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

White House agrees to coordinate with the Senate Judiciary Committee on choosing an independent consultant to recover all those lost emails.

Nice. The Senate gets to help pick who will find the emails but the White House still hasn't agreed to let the Senate see the emails once they are found. Ah, compromise.

Update: Speaking of compromise, Fred Fielding has his work cut out for him:

Sources tell NPR that Fielding actually wants to negotiate with Congress about how the interviews [of White House staff] will take place. But Fielding has not been able to persuade President Bush to go along.

Condi takes another one for the team:

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

At a meeting of the president's foreign policy team Tuesday, the administration decided the five Iranians will remain in custody and go through a periodic six-month review used for the 250 other foreign detainees held in Iraq, U.S. officials said. The next review is not expected until July, officials say. . . .

Differences over the five Iranians reflect an emerging divide on how to deal with Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went into the meeting Tuesday advising that the men be freed because they are no longer useful, but after a review of options she went along with the consensus, U.S. officials say. Vice President Cheney's office made the firmest case for keeping them.

Drawing on law enforcement records of phone calls, Newsweek has interesting new details on the circumstances of Bernie Kerik's nomination as secretary of homeland security.

[A]round the time of his nomination, Kerik spoke by phone with two people with whom he had a potentially embarrassing history. According to the records, on Dec. 2, 2004, one day before President George W. Bush announced Kerik's nomination, three phone calls were logged between Kerik and New Jersey businessman Frank DiTommaso. A few weeks earlier, DiTommaso's construction firms had been described in court testimony as mob connected. (DiTommaso and his company have denied wrongdoing.)

Shortly after the nomination, Kerik exchanged several phone calls with Jeannette Pinero, a New York prison guard with whom he had an affair. . . . Similar calls were made before the Dec. 10 announcement that Kerik's nomination would be canceled. Two days before the withdrawal, Kerik and DiTommaso exchanged three calls. On the day the nomination crashed, Kerik and Pinero exchanged three calls; the last one was about an hour before the White House pulled Kerik's nomination. The records also show more than a dozen calls between DiTommaso and Kerik after the withdrawn nomination.

Couple the Newsweek revelations with the Post story today on how the White House fast-tracked the Kerik nomination despite internal concerns about Kerik's background and you start to wonder who is leaking all this stuff. Is it Guiliani opponents trying to dent his presidential campaign, or Guiliani supporters trying to air his abundant dirty laundry sooner rather than later?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, hard at work:

At a recent "prep" for a prospective Sunday talk-show interview, Gonzales's performance was so poor that top aides scrapped any live appearances. During the March 23 session in the A.G.'s conference room, Gonzales was grilled by a team of top aides and advisers—including former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie and former White House lawyer Tim Flanigan—about what he knew about the plan to fire seven U.S. attorneys last fall. But Gonzales kept contradicting himself and "getting his timeline confused," said one participant who asked not to be identified talking about a private meeting. His advisers finally got "exasperated" with him, the source added.

Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) have introduced a bill that would require the intelligence community to produce a NIE on the national security implications of climate change.

We've long been curious about the fate of Thomas Kontogiannis, an alleged co-conspirator in the Duke Cunningham case who has thus far avoided indictment. The North County Times (via War and Piece) delves further into Kontogiannis' background and his long-rumored intelligence connections:

One source with knowledge of the case said long ago that Kontogiannis may never face prosecution. That source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Kontogiannis would get a "pass" because of what he said were the man's relationships with key officials in the upper echelons of the Greek and U.S. governments.

I'm not sure I buy that. What kind of spook connections does it take to earn a get-out-of-jail-free card for bribing a sitting congressman?

Update: My skepticism is with the source's assessment, not with the North County Times piece, which carefully reports that the most likely reason for Kontogiannis' not being indicted yet is that he is cooperating with the government in the investigation spun out from the Duke Cunningham case.

Stepping away from politics for a moment, you might be interested in "Pearls Before Breakfast," the cover story in Washington Post Magazine, which a friend pointed me to this evening. I've been offline for much of the day, so this may already be well-covered ground, but if you missed it, the Post arranged for the violin virtuoso Joshua Bell to play in a DC subway station during the morning rush hour, like any other street musician, and filmed the reaction--or the lack thereof. The only demographic group to redeem itself: the children.

Your Senate majority leader at work, trying to weaken the Highway Beautification Act's billboard regulations--and thwarted by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). (This requires me to invoke the weekend privilege of linking to days-old stories under the guise of reviewing the past week.)

Sadly, I think the politicization of the Department of Justice is going to turn out to be even worse than we may have thought initially. The Boston Globe has a long piece today on Regent University, alma mater of Monica Goodling and scores of other Bush Administration appointees. Here's the part that indicates how long the politicization has been going on and how deeply ingrained it may now be in the department:

Their path to employment was further eased in late 2002, when John Ashcroft, then attorney general, changed longstanding rules for hiring lawyers to fill vacancies in the career ranks.

Previously, veteran civil servants screened applicants and recommended whom to hire, usually picking top students from elite schools.

The change in hiring policies has been particularly devastating to the Civil Rights Division, as the Globe reported last year:

The Bush administration is quietly remaking the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, filling the permanent ranks with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights, according to job application materials obtained by the Globe.

The documents show that only 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003, after the administration changed the rules to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process, have civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77 percent of those who were hired had civil rights backgrounds. . . .

For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected.

Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.

And so it goes. [Thanks to TPM Reader MO for the links.]


When former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged President Bush to make Bernard B. Kerik the next secretary of homeland security, White House aides knew Kerik as the take-charge top cop from Sept. 11, 2001. But it did not take them long to compile an extensive dossier of damaging information about the would-be Cabinet officer.

They learned about questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption. Most disturbing, according to people close to the process, was Kerik's friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime. The businessman had told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties.

Alarmed about the raft of allegations, several White House aides tried to raise red flags. But the normal investigation process was short-circuited, the sources said. Bush's top lawyer, Alberto R. Gonzales, took charge of the vetting, repeatedly grilling Kerik about the issues that had been raised. In the end, despite the concerns, the White House moved forward with his nomination -- only to have it collapse a week later.