigned in a government workplace, which had been filed around the same time.

Bloch is under investigation by the White House-run President's Committee on Integrity and Efficiency for that and a host of other infractions, which means, as David Corn summarizes, "The investigator [is] investigating officials who oversee the agency that is investigating the investigator."

That's all a long way of saying that there are a number of questions about Bloch's pledge to "not leave any stone unturned."

When Ty Clevenger, a line attorney in the Civil Rights Division, forwarded a friend's resume to deputy division chief Bradley Schlozman, he was expecting questions about his friend's experience as a lawyer. But what Schlozman wanted to know, according to Clevenger, was whether his friend was a Republican.

Clevenger, a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association, told Schlozman that his friend was conservative. He just wasn't sure how active his friend was politically. The friend never got an interview.

It's the most direct account yet of politicization at the Justice Department. There have been many other signs -- and not just the administration's preference for "loyal Bushies" as U.S. attorneys. Last week, a group of anonymous Justice Department employees wrote to the House and Senate judiciary committees to complain about politicization in the department's hiring process. The deputy attorney general's office, they alleged, was screening department applicants to eliminate Democrats.

"We take allegations like this one very seriously," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) told me, reacting to Clevenger's account. "Specific to the Civil Rights Division, we are investigating complaints of politicization both in hiring and prosecutions. The Justice Department is not the place for this type of political cronyism, and we will get to the bottom of it."

Clevenger, who graduated from Stanford Law School in 2001, told me that he came to work at the Civil Rights Division when a friend, also a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA), asked him if he'd be interested working there. Clevenger said yes and gave him his resume. Relatively soon, he received a call from Schlozman, then the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who asked him to come in for an interview.

It's certainly not surprising that the RNLA was used as a recruiting ground for the division -- as McClatchy detailed last month, at least 25 members of the RNLA work in the Justice Department, including at least 10 in the Civil Rights Division.

But apparently membership in the RNLA was not the only way that Schlozman gauged applicants. In an interview with McClatchy last month, Schlozman claimed that he'd tried to "depoliticize the hiring process" at the Civil Rights Division.

But Clevenger found quite the opposite to be the case.

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From Roll Call (sub. req.):

With Attorney General Alberto Gonzales vowing to remain in his job and President Bush standing by him, Senate Democratic leaders are seriously considering bringing a resolution to the floor expressing no confidence in Gonzales, according to a senior leadership source....

The vote would be nonbinding and have no substantive impact, but it would force all Republican Senators into the politically uncomfortable position of saying publicly whether they continue to support Gonzales in the wake of the scandal surrounding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Here's the story told by Mark Geragos, Brent Wilkes' lawyer: then-U.S. Attorney for San Diego Carol Lam was so determined to bring an indictment against Wilkes before she was forced from office in February that she leaked details of the case to reporters to force the Justice Department's hand.

You can read the motion to dismiss that he filed in the case yesterday here. Geragos argues that the leaks prejudiced members of the grand jury investigating Wilkes, and that the case should be thrown out.

Wilkes, remember, is one of the defense contractors who allegedly bribed Duke Cunnigham. Lam's office filed two indictments two days before she left office, indicting Wilkes for his dealings with Cunningham and for his dealings with Dusty Foggo, formerly the executive director of the CIA.

Last month, Geragos claimed in court that Lam was "meeting resistance from bosses in the Justice Department, who had rejected drafts of indictments against Wilkes and former CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, saying they needed revisions." It wasn't clear what Geragos' source for those claims were, and he didn't expand on them in his filing yesterday. Though, as TPM has reported, those bosses did drag their feet on the Cunningham investigation, delaying the approval of indictments for sometimes months.

There's no doubt that leaks did occur. Geragos quotes one of the prosecutors as saying that the leaks were "embarrassing... reprehensible and inexcusable." Whether those leaks were part of "a deliberate campaign by the former United States Attorney, Carol Lam, to use Mr. Wilkes and the other defendants here in her political squabble with the Justice Department’s main office in Washington D.C." and "a gesture of defiance by Carol Lam as she was forced out of office," as Geragos argues, is another matter.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 14.

Apparently I wasn't paying close enough attention to the hearing last week, because I missed this.

From The Hill:

Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers discussed firing ex-U.S. Attorney Debra Yang, who was leading an investigation into lucrative ties between Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and a lobbying firm before she left her government post voluntarily last fall, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) charged in a hearing last week.

Feinstein has repeatedly questioned the circumstances surrounding Yang’s departure, but until last week she provided no reasons for her suspicions. Last Thursday, however, during the questioning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales late in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Feinstein flatly stated that Miers had discussed “whether to remove Debra Yang from Los Angeles.”

A Feinstein spokesman indicated only that the senator had learned that Miers had considered ousting Yang “through interviews” and did not respond to repeated questions to elaborate. Andrew Koneschusky, a spokesman to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is leading the probe, also did not respond to questions about whether Miers had targeted Yang and any evidence Feinstein may have about it.

Yang resigned last October, months before Democrats began reviewing the Justice Department’s decision to fire eight other federal prosecutors. According to a report in the American Lawyer, she was lured away by a $1.5 million-plus offer to become a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP, which is defending Lewis in the probe.

Security Breakdown at the White House? "Security practices at the White House are dangerously inadequate say current and former employees of the security office there, according to a letter sent today from the House Oversight Committee to former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, asking that he cooperate with the committee's investigation into the alleged security lapses. 'These security officials described a systemic breakdown in security procedures at the White House,' wrote the chairman of the committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA)." (ABC's The Blotter)

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