Keeping your eye on the ball

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Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo reminds us about the big picture:

But let’s not get distracted by Alberto Gonzales. He’s just a cog. In almost every case, what we’re talking about here is Gonzales’s willingness to take orders from the White House — most importantly from Karl Rove and President Bush — on firing US Attorneys for corrupt purposes and using the Justice Department to suppress Democratic turnout in swing states. Mr. Gonzales is a secondary issue. The real players are in the White House.

Indeed. And we still don’t have any response (that I know of) from Sen. Pete Domenici on whether he called Bush personally to complain about former US Attorney David Iglesias.

Gonzalez testimony on Iglesias firing

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From TPM Muckraker:

Gonzales could not recall details about his conversation with Karl Rove about voter fraud, although he testified that he did have such a conversation. He said that it covered three jurisdictions — New Mexico, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. He could not recall when or where or how it had occurred, only that it was in the fall of 2006.

He pinpointed the date of his conversation with President Bush about those same three jurisdictions as happening on October 11.

He also revealed that, when he spoke with Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) in the fall of 2005 about David Iglesias, that Domenici said that Iglesias “was in over his head.” Domenici was concerned that Iglesias didn’t have personnel for public corruption cases. Domenici never requested that Iglesias be removed, Gonzales said — he just questioned whether Iglesias was capable.

When pressed by Leahy, Gonzales could not say precisely why Iglesias was fired, nor when Iglesias’ name appeared on the list.

Heath Haussamen has more at his place:

His statements shed some light on the timeline related to Iglesias’ firing. U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., called Iglesias on Oct. 16. Iglesias alleges Wilson inquired about potential sealed indictments in the Bernalillo County Metro Courthouse investigation and pressured him to issue indictments. Wilson admits the call but says she didn’t ask about sealed indictments or pressure Iglesias.

Gonzales says the next day is the first potential day Iglesias was added to the firing list. Then Domenici called Iglesias about the case on Oct. 27. Iglesias alleges the senator also pressured him on indictments, but Domenici says that isn’t true.

UPDATE — 10:32 am: Glenn Greenwald has some interesting observations on the testimony:

…the reason some Congressional Republicans beyond this Committee have called for Gonzales’ resignation, is not because they suddenly decided that it is important that the Justice Department act ethically or that lying to Congress is a bad thing. Instead, it is because they have long disliked Gonzales because they perceive that he has been insufficiently aggressive in enforcing immigration laws — they see him as a symbol of all that they dislike in what they perceive to be the Bush administration’s lax enforcement efforts. Some of them are dissatisfied because they perceive he has been insufficiently aggressive in enforcing pornography laws.

Republican hostility towards Gonzales and even calls for his resignation are, in most (though not all) cases, motivated by pre-existing dissatisfaction that has nothing to do with the scandal in question. That is one of the ironies here — that a Republican administration that never wanted aggressive enforcement of immigraiton laws (and therefore defended its U.S. attorneys from complaints voiced by Congressional Republicans about lax enforcement) is now attempting to pretend that it fired some of these U.S. attorneys because they did not enforce the immigration laws aggressively enough.

More on the DOJ Civil Rights Division

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With Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifying this morning, it’s good to remember just how far the Bush Administration will go (and has gone) to politicize arms of the federal government. I’ve written about this before, but McClatchy brings some new information to the forefront today:

For six years, the Bush administration, aided by Justice Department political appointees, has pursued an aggressive legal effort to restrict voter turnout in key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates.

The administration intensified its efforts last year as President Bush’s popularity and Republican support eroded heading into a midterm battle for control of Congress, which the Democrats won.

It’s a lenghty piece, including some very interesting tidbits:

In November 2004, Arizona residents passed Proposition 200, the toughest state voter ID law to date, which requires applicants to provide proof of citizenship and voters to produce a photo ID on Election Day. The Voting Rights Act state requires states to show that such laws wouldn’t impede minorities from voting and gives the Justice Department 60 days to approve or oppose them.

Career voting rights specialists in the Justice Department soon discovered that more than 2,000 elderly Indians in Arizona lacked birth certificates, and they sought their superiors’ approval to request more information from the state about other potential impacts on voters’ rights. Spakovsky and Sheldon Bradshaw, the division’s top deputy and a close friend of top Gonzales aide Kyle Sampson, a former Bush White House lawyer, denied the request, said one of the former department attorneys.

Check the whole thing. While you’re at it, do you remember all the claims of voter fraud made by Republicans during the last few elections cycles? I’m late to the party in mentioning it, but here’s the gist:

In 2002, DOJ changed their guidelines to make it easier to prosecute voter fraud. They made it a priority to find voter fraud cases. They appointed a clean slate of U.S. Attorneys loyal to the Republican Party. They set up training classes to help prosecutors charge and win voter fraud cases. But after all that, they managed to demonstrate fraud in a grand total of only 86 cases over four years. And even then, many of the cases of confirmed fraud were simply mistakes, while virtually none of them were actually designed to affect the outcome of an election.

So in four years of concerted effort, the Bush Justice Department managed to come up with maybe half a dozen cases of actual voter fraud. In other words, two or three per election cycle. Mostly in rural districts for low-level offices. And because of this, we’re supposed to believe that it’s a high priority to spend millions of dollars on voter ID laws that plainly do nothing except make it harder for poor people to vote.

Goodling immunity vote postponed

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The House Judiciary Committee, which was set to vote on immunity for Monica Goodling this morning, has delayed the vote until next week, according to TPM Muckraker. Here’s the statement from Committee Chair John Conyers:

“At the request of our Ranking Minority Member, Lamar Smith, I have announced a one-week delay in the Committee vote to apply for immunity for Monica Goodling. It is my hope that a short delay, agreed to in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation, will enable the Minority to join us in taking this critical step in our efforts to uncover the truth about why the U.S. Attorneys were terminated and what it means for the integrity of federal law enforcement. I continue to believe that Ms. Goodling would be a key witness in our investigation.”

Background here.

Politico: Senate opens Domenici ethics probe

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Via TPM comes the news at the Politico:

The Senate just adopted a resolution (S. Res. 153) stating that “for matters before the Select Committee on Ethics involving the preliminary inquiry arising in connection with alleged communications by persons within the committee’s jurisdiction with and concerning David C. Iglesias, then United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and the subsequent action by the committee with respect to that matter, if any, the Senator from Colorado (Mr. Salazar) shall be replaced by the Senator from Ohio (Mr. Brown).”

The passage of the resolution confirms that Domenici is being scrutinized by the Ethics Committee over a phone call he made to Iglesias, prior to the November election, inquiring whether Iglesias was going to indict some New Mexico Democrats. Up until this point, the Ethics Committee has refused to state whether it is actually investigating Domenici.

Domenici has denied any wrongdoing in the matter, but he complained personally to President Bush about Iglesias, and Iglesias was removed from his post on Dec. 7. Iglesias told congressional investigators that he received calls on the issue from both Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.).

This is a preliminary inquiry, but the story broke more than 2 months ago. This isn’t going away any time soon. Looks like Domenici’s role in Iglesias’ firing is going to continue to make headlines.

Politicizing the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division

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Paul Kiel, who has been nailing the US Attorney purge story for TMP Muckraker, has a lenghty piece online regarding the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division:

Over the past six years, the Bush administration has aggressively reshaped the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Many career analysts and attorneys have either been transferred or driven out; their replacements are long on conservative credentials and short on civil rights experience.

Here’s an inside account of what it’s like inside from Toby Moore, a redistricting expert with the division’s voting section until the spring of 2006. Like many of his colleagues, he left due to the hostile atmosphere in the section, where he says there was a pattern of selective intimidation towards career staff.

Definitely a worthwhile read.