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It's the Bush administration's special approach to accountability: stand staunchly beside an administration official as the allegations pile up and his or her credibility dwindles to nothing, and then months later -- long after the administration could derive any credit for the deed, and it is widely assumed that they are content to let the official fester in office for the duration -- the official abruptly and inexplicably resigns. So it was with Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales. And yesterday General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan stepped down.

But Doan, who gained mucky prominence for her clueless cronyism, wants everybody to know that she's not stepping down voluntarily. She was fired. And not only was she fired, but she was fired because she refused to cave to political pressure. Or something.

"I would rather get fired for something I believe in, and a cause I was willing to fight for, rather than to believe in nothing worth being fired for." That's what Doan told Government Executive in an email last night. It's far from clear precisely what this "something" she believes in is.

What we do know is that last June, the Office of Special Counsel recommended to the White House that Doan be fired for violating the Hatch Act. And that same month, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) told Doan to her face during a House oversight committee hearing that she should resign. And now, nearly a year later, the White House summons her for a meeting and asks for her resignation.

To refresh your memory on Doan's parade of horribles: her Golden-Duke-nomination-worthy testimony came in response to a meeting in early 2007, where Karl Rove's aide Scott Jennings came to brief GSA staff on the prospects for Republicans in the 2008 elections. The PowerPoint presentation detailed which seats were "House Targets" and which "Senate Targets", which states were "Republican Offense," and which "Republican Defense." For those who've never witnessed this proud moment in administration history, Doan's initial blubbering testimony on the topic is worth a watch:



After the presentation, Doan asked Jennings in front of everyone how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates." Jennings replied that topic should be discussed "off-line," the witnesses said. Doan then replied, "Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up." At least, that's the version given by "half a dozen witnesses" to The Washington Post and the Office of Special Counsel. Doan just couldn't remember saying anything like that.

And then there was Doan's alleged retaliation against employees who gave information to the Office of Special Counsel. Those were poor performers, she told investigators, and "[u]ntil extensive rehabilitation of their performance occurs, they will not be getting promoted and will not be getting bonuses or special awards or anything of that nature." In another cringe-inducing turn before Waxman's committee, Doan tried to explain away that comment by saying she had been employing the "hortatory subjunctive" -- an explanation remarkable for not only failing to exculpate her, but also being grammatically incorrect.

We'll miss you, Lurita.

Update: Government Executive reports that the timing of Doan's resignation might have something to do with her ongoing feud with the GSA's inspector general.

In this morning's writeup of Supreme Court's decision on Indiana's voter ID law, The New York Times quoted someone familiar to TPM readers:

"This decision not only confirms the validity of photo ID laws, but it completely vindicates the Bush Justice Department and refutes those critics who claimed that the department somehow acted improperly when it approved Georgia's photo ID law in 2005," said Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a former Justice Department official.


It's a reaction laden with a number of distortions. But the key one has to do with a crucial difference between Georgia's 2005 law and Indiana's law, as Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, told me. Rich, who last year opposed Spakovsky' nomination to the FEC along with a group of other former voting section professionals, called Spakovsky's contention that yesterday's ruling vindicated his actions "disingenuous."

"The Georgia law reviewed by the Justice Department required voters seeking the required voter ID to pay a fee that a federal court found created an unconstitutional poll tax," Rich said. "But in Indiana the Supreme Court explicitly noted that photo identification cards 'issued by Indiana's [Bureau of Motor Vehicles] are . . . free' and thus there was no issue of creating an unconstitutional poll tax."

Spakovsky and other political appointees overruled staff attorneys who'd recommended against approving Georgia's voter ID law, because of concerns that the law would discriminate against poor and minority voters. It was just a part of Spakovsky's legacy of ignoring and intimidating section employees, and generally doing what he could to effect policies that would disenfranchise voters.

Under the Voting Rights Act, parts of the country with a history of discrimination must demonstrate to the Justice Department that new legislation does not discriminate against minority voters. In the case of Georgia's law, supporters of the law didn't do much of anything to demonstrate that the law wouldn't discriminate against African-Americans.

In fact, quite the opposite. Georgia state Rep. Sue Burmeister, the sponsor of the bill, told voting section staff that "if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud," and that "when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls."

Indiana's law had not required review by the Justice Department, Rich said. "Therefore, there was no issue in review of the Indiana law concerning whether the state could meet its burden of demonstrating that the law did not hurt minority voters, as is required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That was the only issue before Justice Department in its review of the Georgia law and career attorneys, in an in-depth memo, found that the law did hurt minority voters and accordingly recommended an objection to the law."

So I think it's fair to say that Spakovsky has yet to be "completely vindicated."

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shipped to the White House on Tuesday a compromise plan on Federal Election Commission nominees, a deal that is likely dead on arrival because it does not meet GOP demands on Hans von Spakovsky.

"You are aware that Mr. von Spakovsky does not have majority support to win confirmation," Reid wrote Tuesday in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. "It is my understanding that you have two additional Republican FEC candidates cleared for nomination.

"One would fill Mr. von Spakovsky's seat should he be defeated or withdrawn, and the other would fill the vacant Republican seat," Reid continued. "You already have the non-controversial re-nomination of sitting commissioner David Mason pending."


You can read Reid's letter to White House chief of staff Josh Bolten here. But as Roll Call says, Republicans have thus far refused to budge on any deal that doesn't include Spakovsky getting packaged in a vote with the other less controversial nominees. And so the FEC remains officially dormant and the complaints against allegedly outlaw campaign activity continue to pile up.

Here's another for the annals of vote suppression. Calls have gone out to an untold number of North Carolina voters telling them that they need to fill out a registration form before they vote. Democracy North Carolina, a government watchdog that has posted audio (wav) of the call, says that the calls went out to "black neighborhoods."

It seems not to be a scheme limited to North Carolina. As Facing South reports, the same call evidently went out to some voters in Columbus, Ohio two days before municipal elections there last November, and also in Virginia the week before the Democratic primary there this February.

Here's how one reader of the Buckeye State Blog described the Ohio call back in November:

From memory, a stentorian voice reminiscent of James Earl Jones says: "Hello. This is Lamont Williams. In a few days you should be getting a voter registration form in the mail. Please fill it out and return promptly and you will be able to vote. Thank you."

Since the election is Tuesday, the message is nonsensical. Also, I can't find any information on this Lamont Williams. The caller ID was blocked ("unknown caller").


A transcript of the call released by the North Carolina State Board of Elections matches that description:

"Hello, this is Lamont Williams. In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard. Please return the voter registration form when it arrives. Thank you."


And in Virginia, the Washington, DC NPR affiliate WAMU reported in February that "at least a dozen people in central and southern Virginia have received automated phone calls this week telling them to expect a voter registration packet in the mail." Facing South reports that the a state elections board spokeswoman said the matter had been referred to state police, and that it wasn't clear whether the calls also claimed to come from a Lamont Williams. But certainly the parallels are suspicious.

If Lamont has popped up anywhere else or pops up anywhere else, let us know.

Last month, Democrats, with the help of a few crossover Republicans (but not Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)), passed a bill that would have limited the CIA's interrogation techniques to those authorized by the Army Field Manual. Waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques (use of hoods or duct tape over the eyes, inducing hypothermia, etc.) would have been specifically and unambiguously outlawed.

President Bush, as promised, vetoed that bill, saying that restricting CIA interrogators "could cost American lives." An override vote failed in the House.

Now Senate Democrats are going to try again. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she'll introduce the measure as an amendment to 2009's Senate intelligence authorization bill, because "at the time [of the veto] we vowed to come back - again and again if necessary - to ensure that torture by U.S. intelligence agencies is outlawed for good." Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) are also sponsoring the amendment. Over the weekend, Wyden released correspondence from the Justice Department showing how lawyers there dealt with current ambiguity in the relevant laws. What counted as an "outrage upon personal dignity," a DoJ official wrote, depended on whether "an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) knew he was going to get a fight. And he's getting one.

Earlier this month, he scheduled a hearing for next week on the administration's authorization of torture, and along with John Yoo, has invited former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former CIA Director George Tenet, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Chief of Staff to the Vice President David Addington, and former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin.

Yesterday Conyers released some of the correspondence he's been having with lawyers for Addington, Yoo, and Ashcroft. As expected, none of them want to testify, and they're not short on reasons.

Both Yoo and Ashcroft say that they have not been authorized by the Department of Justice to discuss the context of the key torture memos, internal discussions about them, and the like. And both say that they are the subject of lawsuits, and so it would be "inappropriate" to testify.

But it won't surprise anyone that the letter from Kathryn Wheelbarger, Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel, is the real masterpiece. It is by now common knowledge that Addington is by far the most powerful and influential lawyer in the administration, particularly with regard to the controversial counterterrorism policies such as torture and the warrantless wiretapping program. But Wheelbarger says that Conyer's got the wrong guy. If you're looking to discuss presidential powers in war time, then you really ought to be bugging a presidential aide, she writes. And if it's interrogation you want to talk about, then "the Director of National Intelligence or his designee and the Secretary of Defense or his designee, respectively, would be the appropriate witness." From there, it's on to an argument about how the power of Congress to investigate is limited, so Addington cannot be compelled to show. And then on to an argument about how Addington, due to privilege concerns, wouldn't be able to say much even if he did show voluntary.

So to sum up, that's: You're asking the wrong person, but even if you were asking the right person, you couldn't make him show up, and even if he did show up, he wouldn't say anything.

As for Conyers, he says he will issue subpoenas to those who do not agree to appear by this Friday.

Soldiers coming back from World War II were greeted with the GI Bill, giving opportunity and promise to begin anew. Now over 800,000 young men and women are returning from war fronts looking to make their own fresh start, but they are finding the modern version of the GI Bill is insufficient, barely covering half of today's skyrocketing college tuition. (Washington Post)

By allowing outside influence to affect policy and protocol,the Bush administration has severely watered down the clout of the Environmental Protection Agency, reports a Government Accountability Office finding. The EPA's duty of assessing cancerous hazards in chemicals, specifically, has been curbed by non-scientific reviews and involvement from White House budget officials, the Energy Dept, and the Pentagon to name a few. (Associated Press)

Ashley Dupre, known as "Kristen" to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, is now suing the founder of the video franchise "Girls Gone Wild" for $10 million. Dupre was featured in one of the company's videos during a drunken spring break foray in 2003. She says she was only 17 at the time, too young to sign a binding agreement to use the footage of her. Dupre "did not understand the magnitude of her actions ..." at the time, her lawsuit claims. (LA Times)

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Just another day at Guantanamo, I guess.

On the witness stand was the former chief prosecutor for the tribunals, Col. Morris Davis. Called to testify by defense lawyers, he told the court what he'd told the press -- that he'd quit after becoming convinced that the political appointees overseeing the system were about politics first and justice second, that he was told "we can't have acquittals," and that he was pushed to land indictments or plea deals before the election. He also said that his superiors saw no problem with using confessions obtained through torture, including waterboarding. Everything is "fair game," he says he was told, "let the judge sort it out."

And then there's Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the alleged driver for Osama bin Laden. Hamdan's lawyers say that interrogators beat him and sexually humiliated him, among other things, and are arguing that he's unfit to stand trial because he's essentially been driven crazy by spending 22 hours in solitary confinement for the past several years. His lawyers say "he is suicidal, hears voices, has flashbacks, talks to himself and says the restrictions of Guantánamo 'boil his mind.'"

Nevertheless, Hamdan was there yesterday -- sort of:

But Hamdan, during the morning session, also appeared to show some evidence of mental deterioration, which his attorneys have ascribed to mistreatment and lengthy solitary confinement. He seemed in a daze as he was led into court in his khaki detention uniform.

He then engaged in a short, subdued rant to Allred about how he believes he is not being afforded human rights and would like to use the bathroom without soldiers watching him. He also tried at one point to get up from the defense table to leave the room. "I refuse participating in this, and I refuse all the lawyers operating on my behalf," Hamdan said. He returned for the afternoon session in traditional Yemeni garb and a sport coat and agreed to continue.


And just to complete the context for the scene, the Post notes, is the fact that the Supreme Court is nearing "a decision on whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that laid the legal foundation for these hearings violates the Constitution by barring any of the approximately 275 remaining Guantanamo Bay prisoners from forcing a civilian judicial review of their detention." In the meantime, the ugliness of Gitmo is on full display.

Last week, prosecutors in the trial of Tony Rezko revealed that a government witness would testify that Rezko had said he was plotting to get U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald canned. His buddy and Republican bigwig Robert Kjellander was in talks with Karl Rove, the story goes.

Both Rove and Kjellander denied ever speaking of canning Fitzgerald, and the plot did seem to fall somewhat short. The alleged plotting happened back in 2004, right when Fitzgerald was in the thick of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. As I said last week, it would have been an unbelievably bold move even for Rove. Nevertheless, it does appear that Kjellander would have been looking for any opening to get rid of Fitzgerald.

Today the Rezko trial brought another aspect of the somewhat hapless plot:

Tony Rezko associate Elie Maloof just testified that when he received a grand jury subpoena, Rezko told him not to talk to the feds. Why?

"The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor," Maloof just testified that Rezko told him. What did Rezko mean, prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked.

"That Patrick Fitzgerald would be terminated and Dennis Hastert will name his replacement. The investigation will be over."

Maloof said Rezko told him of Fitzgerald's replacement: "That they will order the prosecutor to stop the investigation."


Unfortunately for Rezko, four years later Fitzgerald is still plugging away.

Last week, Robert Coughlin, the former chief of the criminal division at the Justice Department pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges. Filings by prosecutors showed that Coughlin served as an inside man for Jack Abramoff's associate Kevin Ring.

As part of his plea deal, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors in the continuing investigation. But it wasn't clear from his plea whom Coughlin might be able to finger. Legal Times reports that prosecutors are looking elsewhere in the Justice Department:

A source familiar with the Abramoff probe says the Justice Department is continuing to investigate other former Justice officials. Coughlin and at least two other unnamed Justice officials helped secure a $16.3 million grant for Ring's client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, court documents say. A deputy assistant attorney general had previously approved $9 million for the tribe. One unanswered question is which official at the department overruled that decision, giving the tribe the full amount.

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