Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dogpile on Fredo!

Body blow! Body blow! Body blow! How long can Alberto Gonzales remain standing?

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved subpoenas in its probe into the firing of eight federal prosecutors, just in case it's necessary to get the prosecutors and several current and former Gonzales aides to testify. Although Gonzales has said his aides will testify voluntarily, a subpoena will probably be needed for at least one witness: Kyle Sampson, who until last week was Gonzales' chief aide.

Meanwhile, a second Republican Senator, Gordon Smith of Oregon, has joined John Sununu in calling for the AG's ouster. And A Republican House member, as yet unidentified, apparently also intends to call for him to step down.

The root of this case is less about the motivation behind the firings and more about how it was communicated to Congress -- as well as Gonzales' denials that the White House was involved. Thus the emergence of e-mails showing Karl Rove was involved in the discussion both paints Gonzales as a liar and has partisans salivating at the possibility of finally nailing Bush's Brain.

A midday e-mail between two White House staffers, dated Jan. 6, 2005, was titled, "Question from Karl Rove."

"Karl Rove stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting), `How we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.,'" Colin Newman, a legal aide in the White House counsel's office, wrote deputy counsel David Leitch.

This doesn't indicate Rove was involved in deciding who to fire, but it does show he was in the loop. And the reply from Sampson (to whom Leitch forwarded the e-mail) shows that political loyalty was a factor in the deliberations.

"Judge and I discussed briefly a couple of weeks ago," Sampson wrote, referring to Gonzales, a former Texas state Supreme Court justice. He said the Justice Department was looking at replacing "underperforming" prosecutors. "The vast majority of U.S. Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc.," he said.

Now, was it a big factor, or was Sampson merely trying to put the best spin on things for Bush's political advisor? We don't know. But again, these e-mails undermine Gonzales' assertions to Congress -- and Congress doesn't like being lied to.

The Senate may end up subpoenaing Rove, though they've put off a decision until Marc 22.

Finally and most explosively, yet a third Gonzales scandal may be rearing its head. The National Journal, citing government records and anonymous officials, says Gonzales advised Bush to shut down a Justice Department probe into the NSA eavesdropping program -- even after learning that he would likely be a subject of the inquiry (here's what I wrote about it back in May, when the probe was killed).

The tactic used to block the probe -- denying security clearances to the investigators involved -- was unusual to begin with. Now add in the spectre of Gonzales the AG urging Bush to derail an inquiry that would have looked into the actions of Gonzales the White House counsel.

The National Journal notes the no-win nature of this problem:

Current and former Justice Department officials, as well as experts in legal ethics, question the propriety of Gonzales's continuing to advise Bush about the investigation after learning that it might examine his own actions. The attorney general, they say, was remiss if he did not disclose that information to the president. But if Gonzales did inform Bush about the possibility and the president responded by stymieing the probe, that would raise even more-serious questions as to whether Bush acted to protect Gonzales, they said.

Either way, Gonzales is screwed. If he didn't tell Bush, he's toast. If he did tell Bush, he's still toast, because he'll be thrown overboard to protect the president.

The only path that saves him is if he can claim, without being contradicted, that he did not advise Bush about the probe. That path remains open for now: the National Journal relies on anonymous sources to make the advisory claim, and that hardly constitutes proof.

But even if he avoids that trap, the timing of the decision to end the probe was interesting. The Journal -- again citing anonymous sources -- says the decision came after investigators had notified the administration of their investigative strategy, which involved questioning some senior Justice Department lawyers who had clashed with Gonzales over the NSA program when he was White House counsel. The Journal describes worries among political appointees that investigators might conclude the administration had deliberately sidestepped the law.

Then there's this gem:

In a March 21, 2006, memo citing his inability to obtain security clearances, Jarrett, the head of OPR, wrote to Paul McNulty, the deputy attorney general, complaining that OPR was being "precluded from performing its duties."

In contrast, Jarrett noted, the administration promptly approved "the Criminal Division's request for the same security clearances for a large team of attorneys and FBI agents that was investigating who initially leaked details of the NSA eavesdropping program to The New York Times."

Security clearances for investigations the White House likes? No problem. Security clearances for investigations it doesn't like? Forget it.

In response to the National Journal story, the House Judiciary Committee is demanding answers from Gonzales.

The dogs smell blood.

Update: I'm not saying this is really significant, but I find it interesting that a site like Right Wing Nuthouse puts up a fairly standard "this is a made-up scandal" post -- and for the most part the only commenters are people who vehemently disagree with him. A couple of posters show up to take half-hearted swipes at liberals -- but nobody defends Gonzales.

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Anonymous caroline said...

Where's Karl? Bring him out. What rock is he hiding under?

From Americablog LOL:

Kaaaaarrrrl...Come ouuuuut...we've got subpoenas...

3/15/2007 11:55 PM  

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