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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

Oh, this is good.

One of the fascinating dynamics in the Justice Department for going on 4 years now has been the tension between the Bush loyalists and those loyal Republicans who still have a shred of decency left. The poster child for the latter category has been James Comey, the deputy attorney general for part of John Ashcroft's tenure, who appointed his old friend Patrick Fitzgerald as special prosecutor to investigate the Plame affair. Comey was also the guy who refused to reauthorize the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, forcing the White House to get Ashcroft to sign off on it from his hospital bed. Bush, as is his way, nicknamed Comey "Cuomo."

Comey is two years removed from DOJ, now serving as general counsel for Lockheed Martin. But, as Josh noted, Comey popped up this week singing the praises of canned U.S. Attorney David Iglesias to the Washington Post: "David Iglesias was one of our finest and someone I had a lot of confidence in as deputy attorney general."

You could almost hear the knives being sharpened.

Then yesterday, as Paul noted, the Bush loyalists fired back, telling the Post that Comey had been consulted by his successor as deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty, about some of the canned prosecutors before McNulty approved the final list.

Ooops. Not so, the Post says today:

In a related matter, administration officials said they were mistaken in saying that Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty consulted his predecessor, James B. Comey, about some of the U.S. attorneys before they were fired. Comey was not consulted, the officials said Saturday.


In a different era, this would call for pistols at dawn. Good stuff.

Sen. Pete "I have no idea what he's talking about" Domenici (R-NM) has had an epiphany and now does have an idea what canned U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was talking about when he said Domenici called him about a high-profile public corruption case in New Mexico shortly before the mid-term elections.

Oh, THAT call.

Well, sure, I called him, Domenici said in statement released to home state media Saturday, but I never told him what course of action I thought he should take, or pressured him, or threatened him in any way. Nonetheless, hindsight being 20/20, I regret making that call. And even though I didn't threaten, pressure, cajole, suggest, hint, wink, or nod, I apologize.

I was waiting for him to say that he's just some old guy who wanders Capitol Hill in his pajamas. Who would take that guy seriously?

Well, when a U.S. Senator--a senior Senator from your own party, no less--calls you about a case, you can be damn sure it's not a social call. Here's what Domenici says transpired on the call:

I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what timeframe we were looking at. It was a very brief conversation, which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period.


What timeframe "we" were looking at? The royal "we." It's just us Republicans here, old boy. Notice too that Domenici's version of events doesn't preclude him having abruptly hung up the phone, as Iglesias claims.

But Domenici knows he screwed up. Otherwise, what's to apologize for? Maybe with a mea culpa, I'm sure the thinking goes, he can put this behind him and move quickly on. Nice touch, that written statement. No follow-up questions. No need to provide a timeline. May get the local reporters off his back for a while.

So many question remain. Here's one: Did the good senator ever have any discussions with Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) about their calls to Iglesias?

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.

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