The investigation was conducted jointly by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) and the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR.) Both of those internal watchdogs have no potential prosecutorial power, but can make recommendations that career prosecutors take up their work after they finish their final report. It is unclear whether Attorney General Michael Mukasey will do so.
Despite the fact that its efforts were stymied in part by non-cooperation by witnesses, the report will say- not much of a surprise-that several of the firings were due to the politicization of the Justice Department by Bush administration appointees and that the White House played a role in some of them. Investigators did attempt to do as thorough job as possible in investigating the White House’s role in the firings and were assisted by being able to review some confidential White House emails that the White House had been withholding from Congress.
The report might also touch on efforts by senior Justice Department officials to intimidate several of the fired U.S. attorneys from talking to the press or testifying to Congress about their firings, according to five people interviewed by investigators– including three former U.S. attorneys. (Only one former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins of Little Rock, would say this for the record. And I should aslo qualify what I just wrote regarding the intimidation issue that I am basing what I say in this one instance based on witnesses to the investigation, rather than to anyone who has read the report.)
The lack of cooperation by some former Bush administration officials with investigators probing the firings of nine U.S. attorneys is not the first time that former administration officials have thwarted investigators probing the politicization of the Justice Department by refusing to answer their questions.
As I first reported on the Huffington Post in August, several former political appointees of the Justice Department’s refused to answer questions posed to them by the Department’s Inspector General about the politicization of the Civil Rights Division.
As a result, a federal grand jury subpoenaed several of the former senior Justice Department attorneys to compel them to testify.
The grand jury had been investigating allegations that a former senior Bush administration appointee in the Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman, gave false or misleading testimony on a variety of topics to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sources close to the investigation identified two former Justice Department attorneys, Hans von Spakovsky, who as a former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights was a top aide to Schlozman, and Jason Torchinsky, who was also a Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Torchinsky was subpoenaed only as a witness in the case.
The non-cooperation by some Bush administration officials in the broader investigation into the firings of the U.S. attorneys might have thwarted some efforts by investigators to determine the entire truth about the firings. But because of that non-cooperation, according to attorneys closely following the matter, Attorney General Michael Mukasey is much more likely to allow career federal prosecutors to continue on with the work begun with the Inspector General.
Update: What to look for tomorrow: Apparently, the Inspector General and OPR want a prosecutor with subpoena authority to continue their investigation along. That is for two reasons: The Inspector General and OPR do not have prosecutorial authority. And they have been unable to compel testimony from witnesses outside the Justice Department.
This story posted online today by the Washington Post asserts that Mukasey is likely to name a career prosecutor to continue on with the investigation. However, the story appears to be a preemptive move by senior political appointees in the Department to close down discussion of appointing a special prosecutor instead.
If the report goes into a lot of detail about involvement by White House officials in the firings– or more importantly says that there are a number of important unresolved issues about the role of White House officials or politically connected officials with ties to the White House in the firings– then the case for naming a special prosecutor would be more compelling. This leak to the Post tonight appears to be an attempt to close down that debate before the issue before anyone has even read a single page of the report.
Second update: The NYT has also since posted online a story about the forthcoming report. But unlike the Post, they do not entirely take the spin that all will be well if a career prosecutor takes over the matter of continuing on with the probe instead of a special prosecutor being named. In particular, this excerpt from the Times story is especially pertinent :
One central question is the role officials at the White House, including Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers, played in the firings. But Paul K. Charlton, who was fired as United States attorney in Arizona after clashing with supervisors in Washington over a number of policies and investigations, said he was concerned that the inspector general’s limited jurisdiction and the White House’s refusal to turn over key records might have stymied the investigation.
The inspector general and the Office of Professional Responsibility, which conducted a joint investigation, have kept their findings under tight guard before the public release, declining to discuss any details with central players in the investigation or their lawyers. “It’s been a lockdown,” one defense lawyer said.
To look for tomorrow as the day progresses: What Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have to say about Mukasey most likely not naming a special prosecutor.]]>
The Justice Department is investigating whether former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales created a set of fictitious notes so that President Bush would have a rationale for reauthorizing his warrantless eavesdropping program, according to sources close to the investigation.
What Did Bush Tell Gonzales?
Sources say Alberto Gonzales now claims that President Bush personally directed him to John Ashcroft’s hospital room in the infamous wiretap renewal incident. By Murray Waas
President Bush reauthorized the surveillance program on March 11, 2004, one day after the hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to sign a certification saying that the program was legal and could therefore continue.
In reauthorizing the surveillance program over the objections of his own Justice Department, President Bush later claimed to have relied on notes made by Gonzales about a meeting that had taken place the day before (March 10), in which Gonzales and Vice President Cheney had met with eight congressional leaders—also known as the “Gang of Eight”—who receive briefings about covert intelligence programs. According to Gonzales’s notes, the congressional leaders had said in the meeting that they wanted the surveillance program to continue despite the attorney general’s refusal to certify that it was legal.
But four of the congressional leaders present at the meeting say that’s not true; they never encouraged the White House to sidestep the objections of the attorney general and continue the program without his approval.
Investigators are skeptical of the notes because Gonzales did not write them until days after the meeting with the congressional leaders, and he wrote them after both Bush and Gonzales had together signed a reauthorization of the surveillance program.
Gonzales, who was White House counsel at the time he met with the congressional leaders, has told investigators working for the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General that President Bush personally directed him to write the notes so that he could “memorialize” what the legislators had told him, according to a report made public by the Inspector General’s Office on September 2 and sources close to the investigation.
It is unclear whether it was before the March 10 meeting that Bush directed Gonzales to write the notes, or after the meeting occurred. The White House declined to comment for this story. An attorney for Gonzales, George J. Terwilliger III, himself a former deputy attorney general, declined to comment as well.
The timing of when Bush directed Gonzales to write the notes is important: investigators say the fact that they were written after both the meeting and the reauthorization of the program might indicate that they were written in order to provide an after-the-fact justification for the signing of the reauthorization—and that that timing might have given Gonzales a motive to lie in the notes.
Stanley Brand, a Washington attorney who specializes in representing executive branch officials under investigation, said in an interview: “Why would you want someone to take notes of a meeting days after the fact? If you wanted your notes to stand up, they are going to be more credible if you took them at the meeting itself or shortly after it occurred. Any reputable lawyer would want to write them as soon as possible.”
When the notes were written and when the president directed Gonzales to write them is “extraordinarily relevant and would allow a person to draw a reasonable inference … that something funny was going on.” An investigating body, or a jury, Brand said, might “infer there was a conspiracy afoot to obstruct with or without the participation of the president.”…
To read the whole thing, click here. More later…]]>
The favoritism and politicization in the awarding of grants by OJJDP would ordinarily be unremarkable compared to such higher profile examples of what congressional critics describe as cronyism by the Bush administration– except for the staggering human consequences. To fund his new priorities, J. Robert Flores, the administrator of OJJDP has cut funding for the training of corrections officers to prevent the physical and sexual abuse of incarcerated children. He has cut funds for a program to counsel rape victims that had been praised by President Bush. He has cut funds to prevent the incarceration of mentally ill or mentally retarded children. And he has cut funding for programs to prevent the suicide of gay and lesbian children.
Flores’ tenure as head of Justice’s OJJDP and the favorism and cronyism which at least a half dozen subordinates and superiors have alleged was the subject of a recent Nightline broadcast which I helped report with ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross and reporters Anna Schecter and Maddy Sauer. Tomorrow morning, Flores will be questioned under oath about all of this before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
And my colleague Anna has a story out this afternoon disclosing that Flores is also the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General:
The DOJ Inspector General has launched an investigation into fancy trips around the world taken by J. Robert Flores, the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which always included golf and/or tennis…
“Flores would golf during the day while on official travel around the country on tax payer funds,” said Scott Peterson, a former staff member at OJJDP who traveled with Flores on various occasions.
An OIG investigator questioned one staff member about Flores’ travel and about an ex-Colonel in the Honduran army hired by Flores who at one time ran for president of Honduras.
The staffer said the Human Resources Department [of DOJ] was concerned that giving access to the DOJ computer system to a non-US citizen and a former Honduran Colonel could be dangerous for security reasons.
Fonseca, whose Honduran military career spanned three decades, was contracted to work on faith-based and gang issues…
Fonseca attended Church with Flores, according to DOJ staffers, and is married to Deborah Lynne De Moss, a major GOP contributor. Fonseca himself donated $2,000 to Bush in 2004, the same year he was hired, and reportedly raised about $50,000 more on behalf of the president…
In a farewell to his colleagues in July of 2007, Fonesca wrote in an email: “It is my hope and prayer that the joy and peace of Jesus Christ will be real to each on of you.”
Historians are already arguing whether the Bush administration has engaged in cronyism and favoritism at the expense of professionalism and competence. Presidents of both political parties are routinely accused by those in the opposition of stacking the government with their ideological or political loyalists. But the Bush administration’s handling of Katrina and the reconstruction of Iraq, the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, and the nomination of Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court raise questions as to whether during the Bush presidency, as Paul Krugman has written in the New York Times, “politicization and cronyism have become standard operating procedure throughout the federal government.”
Setting aside its traditional mission, Flores’ office awarded a $500,000 federal grant last year to the World Golf Association. In explaining why he overrode his career staff in awarding the grant, Flores explained: “We need something… to engage the gangs and the street kids. Golf is the hook.” Flores awarded the grant despite the fact that the group’s grant proposal rated 47th best out of 104 applicants. The honorary chairman the Golf Association’s First Tee program is former George Herbert Walker Bush.
In a draft of his testimony to be given to Congress tomorrow, Flores has decided to come out swinging against those who criticize the grant to the World Golf Association, claiming that they are “biased against the wealthy.” Flores wrote in the draft testimony that he believes that the grant has been “pilloried because it was tied to golf, and I assume for those who are biased against the wealthy, because it has historically been a sport of the well-to-do.”
Flores also overruled his professional staff and awarded a million dollar grant to the Best Friends Foundation, an organization that promotes sexual abstinence. Best Friends ranked 53rd out of 104 grant applicants. Additionally, the organization refused to participate in a congressionally mandated study into the effectiveness of abstinence programs for teens.
In assessing Best Friends’ grant application, one reviewer later said that their “application was illogical. Its approach made no sense. And it didn’t have a coherent theme to it.”
How then did Best Friends obtain its grant? The founder and president of Best Friends is Elayne Bennett. Her husband, Bill Bennett, had been, respectively, the Secretary of Education during the Reagan administration and the drug czar for the first Bush administration. Now at days, of course, Bill Bennett spends most of his time as a cable television personality supporting the policies of the current Bush administration Moreover, funding sexual abstinence for teenagers has been a priority for the White House.
While Best Friends and the World Golf Association received their grants, more than forty other organizations that had received higher ratings from Justice Department reviewers received no federal money at all. Those denied grants included organizations that train youth corrections officers, counsel rape victims, and work to prevent suicide among gay and lesbian youth.
A program to help troubled teens in San Diego, Vista, was ranked number two by the staff out of 202 applicants in its category of prevention and intervention but was turned down for a grant to help deal with inner city teen violence in San Diego. Why was its grant turned down? Justice Department employees said Flores did not like the fact that group distributed condoms to the kids the program serves.
Often times, effective programs had their funds curtailed for ideological reasons. Even the Girl Scouts was not immune. When one of Flores’ superiors wanted to fund a Girl Scouts program to serve girls whose mothers were incarcerated, Flores objected because the group had ties to Planned Parenthood.
Another program, designed to train adult guards to deal with teens in custody, also was denied federal money even though it was ranked by the staff number 2 out of 104 in its category.
“What Flores did in this situation is he just stomped on the heads of kids who are very much at risk and in trouble in this country,” said Earl Dunlap, who runs the guard training program for the National Partnership for Juvenile Services.
Another group that was turned down for an OJJDP grant– despite the strong recommendations of career Department employees that it be awarded one was the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a Washington D.C. based advocacy group for victims of rape and sexual assault.
Among other things, RAINN runs a telephone hotline for victims of rape and sexual assault, which has put hundreds of thousands of victims together with local rape crisis centers. RAINN ranked 14th best among 104 prospective grantees in the category in which it applied. The group directly competed against the World Golf Association, which was ranked 47th in the competition, and Best Friends, which ranked 51st.
Flores has refused to answer questions about why he turned overruled his staff in funding RAINN. One OJJDP employee said Flores expressed concerns to him that some rape victims might possibly be counseled as to how to obtain abortions by rape counseling centers which RAINN refers those who contact the organization’s telephone hot line. President Bush, however, has publicly praised the organization, as have conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill.
But most importantly, Flores’ office is by law supposed to take a leading role in removing kids from adult jails, where they are sexually assaulted and at high risk for suicide. Indeed, that policy objective was central to the OJJDP’s creation during the Carter administration.
In 1986, the Reagan administration’s Administrator of OJJDP, Al Regnery resigned after being confronted with allegations that he, like Flores, had disregarded the recommendations of his career staff and federal regulations to award grants for political or ideological reasons. Regnery awarded grant money to the dean of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty College to devise a high-school course on the Constitution. He awarded $789,000 to a former songwriter for “Captain Kangaroo” to study pornographic cartoons.
Regnery had also been asked by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III to informally spearhead the Regan administration’s anti-pornography campaign. Regnery provided the initial funding to the President’s Commission on Pornography with OJJDPF funds diverted from juvenile crime prevention programs.
But most of all, Regnery ignored the federal law to act to remove children from adult jails. Regnery and his boss, then-Attorney General Edwin Meese believed that jailing children with adults was a deterrent to crime. The Reagan administration purposely did little to urge state governments to comply with the law.
The consequences to children were devastating. When incarcerated with adults, children are subjected to physical and sexual assaults, raped, and even murdered. According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, for the year 2005, 21% of sexual assault victims in jails were juveniles even though kids only constitute less than 1% of the nation’s incarcerated population.
But even more tragic, locking up children with adults in jails and prisons often leads a significant number to commit suicide. According to one federal study, children incarcerated in adult jails and prisons commit suicide at 36 times the rate that they do when they are locked up with other juveniles.
With Regnery’s resignation, OJJDP returned to its mission of removing children from adult jails. But during Flores’ current tenure under President Bush, the removal of children from adult jails has once again become less of a priority and children are again at risk. Grant money and staff resources have instead been devoted to programs to encourage abstinence, golf and further other political priorities of the White House.
In the meantime, we have the testimony of at least one victim to the consequences. A teenager held in a county jail wrote a local district attorney saying he did not want to be exposed to adult criminals because of their bad influences:
“A wise person once told me it is not our mistakes in life that define who we are, bur rather how we recover from those mistakes. With that I would just like you to know that I’m going to use this situation to make me a stronger person and a better person.”
Two and one half months later, the boy committed suicide.]]>