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Saturday, February 11, 2006

FDL Late Nite: Pushback Edition

That is going to be one hell of a fuckin' detox. Good luck with the pink cloud, hon.

Crooks & Liars, Matt Stoller and Kos all respond to Church Lady Brady. (Update: So does Lambert. And LP has visual aids.) If the WaPo ever decides they can do without a full-time whiner running the WPNI, I personally think he has just aced the interview for Fourth Power Tool.

And over at the Guardian they have a nice piece on Patrick Fitzgerald:
Fitzgerald let no one stand in his way. Novak testified almost immediately, but other journalists supplied with the same leaked information about Plame did not. One, the New York Times's controversial Judy Miller, swore she would go to jail before revealing her source. Miller spent 85 days behind bars before she, too, cracked, as her career disappeared and her tarnished newspaper plunged into an orgy of self-recrimination. It was a remarkable feat by the Untouchable. He stood up against two of the most powerful and politically diametric institutions in America - the Bush administration and the New York Times - and beat them both. Along the way, whether he wanted it or not (and he probably did not), he has become a new force in American politics.


Fitzgerald's pursuit of both terrorists and politicians came together in a perfect storm. Suddenly, with Plamegate, the Untouchable was taking his crusade to the highest powers in the land, dealing in issues at the very heart of the war on terror. And he was winning. When he indicted Libby he had done the seemingly impossible. He had taken on the Republican Party machine and emerged bloody, unbowed and clutching a scalp.

Yet, he should be careful. Chicago's toughest streets cannot hold a candle to the Washington establishment when it is riled. Certainly, critics are firing off the first shots. The Wall Street Journal opinion page, a boiling pot for Republican America, has dubbed him 'a loose cannon' and an 'unguided missile'. Some of Washington's biggest names, such as Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, have labeled him a 'junkyard dog prosecutor'. 'The far right is very unforgiving and he has hurt them. They have long memories,' said Abner Mikva, a former White House counsel and an admirer of Fitzgerald.
Yes we know, Ms. Comstock, you have him in your sights. And we have you in ours.

Meanwhile via Atrios we learn that Ciro is picking up key labor endorsements, and the steelworkers have said that defeating the DINO Cuellar is "our No. 1 primary target in the United States." It's pretty exciting, Ciro is gaining momentum and it all started when the blogs got behind him. We've now raised over $14,500 from FDL, and over 50 people have donated in the past 24 hours. Thanks so much for everyone who reached down into their pockets for so much as a dollar. That makes you part of the pushback.

Anyone who wants to deliver some pushback can do so here.

(photo courtesy Dependable Renegade)


Comstock Load of Crap

Charles Carreon has an intriguing post up at his blog regarding the propriety of Barbara Comstock, former high level employee in John Ashcroft's DoJ now working on behalf of Scooter Libby. According to Comstock's own bio information on the Blank Rome Government Relations, LLC, website, she was:
chief spokesperson and communications strategist for Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as the spokesperson for the entire Department with responsibility for all public affairs and communications matters. Comstock also oversaw the public affairs offices of the Justice Department components including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service. (emphasis mine)
Sound like just another government drone to you? Not on your life -- this is a woman who would have been intimately involved in crafting the Ashcroft press conference strategy throughout the whole of his involvement in the Traitorgate investigation -- and she had her hands on information from the FBI as well.

And according to Charles Carreon, Comstock engineered her exit from the DoJ only four days after Fitz was appointed to be Special Counsel in the matter. How convenient.

Carreon cites the DC Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.9, regarding not representing any client whose claims may be adverse to that of a previous client. According to her Blank Rome bio, however, Comstock is a Virginia Bar Member.

The Virginia Bar Association also has requirements for attorney members to avoid even an appearance of impropriety in client representation, DR 9-101.
DR 9-101. Avoiding Even the Appearance of Impropriety.

(A) A lawyer shall not accept private employment in a matter upon the merits of which he has acted in a judicial capacity.

(B) A lawyer shall not accept private employment in a matter in which he had substantial responsibility while he was a public employee unless the public entity by which he was employed consents after full disclosure.

(C) A lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence improperly or upon irrelevant grounds any tribunal, legislative body or public official.
This rule is pretty standard conflict of interest rule for bar associations around the country. There is a potential out for Comstock if, indeed, the DoJ granted her some sort of exemption in representation for Libby under (B) -- but I would argue that such exemption might have to come directly from Fitzgerald, since he has been granted extraordinary powers in his supervision of the Traitorgate investigation, or potentially by Margolis, who is his direct supervisor at the DoJ.

Both Ashcroft and now Gonzales are compromised by ethical conflicts on this issue, and should not be allowed to grant any waivers for ethical purposes. Has anyone asked the Administration about this? Not that I can find.

Doesn't the public have a right to know if the DoJ gave consent for an employee who worked on a substantial matter of public interest -- the investigation of the outing of a covert CIA agent -- to work for a man who lied to investigators to obstruct that very investigation?

For whom is Comstock now providing a firewall -- Libby or others in the Bush Administration or both?

When I switched hats from defending criminals to working in the prosecutor's office, I had to go through every single file of every single client I had ever represented for all the years I was in private practice and make list after list of due diligence names that I could not touch in any way in a case.

It conflicted me out of a lot of work in our office (criminals tend to be repeaters, after all), because I had been a busy private attorney. It was a pain in the ass, but I did all of this because it was the right thing to do -- for me, sure, but especially as a professional ethics matter for the prosecutor's office and the judicial process overall.

You do not serve the cause of justice by playing fast and loose with the rules to suit your own agenda. And that is exactly what Barbara Comstock is doing.

You can't tell me that she didn't have intimate involvement in crafting message and response on the Traitorgate mess for Ashcroft. This was a huge open sore for the Administration and Ashcroft was "Mr. Press Conference," so you know Comstock was in charge of crafting a "tough on crime, but we'll take care of you Karl, wink wink" public message for Ashcroft on a daily basis.

Comstock's conduct is beyond shameful -- it is exactly the sort of bullshit that gives all attorneys a bad name, and she needs to be publicly shamed for it. It's a cardinal rule that you do not touch things over which you had some control when you were on the other side because it substantially taints the process.

Especially when you are exiting a public service job for the private sector -- big no no. The Virginia Bar Association ought to take active notice of this.

She's going to argue that all she is doing is fundraising -- but we now know that to be utter crap, since "Clarice" got her "press release" (read strategy memo) about the Jeffress strategy straight from Babs. If she is disseminating Team Libby's talking points (or at least some segment of Team Libby, anyway, because I refuse to believe that Cline signed on to that dreck given his strong defense counsel background), then she is working with them at a much higher level than simply "fundraiser."

Disseminating memos for the team is "getting the message out to the Wurlitzer," pure and simple and, after all, that's been Comstock's stock in trade for years, as Jane and Digby pointed out last night.

Whether or not it is "just fundraising," it is still wrong. Comstock would have been privy to high level meetings about the information gathered by the FBI, how the DoJ could best publicly respond to questions about Rove, Libby and other members of the Administration and their conduct -- and to do so, she would also have likely had contacts with the FBI investigators heading up the search for information. Think that kind of information wouldn't be valuable to Team Libby?

A way to look at it is this: if you were a corporate defense counsel, working for Corporation X, and you left the firm to work as plaintiff's counsel, you ought to be barred from participating in any way in any cases involving Corporation X. You would have intimate, behind-the-scenes knowledge not only of how your former firm operates, but also what kind of advice they have given on settling claims, what sort of risk averse or risk positive strategy your former client has, what they do in terms of investigation, etc., etc.

In Comstock's case, she would have intimate insights into how investigators approached the Traitorgate case from the outset. And how the DoJ managed crisis issues internally. And how the communications went between DoJ and the WH in those early days. And...well, you get the picture. This just screams "appearance of impropriety," doesn't it?

Lawyers police themselves in terms of conduct. Where I am, this sort of ethical question would raise eyebrows immediately and a lot of questions would be asked by the state bar association's ethics enforcement division.

Perhaps in DC they are so used to looking the other way, they just don't take this sort of smarmy crap seriously. But they should. Perhaps they just need a nudge? The fact that the Virginia bar covers the entire state, and not just DC, ought to count for something.

Can you tell this sort of thing pisses me off? Barbara Comstock is a smarm merchant, and she ought to be ashamed of herself (if she actually had any scruples at this point, which I sincerely doubt). But even if she feels no shame or no compulsion to follow the rules (sound like an Administration you know?), the Virginia Bar Association has an obligation to the profession and the public to look into this matter of conflict.



Shorter Jim "Church Lady" Brady: I'm still full of shit, Deborah Howell is just a bad typist and bloggers are so very mean.

Thin-skinned WATBs have such a hard time moving on.


It's Evil Harpie Time With Barbara Comstock

When Digby sounded the warning about Barbara Comstock, head of Scooter Libby's defense fund, I had no idea what a toxic waste dump the comments section would turn into as people went to work delving into the sewage pit that is her past.

This is fucking heart of darkness stuff.

This is a woman who is the author of some of the most despicable and destructive memes the GOP has used to both artificially prop itself up and decimate the Democrats through endless repetition in the mighty Wurlitzer. She's had her skeevy hands on some of the most foul dirty tricks ever perpetuated by the modern Rethugs. She's a high-level GOP operative. She's best buds with Kate O'Beirne. What else can you say.

A brief history of Barbara Comstock's corrupt shenanigans:
. Principal in Blank Rome LLP, major lobbying firm contracted to distribute all that Department of Homeland Security pork for huge corporate clients, who then turned around and made enormous contributions to GOP candidates. Shades of Jack Abramoff, she's a key player in the Rethuglican money machine that rips off the taxpayers, lards its benefactors and keeps itself in the chips.

. Assembled debate materials for GWB, helped prepare Ashcroft for his Senate confirmation. Headed up the media distortion team in Florida in 2000 that manipulated the press narrative to Bush's benefit following the election.

. Former head of research at the RNC, as Digby pointed out her specialty is combing through source material on Democrats, culling and twisting things to embarrass and humiliate Democratic candidates. Gave dictation to Steno Sue.

. Author of many of the "Attack Kerry" memes, including accusations that he wanted to "gut intel" in the NRO. Employed emasculating language to make him appear weak and effeminate. Also wrote that vicious "John Kerry gave mouth-to-mouth to a rodent" story.

. Lobbying clients are a rogues gallery of pork-fed crooks

. Tried to steal Moynihan's legacy and paste it on to John Bolton in promoting him for UN job

. Best friends with the Ledeens, Barbara Olson and the O'Beirnes, dubbed part of the "Barbarellas" by Bill Bennett after their hatchet work on the Florida recount. Lauded for their "traditional virtue" by Michael Ledeen.

. Played a huge part in the campaign to smear the Clintons -- David Brock in "Blinded by the Right" described her passion to bring them down as "almost unhinged." Served as "chief investigator" for Dan Burton.

. Appointed by Ashcroft to the Justice Department's Director of Public Affairs. According to Murray Waas, strongly suspected of cronyism and ultimate loyalty to the RNC during her tenure there. Waas quotes a question posed to James Comey during his confirmation hearings for his job at the DoJ:
Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Comey: "How could there not be an appearance of a conflict given the close nexus of relationships?"

"I agree with you that it'’s an extremely important matter," Comey said.
. Close ties to Bush family bag man and child torturer Mel Sembler, whom she also brought on to the Libby Defense fund.

. One of the stars of the anti-Michael Moore movie, Celsius 41.11

. Failed to identify herself as a political operative and strategic advisor for Progress for America during the confirmation of John Roberts when she appeared on Fox News criticizing NARAL's anti-Roberts ads.

. Smeared and misled people into believing that ads submitted to a MoveOn contest portraying Bush as Hitler were actually prepared by MoveOn themselves.

. Suspiciously left the DoJ on October 1, 2003 -- right on the heels of the Plame case being referred by the CIA for investigation.

. Head of the ready-response team that portrayed Tom DeLay as the innocent victim of Ronnie Earl within hours after his indictment; concocted bs excuses about DeLay's wife and daughter being paid huge sums for little discernible work.

. On the Executive Committee of the Susan B. Anthony PAC (with William Kristol) trying to pass themselves off as feminists as they work to dismantle pro-choice (hijacking the language of the left and twisting it for the purpose of dissembling seems to be her specialty).

. She's given money to a bunch of hefty GOP creeps.

. She also appears to be in violation of DC Bar Association Rules of Professional Conduct in jumping from the DoJ to work with Scooter Libby's defense fund. Redd will have much more on this later.
It is quite obvious that this woman is a high level GOP operative and the fact that they are putting her at the top of the Libby shit heap can only mean that her job is to build up the Libby narrative, spread filth about those who could damage him and above all keep the cancer from spreading to the other members of the war party who are probably already infected. The press release she put out yesterday doing damage control for Cheney is a good indicator of what her job is.

We'll have more (and it sounds like emptywheel might have her teeth in some delightful aspects of the story -- man if there is one person in the world I wouldn't want looking into my shit it would be her, she is absolutely dogged when it comes to document retrieval and analysis).

As anonymous said in the comments, "You know, Comstock loves doing 'opposition research' and then going on TV and bashing people. It will be interesting to see how she likes getting the same treatment back in return."

Thanks to everyone who is participating in the effort. This is really inspirational.

I need a shower.


The Risen Witch Hunt Begins

We slog through a lot of partisan muck and unsavory characters every day on this blog, but as Glenn Greenwald points out, the NYT article by David Johnston outlining how the partisan hacks at the Justice Department are going after the people who leaked the NSA wiretap information -- as well as the journalists involved -- is ringing all the alarm bells.

Glenn says:
[T]his flamboyant use of the forces of criminal prosecution to threaten whistle-blowers and intimidate journalists are nothing more than the naked tactics of street thugs and authoritarian juntas. There is much speculation over whether other eavesdropping programs exist, including domestic eavesdropping programs, as well as whether other lawless programs have been authorized based on the Administration's theories that it has the right to wield war powers against American citizens on American soil.

Our hope for finding out about the existence of other illegality depends upon the willingness of whistle blowers to come forward and journalists to investigate and report such misconduct. That is precisely why the Administration is so aggressively seeking to attack and silence those two groups, and it is why the significance and danger of those attempts really can't be overstated.
As Digby noted yesterday, with the Democratic party practically pummeled into silence and the press either intimidated or bribed into submission, one of the last hopes for checking the unlimited grasp of the BushCo. criminals are the career people at the Justice Department, and that's why BushCo. has been working so hard to stack it with cronies who will do their bidding. They pushed Comey out, gave Alice Fisher a recess appointment, tried (and failed) to crowbar Timothy "Tyco" Flanigan into the number two seat, and now this. The fact that Tom DeLay now sits on the congressional committee that oversees the Justice Department (even as they investigate him) is really just the icing on the cake.

The NYT piece does get one thing wrong, and it's quite critical. It claims that Fitzgerald's actions in the Plame case have opened up the doors for this, and while that may be the battle cry of the BushCo. cronies it completely ignores what Fitzgerald actually did and says.

In the recently released 2004 affidavit in the CIA leak case, Fitzgerald gives a very good outline of the need to protect true whistleblowers, and how this is is actually furthered by prosecuting the smear merchants in the Plame case who disingenuously hoped to hide behind "whistleblower" status:
In deciding whether to issue subpoenas to reporters, I have carefully weighed and balanced the competing interests of the First Amendment and the public interest in the free dissemination of ideas and information and the countervailing interests in effective law enforcement and the fair administration of justice: namely determining whether a crime was committed and whether someone should be prosecuted for that crime. One key factor in deciding whether to issue a subpoena has been whether the "source" to be identified appears to have leaked to discredit the earlier source (Wilson) as opposed to a leak who revealed information as a "whistleblower" (e.g. the source for the September 28 Washington Post column). The First Amendment interests are clearly different when the "source" being sought may have committed a crime in order to attack a person such as Wilson who, correctly or incorrectly, sought to expose what he perceived as misconduct by the White House. Indeed, failure to take effective steps to identify such sources might chill future whistleblowers such as Wilson, this impairing "a reporter's responsibility to cover as broadly as possible controversial public issues." (28 CFR Section 50.10).
In ignoring this critical distinction and commencing a witch hunt for the purposes of political intimidation and thuggery, the DoJ is twisting the law to political purposes. And if the New York Times (who clearly have an interest in the matter) doesn't get that distinction, the BushCo. cronies launching this thing certainly won't.

Sometimes I sit here in my pile of papers and my notebooks and wall charts with all the stickies and I watch shit like this go down and I think of all the money and the access and the manpower the GOP corruption machine has at its disposal and I think my god, what hope do we have of combating this. It's overwhelming.

Then I look in the comments section, other blogs and my email and see how smart, how determined, how resourceful and committed people are without hope of any financial gain, based solely on principle and strength of character and I realize that no amount of cash and corruption can beat that down.


Charity Begins at Home...Abramoff's Home

Jack Abramoff has been a very bad boy, according to the LATimes. And he's not the only one: boards of directors of charitable organizations have a fiduciary obligation to ensure that the donations given to their groups are used in an appropriate, charitable fashion.

By using these groups as a political money laundering base of operations, Abramoff abused the integrity of the charitable process. By allowing him to do so without asking all the appropriate questions, the folks running these charities are now in for a world of headaches -- and they ought to be.
Charities are supposed to advance the public interest, which is why they aren't taxed. But Abramoff, by his own admission, used them to evade taxes, enrich himself and bribe public officials, according to a plea agreement he signed with federal prosecutors in January.

"One of the most disturbing elements of this whole sordid story is the blatant misuse of charities in a scheme to peddle political influence," said Mark Everson, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

Abramoff's use and misuse of nonprofits played a key role in each of the three counts of his indictment: conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion. He admitted evading $1.7 million in income taxes over three years, in part by using nonprofits to conceal personal income from the IRS.

The fast-growing ranks of tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations are tailor-made for operators like Abramoff.

The number of tax-exempt groups in the United States has tripled over the last three decades, but nonprofit groups usually pay no tax, so there is little incentive for the IRS to keep an eye on them.

The lack of oversight is especially meaningful in Washington, where trade associations, public-interest groups and grass-roots lobbying organizations all have tax-exempt status under generous IRS rules designed to foster public debate. Members of Congress are also getting into the act and forming their own charities. (emphasis mine)
So many ways to break the law. So little time to watch them all. It's not enough to watch the bribery and the influence peddling, now you have to look sideways at the charities set up to ostensibly care for children and others in need.

This is beyond disgusting. And it needs to be called for what it is: cynical and criminal preying on the public, dressing up the actions of thugs in the guise of decency.

Your Republican government hard at work -- bilking the public and screwing the poor. Coming soon to a charity near you.

Read the entire LATimes article. Prepare to be very angry. But it helps to know what we are fighting against. Know thy enemy. Compassionate conservative, my ass.

(Graphic via Village Voice's now defunct (SIGH) Bushbeat.)

UPDATE: You know, it occurs to me that, according to the article anyway, Greenberg Traurig may have some issues in enabling and being complicit in some of the schemes if they approved Abramoff's actions on behalf of clients. It would be interesting to know how much cooperation the DoJ's Public Corruption unit is getting from them, wouldn't it? The managing partners have to be unnerved by their inclusion in this article.

And a big thanks to Edward Teller for the reminder on all the exceptional work done on this issue by Josh and by Laura Rozen. Both their sites have been on the money (so to speak) on this issue all along. Should have mentioned them earlier, because they have truly done yeoman's work on this. (Oh, and Josh mentions today that Shelly Moore Capito's (R-WV) name has surfaced on some Abramoff e-mails. Interesting...)


An Ode to Patrick Fitzgerald

Ever felt the urge to out-do the Bard and spell out your love of...justice? To pen a short missive about the importance of...the rule of law? If so, I have found the idea for you.
I have a new plan: to write Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor, poems. Once a day, I will compose a work of verse—such as this one, based on the rhythm-and-blues song “Let the Good Times Roll”:

“Let The Indictments Flow”

...Come on baby, yes, we’re in a crisis
This is something we just can’t miss
Come on baby, let the indictments flow
Flow all night long

Come on baby, I know this is zany
This is the moment to stop Dick Cheney
Come on baby, let the indictments flow
Flow all night long
Maybe I'm just punchy from finally getting a decent night's sleep, but this idea cracks me up.

Don't actually send them to Fitz, though, because he's very busy and inundating the poor man with poetry seems...well...wrong, frankly, given the amount of hours he already puts in working through legal memoranda and all. I'd hate to be the reason for even more late night pizza orders, all in the cause of verse.

But for a Saturday morning exercise in amusement, I thought this idea would crack everyone else up as well. And perhaps inspire. So, if the spirit moves you, feel free to share with the rest of us in the comments.

Pens at the ready...

UPDATE: Oh, this is hilarious. Guess who got his hands caught in the lying and suborning perjury cookie jar? None other than Ken Starr. (via Rising Hegemon) People wonder why we find integrity in government so refreshing? Perhaps because it's become so difficult to find.

Ahh, the delicious smell of irony in the morning. Remember the Clinton years when Ken Starr railed on and on about the integrity of the legal process? When Republicans in Congress were all incensed about lying to the American public? It seems awfully old-fashioned now, doesn't it?

NOTE: In re-reading the MSNBC/AP article on Ken Starr, this might be a case of an overly eager private investigator -- but as an attorney, you have a responsibility to ensure integrity of the process, meaning Starr and his co-counsel had the obligation to be certain that the statements and signatures were accurate before making representations about them. I look forward to following developments on this one -- should be interesting.


Friday, February 10, 2006

FDL Late Nite: Stalking Satan's Mistress

We have a mission. In the comments section regarding the Libby Defense Fund, Digby has this to say about the head of the fund, Barbara Comstock:
Comstock is key.

Here's a little excerpt from Josh Green's seminal article in the Atlantic called "Playing Dirty," about the 2000 campaign:
Political campaigns always attempt to diminish their opponents, of course. What was remarkable about the 2000 effort was the degree to which the process advanced beyond what Barbara Comstock, who headed the RNC research team, calls "votes and quotes"—the standard campaign practice of leaving the job of scouting the target to very junior staff members, who tend to dig up little more than a rival's legislative record and public statements. Comstock's taking over the research team marked a significant change. She was a lawyer and a ten-year veteran of Capitol Hill who had been one of Representative Dan Burton's top congressional investigators during the Clinton scandals that dominated the 1990s: Filegate, Travelgate, assorted campaign-finance imbroglios, and Whitewater. Rather than amass the usual bunch of college kids, Comstock put together a group of seasoned attorneys and former colleagues from the Burton Committee, including her deputy, Tim Griffin. "The team we had from 2000," she told me recently, to show the degree of ratcheted-up professionalism, "were veteran investigators from the Clinton years. We had a core group of people, and that core was attorneys."

Comstock combined a prosecutor's mentality with an investigator's ability to hunt through public records and other potentially incriminating documents. More important, she and her team understood how to use opposition research in the service of a larger goal: not simply to embarrass Gore with hard-to-explain votes or awkward statements but to craft over the course of the campaign a negative "storyline" about him that would eventually take hold in the public mind. "A campaign is a lot like a trial," Comstock explained. "You want people aggressively arguing their case."
She is a very highly placed political operative. Her job in this case is to craft the narrative.

Your job, Jane, should you and all the Plameologists decide to accept it, is to put a stop to this evil harpy once and for all. She is Satan's mistress.
Sounds like Ms. Comstock has a bit of a Kato thing going on.

Okay here's the plan: find what you can about Barbara Comstock and leave it in the comments. I'll do some sort of round-up on a subsequent Late Nite. When Digby speaks, we should all listen.

Meanwhile things are heating up on the Ciro Rodriguez/Henry Cuellar front. DFA have jumped in to back Ciro and they definitely have a major bone to pick with the Club for Growth who were responsible for so many ads trashing Howard Dean -- and they are supporting the DINO Cuellar.

We're now raised over $12,000 for Ciro just on this blog alone. That comes from 196 people. It would be great if we could have over 200 donations tonight, even if they were small. Five dollars from the heart means a lot.

(Update: Forgot to mention that Jacki Schechner mentioned blogs that were fundraising for Ciro today and FDL was shown. Carry on...)


Could Cheney Declassify the NIE?

Did Dick Cheney have the right to declassify information just on his say-so? Hell if I know.

But irony and hackery abound in his decision to let Scooter release information from the NIE to Judy Miller for no other reason than to lead her to political kool-aid that contradicted what they well knew to be true. And since the subject of the NIE is a sore spot on my gum that I just like to poke at from time to time this allows me to revisit the topic once again.

Thanks, Dick.

I've actually slogged through the 568 page SSCI report, a document so interminably boring and politically biased it would be unreadable were it not for the periodic outrage it elicits. In one of many bitchfests I've pitched about the NIE I wrote this back in November 2005:
That NIE (or National Intelligence Estimate -- a compilation from the various intelligence departments of all the available information relating to a particular situation) was a crock from the git-go. BushCo. didn't even want to do one, even though they are typically done before launching any major military operation like oh, say, a war. Unbelievably, Dick Durbin had to make a special request to even get one prior to granting Dubya the authority to declare war (p. 12 of the SSCI).

National Intelligence Officers assert that ideally it takes three months to produce an accurate NIE, but Preznit Itchy Trigger Finger and the Stovepipe Posse claimed that the threat Sadaam posed was so imminent that they couldn't wait.

The NIE was produced in less than twenty days, and its findings were never sent out for peer review or to a panel of outside experts because Bush and company said there wasn't time. (p. 13, SSCI).
At the time they compiled the NIE, an INR dissent was included which stated that "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious."

And what happened to this dissent when the NIE was published on October 1, 2002?
The language on Iraq's efforts to acquire uranium from Africa appeared as it did in the draft version and INR's position that "claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are highly dubious" was included in a text box, separated by about 60 pages from the discussion of the uranium issue.
And what happened when people started to ask questions in July 2003 about the 16 words and wondered why BushCo. had never taken the INR dissent into consideration before launching a full-scale war?
A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said neither Bush nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice read the NIE in its entirety. "They did not read footnotes in a 90-page document," said the official, referring to the "Annex" that contained the State Department's dissent.
Okay so here we have a critical document compiled under duress by people who didn't care for people who didn't want to read it. Except, that is, Dick Durbin, who had also requested that a white paper be prepared at the same time that wasn't classified so the public could know why the country had to be taken to war. But when the white paper was prepared, there was no mention of the INR dissent. Dick Durbin was having kittens. He referred to it the other day when Abu G was being questioned by the Judiciary Committee on the NSA wiretaps:
I've been on the Intelligence Committee. And I can tell you that when you're briefed with classified material -- I sat in briefings not from here, just a few feet away and listened to what I thought was very meager evidence about weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq.

Based on that, I voted against it. But I couldn't walk outside that room until it became public much later and say this administration was at war within when it came to this issue.
So Dick Durbin had to bite his tongue and watch the country go to war on what he knew to be a steaming pile bullshit because the NIE was classified and he couldn't speak about the INR dissent. The public remained blissfully ignorant and thousands died.

But Cheney told Scooter he could fling it around like a dirty napkin while he and Judy were buttering each other's toast at the St. Regis for no other purpose than perpetuating a public, ass-covering hoax.

Such is the regard that Dick, Scooter and the rest of the future perps treat national secrets and their own security clearances. People should be screaming at the top of their lungs that these callow political hacks have access to anything more sensitive than a three month old copy of People Magazine.

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard)


Curiouser and Curiouser

Some very odd happenings today on the Libby front. Yesterday the blogosphere was alive with the "Libby has flipped" meme after the publication of Murray Waas' National Journal article which actually said nothing of the sort. But it was evidently worrisome enough to Team Libby that they felt it necessary to make a statement today, and the nature of that statement reveals some very weird goings-on behind the scenes.

Ever since the Oceans of Motions were released last week, those of us who make it a practice to slog through this shit knew that Libby was claiming Cheney authorized him to release information regarding the National Intelligence Estimate to Judy Miller 10 days before it was declassified in order to shore up BushCo.'s sagging case for war. Reddhedd noted it, and so did Emptywheel.

But Fitzgerald's redacted affidavit and his letter of Jan. 23 refer to the testimony Libby has been giving all along to the effect that he was entitled to leak this information because Cheney told him to. It's probably just a reflection of the internal logic BushCo. has been cruising on for a long time, it isn't related to any "new defense strategy" concocted by Libby's lawyers nor is it anything Libby has testified to for well over a year (Libby's last appearance before the grand jury was in 2004).

If anything, it's just a testament to Dick Cheney's arrogance. I'm sure he believes he's entitled to do whatever he damn well pleases with classified information, as his imperious treatment of Valerie Plame indicates.

But be that as it may, a commenter over at Tom MaGuire's named Clarice provided a helpful quotation from a new press release that came out today from one of Libby's lawyers, William Jeffres, stating that:
There is no truth at all to the story that Mr. Libby's lawyers have advised the Court or the Special Counsel that he will raise a defense based on authorization by superiors. Indeed, there has never been any conference call between Mr. Libby's defense lawyers and Judge Walton. We do not know who reporters are relying on as sources for this story, but any such persons are neither knowledgeable nor authorized to speak for Mr. Libby's defense team.
In the comments, emptywheel asked where this came from, and Clarice responded that she should contact Barbara Comstock, "Libby's press contact," and volunteered to help them get in touch with each other.

Barbara Comstock isn't "Libby's press contact." She's head of his defense fund, which essentially seems to be covering Libby's legal defense bills so that they can use his case to protect the other neocons for whom Libby is acting as a firewall.

As we noted yesterday, one of Libby's other attorneys is John Cline, a greymail specialist. And as immanentize writes in our comments, this may be an indication that there is a struggle going on within the Libby defense squad, between those who see their job as defending Libby and those who want to protect those he's standing in front of:
[Cline] is a very hard working attorney who works with one of the nation's great criminal defense attorneys, Nancy Hollander. He is tireless in his pursuit of paper and broke the Wen Ho Lee case on the government's own record (as is often the case in these matters) More high profile and lazier attorneys would have let Wen Ho Lee take a serious rap. His experience as a US Attorney certainly taught him a tremendous amount about the pressures, real and imagined that defendants face. He is honest, like Fitz is honest which always makes for the best prosecutions.

What I see in this exchange is a little litigation strategy power struggle. Will it be full-bore grey mail -- which would mean that Libby would have to, in the end, be willing to implicate his "bosses" in many ways (Rove Cheney, Hadley?). What I mean by that is that grey mail forces the inspection, if not the production, of documents and leads which the prosecutor might not yet have. In the end, the prosecution might not be able to use the stuff in court, but the point of grey mail is generally to turn attention to other/bigger fish. Think the Noriega trial and the attempts to drag the CIA and former Reagan officials into the defense in Florida.

The other defense strategy seems to be a "protect everyone" strategy -- sort of a stalling tactic that does not focus on saving Libby's ass as much as it is to delay until a pardon is politically possible (December 2008) without any information being developed beyond Libby. This is a risky defense strategy for Libby because it is not really a pro-Libby/proactive defense. It is a wink and a nod action.
So essentially, the defense that is designed purely to help Libby -- the greymail one -- is by its very nature going to make Cheney et. al. extremely nervous by bringing their actions under scrutiny by both Fitzgerald and the judge. And even though the disclosure of this NIE information doesn't really do that, the people paying Libby's bills are quickly trying to scotch any notion that higher ups could be implicated.

Barbara Comstock, of course, is in charge of Libby's defense fund, not Libby's press contact office. So this suggests that the Neocon moneybags didn't like yesterday's big news. Maybe they've even jettisoned the greymail strategy (note, this statement came over Jeffress' signature, the guy who, in addition to being the Nixon lawyer on the team, is also the guy who shares a board room with Bush consligliere James Baker III. It didn't come from Cline, the greymail specialist.) for fear it would tax Cheney's always-fragile heart.
Don't really see that anything that Comstock and Jeffress are trying to do actually helps Scooter.

(graphic by Eric)


Comey Update

Glenn Greenwald talks about Comey testifying on the NSA wiretap program and so does Digby:
All evidence suggests that I would not agree with James Comey's politics, but I can't be sure since he has scrupulously guarded his poltical leanings. I very much doubt that this law and order prosecutor sees the world through my ACLU lens. However, like many of the growing numbers of law enforcement officers who have grown alarmed by this administration's lawless governance, he is by all accounts a straight arrow. He was the number two man in the Justice Department when all the recent affronts to the constitution (torture, spying, the death of habeus corpus, indefinite detention, presidential infallibility) were delivered and from what we know he objected vociferously. It is, therefore, no surprise that this non-political career civil servant is no longer in government.

It is vital that he testify in a future hearing on the illegal NSA spying hearings. I do not know what he will say, and he may even defend the program on some level. But there is a reason why Comey refused to sign off on reauthorizing this program, forcing Gonzales to go to the hospital and try to strong arm a man who just had surgery to sign off on it instead. In his testimony earlier this week, Gonzales implied that it may have been a problem with another program. How very interesting.

We need to know just what in the hell was going on during the period between the time the program was instituted and the time Comey and others refused to reauthorize it. Why was it suspended? We need to know if there were other illegal spying programs. Comey is the man who can answer those questions.
Thanks to everyone who spoke out here on your desire for Comey to testify, all 549 of you. Your comments were hand delivered to a member of the Judiciary Committee today and I'll keep you updated as I know more.


Oh Those Dirty Bloggers Are At It Again

Really top-drawer effort by the White House pool boy Jim VandeHei this morning in the WaPo:
President Bush met lobbyist Jack Abramoff almost a dozen times over the past five years and invited him to Crawford, Tex., in the summer of 2003, according to an e-mail Abramoff wrote to a reporter last month.

Bush "has one of the best memories of any politicians I have ever met," Abramoff wrote to Kim Eisler of Washingtonian magazine. "The guys saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids."

In an interview last night, Eisler confirmed the contents of the e-mail and said he recently provided portions of it to the liberal Web log ThinkProgress because he thought he was dealing with a fellow reporter. The blog posted the contents of the Abramoff-Eisler communication.
The Washingtoninan hardly rises to more than a local blather sheet. ThinkProgress is the blog for the Center for American Progress. Why is Deborah Howell quite proud to tout the information she gets from the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation, but suddenly ThinkProgress is a bunch of grubby, uncouth, beer-swilling louts?

Yes we are familiar with the standards to which the WaPo in particular holds itself, and they really need to get off the fainting couch. I don't expect them to start acknowledging that blogs even exist as something other than to excoriate, but the fact remains that we're covering a lot of ground they aren't and there are good reasons our readership is growing every day while theirs continues to plummet.

When we broke the story about Viveca Novak and Robert Luskin it wasn't acknowledged at the New York Times despite the fact that we wrote about it first and they got it from us -- and I both sent it to them and discussed it with them so it wasn't for lack of awareness. (Update: It should be noted that VandeHei himiself followed with his own day-late-and-a-dollar-short version that included a Luskin-friendly story so cockamamie it has yet to be explained. Credit where credit is due.)

Likewise yesterday Neil A. Lewis of the NYT credited Murray Waas's (excellent) article with both "first reporting" Patrick Fitzgerald's January 23 letter and breaking the story about Cheney authorizing Libby to release the NIE. Tom MaGuire does an excellent job of reconstructing blog history on this matter, which Murray would be the first to quickly acknowledge predated his article by a week.

As far as they're concerned, blogs really don't exist for any other reason than to ridicule. Oh and to mine for scoops that go uncredited. And of course to search Technorati for one's own name -- hey Jim, how ya doin'?


Speaking of Liars...

Now that we've spent part of our day with Heckuva Job Brownie, it just begs the question: what else don't we know yet?

For an Administration that has been all damage control, all the time, this is turning out to be a heckuva week. What do you get when you try to incorrectly pin the blame for your own failures on everyone else? Or when you try to silence criticisms or sweep everything under the rug and hope no one in America begins to notice the smell from the dung heap that keeps on growing?

Start off with a scrapbook of Niger and Traitorgate from Juan Cole.

Then move on to today's Pincus article in the WaPo, wherein a former CIA middle east agent, Paul Pillar, throws down the gauntlet. Can you say deliberately cherry-picking the intelligence in order to bolster your already pre-disposed need to invade Iraq, regardless of the facts, all the while failing to play it straight with the American public? How about liars? Yeah, I thought you could.

Oh, and contingency planning for worst case scenarios in Iraq? Nonexistent. Nice. I'm sure all our men and women in uniform over there really appreciate the care and concern from the Administration on their behalf. Now, where's that promised flowers and candy, Rummy and Wolfowitz kept going on and on about? Isn't Richard Perle awfully late on his delivery?

CNN reports that Pillar has an article in the new Foreign Affairs. (Hat tip to reader Masaccio for the link.) Am going to see if I can find a copy this weekend (hello, Barnes and Noble), and will report back on the read if I do. According to CNN:
The Bush administration "used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made," Pillar wrote. "It went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq."

Though Pillar himself was responsible for coordinating intelligence assessments on Iraq, "the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war," he wrote....

The biggest discrepancy between public statements by the Bush administration and judgments by the intelligence community centered on the relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, he said.

"The enormous attention devoted to this subject did not reflect any judgment by intelligence officials that there was or was likely to be anything like the 'alliance' the administration said existed."

Rather, "the administration wanted to hitch the Iraq expedition to the 'war on terror' and the threat the American public feared most, thereby capitalizing on the country's militant post-9/11 mood," Pillar wrote. (emphasis mine)
Well, isn't that interesting? Truthiness, indeed. (Take a peek at this panel discussion in which Pillar participated at the Washington Institute with Barton Gellman and Ely Karmon on Middle East policy issues back in 2002. Fascinating stuff.)

And if that isn't enough, Olberman debunked some of the President's latest illegal NSA domestic spying excuse about the Liberty Tower Library Tower Los Angeles "terrorist shoe bomb" plot. Crooks and Liars has the clip.

Call me crazy -- but if you are going to disclose on national television that LA faced a terrorist attack, shouldn't the President or someone on his staff notify the mayor of the city before opening their yaps? Especially if the threat was previously undisclosed to the public? Panic and all that, you know, because it's not like LA has ever had to deal with riots or anything in the past. I'm just saying. (And a hat tip to Wilson for digging up the link for me.)

Also, Larry Johnson has a great article up at No Quarter, talking about this particular Administration and its public spin versus facts and all that inconvenient truthiness and stuff.

Sucks when people get in the way of your attempt at ass-saving spin, doesn't it?

NOTE: You know, it occurs to me, maybe the Administration isn't so worried about Brownie's testimony and the hearings today, given that the Winter Olympics begin this evening. It's Friday and most likely a wasted news cycle in a few hours, so they are probably hoping any questions of failure will get lost in the sea of athletes.

And speaking of the Olympics, I'm a total junkie. Please, please, please do not post any Olympics results in the comments before the event has aired here. I try to avoid results because I like to watch the events fresh -- especially figure skating -- but I can't possibly stay away from the comments, so be kind and don't post any spoilers. Thanks!


Brownie Spills

Heckuva Job Brownie is having quite a day of testimony today.
Brown, who was later removed as FEMA head amid intense criticism of the federal response to the hurricane, said he notified Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin about the levee breach on Aug. 29, 2005.

``I think I told him we were realizing our worst nightmares,'' Brown said of his conversation with Hagin....

Brown today added a new element: that he spoke directly to Hagin and may also have talked with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Joseph Lieberman, senior Democrat on the Homeland Security committee, asked Brown if he thought the message reached Bush. ``If I've told Joe Hagin or Andy Card, I've told the president,'' Brown responded.

White House spokesman Scott Mcclellan said he couldn't comment on Brown's statements because he hadn't seen them. He said the Bush administration was far less concerned with the cause of the flooding than the flooding itself. (emphasis mine)
Really, Scotty? Is that why the President stayed on vacation, until forced to return to the WH by public disgust and outcry? Why he told Dianne Sawyer that no one could have anticipated the levee breach? Why the President said the next morning after Katrina that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet?"

Or are we seeing the leading edge of the White House spin line? Because the President travelling to share a birthday cake with John McCain, to talk about his failed Medicaid program, to get the gift of a new guitar, and then head back to vacation in Crawford for three days after Katrina hit land sure doesn't seem like it was getting the job done for the residents of New Orleans or the Gulf Coast in hindsight, now does it? (ThinkProgress has a fantastic Katrina timeline, just FYI.)

Oh, and Scotty, maybe you could ask Karl Rove how things are going with him at the helm of Katrina reconstruction? Yeah, heckuva job there, Karl.

Here's a thought: how about we do the work necessary to make things right for folks in the Gulf Coast, instead of playing duck and cover and pointing fingers? Folks down there are still living in mold-covered quarters, and having no idea whether their lives will ever be anything but upside down.

UPDATE: Reader Anon_1 points to another great Katrina timeline that Josh has on TPM. Thanks!

UPDATE #2: Crooks and Liars has some video up of Brownie saying that its awfully tough for Homeland Security to say they weren't getting any information when they were having constant video conferences with him and others in FEMA. (And notice that Heckuva Job Brownie was sworn in to testify before the committee. I'm just saying.)


The Caged Bird Sings

Suddenly, Michael Brown feels the need to answer Congress' questions about the Katrina Disaster. All of them.

Harriet Miers failed to request that he assert executive privilege for Heckuva Job Brownie, and despite last-ditch attempts by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) to cover the WH by finding executive staffers in the hearing room (any staffers), he's currently in the hot seat. (You can watch the grilling on C-Span.)

My guess? That the WH is going to play "hang the former staffer out to dry" once he finishes his testimony. They have thus far refused to turn over a number of e-mails and other documents related to the Katrina Disaster -- all material long requested by the committee. If I had to guess, some of those e-mails will either begin selectively leaking -- or they'll be dumped on the Committee wholesale, with tabbed and highlighted copies given to Stevens and other Administration water carriers to hit the message of "it's all Brownie's fault," using the Wurlitzer to propel the message into the public.

Never mind that the President is responsible for hiring him in the first place, for being on vacation and for being utterly uninformed because he's too careless to even turn on the damn television to see what the rest of the country was seeing: people trapped and terrified in drowning New Orleans, citizens in the Gulf Coast region picking through the remnants of their lives, living in tents and their cars for weeks, and scrounging through the remains of local stores for baby formula and potable water.

It's going to be a long day for Michael Brown. He's looking mighty nervous, like a man anticipating the hatchet job of Rove's to come.

At least he still has his Golden Crony to come home to this evening.

The AP (via WaPo) reports that Brownie says the entire system of disaster response is broken.
"There was a cultural clash that didn't recognize the absolute inherent science of preparing for a disaster," he told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. "Any time you break that cycle ... you're doomed to failure."

He added: "The policies and decisions implemented by the DHS put FEMA on a path to failure."
Well, there's the understatement of the day. Anyone feeling safer, now?

UPDATE: The Moderate Voice has more on the hearings.


Looks Like Nero Had a Guitar This Time

The NYTimes is reporting that a FEMA employee notified the Bush White House on the night of Hurricane Katrina that the levees in New Orleans had been breached -- and that New Orleans and surrounding parrishes were flooding, with thousands trapped and fires raging all over the city.
As his helicopter approached the site, Mr. Bahamonde testified in October, there was no mistaking what had happened: large sections of the levee had fallen over, leaving the section of the city on the collapsed side entirely submerged, but the neighborhood on the other side relatively dry. He snapped a picture of the scene with a small camera.

"The situation is only going to get worse," he said he warned Mr. Brown, then the FEMA director, whom he called about 8 p.m. Monday Eastern time to report on his helicopter tour.

"Thank you," he said Mr. Brown replied. "I am now going to call the White House."
But no one seems to have told the President, who famously said the day after Katrina hit that New Orleans "dodged the bullet." And who continued on with his vacation, clearing brush, riding his bike, getting a new guitar...all the while, New Orleans was drowning...for days before the President seemed to get the message.

So either no one told the President what was going on in New Orleans -- or he knew and just went about his business without caring one bit about the disaster that had befallen New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf region.

I'm not certain which is worse.

The WH has a history of informing the President late in the game -- remember that whole plane threatens WH air space and the President keeps on biking incident? So, which is it: the President can't do his job, his staff doesn't think he can do his job, or he just doesn't want to do his job and has told his staff not to bother him when he's on vacation. You know, I hate to be harsh, but I can't come up with any...ANY...explanation that makes any of this even the slightest bit better. (PDB warning Bin Laden was going to attack in the US, anyone? Too bad Bush got that one when he was on vacation, too, isn't it?)

If you read the article, the staggering level of incompetence and poor planning at all levels is just painful to read, given that there was several days notice prior to the hurricane's landfall. But the federal government deficiencies were simply staggering. (Never mind that FEMA had previously done a practice run for just this scenario.) And the fact that we've had years...YEARS...since 9/11, and this was the best we could do with a disaster for which we had notice is terrifying.

Somehow, I think that terrorists aren't exactly the sort of folks who RSVP.

The one bright spot in the entire mess of an article is the way that the National Weather Service performed its duties.
Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia, chairman of the special House committee investigating the hurricane response, said the only government agency that performed well was the National Weather Service, which correctly predicted the force of the storm. But no one heeded the message, he said.

"The president is still at his ranch, the vice president is still fly-fishing in Wyoming, the president's chief of staff is in Maine," Mr. Davis said. "In retrospect, don't you think it would have been better to pull together? They should have had better leadership. It is disengagement."
Shameful. Try magnifying that level of dereliction and incompetence and failure of planning to the level of a massive biological or chemical or nuclear attack on a major American city...and see how truly frightening failure can be.

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are still struggling to rebuild. If you or I acted this way on the job, we get our butts fired faster than you can say "people died on your watch."

UPDATE: Heckuva Job Brownie is testifying before Congress on C-Span at the moment, in case you want to watch. (Thanks to Wilson for the head's up.)


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Gonzales on Comey

Glenn Greenwald sends along the following exchange between Schumer, Specter and Gonzales during the recent Judiciary Committee NSA wiretap hearings. As Glenn notes in the email, Gonzales seems to agree that Comey could appear under the same rules of testimony as Gonzales, i.e., give his own views of the program but not disclose what he did or said while at the Justice Department:
SCHUMER: It's been reported by multiple news outlets that the former number two man in the Justice Department, the premier terrorism prosecutor, Jim Comey, expressed grave reservations about the NSA program and at least once refused to give it his blessing. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, here's the response that I feel that I can give with respect to recent speculation or stories about disagreements.

There has not been any serious disagreement -- and I think this is accurate -- there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations which I cannot get into.

I will also say...

SCHUMER: But there was some -- I'm sorry to cut you off -- but there was some dissent within the administration. And Jim Comey did express, at some point -- that's all I asked you -- some reservations.

GONZALES: The point I want to make is that, to my knowledge, none of the reservations dealt with the program that we're talking about today. They dealt with operational capabilities that we're not talking about today.

SCHUMER: I want to ask you, again, about -- we have limited time.

GONZALES: Yes, sir.

SCHUMER: It's also been reported that the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, respected lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School, expressed reservations about the program. Is that true?

GONZALES: Senator, rather than going individual by individual, let me just say that I think the differing views that have been the subject of some of these stories did not deal with the program that I'm here testifying about today.

SCHUMER: But you were telling us that none of these people expressed any reservations about the ultimate program, is that right?

GONZALES: Senator, I want to be very careful here, because, of course, I'm here only testifying about what the president has confirmed.

And with respect to what the president has confirmed, I do not believe that these DOJ officials that you're identifying had concerns about this program.

SCHUMER: There are other reports, I'm sorry to -- you're not giving me a yes-or-no answer here. I understand that.

Newsweek reported that several Department of Justice lawyers were so concerned about the legal basis for the NSA program that they went so far as to line up private lawyers. Do you know if that's true?

GONZALES: I do not know if that's true.

SCHUMER: Now, let me just ask you a question here.

You mentioned earlier that you had no problem with Attorney General Ashcroft, someone else -- I didn't want to ask you about him; he's your predecessor -- people have said have doubts. But you said that you had no problem with him coming before this committee and testifying when Senator Specter asked, is that right?

GONZALES: Senator, who the chairman chooses to call as a witness is up to the chairman.

SCHUMER: The administration doesn't object to that, do they?

GONZALES: Obviously, the administration -- by saying that we would have no objection doesn't mean that we would waive any privileges that might exist.

SCHUMER: I understand. I got that.

But I assume the same would go for Mr. Comey, Mr. Goldsmith and any other individuals. Assuming you didn't waive executive privilege, you wouldn't have an objection to them coming before this committee.

GONZALES: Attorney-client privilege, deliberative privilege. To the extent that there are privileges, it is up to the chairman to decide who he wants to call as a witness.

But let me just say that if we're engaged in a debate about what the law is and the position of the administration, that is my job and that's what I'm doing here today.

SCHUMER: I understand. And you are doing your job.

And that's why I am requesting, as I have in the past, but renewing it here today, reaffirmed even more strongly by your testimony and everything else, that we invite these people, that we invite former Attorney General Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General Comey, OLC Chair Goldsmith to this hearing and actually compel them to come if they won't on their own.

And as for privilege, I certainly...

SPECTER: If I may interrupt you for just one moment...

SCHUMER: Please.

SPECTER: ... you'll have extra time...

SCHUMER: Yes, thank you.

SPECTER: ... I think the record was in great shape where I left it at. If you bring in Attorney General Ashcroft, that's a critical step.


SPECTER: It wasn't that I hadn't thought of Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith and other people, but I sought to leave the record with the agreement of the attorney general to bring in former Attorney General Ashcroft.

SCHUMER: Mr. Chairman, I respect that. I think others are important as well.

But I want to get to the issue of privilege here.

SPECTER: I'm not saying they aren't important. I'm just saying, what's the best way to get them here?

SCHUMER: OK. Well, whatever way we can, I'd be all for.

On privilege -- because that's going to be the issue, even if they come here, as I'm sure you will acknowledge, Mr. Chairman -- I take it you'd have no problem with them talking about their general views on the legality of this program, just as you are talking about those; not to go into the specific details of what happened back then, but their general views on the legality of these programs.

SCHUMER: Do you have any problem with that?

GONZALES: General views of the program that the president has confirmed, Senator, that's -- again, if we're talking about the general views of the...

SCHUMER: I just want them to be able to testify as freely as you've testified here, because it wouldn't be fair if you're an advocate of administration policies, you have one set of rules and if you're an opponent or a possible opponent of administration policies, you have another set of rules. That's not unfair, is it?

GONZALES: Sir, it's up to the chairman to...

SCHUMER: No, but would you or the administration -- you, as the chief legal officer -- have any problem with them testifying in the same way you did about general legal views of the program?

GONZALES: I would defer to the chairman.

SCHUMER: I'm not asking you -- sir, in all due respect, I'm not asking you what the chairman thinks. He's doing a good job here, and I don't begrudge that one bit.

GONZALES: Sir, my answer is...

SCHUMER: I'm asking you what the administration would think in terms of exercising any claim of privilege.

You're not going to have -- I'm sorry, here -- you're not going to have different rules for yourself, an administration advocate, then for these people who might be administration dissenters in one way or another, are you?

GONZALES: Sir, I don't know if you're asking what are they going to say...

SCHUMER: I'm not asking you that.

Would the rules be same? I think you answer that yes or no.

GONZALES: If they came to testify?

SCHUMER: Correct.

GONZALES: Well, sir, the client here is the president of the United States. I'm not sure it's in my place to offer...

SCHUMER: Or his chief...

GONZALES: ... up a position or my recommendation to you about what I might recommend to the president of the United States would not be appropriate here.

SCHUMER: What would be -- I just am asking you, as a very fine, well-educated lawyer, should or could the rules be any different for what you are allowed to say with privilege hovering over your head and what they are allowed to say with those same privileges hovering over their heads? Should the rules be any different?

If you can't say "yes" to that, then that's fundamentally unfair. It's saying that these hearings, or that -- it's saying really that the administration doesn't have the confidence to get out the whole truth.

GONZALES: Sir, my hesitation is, quite frankly, I haven't thought recently about the issue about former employees coming to testify about their legal analysis or their legal recommendations to their client, and that is the source of my hesitation.

SCHUMER: I was just -- my time...

SPECTER: Senator Schumer, take two more minutes for my interruption...

SCHUMER: Oh, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SPECTER: ... providing you move to another subject.




Again, I think this is very important, Mr. Chairman...

SPECTER: Oh, I do too.

SCHUMER: ... and I think you would agree.


SPECTER: If this were a courtroom, I'd move to strike all your questions and his answers, because the record was so much better off before.


SCHUMER: Well, I don't buy that, Mr. Chairman.

SPECTER: But take two more minutes on the conditions stated.

SCHUMER: I don't buy that. I think we have to tie down as much as we can here, OK.
It was an odd exchange -- Gonzales seems to be saying that Comey objected to another program. Digby has long speculated that the questions posed by the Democrats on the Committee indicate they have knowledge of some other surveillance program that they can't talk about, and it would certainly be interesting to hear from Comey himself if he will back Gonzales up on this one. If it's okay for Gonzales to say there was not internal dissent at the Justice Department over the program surely it would be okay for Comey to either confirm or deny this.

I'll believe Gonzales hadn't thought about the issue of former employees testifying before the Committee when Britney and her deep fried Oreos make it onto the New York Social Register. He was obviously very nervous about committing himself on the topic. I have absolutely no idea what Comey would say if he appeared, but since this is a program that needs a whole lot more light shined on it I can't help but feel that his testimony and that of others (like Bob Barr and Grover Norquist) would be anything but welcome.

(graphic by Graham G.)


Comey Asked by Specter to Testify Before Judiciary Committee

Sources familiar with the potential witness list of the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings into the NSA wiretapping scandal say that Arlen Specter has asked James Comey to appear before the Committee, and that Comey has expressed concern that his testimony would bring about a situation where the White House would invoke executive privilege.

For those not familiar with Comey, read Redd's superb post here. Comey was a Bush Administration appointee to the Justice Department who tangled with them almost from the day he arrived, challenging their positions on torture, illegal wiretapping and the CIA leak case. He appointed Patrick Fitzgerald and gave him the authority and the protection he needed in order to do his job. It was Comey who, when Ashcroft was sick in the hospital, refused to re-authorize the illegal NSA wiretaps in the first place. He eventually resigned from the Justice Department.

There can be no meaningful hearings by the Judiciary Committee or any other committee on this matter without the testimony of Comey who was so integrally involved in raising alarms about the whole affair.

If you would like to see Comey testify before the Committee please voice your opinion in the comments, they will be seen.


Will the Comey-to-Margolis Handoff Hold?

Murray Waas has a new article up at the National Journal regarding Scooter Libby and his defense strategy. As the recently released case documents indicate, Libby is trying to pull an Ollie North by claiming Dick Cheney gave him the okay to release parts of the then-classified National Intelligence Estimate to journalists in order to buck up the Administration's case for war. (He does not, however, appear to be claiming that Big Time told him to out Plame.)

Whether it was legal for Cheney to declassify these documents or not for purely propaganda purposes is for legal experts preferably not named Victoria Toensig to debate. Given the fact that Cheney and Libby knew as of June 17, 2003 that the Niger uranium claims were bunk and Libby began this crusade with Judy Miller anyway on June 23, the service to which these documents were put remain safely outside of "ethical" territory.

But more interesting is the graymail question that arises. Libby has hired John Cline, one of North's attorneys who helped keep Ollie out of the clink:
Among his detractors, Cline is what is known as a "graymail" specialist-an attorney who, critics say, purposely makes onerous demands on the federal government to disclose classified information in the course of defending his clients, in an effort to force the government to dismiss the charges. Although Cline declined to be interviewed for this story, he has said that the use of classified information is necessary in assuring that defendants are accorded due process and receive fair trials.

In the Libby case, Cline has frustrated prosecutors by demanding, as part of pretrial discovery, more than 10 months of the President's Daily Brief, or PDBs, the president's morning intelligence briefing. The reports are among the most highly classified documents in government, not only because they often contain sensitive intelligence and methods, but also because they indicate what the president and policy makers consider to be the most pressing national security threats. In the past, the Bush administration has defied bipartisan requests from the Intelligence committees in Congress to turn over PDBs for review.
So assuming the judge decides Libby is entitled to any of this, who is it that decides what gets handed over? That is a very good question:
Is it possible that a prosecution of Libby might be impeded or even derailed entirely by the refusal of the Bush White House or its Justice Department to declassify information that might be necessary to try Libby? "Under the current statute, it may well be the attorney general's call-or whomever he designates-to ultimately decide what should be declassified, and what might not be, in the Libby case," said Michael Bromwich, a former associate Iran-Contra independent counsel and a former Justice Department inspector general.
People who have been following this particular soap opera know that in the fall of 2003 John Ashcroft recused himself from the Plame investigation because of conflicts of interest and turned all his powers in the matter over to his then-deputy James Comey. Comey appointed Fitzgerald only to lock horns with the administration over the NSA wiretaps and other matters and finally resigned last year. Abu Gonzales likewise recused himself from the matter shortly after being sworn in. Despite BushCo.'s best efforts to put croneys Timothy "Tyco" Flanagan and David McCallum into the Fitzgerald supervision business, Comey did an end run around all of them and delegated his powers to the ethical, non-crony David Margolis on his way out the door.

Redd says that the DoJ handbook is not clear as to whether Abu's recusal would also mean that his hands would be off any decision to declassify material. I really just cannot imagine that we live in a world where he would not at the very least argue that this is a different matter and thus not a decision Margolis should be making. Nonetheless Abu has already acknowledged his conflict of interest in the case when he recused himself, and by any ethical standards he has an admitted bias that should force him to step back and let Margolis handle it. Not that he will, mind you. But he certainly should.


Secret Cave Blogging

**Put down all liquids before reading. You have been warned.**

As proof that we have some brilliance in the comments, one of our readers has uncovered a secret Osama blog entry. Guess the federal government spending oodles of cash on blog trolling might be a good idea. Let's take a peek:
"Today, my dialysis machine started making a funny noise. It was scary, but it seemed to be working all right.

"Omar thinks I should get a haircut. He says I'm looking a little ragged. I told him, 'what does it matter? I haven't been putting out any tapes.' He said it was just for my own good. Maybe I should. I haven't gotten enough 'me' time lately.

"The Infidel keeps ignoring me. I mean, after all that shit I pulled, it's a little frustrating that they won't even return my calls. Maybe I should try e-mail, but I might have to go to a public library. I hate touching the keyboards at public libraries, 'cause I suspect there are plenty of perverts who use them to try looking for porn, and then go and whack off in the bathrooms. Who knows where their hands have been. Certainly nowhere I'd want mine to be. Eww. Plus, I can't stand to look at the veins popping out of the backs of the librarians' legs. I wonder if I could get wifi out here. I'll ask Omar.

"Three of my wives have been starting to complain about my sex drive. I considered having them killed, but I guess they have a point. I'm depressed. It's probably from not getting enough sunlight, down in this cave. It's like seasonal depressive disorder full-time. I don't think I've had an erection in weeks.

"Oh, well. Rahim is coming over a little later, so I should probably take a shower soon.

"Current Music: Radiohead - Sit Down, Stand Up

"Current Mood: Tired *_*"
Big thanks to reader J Crowley for the enormous laugh this morning.

(If you were somehow stuck in a cave and missed the magic that was Gary Larson's Far Side, they've issued a complete set from 1980-1994. Bwahahaha.)


Having a Big Brother Sort of Morning

The day has definitely started off on a science fiction and fantasy sort of bent. First, NPR played some Dr. Who music between news segments this morning. Then, as I was driving home from the morning school drop-off for our exchange student, a black cat ran across the road in front of me. And we're on a Monsters, Inc. repeat-loop today, so it's all Sully, alla time.

I've been up since 4:30 am this morning with my barfing toddler (she can't seem to shake this nasty creeping crud she's had for the last coupla weeks, and I'm exhausted), and although I'm grateful for the existence of coffee, I've reached that icky tongue-coated jittery stage from forcing myself awake this morning at such an ungodly hour. Started surfing around my usual blog reads for the morning, and had this deja vu feeling that I was caught in one of those Philip K. Dick meets George Orwell sorts of dreams.

But I'm not. I'm wide awake.

The federal government is trolling the internet and beyond, in an all-day, all-night crawl, storing everything in its path and sifting through the datapile, compiling file upon file, according to the Christian Science Monitor. (via TalkLeft.) All without any adequate oversight from Congress or any set privacy protocols or research into appropriate privacy technology. Shocking, I know. Completely unexpected from this bunch, I hear ya. Pardon me while I get more coffee to go with my heaping helping of shock.

It's one thing to suspect that something like this is going on. It's another thing entirely to know there is documentary evidence that it is, indeed, an ongoing project and that members of Congress have no clue what the Administration is actually doing because they haven't been adequately briefed. Again.

You remember Total Information Awareness? Well, it's back with a vengeance.
"We just don't know enough about this technology, how it works, or what it is used for," says Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "It matters to a lot of people that these programs and software exist. We don't really know to what extent the government is mining personal data."...

"It isn't a bad idea, but you have to do it in a way that demonstrates its utility - and with provable privacy protection," says Latanya Sweeney, founder of the Data Privacy Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. But since speaking on privacy at the 2004 DHS workshop, she now doubts the department is building privacy into ADVISE. "At this point, ADVISE has no funding for privacy technology."...

Neither the proposal - nor any other she has seen - provides any funding for provable privacy technology, she adds.
Think this doesn't apply to you? Think again. The GAO reported that there were over 200 Federal datamining efforts -- with only 14 of those concentrating on counter-terrorism efforts. (Just in case you missed it, we had a fantastic discussion in the comments yesterday about a number of tech issues and the NSA domestic spying. Just FYI.) According to a privacy expert at Carnegie Mellon, 87 percent of Americans can be identified solely by their date of birth, gender and five digit zip code -- sound like some information you've filled out on any websites lately when you were buying porn sex toys erotic literature celebrity sex tapes a Bible?

And there continues to be a hitch in the oversight giddy-up -- one that the Bush Administration has exploited to the hilt in this NSA/HSA/DoD domestic spying fiasco. Because this was a super secret program related to high level national security matters, and because the Administration started its power grab in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when emotions and fears were running high, everyone involved in oversight appears to have bent over backwards to work with the Bush Administration, assuming that there would be checks and balances later on when things calmed down a bit -- except that never happened with the Dick Cheney Power Round-Up Gang, now did it?

Surveillance is an effective and important tool -- but it is an awful lot of power to be placed in the hands of a single branch of government. And its potential for misuse with no adequate oversight is enormous. "Trust me" isn't exactly the phrase that I would use to describe George Bush, Dick Cheney and the Crony Gang.

How in the hell are people charged with oversight supposed to keep their eye on the ball when they only get little glimpses of it -- and then can't talk to each other about it, under penalty of prosecution for revealing national security matters? (You think Dick Cheney didn't think about that before the power grab started? Please.) Despite registering protests with their briefers about legality and scope questions, and then later with the Administration, members of the Gang of 8 were ignored.

Now we learn from the WaPo that two separate judges who have headed the FISA court during the time of this domestic surveillance program told the Bush Administration flat out that what they were doing was likely unconstitutional and illegal -- and that evidence obtained via this program was not to be used in their court as the source of probable cause in order to preserve the integrity of the FISA process.

What sort of oversight is it when the people who are supposed to be looking out for the public interest can't even compare notes to check and double check this malignant, lying bunch of power-hungry cronies in the White House? Every parent knows that mom and dad need to compare notes once in a while to be sure they are on the same page. The way we are doing oversight on national security matters at the moment, it's like mom is in Topeka with a tin can and dad is somewhere in Siberia with nothing but an old walkie talkie and some corroded batteries.

It's pathetic is what it is.

"Hello, Constitution hotline? I'm a member of the American public. I'm just wondering when my long-term interests get considered by the powers that be? Do my individual rights factor in at all -- or has everything been thrown the hell out the window in the name of some short-term security by a bunch of Republicans who are scared silly by a very tall man hiding in a cave in Pakistan with his dialysis machine? I'd like to lodge a complaint on behalf of our nation's Founders."

And then there is this bit that Eriposte caught at the LeftCoaster: when the FISA court gave King George his blank check to spy on people involved with terrorists right after 9/11, the definition of who that might be was left awfully open-ended. Eriposte wonders if those on the "no fly list" and the "terrorism watch list" might be one and the same.

You know, I seem to recall Ted Kennedy having some difficulty flying at one point, don't you? Curious. I'd be interested to know if other Democratic politicians have had the same difficulties in the last five years.

It's convenient that now the Administration has gotten its hand caught in the domestic wiretapping jar, it's now so willing to publicly appear to cooperate with Congress. How magnanimous, and what a great attempt at PR, but I'm not buying it. This Administration will allow oversight only so far as it needs to do so to cover its political ass -- and no further.

I smell a rat by the name of Rove giving some political cover to Heather Wilson and her hotly contested race in NM. (Hotline says the race is a "dead heat," btw.)

Let's see: you're Karl and your boss is already caught spying domestically and you have to do some public damage control -- why not use this as an opportunity to allow a Republican in a questionable district to claim a hollow victory for the rubes back home? Might as well manufacture your own silver lining, especially when no one is going to ask you the tough questions when your party controls both houses of Congress, right?

The President's staff promised the media that his morning speech today would give specific information about how NSA spying has thwarted a terrorist plot in the US. He did not do so, but the networks played the whole speech all the way through without interruption nonetheless. The President did refer to "Liberty Tower" in Los Angeles (never mind that he likely meant Library Tower, which isn't even its name any longer -- it's a bank building now) -- but gave no specifics or anything that might link this to the NSA in any way. me. Suuuuuure. (Nice of the President's staff to rush out to all the major networks to correct their boss, isn't it?)

But it's not all scary news. The WSJ (via Kevin Drum) says there is opportunity knocking on your door for helping your local phone company enable the government to spy on your friends and neighbors. Is it me, or do you sense a Bush Pioneers business opportunity here?

Well, booyah, cut me in for a slice of the profit pie! The hell with the Constitution, and screw the folks next door, there's money to be made!

(Oh, and in case you thought you knew the half of it? Nope. Georgia10 at DKos has more on foreign power wiretaps -- and how much more this Administration has been using them compared to its predecessors in office, including all those Presidents from the Cold War era.)