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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

Solicitor General Paul Clement is reported to be President Bush's choice for acting Attorney General.

Update: The AP is also reporting that a permanent replacement for Gonzales may not be announced before the President leaves for Australia next Monday, which at least suggests that the White House does plan on sending a nomination to the Senate for confirmation, rather than attempting some sort of recess appointment or other vacancy shenanigan. Late Update: As U.S. News' "Washington Whispers" first reported over the weekend, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is being floated as a possible permanent replacement for Gonzales. CNN is now reporting that Chertoff is the "likely" nominee. Considering that Chertoff presided over the Katrina disaster, his nomination as attorney general would be nothing short of unbelievable.

Gonzales presser at 10:30 . . . President to speak at 11:30 . . .

Late Update: President's presser moved back to 11:50.

NYT: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales submitted his resignation Friday. President Bush "grudgingly" accepted it.

More soon . . .

What a day. It's been hard to keep up. Between the Dems calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the attorney general this morning to Sen. Lisa Murkowski abandoning her riverfront property on the Kenai River (thanks to a little outfit called TPMmuckraker, which her staff claimed not to have heard of before now) to FBI Director Robert Mueller's testimony this afternoon, which was devastating to Alberto Gonzales.

But with all that going on, we wanted to dig a little deeper into Gonzales' statements about the Terrorist Surveillance Program which have plunged him into even deeper hot water with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So Paul Kiel and Spencer Ackerman have put together a detailed post on the history of the NSA surveillance program and what precisely the Administration has said about it and what Gonzales' obfuscations may really be about. Call it a grand unified theory of the Gonzales perjury crisis and the warrantless surveillance program.

Go take a look.

The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) plans to sell the Kenai River lot she purchased from politically connected developer Bob Penney back to Penney. The purchase was originally reported by TPMmuckraker's Laura McGann last week.

The Anchorage paper reports:

Murkowski announced the give back a day after a Washington watchdog group filed a 15-page Senate ethics complaint against her, alleging that Penney sold the property well below market value. The transaction amounted to an illegal gift worth between $70,000 and $170,000, depending on how the property was valued, according to the complaint by the National Legal and Policy Center.

Murkowski told reporters in her Capitol office this morning that Penney, a real estate developer who does business in Alaska and Outside, has agreed to buy back the property for the $179,400 purchase price she and husband Verne Martell paid Dec. 22, 2006.


We have the full rundown on the Murkowski deal at TPMtv and a compilation of Laura McGann's reporting at TPMmuckraker.

FBI Director Robert Mueller is testifying this afternoon before the House Judiciary Committee. Spencer Ackerman is providing updates at TPMmuckraker. Among other things, Mueller is being asked about that late night meeting at John Ashcroft's hospital bedside. We'll have more on that soon.

Seattle Times: "Attorney General Alberto Gonzales portrays himself as the piano player in the bordello, unaware of what is going on around him." [Via the KC Star, which has a cute cartoon.]

The Senate Judiciary has issued a subpoena to Karl Rove for him to testify regarding his role in the U.S. Attorneys purge. Obviously, the White House will cite executive privilege and refuse to make Rove available, so we're not going to see Rove under the kleig lights anytime soon. But it's another step toward a long overdue confrontation in the courts on the true scope of executive privilege.

I hate to do a third post on "block cheese," but this is just absurd.

The AP is running a story in which security experts praise the Transportation Security Administration for sending out a bulletin about suspicious items found in passenger luggage even though some of the alleged "incidents" were incorrectly reported by TSA:

Security experts and politicians--even longtime critics--praised the Transportation Security Administration’s warning that terrorists might be testing whether innocent-looking bomb components can be smuggled onto an airplane. . . .

The experts agreed that this judgment holds true even if the four incidents that triggered the warning turn out to have innocent explanations, as two of them – in San Diego and Baltimore – appeared to on Wednesday.


Say what?

First off, the San Diego incident didn't just turn out to have an innocent explanation. In fact, a reasonable person might conclude that there wasn't really any incident at all. The inspectors mistook an ice pack that was leaking for a ice pack stuffed with a clay-like substance similar to the consistency of plastic explosives--a mistake that was recognized on the spot after further inspection.

But even if you live in a perpetual state of paranoia and think that a 60-year-old lady with a leaking ice pack in her luggage constitutes an "incident," how can you possibly praise the TSA for issuing a bulletin about the incident that gets all the facts wrong?

As the San Diego Union-Tribune discovered yesterday when it looked further into the so-called incident, the TSA bulletin said the ice packs were covered in duct tape and had clay inside of them, but local law enforcement said they weren't covered in duct tape and didn't have clay inside of them. “It is a little bit off,” a local official told the paper.

I'm all for TSA being proactive about security (up to a point), but this is just incompetence masquerading as hyper-vigilance. Getting facts wrong, mistaking utterly innocent behavior for threatening behavior, and over-reacting to perceived threats may be worse than doing nothing. It diverts and wastes limited resources and contributes to a panicky atmosphere that skews judgments.

We have to start being smart about security and counterterrorism and stop being so fearful.

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