Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Progress Report:

The Most Loyal 'Loyal Bushie'

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not fit to be the nation's chief law enforcement officer. Since President Bush swore him in on Feb. 3, 2005, Gonzales has steadily politicized the Justice Department, putting partisan administration priorities above the best interests of the American people. His involvement in the Bush administration's prosecutor purge demonstrated his willingness to abuse his position and exploit the agency, whose mission is to "ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans." He has not only fired qualified U.S. attorneys, but driven away respected civil rights officials and replaced them with political appointees, pushed laws that discriminate against minorities, and overseen the erosion of Americans' civil liberties. Now, both liberal and conservative lawmakers, pundits, members of the media, and the American public are pushing for Gonzales's resignation. As the New York Times recently wrote, Gonzales "has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush's rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them."

LYING UNDER OATH: On March 12, Gonzales assured the nation that he did not participate in the administration's dismissal of eight well-respected U.S. attorneys: "I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on." But e-mails released over the weekend show that the attorney general "was told of the dismissal plan on at least two occasions, in 2005 when the plan was devised and again in late 2006 shortly before the firings were carried out." On Nov. 27, 2006, Gonzales met with at least five top Justice Department officials and developed a "five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors." This inconsistency is just the latest from the attorney general on the prosecutor purge. On Jan. 18, Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that the Bush administration never intended to take advantage of a Patriot Act provision that allows the President to appoint "interim" U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period of time, without Senate confirmation. But e-mails from Dec. 2006 show that Gonzales's then-chief of staff Kyle Sampson intended to use this provision to make an end-run around the Senate, writing, "There is some risk that we'll lose the authority, but if we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it?" Gonzales also told the Senate, "I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it." This claim has turned out to be false too, raising the possibility that Gonzales lied under oath. The Justice Department has admitted that it fired the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, Bud Cummins, for political reasons -- to install a Karl Rove-protege. Evidence continues to mount that multiple attorneys were pushed out because they weren't "loyal Bushies."

SUPPRESSING MINORITY VOTERS: The Justice Department has attempted to cover-up the partisan firings by accusing several of the ousted U.S. attorneys of failing to aggressively pursue charges of voter fraud. Like the administration's efforts to push out the lead prosecutor2002, the more recent firings suggest that the White House allowed politics to govern the administration of justice. Republican leaders, such as the New Mexico GOP chairman, complained to Karl Rove that the former prosecutor David Iglesias didn't go after voter fraud aggressively enough. Former U.S. attorney in Washington John McKay upset White House officials and state GOP leaders when he refused to convene a federal grand jury to investigate voter fraud in the hotly contested 2004 gubernatorial election, which had been certified in favor of the Democratic candidate. But McKay says his office thoroughly reviewed every allegation of voter fraud in the 2004 election and "concurred with the state trial court judge that there was no evidence -- and let me just emphasize, zero evidence -- of election voter fraud in that election." Iglesias, who was called "inattentive" to voter fraud by New Mexico GOP officials, had actually been "heralded for his expertise in that area [voter fraud] by the Justice Department, which twice selected him to train other federal prosecutors to pursue election crimes." As the New York Times notes, "In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. By resisting pressure to crack down on 'fraud,' the fired United States attorneys actually appear to have been standing up for the integrity of the election system."

POLITICIZING CIVIL RIGHTS: The push to find voter fraud where there is no evidence is part of Gonzales's politicization of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "Nearly 20 percent of the division's lawyers left in fiscal 2005, in part because of a buyout program that some lawyers believe was aimed at pushing out those who did not share the administration's conservative views on civil rights laws. Longtime litigators complain that political appointees have cut them out of hiring and major policy decisions, including approvals of controversial GOP redistricting plans in Mississippi and Texas." A Boston Globe report in June 2006 concluded that Gonzales was "filling the permanent ranks [at the Justice Department] with lawyers who have strong conservative credentials but little experience in civil rights." Just 42 percent of the lawyers hired since 2003 have strong civil rights backgrounds, compared to 77 percent in 2001-2002. In 2004, high-ranking Justice political appointees overruled the department's attorneys and analysts who "recommended rejecting" Georgia's voter ID law "because it was likely to discriminate against black voters."

ERODING CIVIL LIBERTIES: Politics has trumped civil liberties during Gonzales's tenure at the Justice Department. Gonzales advised the President to shut down "a Justice Department inquiry regarding the administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program," when he "learned that his own conduct would likely be a focus of the investigation." Last week, Sharon Y. Eubanks, the "leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies," said that "Bush loyalists" in Gonzales's office "repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government's racketeering case." "The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public." More recently, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine concluded that FBI agents often demanded Americans' personal data "without official authorization, and in other cases improperly obtained telephone records in non-emergency circumstances." The administration's abuses of requirements imposed by Congress were "precisely the provisions which President Bush expressly proclaimed he could ignore when he issued a 'signing statement' as part of the enactment of the Patriot Act's renewal into law."

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