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

Kyle Sampson may have resigned as Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, but he's showing signs of not being willing to be scapegoated for the entire U.S. Attorney scandal.

As Paul notes, Sampson's lawyer, former Bush Administration official Bradford Berenson, released a statement late Friday that includes this rat-jumping-ship gem:

The fact that the White House and Justice Department had been discussing this subject for several years was well-known to a number of other senior officials at the Department, including others who were involved in preparing the Department's testimony to Congress.

Sen. Schumer said this week that Sampson would not become the next Scooter Libby, a fall guy for a scheme hatched at the highest levels of the Bush Administration. Sampson seems to be saying the same thing.

TPM Reader JT shares my reaction to last night's McClatchy account of Alberto Gonzales' conference call with U.S. Attorneys:

The Bushie justification of the firings rests entirely on their adamant insistence that the firings were based on poor job performance, even to the point of finding convoluted ways to explain away the consistently positive performance reviews so many were getting right up to the minute they were fired.

So, if Gonzales has now admitted that the public statements about job performance were 'inaccurate', what is left as a rationale for firing the USA's except political reasons? Hasn't he just blown their whole defense here?

As I say, that raised my eyebrows, too. Without calling into question McClatchy's reporting here, because they have had a stellar record on this story, it is hard for me to believe that Gonzales didn't give a very carefully hedged apology that would have stopped short of saying the public statements about job performance were "inaccurate." This will be worth keeping an eye on because JT is right that if accurate this account leaves the Administration's defense in tatters.

In an effort to save his job, Alberto Gonzales apologized to all U.S. attorneys in a conference call today and brought in a veteran of the Ashcroft years as his interim chief of staff. The apology was not for the firings, but for how they were handled, according to McClatchy. and apparently included an apology for "inaccurate public statements about poor job performance." The interim chief of staff is Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who previously served as chief of staff to then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey.

Newsweek: Former White House official says the Vice President's office was "out of control," but Scooter Libby is likely to be pardoned after 2008 election.

McClatchy has updated its latest scoop on the prosecutor purge, adding additional details about Rove's explanation of his role:

[White House spokesperson Dana] Perino offered Rove's account of his dealings with the Justice Department after talking with him by telephone. She said Rove routinely passed along complaints about various U.S. attorneys to the Justice Department and then-White House counsel Miers.

Among the complaints that Rove relayed were concerns among Republican Party officials in various jurisdictions that the Justice Department was not being aggressive in pursuing allegations of election fraud by Democrats. Such allegations by Republicans were a particular concern in New Mexico and Washington.

Rove acknowledged that he personally complained to Miers that "voter fraud cases were not being treated as a priority" by the Justice Department, Perino said. He also passed along complaints about Iglesias that he had heard going back as far as 2004.

Emphasis mine.

I doubt we'll be hearing much more from New Mexico GOP Chairman Allen Weh anytime soon, after he fingered Karl Rove in the sequence of events that led to the dismissal of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. But Weh did have one more comment for New Mexico blogger Heath Haussamen, a bit of advice really: "The story is about an incompetent United States attorney, and that’s where I think your focus needs to be."

Because we all know how determined the Bush Administration is to weed incompetence from its ranks. Take, for example, the attorney general himself:

[S]everal Washington lawyers and GOP strategists with close ties to the White House said last week that lawmakers and conservative lawyers are nervous that Gonzales may not be up to the job.

"This attorney general doesn't have anybody's confidence," said one GOP adviser to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could be candid. "It's the worst of Bush -- it's intense loyalty for all the wrong reasons. There will be other things that come up, and we don't have a guy in whom we can trust."

Yet we are supposed to believe the claims that "performance-related problems" are behind the purge. Of all the possible cover stories for a political purge, could they have come up with a less plausible one?

I posted yesterday about the Pentagon's role in clandestine activities being used by the Bush Administration as a way to work around congressional oversight requirements. National Journal has a piece out suggesting impetus for changes to the Defense Department's intelligence apparatus may be in the works and comes from within the Pentagon itself:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is considering a plan to curtail the Pentagon's clandestine spying activities, which were expanded by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, after the 9/11 attacks. The undercover work allowed military personnel to collect intelligence about terrorists and to recruit spies in foreign countries independently of the CIA and without much congressional oversight.

Former military and intelligence officials, including those involved in an ongoing and largely informal debate about the military's forays into espionage, said that Gates, a former CIA director, is likely to "roll back" several of Rumsfeld's controversial initiatives. This could include changing the mission of the Pentagon's Strategic Support Branch, an intelligence-gathering unit comprising Special Forces, military linguists, and interrogators that Rumsfeld set up to report directly to him. The unit's teams work in many of the same countries where CIA case officers are trying to recruit spies, and the military and civilian sides have clashed as a result. CIA officers serving abroad have been roiled by what they see as the Pentagon's encroachment on their dominance in the world of human intelligence-gathering.

Let's be clear here though. Reducing the Pentagon role in human intelligence gathering is not the same thing as closing the purported loophole that the Bush Administration is reportedly using to circumvent the congressional intelligence committees.

Late update: The New York Times has more on some of the intelligence-related changes (many of them merely cosmetic) being undertaken by Bob Gates.