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Since we're on the subject of the Jack Abramoff investigation...

Conrad Burns, the senator from Montana who narrowly lost re-election last November due in large part to his association with Abramoff, continues to spend big money on his lawyer.

According to his recently filed campaign disclosure report, Burns paid more than $160,000 in legal fees to the law firm Powell Goldstein between January and March of this year. That means Burns' campaign has doled out more than $264,000 since he hired Ralph Caccia of that firm last April.

Burns is one of four lawmakers consistently reported to be in the sights of investigators. The other three are: ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who's in jail; Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), whose home was searched by the FBI last week, and ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

Burns went to work as a lobbyist earlier this year.

Breaking, from Roll Call:

The FBI has raided the Northern Virginia home of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), according to Congressional sources. No details are publicly available yet about the circumstances of the raid, but Doolittle and his wife, Julie, have been under federal investigation for their ties to the scandal surrounding imprisoned former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

More soon, I'm sure.

Update: Remember that a former key aide to Doolittle, Kevin Ring, who'd worked with Abramoff, resigned suddenly from his job late last week. As I wrote before, that's a clear sign that Ring may be preparing to plead guilty and implicate Doolittle.

Update: According to The Hill, the FBI searched the home last Friday -- the same day that Ring resigned.

As if the politicitization of the Justice Department wasn't plain enough already...

The Bush administration's purge of the Civil Rights Division has been well documented -- how career attorneys and analysts have been driven out and replaced with hard-line conservatives with little civil rights experience.

But it's not just in the Civil Rights Division that hiring practices have changed. According to a group of anonymous Justice Department employees who've penned a letter to the House and Senate judiciary committees, all possible entry-level hires at the Justice Department are now being screened by the deputy attorney general's office. And they seem to be looking for something in particular. (Update: You can read the letter here (pdf). It was obtained by John Bresnahan of The Politico.)

According to their letter, here's what happened when some of those employees sat down with Michael Elston, chief of staff to DAG Paul McNulty (both of them key figures in the U.S. attorney purge). They wanted to know why Elston's office had struck a number of promising applicants from the list of interviewees. From The Politico:

...Elston "was offensive to the point of (being) insulting."...

"Claiming that the entire group had not 'done their jobs' in reviewing applicants, (Elston) said that he had a 'screening panel' to go over the list and research these candidates on the Internet; he refused to give the names of those on his 'panel,'" the career employees wrote. "Mr. (Elston) said that people were struck from the list for three reasons: grades, spelling errors on applications and inappropriate information about them on the Internet."

So, in their own words, the career employees did some checking of their own. They reportedly detected a "common denominator" for "most of those" struck from the interview list: They had "interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a 'liberal cause' or otherwise appeared to have 'liberal' leanings. Summa cum laude graduates at both Yale and Harvard were rejected for interviews."

Meanwhile, Regent University grads have no problem getting their foot in the DoJ's door.

Update: House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) reacts:
"I take any accusations of undue politicization of career staff seriously. We have already identified concerns in Department's Civil Rights Division. These new accusations are clearly something we will want to consider as well."

Apparently the Senate is an irony-free zone, because once again, a senator has placed a secret hold on legislation that increases government transparency.

In this case, the bill that's been blocked would require Senate candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically. Right now, they only file paper versions, which are much more difficult to search through. House candidates file electronically.

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) moved to approve the bill by unanimous consent yesterday, "a Republican Senator anonymously objected, stalling the bill indefinitely," according to Roll Call (sub. req.).

The good people at the Sunlight Foundation are working to find out who the culprit is. You can lend them a hand by giving your senator a call.

Yesterday, I noted that the Republican National Committee had a choice: turn over Karl Rove's and others' emails to Congress or give them first to the White House for the White House to determine what should be turned over.

The RNC's choice won't shock anyone. From The Washington Post:

"Recognizing the unique and significant nature of the potential privilege issue raised by the committee's requests, the RNC has agreed to the White House's reasonable request," Robert K. Kelner, an RNC lawyer, wrote to Conyers. Conyers responded that the action was "a clear attempt on the administration's part to delay this process."

The House Judicary Committee was set to vote today on whether to confer immunity on Monica Goodling, the former Justice Department liaison to the White House. At the request of Republicans on the panel, the vote has been delayed for one week.

The statement from Chairman John Conyers (D-MI):

"At the request of our Ranking Minority Member, Lamar Smith, I have announced a one-week delay in the Committee vote to apply for immunity for Monica Goodling. It is my hope that a short delay, agreed to in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, will enable the Minority to join us in taking this critical step in our efforts to uncover the truth about why the U.S. Attorneys were terminated and what it means for the integrity of federal law enforcement. I continue to believe that Ms. Goodling would be a key witness in our investigation."

Senate Ethics Confirms Domenici Probe Over US Attorney Firing "The Senate, thanks to a resolution it just adopted, has confirmed that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is the subject of "preliminary inquiry" over his involvement in the firing of former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. The Senate just adopted a resolution (S. Res. 153) stating that "for matters before the Select Committee on Ethics involving the preliminary inquiry arising in connection with alleged communications by persons within the committee's jurisdiction with and concerning David C. Iglesias, then United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and the subsequent action by the committee with respect to that matter, if any, the Senator from Colorado (Mr. Salazar) shall be replaced by the Senator from Ohio (Mr. Brown)." (The Politico)

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There's no better example of the painstaking review process that went into the Justice Department's selection of U.S. attorneys to be fired: In the case of Nevada's Daniel Bogden, it was a 90 second meeting that made the difference.

It's never been clear why Bogden's name was added -- and apparently it wasn't even clear to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who wrote in an email on December 5th, two days before the firings, that he was "skittish about Bogden." Bogden had been with the Justice Department for more than 16 years, McNulty wrote. What was he going to do now? "I'll admit have not looked at his district's performance," he added.

Here's what happened next, according to leaked details from Kyle Sampson's private testimony to Congress. From The Las Vegas Review-Journal:

A former high level department executive has told congressional investigators that a Justice Department team held a last-minute discussion after McNulty said in an e-mail on Dec. 5 that he was "skittish" about firing Bogden.

McNulty; his chief of staff, [Michael] Elston; Monica Goodling, a senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; and possibly one other official gathered in the office of Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' chief of staff.

McNulty said he was concerned about Bogden, 50, getting a job outside government after 16 years at Justice and being able to care for his family.

When it was pointed out that Bogden was not married, McNulty withdrew his concern and the conversation ended after about 90 seconds, according to the account gathered by investigators. Bogden was dismissed on Dec. 7.

Sampson couldn't say who had put Bogden on the list (even though he was the "keeper of the list") or why. He'd never looked at Bogden's performance, and neither did Alberto Gonzales. The only thing he can remember is that there was "a general feeling among senior staffers at the Justice Department that a 'stronger leader' could be put in Nevada." So he was fired. And then the Justice Department told Congress that he'd been fired for "performance" reasons.

All that remained, apparently, was to find out what those were.

Update: The Las Vegas Sun has a more detailed rundown of Sampson's testimony.

The White House and Democrats in Congress are both pushing for emails kept by the Republican National Committee, and the RNC is caught in the middle.

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), wants to get its hands on those RNC-issued email accounts used by Karl Rove and other White House personnel. Congressional investigators want to know about Rove's and his deputy's involvement in the U.S. attorney firings. But the White House insists that it review the emails first, before handing anything over to Democrats. Last week, Conyers warned the RNC not to do that, saying that it would be "an unjustified delay" and "potentially... an obstruction of our investigation."

And today, in a letter to the RNC, the White House made their position clear: you have to give them to us first. There "exists a clear and indisputable Executive Branch interest" in the emails on the RNC-issued accounts, wrote Emmet Flood, Special Counsel to the President.

Conyers isn't buying it:

"The White House's position to clear all RNC emails before they can respond to our request is extreme and unnecessary. This is a clear attempt, on the Administration's part, to delay this process and keep the wheels of Justice turning slowly."

What happens next? I don't know.

Over the past six years, the Bush administration has aggressively reshaped the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Many career analysts and attorneys have either been transferred or driven out; their replacements are long on conservative credentials and short on civil rights experience.

Here's an inside account of what it's like inside from Toby Moore, a redistricting expert with the division's voting section until the spring of 2006. Like many of his colleagues, he left due to the hostile atmosphere in the section, where he says there was a pattern of selective intimidation towards career staff.

According to Moore, his supervisor and the political appointees in the section consistently criticized his work because it didn't jibe with their pre-drawn conclusions. That was bad enough, he said, but the real trouble came after he and three colleagues recommended opposing a Georgia voter I.D. law pushed by Republicans. After the recommendation, which clashed with the views of Moore's superiors, they reprimanded him for not adequately analyzing the evidence and accused him of mistreating his Republican colleague, with whom he'd had frequent disagreements. But it got worse. Moore said that his Republican superiors even monitored his emails, eventually filing a complaint against him with the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility for allegedly disclosing privileged information in one email (he was cleared of wrongdoing). Fed up, and worried that it was too dangerous to his professional future to remain there, he left.

Moore said that his experience was similar to others in the section who'd disagreed with conservative attorneys working at the Justice Department. Over the following year, all three of Moore's colleagues who'd joined him in opposing the law either left or were transferred out of the section. The senior member of the team, Robert Berman, the deputy chief of the section and a 28-year veteran of the Civil Rights Division, was transferred to the Office of Professional Development -- what Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has called "a dead-end job."

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility opened and conducted an investigation into the section's handling of the Georgia I.D. law. Joe Rich, the former chief of the voting section, told me that he was interviewed by investigators in 2006. It's not clear, however, what the outcome of the investigation was.

"Mr. Moore's allegations about political interference in the Civil Rights Division surrounding the Georgia memo, are very much in line with what we are learning daily about this Justice Department," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) told TPMmuckraker. Nadler is the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee that held a hearing on the voting section last month. "A clear picture is developing of a department culture that seems to encourage politically-motivated, improper and lawless activity."

The voting section is tasked under the Voting Rights Act with reviewing new legislation in certain regions in order to prevent regulations that might lead to discrimination against minority voters. When Moore and his colleagues examined the Georgia voter-identification law, they found a lot to worry about. Their bosses weren't interested.

"They weren’t really interested in investigating Georgia's submission," Moore, who has a Ph.D. in geography and had been with the section since 2000, told me. "They were mainly interested in assembling evidence to support pre-clearance. Any attempt to bring up counter-evidence to suggest a discriminatory impact was ignored or critiqued. We were told it was our own bias.... Any evidence in support was embraced uncritically."

The problems with Georgia's new law were legion, as outlined in the "Recommendation Memorandum" that Moore and his colleagues compiled.

To start with, jurisdictions covered by the Voting Rights Act (mostly in southern states) are required to show that law changes will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. In the case of Georgia, the law change would have revised an earlier voter-I.D. law that allowed a variety of forms of identification (such as a utility bill); the new law restricted acceptable forms to photo I.D. But the law's advocates could provide no evidence that African Americans would not be disproportionately affected by the bill. In fact, the law had been pushed largely on the basis of assertions contained in Stealing Elections, a book by conservative journalist John Fund and what was called "anecdotal evidence."

Other evidence pointed even more strongly to nefarious motives behind the legislation. According to the Recommendation Memorandum, Georgia state Rep. Sue Burmeister, the sponsor of the bill, told 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."

For that and a host of other reasons, Moore and three of his colleagues recommended against clearing the bill. A single member on their review team, a young Republican lawyer, supported clearance. Yet Moore's team was nevertheless overruled and the bill was cleared. In a telling sequel to these events at the Justice Department, a federal appeals court judge later barred implementation of the law, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.

Things went downhill from there.

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