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The Department of Justice announced yesterday that, at an annual awards ceremony, it had given an award for "Outstanding Professionalism and Exemplary Integrity" to David Margolis.

Why is that noteworthy?

Margolis, who has been at DOJ since 1965 and now serves as Associate Deputy Attorney General, makes frequent appearances in the report on the US Attorney firings released earlier this month by DOJ's Office of the Inspector General.

By and large, the report depicts Margolis as a respected career DOJ-er, who was largely out of the loop on many of the details of the scheme to fire US Attorneys for political reasons.

But it also shows that right before the firings, Kyle Sampson, the point man on the plan, showed Margolis -- whose informal biography, says the report, listed one of his duties as being a liaison between main DOJ and the US Attorneys -- a list of six of the US Attorneys to be fired. Margolis had earlier recommended to Sampson that two US Attorneys -- Kevin Ryan and Dunn Lampton -- be fired for legitimate performance-based reasons, but neither one appeared on Sampson's list. And yet, says the report, Margolis neither raised any objections, nor asked Sampson about how the list was drawn up.

From the report's conclusion:

In November 2006, when Sampson advised Margolis about the impending removals, he either showed Margolis a list or read from a list of six U.S. Attorneys that Sampson indicated were to be removed. Margolis told us that he was struck more by the names Sampson did not mention than the ones he did. Margolis asked Sampson why Ryan and Lampton were not on the removal list, and Sampson responded that he would look into it. Based on Margolis's and McNulty's suggestion, Ryan was subsequently added to the list.

However, Margolis told us that he did not think to question Sampson about the six U.S. Attorneys who were on Sampson's list. Margolis said he was more focused on the names that were omitted and assumed Sampson had valid reasons for the six slated for removal.

Margolis is the senior career attorney in the Department and someone who had significant knowledge about U.S. Attorneys and their performance. He was involved in panel interviews for the selection of most U.S. Attorneys, and as part of his duties handles misconduct allegations involving U.S. Attorneys. He is highly respected within the Department, and his opinion was valued because of his experience and stature. Yet, prior to the removals, he never questioned Sampson concerning why the specific U.S. Attorneys slated for removal were chosen or what process was used to select them. We believe that under these circumstances - an unprecedented dismissal of a group of U.S. Attorneys at one time allegedly for performance reasons - Margolis should have raised questions about the list and the process used to identify the names to ensure there were no improper reasons and that the Department was following a defensible process for the removals. But Margolis never raised those issues, and instead focused solely on seeking to ensure that Ryan was added to the removal list.


We recognize that the decision to remove the U.S. Attorneys was not Margolis's to make. But given his position, we believe he should have asked Sampson, McNulty, or other senior Department leaders about the removal process. This is particularly true given that this removal of U.S. Attorneys was unprecedented, and it did not appear from the names on Sampson's list that the U.S. Attorneys Margolis thought were weak had been included.

The report also quotes from Margolis' subsequent testimony to Congress, in which he acknowledged he should have done more:
I should say that I am a bit exasperated by my role here because I'm the only one of all the people involved who knows how to fire a United States Attorney or a Marshal based on experience. And I was not aggressive enough or vigilant enough, and I should have done a number of things, I should have inserted myself. I was too passive, and I'd like to, I think--and I hold myself accountable for this--that if I had stepped in and said something, that maybe this would have been - we would have handled this better...

The report further concludes:
We believe that given Margolis's experience, position, and stature he was too deferential to others on this important and unprecedented removal of U.S. Attorneys. Had he raised questions, as he acknowledged he should have, the damage to the Department by the fundamentally flawed removal process might have been mitigated.

Margolis was clearly a long way from being the main villain in the US Attorneys saga. But he didn't exactly cover himself with glory in the affair.

And he certainly didn't demonstrate "Outstanding Professionalism and Exemplary Integrity" -- the qualities for which he's just been honored.

On the tail of Sen. Ted Stevens' conviction, the senator's defense team -- clearly in withdrawal that they can't seek mistrials anymore -- requested an investigation into "numerous, serious constitutional violations" by the prosecution.

From the AP:

In the letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, [Steven's attorney Brendan] Sullivan asked that immediate steps be taken to preserve all Justice Department information related to its investigation and prosecution of Stevens. He also asked Mukasey to pull the prosecution team from any further involvement with the case.

"We believe that an impartial investigator looking at this case with an eye toward the administration of justice would be shocked at the conduct of this prosecution team," the letter says.

The attorney alleges in the request that prosecutors knowingly presented false evidence to the jury in Washington, which found Stevens guilty Monday of seven felony counts.

"Senator Stevens' trial was irretrievably tainted by the prosecution team's zeal to convict a high-profile but innocent defendant," the letter says.

The letter was delivered to the attorney general Tuesday morning. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the department would have no comment. Sullivan's office did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

Another day, another land deal. In the late 1990s, John McCain tried to get the U.S. Forest Service to exchange part of the Tonto National Forest for land partly owned by a billionaire McCain contributor connected to Charles Keating. McCain was spurred to action by a developer, who wanted to turn the 2,154-acre Spur Cross Ranch -- desert home to Hopi Indian artifacts and special cacti -- into a golf course. (McClatchy)

Little -- if anything -- is known about a mysterious GOP donor, Shi Sheng Hao, who has given over a quarter million dollars to John McCain's campaign and the RNC. Hao's residence, occupation and current whereabouts are all unknown. But here's what we do know: he declared bankruptcy in 1995, registered to vote after his massive donations began, doesn't live at any of his listed addresses, and eight associates and relatives of Hao have given $130,000 to the RNC since last year. Curiouser and curiouser. . . (Chicago Tribune)

A military judge yesterday threw out the confession of Mohammed Jawad, a young Afghani accused of wounding two U.S. soldiers and their interpreter, saying it was obtained through torture. Jawad's case is already shaky, and prompted the resignation of a military prosecutor last month. (Reuters)

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The ACLU has written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, urging him not to have the Justice Department intervene in a voting-rights dispute in Ohio.

The move comes in response to fast-moving recent events. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a bid by Ohio Republicans to require Jennifer Brunner, Ohio's Democratic secretary of state, to provide local election officials with lists of new voters whose registration information did not match that on other government documents.

That prompted House Republican leader John Boehner to write to Mukasey, asking him to require Brunner to hand over the lists. When Mukasey did not respond, Boehner contacted the White House, which said Friday that it had passed his request on to Mukasey, and asked for action.

Voting-rights advocates fear that making Brunner hand over the lists could lead to a slew of GOP challenges, forcing hundreds of thousands of voters to cast provisional ballots.

They also see the White House's involvement as an inappropriate politicization of DOJ. In its letter to Mukasey, ACLU writes of the White House's move:

With the election one week away, this kind of intrusion represents partisan politics at its worst. In addition, challenging -- or purging -- lawfully registered voters in the days before the election invites chaos and undermines the integrity of the democratic process.
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a good-government group, agreed with that take, telling TPMmuckraker that the White House "is trying to impact the Ohio election." *

She said her organization would be watching to see whether Mukasey -- who was picked to run DOJ after Alberto Gonzales resigned amid accusations that he had overseen inappropriate politicization of the department and misled Congress -- would respond.

A group of Ohio Democrats, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, has also written to Mukasey, urging him not to intervene in the case.

* This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version.

After 13 months of federal investigation, Massachusetts State Sen. Diane Wilkerson (D) was arrested this morning. In a 43 page long affidavit -- complete with pictures of hand-offs and money being stuffed into bras -- the FBI alleged that Wilkerson took $23,500 in bribes to get a liquor license for the club Dejavu.

Below is the picture from the affidavit exhibits that shows Wilkerson shoving $1000 into her bra. This might beat out TPMmuckraker's favorite photo of Sen. Ted Stevens' bronzed salmon statue, but just barely.

Wilkerson has had a long and sordid history with the law which began in 1997 when she was sentenced to house arrest for failing to pay over $50,000 in income taxes. This afternoon, Wilkerson was stripped of her chairmanship of the Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.

In September, Wilkerson lost the Democratic primary, in which her candidacy was supported by Gov. Deval Patrick. In a statement following the arrest in the Boston Globe, Patrick said that the "initial reports are both troubling and sad. These are very serious charges and I will trust the judicial process to take them seriously."

Todd Rokita -- the Indiana secretary of state who wants ACORN prosecuted for voter fraud -- may be the gift that keeps on giving.

Earlier today, we reported that Rokita, a Republican, has said he's proud that he was part of the team of GOP activists that descended on Florida and pulled out all the stops to block the 2000 recount and put George Bush in the White House.

Now, a reader points us to this 2007 Associated Press story, which reports:

During a speech Thursday at a Republican event, Todd Rokita said 90 percent of blacks vote for Democrats.

"How can that be?" Rokita said. "Ninety to ten. Who's the master and who's the slave in that relationship? How can that be healthy?"

So: - Committed GOP partisan -- check. - History of racially insensitive comments -- check.

Sounds like just the guy to be running a close election in a year when the first major-party African-American candidate is on the ballot.

Yesterday, in an unanimous decision, the jury in the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens found the seven-term senator guilty on seven count of false statements. The verdict made Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, a convicted felon and one of only five in all of history to be convicted of a crime, and the first since 1981.

This morning, presidential hopeful and fellow Senator John McCain called for Stevens, embroiled in a close election of his own, to step down.

Fox News caught up with the Senator leaving his office today to return home to Alaska to campaign, and it appeared that becoming a convicted felon hadn't chastened Stevens legendary ornery attitude. At the end of the interview, Trish Turner, the Fox News Senate producer asked the senator, "What is the formula for winning," to which he replied, "Not answering you right now." Take a look.

Also release this morning were scanned versions of all of the notes passed between the jury and Judge Emmet Sullivan, which we've collected here along with the historical official verdict.

Yesterday we told you about an effort by Indiana's Republican secretary of state, Todd Rokita, to press federal and state authorities to prosecute ACORN for voter fraud. Rokita had said a review by his office of forms submitted by ACORN found "multiple criminal violations."

But it turns out that Rokita hardly has a reputation as a non-partisan public official. In October 2002, the South Bend Tribune reported (via nexis):

Working on his own time, [Rokita] also assisted George W. Bush's campaign during the infamous Florida election recount in 2000. Rokita is proud of that, especially because the U.S. Supreme Court cited Indiana election law when it decided the election in Bush's favor.
In other words, Rokita was part of the team of ambitious young Republican operatives who flew down to Florida to help out on a bid to stymie the recount effort -- remember the "Brooks Brothers riot"? -- and ultimately put George Bush in the White House.

That background as a partisan knife-fighter is worth keeping in mind as Rokita seeks to stoke fears about voter fraud -- and, more generally, as he administers what could be a very close election in Indiana.

Former Osama bin Laden aide Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and his U.S. military lawyer threw a wrench in the works of the Guantanamo Bay military trial, staying silent yesterday as the Pentagon's war crimes case opened. Al-Bahlul, who has described the trial as a "legal farce," had asked to represent himself. (AP)

Judges ruled against Georgia's Secretary of State in a voting rights dispute yesterday, determining that she should have received Justice Department approval before implementing a new voter verification system. The decision put a temporary hold on the purging of Georgia voter databases, ruling that election officials must accept ballots from people whose citizenship has been questioned. The eligibility of individual votes will be determined after the election. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Kwame Kilpatrick, the ex-mayor of Detroit, heads to prison today to begin serving his 120-day sentence for lying during a trial that investigated his firing and hiring practices. For $115 per day, Kilpatrick gets a 15-by-10-foot cell with an hour out for recreation. (Detroit Free Press)

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Last week, the White House asked the Department of Justice to take action on an effort that could force tens of thousands of new Ohio voters to cast provisional ballots.

Soon afterwards, a group of Ohio Democrats, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, announced in a press release that they had written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, urging him not to intervene in the issue.

Wrote the Democrats: "The eyes of the nation are once again on Ohio in this critical election, and there is no room for partisan politics that seek to erode voter confidence in Ohio's election system."

The U.S. Supreme Court had earlier rejected an effort by the GOP to require the Democratic Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, to provide local election officials with information on newly registered voters whose registration information does not match other government records. Democrats fear that giving that information to local officials could allow Republicans to mount challenges to eligible voters, with the result that many could be forced to cast provisional ballots.

In addition to Brown, the other Democrats signing the letter were Reps. Marcy Kaptur, Tim Ryan, Zack Space, Betty Sutton, and Charles Wilson.


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