The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

GOP gala takes in smallest amount in years

GOP gala takes in smallest amount in years

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush helped raise $10.5 million for the national Republican Party at its annual gala on Thursday night, the smallest take in years for the event that came only months after the GOP lost control of both houses of Congress.

The Republican National Committee's spring fundraising gala hosted by the president raised $17 million last year, $15 million in 2005 and $14 million in 2003. When Bush was seeking re-election to the White House in 2004, the dinner brought in a record $38.5 million.

Bush defended his policies on the Iraq war, to a friendly reception, but didn't directly criticize Democrats, despite tussles with them over a war spending bill.

Shortly after Bush left the dinner, on Capitol Hill the House voted, largely along party lines, to pay for military operations in Iraq on an installment plan, defying Bush's threat to veto it in a test of wills over the unpopular war. (Watch the fallout over the House voteVideo)

The measure now goes to the Senate. (Full story)

The cocktail reception drew about 800 people to the cavernous DC Armory, where they dined standing up on tenderloin sandwiches, crabcakes, vegetables and hummus. The ticket price was $1,500 a person, though many donated more.

The president put a positive spin on the night, saying donors would help return Washington to domination by the GOP, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

"I believe we're the party of the entrepreneur. I believe we're the party of the doer, the dreamer, the people that work," Bush said. "I believe that we're the party of low taxes. And I know we're the party of strong national defense to protect the United States of America."

The latest fundraising filings for the parties, released in April, showed that national Democrats have nearly eliminated Republicans' traditional fundraising advantage. (Compare fundraising by candidate and party)

The Republican National Committee and its House and Senate committees barely edged out their Democratic counterparts in first-quarter fundraising. Each side raised just over $47 million but the GOP came out on top by a difference of just $76,049.66. The Democrats spent much less in the first three months of the year, so they had more in the bank as of the April filings.

The Democratic advantage came from the congressional committees, which outraised the Republicans now that they hold majorities in the House and Senate.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, raised $24.6 million to the Democratic National Committee's $15 million. The national parties' money is typically targeted more toward the presidential contest, likely to be the case this cycle with the 2008 White House race.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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FBI probes Nevada governor for corruption

FBI probes Nevada governor for corruption
Did Jim Gibbons accept cash and gifts in exchange for defense contracts?
By Lisa Myers, Jim Popkin & the NBC News Investigative Unit
Updated: 5:46 p.m. CT May 11, 2007

The key facts are familiar. A politician gets a fancy vacation and perhaps other lucrative benefits. And a defense contractor gets multi-million-dollar government contracts. The question now: Was any of it criminal?

The new governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, is being investigated by the FBI because of alleged gifts and payments from Warren Trepp, a defense contractor whose Nevada firm received tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

The FBI wants to know if Gibbons, while a member of Congress, improperly used his influence to help Trepp get those contracts.

Sources close to the investigation say a key focus is a lavish week-long Caribbean cruise in March 2005 by Gibbons, his wife and son, and Trepp, who paid for almost everything. In photos obtained by NBC News, Gibbons is seen hamming it up — kicking back with a drink and posing with his wife, Dawn, Trepp and Trepp's other guests.

Software designer Dennis Montgomery was also on that cruise with Gibbons. He estimates the trip cost "probably $20,000 a person," claiming he saw the invoice. Montgomery says his former business partner Trepp chartered a 727 to fly guests from Nevada to Florida and back and picked up the tab for penthouse rooms, private meals and expensive wines.

In an exclusive interview with NBC, Montgomery — who's now at war with his former partner — makes an explosive charge. He says that near the end of the cruise, he saw Trepp pass money to the congressman.

Dennis Montgomery: There was a lot of alcohol and a lot of drinking. And that's when I first saw Warren give Jim Gibbons money.

Lisa Myers: How much?

Montgomery: Close to $100,000.

Myers: How can you know?

Montgomery: Because he gave him casino chips and cash.

Myers: Are you sure about what you saw?

Montgomery: I'm absolutely, positively sure.

So sure that Montgomery has made the same allegations in federal court. Montgomery's wife also says she saw Trepp pass casino chips to Gibbons. In addition, Montgomery provided NBC with hundreds of e-mails, he says, from Trepp's computer.

Days before the cruise, Trepp's wife e-mails her husband: "Please don't forget to bring the money you promised Jim and Dawn on the trip."

Hours later, Trepp e-mails back: "Don't ever send this kind of message to me! Erase this message from your computer now!"

There also is a paper trail showing Gibbons helped Trepp's company, eTreppid, get government contracts.

In a 2003 e-mail, an eTreppid executive tells Trepp that Gibbons helped secure a contract and "we need to take care of him like we discussed." Two years later, the same executive writes, "He [Gibbons] has always been really good to us."

Gibbons, a Republican, says he would help any Nevada company, and strongly denies all wrongdoing.

"I'm not the kind of congressman or governor that would ever accept any kind of payment or bribe or gift or whatever it is!" he says.

Gibbons says Trepp has been a friend for nearly 20 years, that he reimbursed him $1,654 for the trip and that he only flew one-way on the 727.

Trepp also strongly denies any wrongdoing, and suggests the e-mails were doctored. Both men also question Montgomery's credibility, arguing he's involved in a vicious legal battle with Trepp over ownership of their company, with millions of dollars at stake.

Montgomery admits he's no angel, that he's been known to gamble and he was sued for sexual harassment. Montgomery is now cooperating with the FBI in the criminal investigation of Gibbons and Trepp. In court, and in our interview, Montgomery claims that Trepp gave Gibbons cash twice, the second time allegedly was in Trepp's office at eTreppid.

Montgomery: He took a hundred thousand out of his desk, two $50,000 bundles, and asked me to get a briefcase, which I did. 15 minutes later, Jim came in, picked it up and left.

Myers: Did you see the Congressman with the briefcase?

Montgomery: Yes.

Myers: And you're sure the money was in there?

Montgomery: Yes

Montgomery, a registered Republican, says he never reported the alleged payments to the FBI. He says he did tell the Air Force official who was handling their contracts as had been instructed.

Myers: Why didn't you go to the police?

Montgomery: Because I've been informed, because of the nature of the work that we do, this is the only person I am to go to.

Myers: Because you do classified work for the government?

Montgomery: We do work for the government.

NBC News called Montgomery's Air Force contact and asked whether he ever knew about or reported any alleged payments to the congressman. The official said "no comment" and hung up. Montgomery also says he confronted Trepp, to no avail.

Myers: Did you raise the possibility that this was improper?

Montgomery: Yes.

Myers: And he said?

Montgomery: Stay out of it.

Montgomery's credibility will be put to the test, but so will Trepp's. He was chief broker for junk-bond trader and convicted felon Michael Milken. The Securities and Exchange Commission tried to bar Trepp from the industry for what a judge called "egregious, recurring and intentional" misconduct. The case against him eventually was dismissed because the government waited too long to bring charges.

Myers: Some people are going to look at this and say, "'This is just one angry, disgruntled man. Why should we believe him?'"

Montgomery: Because I know what happened for the last five years and I can prove it.

The FBI now is trying to sort out who's telling the truth. It's always possible that no charges will be brought. But grand-jury subpoenas have gone out and a governor's reputation hangs in the balance.


Life in the 'triangle of death'

Life in the 'triangle of death'

Guardian photographer Sean Smith, embedded with US soldiers near Baghdad and on his fifth trip to Iraq, describes the huge gap between government rhetoric and reality on the ground

Interview by Stephen Moss
Friday May 11, 2007
The Guardian

The Americans didn't attempt to patrol the so-called "triangle of death" around the town of Yusifiyah, about 25 miles south-west of Baghdad, until last year. Before that it was a no-go area, ruled by tribal chiefs. Even now, when you move through the area, it reminds you of John Boorman's film Deliverance; you never know what will be around the next corner.

I'm embedded with the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, who have a base in Yusifiyah and are setting up smaller bases in the surrounding countryside. Yusifiyah is predominantly Shia; the areas around it, populated by farmers, are largely Sunni. Both groups are hostile to the Americans: used to autonomy, they recognise this as an occupation.

The area is full of palms and irrigation ditches. To the American foot patrols, having to watch out for mines and snipers, it must feel like Vietnam. At first they had great difficulty establishing bases in the countryside and suffered heavy casualties, but the bases are now more secure. The "surge" in troop levels is paying off in terms of greater stability - the sheer size of the military bootprint guarantees that. But can it be sustained? The troops are doing longer terms of duty; morale seems low; how many will re-enlist?

The only contact the soldiers have with the local population is in stress situations - when a search is being conducted or IDs checked. The troops take interpreters with them, but their English is not always very good. Through the interpreters they will ask some basic questions - "Have you seen any strange people around here?", "Are there any bad guys in the area?" - but mostly the locals just shrug and say no. They don't want to get involved.

One night a vehicle patrol was hit by a roadside bomb. I joined a foot patrol that went out in response, and three men were tracked to their home a mile away. They'll now be sent to Baghdad for questioning, and will either be charged or released. But that could take a long time: they can be held for a long period without being charged and can be parcelled around in the meantime. Following the explosion, the patrol searched houses nearby. That's where they surprised the boy in bed. He looks unconcerned in the photograph, but that's because here the abnormal becomes the norm. Mostly, the locals know what to do when they are confronted by a patrol - stop whatever they're doing, get out of their car, explain who they are. And do it quickly - or you run the risk of being shot.

I realise that, by being embedded, I am seeing the country through the eyes of the occupiers. There is no way I can tell the whole story. But what I can do is show the gap between the rhetoric of the government in Baghdad and the reality on the ground. There is no effective administration here and the Iraqi army is a fiction. There are Iraqi soldiers alongside the Americans, but they owe their allegiance to a unit commander who is usually someone known to them previously. They are small bands or gangs of soldiers, not a national force.

This is my fifth visit to Iraq. This time it has been very slow going - just getting round is difficult, trying to be in the right place at the right time. I can't emphasise enough what a slog this is for the troops. They're good soldiers, sent to do an impossible political job, so at the moment it's not much more than putting one foot in front of the other and showing they are there. This isn't about governing Iraq; it's just trying to demonstrate nowhere is out of bounds.,,2077241,00.html

New charges filed against former top CIA official, contractor

New charges filed against former top CIA official, contractor
05/11/07 16:01:19

New charges have been filed alleging that the CIA's former No. 3 official used his influence in that role to support a proposed $100 million government contract for his best friend, a defense contractor, in return for lavish vacations, private jet flights and a lucrative job offer.

The indictment, returned Thursday by a federal grand jury in San Diego, supersedes charges brought in February against career CIA man Kyle "Dusty" Foggo and Poway-based contractor Brent Wilkes. The charges grew from the bribery scandal that landed former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in prison.

Foggo resigned from the spy agency a year ago, after his house and office were raided by federal agents. He is the highest-ranking CIA officer to be charged with crimes allegedly committed while working for the agency.

The pair now face 30 wide-ranging counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

According to the new indictment, Foggo provided Wilkes with "sensitive, internal information related to our national security," including classified information, to help him prepare proposals for providing undercover flights for the CIA under the guise of a civil aviation company and armored vehicles for agency operations. Foggo allegedly then pushed his CIA colleagues to hire Wilkes' companies without disclosing their longstanding friendship.

In a June 2005 e-mail to the head of CIA air operations quoted in the indictment, Foggo offered to "use some 'EXDIR grease'" on Wilkes' behalf - apparently a reference to his title as the agency's executive director.

Prosecutors say that in return, Wilkes offered to hire Foggo after he retired from government service. In the meantime, he allegedly treated his friend to a Scottish golf trip during which they racked up a $44,000 hotel bill at the luxurious Pitcastle Estate.

Details in the indictment show that the arrangement between the two men began deteriorating in the summer of 2005, as the federal investigation into Cunningham began to envelop Wilkes. Foggo, who hosted a lunch in the CIA dining room for Wilkes in February of that year, allegedly instructed a CIA employee not to hire his friend after federal agents raided Wilkes Corp. offices in August.

Elsewhere in the indictment, prosecutors allege Foggo asked Wilkes to enlist Cunningham's help in obtaining an immigration visa on behalf of an acquaintance who later worked with Wilkes to provide water deliveries to the CIA.

The initial indictment in February charged the pair with 11 counts of the same charges in connection with a $1.7 million water-supply contract Foggo allegedly helped win for one of Wilkes' companies while he was working as a logistics coordinator at a CIA supply hub overseas.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to those charges. They face arraignment on the new charges on Monday.

Wilkes is charged in a separate indictment with conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and unlawful monetary transactions to Cunningham in return for government contracts.

That indictment was also superseded by the grand jury to include new charges against a second defendant, Long Island mortgage banker John T. Michael, who was described as a co-conspirator in Cunningham's 2005 plea agreement. He has already pleaded not guilty to one count of obstructing justice but now faces additional counts of money laundering and unlawful monetary transactions.

Calls seeking comment from attorneys for Foggo and Wilkes were not immediately returned Friday. Michael's attorney, Howard Frank, said he had not yet read the indictment and had no comment.

The initial charges came 20 months after the FBI opened an investigation into Cunningham, who served on key House committees with oversight of government contracts. He pleaded guilty in November 2005 to taking $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors and was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

Investigators quickly turned to Foggo and Wilkes, who played high-school football together in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista. After graduating in 1972, they roomed together at San Diego State University, were best men at each other's weddings, and named their sons after each other.

Foggo, a career CIA officer, rose through the ranks to become a top logistics officer based in Frankfurt, Germany, where he handled supply shipments to CIA operations in Central Europe, Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Foggo was named executive director of the CIA in 2004. He resigned in May under investigation by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Pentagon's Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the CIA's inspector general and the U.S. attorney's office in San Diego.

Wilkes, whose companies won $100 million in federal contracts over the last decade, funneled more than $700,000 in bribes to Cunningham, according to the indictment.

Billions in Oil Missing in Iraq, U.S. Study Says

May 12, 2007
Billions in Oil Missing in Iraq, U.S. Study Says

Between 100,000 and 300,000 barrels a day of Iraq’s declared oil production over the past four years is unaccounted for and could have been siphoned off through corruption or smuggling, according to a draft American government report.

Using an average of $50 a barrel, the report said the discrepancy was valued at $5 million to $15 million daily.

The report does not give a final conclusion on what happened to the missing fraction of the roughly two million barrels pumped by Iraq each day, but the findings are sure to reinforce longstanding suspicions that smugglers, insurgents and corrupt officials control significant parts of the country’s oil industry.

The report also covered alternative explanations for the billions of dollars worth of discrepancies, including the possibility that Iraq has been consistently overstating its oil production.

Iraq and the State Department, which reports the numbers, have been under relentless pressure to show tangible progress in Iraq by raising production levels, which have languished well below the United States goal of three million barrels a day. Virtually the entire economy of Iraq is dependent on oil revenues.

The draft report, expected to be released within the next week, was prepared by the United States Government Accountability Office with the help of government energy analysts, and was provided to The New York Times by a separate government office that received a review copy. The accountability office declined to provide a copy or to discuss the draft.

Paul Anderson, a spokesman for the office, said only that “we don’t discuss draft reports.”

But a State Department official who works on energy issues said that there were several possible explanations for the discrepancy, including the loss of oil through sabotage of pipelines and inaccurate reporting of production in southern Iraq, where engineers may not properly account for water that is pumped along with oil in the fields there.

“It could also be theft,” the official said, with suspicion falling primarily on Shiite militias in the south. “Crude oil is not as lucrative in the region as refined products, but we’re not ruling that out either.”

Iraqi and American officials have previously said that smuggling of refined products like gasoline and kerosene is probably costing Iraq billions of dollars a year in lost revenues. The smuggling of those products is particularly feared because officials believe that a large fraction of the proceeds go to insurgent groups. Crude oil is much more difficult to smuggle because it must be shipped to refineries and turned into the more valuable refined products before it can be sold on the market.

The Shiite militia groups hold sway around the rich oil fields of southern Iraq, which dominate the country’s oil production, the State Department official said. For that reason, he said, the Shiite militias are more likely to be involved in theft there than the largely Sunni insurgents, who are believed to benefit mostly from smuggling refined products in the north.

In the south, the official said, “There is not an issue of insurgency, per se, but it could be funding Shia factions, and that could very well be true.”

“That would be a concern if they were using smuggling money to blow up American soldiers or kill Sunnis or do anything that could harm the unity of the country,” the official said.

The report by the accountability office is the most comprehensive look yet at faltering American efforts to rebuild Iraq’s oil and electricity sectors. For the analysis of Iraq’s oil production, the accountability office called upon experts at the Energy Information Administration within the United States Department of Energy, which has long experience in analyzing oil production and exports worldwide.

Erik Kreil, an oil expert at the information administration who is familiar with the analysis, said a review of industry figures around the world — exports, refinery figures and other measures — could not account for all the oil that Iraq says it is producing. The administration also took into account how much crude oil was consumed internally, to do things like fuel Iraqi power plants and refine into gasoline and other products.

When all those uses of the oil were taken into consideration, Mr. Kreil said, Iraq’s stated production figures did not add up.

“Either they’re producing less, or they’re producing what they say and the difference is completely unaccounted for in any of the places we think it should go,” Mr. Kreil said. “Either it’s overly optimistic, or it’s unaccounted for.”

Several analysts outside the government agreed that such a large discrepancy indicated that there was either a major smuggling operation in place or that Iraq was incapable to generate accurate production figures.

“That’s a staggering amount of oil to lose every month,” said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an independent economist and oil expert. “But given everything else that’s been written about Iraq, it’s not a surprise.”

Mr. Verleger added that if the oil was being smuggled out of Iraq, there would be a ready market for it, particularly in smaller refineries not controlled by large Western companies in places like China, the Caribbean and even small European countries.

The report also contains the most comprehensive assessment yet of the billions of dollars the United States and Iraq spent on rebuilding the oil and electricity infrastructure, which is falling further and further behind its performance goals.

Adding together both civilian and military financing, the report concludes that the United States has spent $5.1 billion of the $7.4 billion in American taxpayer money set aside to rebuild the Iraqi electricity and oil sectors. The United States has also spent $3.8 billion of Iraqi money on those sectors, the report says.

Despite those enormous expenditures, the performance is far short of official goals, and in some cases seems to be declining further. The average output of Iraq’s national electricity grid in 2006, for example, was 4,300 megawatts, about equal to its value before the 2003 invasion. By February of this year, the figure had fallen still further, to 3,800 megawatts, the report says.

All of those figures are far short of the longstanding American goal for Iraq: 6,000 megawatts. Even more dispiriting for Iraqis, by February the grid provided power for an average of only 5.1 hours a day in Baghdad and 8.6 hours nationwide. Both of those figures are also down from last year.

The story is similar for the oil sector, where — even if the Iraqi numbers are correct — neither exports nor production have met American goals and have also declined since last year, the report says.

American reconstruction officials have continued to promote what they describe as successes in the rebuilding program, while saying that problems with security have prevented the program from achieving all of its goals. But federal oversight officials have frequently reported that the program has also suffered from inadequate oversight, poor contracting practices, graft, ineffective management and disastrous initial planning.

The discrepancies in the Iraqi oil figures are broadly reminiscent of the ones that turned up when some of the same energy department experts examined Iraq’s oil infrastructure in the wake of the oil-for-food scandals of the Saddam Hussein era. In a United Nations-sponsored program that was supposed to trade Iraq’s oil for food, Mr. Hussein and other smugglers were handsomely profiting from the program, investigations determined.

In reports to Congress before the 2003 invasion that ousted Mr. Hussein, the accountability office, using techniques similar to those called into play in its most recent report, determined that in early 2002, for example, 325,000 to 480,000 barrels of crude oil a day were being smuggled out of Iraq, the majority through a pipeline to Syria.

But substantial amounts also left Iraq through Jordan and Turkey, and by ship in the Persian Gulf, routes that could also be available today, said Robert Ebel, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Any number of adjacent countries would be glad to have it if they could make some money,” Mr. Ebel said.

Mr. Ebel said the lack of modern metering equipment, or measuring devices, at Iraq’s wellheads made it especially difficult to track smuggling there. The State Department official agreed that there were no meters at the wellheads, but said that Iraq’s Oil Ministry had signed a contract with Shell Oil to study the possibility of putting in the meters.

The official added that an American-financed project to install meters on Iraq’s main oil platform in the Persian Gulf was scheduled to be completed this month.

As sizable as a discrepancy of as much as 300,000 barrels a day would be in most parts of the world, some analysts said it could be expected in a country with such a long, ingrained history of corruption.

“It would be surprising if it was not the case,” said John Pike, director of, which closely follows security and economic issues in Iraq. He added, “How could the oil sector be the exception?”

Colleagues Cite Partisan Focus by Justice Official

Colleagues Cite Partisan Focus by Justice Official

WASHINGTON, May 11 — Two years ago, Robin C. Ashton, a seasoned criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, learned from her boss that a promised promotion was no longer hers.

“You have a Monica problem,” Ms. Ashton was told, according to several Justice Department officials. Referring to Monica M. Goodling, a 31-year-old, relatively inexperienced lawyer who had only recently arrived in the office, the boss added, “She believes you’re a Democrat and doesn’t feel you can be trusted.”

Ms. Ashton’s ouster — she left the Executive Office for United States Attorneys for another Justice Department post two weeks later — was a critical early step in a plan that would later culminate in the ouster of nine United States attorneys last year.

Ms. Goodling would soon be quizzing applicants for civil service jobs at Justice Department headquarters with questions that several United States attorneys said were inappropriate, like who was their favorite president and Supreme Court justice. One department official said an applicant was even asked, “Have you ever cheated on your wife?”

Ms. Goodling also moved to block the hiring of prosecutors with résumés that suggested they might be Democrats, even though they were seeking posts that were supposed to be nonpartisan, two department officials said.

And she helped maintain lists of all the United States attorneys that graded their loyalty to the Bush administration, including work on past political campaigns, and noted if they were members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

By the time Ms. Goodling resigned in April — after her role in the firing of the prosecutors became public and she had been promoted to the role of White House liaison — she and other senior department officials had revamped personnel practices affecting employees from the top of the agency to the bottom.

The people who spoke about Ms. Goodling’s role at the department, including eight current Justice Department lawyers and staff, did so only on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Several added that they found her activities objectionable and damaging to the integrity of the department.

Ms. Goodling, who is under investigation by the department’s inspector general and ethics office, as well as Congress, has declined to testify before a House panel, citing her Fifth Amendment privilege to avoid making self-incriminating statements. Her lawyer, John M. Dowd, declined to comment on Friday.

A judge in Federal District Court in Washington signed an order Friday to grant Ms. Goodling limited immunity, which will allow House investigators to compel her to answer questions.

Justice Department officials declined to respond to questions about Ms. Goodling’s actions and refused to allow some agency employees to speak with a reporter about them.

“Whether or not Ms. Goodling engaged in prohibited personnel practices is the subject of an ongoing investigation,” a written statement said. “Given the ongoing nature of the investigation, we are unable to comment on the allegations.”

H. E. Cummins III, one of the fired prosecutors, said Justice Department officials should have recognized that Ms. Goodling’s strategy was flawed from the start.

“She was inexperienced, way too naïve and a little overzealous,” said Mr. Cummins, a Republican from Arkansas. “She might have somehow figured that what she was doing was the right thing. But a more experienced person would understand you don’t help the party by trying to put political people in there. You put the best people you can find in there.”

Ms. Goodling, now 33, arrived at the department at the start of the Bush administration after working as an opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Her legal experience was limited; she had graduated in 1999 from Regent University School of Law, which was founded by Pat Robertson. Deeply religious and politically conservative, Ms. Goodling seemed to believe that part of her job was to bring people with similar values into the Justice Department, several former colleagues said.

She joined the department in the press office. Soon after, two lawyers said, Ms. Goodling complained that staff members in Puerto Rico had used rap music in a public service announcement intended to discourage gun crime.

“That is just outrageous,” she told one department lawyer. “How could they use government money for an ad that featured rap music? That kind of music glorifies violence.”

Ms. Goodling’s shift to the executive office, which oversees budgets, management and performance evaluations of United States attorneys, occurred as officials in the White House and Justice Department were considering replacing a number of the top prosecutors. The first lists of possible targets had already been drawn up. But while those lists were being refined, Ms. Goodling, who would become deputy director of the executive office, was quietly helping make other changes.

In addition to making clear that she wanted Ms. Ashton out, a Justice Department employee still in that office said, Ms. Goodling took actions that encouraged a second experienced prosecutor, Kelly Shackelford, to move on. James B. Comey, who served as deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005, said Ms. Ashton and Ms. Shackelford were excellent lawyers, whose politics he did not know nor would he ever have asked. Ms. Ashton and Ms. Shackelford declined to comment.

Ms. Goodling helped recruit new office managers who included John Nowacki, another Regent University graduate, who had little experience as a prosecutor, but had previously served as the director of legal policy at a conservative research group, the Free Congress Foundation.

She also insisted that she be given final approval in hiring assistant United States attorneys in offices where there was an interim chief prosecutor. Interim United States attorneys always had to seek permission for hiring, but the review was typically lower level and involved checking that sufficient slots were available, current and former employees said.

But Ms. Goodling’s reviews delayed hiring decisions for weeks or months, creating problems in busy offices, and her concerns at times appeared to be for partisan reasons.

In one case, Ms. Goodling told a federal prosecutor in the District of Columbia that she was not signing off on an applicant who had graduated from Howard University Law School, and then worked at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“He appeared, based on his résumé, to be a liberal Democrat,” Ms. Goodling told Jeffrey A. Taylor, the acting United States attorney in Washington, according to two of the department employees who asked not to be named. “That wasn’t what she was looking for.”

Mr. Taylor ultimately found a way to go around Ms. Goodling in hiring the applicant.

She appeared to take similar concerns about political leanings into account when making decisions about promotions and special assignments for Justice Department lawyers.

Robert Nicholson, a career lawyer from the Southern District of Florida, was asked some unusual questions when he applied for a post at the Justice Department headquarters, according to two department lawyers, including Margaret M. Chiara, the former chief prosecutor Western Michigan.

“Which Supreme Court justice do you most admire and why? Which legislator do you most admire and why? And which president do you most admire and why?” Mr. Nicholson was asked by Ms. Goodling, according to Ms. Chiara and the other lawyer, who asked not to be named.

Mr. Nicholson, who did not get the job, did not dispute the account, but he declined to comment, citing the investigation of Ms. Goodling.

In another instance, two Justice Department officials said, Ms. Goodling decided she did not like the applicants for one prestigious posting at department headquarters and decided to offer the job to David C. Woll Jr., a young lawyer who she knew was a Republican. In the interview, a department official said, she asked Mr. Woll if he had ever cheated on his wife. Mr. Woll declined to comment for this article.

Last month, a group of department employees wrote anonymously to Congressional investigators alleging that political considerations were influencing the selection of summer interns and applicants for the Attorney General’s Honors Program, which hires promising lawyers right out of law school. The letter did not say if Ms. Goodling was involved in the process. Department officials declined to comment on the matter.

Hundreds of applications for the honors slots were winnowed by career lawyers, then reviewed by top political appointees, who removed many candidates, the letter said. “Most of those struck from the list had interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for ‘liberal’ causes, or otherwise appeared to have ‘liberal’ leanings,” the letter said.

Ms. Goodling worked less than a year at the executive office, then moved to the attorney general’s office, where she became the White House liaison and collected a $133,000 annual salary, according to federal records. She insisted that she retain her power to review hiring of assistant United States attorneys, two department employees said.

Her mandate over hiring expanded significantly in March 2006, when Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales signed a confidential memorandum delegating to her and D. Kyle Sampson, his former chief of staff, the power to appoint or fire all department political appointees other than the United States attorneys. That included interim United States attorneys and heads of the divisions that handle civil rights, public corruption, environmental crimes and other matters.

At the same time, Ms. Goodling, Mr. Sampson and Mr. Nowacki, according to e-mail released to Congressional investigators, were helping prepare the final list of United States attorneys to be dismissed. Ms. Goodling was also calling around the country trying to identify up-and-coming lawyers — and good Republicans — who could replace them, said one Justice Department official who received such a call.

Mr. Comey said that if the accusations about Ms. Goodling’s partisan actions were true, the damage was deep and real.

“I don’t know how you would put that genie back in the bottle, if people started to believe we were hiring our A.U.S.A.s (Assistant United States Attorneys) for political reasons,” he said at a House hearing this month. “I don’t know that there’s any window you can go to to get the department’s reputation back if that kind of stuff is going on.”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bush aides berate GOP members

Bush aides berate GOP members
By Jonathan E. Kaplan
May 11, 2007

Top Bush administration officials lashed out at a pair of House Republicans at the White House yesterday after details about a contentious meeting between President Bush and GOP legislators were leaked to the media earlier this week.

The confrontations are the latest indications of an intensifying rift between Bush and congressional Republicans.

Reps. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) attracted the ire of White House officials for allegedly speaking to reporters about a Tuesday meeting between Bush and centrist Republicans on the Iraq war. Details of the contentious meeting first emerged Wednesday evening and attracted Page 1 headlines yesterday.

Sources said that Dan Meyer, Bush’s liaison to the House, confronted LaHood while White House political strategist Karl Rove rebuked Kirk. It is unclear if LaHood or Kirk were the originial sources for the stories, but LaHood was quoted in one of the articles.

Regardless, LaHood and Meyer got into a shouting match as emotions ran high and voices were raised yesterday morning in the White House while lawmakers were waiting to meet with first lady Laura Bush, according to two legislators who witnessed the exchange.

LaHood and five other GOP lawmakers met with Mrs. Bush in the Yellow Oval in the White House residence to chat about the No Child Left Behind law.

“The White House is not happy,” said a Republican lawmaker.

Two GOP lawmakers said that Rove admonished Kirk for talking to the media about the private meeting.

Kirk and the White House declined to comment.

During his briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the exchanges between Bush and congressional Republicans were “respectful” and “interesting.”

“And I think a lot of members, when they get into a situation like that, they’re excited about the prospect that they do in fact have an opportunity to speak at liberty with the president, so they do it,” Snow added.

The fracas between congressional Republicans and the White House delighted Democrats. During the House Democratic Caucus meeting yesterday morning, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the caucus chairman, told Democrats to stick together on the vote on the Iraq supplemental spending bill while the GOP splinters.

Yesterday’s imbroglios indicate that congressional Republicans, who lost their majorities in Congress partly because of the Iraq war, are growing more frustrated with Bush and are willing to openly defy him.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, LaHood implied that Bush’s credibility on Iraq has eroded, saying that “the biggest benchmark of all is [General David] Petraeus’s report in September.”

Snow refuted suggestions that the war has fractured Republican unity, but acknowledged that members of Congress are “impatient.”

“And as the president pointed out [yesterday], yes, he’s impatient, too,” Snow added.

In a sign of how much the politics of Iraq have deteriorated for the GOP, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) – a member of House Republican leadership — compared Bush’s political problems to then President Truman’s in 1952. President Eisenhower subsequently won the presidency and Republicans captured the House.

“We’re probably slightly behind where Truman was” with his Democratic Party in 1951 and 1952, McCotter said. “History has vindicated Truman…fortunately I don’t see a Democratic Eisenhower out there.”

Several lawmakers who attended one or both meetings did not fault Bush, but blamed his aides for overreacting.

“They can have such thick skin,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who attended the meeting on Tuesday. “[President Bush] ought to embrace this and be seen as getting input from everyone.”

The meeting with Laura Bush ended with a 20-minute tour of the White House residence, which is off-limits to almost everyone except the First Family.

LaHood drew a crowd of more than a dozen reporters yesterday in the Speaker’s Lobby off of the House floor to elaborate on the meeting on Tuesday.

LaHood, who was passed over to lead the Intelligence Committee in 2004, is not shy about expressing his views.

During the 109th Congress, the 7th-term lawmaker publicly criticized then Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) as well as then House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

A GOP rank-and-file lawmaker said that LaHood’s recent comments were a “nuisance” and made some members “pretty upset.”

“He’s his own man,” said a former senior GOP aide. “A lot of the members and members of leadership say that Ray talks too much.”

Still, some top GOP aides said LaHood’s candidness was not unusual and did not cause a flap within the conference.

“Ray’s been here a long time,” Hastert said. “He’s a stand up guy and he says what he thinks.”

Thursday, May 10, 2007

White House sought investigations of voter fraud allegations before elections

White House sought investigations of voter fraud allegations before elections

By Margaret Talev and Marisa Taylor
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Only weeks before last year's pivotal midterm elections, the White House urged the Justice Department to pursue voter-fraud allegations against Democrats in three battleground states, a high-ranking Justice official has told congressional investigators.

In two instances in October 2006, President Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove, or his deputies passed the allegations on to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

Sampson tapped Gonzales aide Matthew Friedrich, who'd just left his post as chief of staff of the criminal division. In the first case, Friedrich agreed to find out whether Justice officials knew of "rampant" voter fraud or "lax" enforcement in parts of New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and report back.

But Friedrich declined to pursue a related matter from Wisconsin, he told congressional investigators, because an inquiry so close to an election could inappropriately sway voting results. Friedrich decided not to pass the matter on to the criminal division for investigation, even though Sampson gave him a 30-page report prepared by Republican activists that made claims of voting fraud.

Late Thursday night, a Justice Department spokesman disputed McClatchy's characterization, saying that the White House asked for an inquiry, but never ordered an investigation to be opened.

While it was known that Rove and the White House had complained about prosecutors not aggressively investigating voter fraud, Friedrich's testimony suggests that the Justice Department itself was under pressure to open voter fraud cases despite a department policy that discourages such action so close to an election.

The new details from Friedrich's closed-door testimony were provided to McClatchy Newspapers as Gonzales made his third appearance Thursday before Congress to answer questions about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Congressional investigators are looking into whether the firings were motivated in part by prosecutors' failure to bring voter-fraud charges against Democrats.

In New Mexico, one of the states where voter-fraud allegations surfaced, the U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, was fired. The U.S. attorney in Wisconsin, Steve Biskupic, was targeted for removal but wasn't fired. Sampson told investigators that Biskupic may have been spared because Justice officials were wary of angering Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., then chairman of the judiciary panel.

Gonzales revealed little in the daylong testimony, as Democrats grew increasingly upset with his failure to offer specifics about who decided whom to fire and why.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., accused Gonzales of lying when he couldn't be pinned down on who decided to add Iglesias to the list in the eleventh hour. "Are you the attorney general?" he asked. "Do you run the Department of Justice? You know who put him on the list, but you won't tell us."

The Justice Department issued a statement after the hearing, saying "it is again clear that the Attorney General did not ask for the resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain."

A portion of the transcript of Friedrich's testimony was released during the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. Other redacted portions were described to McClatchy Newspapers by a senior congressional aide familiar with the testimony. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the full transcript hasn't been released. Friedrich couldn't be reached for comment.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto downplayed the importance of Friedrich's testimony, saying, "It's no secret that we and others had long-standing concerns about voter fraud in a number of places - including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Mexico."

He also criticized members of Congress for their "selective leaking of testimony" and "breathless reaction to any mention of Karl Rove."

Gonzales remained unwavering in his insistence that the firings weren't improper as Republicans called for an end to the investigation.

"As we have gone forward, the list of accusations has mushroomed, but the evidence of genuine wrongdoing has not," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. "Mr. Attorney General, this investigation may find that you and your staff did only what you were accused of at the start - the unremarkable and perfectly legal act of considering ordinary politics in the appointment and oversight of political appointees."

Although the Justice Department has released thousands of documents related to the inquiry, officials haven't said whether they considered firing more prosecutors.

McClatchy Newspapers has reported that the department targeted at least four other prosecutors, including Biskupic.

Another former U.S. attorney, Todd Graves of Kansas City, Mo., revealed this week that he was asked to step aside for another candidate. He also said he had refused to sign off on a voting-rights lawsuit, which another Justice Department official later approved in Washington. The official, Brad Schlozman, later became Graves' temporary replacement.

Gonzales denied that the department considered removing Graves as part of the same firing plan.

Asked whether Graves may have been fired for refusing to sign off on the lawsuit, Gonzales said, "I have no basis to believe that particular case had anything to do with Mr. Graves' departure."

He also denied that the department considered firing former Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Debra Yang, despite reports that former White House counsel Harriet Miers had inquired about whether she would be leaving. Yang left to join a law firm representing Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., as her office was investigating him. She has said she left voluntarily.

In addition to Graves and Biskupic, the department targeted at least two other U.S. attorneys before settling on the eight late last year.

The other prosecutors, Thomas Heffelfinger of Minneapolis and Thomas Marino of Pennsylvania, were located in states that Rove identified as election battleground states.

Murray Waas - Administration Withheld E-Mails About Rove

Administration Withheld E-Mails About Rove

By Murray Waas, National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove's, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.

In one of the letters that Sampson drafted, dated February 23, 2007, the Justice Department told four Senate Democrats it was not aware of any role played by senior White House adviser Rove in attempting to name Griffin to the U.S. attorney post. A month later, the Justice Department apologized in writing to the Senate Democrats for the earlier letter, saying it had been inaccurate in denying that Rove had played a role.

Brad Berenson, an attorney for Sampson, said in an interview that his client did not intend to mislead Congress. Sampson, he said, signed off on the February 23 letter based on representations made by the White House that it was accurate.

The withheld e-mails show that Sampson's draft was forwarded for review to Chris Oprison, an associate White House counsel, who approved the language saying that Justice was not aware of Rove having played any role in supporting Griffin. But an earlier e-mail from Sampson to Oprison that has already been made public indicates that the two men discussed Rove and then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers as being at the forefront of Griffin's nomination.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was infuriated that he knew nothing of the existence of the order.

Several of the e-mails that the Bush administration is withholding from Congress, as well as papers from the White House counsel's office describing other withheld documents, were made available to National Journal by a senior executive branch official, who said that the administration has inappropriately kept many of them from Congress.

The senior official said that Gonzales, in preparing for testimony before Congress, has personally reviewed the withheld records and has a responsibility to make public any information he has about efforts by his former chief of staff, other department aides, and White House officials to conceal Rove's role.

"If [Gonzales] didn't know everything that was going on when it went down, that is one thing," this official said. "But he knows and understands chapter and verse. If there was an effort within Justice and the White House to mislead Congress, it is his duty to disclose that to Congress. As the country's chief law enforcement official, he has a higher duty to disclose than to protect himself or the administration."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto denied that the White House was withholding records in the Justice Department's possession, and he said that Gonzales could make many of them public at any time. "The White House is neither guiding nor directing the Justice Department's decisions on privileged documents," Fratto said. "They make those decisions on their own."

Two senior administration officials told National Journal they were frustrated with decisions by Gonzales not to release some of the documents held by the Justice Department. One of the officials charged that "Gonzales is doing this to save his own neck," at the expense of the administration. The same official said that senior aides to Gonzales have been refusing to turn over many relevant documents to Congress, and that the attorney general's top aides have been selectively leaking portions of them to the media to portray themselves in a favorable light.

Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., subpoenaed the Justice Department, demanding all e-mails between department officials and Rove and others at the White House regarding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

In a May 2 letter to Gonzales, Leahy said that the committee was subpoenaing the records because "the department's production of documents has been selective and incomplete.... In addition, to date, the department has yet to provide the committee with... any assurance that a preservation order was issued to prevent the loss or destruction of documents."

Separately, six senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- complained to Gonzales last week that they had not been told anything about a confidential order he signed in March 2006, which delegated the authority to hire and fire many of the department's most senior political appointees to Sampson and to Monica Goodling, who at the time was the Justice Department's liaison to the White House.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he was infuriated that he knew nothing of the existence of the order until it was disclosed by National Journal.

"Pardon me if I raise my voice," Specter said.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd denied that the department was withholding any records from Congress to conceal wrongdoing by administration officials. "The Justice Department has already turned over 6,000 pages of documents and e-mails to House and Senate committees and voluntarily provided for interviews of numerous senior DOJ officials," Boyd said.

In earlier correspondence with Congress, the department said it had not turned over many documents that Congress had requested because of "confidentiality and privacy" concerns; it also said it would not turn over documents related to answering queries from Congress and the press about the U.S. attorney firings.

Fratto, the White House spokesperson, said, "No White House documents are available except under the conditions offered by White House counsel Fred Fielding to the Judiciary committees." Fielding has offered to allow Congress to interview Rove and other White House officials on the condition that they wouldn't be required to provide formal testimony under oath and that no transcript would be made of what they said. Fratto said that if Congress agreed to those conditions, the White House "would make available the relevant documents at that time."

In the interim, Fratto said, "the White House retains its rights and privileges over those documents."

A senior Justice Department official said in an interview that it was the discovery of a December 19, 2006, e-mail from Sampson to Oprison -- in which Sampson wrote that "getting [Griffin] appointed was important" to Rove and to then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers -- that prompted the Justice Department to repudiate the February 23 letter to four Senate Democrats.

The February 23 letter, signed by acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling, stated, "The department is not aware of Karl Rove playing any role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin," and added that the department "is not aware of anyone lobbying, either inside or outside of the administration, for Mr. Griffin's appointment."

Sampson testified before Congress that he drafted the February 23 letter even though he had conferred with the White House about appointing Griffin. Sampson testified that he included the language about Rove not being involved because he didn't know for a fact that Rove was pushing for his former aide's appointment.

"I knew that [Rove deputies] Sara Taylor and Scott Jennings had expressed interest in promoting Mr. Griffin for appointment to be U.S. attorney, and I assumed, because they reported to Karl Rove, that he was interested in that," Sampson said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 29. "But later in February, when I participated in the drafting of that [February 23] letter, I did not remember then ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it. I don't remember now ever having talked to Mr. Rove about it. I'm not sure whether Mr. Rove was supportive of Mr. Griffin's appointment."

Berenson, Sampson's attorney, says that Sampson consulted with the White House before including the language in the February 23 letter to Congress that the Justice Department was "not aware of Karl Rove playing a role in the decision to appoint Mr. Griffin." Berenson said, "Kyle didn't want to traffic in assumptions, so he circulated the letter to the White House for confirmation whether what he believed to be true was accurate or not. He drafted the letter according to his understanding of the facts, and he circulated it beforehand to other people for clearance to assure that it accorded with their understanding of the facts."

The withheld e-mails obtained by National Journal show that on February 23, as he was working on a final draft of the letter, Sampson consulted with Oprison. "Chris, please review this version," Sampson asked in one e-mail regarding the draft.

Fratto, the White House spokesman, said in an interview that Oprison "had no reason to believe" that the reference to Rove was inaccurate and cleared the letter. Asked about the December 19 e-mail in which Sampson told Oprison that Griffin's appointment was important to Rove and Miers, Fratto said: "Chris did not recall Karl's interest when he reviewed the letter."

A congressional investigator questioned whether the White House counsel's office would sign off on the letter without asking Rove himself whether it was accurate. The investigator also noted that publicly released Justice Department records show that Taylor and Jennings, both top aides to Rove, worked closely with Griffin to have him installed as U.S. attorney. In response Fratto said: "We have no record of that letter ever leaving the White House counsel's office."

Oprison, in turn, consulted with White House Counsel Fred Fielding and Deputy White House Counsel Bill Kelley in approving the draft of the letter, according to White House records.

Sampson also played a central role in the drafting of a January 31, 2007, letter from acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling to Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., implying that the White House had never contemplated using an obscure provision in the USA PATRIOT Act that would allow it to install Griffin as a U.S. attorney without having Griffin undergo Senate confirmation. Gonzales and Sampson have since testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that they did indeed consider using the PATRIOT Act to install Griffin as a federal prosecutor.

The withheld records show that Oprison assisted Sampson in drafting the January 31 letter. Previously disclosed Justice Department records show that Sampson and Oprison had worked closely together in devising the original plan to install Griffin as U.S. attorney under the PATRIOT Act provisions.

Bud Cummins, who was fired as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas to make room for Griffin, has told the House Judiciary Committee that he personally contacted senior Justice Department officials on January 19, 2007, the day after Gonzales testified to Congress on the firing of Cummins and seven other U.S. attorneys.

Cummins said he warned department officials of very serious "misleading statements" about the U.S. attorney firings. Foremost among his concerns was that Gonzales had said that the Justice Department would never utilize the PATRIOT Act to install new U.S. attorneys by circumventing the Senate confirmation process. Cummins wrote the House Judiciary Committee that he believed that Gonzales's testimony was incorrect because both Griffin and a senior Justice Department official had told him that consideration had indeed been given to using the PATRIOT Act.

A senior Justice Department official told him, Cummins said, that using the PATRIOT Act to install Griffin "might have been the White House plan," but the White House had "never read DOJ into that plan." Cummins said he replied, "If that was the case, then we had better gag Tim Griffin, because Griffin was telling too many people … that he could stay as [U.S. attorney] whether he was ever appointed or not."

Gonzales had testified at the January 18 hearing: "Let me publicly sort of pre-empt perhaps a question you're going to ask me, and that is, I am fully committed, as the administration's fully committed, to ensure that, with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed United States attorney.... I think a United States attorney,... as the law enforcement leader, my representative in the community;... has greater imprimatur of authority, if in fact that person's been confirmed by the Senate."

A senior Justice Department official said that the statement was truthful because by then Gonzales had abandoned the idea of using the PATRIOT Act to permanently install Griffin, and he was speaking about future appointments.

But despite Cummins's warning, Gonzales's testimony, and department officials' own knowledge that the PATRIOT Act had been discussed as a way to install Griffin, senior Justice Department officials continued to make claims to Congress that the Bush administration had never contemplated using the PATRIOT Act to bypass the confirmation process.

On January 31, 2007, Hertling wrote Pryor to say that "not once" had the Bush "administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process" by exploiting the PATRIOT Act. "As the Attorney General has stated to you," Hertling wrote, "the Administration is committed to having a Senate confirmed United States Attorney for all 94 districts. At no time has the Administration sought to avoid the Senate confirmation process by appointing an interim United States Attorney and then refusing to move forward... on the selection, nomination and confirmation of a new United States Attorney. Not once."

In drafting the letter, Sampson consulted with Sara Taylor, the White House political director and an aide to Rove. Taylor had been aware of considerations that the PATRIOT Act might be invoked to permanently install Griffin, according to withheld administration papers. In an e-mail -- among those that the Justice Department has withheld from Congress -- Taylor wrote: "I'm concerned we imply that we'll pull down Griffin's nomination should Pryor object."

The senior executive branch official who read the e-mail said it was significant because Taylor signed off on the letter despite the fact that Taylor, Oprison, and other White House officials knew that the administration had indeed considered using the PATRIOT Act to make Griffin a U.S. attorney.

Fratto said he believed that the e-mail showed that Taylor wanted to use the Senate confirmation process to have Griffin made U.S. attorney without using the PATRIOT Act. "We battle with the Senate with nominations every day," Fratto said. "It is very important to us.... That's what Sara was saying: 'We shouldn't imply we're willing to walk away from the nomination.'"

Berenson said that the letter was technically accurate because Sampson and Oprison never ultimately implemented the plan to install Griffin as U.S. attorney through the PATRIOT Act provision. "The principals never adopted it, and it was never done," Berenson said. "The statement in the letter is accurate."

Griffin faced an uphill battle to win Senate confirmation because, in addition to having served as an aide to Rove, he had served as the research director of the Republican National Committee in 2004, when he had been in charge of opposition research efforts against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. He had been involved in similar efforts against Al Gore four years earlier as the RNC's deputy research director.

Griffin's supporters have said that he was highly qualified to be a U.S. attorney because he had served in the Judge Advocate General Corps in the U.S. Army Reserve, and briefly was a special assistant U.S. attorney.

Pryor first raised questions about Cummins's departure as U.S. attorney. The senator had heard that, contrary to claims that Cummins had resigned voluntarily, the prosecutor had been pushed out to make room for Griffin, Pryor's chief of staff Bob Russell said in an interview.

Pryor later became suspicious that the Bush administration was attempting to bypass the Senate confirmation process by invoking the PATRIOT Act. The special authority, granted to the president, allowed interim U.S. attorneys to continue in their job indefinitely without Senate confirmation to help prosecute the war on terrorism.

Pryor, who had voted for the authority, was upset that the original purpose was now being abused to circumvent the Senate and avoid a confirmation vote on politically contentious nominees such as Griffin. He was especially upset because he had been one of only six Democratic senators to vote for Gonzales's confirmation-a vote that sparked criticism from liberal interest groups. As he saw it, he had stuck his neck out for Gonzales with his vote.

On December 15, 2006, Pryor spoke to then-White House Counsel Miers and Gonzales about the issue, Russell said. The discussion left Pryor with the impression that if Griffin was named U.S. attorney, his name would be formally sent to the Senate for confirmation.

But White House and Justice Department officials, afraid that Griffin would not be confirmed, asked Cummins to resign more quickly so that they could name Griffin as an interim U.S. attorney, which under the PATRIOT Act would allow him to forego a confirmation vote in the Senate.

On December 19, 2006, four days after Pryor and Gonzales spoke, Sampson e-mailed Oprison with a strategy to have Griffin stay permanently as U.S. attorney: "I think we should gum this to death," Sampson wrote in an e-mail turned over to Congress, "ask the Senators to give Tim a chance. meet with him. give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. they ultimately say, 'no never' (and the longer they forestall the better). Then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in 'good faith' of course."

By that time, Griffin would be able to serve out the remainder of the Bush administration because of his appointment as interim U.S. attorney under the emergency provisional authority of the PATRIOT Act.

Sampson added in his e-mail: "The only thing really at work here is a repeal of the AG's appointment authority. There is some risk that we'll lose that authority, but if we don't ever exercise it then what's the point of having it."

Sampson concluded in the e-mail: "I'm not 100 percent sure that Tim was the guy on which to test drive this authority, but know that getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, etc.," referring to Miers and Rove.

The next day, on December 20, Cummins formally resigned as U.S. attorney and Griffin was named as his interim replacement. Cummins said in an interview that officials at Justice sped up the timetable on his departure, going so far as to call him on a cellphone when he was on a hunting trip with his son to say he must leave on December 20.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said: "To the extent Kyle Sampson in his e-mail suggested there was an attempt to circumvent the process, this was dismissed by the Attorney General and does not represent the views or final actions of the Department as our record demonstrates."

Gonzales, during his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, was asked whether he would have invoked the PATRIOT Act to permanently install Griffin as U.S. attorney. He replied: "I never liked this idea. I wouldn't consider it and didn't consider it." But later in his testimony, Gonzales said he dropped the idea only after he had spoken to Pryor and determined that it was politically untenable to move forward.

In one of the e-mails that the White House has withheld from Congress, and obtained by National Journal, Sampson wrote to six other senior Justice Department officials and derided Pryor's letter: "The PDF below is an outrageous letter we got from Sen. Pryor; we don't think it has hit the press yet."

Sampson said that the Justice Department had been asked to "respond to the allegation that we troglodytes discrimatorialy [sic] passed over the FASU [First Assistant U.S. Attorney] because she is apparently a mother out on maternity leave."

In fact, a Justice Department spokesperson had told the press, and senior Justice officials had told Pryor in a private meeting, that although it was the common practice when a U.S. attorney resigned to name the first assistant U.S. attorney in the office as the interim, they had not done so in the case of Cummins's departure because his first assistant, Jane Duke, was about to go on maternity leave.

But other Justice Department records show that Sampson and the White House had decided to name Griffin as a U.S. attorney in June 2006 even before Duke knew she was pregnant. And the records show that they attempted to name Griffin as an interim U.S. attorney to either enhance the possibility that he would be confirmed by the Senate or to circumvent Senate confirmation completely.

Cummins said in a letter to Congress that after he heard the claims that Duke had not been named as his interim successor because of her pregnancy, he immediately called a senior Justice Department official to complain that the assertion was untrue:

"I told [the senior official] that most people in our relatively small legal community had instantly mocked that statement because it was obvious Tim Griffin had been here for months for the purpose of taking over on my departure [and] because no person was aware of any conversations or communications that might demonstrate that appointing the First Assistant was EVER a consideration."

Army sending soldiers back to Iraq, cutting ‘dwell time’

Army sending soldiers back to Iraq, cutting ‘dwell time’
1st Armored Division company deploying again in November

By Lisa Burgess, and John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, May 10, 2007

Have you had a “dwell time” bust? Tell us about it at

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army is sending a company of Europe-based soldiers back to Iraq before the unit has had a full 12 months of “dwell time,” or at-home rest.

Members of the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, Company A, learned Tuesday that they are scheduled to head back to Iraq in November, just nine months after the 150-soldier company left the combat zone in February after a 13-month deployment.

The company’s return would seem to counter a pledge made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on April 11, when he announced that all active-duty soldiers will spend 15 months in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of a year.

The primary reason for the extension, Gates said, was to make sure that Army units, and their personnel, had enough time to rest and renew themselves for the fight between deployments.

“What we’re trying to do here is provide some long-term predictability for the soldiers and their families about how long their deployments will be and how long they will be at home, and particularly guaranteeing that they will be at home for a full 12 months,” Gates said April 11.

But asked late Wednesday about the situation, Gates said he could not explain why the Army was sending back the company from Germany just nine months after its last Iraq deployment.

“I'll be very interested in finding out more about that,” Gates said. “We just need to find out about that, because I made it clear that people would have 12 months at home.”

It was the Army who asked for the change to 15-month deployments, because “we need to now maintain the sanctity of those 12 months” at home station, Army Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, the Army’s chief of operations, told Pentagon reporters April 12.

“This is about winning,” Lovelace said. “It’s about ensuring then that [units] are trained, ready, [and] equipped … And we do that by maintaining the 12 months dwell back at home station.”

But when the Department of Defense announced Tuesday that the 2nd Brigade Combat Team was slated for a November deployment, it looked like Company A of the 1/6 was going to be spending another Christmas far from home.

In addition to the personal sacrifice for the families, that also meant the company was going to get three months less to do the kind of training and preparation that Lovelace had identified as critical.

Army officials could not immediately explain Wednesday how an entire company had gotten into the Iraq deployment queue early.

Instead, the Army provided this statement Wednesday:

“The brigade and division staffs are continuously reviewing both individual and unit issues and deployment cycles to ensure a fair and equitable deployment process, and making adjustments when appropriate and necessary,” 1st Armored Division spokeswoman Maj. Peggy Kageleiry wrote in a prepared statement.

It remains unclear whether that review means that Company A soldiers could have their dwell time extended to the promised 12 months.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman confirmed Wednesday that “there are some people, just by the nature of transferring units and things like that may not end up with the full 12 months.”

“The United States military is not a static organization,” Whitman said.

The Army, Whitman said, is “managing intensely” “individuals in units, and assignment policies, and rotations and things like that.”

“But it’s not going to be 100 percent, or you would have to basically, you know, lock down the Army, and nobody would transfer from one combat unit to another combat unit,” Whitman said.

Rather than a guarantee, Whitman said, the 12-month dwell time between deployments “is a goal, to have units and individuals to have an appropriate amount of time for recovery and for stability purposes at home station and to be able to be with their families.”

Number of Fired Prosecutors Grows

Number of Fired Prosecutors Grows
Dismissals Began Earlier Than Justice Dept. Has Said

By Amy Goldstein and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 10, 2007; A01

The former U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., Todd P. Graves, said yesterday that he was asked to step down from his job by a senior Justice Department official in January 2006, months before eight other federal prosecutors would be fired by the Bush administration.

Graves said he was told simply that he should resign to "give another person a chance." He said he did not oppose the department's request, because he had already been planning to return to private practice. He did appeal to Missouri's senior senator to try to persuade the White House to allow him to remain long enough to prosecute a final, important case -- involving the slaying of a pregnant woman and kidnapping of her 8-month fetus. Justice officials rejected the request.

The former prosecutor's disclosure, in an interview on the eve of a second appearance today by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales before lawmakers investigating the firings, means that the administration began moving to replace U.S. attorneys five months earlier than was previously known. It also means that at least nine prosecutors were asked to resign last year, a deviation from repeated suggestions by Gonzales and other senior Justice officials in congressional testimony and other public statements that the firings did not extend beyond the eight prosecutors already known to have been forced out.

Gonzales is to testify before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, three weeks after he was grilled on the issue by Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Graves said he received a telephone call shortly after New Year's Day 2006 from Michael A. Battle, then director of the department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. Graves said Battle told him that department officials wanted to change leadership in the Kansas City office, emphasizing "there are no performance issues."

The characterization -- that Graves was being moved out simply to give someone else a turn -- is practically identical to the explanation that Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock, has said he was given last June, when he, too, was asked to leave. He was replaced by a former aide to President Bush's political adviser, Karl Rove. The seven other U.S. attorneys were dismissed on a single day in December.

Graves said his conversation with Battle "made clear to me the fact I was getting a push."

"I felt like I was no longer welcome in the department," he said. "It wasn't like I was trying to hang on."

Battle did not respond to calls placed to his home and law office last night.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) confirmed yesterday that Graves had contacted the senator's office after the Justice official suggested he leave -- and that the senator had asked the White House for an extension of Graves's tenure, which was not granted.

Graves announced his resignation on March 10, 2006, and left the office two weeks later.

A Justice spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, declined last night to comment on Graves's remarks.

The brother of Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Todd Graves is a former state prosecutor and was a GOP candidate for state treasurer. The Bush administration installed him as the chief federal prosecutor for western Missouri in 2001.

The same month he was asked to step down, Graves's name was included in a Jan. 9, 2006, list assembled by Gonzales's then-chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, of seven U.S. attorneys the administration was considering forcing from their jobs. That April, Sampson sent another e-mail noting that two of the prosecutors on that list had already left. Three names, including Graves's, were redacted when Justice officials released the January list.

Graves said yesterday that he never knew he was on the list and was not given a specific reason he was asked to leave.

During the spring of 2005, an aide to Bond urged the White House to replace Graves, because the prosecutor's wife and brother-in-law recently had been given state patronage contracts to run private offices for driver's licenses and other motor vehicle services. A spokeswoman for Bond confirmed that interaction but said Justice officials later told the senator's staff that the contracts issue was not why the administration wanted him to leave.

Graves acknowledged that he had twice during the past few years clashed with Justice's civil rights division over cases, including a federal lawsuit involving Missouri's voter rolls that Graves said a Washington Justice official signed off on after he refused to do so. That official, Bradley J. Schlozman, was appointed as interim U.S. attorney to succeed Graves, remaining for a year until the Senate this spring confirmed John Wood for the job. Wood was a counselor to the deputy attorney general and is a son of Bond's first cousin, although the senator's spokeswoman, Shana Marchio, said Bond did not recommend him for the job.

Schlozman had been a controversial figure in Justice's civil rights division for stances on voting rights. After he arrived in Kansas City, he came under fire from Democrats for pushing forward with an indictment of voter-registration activists in Missouri just weeks before last November's elections. Now a lawyer for the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Schlozman was tentatively scheduled to testify next Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Justice and legislative aides said yesterday that Schlozman has requested more time to prepare his testimony.

In Gonzales's prepared statement for today's House hearing, the attorney general refers three times to the resignations of eight prosecutors. In his remarks last month in the Senate, he also referred to "every U.S. attorney who was asked to resign," and then proceeded to name the eight who had previously been identified as having been fired.

Most of Gonzales's prepared remarks for today are identical to those he delivered last month in the Senate, including an apology for the way the firings were handled along with strong assertions that "nothing improper" occurred during the dismissals. Gonzales will also reassert that he did not identify any of the prosecutors to be removed and will lay much of the responsibility for the process on his former chief of staff, according to his statement.

"I should have done more personally to ensure that the review process was more rigorous and that each U.S. attorney was informed of this decision in a more personal and respectful way," Gonzales says in the prepared statement.

The attorney general's reprised themes come despite new allegations and developments in recent weeks that have provided further challenges to earlier claims by Gonzales and other Justice officials. Officials announced last week, for example, that former Gonzales aide Monica M. Goodling faces an internal Justice Department probe into whether she violated federal law or department rules by considering political affiliation in reviewing the hiring of career prosecutors.

Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Judiciary subcommittee, said she is "not unduly optimistic" that Gonzales will be more forthcoming with his answers to Democratic questions about who was responsible for putting names of prosecutors on the firing lists. staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

State Dept. erases all references to top official who quit over DC Madam list

State Dept. erases all references to top official who quit over DC Madam list
05/09/2007 @ 9:13 am
Filed by Michael Roston

The State Department and the US Agency for International Development have instructed employees to remove all references in publications and other materials to a top official who resigned after his name turned up as a former client of "DC Madam" Deborah Jean Palfrey. The news appears in Wednesday morning's edition of the "In The Loop" column at the Washington Post.

Randall Tobias, the USAID Administrator and a Deputy Secretary of State, quit suddenly on April 27 after being contacted by ABC News and admitting that he had "gals come over to the condo to give me a massage," which he compared to ordering a pizza.

Subsequently, Al Kamen writes, USAID ordered all references to Tobias purged.

"On April 30, a couple days after Tobias's stunning resignation, we got this e-mail from Steve Tupper, a senior official in AID's bureau of legislative and public affairs," Kamen notes.

"As you go about your daily activities on behalf of your Bureau or Office, please be alert to the need to remove all picture and statements from Ambassador Tobias in light of his resignation dated as of April 27, 2007," Tupper orders in the note. The instructions include deleting references to Tobias in "Websites, reception room walls, printed publications, brochures, PowerPoints, newsletters, etc."

The order may create some headaches for USAID staff.

"All projects that have been reviewed previously and approved by LPA in the last several months but that are still in the production process must be immediately stopped and re-submitted if they contain articles, statements, or pictures of Tobias," Tupper added.

Britain's Blair Announces His Resignation

Britain's Blair Announces His Resignation
Long-Serving Labor Party Leader to Step Down on June 27

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 10, 2007; 8:24 AM

LONDON, May 10--Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Britain's most influential and long-serving leaders in a century, announced Thursday that he will step down on June 27, leaving behind a legacy of economic and political achievement mixed with deep public anger over his partnership with President Bush in the Iraq War.

"On the 27th of June I will tender my resignation as prime minister to the office of the queen," Blair said at the Trimdon Labor Club in his home constituency of Sedgefield, speaking to Labor Party supporters in the building where he launched his political career as a 30-year-old lawyer almost 24 years ago to the day. "I've come back here to Sedgefield to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it's fitting that it should end."

Blair's long-anticipated announcement clears the way for his political partner and rival Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer, to replace Blair as prime minister in June. Brown, the country's successful and longest-serving finance minister, is expected to easily win a party leadership battle in the coming weeks then assume a premiership he has coveted for a decade.

In a sometimes emotional speech, Blair expressed pride in his domestic efforts to shore up Britain's economy and health care systems, reduce crime and unemployment, and guide the United Kingdom from the post-Cold War doldrums into the 21st century. He also defended his strong alliance with the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying in a tight voice that he still believed in the controversial U.S.-led fight against global terrorism even as he understood the growing unpopularity of the conflict in Iraq.

"For me, I think we must see it through. The terrorists who threaten us here and around the world will never give up if we give up. It is a test of wills, and we cannot fail it," Blair said, to applause from the crowd packed into the room. "Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right . . . I may have been wrong. That's your call. But believe one thing, if nothing else. I did what I thought was right for our country."

Blair's decision sets the stage for what local media say will be a six-week, six-nation farwell tour, including a visit to Washington next week, that will mark the end of a historic era which brought Britain new optimism and opportunity but also anger, fear and war. Blair, who took office in May 1997 promising "a new dawn," outlasted every other European leader in power at the time, and established himself as one of the world's most visible and senior statesman, even though he will leave office at just 54.

"He's going out on his own terms, with his head held high and a tremendous record of achievement behind him," said Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain, just after a 15-minute cabinet meeting Thursday morning at 10 Downing Street where Blair advised his cabinet of his intentions. Hain said the meeting's mood was light, and that "Tony cracked a few jokes."

A memo written by Blair aides, which was disclosed in September, set out a strategy for Blair's final days, saying, "He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore."

In the coming weeks, Blair, who is famous for his showman's panache, plans a final global lap that will take him away from disillusioned Britain and out into Europe, Africa and America, where his star is far less dimmed. According to British press reports, Blair will travel Friday to France to meet with president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy, who embodies a shift toward more conservative leadership that has swept across Europe, in countries such as Germany and Poland, in Blair's later years in office. British media have reported that he also intends later this month to visit Africa, a continent where Blair has worked insistently to fight poverty and disease. The trip will include a stop in South Africa, the land of a personal hero, Nelson Mandela, whose photograph Blair keeps on his desk alongside family portraits.

Grayer and thinner than on his early trips to see President Bill Clinton, Blair also plans to travel to the White House to make a final call on Bush, a man who is inextricably tied to Blair's legacy. His relationship with Bush, which many in Britain see as a sort of subservience that has not benefited Britain, and his steadfast defense of the Iraq war, has come to largely overshadow his other achievements. Despite leading Labor to three national election victories, presiding over a decade of unbroken economic growth and exerting strong global leadership on issues such as climate change and poverty, Blair has not been able to escape widespread and caustic criticism in Britain that he is "Bush's poodle."

Blair was under no legal obligation to leave office; he won reelection in 2005 and could have served until the next national election, which must be held no later than 2010. But even before the last election, in September 2004, Blair made a surprise announcement that he would not run for a fourth term. The speculation that followed came to dominate political discourse in Britain. Finally, in September 2006, battered by fading approval ratings and the resignation of eight junior members of his government who said the prime minister had lost the party's confidence, Blair announced that he would leave office by September 2007 "in the interests of the country."

"I would have preferred to do this in my own way," said an uncharacteristically glum Blair. Blair has been silent on his future plans. He and John Major, who was also 54 when Blair defeated him in the 1997 elections, are the youngest former prime ministers in at least a century. There has been much speculation that Blair, whose wife, Cherie, is a successful lawyer, will follow the lead of Clinton, who was also 54 when he left office, and start a private foundation to work on issues he considers vital, perhaps including Middle East peace.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair came to power in a landslide victory in 1997 as a charismatic 43-year-old offering Britain a jolt of electricity after the Conservative Party, under Margaret Thatcher and Major, had run Britain since 1979. Along with the cerebral Brown, Blair set out to shake the dusty cobwebs from the Queen's England and create a more hopeful, energetic and forward-looking nation that was soon being called "Cool Britannia."

Four days after Blair took office, his government granted the Bank of England independence in setting interest rates. It was a bold stroke that helped set the stage for a decade of economic growth, low interest rates and low unemployment in which London emerged as a rival to New York as the world's financial capital.

Less than four months after he took office, Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash and set off an unprecedented torrent of public grief in a country that generally regards public displays of emotion as tacky. While Queen Elizabeth II seemed momentarily, and uncustomarily, out of touch with the British mood, Blair came across as an able young leader with his finger on the popular pulse. Blair gave a speech in which he called Diana "the people's princess," a phrase that came to define the woman and the moment.

Blair took on Northern Ireland's "troubles" with almost evangelical zeal, working with then President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and Irish leaders to negotiate the landmark Good Friday peace accords of April 1998. It was a deal that envisioned several steps that many said were impossible: the Irish Republican Army and other paramilitary groups needed to disarm, and Catholics and Protestants were told to set aside their fierce hatred and come together in a power-sharing government. The IRA formally disarmed in 2005 and the power-sharing government was created on Tuesday, with Blair watching from the gallery.

Following a foreign policy based on armed intervention in humanitarian crises, which many here regarded as a radical departure, Blair sent British troops into harm's way six times in ten years. He started with Operation Desert Fox, a 1998 joint bombing campaign with the United States on suspected WMD sites in Iraq. Then came the NATO-led campaign to oust Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic from Kosovo in 1999, a peacekeeping mission in East Timor later that year, an expedition to quell a civil war in Sierra Leone in 2000, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and, most notably, the commitment of more than 40,000 troops to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps no event influenced Blair's fortunes more than the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, which brought Blair into a new partnership with Bush. Together they spoke to the world about the need for a "war on terror" that included a new doctrine of pre-emptive war. Together they led strikes on Afghanistan that forced out the Islamic extremist Taliban government, which Americans and Britons generally viewed as an appropriate response to 9/11.

The trouble for Blair began when attention turned to Iraq. Bush faced an American public hungry for retribution against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda; Blair faced a British public that hadn't been directly attacked on Sept. 11, didn't see any connection between 9/11 and Iraq, and was deeply skeptical of a war that many Britons saw as a Bush administration obsession.

Blair was accused of embellishing -- his harshest critics said fabricating -- evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Placards calling him "Bliar" became common sights in London, especially during a February 2003 march of more than a million anti-war protesters. A government inquiry into the use of intelligence concluded that Blair did not fabricate the evidence, but said, "more weight was put on it than the intelligence was strong enough to bear The interpretation was stretched to the limit."

As the Iraq war turned from a military cakewalk to the nightmarish years-long aftermath, Blair's popularity ratings dived; they stand at just 28 percent today, according to the Ipsos/MORI polling firm. However, a poll in Thursday's Guardian newspaper suggested that the country's long-term judgment of Blair might not be so harsh: 44 percent of those polled said Blair's decade in power had been good for the country.

"History will make its own judgment on our policy" on Iraq, Blair said in a letter to Labor Party supporters earlier this week. In the summer of 2005, Blair got a reprieve from the river of bad news when Britain was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a euphoric moment of celebrations in the streets and a feeling that Britain, an economic basket case just a generation before, had finally arrived at the world's center-stage.

The next morning, Britain's battle with Islamic extremism returned, and transformed into something unexpected. In the worst act of violence on British soil since World War II, four young Islamic radicals blew up themselves and 52 passengers on three London subway trains and a bus. The killers were quickly identified as four young British Muslims, three of whom had been born in Britain. The arrival of homegrown terrorism shocked Britain, and caused Blair to declare that, "The rules of the game are changing."

Blair quickly introduced new anti-terror legislation that made it a crime to "glorify" terrorism and doubled the length of time police could hold terror suspects without charge, from 14 days to 28. Critics complained that Blair was abandoning fundamental civil liberties -- freedom of speech, due process of law -- upon which Britain had been founded. Blair stood firm, even when critics compared his actions to Washington's creation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is seen in Britain as a sad symbol of America's rejection of its own core values.

Most recently, Blair has been hurt by the "cash for honors" campaign finance scandal, in which police are investigating whether wealthy Labor Party donors received seats in the House of Lords and other government awards in return for making loans or donations to the party. Blair became the first prime minister ever interviewed by police in a criminal investigation, which still continues.

Even in Sedgefield, the cradle of Blair's political career, where he was greeted by adoring supporters who have known him for a quarter-century, Britain's ambivalence about Blair was evident on Thursday. While he hugged an elderly woman holding a sign that said, "I'm a Blair Babe," he didn't glance across the street where a handful of sullen protesters held up a large sign that said, "Sedgefield Against the War."