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David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

I know you won't be surprised that the White House has managed to politicize yet another function of government. Still, this is important stuff. Over at TPMCafe, Steve Clemons gives the rundown on the White House's alleged involvement in trying to silence Flynt Leverett, the former government official and scholar who is a prominent critic of Bush foreign policy. The White House claims that Leverett's draft op-ed for the NYT contains classified information, a finding at odds with the CIA's own Publication Review Board. The CIA has bowed to the White House pressure, according to Leverett. All the details here.

Late Friday, the Department of Justice announced that the President had used a recess appointment to name a 34-year-old former White House aide to Karl Rove as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Apparently J. Timothy Griffin made his mark as a Republican campaign operative as opposed to, say, as a lawyer. He replaces current USA Bud Cummins.

The move has provoked the ire of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark):

Normally, the White House requests names of potential replacements for U. S. attorneys and other positions from the state’s senators or congressmen, and then chooses a nominee from among those names. The nominee then must undergo a background check and Senate confirmation — which could be tough for Griffin in the new Democrat-controlled body. Griffin, a longtime behind-the-scenes Republican operative and political strategist, has worked for the Republican National Committee.

. . .

[Pryor spokesman Michael] Teague noted that an interim appointment could keep Griffin at the helm of the top prosecutor’s post in the state’s Eastern District for the two years remaining in Bush’s term.

“This process circumvents a way to find out about his legal background,” Teague said. “We know about his political background, which is unbalanced. If he’s just interim for the next two years, every decision he makes during that time is going to be somewhat suspect.”

The state’s only Republican congressman, John Boozman, said last month that he hadn’t been asked to submit names to replace Cummins.


Go read the whole article. It's textbook patronage politics. I hope we're not about to see a flood of recess appointments to get the White House through the rest of the President's term with minimal advice and consent from the Democratic Senate.

Late Update: As an emailer noted, a recess appointment now may not be effective for the remainder of Bush's term. More here.

You may recall some of the dandy investigative reporting on Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) turned in by Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV during the midterm election campaign. At issue was whether Murphy was illegally using his congressional staff for campaign purposes. Now it looks like the feds are investigating. KDKA has the latest.

Evan Bayh is out, but John Edwards is in. Edwards will use New Orleans' Ninth Ward as the backdrop for announcing his candidacy for President later this month.

At its website, ABC News is flagging as "breaking news" the President's likely support for deploying more than 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. While the size of the expected deployment varies, I'm not sure what makes that breaking news. But we'll let you know if ABC has further details.

Late update: Here's the full ABC report.

Not everyone at Southern Methodist University is happy at the prospect of hosting the George W. Bush presidential library. Administrators, faculty and staff of SMU's School of Theology, interestingly enough, are apparently leading the opposition to the $500 million project.

The Nation has a piece out by Michael Tisserand, questioning whether the Democrats will make Hurricane Katrina recovery and the rebuilding of New Orleans a priority:

For New Orleans, the most dangerous outcome of the midterms would be if voters receive the message that Katrina was a terrible thing, a Republican blunder, but it's now over. Nothing could be further from the truth. The mental health infrastructure in New Orleans remains shattered, depression is a local epidemic and the suicide rate has officially tripled. Incredibly, some residents of public housing are still unable to enter their own homes, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development moves to demolish more than 5,000 public housing units. Unchecked insurance costs are preventing others from selling, buying or repairing property. Federal dollars are flowing to corporate bailouts and disaster profiteers, not to affected citizens, revealed an August analysis by CorpWatch, a San Francisco-based organization that previously investigated profiteering in Iraq and Afghanistan.

. . .

More than anything, Democrats must set themselves apart by keeping their promises to Katrina survivors. At an August press conference in New Orleans, party leaders pledged that the first 100 hours of the new Congress would include bills to assist New Orleans by streamlining insurance, creating more affordable housing options and restoring the coast. But Pelosi's recently released "New Direction for America" didn't include one mention of post-Katrina needs. Such omissions offer cold comfort to New Orleanians who wonder if some leaders have stopped thinking of their home as an American city at all.


Michael, an old friend and colleague of mine, was the editor of Gambit Weekly, the alternative paper in New Orleans, until Katrina struck and the levees failed, forcing him and his family to relocate to Chicago.

Well, here we go. Reports this week, including from today's New York Times, indicate that the President will escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq by deploying additional troops. CBS News last evening reported that plans already call for a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division to deploy to Kuwait after the holidays. Incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to approve the move after being sworn in Monday.

I get the sense that everyone in the country except the President and Vice President is caught back on their heels at the moment. Here are just a few of the misconceptions that seem to be floating around since the election:

Myth: The results of the election will force the President to reevalute his Iraq strategy.

Reality: The election defeat has forced the White House to go through the motions of reevaluating its Iraq policy; hence, the President's listening tour. Politically, he had no choice but to make a lavish effort to look responsive to the election results. Substantively, however, everything about this Administration suggests it will do what it wants to do regardless. The last few weeks reinforce that impression. If the White House can blow off the bipartisan elder statesmen of the Iraq Study Group, it can certainly ignore Democrats, the press, and the people.

Myth: Following the reevaluation of its Iraq policy, the White House will announce its proposed New Way Forward, whereupon there will be a vigorous national debate.

Reality: The White House is not going to wait for the Democratic Congress or for an extended national debate before it proceeds. There are some indications that the reason for delaying the President's announcement of "The New Way Forward" is so that he can announce a fait accompli. (Andy Card, who famously noted about the 2002 run-up to the Iraq invasion that you don't roll out a marketing campaign in August, might also say the same thing about launching one during the Christmas holidays.) I wouldn't be surprised to see new deployment orders already issued by the time Democrats officially take over Congress in the first week of January, the President's way of grabbing his crotch and saying, Debate this.

Myth: Rumsfeld's exit and Gates' entrance signal a new direction from the White House.

Reality: The relief and excitement that greeted Gates' nomination seemed all out of proportion then and even more so now. Gates caught official Washington, and many Democrats, on the rebound. If Rumsfeld was the bad boyfriend, then Gates swept everyone off their feet simply by being soft-spoken and listening. So instead of using the hearings on the Gates' nomination as the starting point for a debate on Iraq policy, it became a bipartisan lovefest. The myth that the ISG report would somehow save the day has already been exploded. The adults are not in charge; Cheney still is. I would expect that Cheney and Rumsfield conspired in the last few weeks of Rumsfeld's tenure to start the ball rolling on the New Way Forward with the intention of constraining Gates' options.

Myth: The prospect of Democratic oversight will sober up the Administration and force it to rein itself in.

Reality: The White House is going to try to outflank Congress with speed and agility. Troop deployments are a perfect example. Deploy the troops, then ask Congress for the funding. Are Democrats going to support the troops already there, or pull the rug out from under them?

Myth: Congessional hearings will build public support for withdrawal from Iraq.

Reality: It is difficult to imagine public sentiment against the war being any higher than it is right now. In this week's NBC/WSJ poll, 71 percent of respondents disapproved of the President's handling of Iraq. As soon as congressional hearings begin, the President is likely to get some bump in the polls because it allows him to cast the debate in familiar political terms. The President versus congressional Democrats is a much better matchup for the White House than the President versus the reality of his disastrous policies. Congressional hearings are also messy, boring, and diffuse--an important part of good governance, but not especially effective at rallying public support one way or another, at least in the short-term.

So while quite a few Americans and an abundance of commentators heralded the midterm elections and the ISG report as the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq, I am afraid Americans will shake off their New Year's hangovers and discover a new and deeper American commitment in Iraq, one which won't easily be reversed for the remainder of the Bush presidency.

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