Saturday, May 12, 2007
WASHINGTON, May 11 — Two years ago, Robin C. Ashton, a seasoned criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, learned from her boss that a promised promotion was no longer hers.
“You have a Monica problem,” Ms. Ashton was told, according to several Justice Department officials. Referring to Monica M. Goodling, a 31-year-old, relatively inexperienced lawyer who had only recently arrived in the office, the boss added, “She believes you’re a Democrat and doesn’t feel you can be trusted.”
Ms. Ashton’s ouster — she left the Executive Office for United States Attorneys for another Justice Department post two weeks later — was a critical early step in a plan that would later culminate in the ouster of nine United States attorneys last year.
Ms. Goodling would soon be quizzing applicants for civil service jobs at Justice Department headquarters with questions that several United States attorneys said were inappropriate, like who was their favorite president and Supreme Court justice. One department official said an applicant was even asked, “Have you ever cheated on your wife?”
Ms. Goodling also moved to block the hiring of prosecutors with résumés that suggested they might be Democrats, even though they were seeking posts that were supposed to be nonpartisan, two department officials said.
And she helped maintain lists of all the United States attorneys that graded their loyalty to the Bush administration, including work on past political campaigns, and noted if they were members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.
By the time Ms. Goodling resigned in April — after her role in the firing of the prosecutors became public and she had been promoted to the role of White House liaison — she and other senior department officials had revamped personnel practices affecting employees from the top of the agency to the bottom.
The people who spoke about Ms. Goodling’s role at the department, including eight current Justice Department lawyers and staff, did so only on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Several added that they found her activities objectionable and damaging to the integrity of the department.
Ms. Goodling, who is under investigation by the department’s inspector general and ethics office, as well as Congress, has declined to testify before a House panel, citing her Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid making self-incriminating statements. Her lawyer, John M. Dowd, declined to comment on Friday.
A judge in Federal District Court in Washington signed an order Friday to grant Ms. Goodling limited immunity, which will allow House investigators to compel her to answer questions.
Justice Department officials declined to respond to questions about Ms. Goodling’s actions and refused to allow some agency employees to speak with a reporter about them.
“Whether or not Ms. Goodling engaged in prohibited personnel practices is the subject of an ongoing investigation,” a written statement said. “Given the ongoing nature of the investigation, we are unable to comment on the allegations.”
H. E. Cummins III, one of the fired prosecutors, said Justice Department officials should have recognized that Ms. Goodling’s strategy was flawed from the start.
“She was inexperienced, way too naïve and a little overzealous,” said Mr. Cummins, a Republican from Arkansas. “She might have somehow figured that what she was doing was the right thing. But a more experienced person would understand you don’t help the party by trying to put political people in there. You put the best people you can find in there.”
Ms. Goodling, now 33, arrived at the department at the start of the Bush administration after working as an opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Her legal experience was limited; she had graduated in 1999 from Regent University School of Law, which was founded by Pat Robertson. Deeply religious and politically conservative, Ms. Goodling seemed to believe that part of her job was to bring people with similar values into the Justice Department, several former colleagues said.
She joined the department in the press office. Soon after, two lawyers said, Ms. Goodling complained that staff members in Puerto Rico had used rap music in a public service announcement intended to discourage gun crime.
“That is just outrageous,” she told one department lawyer. “How could they use government money for an ad that featured rap music? That kind of music glorifies violence.”
Ms. Goodling’s shift to the executive office, which oversees budgets, management and performance evaluations of United States attorneys, occurred as officials in the White House and Justice Department were considering replacing a number of the top prosecutors. The first lists of possible targets had already been drawn up. But while those lists were being refined, Ms. Goodling, who would become deputy director of the executive office, was quietly helping make other changes.
In addition to making clear that she wanted Ms. Ashton out, a Justice Department employee still in that office said, Ms. Goodling took actions that encouraged a second experienced prosecutor, Kelly Shackelford, to move on. James B. Comey, who served as deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005, said Ms. Ashton and Ms. Shackelford were excellent lawyers, whose politics he did not know nor would he ever have asked. Ms. Ashton and Ms. Shackelford declined to comment.
Ms. Goodling helped recruit new office managers who included John Nowacki, another Regent University graduate, who had little experience as a prosecutor, but had previously served as the director of legal policy at a conservative research group, the Free Congress Foundation.
She also insisted that she be given final approval in hiring assistant United States attorneys in offices where there was an interim chief prosecutor. Interim United States attorneys always had to seek permission for hiring, but the review was typically lower level and involved checking that sufficient slots were available, current and former employees said.
But Ms. Goodling’s reviews delayed hiring decisions for weeks or months, creating problems in busy offices, and her concerns at times appeared to be for partisan reasons.
In one case, Ms. Goodling told a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia that she was not signing off on an applicant who had graduated from Howard University Law School, and then worked at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“He appeared, based on his résumé, to be a liberal Democrat,” Ms. Goodling told Jeffrey A. Taylor, the acting United States attorney in Washington, according to two of the department employees who asked not to be named. “That wasn’t what she was looking for.”
Mr. Taylor ultimately found a way to go around Ms. Goodling in hiring the applicant.
She appeared to take similar concerns about political leanings into account when making decisions about promotions and special assignments for Justice Department lawyers.
Robert Nicholson, a career lawyer from the Southern District of Florida, was asked some unusual questions when he applied for a post at the Justice Department headquarters, according to two department lawyers, including Margaret M. Chiara, the former chief prosecutor Western Michigan.
“Which Supreme Court justice do you most admire and why? Which legislator do you most admire and why? And which president do you most admire and why?” Mr. Nicholson was asked by Ms. Goodling, according to Ms. Chiara and the other lawyer, who asked not to be named.
Mr. Nicholson, who did not get the job, did not dispute the account, but he declined to comment, citing the investigation of Ms. Goodling.
In another instance, two Justice Department officials said, Ms. Goodling decided she did not like the applicants for one prestigious posting at department headquarters and decided to offer the job to David C. Woll Jr., a young lawyer who she knew was a Republican. In the interview, a department official said, she asked Mr. Woll if he had ever cheated on his wife. Mr. Woll declined to comment for this article.
Last month, a group of department employees wrote anonymously to Congressional investigators alleging that political considerations were influencing the selection of summer interns and applicants for the Attorney General’s Honors Program, which hires promising lawyers right out of law school. The letter did not say if Ms. Goodling was involved in the process. Department officials declined to comment on the matter.
Hundreds of applications for the honors slots were winnowed by career lawyers, then reviewed by top political appointees, who removed many candidates, the letter said. “Most of those struck from the list had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for ‘liberal’ causes, or otherwise appeared to have ‘liberal’ leanings,” the letter said.
Ms. Goodling worked less than a year at the executive office, then moved to the attorney general’s office, where she became the White House liaison and collected a $133,000 annual salary, according to federal records. She insisted that she retain her power to review hiring of assistant United States attorneys, two department employees said.
Her mandate over hiring expanded significantly in March 2006, when Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales signed a confidential memorandum delegating to her and D. Kyle Sampson, his former chief of staff, the power to appoint or fire all department political appointees other than the United States attorneys. That included interim United States attorneys and heads of the divisions that handle civil rights, public corruption, environmental crimes and other matters.
At the same time, Ms. Goodling, Mr. Sampson and Mr. Nowacki, according to e-mail released to Congressional investigators, were helping prepare the final list of United States attorneys to be dismissed. Ms. Goodling was also calling around the country trying to identify up-and-coming lawyers — and good Republicans — who could replace them, said one Justice Department official who received such a call.
Mr. Comey said that if the accusations about Ms. Goodling’s partisan actions were true, the damage was deep and real.
“I don’t know how you would put that genie back in the bottle, if people started to believe we were hiring our A.U.S.A.s (Assistant United States Attorneys) for political reasons,” he said at a House hearing this month. “I don’t know that there’s any window you can go to to get the department’s reputation back if that kind of stuff is going on.”
Friday, May 11, 2007
Immigration: Getting the Facts Straight
Fighting them over here, so we don't have to fight them over there. Home grown Terrorism gets short media attention.
By Roberto Lovato, New America Media
Posted on May 10, 2007, Printed on May 11, 2007
As cities and towns across the country watched the immigrant rights marches last week, some saw a spike in violent attacks targeting immigrants. In separate incidents, authorities arrested groups and individuals caught stockpiling grenades, semi-automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in preparation for attack on immigrants. Immigrant rights advocates say the series of incidents and reports indicates what they are calling a very dangerous trend that they believe is fueled by the anti-immigrant climate.
In addition to the well-reported incidents involving police violence against immigrants in Los Angeles, last week's less publicized incidents and reports involving actual and potential violence against immigrants and their supporters included:
* The arrest and indictment of six members of the Alabama Free Militia who, according to federal authorities, were allegedly preparing to attack Mexican immigrants near Birmingham, Ala. with grenades, semi-automatic weapons and 2,500 rounds of ammunition confiscated during a recent raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
* Washington, D.C., area police arrested Tyler J. Froatz Jr., a 24 year-old man wielding a gun as he allegedly attacked marchers at a local immigration rally last Tuesday. U.S. Park police say Froatz had two knives, a hammer, a flare gun, a taser stun gun and pepper spray when they captured him. A subsequent police search of Froatz's apartment yielded 15 guns, a Molotov cocktail, a grenade and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, according to authorities.
* An early morning fire last Thursday at Casa de Maryland, a day-labor center near Gaithersburg, Md. was declared an arson incident by Montgomery County fire investigators. Representatives of Casa de Maryland, which received regular hate phone calls and emails prior to the incident, were reported in The Washington Post as calling the incident a hate crime and a "natural consequence to the ongoing debate over immigration." County executive Isaiah Leggett called it "shameful and despicable."
Each of these incidents represents an alarming development in and of themselves. But together, advocates like Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, say they represent a potentially catastrophic turn in the already heated politics of immigration. "This is very dangerous and deeply troubling - but not a surprise," says Salas, whose organization has documented an increase in hate crimes in the Los Angeles area. "These crimes are not just happening because of the organized hate groups," adds Salas. "It's also happening because of the (anti-immigrant) climate created by irresponsible politicians and media personalities like Lou Dobbs who use their bully pulpits ... against a specific population. This gives the green light to every crazy to do physical harm to immigrants as if it's their civic duty."
She and other immigrant leaders fear that the lack of official condemnation of, and the lack of media attention to, these violent attacks against immigrants has created a national numbness to threats to immigrant life.
With the exception of the LAPD violence, little attention has been paid to the other incidents across the country, outside of a few local stories (in Los Angeles, Washington, Maryland and Birmingham) and a few Spanish and other foreign language reports. And, with the exception of condemnations of the police incident by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Congresswoman Hilda Solis and other elected officials, no single politician of national stature or presidential candidate has said anything about what some analysts say is the exponential growth of violence against immigrants. A report released last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and hate crimes, found that, "The last two years have seen the birth of at least 144 'nativist extremist' groups -- organizations that do not merely target immigration policies they don't agree with, but instead confront or harass individual immigrants."
Commenting on what she considers the dangerous inversion of values behind the attacks, Salas said, "Because it's immigrants being threatened and targeted with violence, this is not a big story. It's only a story for immigrants."
Roberto Lovato, a frequent Nation contributor, is a New York-based writer with New America Media.
U.S. Generals Speak Out against Bush Administration
Right Wing Already Going on the Offensive Against Michael Moore's new film: SICKO.
May 10th, 2007 4:19 am
Michael Moore In Trouble For Cuba Trip
Treasury Investigation; Moore Took Sept. 11 Workers To Banned Island For Treatment
(AP) Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for taking ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers to Cuba for a segment in his upcoming health-care documentary "SiCKO," The Associated Press has learned.
The investigation provides another contentious lead-in for a provocative film by Moore, a fierce critic of President Bush. In the past, Moore's adversaries have fanned publicity that helped the filmmaker create a new brand of opinionated blockbuster documentary.
"SiCKO" promises to take the health-care industry to task the way Moore confronted America's passion for guns in "Bowling for Columbine" and skewered Bush over his handling of Sept. 11 in "Fahrenheit 9/11."
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control notified Moore in a letter dated May 2 that it was conducting a civil investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. A copy of the letter was obtained Tuesday by the AP.
"This office has no record that a specific license was issued authorizing you to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba," Dale Thompson, OFAC chief of general investigations and field operations, wrote in the letter to Moore.
In February, Moore took about 10 ailing workers from the Ground Zero rescue effort in Manhattan for treatment in Cuba, said a person working with the filmmaker on the release of "SiCKO." The person requested anonymity because Moore's attorneys had not yet determined how to respond.
Moore, who scolded Bush over the Iraq war during the 2003 Oscar telecast, received the letter Monday, the person said. "SiCKO" premieres May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and debuts in U.S. theaters June 29.
Moore declined to comment, said spokeswoman Lisa Cohen.
After receiving the letter, Moore arranged to place a copy of the film in a "safe house" outside the country to protect it from government interference, said the person working on the release of the film.
Treasury officials declined to answer questions about the letter. "We don't comment on enforcement actions," said department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise.
The letter noted that Moore applied Oct. 12, 2006, for permission to go to Cuba "but no determination had been made by OFAC." Moore sought permission to travel there under a provision for full-time journalists, the letter said.
According to the letter, Moore was given 20 business days to provide OFAC with such information as the date of travel and point of departure; the reason for the Cuba trip and his itinerary there; and the names and addresses of those who accompanied him, along with their reasons for going.
Potential penalties for violating the embargo were not indicated. In 2003, the New York Yankees paid the government $75,000 to settle a dispute that it conducted business in Cuba in violation of the embargo. No specifics were released about that case.
"SiCKO" is Moore's follow-up to 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11," a $100 million hit criticizing the Bush administration over Sept. 11. Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" won the 2002 Oscar for best documentary.
A dissection of the U.S. health-care system, "SiCKO" was inspired by a segment on Moore's TV show "The Awful Truth," in which he staged a mock funeral outside a health-maintenance organization that had declined a pancreas transplant for a diabetic man. The HMO later relented.
At last September's Toronto International Film Festival, Moore previewed footage shot for "SiCKO," presenting stories of personal health-care nightmares. One scene showed a woman who was denied payment for an ambulance ride after a head-on collision because it was not pre-approved.
Moore's opponents have accused him of distorting the facts, and his Cuba trip provoked criticism from conservatives including former Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, who assailed the filmmaker in a blog at National Review Online.
"I have no expectation that Moore is going to tell the truth about Cuba or health care," wrote Thompson, the subject of speculation about a possible presidential run. "I defend his right to do what he does, but Moore's talent for clever falsehoods has been too well documented." (Editor's NOTE: I find this to be hilarious. Clever falsehoods? What does this mean? I think Thompson means that what Michael Moore says is True, and the right wing can't find a way to disprove it, so they cast aspersions without substantiation. THAT my friend, is a CLEVER FALSEHOOD.)
The timing of the investigation is reminiscent of the firestorm that preceded the Cannes debut of "Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the festival's top prize in 2004. The Walt Disney Co. refused to let subsidiary Miramax release the film because of its political content, prompting Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein to release "Fahrenheit 9/11" on their own.
The Weinsteins later left Miramax to form the Weinstein Co., which is releasing "SiCKO." They declined to comment on the Treasury investigation, said company spokeswoman Sarah Levinson Rothman.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove's, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.
In one of the letters that Sampson drafted, dated February 23, 2007, the Justice Department told four Senate Democrats it was not aware of any role played by senior White House adviser Rove in attempting to name Griffin to the U.S. attorney post. A month later, the Justice Department apologized in writing to the Senate Democrats for the earlier letter, saying it had been inaccurate in denying that Rove had played a role.
Brad Berenson, an attorney for Sampson, said in an interview that his client did not intend to mislead Congress. Sampson, he said, signed off on the February 23 letter based on representations made by the White House that it was accurate.
The withheld e-mails show that Sampson's draft was forwarded for review to Chris Oprison, an associate White House counsel, who approved the language saying that Justice was not aware of Rove having played any role in supporting Griffin. But an earlier e-mail from Sampson to Oprison that has already been made public indicates that the two men discussed Rove and then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers as being at the forefront of Griffin's nomination.
Several of the e-mails that the Bush administration is withholding from Congress, as well as papers from the White House counsel's office describing other withheld documents, were made available to National Journal by a senior executive branch official, who said that the administration has inappropriately kept many of them from Congress.
The senior official said that Gonzales, in preparing for testimony before Congress, has personally reviewed the withheld records and has a responsibility to make public any information he has about efforts by his former chief of staff, other department aides, and White House officials to conceal Rove's role.
"If [Gonzales] didn't know everything that was going on when it went down, that is one thing," this official said. "But he knows and understands chapter and verse. If there was an effort within Justice and the White House to mislead Congress, it is his duty to disclose that to Congress. As the country's chief law enforcement official, he has a higher duty to disclose than to protect himself or the administration."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto denied that the White House was withholding records in the Justice Department's possession, and he said that Gonzales could make many of them public at any time. "The White House is neither guiding nor directing the Justice Department's decisions on privileged documents," Fratto said. "They make those decisions on their own."
Two senior administration officials told National Journal they were frustrated with decisions by Gonzales not to release some of the documents held by the Justice Department. One of the officials charged that "Gonzales is doing this to save his own neck," at the expense of the administration. The same official said that senior aides to Gonzales have been refusing to turn over many relevant documents to Congress, and that the attorney general's top aides have been selectively leaking portions of them to the media to portray themselves in a favorable light.
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., subpoenaed the Justice Department, demanding all e-mails between department officials and Rove and others at the White House regarding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.
In a May 2 letter to Gonzales, Leahy said that the committee was subpoenaing the records because "the department's production of documents has been selective and incomplete.... In addition, to date, the department has yet to provide the committee with... any assurance that a preservation order was issued to prevent the loss or destruction of documents."
Separately, six senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- complained to Gonzales last week that they had not been told anything about a confidential order he signed in March 2006, which delegated the authority to hire and fire many of the department's most senior political appointees to Sampson and to Monica Goodling, who at the time was the Justice Department's liaison to the White House.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was infuriated that he knew nothing of the existence of the order until it was disclosed by National Journal.
"Pardon me if I raise my voice," Specter said.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd denied that the department was withholding any records from Congress to conceal wrongdoing by administration officials. "The Justice Department has already turned over 6,000 pages of documents and e-mails to House and Senate committees and voluntarily provided for interviews of numerous senior DOJ officials," Boyd said.
In earlier correspondence with Congress, the department said it had not turned over many documents that Congress had requested because of "confidentiality and privacy" concerns; it also said it would not turn over documents related to answering queries from Congress and the press about the U.S. attorney firings.
Fratto, the White House spokesperson, said, "No White House documents are available except under the conditions offered by White House counsel Fred Fielding to the Judiciary committees." Fielding has offered to allow Congress to interview Rove and other White House officials on the condition that they wouldn't be required to provide formal testimony under oath and that no transcript would be made of what they said. Fratto said that if Congress agreed to those conditions, the White House "would make available the relevant documents at that time."
In the interim, Fratto said, "the White House retains its rights and privileges over those documents."
A senior Justice Department official said in an interview that it was the discovery of a December 19, 2006, e-mail from Sampson to Oprison -- in which Sampson wrote that "getting [Griffin] appointed was important" to Rove and to then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers -- that prompted the Justice Department to repudiate the February 23 letter to four Senate Democrats.
The February 23 letter, signed by acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling, stated, "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin," and added that the department "is not aware of anyone lobbying, either inside or outside of the administration, for Mr. Griffin's appointment."
Sampson testified before Congress that he drafted the February 23 letter even though he had conferred with the White House about appointing Griffin. Sampson testified that he included the language about Rove not being involved because he didn't know for a fact that Rove was pushing for his former aide's appointment.
"I knew that [Rove deputies] Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings had expressed interest in promoting Mr. Griffin for appointment to be U.S. attorney, and I assumed, because they reported to Karl Rove, that he was interested in that," Sampson said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 29. "But later in February, when I participated in the drafting of that [February 23] letter, I did not remember then ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it. I don't remember now ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it. I'm not sure whether Mr. Rove was supportive of Mr. Griffin's appointment."
Berenson, Sampson's attorney, says that Sampson consulted with the White House before including the language in the February 23 letter to Congress that the Justice Department was "not aware of Karl Rove playing a role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin." Berenson said, "Kyle didn't want to traffic in assumptions, so he circulated the letter to the White House for confirmation whether what he believed to be true was accurate or not. He drafted the letter according to his understanding of the facts, and he circulated it beforehand to other people for clearance to assure that it accorded with their understanding of the facts."
The withheld e-mails obtained by National Journal show that on February 23, as he was working on a final draft of the letter, Sampson consulted with Oprison. "Chris, please review this version," Sampson asked in one e-mail regarding the draft.
Fratto, the White House spokesman, said in an interview that Oprison "had no reason to believe" that the reference to Rove was inaccurate and cleared the letter. Asked about the December 19 e-mail in which Sampson told Oprison that Griffin's appointment was important to Rove and Miers, Fratto said: "Chris did not recall Karl's interest when he reviewed the letter."
A congressional investigator questioned whether the White House counsel's office would sign off on the letter without asking Rove himself whether it was accurate. The investigator also noted that publicly released Justice Department records show that Taylor and Jennings, both top aides to Rove, worked closely with Griffin to have him installed as U.S. attorney. In response Fratto said: "We have no record of that letter ever leaving the White House counsel's office."
Oprison, in turn, consulted with White House Counsel Fred Fielding and Deputy White House Counsel Bill Kelley in approving the draft of the letter, according to White House records.
Sampson also played a central role in the drafting of a January 31, 2007, letter from acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling to Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., implying that the White House had never contemplated using an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Act that would allow it to install Griffin as a U.S. attorney without having Griffin undergo Senate confirmation. Gonzales and Sampson have since testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that they did indeed consider using the PATRIOT Act to install Griffin as a federal prosecutor.
The withheld records show that Oprison assisted Sampson in drafting the January 31 letter. Previously disclosed Justice Department records show that Sampson and Oprison had worked closely together in devising the original plan to install Griffin as U.S. attorney under the PATRIOT Act provisions.
Bud Cummins, who was fired as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas to make room for Griffin, has told the House Judiciary Committee that he personally contacted senior Justice Department officials on January 19, 2007, the day after Gonzales testified to Congress on the firing of Cummins and seven other U.S. attorneys.
Cummins said he warned department officials of very serious "misleading statements" about the U.S. attorney firings. Foremost among his concerns was that Gonzales had said that the Justice Department would never utilize the PATRIOT Act to install new U.S. attorneys by circumventing the Senate confirmation process. Cummins wrote the House Judiciary Committee that he believed that Gonzales's testimony was incorrect because both Griffin and a senior Justice Department official had told him that consideration had indeed been given to using the PATRIOT Act.
A senior Justice Department official told him, Cummins said, that using the PATRIOT Act to install Griffin "might have been the White House plan," but the White House had "never read DOJ into that plan." Cummins said he replied, "If that was the case, then we had better gag Tim Griffin, because Griffin was telling too many people … that he could stay as [U.S. attorney] whether he was ever appointed or not."
Gonzales had testified at the January 18 hearing: "Let me publicly sort of pre-empt perhaps a question you're going to ask me, and that is, I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed United States attorney.... I think a United States attorney,... as the law enforcement leader, my representative in the community;... has greater imprimatur of authority, if in fact that person's been confirmed by the Senate."
A senior Justice Department official said that the statement was truthful because by then Gonzales had abandoned the idea of using the PATRIOT Act to permanently install Griffin, and he was speaking about future appointments.
But despite Cummins's warning, Gonzales's testimony, and department officials' own knowledge that the PATRIOT Act had been discussed as a way to install Griffin, senior Justice Department officials continued to make claims to Congress that the Bush administration had never contemplated using the PATRIOT Act to bypass the confirmation process.
On January 31, 2007, Hertling wrote Pryor to say that "not once" had the Bush "administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process" by exploiting the PATRIOT Act. "As the Attorney General has stated to you," Hertling wrote, "the Administration is committed to having a Senate confirmed United States Attorney for all 94 districts. At no time has the Administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process by appointing an interim United States Attorney and then refusing to move forward... on the selection, nomination and confirmation of a new United States Attorney. Not once."
In drafting the letter, Sampson consulted with Sara Taylor, the White House political director and an aide to Rove. Taylor had been aware of considerations that the PATRIOT Act might be invoked to permanently install Griffin, according to withheld administration papers. In an e-mail -- among those that the Justice Department has withheld from Congress -- Taylor wrote: "I'm concerned we imply that we'll pull down Griffin's nomination should Pryor object."
The senior executive branch official who read the e-mail said it was significant because Taylor signed off on the letter despite the fact that Taylor, Oprison, and other White House officials knew that the administration had indeed considered using the PATRIOT Act to make Griffin a U.S. attorney.
Fratto said he believed that the e-mail showed that Taylor wanted to use the Senate confirmation process to have Griffin made U.S. attorney without using the PATRIOT Act. "We battle with the Senate with nominations every day," Fratto said. "It is very important to us.... That's what Sara was saying: 'We shouldn't imply we're willing to walk away from the nomination.'"
Berenson said that the letter was technically accurate because Sampson and Oprison never ultimately implemented the plan to install Griffin as U.S. attorney through the PATRIOT Act provision. "The principals never adopted it, and it was never done," Berenson said. "The statement in the letter is accurate."
Griffin faced an uphill battle to win Senate confirmation because, in addition to having served as an aide to Rove, he had served as the research director of the Republican National Committee in 2004, when he had been in charge of opposition research efforts against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. He had been involved in similar efforts against Al Gore four years earlier as the RNC's deputy research director.
Griffin's supporters have said that he was highly qualified to be a U.S. attorney because he had served in the Judge Advocate General Corps in the U.S. Army Reserve, and briefly was a special assistant U.S. attorney.
Pryor first raised questions about Cummins's departure as U.S. attorney. The senator had heard that, contrary to claims that Cummins had resigned voluntarily, the prosecutor had been pushed out to make room for Griffin, Pryor's chief of staff Bob Russell said in an interview.
Pryor later became suspicious that the Bush administration was attempting to bypass the Senate confirmation process by invoking the PATRIOT Act. The special authority, granted to the president, allowed interim U.S. attorneys to continue in their job indefinitely without Senate confirmation to help prosecute the war on terrorism.
Pryor, who had voted for the authority, was upset that the original purpose was now being abused to circumvent the Senate and avoid a confirmation vote on politically contentious nominees such as Griffin. He was especially upset because he had been one of only six Democratic senators to vote for Gonzales's confirmation-a vote that sparked criticism from liberal interest groups. As he saw it, he had stuck his neck out for Gonzales with his vote.
On December 15, 2006, Pryor spoke to then-White House Counsel Miers and Gonzales about the issue, Russell said. The discussion left Pryor with the impression that if Griffin was named U.S. attorney, his name would be formally sent to the Senate for confirmation.
But White House and Justice Department officials, afraid that Griffin would not be confirmed, asked Cummins to resign more quickly so that they could name Griffin as an interim U.S. attorney, which under the PATRIOT Act would allow him to forego a confirmation vote in the Senate.
On December 19, 2006, four days after Pryor and Gonzales spoke, Sampson e-mailed Oprison with a strategy to have Griffin stay permanently as U.S. attorney: "I think we should gum this to death," Sampson wrote in an e-mail turned over to Congress, "ask the Senators to give Tim a chance. meet with him. give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. they ultimately say, 'no never' (and the longer they forestall the better). Then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in 'good faith' of course."
By that time, Griffin would be able to serve out the remainder of the Bush administration because of his appointment as interim U.S. attorney under the emergency provisional authority of the PATRIOT Act.
Sampson added in his e-mail: "The only thing really at work here is a repeal of the AG's appointment authority. There is some risk that we'll lose that authority, but if we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it."
Sampson concluded in the e-mail: "I'm not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.," referring to Miers and Rove.
The next day, on December 20, Cummins formally resigned as U.S. attorney and Griffin was named as his interim replacement. Cummins said in an interview that officials at Justice sped up the timetable on his departure, going so far as to call him on a cellphone when he was on a hunting trip with his son to say he must leave on December 20.
A spokesman for the Justice Department said: "To the extent Kyle Sampson in his e-mail suggested there was an attempt to circumvent the process, this was dismissed by the Attorney General and does not represent the views or final actions of the Department as our record demonstrates."
Gonzales, during his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked whether he would have invoked the PATRIOT Act to permanently install Griffin as U.S. attorney. He replied: "I never liked this idea. I wouldn't consider it and didn't consider it." But later in his testimony, Gonzales said he dropped the idea only after he had spoken to Pryor and determined that it was politically untenable to move forward.
In one of the e-mails that the White House has withheld from Congress, and obtained by National Journal, Sampson wrote to six other senior Justice Department officials and derided Pryor's letter: "The PDF below is an outrageous letter we got from Sen. Pryor; we don't think it has hit the press yet."
Sampson said that the Justice Department had been asked to "respond to the allegation that we troglodytes discrimatorialy [sic] passed over the FASU [First Assistant U.S. Attorney] because she is apparently a mother out on maternity leave."
In fact, a Justice Department spokesperson had told the press, and senior Justice officials had told Pryor in a private meeting, that although it was the common practice when a U.S. attorney resigned to name the first assistant U.S. attorney in the office as the interim, they had not done so in the case of Cummins's departure because his first assistant, Jane Duke, was about to go on maternity leave.
But other Justice Department records show that Sampson and the White House had decided to name Griffin as a U.S. attorney in June 2006 even before Duke knew she was pregnant. And the records show that they attempted to name Griffin as an interim U.S. attorney to either enhance the possibility that he would be confirmed by the Senate or to circumvent Senate confirmation completely.
Cummins said in a letter to Congress that after he heard the claims that Duke had not been named as his interim successor because of her pregnancy, he immediately called a senior Justice Department official to complain that the assertion was untrue:
"I told [the senior official] that most people in our relatively small legal community had instantly mocked that statement because it was obvious Tim Griffin had been here for months for the purpose of taking over on my departure [and] because no person was aware of any conversations or communications that might demonstrate that appointing the First Assistant was EVER a consideration."
-- Click here for more coverage of the Justice Department from Murray Waas.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 is, without question, the single worst law enacted during the Bush presidency, and is one of the most destructive laws passed in the last several decades. It is not merely a bad law. It vests in the President the power to detain people indefinitely with no meaningful opportunity to contest the government's accusations. That is the very power the Founders sought first and foremost to prohibit.
More significantly, whether a country permits its political leaders to imprison people arbitrarily and with no process is one of the few defining attributes dividing free and civilized countries from lawless tyrannies. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it in his 1789 letter to Thomas Paine: "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." To vest the President with the power to imprison people indefinitely with no charges is fundamentally to transform the type of country we are.
House Democrats are apparently now debating whether to vote on a bill to restore habeas corpus. Matt Stoller provides some of the legislative details and information needed to pressure them to do so, and he explains why quick action is required. This morning, The New York Times and even The Washington Post editorialized in favor of habeas restoration. It would be a profound -- and truly inexcusable -- abdication of Democrats' responsibilities for them to do anything other then devote full-scale efforts to restoring habeas corpus.
It is worthwhile to review briefly the history of how this legislative atrocity came to be. When the White House proposed this bill, Democrats were as meek and as silent as could be. They literally disappeared from the debate, allowing the illusion of "negotiations" between the White House on the one hand, and a handful of allegedly principled and independent Republican Senators (McCain, Warner and Graham) on the other.
When -- as was both painfully predictable and predicted -- those Republican Senators capitulated almost in full to the White House, "winning" only the most meaninglessly symbolic linguistic changes to the bill while acquiescing to its most Draconian provisions, the fate of the bill was sealed because Democrats had ceded their authority to those "rebel" GOP Senators.
On the most important bill of the Bush presidency, Congressional Democrats chose to remain absent from the debate -- and allow the fate of habeas corpus to rest on the obvious delusion that Congressional Republicans would protect it -- because they were petrified that Karl Rove, in the imminent midterm elections, would call them "pro-terrorist" if they protected habeas corpus. Of course, just as Rove insinuated that they were "pro-Saddam" in 2002 despite half of them voting to wage war against Iraq, Rove suggested they were "pro-terrorist" in 2006 despite Democrats allowing the MCA to pass.
It is true that most Democrats in both the House and Senate ultimately voted against this law (though 12 Democratic Senators out of 44 voted in favor). But even among the Senate Democrats who did vote against its enactment, many of them did not even reveal how they would vote until -- literally -- the very day before the vote occurred, and many such Democratic Senators announced their opposition only once it became clear that it would pass.
Just to remind ourselves of the behavior of the Democrats during the "debate," here are a few illustrative paragraphs from The New York Times article reporting on the "negotiations" over the bill that continued even after the grand McCain-Warner-Graham "compromise" was reached, whereby the "rebel GOP Senators" continued to make concessions to the White House which broadened even further the new powers vested in the President:
But Republicans were optimistic about eliminating last-minute concerns over a separate measure laying out rules for interrogating terrorism suspects and trying them before military tribunals. They said they were hoping to send the bill to Mr. Bush by the end of the week for a signing ceremony that could help them kick off the home stretch of the campaign with a message that Republicans were taking strong steps to protect the nation from terror attacks.It's hard to know how to vote on a bill that's this much in motion. Outside of a handful of Democratic lawmakers, that whiny procedural complaint was the sum total of the Democrats' "opposition" to the MCA until the day before, when its fate was sealed.
"I think we are good to go," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of three Republican senators who last week forced the administration into negotiations over the detainee measure.
Democrats, while being careful to say that they had made no decision to block the detainee bill, expressed rising concerns about changes to the proposal that they said went beyond what Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, had described Monday as merely "technical changes" . . . .
"These are significant changes, not technical changes," said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, where the original bill backed by Senators Warner, McCain and Graham was approved. "It's hard to know how to vote on a bill that's this much in motion."
Far worse, many Democrats -- led by Harry Reid (who at the last minute announced his opposition) -- even spoke favorably of the MCA in the days immediately preceding the vote:
Democrats, who have found themselves on the losing end of the national security debate the past two national elections, said the changes to the bill had not yet reached a level that would cause them to try to block it altogether.Full-scale (and consciously chosen) Democratic capitulation -- along with, in some cases, actual support for this bill -- is what placed them in that predicament, as the Times article from several days earlier made clear:
"We want to do this," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. "And we want to do it in compliance with the direction from the Supreme Court. We want to do it in compliance with the Constitution."
Democrats have allowed three Republican senators with strong military credentials -- John W. Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- to take the lead in resisting the president on the issue. Democratic leaders were largely positive about the agreement reached Thursday, signaling that they would continue to cooperate, rather than risk looking obstructionist heading into the midterms.It was a disgraceful performance by Democratic Congressional leaders all the way around -- driven by all of the worst elements plaguing our Beltway system -- and it resulted in the abolition of one of the most defining and long-standing American liberties: the right not to be imprisoned without charges, due process, and a determination of guilt in a real judicial proceeding.
"A handful of principled Republican Senators have forced the White House to back down from the worst elements of its extreme proposal for new interrogation rules," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader.
As but one of the countless heinous examples of what this law authorizes, review the plight of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar who, in 2001, was living with his wife and five children in the U.S. legally -- as a computer science graduate student at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois -- when he was detained and then charged with making false statements when he was questioned as part of the 9/11 investigation.
Al-Marri vehemently denied the accusations, and his criminal trial was scheduled for July, 2003. But the trial never happened, because President Bush, one month before it was to begin, declared him an "enemy combatant," leading to the dismissal of the charges in court and his transfer to a military prison, where he has remained ever since -- indefinitely -- with no opportunity to contest the charges or to prove his innocence.
That is what the MCA has legalized. That is the system of American justice which the 2006 Congress imposed -- people swept off the streets of America and imprisoned indefinitely, with no charges and no venue to prove one's innocence. And while it was the Bush White House which initiated this practice and it was Republicans in Congress who voted for it, Democrats -- who calculated that meaningfully opposing this bill would be too politically costly and would jeopardize their election victory -- bear significant culpability for its enactment. And that means that they now bear principal responsibility for its repeal.
Needless to say, fear of appearing "soft on terrorism" is the primary impediment to habeas restoration. That fear is absurd. The Republicans' principal weapon in 2006 was the fear-mongering claim that Democrats were weak on terrorism because they oppose warrantless eavesdropping, "coercive interrogations," and lawless detentions. And yet Republicans were crushed in that election. It's not 2002 any more; the country has tuned out those sorts of scare tactics and that manipulative weapon has been overused and is impotent.
Moreover, this is not a hard argument to make, but in order for it to be understood, the argument needs to be made. Americans understand instinctively that to allow someone to contest accusations against them is not tantamount to allowing them to go free. It is easily conveyed that a critical aspect for punishing terrorists is to ensure that we only punish actual terrorists but provide a process whereby innocent people are not wrongfully imprisoned for life. If Democrats engage that debate, rather than run from it again, it is not difficult to make that case.
But none of that even matters. The right to be free of arbitrary executive imprisonment is -- and, since the founding of America, always has been -- a defining and distinguishing attribute of our country (notwithstanding shameful instances in our past where that right has been denied). All citizens -- including, actually especially, those sent to represent the people in Congress -- have an obligation to protect that right from government officials who seek to abolish it.
Having disgracefully abdicated that responsibility back in September because they wanted to win the midterm elections, Democrats -- now that they have won -- can cleanse their historic sin only by committing themselves, not symbolically but in actuality, to the restoration of habeas corpus. Whether they are willing to do so will speak volumes about their true character and about whether their November victory will result in anything other than some televised hearings. If Democrats are too afraid even to take a stand against the Bush administration in defense of this centuries-old core American liberty, it is impossible to imagine any even minimally risky stands they are willing to take.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
In a “spat reminiscent of White House finger-pointing at Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco after the federal government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina,” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow this morning blamed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) for the shortages, saying he was “not aware of any prior complaints” by the governor about the equipment:
If you don’t request it, you’re not going to get it. … As far as we know, the only thing the governor has requested are FM radios. There have been no requests to the National Guard for heavy equipment. … We are eager to provide what Kansas needs. But again there are also - you also have to go through the process of making the request first.
Snow’s statements are incorrect. On repeated occasions, Sebelius made clear to the White House that Kansas was dangerously low on National Guard equipment:
– Dec. 30, 2005: Sebelius writes to Rumsfeld requesting new equipment. “The Guard was critical to responding to recent blizzards and floods in Kansas, yet its ability to respond to similar situations is being diminished by a lack of equipment,” wrote Sebelius. Included with her letter was a list of equipment Kansas had lost to the Iraq war. [Kansas City Star, 1/21/06; Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]
– Jan. 23, 2006: Sebelius personally urges Bush to increase National Guard funding. In an one-hour motorcade ride in Kansas with Bush, Sebelius expressed concern about “a reduction of National Guard troop strength in its next budget.” Bush assured her he was “dealing” with the shortages. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/24/06; Kansas City Star, 3/11/06]
– June 28, 2006: Sebelius sends Army Secretary list of equipment lost in war. In a meeting with Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, Sebelius told Harvey that the state had lost about $140 million in National Guard equipment to the Iraq war. Her office then sent him a list of the lost equipment. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]
– Sept. 2006: Sebelius lobbies for replacement of National Guard equipment sent to Iraq. “Kansas’ congressional delegation, Sebelius and governors from around the country have been lobbying the Pentagon for increased funding to replace National Guard equipment that has been left in Iraq or damaged beyond repair after repeated use in war.” [AP, 9/5/06]
– Feb. 27, 2007: Sebelius pushes White House and Congress for more funding. “Now the Guard needs Washington’s help,” Sebelius said in press conference on Capitol Hill. “The President and Congress need to step up to the plate and give our Guard members the support they deserve.” [Press Release, 2/27/07]
At today’s White House press briefing, a reporter confronted Snow about Sebelius’s past requests. Snow simply replied, “And what happened was, she actually did get — there was not a formal request. But they’d had conversations.” He also admitted that Sebelius did request more than FM Radios.
The Mahablog has more.
Monday, May 07, 2007
If you make a donation to Chris Rodda, you should receive a confirmation email and thank you note within 48 hours. If do not receive that confirmation, please letChris Rodda know at : LiarsForJesus@aol.com
Thank you, in advance, for your contribution, which will be, in my knowledge, one of the most cost-effective financial contributions towards fighting the Christian theocratic movement that you could possibly make. In the end, though, this is a non-partisan matter. We are entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts. And, even if you can't afford to make a financial contribution, you can help a great deal by sending this story to friends who care about history and historical accuracy
As Frederick Clarkson, Co-Founder of this website, wrote in a recent Public Eye story entitled History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters:
The notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is a central animating element of the ideology of the Christian Right....
But the Christian nationalist narrative has a fatal flaw: it is based on revisionist history that does not stand up under scrutiny. The bad news is that to true believers, it does not have to stand up to the facts of history to be a powerful and animating part of the once and future Christian nation. Indeed, through a growing cottage industry of Christian revisionist books and lectures now dominating the curricula of home schools and many private Christian academies, Christian nationalism becomes a central feature of the political identity of children growing up in the movement. The contest for control of the narrative of American history is well underway.
Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Rights' Alternate Version Of American History has worked with astounding tenacity, intelligence, and persistence, at debunking a falsified version of American history put out by David Barton and other historians on the Christian right. I have come to have a deep respect for Chris Rodda's commitment to historical accuracy, and I'm asking Talk To Action readers to, please, help make it financially possible for Chris to continue her vital research which currently includes a survey on the use of falsified history in Congressional debates over the past decade. At the end of this post is way you can make a contribution to a fund Talk To Action is collecting for Chris Rodda. The rewriting, and fabrication, of history can be most deadly expression of totalitarian impulses : those who control the past, the record of what has been, control the future. Falsified American history has seeped into not only homeschooling curriculum, America's public schools, and Congressional debates, but it also has distorted public understanding that the religious neutrality of American government was, and still is, key to the success of American democracy itself.
Labels: fight fake history
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Last week I discussed the case of the Alabama militiamen who were arrested on a variety of weapons charges, and suggested at the time that perhaps it wasn't that serious a case, since there was no indication at the time the men were planning anything amiss.
That all changed in the week since, as subsequent news reports made clear that not only were they planning a lethal attack, the intended victims were Mexican immigrants:
- Five members of a self-styled militia were denied bail Tuesday after a federal agent testified they planned a machine gun attack on Mexicans, but a judge approved bail for a sixth man.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Armstrong said at a hearing in Birmingham federal court he could not grant bail to the five because of the agent's testimony and the amount of weapons - including about 200 homemade hand grenades - that were seized in raids Friday in DeKalb County.
"I'm going to be worried if I let these individuals go at this time," he said.
Adam Nesmith, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified that the five - Raymond Kirk Dillard, 46; Adam Lynn Cunningham, 41; Bonnell Hughes, 57; Randall Garrett Cole, 22; and James Ray McElroy, 20 - planned a machine-gun attack on Mexicans in Remlap, a town just north of Birmingham, and went there on a reconnaissance mission April 20. The agent provided no further details.
During the raids last week, agents recovered 130 homemade hand grenades, a grenade launcher, about 70 hand grenades rigged to be fired from a rifle, a machine gun, a short-barrel shotgun and 2,500 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.
According to at least one of their neighbors, they'd been feeding on a steady diet of immigrant-bashing that they readily regurgitated to everyone in sight:
- James Craig, 63, of Collinsville, said Dillard visited him and his wife, Shelia, a few weeks ago and talked to them about how the Hispanics were taking over the country.
"I told him I didn't want to hear it, and I asked to leave and not to come back," he said. "He just respected me and walked off. If I had known he had all those explosives around his house, I might have been nicer to him. You never know who your neighbors are."
For the time being, it's probably best to be circumspect about this case; it'll be necessary to assess the FBI's evidence at trial and see to what extent these men had proceeded in their plans, and what the likelihood of their actually having pulled it off would have been, and whether the evidence in fact substantiates the FBI's claims. However, from outward appearances, the likelihood appears high that the case is solid.
If it does all pan out, then this case could prove to be a significant warning sign that the agitation against immigrants of the past several years, particularly the emphasis on vigilante action embodied by the Minutemen, is metastasizing into actual brownshirt thuggery to which the label "fascist" fully applies.
As I noted awhile back:
- You see, vigilantism always claims to be about law and order and preserving "traditional values." And yet historically, real extremism has always expressed itself thus. This is because vigilantism is always, in the end, about the brutal imposition of mob rule without regard to the humanity of its targets. The proof, in the end, lies in the strange fruit it inevitably produces.
Fortunately, the authorities were able to nip this act of domestic terrorism in the bud, before anyone was harmed. The next time we may not be so lucky.