George W. Bush appears determined to place his legacy prominently in the annals of political corruption and incompetence. The past few weeks have been filled with stories of "lies, damn lies and the White House." A federal court jury found Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for the vice president, guilty on four felony counts of lying and obstruction of justice. The FBI was been caught misusing special powers unwisely granted by Congress under the Patriot Act. Now it appears that Department of Justice officials have been lying about politicization of federal prosecutors.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales first dismissed the recent purge of federal prosecutors as just "an overblown personnel matter," but then Newsweek reported that the list of prosecutors to be fired after the election was drawn up by Gonzales' chief of staff, "with input from the White House." The New York Times followed up with a March 13 report that the White House was "deeply involved" in the decision last year to dismiss federal prosecutors. Bush himself told Gonzales last fall that Republicans -- including Sen. Pete Domenici -- were complaining that US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico wasn't moving aggressively enough on claims that Democrats had engaged in voter fraud. Within a few weeks, Iglesias and six prosecutors from other states were fired.
GOP Chairman Allen Weh told reporters with McClatchy Newspapers that he complained about Iglesias to a Rove aide in 2005 and asked that he be removed. When Iglesias again failed to produce politically motivated investigations in 2006, Weh followed up during a December 2006 visit to the White House, and Rove told him, "He's gone."
Iglesias, who was fired Dec. 7, said he believes politics was behind his ouster. He said Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, another Republican, tried to pressure him to bring indictments against several Democrats before the 2006 congressional election. Justice Department officials have revealed that Domenici repeatedly contacted officials within the department requesting Iglesias' removal, McClatchy noted. But when asked whether he contacted Rove about the issue, Domenici told McClatchy he could not remember.
Among the other ousted prosecutors was Carole Lam, the US attorney for San Diego, who had successfully prosecuted hometown Republican US Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Just two days before leaving office, Lam got a grand jury to indict Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor, and Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the former third-ranking official at the CIA. And she was investigating Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the former head of the House Appropriations Committee, when she was forced out.
Retaliation against prosecutors who stray from the GOP playbook is not a new phenomenon. Frederick A. Black, US attorney for Guam, was demoted in November 2002 after he started investigating Jack Abramoff when Abramoff was still a high-dollar GOP lobbyist in Washington. Black was demoted on Nov. 19, 2002, a day after he demanded that Guam's Superior Court release records involving an unusual lobbying contract with Abramoff. (When his misdeeds grew too big for even the Bush Department of Justice to ignore, Abramoff pled guilty in January 2006, to three felony counts in a Washington, D.C., federal court related to the defrauding of American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials and two felony counts in a in Miami, related to fraudulent dealings with a casino.)
Politicization of Justice also calls into question the agency's announcement last year that it was investigating Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who was then in a tight re-election race. US Attorney Chris Christie, a Bush fundraising "Pioneer," issued subpoenas in an investigation of Menendez two months before the election. The only thing the probe produced was headlines.
John McKay, US attorney for Western Washington state, was replaced, apparently because he failed to prosecute Democrats after a narrow GOP loss in the 2004 governor's race. McKay told the Seattle Times that top prosecutors in his office and agents from the FBI conducted a "very active" review of allegations of fraud during the election but concluded there was no evidence of criminal conduct.
Bush also replaced Arkansas prosecutor Bud Cummins with Tim Griffin, a protege of Karl Rove, whose specialty is opposition research. And despite Gonzales' Jan. 18 promise to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the administration never intended to take advantage of a provision that was slipped into the Patriot Act in 2005, which allows the president to appoint "interim" US attorneys for an indefinite period without Senate confirmation, the DoJ apparently intends to do just that to keep Griffin on the job in Little Rock.
Congress has less than two years to get to the bottom of the Bush administration's abuse of power. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, already has been doing good work in uncovering war profiteering by friends of the Bush administration. He plans to follow up Libby's conviction with hearings on the outing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame by the Bush administration. We hope that will fill in some of the workings of the White House, the Defense Department, the State Department and the CIA in the runup to the Iraq invasion. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Pat Leahy, heading the Senate Judiciary Committee, may need to heat up their grills as well to restore a nonpartisan tenor to the administration of justice.
Six years of GOP acquiescence in Congress encouraged the Bush administration to grab more power. It's the Democrats' turn to restore Congress as a co-equal branch with checks and balances on the executive. They all took oaths to support and defend the Constitution; it's time that they follow through. If impeachment is the only corrective for executive overreach, it should be taken down from the shelf and dusted off.
Antiwar activists are frustrated by the pace of the Democratic congressional leadership in trying to force President Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq. Some have resorted to sit-ins at the offices of Democratic congressional leaders and camping outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home in San Francisco. House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey, D-Wis., chewed out two activists who stopped him outside his office and confronted him about his tactics. In a rant that was captured on video and available on Youtube, he accused them of being "idiot liberals" who don't understand how Congress works.
He may have a point. Obey is chief sponsor of the supplemental spending bill, which sets a Sept. 8, 2008, deadline for the full withdrawal of US troops. Obey tried to convince the marine's mom who pressed him to bring US troops home that his $120 billion bill not only would make it illegal to proceed with the war beyond the 2008 deadline, it also sets clear benchmarks for the Iraqi government and increases spending on troop readiness and military and veterans' health.
Democrats have a 30-seat House majority. That means 16 defections can kill the bill -- and there are more than 40 conservative "Blue Dogs" who reportedly have concerns about a mandated pullout. And if it passes the House, it still has to get through the Senate, where, even if the Dems hold the majority, the GOP minority can filibuster the bill.
Republicans will have a tougher time blocking funding for the troops, which is why the supplemental bill is the best shot the Dems have. Contact your Congress member and your senators. Make sure they are on the right track. But make no mistake: Pelosi, Obey and other Democratic leaders are not to be confused with Bush or House Minority Leader John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are determined to keep Democrats from passing anything that would stay the hand of the imperial president. -- JMC
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