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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

Democratic senators want to know more about why the President shut down the internal Justice Department investigation into warrantless wiretapping.

The conviction of Stephen Griles, the Interior Department's former No. 2 official, shows why Congress just might want transcripts of any interviews with White House officials about the U.S. attorney purge.

Many of you have probably already seen this, but I just want to flag it for future reference:

The Justice Department also said yesterday that Monica Goodling, a senior counselor to Gonzales who worked closely with Sampson on the firings, took an indefinite personal leave from her job on Monday. A Justice official said that she is still employed there but that it is not clear when she will return.


Goodling was the DOJ liaison to the White House.

KSTP-TV in St. Paul broadcast a nice investigative piece last night on what is being called the "coronation" of the new U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Rachel Paulose.

Since the purge scandal broke, Minnesota readers of TPM have been insisting that we look more closely at the interim appointment of Paulose and her eventual confirmation by the Senate. Paulose was just 33 years old at the time of her appointment. Her previous experience has included time in DOJ's Civil Rights Division and a stint as senior counsel to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, for two months before her interim appointment, according to the Star-Tribune.

Aside from being one of the legal neophytes with strong connections to Bush political appointees at Main Justice who, as McClatchy reported, has landed U.S. attorney positions in the past year, I haven't seen anything yet connecting Paulose directly to the purge, although the circumstances of her predecessor's resignation remain murky.

Still, there's plenty of smoke there. For instance, the Star-Tribune noted that her Senate confirmation was almost derailed because, though Paulose had Administration backing, "she and her supporters had neglected to seek the support of both home-state senators," an oversight so unbelievable as to suggest that perhaps the Administration did not originally intend to submit her nomination for Senate approval but rather planned to rely on the attorney general's appointment authority under the Patriot Act. You can find more on Paulose here.

Regardless, the KSTP report shows that her lack of experience didn't keep Paulose from putting on the dog at her swearing-in, complete with honor guard and choir. There was also reportedly a list compiled of "potential problem reporters" who might attend the event. In an interview with the station, Paulose bobbed and weaved when questioned about the existence of such a list.

It's quite a good report, so go take a look.

A key aspect of the U.S. attorney purge that often seems to get overlooked--by those who argue that the firings were business as usual and no different from the removal of USAs at the beginning of a president's term--is the change to the Patriot Act that was quietly inserted by Sen. Arlen Specter at the behest of the Justice Department.

As close followers of the scandal know, the Patriot Act provision, in essence, transferred the power to appoint interim USAs from the federal district courts to the attorney general and allowed the attorney general to install interim USAs indefinitely, thereby bypassing the Senate confirmation process.

Only the naive or willfully blind would see the Patriot Act amendment as a distinct and separate action from the purge itself. Indeed, vesting such powers in the attorney general was a predicate to the purge, and was one of the very first indications, at least to everyone here at TPM, that the removal of the eight U.S. attorneys was not some random act or unrelated series of acts but a deliberately conceived and executed plan that required time to develop and numerous participants to implement. Otherwise, the Senate confirmation process would have made installing political hacks as USAs difficult and would have provided supporters of the ousted prosecutors with a ready-made platform to challenge the removals publicly.

So when William Moschella, who is now the principal deputy attorney general, recently told McClatchy "that he pursued the changes on his own, without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House," the purpose of his comments was to decouple the Patriot Act provision from the purge itself. Since Moschella was, at the time he pursued the Patriot Act changes, just a mid-level assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, we were supposed to believe that simply because B (the purge) followed A (the Patriot Act change), doesn't mean A caused B or was in any way related to B.

But wait.

From the document dump last night, we learn, again from McClatchy, that Moschella sent an email to other Justice Department officials way back in November 2005 announcing support for the change to the law. Paul has more.

So contrary to earlier assertions, the attorney general was involved in the firings, and higher-ups in the Justice Department knew about the Patriot Act provision.

No surprise there, really. But keep this in mind. Everything the Justice Department has said that later turned out to be false was almost certainly known by the White House to be false, at the time the false statements were made, to the media, and most importantly, to Congress.

Let that sink in.

So many Justice Department scandals, so little time. But in case you missed this yesterday, an account in the Washington Post from an anonymous recipient of a national security letter.

Thou dost protest too loudly.

In McClatchy's piece late yesterday on the whole "voter fraud" mumbo-jumbo that has been animating the Bush Justice Department, this section caught my eye:

Bradley Schlozman, who became the civil rights division’s deputy chief in 2003, agreed in 2005 to reverse the career staff’s recommendations to challenge a Georgia law that would have required voters to pay $20 for photo IDs and in some cases travel as far as 30 miles to obtain the ID card.

A federal judge threw out the Georgia law, calling it an unconstitutional, Jim Crow-era poll tax.

In an interview, Schlozman, who was named interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City in November 2005, said he merely affirmed a subordinate’s decision to overturn the career staff’s recommendations.

He called it "absolutely not true" that he drove out career lawyers. "What I tried to do was to depoliticize the hiring process," Schlozman said. "We hired people across the political spectrum."


I'm no expert on DOJ hiring policies, but how exactly did Schlozman know he was hiring people from across the political spectrum?

If he had said, "We hired people without regard to political affiliation," that would have been close to an airtight denial of political interference in the hiring process. It might not have been true (and the evidence suggests it would not have been true), but it would have been a specific denial of the conduct alleged.

Instead, Schlozman says he made a concerted effort to "depoliticize the hiring process" by hiring "people from across the political spectrum." That certainly seems to suggest that political affiliation was indeed taken into account.

Keep in mind here that we're talking about the hiring of career prosecutors, not political appointees. We're also talking about the Civil Rights Division, which conservatives have long viewed as a hotbed of liberal activism. So any alleged politicization that existed in the division before Bush arrived on the scene is code for too many perceived Democrats (again, DOJ would have no way of directly knowing the political affiliations of its career prosecutors) enforcing the nation's civil rights laws too vigorously.

When a Bush political appointee says he's trying to "depoliticize" something, it's like Fox News claiming to be "fair and balanced."

One thing you can say about Washington is that political courage rises in inverse proportion to the political strength of one's opponent. As Alberto Gonzales (a.k.a., the "walking cadaver") hemorrhages politically, everyone on the Hill is suddenly as fearless as a shark. Republicans say they never liked him, and Democrats (I presume this came from Democrats) give accounts such as this one, from Newsweek:

Recently, a trio of senators—Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy; Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the committee, and Democrat Charles Schumer—sat down with Gonzales in his wood-paneled conference room to discuss the firings of the U.S. attorneys. Gonzales was initially combative and defensive. "Why do I have to prove anything to you?" he demanded at one point, according to a source who was in the room but does not wish to be identified revealing a private conversation. He insisted that only poor performers had been fired. "Everyone was in the bottom tier," he said. "Everyone?" asked Schumer. What about David Iglesias of New Mexico? (The department's internal evaluations had given Iglesias glowing marks.) Gonzales hesitated. "I believe so," he said, but he seemed uncertain. As the meeting was breaking up, Gonzales suddenly switched tacks and seemed to want to be cooperative. "How can we make this better?" he asked. "What can we do?" According to this source, the attorney general seemed to some in the room to be genuinely befuddled.


Gonzales is getting what he deserves, to be sure, but among his opponents there were far fewer profiles in courage before he was mortally wounded.

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