Thursday, May 10, 2007

Prosecutor Story Moves Forward

The NY Times picks up the story that Josh Marshall and TPMmuckraker have been reporting on the addition of a ninth prosecutor to the administration's purged list:

WASHINGTON, May 9 — The former United States attorney in Kansas City, Mo., said Wednesday that he was pushed to resign last year after disagreements with the Justice Department over politically sensitive cases. That would make him the ninth federal prosecutor forced out by department officials in Washington.

The prosecutor, Todd P. Graves, who held the office in Kansas City from 2001 until March 2006, was the subject of a complaint in 2005 from a staff member for Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, a spokesman for Mr. Bond confirmed.

Mr. Graves said in an interview Wednesday that in early 2006 he was already planning to move into private practice in Kansas City. But he said he was unaware at the time that his name was on a January 2006 list of United States attorneys that Justice Department officials were considering dismissing.

He said that in early 2006, Michael Battle, then the executive director of the office that supervises federal prosecutors, told him he should look for another job. Mr. Battle, who has since resigned, is the same official who told the other prosecutors they were being dismissed.

Mr. Graves said he did not know the exact reason he was urged to resign. But he said it was clear now that he would probably have been among those dismissed if he had not agreed to leave.

“I was pushed,” he said

And why was Graves "pushed" out of his job?

Mr. Graves said he had taken at least three stands on cases that may have alienated officials in Washington, adding, “I guess to them I wasn’t a team player or something.”

Two of those cases involved the civil rights division, which has been a focus of Congressional investigators because of accusations that it has become more partisan in the Bush administration, pushing Republican causes. In one case, Mr. Graves said, the civil rights division had wanted him to sue the State of Missouri for what federal officials thought was its failure to purge voter registration roles of people who had died, changed addresses or left the state.

Mr. Graves said he believed the suit would not succeed because local governments are responsible for registration records. After his refusal to sign off, the lawsuit was authorized by Bradley J. Schlozman, then the acting chief in the civil rights division in Washington. The department named Mr. Schlozman as Mr. Graves’s interim successor.

The administration saw such lawsuits as a way to combat voter fraud. But Democrats have said the lawsuits were politically motivated because poor and elderly voters were more likely to be taken off registration rolls.

The lawsuit was dismissed when a federal judge concluded that the state could not enforce the purging of local voter registration rolls.

Mr. Graves said he might also have alienated officials in Washington by giving Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who has since been elected to the United States Senate from Missouri, a letter in 2004 saying there had been insufficient evidence to file charges in a case from the 1990s that involved her office manager. Last year, Ms. McCaskill unseated Jim Talent, a Republican.

Mr. Graves said that in retrospect, he might have been seen as too independent and unwilling to push causes important to the Republican Party unless he felt action was merited by his reading of the law.

“As a prosecutor, I was always fiercely independent,” he said. “I just called balls and strikes.”

It's the same M.O.

Prosecutor won't play ball with administration on b.s. voter fraud investigations and b.s. criminal investigations against Democrats, Republican Congressional delegation members complain to administration, prosecutor's name appears on the Purge list, prosecutor either resigns knowing he/she is going to be fired or refuses to resign and gets fired, purged prosecutor is replaced with new prosecutor who will play ball.

Here's what the NY Times editorial page has to say about the Missouri case and its significance to the Prosecutor Purge story and the American electoral system as a whole this morning:

As the United States attorney scandal grows, so does the number of prosecutors who seem to have been pushed out for partisan political reasons. Another highly suspicious case has emerged in the appointment of Bradley Schlozman, a controversial elections lawyer, to replace a respected United States attorney in Missouri. From the facts available, it looks like a main reason for installing Mr. Schlozman was to help Republicans win a pivotal Missouri Senate race.

Jim Talent, the Republican incumbent, was facing a strong challenge from Claire McCaskill last year when the United States attorney, Todd Graves, resigned suddenly. Mr. Graves suspects that he may have been pushed out in part because he refused to support a baseless lawsuit against the state of Missouri that could have led to voters’ being wrongly removed from the rolls.

Mr. Graves was replaced by Mr. Schlozman, a high-level Justice Department lawyer who had made his name in the Bush administration by helping to turn the department away from its historic commitment to protecting the voting rights of minorities. Mr. Schlozman was one of the political appointees who approved Tom DeLay’s Texas redistricting plan and Georgia’s voter ID law, over the objection of career lawyers on the staff, who insisted that both violated the Voting Rights Act. McClatchy Newspapers reported that Mr. Schlozman also has been accused of hiring Justice Department lawyers based on their political party.

Mr. Schlozman injected the United States attorney’s office directly into the Talent-McCaskill race. Days before the election, he announced indictments of four people who were registering voters for the liberal group Acorn on charges of submitting false registration forms. The Republicans turned the indictments into an issue in the campaign, although Ms. McCaskill won the election anyway. Congress should investigate whether the indictments violated Justice Department guidelines, which say that election crime investigations should not be conducted right before an election, because they can themselves become a campaign issue.

Mr. Schlozman’s short stint in Missouri — he left after about a year — appears to be another case of the Bush administration’s politicizing federal prosecutors’ offices. Mr. Graves was reportedly on a list to be fired, and clues are emerging about why. He said this week that when he interviewed for the job, he was asked to name one attribute that describes him. “I said independent,” he said. “Apparently, that was the wrong attribute.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has asked to question Mr. Schlozman, and it should also question Mr. Graves. But Karl Rove and the former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who appear to have been deeply involved in the United States attorney firings, are likely to know the most about what happened, and should be made to testify as well.

A single Senate campaign may not seem that important. But Missouri’s race was among the nation’s closest, and if Mr. Talent had won, the Republicans would have kept their Senate majority. The American people have a right to know whether Mr. Schlozman was sent on his brief assignment in Missouri to pursue justice, or to affect the outcome of an election.

That's what is at stake here.

No longer happy to steal elections with the help of the Diebold Corporation or hanging chads, Karl Rove and Company decided to use the Department of Justice as an unofficial wing of the highly political Republican National Committee to open highly publicized criminal investigations and bring dubious indictments in swing states right before the '06 elections.

The pattern is becoming clearer and clearer.

Of the 9 purged prosecutors, only Kevin Ryan of Northern California was really fired for "performance reasons." The rest were fired or "pushed out" for not playing ball with the RNC/WH and helping to try and win elections for Republicans in swing states.

As the Times says, we kinda know who was behind all of this. There has been a lot of focus on Attorney General Gonzales (who is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee today and thinks he has weathered the storm), but his testimony before the Senate indicates he wasn't calling the shots in these matters. Certainly his deputies - Goodling, McNulty, and Sampson - weren't calling the shots either.

No - the shots were being called by the White House.

Two of the purged prosecutors, John McKay of Washington and David Iglesias of New Mexico, both highly respected professionals with stellar records, told the Seattle Times they believe Karl Rove and his aides were behind the purge and criminal charges could be brought:

Two former U.S. attorneys said today they believe ongoing investigations into the dismissals last year of eight federal prosecutors could result in criminal charges against senior Justice Department officials.

John McKay, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, and David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, also said they believe White House political operative Karl Rove and his aides instigated the dismissals and ultimately decided who among the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys should be fired. But the White House on Wednesday flatly denied the firings were instigated by the White House.


"I think there will be a criminal case that will come out of this," McKay said during his meeting with Times journalists. "This is going to get worse, not better."

McKay cited ongoing investigations into the dismissals by the Senate and House Judiciary committees, and inquiries now under way by the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility.

McKay said he believes obstruction-of-justice charges will be filed if investigators conclude that the dismissal of any of the eight prosecutors was motivated by an attempt to influence ongoing public-corruption or voter-fraud investigations.

McKay said he believes the strongest evidence of obstruction is related to the dismissals of Iglesias and Carol Lam, the former U.S. Attorney in San Diego.

Last fall, Iglesias received calls from U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., inquiring whether public-corruption charges would be filed against prominent Democrats in the state prior to the November elections. Former New Mexico state Senate President Manny Aragon, a Democrat, and three others were eventually charged in April in what prosecutors say was a kickback scheme during construction of a new courthouse in Albuquerque.

Lam was investigating former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., and Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the former third-highest-ranking CIA official, when senior Justice Department officials targeted her for dismissal. Bribery charges were ultimately filed against both men.

Additionally, McKay and Iglesias said they believe Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty lied under oath when they testified before Congress that the eight prosecutors were fired for performance-related reasons and because of policy disputes with Justice Department headquarters.


McKay and Iglesias also have both concluded that the White House was behind the firings.

They based their conclusions on thousands of pages of documents released by the Justice Department in recent weeks, as well as hours of public testimony by senior Justice Department officials and press reports of private depositions those officials gave to congressional investigators.

"It seems that given that no one takes credit at the Justice Department, that it can only be coming from one place, and that very strongly means the White House," McKay said.

The White House has so far refused to turn over e-mails related to the firings, and has said it may no longer have access to millions of e-mails sent through Republican National Committee servers. Consequently, Iglesias said, "it's hard for us to know who in the White House said what, on what date."

"The people that would have a voice in this would be Karl Rove, [Rove aide] Scott Jennings, [former White House counsel] Harriet Miers, probably, yes," he said. "But it's hard for me to say 'yes,' [without] looking at those e-mails and memos that are probably out there and missing that this is what they said on this date about John and me and my colleagues.

"But that would explain why the wagons are so tightly circled," Iglesias added.


McKay said he began to have concerns about politics entering the Justice Department in early 2005, when Gonzales addressed all of the country's U.S. attorneys in Scottsdale, Ariz., shortly after he took over as attorney general.

"His first speech to us was a 'you work for the White House' speech," McKay recalled. " 'I work for the White House, you work for the White House.' "

McKay said he thought at the time, "He couldn't have meant that speech," given the traditional independence of U.S. Attorneys. "It turns out he did."

He looked around the meeting room and caught the eyes of his colleagues, who gave him looks of surprise at Gonzales' remarks. "We were stunned at what he was saying."

Iglesias said the silver lining of the prosecutor firings is that they have triggered a public and congressional recognition of the need to reassert the Justice Department's independence.

"There was an attempt to inject the virus of partisan politics into the prosecutorial process," Iglesias said. "That's been stopped because of Congressional oversight and because of media scrutiny."

Unfortunately the virus of partisan politics that Rove and Company injected into the prosecutorial process hasn't itself been purged from the body yet.

I hope that Iglesias and McKay are right that as the investigations into these matters continue, criminal charges will ultimately be brought against the perpetrators of these crimes.

The Department of Justice should NOT be used as a political wing of a political party to help politicians get elected.

You can be sure if Janet Reno and Bill Clinton had cooked up such a scheme and told U.S. attorneys they work for the Clinton White House the way Gonzo told U.S. attorneys they work for the Bush White House, there would be shrieks from the wingnuttia about the "politicization of the process."

So let's get to the bottom of it.

Bring on the A.G. to testify today, bring on Miers, Jennings and Rove under oath to testify soon.

UPDATE: The Washington Post notes that news that there was a ninth prosecutor purged by the administration months before the others got the ax means the stories Gonzales and other DOJ officials told both the House and the Senate were false:

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

Gee, more statements made by Gonzo and senior DOJ officials that have been made "inoperative" by subsequent revelations.

I bet the House Judiciary Committee asks Gonzales a lot about this today because it clearly conflicts with what he told the Senate three weeks ago.

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