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

The New York Times follows on the heels of the Washington Post, with a heavily reported piece trying to make sense of the U.S. attorney purge, and like the Post comes up short.

While The Times piece claims to "provide new details and a fuller picture of the events behind the dismissals," it is really a scatter-shot of speculation about what prompted the firings:

[S]ome prosecutors believe they were forced out for replacements who could gild résumés; several heard that favored candidates had been identified.

Other prosecutors may have been vulnerable because they had had run-ins with the Justice Department, not over corruption cases against Republicans, but on less visible issues.

Paul Charlton in Arizona, for example, annoyed Federal Bureau of Investigation officials by pushing for confessions to be tape-recorded, while John McKay in Seattle had championed a computerized law enforcement information-sharing system that Justice Department officials did not want. Carol C. Lam of San Diego, who successfully prosecuted former Representative Randy Cunningham, had drawn complaints that she was not sufficiently aggressive on immigration cases.

In other words, the prosecutors, and by extension The Times, don't really know why they were fired, but they have some guesses, which coming from loyal Republicans tend toward the benign, with the exception of New Mexico's David Iglesias.

Oddly, The Times lets stand a Justice Department assertion that none of the firings were prompted by politics: "Justice Department officials deny that the dismissals were politically motivated or that the action resulted from White House pressure."

That's simply not true in the case of the removal of Bud Cummins in Arkansas, which Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has already conceded in congressional testimony was done in order to provide a post for Karl Rove aide Timothy Griffin. The piece notes then-White House counsel Harriet Miers' intervention with DOJ officials on Griffin's behalf, but makes no mention of McNulty's testimony.

The Times also makes no mention of the Patriot Act provision that allows the Attorney General to appoint interim USAs for indefinite terms, an essential ingredient to the purge story that is inextricably wrapped up in politics.

There is one interesting tidbit in the piece that deserves further exploration: "The White House eventually approved the list and helped notify Republican lawmakers before the Dec. 7 dismissals, officials said."

Which lawmakers were notified? Those in the home states of the purged USAs? Those on the judiciary committees? What were they told by the White House and DOJ? How does that square with what the White House and DOJ are saying now?

Maybe The Times can turn its reporting guns on those questions.

Add another name to the cast of characters involved in the decision to sack U.S. attorneys. In addition to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, was in on the decision, according to a Justice Department official who spoke to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff. A DOJ official also confirmed that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) had contacted senior department officials to "express general concerns" about New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. Domenici's office has previously said he raised concerns about Iglesias' handling of immigration issues, among other things. Still no comment from Domenici or Heather Wilson (R-NM) on whether each of them placed calls to Iglesias before the mid-term elections inquiring about the status of a public corruption investigation of a state Democrat, as Iglesias claims.

TPM Reader JE:

I notice that Gates is getting good press for being decisive and acting quickly. I concede that he has not been on the job long. But haven't the conditions at Walter Reed been bad for a very long time? Relatives of military people and military personnel would typically first complain to those in authority and in the service. What happened to those complaints? Haven't dozens of senior officers and doctors known? Haven't at least mid-level White House people known? Wouldn't it be interesting to learn what, if anything, Rumsfeld knew? Don't the quick firings and positive publicity for Gates seem like intentional distraction for a more serious, long-standing problem?

Yes on all counts.

To what extent are the problems at Walter Reed the result of privatization of services? Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wants to find out.

From TPM Reader RB:

As I read the reaction/fallout from Ann Coulter’s remarks at CPAC this week I’m annoyed by the entire progressive reaction to it and most of the many other outrages committed on a daily basis by the Republican Party.

Why doesn’t a progressive with an audience say something to the effect “This is who and what the once proud and honorable Republican Party has turned itself into. It is a party of hate, intolerance, incompetence, greed, treason, fanatical, hostile to science and reality, and totally corrupt. They have no honor and no shame. They’re fascists and a cancer on our great nation, plain and simple and this is just another example of that.”

Around here we focus on showing it rather than just saying it. But with Coulter and her ilk, it's probably necessary to just say it from time to time. So, yeah, what RB says pretty much covers it. (Treason is not a charge to throw around lightly, so I'll hedge on that; and we probably flatter ourselves by saying the GOP is fascist, although I agree its fascist tendencies are alarming.)

So which of the Democratic presidential candidates are willing to say it?

Late Update: Not so fast, says TPM Reader FN:

Can someone please explain why a comment from Ann Coulter draws such a flood of responses from progressives? Seems like such a waste. I thought the time was ripe for having substantive political discussions. Yet here we go wringing our hands and expressing moral outrage over a comment from someone who is really a cartoon character. Who cares what she says?

The whole reaction comes across as phoney and pathetic. Instead of demonstrating toughness it, instead, shows weakness. We seem to be trying to perfect our holier than thou, righteous indignation persona. It's fine to learn how to fight back but then we have to learn when to fight back. There is a difference between a bird shot and a cannon ball. Can't we try to focus on building a discussion about the war, health care, climate change and economic disparity and save our new found "toughness" for the major battles?

"If I was Heather Wilson, I'd be thinking about taking a long trip to Baghdad, where the conditions are a little more subdued." --former New Mexico Gov. Dave Cargo, a Republican, on the fallout from the U.S. attorney purges

Former New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who lost her 2006 bid to unseat Rep. Heather Wilson by just 861 votes, has a few things to say about the claims by ousted U.S. Attorney David Iglesias that he was pressured, reportedly by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Wilson herself, to bring criminal indictments before the mid-term elections for political purposes.

In an interview with Heath Haussamen, who blogs on New Mexico politics, Madrid claims that Iglesias may have succumbed to similar internal GOP political pressure in another public corruption case:

In an exclusive interview, Madrid said she wouldn’t be surprised if Iglesias is telling the truth, because she believes Domenici and Wilson may have had a hand in another massive public corruption scandal prosecuted by his office.

She said Iglesias, a Republican, kept her office from having any involvement in prosecution of the state treasurer scandal. She believes that was “probably” done at the urging of Republican operatives and designed to give Wilson fuel to attack Madrid for doing nothing about the scandal.

. . .

Madrid said her office was involved in 2005 in the early stages of the investigation of the treasurer scandal, along with the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department, but the FBI stepped in, took control of the investigation and ordered her to stay away.

Madrid contends that was likely done at the urging of Republicans, who may have been preparing to fight what, at the time, was only a potential Madrid campaign against Wilson. The congresswoman repeatedly attacked Madrid during the campaign for doing nothing about the corruption in the treasurer’s office.

“We were deliberately kept out by the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney and the FBI,” Madrid said, adding that she believes it is likely that Iglesias, Domenici, Wilson and Bush political adviser Karl Rove “had these prosecutions so intertwined with this campaign.”

Madrid's claims are short on specifics; but, given Iglesias' recent charges of political interference, her suspicions certainly seem more plausible than they would have a month ago.

The thing about Iglesias is that his own account of the calls from Wilson and Domenici doesn't cast him in a particularly flattering light. He admits that according to Department of Justice policy he should have notified his superiors of the calls but failed to do so. It also looks like Iglesias was prepared to take the fall and go quietly until Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty testified to Congress that the U.S. attorney dismissals were for performance reasons. Only after he was smeared did Iglesias speak out.

It would have been nice if Iglesias had put the same value on defending the rule of law as he has on defending his own reputation.

Those golden oldies that just keep on giving. Remember the Denver Three? Their civil suit is proceeding, and today the Denver Post reports: "A former White House official who ordered three activists expelled from a 2005 Denver public forum with President Bush says it was White House policy to exclude potentially disruptive guests from Bush's appearances nationwide."

Hard to imagine any high-level heads rolling over the Walter Reed scandal if Don Rumsfeld were still secretary of defense. So give Bob Gates at least some credit, but he's still got his work cut out for him if the Pentagon is littered with Rumsfeld hires like Army Secretary Francis Harvey:

Pentagon officials said Gates was angry that as the scandal unfolded, the Army relieved the commander of Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, who had been in that job for only about half a year, and replaced him with Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the Army surgeon general, who had previously commanded Walter Reed and was said by soldiers, their families and veterans' advocates to have long been aware of problems at the medical complex.

Harvey defended his decision to temporarily appoint Kiley as Walter Reed's commander. He said Kiley called him a few days ago and lambasted The Washington Post's series on the medical center. "He called me and said, 'I'm willing to defend myself. . . . I want to have an opportunity to defend myself, and it was wrong and it was yellow journalism at its worst, and I plan on doing it. Trust me.' " Harvey said. "I said, 'Okay, Kevin.' " Harvey added that Kiley was to be in the job only about a week until they could make a "thoughtful decision on who should replace him."

Okay, Kevin? Now that's leadership.