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 19, 2007

CIA tracks Al Qaeda resources from Iraq

CIA tracks Al Qaeda resources from Iraq
Influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda's leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network.
By Greg Miller
Times Staff Writer

4:51 PM PDT, May 19, 2007

WASHINGTON -- A major CIA effort launched last year to hunt down Osama bin Laden has produced no significant leads on his whereabouts, but has helped track an alarming increase in the movement of Al Qaeda operatives and money into Pakistan's tribal territories, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the operation.

In one of the most troubling trends, U.S. officials said that Al Qaeda's command base in Pakistan increasingly is being funded by cash coming out of Iraq, where the terrorist network's operatives are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity.

The influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda's leadership ranks at a time when the core command is regrouping and reasserting influence over its far-flung network. The trend also signals a reversal in the traditional flow of Al Qaeda funds, with the network's leadership surviving to a large extent on money coming in from its most profitable franchise, rather than distributing funds from headquarters to distant cells.

Al Qaeda's efforts were aided, intelligence officials said, by Pakistan's withdrawal in September of tens of thousands of troops from the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border where bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding.

Little more than a year ago, Al Qaeda's core command was thought to be in a financial crunch. But U.S. officials said cash shipped from Iraq has eased those troubles.

"Iraq is a big moneymaker for them," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official.

The evolving picture of Al Qaeda's finances is based in part on intelligence from an aggressive effort launched last year to intensify the pressure on bin Laden and his senior deputies.

As part of a "surge" in personnel, the CIA deployed as many as 50 clandestine operatives to Pakistan and Afghanistan -- a dramatic increase over the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the new arrivals were given the primary objective of finding what counterterrorism officials call "HVT1" and "HVT2." Those "high value target" designations refer to bin Laden and al-Zawahri.

The surge was part of a broader shake-up at the CIA designed to refocus on the hunt for Bin Laden, officials said. One former high-ranking agency official said the CIA had formed a task force that involved officials from all four directorates at the agency, including analysts, scientists and technical experts, as well as covert operators.

The officials were charged with reinvigorating a search that had atrophied when some U.S. intelligence assets and special forces teams were pulled out of Afghanistan in 2002 to prepare for the war with Iraq.

Nevertheless, U.S. intelligence and military officials said, the surge has yet to produce a single lead on bin Laden's or al-Zawahri's location that could be substantiated.

"We're not any closer," said a senior U.S. military official who monitors the intelligence on the hunt for bin Laden.

The lack of progress underscores the difficulty of the search more than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Despite a $25-million U.S. reward, current and former intelligence officials said, the United States has not had a lead on bin Laden since he fled American and Afghan forces in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in early 2002.

"We've had no significant report of him being anywhere," said a former senior CIA official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing U.S. intelligence operations. U.S. spy agencies have not even had information that "you could validate historically," the official said, meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be verified subsequently.

President Bush is given detailed presentations on the hunt's progress every two to four months, in addition to routine counterterrorism briefings, intelligence officials said.

The presentations include "complex schematics, search patterns, what we're doing, where the Predator flies," said one participant, referring to flights by unmanned airplanes used in the search. The CIA even has used sand models to illustrate the topography of the mountainous terrain where bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

Still, officials said, they have been unable to answer the basic question of whether they are getting closer to their target.

"Any prediction on when we're going to get him is just ridiculous," said the senior U.S. counterterrorism official. "It could be a year from now or the Pakistanis could be in the process of getting him right now."

In a written response to questions from the Los Angeles Times, the CIA said it "does not as a rule discuss publicly the details of clandestine operations," but acknowledged it had stepped up operations against bin Laden and defended their effectiveness.

"The surge has been modest in size, here and overseas, but has added new skills and fresh thinking to the fight against a resilient and adaptive foe," said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano in the statement. "It has paid off, generating more information about Al Qaeda and helping take terrorists off the street."

The CIA spies are part of a broader espionage arsenal aimed at bin Laden and al-Zawahri that includes satellites, electronic eavesdropping stations and the unmanned airplanes.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials involved in the surge said it had been hobbled by a number of other developments. Chief among them, they said, was Pakistan's troop pullout last year from border regions where the hunt has been focused. Just months after the CIA deployed dozens of additional operatives to its station in Islamabad, Pakistan -- as well as bases in Peshawar and other Pakistani locations -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced "peace agreements" with tribal leaders in Waziristan.

Driven by domestic political pressures and rising anti-American sentiment, the agreements called for the tribes to rein in the activities of foreign fighters, and bar them from launching attacks in Afghanistan, in exchange for a Pakistani military pullback.

But U.S. officials said there is little evidence that the tribal groups have followed through.

"Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in north Waziristan," said a senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for overseeing counterterrorism operations. "Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that's the most damaging development. The one thing Al Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate."

Some officials in the administration initially expressed concern over the Pakistani move, but Bush later praised it, following a White House meeting with Musharraf.

The pullback took significant pressure off Al Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them. It also made travel easier for operatives migrating to Pakistan after taking part in the insurgency in Iraq. Some of these veterans are leading training at newly established camps, and are positioned to become the "next generation of leadership" in the organization, said the former senior CIA official.

"Al Qaeda is dependent on a lot of leaders coming out of Iraq for its own viability," said the former official, who recently left the agency. "It's these sorts of guys who carry out operations."

The official added that the resurgent Taliban forces in Afghanistan are "being schooled" by Al Qaeda operatives with experience fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.

The administration's concern was underscored when Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy CIA Director Stephen Kappes visited Musharraf in Pakistan in February to prod him to crack down on Al Qaeda and its training camps.

The Pakistani pullback also has reopened financial channels that had been constricted by the military presence. The senior U.S. counterterrorism official said there are "lots of indications they can move people in and out easier," and that operatives from Iraq often bring cash.

"A year ago we were saying they were having serious money problems," the official said. "That seems to have eased up."

The cash is mainly U.S. currency in relatively modest sums -- tens of thousands of dollars. The scale of the payments suggests the money is not meant for funding elaborate terrorist plots, but for covering the day-to-day costs of Al Qaeda's command: paying off tribal leaders, hiring security and buying provisions.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, as the network's Iraq branch is known, has drawn increasingly large contributions from elsewhere in the Muslim world -- largely because the fight against U.S. forces has mobilized donors across the Middle East, officials said.

"Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the reason people are contributing again, with money and private contributions coming back in from the gulf," said the senior U.S. counterterrorism official.

He added that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia also has become an effective criminal enterprise.

"The insurgents have great businesses they run: stealing cars, kidnapping people, protection money," the counterterrorism official said. The former CIA official said the activity is so extensive that the "ransom-for-profit business in Iraq reminds me of Colombia and Mexico in the 1980s and '90s."

U.S. officials got a glimpse of Al Qaeda leadership's financial dependency when American forces intercepted a lengthy letter al-Zawahri sent to now-deceased Iraq insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2005. In the letter, al-Zawahri alluded to financial difficulties, saying, "The lines have been cut off," and asked Zarqawi for fresh funds.

"We need a payment while new lines are being opened," al-Zawahri wrote, according to a translation released by the U.S. government. "So, if you're capable of sending a payment of approximately one hundred thousand, we'll be very grateful to you."

The payments appear to have given al-Qaida leaders in Iraq new influence in the organization, officials said. In particular, officials noted that al-Zawahri appears to have abandoned his effort to persuade Sunni Arab insurgents not to divide Muslims by striking Shiites, and more recently has moved closer to sanctioning such bloodshed.

U.S. officials believe they had al-Zawahri in their sights on at least one occasion. Acting on reports that he was to attend an Al Qaeda gathering in a remote village in northwest Pakistan in January 2006, the CIA launched a missile strike on the compound, missing al-Zawahri but killing a senior al-Qaida operations commander. U.S. officials believe al-Zawahri changed plans at the last minute.

Within months of that strike, the CIA began sending dozens of additional case officers to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The impetus for the surge is unclear. Several former CIA officials said it was launched at the direction of former CIA Director Porter J. Goss, and that the White House had been pushing the agency to step up the effort to find bin Laden.

But the CIA disputed those accounts, saying in its written statement that, "This initiative was and is driven solely by operational considerations." The effort, according to CIA spokesman Gimigliano, grew out of an assessment in mid-2005 in which "the agency itself identified changes in the operational landscape against Al Qaeda."

Several months before the surge, the CIA disbanded a special unit known as "Alec Station" that had led the search for bin Laden. At the time, the move was seen as a sign that the hunt was being downgraded, but officials said it was a prelude to a broader reorganization.

The surge included what one former CIA official described as a "new breed" of spy developed since the Sept. 11 attacks. These "targeting officers" are given analytic and operational training to become specialists in sifting clues to the locations of high-value fugitives.

The CIA's ability to send spies into the tribal region is limited, officials said.

"We can't go into the tribal areas without protection," said the former CIA official who was involved in the planning of the surge. "For the most part they have to travel with (the Pakistan intelligence service) and their footprint is not small because they're worried about getting shot too."

Instead, the effort is designed to cultivate sources in the outer perimeters of the security networks that guard bin Laden, and gradually work inward. The aim, another former CIA official said, is "to find people who had access to people who had access to his movements. It's pretty basic stuff.",0,5307690,print.story?coll=la-home-center

Gonzales rapped as president's 'yes man' at cost of Justice Department

Gonzales rapped as president's 'yes man' at cost of Justice Department

LARA JAKES JORDAN | AP | May 19, 2007 11:38 AM EST

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says his long friendship with President Bush makes it easier to say "no" to him on sticky legal issues.

Gonzales' critics say the attorney is far more likely to say "yes," and they say that leaves the Justice Department vulnerable to a politically determined White House.

Probably not since Watergate has an attorney general been so closely bound to the White House. Gonzales has pushed counterterrorism programs that courts found unconstitutional and filled the ranks of federal prosecutors with Republican loyalists. In doing so, he has put Bush's stamp on an a Cabinet department that is supposed to operate largely free of the White House and beyond the reach of politics.

"This intertwining of the political with the running of the Justice Department has gone on in other administrations, both Republican and Democrat," said Paul Rothstein, a professor at Georgetown Law School. "But I think it's being carried to a fine art by this president. They leave no stone unturned to politicize where they think the law will permit it. And they push the line very far."

Gonzales, a friend and adviser to Bush since their days in Texas, calls their close relationship "a good thing."

"Being able to go and having a very candid conversation and telling the president: 'Mr. President, this cannot be done. You can't do this,' _ I think you want that," Gonzales told reporters this week. "And I think having a personal relationship makes that, quite frankly, much easier always to deliver bad news."

"Do you recall a time when you (were) in there and said, 'Mr. President, we can't do this?'" Gonzales was asked.

"Oh, yeah," the attorney general responded.

"Can you share it with us?" a reporter asked.

"No," Gonzales said.

Gonzales, facing a no-confidence vote in the Senate, is resisting lawmakers' demands that he resign. He says he will remain in the job until he no longer has the president's support.

"It's important for any public official to have as much confidence as he can garner, and it will ebb and flow," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Friday. "But it will not ebb and flow with this president and this attorney general."

A growing number of critics says Gonzales repeatedly has sought to shape the normally independent department to the White House's ends.

Among examples they cite of White House meddling at the Justice Department are:

_A dramatic 2004 confrontation between Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft over whether to reauthorize a secret program to let the government spy on suspected terrorists without court approval.

At the time, Ashcroft was in intensive care and not seeing any visitors. His former deputy, Jim Comey, told the Senate last week that Gonzales and then-presidential chief of staff Andy Card came to Ashcroft's hospital room to get his approval in what Comey described as an "effort to take advantage of a very sick man."

Ashcroft refused to sign off on the program. The next day, the White House reauthorized the program without the department's approval. Ultimately, Bush ordered changes to the program to help the department defend its legality.

Less than a year later, in February 2005, Gonzales took Ashcroft's place as attorney general. The program was branded unconstitutional by a federal judge and since has been changed to require court approval before surveillance can be conducted.

_Allegations that Monica Goodling, the department's liaison to the White House and Gonzales' former counsel, aimed to only hire career prosecutors who were Republicans. Making hiring decisions based on political affiliation is illegal.

Goodling quit last month and is set to testify this week before a House committee investigating whether politics played a part in the firings last year of eight U.S. attorneys.

_Department documents show that shortly after the 2004 elections, Bush political adviser Karl Rove questioned whether all 93 of the nation's top federal prosecutors should be ordered to resign. He also helped coach Justice aide William Moschella's planned testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Rove also was included in e-mail traffic about the firings between the White House and the department.

As presidential appointees, U.S. attorneys serve at the president's pleasure and the White House is properly involved in discussions about their employment. But Rove used an unofficial e-mail address, registered to the Republican National Committee, to correspond about the firings _ raising the specter that politics was behind the ousters.

_The administration changed policy to allow more department officials to be in touch with the White House about some of the government's most sensitive criminal and civil cases. During President Clinton's two terms, such discussions were restricted to six people _ two at Justice and four at the White House.

In 2002, a year after Bush took office, the number of people was greatly expanded. By Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's estimates, 417 White House staff members and 42 Justice Department employees can discuss sensitive cases.

"It creates a partisan atmosphere, and that creates issues of confidence in the administering of justice," said Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who previously served as U.S. attorney in the state.

Some Republicans, too, doubt Gonzales can keep the White House's influence from improperly seeping into his department.

"The problem here is that it appears the attorney general, when he moved from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the Department of Justice, he didn't realize he'd changed jobs," said Arnold I. Burns, a deputy attorney general during the Reagan administration.

Burns himself is a reminder that close ties between Justice and the White House have posed problems before. He resigned in 1988 in protest of charges of improper behavior by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III, a longtime friend of President Reagan. Meese was later cleared but resigned before the end of the term.

Former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, too, had obvious close ties to President John F. Kennedy, his brother. But critics say Gonzales' relationship with Bush rivals that between former Attorney General John Mitchell and his former law partner, President Nixon.

Mitchell left the department in 1972 to run Nixon's re-election campaign. Mitchell served 19 months in prison after conviction on conspiracy, perjury and obstruction of justice charges for his role in the Watergate break-in of Democratic headquarters.

Reacting to Watergate abuses, Carter administration Attorney General Griffin Bell made changes to help maintain the department's independence. They include a ban on lawmakers and the White House directly contacting prosecutors about specific investigations.

That ban was violated last year when New Mexico GOP Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., called former U.S. attorney David Iglesias in Albuquerque to ask about the status of public corruption cases. Iglesias later said they wanted to know whether he was going to indict Democrats before the looming election. The incident is cited by Democrats who argue the U.S. attorney firings were politically motivated.

Philip Heymann, a Harvard law professor who worked at the Justice Department under several Democratic presidents, said the White House is using the law "almost exclusively as a form of protection and a form of armor, if you can get the Justice Department to say it's fine."

"I think they wanted a loyal attorney general, not somebody who would say 'no' when they very badly wanted them to say 'yes,'" Heymann said. "And now they've got that."

Contractor Deaths in Iraq Soar to Record

Contractor Deaths in Iraq Soar to Record

WASHINGTON, May 18 — Casualties among private contractors in Iraq have soared to record levels this year, setting a pace that seems certain to turn 2007 into the bloodiest year yet for the civilians who work alongside the American military in the war zone, according to new government numbers.

At least 146 contract workers were killed in Iraq in the first three months of the year, by far the highest number for any quarter since the war began in March 2003, according to the Labor Department, which processes death and injury claims for those working as United States government contractors in Iraq.

That brings the total number of contractors killed in Iraq to at least 917, along with more than 12,000 wounded in battle or injured on the job, according to government figures and dozens of interviews.

The numbers, which have not been previously reported, disclose the extent to which contractors — Americans, Iraqis and workers from more than three dozen other countries — are largely hidden casualties of the war, and now are facing increased risks alongside American soldiers and marines as President Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Baghdad takes hold.

As troops patrol more aggressively in and around the capital, both soldiers and the contractors who support them, often at small outposts, are at greater peril. The contractor deaths earlier this year, for example, came closer to the number of American military deaths during the same period — 244 — than during any other quarter since the war began, according to official figures.

“The insurgents are going after the softest targets, and the contractors are softer targets than the military,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense for manpower during the Reagan administration. “The U.S. is being more aggressive over there, and these contractor deaths go right along with it.”

Truck drivers and translators account for a significant share of the casualties, but the recent death toll includes others who make up what amounts to a private army.

Among them were four American security guards who died in a helicopter crash in January, 28 Turkish construction workers whose plane crashed north of Baghdad the same month, a Massachusetts man who was blown up as he dismantled munitions for an American company in March and a Georgia woman killed in a missile attack in March while working as a coordinator for KBR, the contracting company.

Donald E. Tolfree Jr., a trucker from Michigan, was fatally shot in the cab of his vehicle while returning to Camp Anaconda, north of Baghdad, in early February. His daughter, Kristen Martin, 23, said Army officials told her he was shot by an American military guard confused about her father’s assignment. The Army confirms the death is under investigation as a possible friendly-fire episode.

Ms. Martin said she waited three weeks for her father’s body to be returned home, and expressed resentment that dead contractors were treated differently from soldiers who fall in battle.

“If anything happens to the military people, you hear about it right away,” she said in a telephone interview. “Flags get lowered, they get their respect. You don’t hear anything about the contractors.”

Military officials in Washington and Baghdad said that no Pentagon office tracked contractor casualties and that they had no way to confirm or explain the sharp rise in deaths this year.

Army Lt. Col. Joseph M. Yoswa, a spokesman for the military in Iraq, said in an e-mail statement, “the responsibilities for tracking deaths, injuries, locations and any other essential requirements lie with the contractor. Unless there is something specifically stated in the contract about accounting for personnel, there is no requirement for the U.S. government to track these numbers.”

Companies that have lost workers in Iraq were generally unresponsive to questions about the numbers of deaths and the circumstances that led to casualties. None acknowledged that they had seen an increase this year.

But a spokesman for American International Group, the insurance company that covers about 80 percent of the contractor work force in Iraq, said it had seen a sharp increase in death and injury claims in recent months. The Labor Department records show that in addition to the 146 dead in the first three months this year, another 3,430 contractors filed claims for wounds or injuries suffered in Iraq, also a quarterly record. The number of casualties, though, may be much higher because the government’s statistical database is not complete.

The Labor numbers were provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The New York Times. Other figures came from a variety of government agencies, private contractors and insurers handling casualty claims.

American military casualties in Iraq have mounted to almost 3,400 dead. The new contractor statistics suggest that for every four American soldiers or marines who die in Iraq, a contractor is killed.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who pushed for the buildup of military forces in Iraq, said the contractor casualties were a symptom of a larger failure to send enough troops earlier to provide security throughout Iraq.

“We’re now putting these people in danger that I never thought they’d be under because we cannot secure the country,” he said.

Other lawmakers also expressed concern about the numbers. Representative John P. Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is chairman of the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said that he was shocked at the extent of casualties among contractors and that he planned to hold hearings this fall on the use of private workers in Iraq.

Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, has introduced legislation to force the government to release detailed records on the use of contractors in Iraq and the names and job descriptions of all those killed and injured, information that is virtually impossible to get right now. The military releases names and biographical information about its wartime casualties, but businesses are not required to provide such information, and the Labor Department refuses to do so, citing privacy laws.

“By keeping the knowledge of this force hidden, it changes one’s perception and one’s evaluation of the war,” Ms. Schakowsky said. “There are almost a thousand dead and a large number of injuries. I think it masks the fact that we are privatizing the military in this country.”

Contract workers say that as the tempo of military operations has increased in recent months, so have the attacks on contractors. Convoys of trucks operated by companies are often not as well armored or protected as military units, they say.

A top security industry official said he was told recently by American military and contracting officials that 50 to 60 percent of all truck convoys in Iraq were coming under attack. Previously, he said, only about 10 percent had been hit.

“There is a definite spike in convoy attacks,” said the official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity because the information was confidential. Gordon Dreher, 48, who drove a fuel truck supplying American troops in Iraq, said he and other drivers faced almost constant attacks from insurgents.

“I’ve been shot at, had my truck blown out from under me, had an I.E.D. hit about six feet away from me, and lost part of my hearing,” he said, referring to an improvised explosive device. “I’m used to getting shot at now, having tracer rounds hit off my truck. I got ambushed twice on one convoy run.”

Mr. Dreher broke his back in January from driving fast on rough roads, and is back home in Brick, N.J., awaiting surgery. “When they do a surge, they need more fuel for choppers and tanks,” he said. “My buddies who are still there tell me that they have been getting spanked pretty good lately.”

Mark Griffin, a 53-year-old truck driver from Georgia who left Iraq last November, said even then attacks were accelerating. “It got progressively worse pretty much every month I was there.”

He worked for KBR driving trucks in Anbar Province to supply Marine bases with ammunition, water and other essentials. He said that by late 2006 truck drivers and their Marine convoy escorts were finding 20 to 30 roadside bombs on each convoy trip through Anbar, the restive Sunni heartland. “The number of I.E.D.’s got worse, and the size and damage got worse, progressively, over time,” he said.

Labor Department statistics show that deaths and injuries among contractors have risen during times of heightened American military activity. For example, the number of contractors killed from January through March tops the previous quarterly record of 112 killed at the end of 2004, during the American military offensive in Falluja and related operations nearby.

The worsening casualty trends appear to be continuing into the second quarter of this year, as insurgents launch a wave of mortar and rocket attacks on Baghdad’s Green Zone, the heavily fortified government center. Earlier this month, for example, two Indians, a Filipino and a Nepalese working for the American Embassy in Baghdad were killed by rocket fire in the Green Zone.

Nearly 300 companies from the United States and around the world supply workers who are a shadow force in Iraq almost as large as the uniformed military. About 126,000 men and women working for contractors serve alongside about 150,000 American troops, the Pentagon has reported. Never before has the United States gone to war with so many civilians on the battlefield doing jobs — armed guards, military trainers, translators, interrogators, cooks and maintenance workers — once done only by those in uniform.

In the Persian Gulf war of 1991, for example, only 9,200 contractors — mostly operating advanced weapons systems — served alongside 540,000 military personnel. But at the end of the cold war, Congress and the Pentagon were eager to seize on the so-called peace dividend and drastically scale back the standing Army. The Bush administration expanded the outsourcing strategy to unprecedented levels after the invasion of Iraq.

Many contractors in the battle zone say they lack the basic security measures afforded uniformed troops and receive benefits that not only differ from those provided to troops, but also vary by employer. Weekly pay ranges from $60 for Iraqi translators and laborers to $1,800 for truck drivers to as much as $6,000 for private security guards employed by companies like Blackwater. Medical and insurance benefits also vary widely, from excellent to minimal.

Conditions in Iraq are harsh, and many civilians who arrive there, drawn by patriotism, a sense of adventure or the lure of money, are overwhelmed by the environment. If they raise questions about the 12-hour workdays, the lack of armor plating on trucks or the periodic shelling of bases, supervisors often tell them to pack up and go home.

Cynthia I. Morgan, a Tennessee trucker who spent more than a year in Iraq as a convoy commander, said that the common answer from her bosses to such complaints was, “Aisle or window, chicken or pasta” — meaning “Get on the next plane out of here.”

Frank Rich - The Reverend Falwell’s Heavenly Timing

The Reverend Falwell’s Heavenly Timing


HARD as it is to believe now, Jerry Falwell came in second only to Ronald Reagan in a 1983 Good Housekeeping poll anointing “the most admired man in America.” By September 2001, even the Bush administration was looking for a way to ditch the preacher who had joined Pat Robertson on TV to pin the 9/11 attacks on feminists, abortionists, gays and, implicitly, Teletubbies. As David Kuo, a former Bush official for faith-based initiatives, tells the story in his book “Tempting Faith,” the Reverend Falwell was given a ticket to the Washington National Cathedral memorial service that week only on the strict condition that he stay away from reporters and cameras. Mr. Falwell obeyed, though once inside he cracked jokes (“Whoa, does she look frumpy,” he said of Barbara Bush) and chortled nonstop.

This is the great spiritual leader whom John McCain and Mitt Romney raced to praise when he died on Tuesday, just as the G.O.P. presidential contenders were converging for a debate in South Carolina. The McCain camp’s elegiac press release beat out his rival’s by a hair. But everyone including Senator McCain knows he got it right back in 2000, when he labeled Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson “agents of intolerance.” Mr. Falwell was always on the wrong, intolerant side of history. He fought against the civil rights movement and ridiculed Desmond Tutu’s battle against apartheid years before calling AIDS the “wrath of a just God against homosexuals” and, in 1999, fingering the Antichrist as an unidentified contemporary Jew.

Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed “America’s mayor” an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?

The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell’s gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani’s unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he’s tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with “divorce papers.”

Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani’s public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue “will make the party seem irrelevant” and cost it the White House in 2008. At the start of Tuesday’s debate, the Fox News moderator Brit Hume coldly put Mr. Falwell’s death off limits by announcing that “we will not be seeking any more reaction from the candidates on that matter.” It was a pre-emptive move to shield Fox’s favored party from soiling its image any further by association with the Moral Majority has-been and his strident causes. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the Fox News questioners skipped past the once-burning subject of same-sex marriage as well.

What a difference a midterm election has made. The Karl Rove theory that Republicans cannot survive without pandering to religious-right pooh-bahs is yet another piece of Bush dogma lying in ruins, done in by two synergistic forces. The first is the raw political math. Polls consistently show that most Americans don’t want abortion outlawed, do want legal recognition for gay couples, do want stem-cell research and never want to see government intrude on a Terri Schiavo again. On Election Day 2006, voters in red states defeated both an abortion ban (South Dakota) and, for the first time, a same-sex marriage ban (Arizona).

But equally crucial is how much the “family values” establishment has tarnished itself in the Bush era. Some of that self-destruction followed the time-honored Jimmy Swaggart-Jim Bakker paradigm of hypocrisy: the revelations that Ted Haggard, the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, was finding God in the arms of a male prostitute, and that the vice president’s daughter and her partner were violating stated Bush White House doctrine by raising a child with two mommies. But a greater factor in the decline and sullying of the Falwell-flavored religious right is its collusion in the worldly corruption ushered in by this particular presidency and Mr. Rove’s now defunct Republican majority.

The felonious Jack Abramoff scandals have ensnared a remarkably large who’s who of righteous politicos, led by Mr. Robertson’s former consigliere at the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, who was so eager (as he put it in an e-mail) to start “humping in corporate accounts.” Among the preachers who abetted (unwittingly, they all say) the bogus grass-roots “anti-gambling” campaigns staged by Mr. Abramoff to smite rivals of his own Indian casino clients were Mr. Dobson, the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Tom DeLay, a leader of the Schiavo putsch in Congress, was taken out by his association with Mr. Abramoff, too. Mr. DeLay’s onetime chief of staff, Edwin Buckham (an evangelical minister, yet), pocketed more than $1 million, largely from Abramoff clients, that was funneled through a so-called U.S. Family Network, ostensibly dedicated to promoting “moral fitness.”

The sleazy links between Washington scandal and religious-right hacks didn’t end when Mr. Abramoff went to jail and Mr. DeLay went into oblivion. The first Justice Department official to plead the Fifth in this year’s bottomless United States attorneys scandal — Monica Goodling, a former top Alberto Gonzales aide — is a product of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law, formerly known as CBN University School of Law, after the Christian Broadcasting Network. As The Boston Globe discovered, Regent’s Web site boasts that some 150 of its grads were hired by the Bush administration, and not, it seems, because of merit. In Ms. Goodling’s graduating class, 60 percent failed the bar exam on their first try. U.S. News & World Report ranks the school in the fourth — a k a bottom — tier.

Having been given immunity, Ms. Goodling is scheduled to testify before House inquisitors this week. We know already from The National Journal that she was so moral that she put blue drapes over the exposed breasts in the statuary in the Great Hall of the Justice Department (since removed). The Times found that she had asked civil-service job applicants, “Have you ever cheated on your wife?” Yet her strict morality did not extend to protecting the nonpartisan sanctity of the American legal system. An inexperienced lawyer just past 30, Ms. Goodling exercised her power to vet some 400 Justice Department political appointees by favoring Republican and Rovian loyalty over actual qualifications. Though the Monica at the center of the last presidential scandal did enable a husband’s cheating on his wife, at least she wasn’t tasked with any governmental responsibility more weighty than divvying up pizza.

Mr. Giuliani’s rivals for the Republican nomination just can’t leave behind the received wisdom that you still have to appease the Robertson-Dobson-Perkins axis of piety that produces the likes of a Monica Goodling. They seem oblivious to the new evangelical leaders who care more about serving the ill, the poor and the environment than grandstanding in the fading culture wars. They seem oblivious to the reality that their association with the old religious-right taskmasters diminishes them, however well it may play to some Iowa caucus voters. Mr. Romney, a former social liberal whose wife gave money to Planned Parenthood, is crudely trying to rewrite his record by showering cash on anti-abortion-rights groups; he spoke at Regent U. even as a Pat Robertson Web site mocked his religion, Mormonism, as a cult. Mr. McCain, busily trying to disown past positions unpopular with the declining base, is trapped in a squeeze play of his own making: he’s failing to persuade the hard right that he’s one of them even as he makes Mr. Giuliani look like a straight-talker by comparison.

“America’s mayor” has so much checkered history in his closet — by which I mean Bernard Kerik, among other ticking time bombs, not the gay couple he bunked with before 9/11 — that he is hardly a certain winner of his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. But whatever his ultimate fate, the enthusiasm and poll numbers Mr. Giuliani arouses among Republicans to date are a death knell for the political orthodoxy of the Rove era. The agents of intolerance are well on their way to being forgotten, even in those cases when they, unlike Jerry Falwell, are not yet gone.

Iglesias recounts a lunch with politics on the menu

Iglesias recounts a lunch with politics on the menu
The fired U.S. attorney says he was targeted for not pressing charges that could have helped the GOP.
By Tom Hamburger
Times Staff Writer

May 19, 2007

WASHINGTON — Weeks before the 2006 midterm election, then-New Mexico U.S. Atty. David C. Iglesias was invited to dine with a well-connected Republican lawyer in Albuquerque who had been after him for years to prosecute allegations of voter fraud.

"I had a bad feeling about that lunch," said Iglesias, describing his meeting at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen with Patrick Rogers, a lawyer who provided occasional counsel to the New Mexico Republican Party.

When the voter fraud issue came up, Iglesias said, he explained to Rogers that in reviewing more than 100 complaints, he hadn't found any solid enough to justify criminal charges.

Iglesias recounted the episode in an interview with The Times after meeting behind closed doors with federal investigators this week to provide new details of the events leading up to his termination as U.S. attorney. He said he now believed he was targeted because he was seen as slow to bring criminal charges that would have helped GOP election prospects.

Federal investigators are examining whether electoral considerations — such as a broader Republican initiative to enforce anti-fraud rules and cull questionable voters from rolls nationwide — played a part in the termination of Iglesias and other U.S. attorneys last year.

The Iglesias case has attracted special attention because the Bush administration has had difficulty defending his dismissal as being nonpolitical, especially after Iglesias revealed that two Republican members of Congress had called him before November's election to ask about a corruption case against New Mexico Democrats.

Iglesias' account of the lunch meeting with Rogers, not previously reported, raises new questions about political pressures applied to U.S. attorneys related to voter fraud and other matters.

Rogers confirmed the lunch meeting but disputed parts of Iglesias' account, saying Iglesias had been changing his story "depending on what he needs to do to keep the story alive, get media attention and write another chapter of his book."

Discussion of voter fraud

Iglesias has told reporters and investigators that he is speaking out because his reputation has been assaulted and because political considerations were pushed improperly into the once-sacrosanct area of prosecutorial discretion.

"I believe the primary reason for my forced resignation is that I was not engaged in filing criminal complaints … in advance of the '06 election," Iglesias said in an interview after his three-hour meeting with the Office of Special Counsel.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said, "The department did not and would not ask for the resignation of any individual, including Mr. Iglesias, in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain."

Although most of the seven other U.S. attorneys fired last year have not complained as aggressively, the dismissals have created a cascade of embarrassments for the department and Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales, who faces a "no confidence" vote in the Senate next week.

This week, another fired U.S. attorney who has said he felt pressure on voter fraud cases, John McKay of Seattle, said he thought interference with Iglesias and other prosecutors amounted to "possible obstruction of justice." He predicted that a criminal inquiry would be launched. He said he felt pressure to bring voter fraud charges in his district after a 129-vote margin put a Democratic governor into office in Washington.

"Suffice it to say that we thoroughly investigated [the election] at every appropriate turn. My job is to look at the evidence, and frankly, there wasn't any evidence of a crime," McKay said.

Iglesias reached a similar conclusion after reviewing voter fraud allegations in New Mexico.

Rogers said Iglesias had adopted the Democrats' view of election fraud, dismissing a serious problem as the imaginings of feverish partisans.

In fact, both major parties work assiduously to interpret election laws in their favor, particularly in battleground states where elections can be decided by thin margins.

Rogers, Iglesias recalled, had pressed him in 2004 and then again just before the 2006 election to push for voter fraud convictions in the state. Iglesias said he was so concerned about the propriety of the preelection get-together with Rogers that he asked a colleague from the office to join him as a witness.

Rogers, reached by telephone in Albuquerque, recalled a brief discussion of voter fraud at the lunch, but he challenged much of Iglesias' account.

Rogers said the primary purpose of the gathering was to discuss the U.S. attorney's failure to move on corruption cases, not voter fraud. Rogers also said that it was he who invited the other employee of the office to attend and that he was presenting them with concerns of others in law enforcement, including concerns raised in a newspaper article that described how the FBI had finished its work on a public corruption matter and turned it over to the U.S. attorney.

Rogers acknowledged he had challenged Iglesias in the past to review instances of alleged voter fraud and said he was shocked that Iglesias launched a task force on the broad issue rather than pursuing specific cases.

'Absentee landlord'

Unbeknownst to Iglesias, a few months before that lunch, Rogers and another Republican attorney from New Mexico, Mickey Barnett, had complained about Iglesias at the Justice Department in Washington. The session was arranged with the assistance of the department's then-White House liaison, Monica M. Goodling, and an aide to White House political strategist Karl Rove, according to e-mails released recently by congressional investigators.

One of those they met with was Matthew Friedrich, a senior counselor to Gonzales. Friedrich would meet again with Rogers and Barnett in New Mexico, where, he told congressional investigators, the pair complained about Iglesias. They made it clear "that they did not want him to be the U.S. attorney…. They mentioned that they had communicated that with Sen. Domenici, and they also mentioned Karl Rove," Friedrich said, according to a transcript provided by congressional investigators. Pete V. Domenici is a Republican U.S. senator in New Mexico.

Iglesias has said that he believes "all roads lead to Rove" in explaining the dismissals and that he is counting on the Office of Special Counsel to find the truth.

That obscure office is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of federal resources for electoral purposes, and another law protecting military service members from discrimination. Iglesias, who is in the Naval Reserve, says he believes his termination violated the Hatch Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

"I recognize the inherent power of the president to remove his people — but he can't do it for just any reason," Iglesias said in the interview. "There are some reasons you can't remove someone." Those reasons include an unwillingness to cooperate with a plan to help one political party over another, he said.

In talking with investigators, Iglesias circled back to Goodling's handwritten notes, obtained last month by the House and Senate Judiciary committees, which included a list of reasons for the eight firings.

Next to Iglesias' name, she wrote: "Domenici says he doesn't move cases" and later the words "absentee landlord." Domenici has acknowledged calling Iglesias last fall but says he applied no pressure. He had been upset with what he perceived as Iglesias' inaction, and he also called Gonzales, Rove and President Bush.

Goodling's "absentee landlord" complaint, repeated later by others in the department, galls Iglesias. The former prosecutor says his only absence besides routine vacation was for required service — up to 45 days a year — in the Naval Reserve.

"It was absolutely irritating to have a 33-year-old noncareer Justice Department official say these things and not do her due diligence to check them out," he said.

He said he believed it was a breach of the law to get rid of a prosecutor because he was completing required military service.

When the department first asked him to resign, Iglesias says he was "content to leave quietly." But the 49-year-old, who was a model for the character played by Tom Cruise in the movie "A Few Good Men," said he had become increasingly irate as he learned about the pressures that might have led to his forced resignation and as he heard the public reasons offered to explain his departure.

Despite Justice Department denials, he insists: "There was an illegitimate basis for their effort to remove me. It was political."

Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.,0,2601139,print.story?coll=la-home-center

Carter: Bush's Impact 'Worst in History'

Carter: Bush's Impact 'Worst in History'

May 19, 5:27 PM (ET)


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Former President Carter says President Bush's administration is "the worst in history" in international relations, taking aim at the White House's policy of pre-emptive war and its Middle East diplomacy.

The criticism from Carter, which a biographer says is unprecedented for the 39th president, also took aim at Bush's environmental policies and the administration's "quite disturbing" faith-based initiative funding.

"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a story that appeared in the newspaper's Saturday editions. "The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me."

Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo confirmed his comments to The Associated Press on Saturday and declined to elaborate. He spoke while promoting his new audiobook series, "Sunday Mornings in Plains," a collection of weekly Bible lessons from his hometown of Plains, Ga.

"Apparently, Sunday mornings in Plains for former President Carter includes hurling reckless accusations at your fellow man," said Amber Wilkerson, Republican National Committee spokeswoman. She said it was hard to take Carter seriously because he also "challenged Ronald Reagan's strategy for the Cold War."

Carter came down hard on the Iraq war.

"We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered," he said. "But that's been a radical departure from all previous administration policies."

Carter, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, criticized Bush for having "zero peace talks" in Israel. Carter also said the administration "abandoned or directly refuted" every negotiated nuclear arms agreement, as well as environmental efforts by other presidents.

Carter also offered a harsh assessment for the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which helped religious charities receive $2.15 billion in federal grants in fiscal year 2005 alone.

"The policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion," Carter said. "As a traditional Baptist, I've always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one."

Douglas Brinkley, a Tulane University presidential historian and Carter biographer, described Carter's comments as unprecedented.

"This is the most forceful denunciation President Carter has ever made about an American president," Brinkley said. "When you call somebody the worst president, that's volatile. Those are fighting words."

Carter also lashed out Saturday at British prime minister Tony Blair. Asked how he would judge Blair's support of Bush, the former president said: "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient."

"And I think the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world," Carter told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

U.S. Embassy in Iraq to be biggest ever

U.S. Embassy in Iraq to be biggest ever

By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic WriterSat May 19, 12:35 PM ET

The new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will be the world's largest and most expensive foreign mission, though it may not be large enough or secure enough to cope with the chaos in Iraq.

The Bush administration designed the 104-acre compound — set to open in September in what today is a war zone — to be an ultra-secure enclave. Yet it also hoped that downtown Baghdad would cease being a battleground when diplomats moved in.

Over the long term, depending on which way the seesaw of sectarian division and grinding warfare teeters, the massive city-within-a-city could prove too enormous for the job of managing diminished U.S. interests in Iraq.

The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls. The compound is a symbol both of how much the United States has invested in Iraq and how the circumstances of its involvement are changing.

The embassy is one of the few major projects the administration has undertaken in Iraq that is on schedule and within budget. Still, not all has gone according to plan.

The 21-building complex on the Tigris River was envisioned three years ago partly as a headquarters for the democratic expansion in the Middle East that President Bush identified as the organizing principle for foreign policy in his second term.

The complex quickly could become a white elephant if the U.S. scales back its presence and ambitions in Iraq. Although the U.S. probably will have forces in Iraq for years to come, it is not clear how much of the traditional work of diplomacy can proceed amid the violence and what the future holds for Iraq's government.

"What you have is a situation in which they are building an embassy without really thinking about what its functions are," said Edward Peck, a former top U.S. diplomat in Iraq.

"What kind of embassy is it when everybody lives inside and it's blast-proof, and people are running around with helmets and crouching behind sandbags?"

The compound will have secure apartments for about 615 people. The comfortable but not opulent one-bedrooms have offered hope for State Department staff now doubled up in tinny trailers.

Morale is at an ebb among the embassy staff, most of whom rarely leave the heavily fortified Green Zone during their one-year tours in Iraq. The barricaded zone houses both the current, makeshift U.S. Embassy and the new compound about a mile away. A recent string of mortar attacks has meant further restrictions.

On Saturday, three mortar shells or rockets slammed into a Green Zone compound where British Prime Minister Tony Blair was meeting with Iraqi leaders. The attack wounded one person. One round hit the British Embassy compound.

The new U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, is reviewing staffing and housing needs, and fielding complaints about any suggestion employees either double up again or live elsewhere.

"We do believe that the embassy compound was right-sized at the time that it was presented to the Congress," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Senate panel this month. "There have been some additional issues since that time. "

Rice's senior adviser on Iraq, David Satterfield, said the embassy is not disproportionately expensive and will serve U.S. interests for years. The second-most expensive embassy is the smaller $434 million U.S. mission being built in Beijing.

"We assume there will be a significant, enduring U.S. presence in Iraq," Satterfield said.

The Baghdad Embassy will open in September and be fully staffed by the end of the year, Satterfield said. U.S. diplomats will move from a dogeared Saddam Hussein-era palace they have occupied since shortly after the 2003 invasion, to the growing irritation of many Iraqis.

The International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, has identified the complex as the world's largest embassy. The organization notes that the embassy is a sore point with Iraqis who are fed up with war, violence and roadblocks and chafing under the perception the U.S. still calls the shots more than four years after Saddam's ouster.

The embassy also is a prime target.

The area around the construction site was hit with mortar fire this month. Other areas of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone were hit on consecutive days last week.

The increase in mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone has raised concern, especially because they are occurring during a U.S.-led security crackdown in Baghdad.

The embassy has ordered its staff to wear flak jackets and helmets while outdoors or in unprotected buildings. The order was issued one day after a rocket attack killed four Asian contractors in the Green Zone this month.

It is unclear who is responsible for the recent attacks. Some barrages came from Shiite-dominated areas in eastern Baghdad. But the Green Zone also is within range of Sunni militant strongholds to the south.

The State Department and Congress have tussled this year over a $50 million request for additional blast-resistant housing. The department says it did not anticipate needing so many fortified apartments when the embassy was in the planning stages three years ago and Iraq was a less violent place.

The new Democratic-controlled Congress has grumbled about the approximately $1 billion annual cost of embassy operations in Iraq and told the administration the embassy is overstaffed at roughly 1,000 regular employees. Add security contractors, locally hired staff and others and the number climbs to more than 4,000.

"This is another case where poor planning, skyrocketing costs and security concerns are colliding in the Bush administration's policies in Iraq, and we need to make adjustments," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Senate panel that pays for State Department operations.

"They want hundreds of additional embassy staff who they cannot safely house within the new embassy compound. It's time for a reality check," said Leahy, D-Vt.


Associated Press writer Robert Reid in Baghdad contributed to this report.;_ylt=AuwX9FTxRnDCwFbzvhwJkNKWwvIE

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nixon Rides Again

Nixon Rides Again
It's only illegal when the president agrees it's illegal.
By Dahlia Lithwick
Posted Thursday, May 17, 2007, at 7:13 PM ET

It took a day, but the newspapers finally caught up to the bloggers this morning in recognizing the real shocker in former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's dramatic congressional testimony Tuesday. It's not just the Grim Reaper tale of Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card double-teaming a critically ill John Ashcroft in his hospital bed. The real issue, as Orin Kerr, Glenn Greenwald, Marty Lederman, The Anonymous Liberal, and Paul Kiel started explaining Wednesday, is much bigger: The story isn't who picked on a sick guy or even who did or didn't break laws. The story is who gets to decide what's legal. And the president's now-familiar claim, a la Richard Nixon, is that it's never illegal when he does it.

We now know that in 2004 Gonzales and Andy Card raced to the hospital to try to get a very sick John Ashcroft to certify the legality of the president's secret NSA surveillance program—going over the head of Comey, the acting attorney general while Ashcroft was ill. When Ashcroft refused to override Comey, the White House reauthorized the program without DoJ certification. The question now is whether in so doing, the White House did something illegal, improper, neither, or both.

The Wall Street Journal today dismisses this story as a "full length docudrama." Quoting selectively from Arlen Specter's long colloquy with Comey, in which Comey conceded that "the Justice Department's certification ... was not [required] as far as I know," the Journal concludes that "nothing illegal was done, [Comey] was never threatened by White House officials, and the President told him to do what he felt was right." No laws broken. Nothing to see here, America. Move along.

But those of you who actually read the transcript know that Comey never conceded that DoJ certification of the classified program was legally unnecessary. He seems merely to have said that the administration may not have believed it was legally necessary. Indeed, when Specter asked whether "the certification by the Department of Justice as to legality was indispensable as a matter of law," Comey said he believed that it was. He said, twice, and most carefully, that while he was not a presidential scholar, there were those who argued "that because the head of the executive branch determined that it was appropriate to do, that that meant for purposes of those in the executive branch it was legal." Comey added that he disagreed with that conclusion.

There is a normative legal argument about whether the president should need any permission to do anything in wartime. The bloggers above agree that this bare assertion—that the president's Article II powers allow him to do what needs doing—appears to be the basis for the work of John Yoo, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who laid much of the legal groundwork for torture and other forms of unchecked executive power before 2004. That may, in turn, have been the basis for the apparently rigorous re-evaluation of Yoo's legal work by the new head of OLC, Jack Goldsmith. (Disclosure: Goldsmith and I have co-authored here in Slate.)

But regardless of what the Journal claims, Comey was not this week endorsing the assertion that whatever the president says goes. He conceded that the attorney general's certification was not required by statute or by regulation, but it was "the practice in this particular [surveillance] program ... there was a signature line for that." And he added that the AG's certification had never yet been disregarded.

Specter hardly wrung from Comey the concession that the White House decision to reauthorize its NSA program over DoJ objections was "legal." What Comey did grant was the proposition that it could have been legal if you accepted that what the White House does is legal by definition. The administration's decision to push forward with the program anyway meant that Comey (and DoJ) had no role to play at all, and he found that untenable, if not expressly illegal.

It's impossible to draw neat lines around which elements of the mushrooming U.S. attorneys scandal violate the law and which are encompassed in Bush's larger worldview that life happens at the pleasure of the president. But these discussions raise the bigger question: How can the president ever break a law, so long as he insists he is the law? And how can the rest of us know if he's broken a law, if we've absolutely no idea what he's been doing?

The psychodrama in Ashcroft's hospital room boils down to a rift between the people at Justice (Ashcroft, Comey, and Goldsmith) who believed even the president can cross a line into lawless behavior and those who simply don't. Glenn Greenwald contends that "the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans." The Wall Street Journal insists that no law was broken because the surveillance program put the president above the law. Greenwald believes in an immutable legal architecture that binds even the president. The White House contends the president answers to nobody. There is no midpoint between these two arguments. The president is either above the law or he isn't.

As it turns out, almost everyone who espoused the latter view has fled DoJ. The most underreported moment at Comey's hearing this week was not, as the Journal claims, the Comey-Specter colloquy, but Sen. Chuck Schumer's Freudian effort to swear Comey back into office when he was supposed to be administering an oath. As Ben Wittes puts it today, "the bad guys won."

But that's not quite right. The bad guys were winning for a while because they picked the teams, set the rules, sidelined the referees, and turned off all the lights in the stadium. Congress has some work to do. It needs to drill down on what this mystery eavesdropping program was (and which worse mystery eavesdropping program it replaced) and to get to the bottom of the Yoo memos and what else they've authorized. Let's call the Comey testimony the halftime show. With the refs in and the lights finally on, this might just prove to be an interesting game after all.
Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.

Article URL:

Hang in there, America: Competent leadership is just 600-plus days away

Hang in there, America: Competent leadership is just 600-plus days away

McClatchy Newspapers

As of May 17th, there were 613 days left until Jan. 20, 2009, and the end of our long national nightmare as President George W. Bush and his Rasputin, Vice President Dick Cheney, shuffle off to their necessarily well-guarded retirement homes and onto the ash heap of history.

So much of what they talked about doing in a new century and a new and different world never came to pass. So much of what they did to grow the power of the presidency and prune the constitutional safeguards crafted by our Founding Fathers, they never talked about.

The American people have turned their backs on George Bush and his dreams of planting the seeds of democracy in Mesopotamia at the point of a gun and seeing them spread like kudzu across the Middle East.

He's failed in his quest for victory in Iraq and for a world put in order by a new and stronger United States, and his brash blundering into a dangerous land has made us all much less safe.

The president's approval ratings are below his knees, sinking to 28 percent in one recent poll, and he cannot recover short of the kind of miracle that parts seas and feeds the multitudes.

The war that was never ours to win by military means - the only button this president who never learned war ever learned how to push - is lost. Bush and Cheney and the rest of their cronies and co-conspirators are toast.

The question is: How did such ordinary-looking men - seemingly unable to carry out even the smallest non-political tasks of governing - succeed in doing such extraordinary and lasting damage to our country, our military and our body politic in so few years?

With Congress in the hands of the Democrats, and the 2008 election looming dead ahead, the president can't even count on key figures in his own Republican Party to stand behind him as he embarks on a long and painful lame duckhood.

His hopes of crafting meaningful immigration reform and fixing Social Security are dead on arrival. The legacies that George W. Bush will carry into retirement are the war he started, lost and stubbornly refused to end, and the corruption that he and his team visited on our democracy and Constitution.

The president's lawyer, "mi abogado," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, dangles in the wind as we learn, day by day, of how grotesquely this administration politicized the professional staff of the Justice Department.

It was Gonzales, as White House counsel, who provided legal cover for the torture and maltreatment of prisoners and suspects that led directly to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the CIA's secret Kafkaesque prisons scattered around the world where "enhanced" interrogation methods were generously, if unproductively, employed.

It was Gonzales, as attorney general, who hired and gave unprecedented hiring and firing powers to a 33-year-old attorney, Monica Goodling, who'd graduated from a TV evangelist's law school. It was Goodling who resigned and took the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions that hadn't even been asked. It was Goodling who was Justice's liaison to the White House and Karl Rove.

Meantime, the White House can't find 5 million e-mail messages involving official business and refuses to provide many of those it can find to the congressional committees investigating the firing of U.S. attorneys.

The agencies of government - the CIA, FBI, Treasury, Department of Defense and who knows who else - use secret executive authority to suck up databases of personal information about ordinary Americans, without regard to their privacy rights, in a search for suspected terrorists.

Have they found any using that information? Have they unearthed terror cells with more potential than the ones in Florida and New Jersey that were penetrated and perhaps manipulated by FBI informants? That sort of terrorist isn't half so frightening as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Over in Iraq, 150,000 American troops soldier on, attempting, at the cost of their own lives and limbs, to follow the orders of a president who still thinks he can pull victory out of defeat.

A democratically elected but hopelessly divided Iraqi parliament feuds and dithers and contemplates its summer vacation while Americans and Iraqis die in increasing numbers in the streets outside the Green Zone, and the mortar and rocket fire lands inside that sanctuary with increasing frequency.

Six-hundred-fourteen days, and counting. Nineteen months. It doesn't seem possible or even bearable.

Caller ID

Caller ID
It's not whether the president called. It's what he did.

Washington Post

Friday, May 18, 2007; Page A22

IT DOESN'T much matter whether President Bush was the one who phoned Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's hospital room before the Wednesday Night Ambush in 2004. It matters enormously, however, whether the president was willing to have his White House aides try to strong-arm the gravely ill attorney general into overruling the Justice Department's legal views. It matters enormously whether the president, once that mission failed, was willing nonetheless to proceed with a program whose legality had been called into question by the Justice Department. That is why Mr. Bush's response to questions about the program yesterday was so inadequate.

"I'm not going to talk about it," Mr. Bush told reporters at a news conference with departing British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "It's a very sensitive program. I will tell you that, one, the program is necessary to protect the American people, and it's still necessary because there's still an enemy that wants to do us harm."

No one is asking Mr. Bush to talk about classified information, and no one is discounting the terrorist threat. But there is a serious question here about how far Mr. Bush went to pressure his lawyers to implement his view of the law. There is an even more serious question about the president's willingness, that effort having failed, to go beyond the bounds of what his own Justice Department found permissible.

Yes, Mr. Bush backed down in the face of the threat of mass resignations, Mr. Ashcroft's included, and he apparently agreed to whatever more limited program the department was willing to approve. In the interim, however, the president authorized the program the Justice lawyers had refused to certify as legally permissible, and it continued for a few weeks more, according to former deputy attorney general James B. Comey's careful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the Constitution, the president has the final authority in the executive branch to say what the law is. But as a matter of presidential practice, this is breathtaking.

These are important topics for public discussion, and if anyone doubts that they can safely be discussed in public, they need look no further than Mr. Comey's testimony. Instead of doing so, Mr. Bush wants to short-circuit that discussion by invoking the continuing danger of al-Qaeda.

"And so we will put in place programs to protect the American people that honor the civil liberties of our people, and programs that we constantly brief to Congress," Mr. Bush assured the country yesterday, as he brushed off requests for a more detailed account. But this is exactly the point of contention. The administration, it appears from Mr. Comey's testimony, was willing to go forward, against legal advice, with a program that the Justice Department had concluded did not "honor the civil liberties of our people." Nor is it clear that Congress was adequately informed. The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen.

We Must End This Catastrophic, Unspeakable and Ongoing Calamity We Call Iraq

We Must End This Catastrophic, Unspeakable and Ongoing Calamity We Call Iraq
by US Senator Robert Byrd
Remarks Delivered on the US Senate FloorThursday, May 17, 2007

Here we are once again - - déjà vu - - debating supplemental funding for the President’s disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Now in its fifth year of occupation, the U.S. death toll in Iraq is over 3,380. The death toll of innocent Iraqis is largely unknown, but it probably numbers in the tens of thousands. The United States of America has spent over $378 billion in Iraq, and we are all familiar with the horrendous tales of waste and abuse by U.S. contractors in Iraq. The taxpayer has been ravaged by the profiteering in Iraq, but even worse, despite the billions, our brave troops have been short-changed with inadequate equipment to protect their lives, and shoddy medical care if they make it back home to treat wounds of the body and of the mind.

Now, the President has threatened to veto the House Bill which is before the Senate because it sets a date for withdrawal, provides funding until late July, and “could unreasonably burden the President’s exercise of his constitutional authorities, including his authority as Commander-in-Chief . . . .” President Bush also objects to funding for rebuilding the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina, funding to improve health care for our troops and our veterans, funding for the shortfall in the States’ Children’s Health Insurance Program, funding for low-income heating assistance, and more funding for homeland security.

This President has a single-minded obsession with Iraq, and he appears to see no value in anything except continuing his quixotic “mission impossible.” While tilting at windmills may have been a harmless enough pursuit for Don Quixote, Mr. Bush’s war is turning the sands of Iraq blood red.

Mr. Bush raises constitutional concerns in his latest veto threat. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I suppose one could be encouraged that constitutional concerns exist in the Bush kingdom. After setting aside the Constitution whenever convenient to justify pre-emptive attacks, illegal searches, secret wiretapping, clandestine military tribunals, treaty violations, kidnapping, torture, and a rejection of habeas corpus, one has to wonder about the nature of these purported “constitutional concerns.” If the Constitution is finally to be read, let us read it in its entirety, including the articles which give the people’s Representatives the power over the purse, and the power to declare war.

In its Statement of Administrative Policy, the Administration claims that the House Bill before us “. . . Is likely to unleash chaos in Iraq . . . .” Mr. President, what do we have now if not chaos in Iraq? Securing Iraq has unaccountably morphed into securing Baghdad and even that goal eludes us. I doubt if building a wall around the green zone is going to be of much consequence in securing Baghdad, not to mention the very strange message such a wall conveys concerning our purported “liberation” of Iraq.

The President continues to miss the point. Iraq is at war with itself. America cannot create a stable democracy in Iraq at the point of a gun. While our troops succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein, it is the President’s profound misunderstanding of the dynamics in Iraq that have lead to the failure of his Iraq policies. Why in the world should we now believe the claims that he makes in his veto threat?

There must be an end to this occupation of Iraq. Yes, I say occupation for it is no longer a war in which U.S. troops should be involved. Our troops won the war that they were sent to fight. They should not now be asked to serve as targets in a religious conflict between Sunni and Shiites that has raged for thousands of years. It is reported that even a majority in the Iraqi Parliament now supports legislation which demands a scheduled withdrawal and an immediate freeze on the number of foreign soldiers in Iraq.

In April, Congress set a new course for the war in Iraq. Sadly, the President, our stubborn, uncompromising President, chose to veto that bill. As we prepare to go to conference again, the President continues to close his eyes and cover his ears to the reality in Iraq, and the urgent need for a new direction. Whatever decision is made in conference will not be the last chapter in this sad story. God willing, this Senator will not close his eyes or cover his ears. Nor will I stand by in silence.

We need to conclude this terrible mistake we have made in Iraq. Anti-Americanism is more robust now than in any period in our history because of Iraq. The international community is skeptical of U.S. intentions because of Iraq. Our Constitution has been trampled because of Iraq. Thousands of U.S. troops and Iraqi citizens have lost their lives because of Iraq. Thousands more are maimed physically or mentally because of Iraq. Billions of U.S. dollars have been wasted because of Iraq. President Bush has lost all credibility because of Iraq. Terrorism is on the rise worldwide because of Iraq. May God grant this Congress the courage to come together and answer the cries of a majority of the people who sent us here. Find a way to end this catastrophe, this unspeakable, ongoing calamity called Iraq.

Robert Byrd is US Senator from West Virginia.

Mr. Gonzales's Incredible Adventure

Mr. Gonzales's Incredible Adventure
The New York Times | Editorial

Thursday 17 May 2007

There were many fascinating threads to the testimony on Tuesday by the former deputy attorney general, James Comey, who described the night in March 2004 when two top White House officials tried to pressure an ailing and hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft into endorsing President Bush's illegal wiretapping operation.

But the really big question, an urgent avenue for investigation, is what exactly the National Security Agency was doing before that night, under Mr. Bush's personal orders. Did Mr. Bush start by authorizing the agency to intercept domestic e-mails and telephone calls without first getting a warrant?

Mr. Bush has acknowledged authorizing surveillance without a court order of communications between people abroad and people in the United States. That alone violates the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Domestic spying without a warrant would be an even more grievous offense.

The question cannot be answered because Mr. Bush is hiding so much about the program. But whatever was going on, it so alarmed Mr. Comey and F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller that they sped to the hospital, roused the barely conscious Mr. Ashcroft and got him ready to fend off the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, and Mr. Bush's counsel, Alberto Gonzales. There are clues in Mr. Comey's testimony and in earlier testimony by Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Ashcroft's successor, that suggest that Mr. Bush initially ordered broader surveillance than he and his aides have acknowledged.

Mr. Comey said the bizarre events in Mr. Ashcroft's hospital room were precipitated by a White House request that the Justice Department sign off on a continuation of the eavesdropping, which started in October 2001. Mr. Comey, who was acting attorney general while Mr. Ashcroft was ill, refused. Mr. Comey said his staff had reviewed the program as it was then being run and believed it was illegal.

So someone at the White House (and Americans need to know who) dispatched Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card to Mr. Ashcroft's hospital bed. Mr. Ashcroft flatly refused to endorse the program, Mr. Comey said. Later, he said, Mr. Bush agreed to change the wiretapping in ways that enabled Justice to provide a legal rationale. Mr. Comey would not say why he opposed the original program - which remains secret - or how it was changed.

With the benefit of Mr. Comey's testimony, we can see how Mr. Gonzales, in his effort to mislead the Congress and confuse the American public about how much their civil liberties were being violated, may have unintentionally given away vital clues that only now are falling into place.

While testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February 2006, Mr. Gonzales was asked if Mr. Comey had expressed reservations about the eavesdropping program. Mr. Gonzales replied, "There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed." By that, he must have meant the program that included modifications made after the hospital visit and after Mr. Comey's meeting with Mr. Bush.

Pressed by Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Comey's concerns "dealt with operational capabilities" that were not part of the program Mr. Bush has acknowledged. Mr. Gonzales would not describe those capabilities, of course. Yesterday, Mr. Schumer wrote Mr. Gonzales and asked him to reconcile Mr. Comey's account with his own.

The Republican-controlled Congress did a disservice to the nation by refusing to hold Mr. Bush to account for the illegal wiretapping. The current Congress should resume a vigorous investigation of this egregious abuse of power.

Paul Krugman - Don’t Blame Bush

Don’t Blame Bush


I’ve been looking at the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion: maybe we’ve all been too hard on President Bush.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Mr. Bush has degraded our government and undermined the rule of law; he has led us into strategic disaster and moral squalor.

But the leading contenders for the Republican nomination have given us little reason to believe they would behave differently. Why should they? The principles Mr. Bush has betrayed are principles today’s G.O.P., dominated by movement conservatives, no longer honors. In fact, rank-and-file Republicans continue to approve strongly of Mr. Bush’s policies — and the more un-American the policy, the more they support it.

Now, Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney may have done a few things other Republicans wouldn’t. Their initial domestic surveillance program was apparently so lawless and unconstitutional that even John Ashcroft, approached on his sickbed, refused to go along. For the most part, however, Mr. Bush has done just what his party wants and expects.

There was a telling moment during the second Republican presidential debate, when Brit Hume of Fox News confronted the contenders with a hypothetical “24”-style situation in which torturing suspects is the only way to stop a terrorist attack.

Bear in mind that such situations basically never happen in real life, that the U.S. military has asked the producers of “24” to cut down on the torture scenes. Last week Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, circulated an open letter to our forces warning that using torture or “other expedient methods to obtain information” is both wrong and ineffective, and that it is important to keep the “moral high ground.”

But aside from John McCain, who to his credit echoed Gen. Petraeus (and was met with stony silence), the candidates spoke enthusiastically in favor of torture and against the rule of law. Rudy Giuliani endorsed waterboarding. Mitt Romney declared that he wants accused terrorists at Guantánamo, “where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil ... My view is, we ought to double Guantánamo.” His remarks were greeted with wild applause.

And torture isn’t the only Bush legacy that seems destined to continue if a Republican becomes the next president. Mr. Bush got us into the Iraq quagmire by conflating Saddam with Al Qaeda, treating two mutually hostile groups as if they constituted a single enemy. Well, Mr. Romney offers more of that. “There is a global jihadist effort,” he warned in the second debate. “And they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda with that intent.” Aren’t Sunnis and Shiites killing each other, not coming together? Nevermind.

What about the administration’s state of denial over Iraq, its unwillingness to face up to reality? None of the leading G.O.P. presidential contenders seem any different — certainly not Mr. McCain, who strolled through a Baghdad marketplace wearing a bulletproof vest, accompanied by more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees while attack helicopters flew overhead, then declared that his experience proved there are parts of Baghdad where you can “walk freely.”

Finally, what about the Bush administration’s trademark incompetence? In appointing unqualified loyalists to key positions, Mr. Bush was just following the advice of the Heritage Foundation, which urged him back in 2001 to “make appointment decisions based on loyalty first and expertise second.” And the base doesn’t mind: the Bernie Kerik affair — Mr. Giuliani’s attempt to get his corrupt, possibly mob-connected business partner appointed to head the department of homeland security — hasn’t kept Mr. Giuliani from becoming the apparent front-runner for the Republican nomination.

What we need to realize is that the infamous “Bush bubble,” the administration’s no-reality zone, extends a long way beyond the White House. Millions of Americans believe that patriotic torturers are keeping us safe, that there’s a vast Islamic axis of evil, that victory in Iraq is just around the corner, that Bush appointees are doing a heckuva job — and that news reports contradicting these beliefs reflect liberal media bias.

And the Republican nomination will go either to someone who shares these beliefs, and would therefore run the country the same way Mr. Bush has, or to a very, very good liar.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Senate prepares for a no-confidence vote on Gonzales

Senate prepares for a no-confidence vote on Gonzales

By Margaret Talev and Marisa Taylor
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - The Senate moved Thursday to schedule a no-confidence vote on embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as new details surfaced suggesting that at least 30 federal prosecutors were targeted for firing, nearly one-third of the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys.

The impending censure vote is aimed at pressuring Gonzales to resign and forcing the Bush administration to further explain the motives behind its strategy to replace U.S. attorneys.

The names, nearly four times the number the Justice Department has acknowledged, give congressional investigators new leads in their inquiry into whether politics improperly influenced the firings of at least eight U.S. attorneys.

McClatchy Newspapers has learned that the top prosecutors in Macon, Ga., and Roanoke, Va., landed on a proposed firing list weeks after the White House and Justice Department traded notes about the potential for voter-fraud cases in central Georgia and Appalachia. They were added to a list just days before last November's midterm election, but ultimately not fired.

Thursday's developments follow the dramatic testimony by the Justice Department's former No. 2 official in which he described a hospital visit in 2004 by then-White House Counsel Gonzales and then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to persuade the ailing former Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve a secret spying program that the department said was illegal.

That testimony sent reverberations across official Washington.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the account the "last straw" in the decision to proceed with the no-confidence vote on Gonzales next week. Democratic sponsors of the vote said they expect several Republicans to join with them. As of Thursday, five Republican senators have called for Gonzales' resignation.

Such a vote would be nonbinding, but proponents say it could force Gonzales to resign. The Justice Department issued a statement saying that the attorney general stood by his previous statements to Congress denying that there was any internal dissent to the eavesdropping program, despite Wednesday's testimony by James Comey, Ashcroft's former second in command.

The disclosure of the extensive firing list brings to nine the number of battleground election states where the Bush administration set out to replace some of the nation's top prosecutors. In at least seven states, it now appears, U.S. attorneys were fired or considered for firing as Republicans in those states urged investigations or prosecutions of alleged Democratic voter fraud.

Maxwell Wood, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, and John L. Brownlee, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, remain in office. But their brief, last-minute appearances on a Nov. 1, 2006, target list have caught the interest of congressional investigators looking into whether politics improperly prompted the firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Brownlee said in a prepared statement that he first learned two months ago that he had been included on a 2006 list prepared by Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general. He said he reported what Elston had done to department officials. He declined to be interviewed "due to the department's investigation of these matters."

Wood declined comment.

The longer list of 26 names considered for firing was reported Thursday by The Washington Post. A government official familiar with the documents told McClatchy Newspapers that an additional four names were considered for removal.

Some targets who ultimately weren't fired were Christopher J. Christie in New Jersey, whose office subpoenaed Democratic Senator Robert Menendez just before the November 2006 elections; Mary Beth Buchanan in Pittsburgh, Pa., who had worked for the Justice Department in Washington; and Dunn Lampton in Mississippi, who pursued a high-profile prosecution of a powerful Democratic donor and several Democratic judges on bribery changes.

One of the targeted prosecutors, Tallahassee's U.S. attorney, Greg Miller, said he didn't know why he would have appeared on the list in February 2005, and then be off it by November 2006.

Miller said he was never pressured by Washington to prosecute voter fraud cases.

Ion Sancho, the Leon County, Fla., election supervisor, said in an interview Thursday that Miller's staff called his office soon after the November 2006 elections requesting a database of voter rolls.

"They told us, `We want to look for voter fraud,'" he said. "They didn't give me any specific reason."

Congressional investigators earlier had learned from Justice Department documents and closed-door interviews that Matt Friedrich, a counselor to Gonzales, last October was asked to pursue a complaint that the White House received that prosecutors weren't aggressively enough pursuing voter fraud complaints in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Mexico.

Notes taken by Friedrich to be reported back to the White House indicated that the Justice Department's public integrity section also reported that there were voter fraud complaints in Appalachia and the middle district of Georgia.

Was Gonzales' Emergency Visit Illegal?

Was Gonzales' Emergency Visit Illegal?
By Massimo Calabresi/Washington

When then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales went to John Ashcroft's hospital room on the evening of March 10, 2004 to ask the ailing Attorney General to override Justice Department officials and reauthorize a secret domestic wiretapping program, he was acting inappropriately, Ashcroft's deputy at the time, James Comey, testified before Congress earlier this week. But the question some lawyers, national security experts and congressional investigators are now asking is: Was Gonzales in fact acting illegally?

In dramatic testimony Tuesday, Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he raced to the intensive care unit of George Washington University Hospital that evening to intercept Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card and prevent them from convincing Ashcroft to reauthorize the program after Justice department lawyers had concluded that it was illegal. Comey, who during Ashcroft's stay in the hospital was acting Attorney General, has told Congressional investigators that when he arrived at the room and began explaining to Ashcroft why he was there, he was intentionally "very circumspect" so as not to disclose classified information in an unsecure setting and in front of Ashcroft's wife, Janet, who was at his bedside and was apparently not authorized to know about the program.

Comey described what happened next: "The door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. They greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there — to seek his approval for a matter, and explained what the matter was — which I will not do." Ashcroft bluntly rebuffed Gonzales, but Comey's unwillingness publicly to say what Gonzales said in the hospital room has raised questions about whether Gonzales may have violated executive branch rules regarding the handling of highly classified information, and possibly the law preventing intentional disclosure of national secrets.

"Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace," says Georgetown Law Professor Neal Katyal, who was National Security Advisor to the Deputy Attorney General under Bill Clinton. "The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power," Katyal says. This particular information could have been highly sensitive. Says one government official familiar with the Terrorist Surveillance Program: "Since it's that program, it may involve cryptographic information," some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community.

The law controlling the unwarranted disclosure of classified information that has been gained through electronic surveillance is particularly strict. In the past, everyone from low-level officers in the armed forces to sitting Senators have been investigated by the Justice department for the> intentional disclosure of such information. The penalty for "knowingly and willfully" disclosing information "concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States" carries a penalty up to 10 years in prison under U.S. law. "It's the one you worry about, says the government official familiar with the program.

In response to questions on the legality of Gonzales' hospital room conversation, Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the National Security Division of the Justice Department, said, "I am not going to speculate on discussions that may or may not have taken place, much less attempt to render a legal judgment on any such discussions." A Senate investigator says the Judiciary Committee is weighing whether to investigate the matter formally. One consideration will be whether the Justice department itself decides it should be investigated. Gonzales, as head of the department, would be conflicted in the matter. "The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations," says Georgetown's Katyal.

For all the questions concerning any potential violation the conversation may represent, others are more disturbed by the apparent contradiction between the Administration's unusual secrecy about the program and Gonzales' and Card's apparent willingness to discuss it in the open. Initially only eight members of Congress were informed of the program's existence, a strict legal requirement, and after it came to light the Administration refused repeated demands from both Republicans and Democrats for a closed briefing on the program for the entire intelligence committees of the House and Senate.

Weeks after the program was revealed in the New York Times in December of 2005, President Bush held a news conference to address it and said, "It's important for people to understand that this program is so sensitive and so important, that if information gets out [on] how we do it, or how we operate, it will help the enemy." Asked about the hospital visit at a press conference today, President Bush declined to provide specifics, saying that the program was "highly classified." Bush also declined to say whether he himself had authorized Gonzales to have the conversation with Ashcroft, as Comey suggested during his testimony may have been the case.

John Martin, who for 26 years oversaw the Justice Department's counterintelligence division, says he's less worried about the possible divulgence of classified information than he is about Gonzales' and Card's attempt to override Comey, who was acting Attorney General at the time. "That's part of the bad judgment," Martin says of the potential disclosure, but more troubling is that "horrible judgment was demonstrated on the part of Gonzales and Card because they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey's actions were heroic under the circumstances."

To determine whether Gonzales broke the law or not, "You have to know the exact facts," says Elizabeth Parker, Dean of the University of the Pacific Law School and former General Counsel of the National Security Agency. "Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don't divulge highly classified information. The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can't allow it to be discussed in a congressional setting, even a closed congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens."

Whatever was discussed in that hospital room, one thing is clear — Comey's disclosure of that emergency visit to Ashcroft has further weakened Gonzales' already weak support on Capitol Hill. In the last couple of days, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has joined the call for the Attorney General's resignation. And Thursday Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Diane Feinstein of California announced they intend to introduce a no-confidence motion against Gonzales in the Senate. Senate majority leader Harry Reid supports the motion and his staff say it could come to the floor as soon as next week.,8816,1622832,00.html