Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, March 10, 2007

  Investigation of US Attorneys now turns to White House & Miers

Democrats announced on Friday that they'll directly investigate the role of the White House in the firing of six US Attorneys. The House Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to former White House Counsel, Harriet Miers, requesting her testimony. Democrats also revealed that the Committee is going to call other top administration figures, including Deputy Counsel William Kelley, current White House Counsel Fred Fielding, and some other as-yet unnamed WH officials. In addition, the Committee is requesting documents related to the firings.

This is a major expansion of the probe. Ask John Dean about what happens when investigations of a corrupt and lawless administration settle upon the White House Counsel.

In February, the NYT reported that Harriet Miers had taken an active role in the firing of one of the US Attorneys.

A United States attorney in Arkansas who was dismissed from his job last year by the Justice Department was ousted after Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, intervened on behalf of the man who replaced him, according to Congressional aides briefed on the matter.

Ms. Miers, the aides said, phoned an aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suggesting the appointment of J. Timothy Griffin, a former military and civilian prosecutor who was a political director for the Republican National Committee and a deputy to Karl Rove, the White House political adviser.

Later, the incumbent United States attorney, H. E. Cummins III, was removed without explanation and replaced on an interim basis by Mr. Griffin.

The Cummins/Griffin case presumably is at the core of what the House Judiciary Committee will be investigating. Or perhaps it is just the most logical starting point for a wider investigation. So far few news outlets have the story, but McClatchy is on top of it.

Lawmakers have been asking whether the federal prosecutors' offices have become tainted by partisan politics. Until Friday, the official inquiry had ended with the Justice Department.

The decision to extend the inquiry to Bush's inner circle suggests that lawmakers believe there may have been some level of coordination of the firings from inside the White House last December.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., chairwoman of the subcommittee directing the inquiry, sent a letter Friday to Miers, a longtime Bush loyalist who left her post in January, requesting that she submit to an interview...

The committee also is seeking all e-mails and paperwork between the White House and the Justice Department or any members of Congress related to the investigation.

Perhaps the best coverage of this important story is by the LA Times:

Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat and the committee chairman, said Democrats believe that the Justice Department has given conflicting reasons for the terminations, and that the committee wants to "get a clear and credible answer from the Bush administration on who made the decision to fire these U.S. attorneys and why they did it."

"We went to make sure that those who would contaminate our justice system with partisan politics are held accountable," Conyers said.

Tony Fratto, a spokesman at the White House, said the administration will review the committee's request.

"I'm not in a position to comment on how we will address it," he said. "But we certainly will respond."

Conyers' query was sent to current White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding, and the unusual step could set up a confrontation between the two branches of government.

The Bush White House has often taken a tough stance on protecting the confidentiality of internal legal documents and its decision-making process.

"It poses a tricky question," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law school professor. "Miers has left. And my sense is that Fred Fielding is a real expert on this type of issue and will attempt to craft a reasonable compromise rather than fight Congress."

When Fielding was nominated, there was much discussion among pundits that the WH was looking to bring on board a more experienced hand than Miers, to cope with what were expected to be a barrage of Congressional requests and subpoenas in 2007.

It's hard to imagine a more experienced choice than Mr. Fielding on the subject of executive power. As deputy White House counsel from 1972 to 1974, he witnessed the modern low tide of Presidential authority as Richard Nixon was besieged by Watergate. And as Ronald Reagan's counsel from 1981 to 1986, he had to cope with a Democratic House that unleashed special prosecutors on the executive branch.

The "independent counsel" law has happily expired, but this Congress will be looking to assert itself in particular on war powers. Mr. Fielding understands the importance of fighting off such poaching--for the sake of Mr. Bush and the Office of the Presidency. This ought to mean recommending that Mr. Bush veto any weakening of last year's law on military tribunals, as well as resisting any further delegation of executive power to the judiciary for approving warrantless wiretaps of al Qaeda.

The question of responding to the avalanche of subpoenas will be more politically delicate. Congress has every right to conduct oversight of the executive branch, and the White House will be obliged to supply numerous documents. However, the principle of executive privilege is vital to Presidential decision-making, and preserving the privacy of that deliberative process will be one of Mr. Fielding's primary tasks.

And here is what Fielding was brought on to face. So it starts, with a bang.

In the end, perhaps the most important issues will be whether this case comes to involve allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice. That way lies impeachment.

Here are some texts from the House Judiciary Committee:

(i) a press release
(ii) the 3/8/07 letter to Alberto Gonzales
(iii) the 3/9/07 letter to Harriet Miers
(iv) the 3/9/07 letter to Fred Fielding.

The latter holds the most interest for us:

Two of the fired U.S. Attorneys, Mr. Bogden and Mr. Charlton, testified that they were fired for political reasons in order to put others in those position so they could build their resumes, contrary to the claim by Justice Department officials that they were fired for "performance related" reasons. Many of the rationales for the terminations offered by Mr. Moschella at our hearing do not appear to hold up to scrutiny....

Mr. Iglesias and Mr. McKay testified that there were several efforts made to influence their prosecutorial decisions... This testimony raises serious issues concerning possible undue influence and obstruction of justice...

Mr. Cummins testified that he received a call from Michael Elston, Mr. McNulty's Chief of Staff [warning that any 'voluntary testimony' to Congress would be seen as 'a major escalation']... On its face, this testimony raises the possibility that the Department may have sought to obstruct Congress' efforts to ascertain the truth concerning these firings.

The letter to Fielding goes on to request all documents relating to the firings and to the developing controversy, from both the White House and Justice Department, including emails, materials relating to meetings, communications within the WH and DoJ, and communications with the Attorneys before and after their termination.

Further, it requests copies of documents relating to communications about the subject with Members of Congress, and the names of any Members who were given advance notification of the firings (!). The letter also requests the names of all individuals in the WH who were involved in discussions of the issue. It asks that the documents and information be handed over by March 16.

The similar letter to Gonzales asks that he make available for interviews the following DoJ officials: Paul McNulty, Deputy AG; D. Kyle Sampson, CoS to AG; Michael Elston, CoS to Deputy AG; Michael Battle, Director of Executive Office for US Attorneys; Monica Goodling, Senior Counsel to AG and WH Liaison; and William Mercer, US Attorney for Montana.

Mercer of course is the friend who told the US Attorney from Nevada, Daniel Bogden, that the administration wanted to allow as many Republicans as possible to bolster their resumes in the next two years.

crossposted from Unbossed

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