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Former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman writing today in The Los Angeles Times:

No matter how many members of Congress lose confidence in Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush is unlikely to let him go. If Gonzales resigns, the vacancy must be filled by a new presidential nominee, and the last thing the White House wants is a confirmation hearing.

Already, the Senate is outlining conditions for confirming a Gonzales successor. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has said that his panel would not hold confirmation hearings unless Karl Rove and other White House aides testify about the firing of U.S. attorneys to clarify whether "the White House has interfered with prosecution."...

Moreover, the Senate might use such hearings to do more than secure testimony from White House aides about the firings, as Leahy indicated. It also might use the opportunity to probe the Justice Department's role in mistreatment of detainees, four years of flouting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other serious matters.

Rather than face such scrutiny, the White House may prefer keeping a drastically weakened Gonzales in place.

Via Scott Horton.

The Justice Department has a longstanding policy regarding the prosecution of election law or voter fraud cases: the closer to the election it gets, the more cautious prosecutors should be about bringing indictments. The reason is simple. Bringing an indictment close to the election can intimidate minority voters, affect voter turnout and potentially even influence the result of the election.

But Bradley Schlozman -- the former U.S. Attorney for Kansas City and controversial deputy head at the Civil Rights Division -- broke with the policy. Not only that, but there's evidence that he rushed four indictments to land just before last November's election.

Indeed, timing aside, even Schlozman's decision to pursue the cases at all is questionable in light of established Justice Department practice. Although trumpeted as cases of voter fraud, the cases alleged only registration fraud, and there's no evidence that those registrations were intended to result in actual fraudulent votes. For that reason, other U.S. attorneys have passed on pursuing similar prosecutions. But Schlozman, who'd worked to push voter I.D. laws while in the Civil Rights Division, leapt at the opportunity.

The more you learn about Schlozman's decision to indict four voter registration recruiters for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) five days before last year's election -- Missouri's Jim Talent was battling Claire McCaskill in one of the closest Senate races in the country --, the worse it looks.

News coverage of the indictments tended to buttress the notion that liberal groups like ACORN were conspiring to steal the election. The indictments were covered by Fox News (where a Kansas City election official was quoted as saying that it was "the worst case of registration abuse in the last quarter century"), as well as the AP, CNN, and other nationwide outlets. Schlozman announced in a statement that "This national investigation is very much ongoing."

It had been the longstanding practice of the Justice Department not to bring such indictments so close before an election. That's according to Joe Rich, the former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Section, and a Justice Department manual written by Craig Donsanto, head of the Election Crimes Branch at Justice, which advised that “Federal prosecutors and investigators should be extremely careful to not conduct overt investigations during the pre-election period or while the election is underway.”

Even Alberto Gonzales himself said just two weeks ago that "We have guidance about that, doing those kind of investigations near an election," to be "sensitive about the effect it has on particularly minority participation."

But if Schozman was trying to be sensitive, he didn't show it. In addition to issuing the statement that the "national investigation" into ACORN's registration of mostly poor, minority voters was "very much ongoing," Schlozman also announced the next day that his office would be monitoring the election for fraud. An assistant U.S. attorney would be on duty all day to "ensure public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process."

And there is evidence that the indictments were rushed to come down before Election Day.

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Some Ask if US Attorney Dismissals Point to Pattern of Investigating Democrats “When a jury acquitted Carl J. Marlinga, a former county prosecutor from suburban Detroit, of bribery charges last year, his initial reaction was to write off the episode as a terrible mistake that at least had been corrected. ‘Prosecutors can make mistakes for innocent reasons,’ Mr. Marlinga said. ‘I know that first hand.’ But as he looks back at the case, Mr. Marlinga, 60, who was charged while he was a Democratic candidate for Congress, no longer has such confidence in the integrity of the legal system.” (NY Times)

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I think we've identified a rule of Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department: the more senior you are in the leadership, the less of a clue you have of what's going on there.

We were all treated to Gonzales' historical display of bumbling amnesia before the Senate Judiciary Committee a couple of weeks ago. Now we learn that the second in command, Paul McNulty, wasn't really in the loop, either. From The Washington Post:

Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty told congressional investigators that he had limited involvement in the firing last year of eight U.S. attorneys and that he did not choose any to be removed, congressional aides familiar with his statements said yesterday.

McNulty said he provided erroneous testimony to Congress in February because he had not been informed that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and his aides had been working with the White House on the firings for nearly two years, the congressional aides said.

Put this together with the news yesterday that McNulty, along with other members of the senior leadership in the department, had been cut out of the hiring and firing process for junior political appointees, and it's clear that he really didn't have much to do with running the place. From all evidence, that responsibility fell to Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, two young aides who acted as little more than proxies for the White House.

As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) puts it: "If the top folks at DOJ weren't the key decision-makers, it's less likely that lower-down people at DOJ were, and much more likely that people in the White House were making the major decisions."

If you needed further convincing that Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling -- the two young Justice Department aides who have resigned due to their roles in the U.S. attorney firings -- were major players at the Department, Murray Waas has it.

In March of 2006, Waas reports, Alberto Gonzales signed a secret order that gave Goodling and Sampson the authority to hire and fire senior political appointees at the department -- the decisions only required Gonzales' authorization. It cut out other members of the department's senior leadership from the hiring and firing process.

The order, an official described only as a "senior executive branch official" explains to Waas, "'was an attempt to make the department more responsive to the political side of the White House and to do it in such a way that people would not know it was going on.'" Goodling, remember, was the Justice Department's liaison with the White House.

Now, the order dealt with a narrow class of political appointees at the Justice Department: officials who were above the career level, but not so high that they were subject to Senate confirmation. That means Sampson and Goodling couldn't replace the highest ranked officials, but could replace those slightly lower in rank. Here's an idea of what that would mean:

A senior Justice Department official, who did not know of Gonzales's delegation of authority until contacted by National Journal, said that it posed a serious threat to the integrity of the criminal-justice system because it gave Sampson, Goodling, and the White House control over the hiring of senior officials in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, which oversees all politically sensitive public corruption cases, at the same time that they held authority to hire and fire U.S. attorneys.

"If you are controlling who is going to be a U.S. attorney and who isn't going to be,... firing them outside the traditional process... and the same people are deciding who are going to be their supervisors back in Washington... there is too much of a potential for mischief, for abuse," the official said.

Waas doesn't point to anyone in particular who was hired or fired by Goodling or Sampson, but it would seem just a matter of time before we find out.

"The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." So said President Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003. 16 now infamous words.

After receiving a subpoena last Wednesday from House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) regarding, among other issues, those words and how exactly they found their way into the President’s address in the midst of the march to war with Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went barnstorming across the Sunday Shows yesterday to explain why she feels entirely uncompelled to comply with Waxman and testify before his committee. The crux of her argument: this one’s already been fully investigated; nothing to see here.

In today’s episode of TPMtv, Josh responds to Secretary Rice’s rationale. Sure there have been some investigations into the Niger uranium claim, but thus far all of those investigations have been controlled by Republicans.

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In a story on Brad Schlozman last week, I quoted Bob Kengle, formerly the deputy chief of the voting section of the Civil Rights Division and a Justice Department veteran, as saying that he'd left because he'd reached his "personal breaking point."

Well, that's true. But it's also, of course, more complicated than that. And Kengle thought that readers would benefit from a more in-depth view of what life was like in the division and why he "lost faith in the institution as it had become."

The Civil Rights Division, and specifically the voting section there, as I've said before, is probably the worst case of politicization at the department. Kengle's is an invaluable account of how political appointees like Schlozman seized control -- and the damage that seizure has done to the department's integrity and credibility.

The full text is below, but we've also posted Kengle's statement in our document collection if you prefer to read it there.

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Speaking outside after a court hearing this morning, the D.C. Madam, Jeane Palfrey, says she expects ABC News to track down more clients of her firm, who she says will serve as "potential witnesses for my defense."

So who's up next? ABC News -- where Brian Ross and TPM alum Justin Rood are on the case -- has Palfrey's phone records for the past four years. This morning, they report that "also on Palfrey's list of customers who could be potential witnesses are a Bush administration economist, the head of a conservative think tank, a prominent CEO, several lobbyists and a handful of military officials."

Expect some of that to come out this Friday, during Palfrey's star turn on 20/20.

82 Inmates Cleared But Still At Guantanamo "More than a fifth of the approximately 385 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been cleared for release but may have to wait months or years for their freedom because U.S. officials are finding it increasingly difficult to line up places to send them, according to Bush administration officials and defense lawyers. Since February, the Pentagon has notified about 85 inmates or their attorneys that they are eligible to leave after being cleared by military review panels. But only a handful have gone home, including a Moroccan and an Afghan who were released Tuesday." (Washington Post)

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You can always count on lawyers to produce the most precise non-denial denials.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Justice Department had decided to return control of the hiring process to career lawyers in the department. Why? Because, a spokesman explained, after four years of political appointees having control of the process, those in charge have finally realized that there's something of an appearance problem.

But the department was quick to deny that politics had had anything to do with who has been hired over the past four years. No, sir. And here comes that finely parsed denial:

"The Justice Department does not, nor has it ever, solicited any information from applicants . . . about their political affiliation or orientation."

The key to that denial, you might have guessed, lies in that word, "solicit."

Here's how the hiring process went last year, according to a group of anonymous Justice Department employees who've complained to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees: all candidates selected for an interview had to be cleared by the deputy attorney general's office. The employees were shocked when they sent up a list of 600 names and got back a list of 400. They demanded a meeting with the deputy attorney general's chief of staff, Michael Elston, who coolly informed them that "inappropriate information about them on the Internet" had disqualified a number of applicants. So after the meeting, the employees searched online and found out what had been so inappropriate. Most of the disqualified applicants were Democrats.

When that story broke last week, the Justice Department had the same non-denial denial: ""the department does not solicit any information about applicants' political affiliations or orientation."

But that wasn't the allegation. As the higher-ups at the department know full well, it would be totally inappropriate for the Justice Department to ask an applicant for his/her political affiliation. So they didn't. Instead, a small group of people in the deputy attorney general's office googled every applicant to find the information they'd been unable to solicit.

Very clever, huh?

Now, sometimes there was no need to go to the trouble of all that internet research. There's evidence that there have been other methods of ascertaining whether an applicant was suited to work in Bush's Justice Department -- like recruiting through the Republican National Lawyers Association or simply asking around to see whether the applicant has the right stuff.

But here's the real question. John Ashcroft put political appointees in charge of the hiring process in 2002. And for four years the department has been pumped full of Federalist Society members, so that in some departments (e.g. the Civil Rights Division), the career staff are indistinguishable from the political appointees. With Congress bearing down, the leadership in the Justice Department has finally decided to relinquish control of the hiring. But perhaps that decision is made easier because the mission has already been accomplished?