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


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.

A former aide, on Sen. Pete Domenici's fateful call to then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias about indicting New Mexico Democrats in time for the mid-term elections: "Pete Domenici has always been concerned about the responsiveness of government both at the federal and state level.”

It's still not clear what specifically prompted the resignations of four of the top administrators in the office of U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose in the Twin Cities, but this incident, reported in the Star Tribune, gives a sense of Paulose's management priorities:

Paulose ordered that an internal memo be prepared for high-ranking Justice Department officials who would be coming to Minneapolis from Washington to highlight the office's high-profile cases, the attorneys said.

Paulose instructed the head of the narcotics section, Andy Dunne, to state in the memo that prosecutors had won convictions that ended drug dealing by St. Paul's Latin Kings gang, they said.

Dunne was told by Paulose to say that the Latin Kings were the biggest gang in St. Paul and that the office's recent convictions would stop the so-called Latin King Nation, the attorneys said.

But Dunne told Paulose he couldn't abide by the request, one of the attorneys said, and when he refused, Dunne was forced to give up his position as chief of the narcotics section. Dunne would not comment Friday.

But let's not get lost in the vagaries of Paulose's management style. The significance of the Paulose case is two-fold. First, her appointment is symptomatic of the Bush Justice Department's preference for "loyal Bushies" over strong, independent, well-qualified prosecutors. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the circumstances of Paulose's appointment may shed new light on the U.S. Attorney purge--namely, was her predecessor on the original list of USAs to be forced out (and what does that say about who was targeted for removal) and was the plan initially to appoint Paulose via the Patriot Act provision that allowed the attorney general to circumvent the Senate confirmation process (despite the Administration's denials that it had any plans to bypass the Senate).

Or as the Star Tribune's Nick Coleman puts it:

Paulose was picked by Gonzales to replace former U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger, a mainstream Republican who resigned unexpectedly, possibly just evading the ax (circumstances suggest that his name was on the original "hit list" of attorneys targeted for replacement, as I explained last week). At the time she was picked, Paulose was an aide to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who has admitted giving false testimony to Congress about "Purge-gate," the scandal over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Paulose worked with those involved in "Purge-gate" at the time the plans were hatched. KSTP reported that Monica Goodling, who resigned Friday as the White House liaison for the Department of Justice, was supposed to have been a part of Paulose's semi-regal investiture ceremony at the University of St. Thomas law school. But Goodling stayed away. Later, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to appear before a Senate committee.

Even if Paulose is just a bit player in the purge drama, she knows all the main characters and keeps popping up in pivotal scenes.

TPM Reader RP, on a winning campaign theme for 2008:

Of all the damage that the Bushies have done, perhaps the worst blow has been to the fundamental sense of ourselves as the nation that "gets things done." We built the Transcontinental Railroad. We put a man on the moon. Our Arsenal of Democracy won World Wars I & II. (I know, I know, the Russians would argue the latter point).

Thanks to the arrogant, hapless Bushies, we are the nation that bellows "Mission Accomplished!" and then gets bogged down in a hopeless, ever-worsening quagmire. We are the nation that suffers a catastrophic loss of an entire region due to hurricane damage, and then flounders helplessly as millions of our fellow citizens give up hope. We are the nation that blusters that its "unacceptable for "evil-doers" to develop nuclear weapons, and then watches helplessly as they go right ahead anyway.

I'm convinced Bush is at 29% because voters perceive him as (increasingly) pathetic, deluded and ineffectual -- a toxic mash-up of Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. The Democrat who picks up this idea and runs with it -- the idea that America is a CAN DO country (and that government can be a part of restoring our national reputation for overcoming challenges) -- will be the one to win.

I think this is mostly right. I would argue that the worst blow dealt by Bush has been to America's reputation, domestically and internationally, as a more or less reliable narrator of the passing parade of world events. That reputation was shattered internationally when we re-elected Bush, but wasn't seriously tarnished domestically until later, beginning with Katrina. That particular loss is worse for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because restoring our self-image as a can-do nation is easier--we simply must start doing again.

But I would be the first to admit that RP's proposed campaign theme is much simpler, more compelling, and would resonate with voters at a deeper emotional level.

WSJ: "In short order, John McCain has gone from Republican presidential front-runner to political death watch."

Will these guys never learn?

The U.S. Attorney purge scandal exploded after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty went to Capitol Hill in February and smeared the professional reputations of the eight fired USAs, who, having gone off quietly into that good night, suddenly reversed course and started defending themselves, which ignited a firestorm that continues to this day.

Which brings us to this morning's New York Times piece on the mass resignation of the administrators in U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose's office in Minnesota:

Ms. Paulose’s defenders at Justice Department headquarters said the criticism of her was unwarranted. They said older lawyers had difficultly dealing with a young, aggressive woman who had tried to put into place policies important to Mr. Gonzales like programs to combat child exploitation.

Got it? The administrators who resigned are a bunch of sexist old men (never mind that one of the four who resigned was a woman) who are soft on child exploitation. We're not told the identities of Paulose's defenders at Main Justice, but it's worth noting that she was briefly an aide to the aforesaid McNulty before her appointment as U.S. Attorney.

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history . . .

The leakers sure have been quiet this weekend. Michael Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, spent almost six hours Friday being interrogated by the staffs of the House and Senate judiciary committees about the U.S. Attorney purge. Per the terms of the agreement for the interview of Elston, staff was not permitted to disclose what transpired behind closed doors. Still, it is remarkable that nothing about the Elston interview has leaked yet, so far as I can tell. I can't help but contrast it with the GOP Congress of the Clinton years, which leaked like a sieve.

NBC's Tom Aspell has a kick-butt report tonight on John McCain's trip to Baghdad.

McCain declared earlier this week on CNN that the media was distorting the conditions on the ground in Iraq and that in fact you could stroll through many Baghdad neighborhoods, a rose-colored account that drew a quick rebuke from CNN's Michael Ware.

Aspell reports that McCain's "stroll" today through a Baghdad market was guarded by 100 American soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships.

In his Dukakis-in-a-tank moment, McCain himself wore a bulletproof vest on his stroll.

Glenn Greenwald hits another one out of the park:

Two of the three leading Republican candidates for President either embrace or are open to embracing the idea that the President can imprison Americans without any review, based solely on the unchecked decree of the President. And, of course, that is nothing new, since the current Republican President not only believes he has that power but has exercised it against U.S. citizens and legal residents in the U.S. -- including those arrested not on the "battlefield," but on American soil.

What kind of American isn't just instinctively repulsed by the notion that the President has the power to imprison Americans with no charges? And what does it say about the current state of our political culture that one of the two political parties has all but adopted as a plank in its platform a view of presidential powers and the federal government that is -- literally -- the exact opposite of what this country is?

Worth reading the whole thing.