The chief of the General Services Administration and a deputy in Karl Rove's political affairs office at the White House joined in a videoconference in January with top GSA political appointees to discuss ways the GSA's nearly $60 bln per year in government contracts could be turned to help Republican candidates, according to House investigators. With GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and up to 40 regional administrators on hand, J. Scott Jennings, the White House's deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Jan. 26 of polling data about the 2006 elections. When Jennings concluded his presentation to the GSA political appointees, Doan allegedly asked them how they could "help 'our candidates' in the next elections," according to a 3/6 letter to Doan from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Waxman said in the letter that one method suggested was using "targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country." On 3/28 Doan was scheduled to appear before Waxman's committee, which is investigating whether remarks made during the videoconference violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes. Those found in violation of the act can be removed from their jobs. Waxman's investigation began in response to a 1/19 story in the Washington Post about a no-bid job Doan tried to give to firms run by Edie Fraser, a veteran Washington public relations executive who had served as a paid consultant to Doan. Waxman's investigators concluded that the two women had "a long-standing business relationship" that was not "previously disclosed," according to Waxman.
Paul Kiel of TPMMuckraker.com on 3/26 that the GSA actions may be connected with the purging of US attorneys in December who were insufficiently loyal to the Bush administration. A reader noted that after the November elections, "it was clear that the GOP was in a tailspin. The only remaining levers of power in Republican hands were held by the administration, and it had just two years left to reverse the tide. Evidently, Karl Rove decided that he had been insufficiently aggressive in using federal agencies to bolster the chances of Republican candidates. So he dispatched Jennings to convince the minions at GSA to ensure that every new federal project would have a Republican cutting the ribbon." While two US attorneys were asked to step down before the elections -- one in Arkansas to make room for a specific Rove disciple and Chiara, whose office was a mess -- the plan to dismiss the rest kicked into high gear immediately after the elections. "What we're going to find, if Congress successfully subpoenas officials or their emails, is that after the Republicans got routed in November of 2006 a panicked Karl Rove turned up the flame under lots of schemes that had simmered on the back burners for months or years. New orders went out -- learn the lessons of the exit polling, and make sure that 2008 brings success. The White House, in its panic, abandoned caution, and got sloppy. It left its fingerprints all over the sorts of things it had generally manipulated at arms-length. And the man who headed up the effort, by all indications, was Karl Rove's right hand, J. Scott Jennings."
PROSECUTOR PURGE BUSINESS AS USUAL? Are Democrats making too much of the dismissal of eight US attorneys, apparently for political reasons? Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com noted that Chris Matthews' show on MSNBC (3/25) included a roundtable of pundits from Time, US News & World Report, the New York Times and NBC News mocking the Democrats for trying to force Karl Rove to testify about the firings. The Washington Post also defended the Bush administration in a (3/26) editorial that stated that Gonzales appears "to have tried to cover up something that, as far as we yet know, didn't need covering. US attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president . ..."
Greenwald noted that "there are only two instances in the last six years where real investigations occurred in any of the Bush scandals -- this US attorneys scandal (because Democrats now have subpoena power) and the Plame case (due to the fluke of two Republican DoJ officials with integrity, James Comey and Patrick Fitzgerald). And in both cases, it was revealed conclusively that top Bush officials -- at the highest levels of the government -- repeatedly and deliberately lied about what they did." But the Beltway media aren't bothered.
The Justice Department's Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales' senior counsel and White House liaison, will invoke her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions put to her by the US Senate that might incriminate her. "The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real," Goodling's lawyer, John Dowd, told the Associated Press (3/26). "One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby," he added. But Tim Grieve of Salon.com noted, Libby found himself in trouble not for telling the truth but for lying -- repeatedly and under oath -- about what he knew and what he said about Valerie Plame. "If the White House is right that no crimes were committed in the prosecutor purge -- and if Goodling would really tell the truth while testifying -- then what possible reason could she have for refusing to do so?" Grieve wondered.
WHY THE PURGE MATTERS: In a week in which the autopsy results for Anna Nicole Smith and worries over poisonous pet food are bound to capture more attention that the continuing fallout over the firing of eight US attorneys, Tim Grieve of Salon.com noted, it will be as hard as ever to persuade the public that the purge matters. Josh Marshall, whose TalkingPointsMemo.com has led the way in reporting on the US attorneys purge, makes an admirable effort (3/25):
"For all the intensity and hostility awash in our politics, there are some lines we just assume aren't going to be crossed, lines that are so basic that the civil compact itself can't easily survive if they're not respected. One of those is the vote. Whoever's in power and however intense things get, most of us assume that the party in power won't interfere with the vote count. We also assume that the administration won't use the IRS to harass or imprison political opponents. And we assume that criminal prosecutions will be undertaken or not undertaken on the facts.
"... no system is perfect and partisan affiliation may distort the justice system at the margins. But none of what we're seeing here is at the margins. What we seem to see are repeated cases in which US Attorneys were fired for not pursuing bogus prosecutions of persons of the opposite party. Or vice versa...
"We all understand that politics and the law aren't two hermetically sealed domains. And we understand that partisanship may come into play at the margins. But we expect it to be the exception to the rule and a rare one. But here it appears to have become the rule rather than the exception, a systematic effort at the highest levels to hijack the Justice Department and use it to advance the interest of one party over the other by use of selective prosecution."
As for the president's renewed endorsement of Alberto Gonzales after new documents showed that he lied about his role in the firings, Marshall writes: "This isn't a case where Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of the president's standards or bungled some process. This is the standard. The attorney general has done and is doing precisely what is expected of him."
RNC HELPS WHITE HOUSE AIDES DUCK SCRUTINY: Congressional investigators have discovered that White House aides regularly communicate using email accounts provided by the Republican Party, apparently in an effort to avoid public disclosure. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained that such activity violates the Presidential Records Act, which requires that the White House preserve such records. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman on 3/26 issued letters to the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign directing them to preserve all emails by and for White House officials and meet with the committee regarding the legal issues involved in conducting official government business using partisan email accounts. The National Journal reported that Rove does about 95% of his emailing using his RNC account. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted that "whatever claim the White House may have to protect everyone at the White House from congressional scrutiny by invoking executive privilege, this use of outside private email accounts may turn out to be too clever by half," since emails from the RNC "by any definition" aren't emails written or received by anyone in their capacity as a presidential advisor. And Laura Rosen of warandpiece.com wonders (3/26) about the national security implications of White House officials using RNC accounts.
DISREGARDING COMMANDERS: George W. Bush blasted House Democrats 3/23 by saying that the Iraq war withdrawal plan they passed as part of the supplemental budget amounted to "an act of political theater" in which they "voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq." Tim Grieve of Salon.com noted, "It was a nice line and all, but perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea if the reporters who go about quoting it tonight mention that the president had to oust his own "military commanders on the ground in Iraq" in order to find some who agreed with his plan to send more troops there. Bush in January replaced Gen. John Abizaid at Central Command and Gen. George Casey as commander of the Iraq force after they balked at his "surge" plan.
UNSECURED MUNITIONS KILL GI'S: Half of US casualties in Iraq have been caused by munitions in ammo dumps that US forces failed to secure even after they were found because it was not a Bush administration priority, the Government Accountability Office reported (3/22), as noted by ProctoringCongress.blogspot.com (3/23). The GAO concluded that "a fundamental gap existed between the [Operation Iraqi Freedom] war plan assumptions and the experiences of US and coalition forces in Iraq, contributing to insufficient troops being on the ground to prevent widespread looting of conventional munitions storage sites and resulting in looted munitions being a continuing asymmetric threat to US and coalition forces. The human, strategic, and financial costs of this failure to provide sufficient troops have been high, with [improved explosive devices] made with looted munitions causing about half of all US combat fatalities and casualties in Iraq and killing hundreds of Iraqis and contributing to increasing instability, challenging US strategic goals in Iraq. Further, DoD does not appear to have conducted a theaterwide survey and assessed the risk associated with unsecured conventional munitions storage sites to US." Those munitions subsequently killed 1,600 Americans and severely injured 10,000-15,000 more.
OBEY: NO APOLOGIES TO WAR CHEERLEADERS: Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was in no mood to take criticism from the neocon Washington Post editorial page when it criticized his supplemental funding bill as "Retreat and Butter" because it added $21 bln in domestic spending items, including agriculture disaster payments, conservation subsidies, wildfire suppression projects and New Orleans levee construction to the administration's request for $100 bln. In remarks on the House floor, Obey said, "Let me submit to you the problem we have today is not that we didn't listen enough to people like the Washington Post. It's that we listened too much. They endorsed going to war in the first place. They helped drive the drumbeat that drove almost two-thirds of the people in this chamber to vote for that misbegotten, stupid, ill-advised war that has destroyed our influence over a third of the world. So I make no apology if the moral sensibilities of some people on this floor, or the editorial writers of the Washington Post, are offended because they don't like the specific language contained in our benchmarks or in our timelines. What matters in the end is not what the specific language is. What matters is whether or not we produce a product today that puts pressure on this administration and sends a message to Iraq, to the Iraqi politicians that we're going to end the permanent long-term dead end babysitting service. That's what we're trying to do. And if the Washington Post is offended about the way we do it, that's just too bad."
SEE YOUR TAX CUTS: Responsible Wealth, a project of United for a Fair Economy, announced MyTaxCut, an online calculator that lets taxpayers calculate their share of the federal tax cuts for the 2006 tax year. See the form at www.responsiblewealth.org/mytaxcut. It uses the 1997 capital-gains tax cut and the 2001 and 2003 income, dividend, and capital gains tax cuts. It is part of the Tax Fairness Pledge that asks wealthy recipients of federal tax cuts to donate their windfall savings to fight for fairer tax policies. "We're hoping that wealthy people will be dismayed to realize just how much they receive every year from the tax cuts enacted in 1997, 2001 and 2003, especially in a time of huge deficits and harmful budget cuts," said Mike Lapham, director of the Responsible Wealth project at UFE. "Last year the total in federal tax cuts for those with incomes above $200,000 per year was more than $81 billion! That's more than twice what the 90 million taxpayers who made less than $50,000 received."
The three federal tax cuts used in the calculations for the pledge are the 1997 capital-gains tax cut and the 2001 and 2003 income, dividend, and capital gains tax cuts. The 1997 change is permanent, but the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are due to expire in 2010. Nevertheless, the president's current budget proposal assumes that his cuts will be made permanent at a 10-year cost of $2.3 tln.
NO PEACE FOR FAIRMONT: When a women's Peace Club in Fairmont, Minn., proposed that the City Council endorse a federal bill that would create a US Department of Peace to promote creative ways to avoid conflicts, the idea seemed so noncontroversial that the council last November unanimously passed the resolution without any debate. But when the local newspaper reported the action the next morning, Daniel Zwerdling reported 3/24 on NPR, Jerome Kortuem, a Vietnam veteran, was dumbfounded. "I just couldn't believe it," Kortuem said. "These communists are trying to do it again." Council members in the predominantly Republican town of 10,000 were barraged with phone calls and called another hearing two weeks later to reconsider the resolution. At the hearing, Zwerdling said, there was little connection between what critics claimed the Peace Department would do and what the congressional bill actually says, as one of the biggest fears was that the Peace Department would give the United Nations power over the United States. When the hearing was over, the council voted 3-2 to rescind its earlier resolution supporting the Department of Peace.
Zwerdling noted that the bill is in no danger of passing. While several dozen Democrats support it, probably its highest-profile supporter is sponsor Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, presidential candidate whose popularity generally ranks in the low single figures, and party leaders have ignored it. But the idea dates back to the birth of the nation, when Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, proposed creation of a Peace Office to balance what was then known as the War Office. Kucinich's bill (HR 808) would set up the department as part of the president's Cabinet, funded at 2% of the Defense Department's budget, to research and develop approaches to "conflict resolution," and recommend ways to use these strategies to try to reduce violence, both in the US and around the world. Nearly 20 communities -- including Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and Newark, N.J. -- have passed resolutions supporting the Department of Peace.
DEMOCRACY WEEKENDS: Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, Calif., is hosting two weekend-long intensive workshops entitled "Community Organizing for Deep Democracy." They will take place May 11-13 in Occidental, Calif., and Aug. 10-12 in Humboldt County, Calif. For more information see duhc.org, email info@DUHC.org or phone 707-269-0984. Retreats are limited to twenty participants. Democracy Unlimited is the Northern California group, which recently passed a revolutionary and strategic ballot initiative challenging corporate personhood and asserting community rights. For more information on Measure T, visit: votelocalcontrol.org.
INTERIOR OFFICIAL GUILTY OF LYING: Steven Griles, President Bush's former No. 2 man at the Interior Department, pled guilty to a felony obstruction of justice charge for lying to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and its investigators about his relationship with Jack Abramoff. Griles, a former mining lobbyist, was part of the president's transition team; he was effectively the Interior Department's chief operating officer; he was the department's top representative on Dick Cheney's energy task force; and he lives with Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who was, until recently, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's environmental division. As the Associated Press reported previously, Wooldridge bought a vacation home last year with Griles and the top Washington lobbyist for ConocoPhillips -- then signed an agreement giving the oil company more time to deal with pollution at some of its facilities.
RUN, ELIZABETH, RUN: Several commentators have noted the badgering tone of Katie Couric when she interviewed John and Elizabeth Edwards on 60 Minutes (3/25). Walter Shapiro of Salon.com noted (3/27), "Again and again, without getting the response she wanted, Couric asked them why they hadn't yielded to the return of Elizabeth's illness and broadly hinted that they should have called off John's campaign for the presidency. Finally, almost in exasperation, Couric turned to Elizabeth and said bluntly, 'Here you're staring at possible death ...' Elizabeth interrupted Couric with this cut-to-the-chase response: 'Aren't we all, though?'
"Left unsaid was that Couric's husband had died from colon cancer in 1998 -- and the perky anchor kept appearing on the Today show till the last week of his life. Left unsaid was that legendary newsman Ed Bradley, who died of leukemia last year, was contributing to 60 Minutes until the very end.
"Embedded in Couric's smarmy comment was the implication that any public figure afflicted with an incurable disease has an obligation to climb on an ice floe and sail off to oblivion so that TV viewers in the prized 18-to-35-year-old demographic do not have to acknowledge their own mortality. Or that, at least, Elizabeth Edwards, whose breast cancer has recurred, owes it to the world to spend her remaining years offstage with their two small children, Emma Claire, 8, and 6-year-old Jack. ..."
Shapiro concludes, "Presidential races are often about more than control of the levers of power and the policy direction of the nation. Prior campaigns forced the nation to confront questions about religion, divorce and career-minded first ladies. This time around, especially for the Democrats, everything is on the table: race (Barack Obama), gender (Hillary Clinton), Hispanic heritage (Bill Richardson) and now cancer (the Edwardses). In an election cycle in which the Democrats are poised to surmount age-old political prejudices, outmoded views about the proper conduct of people with cancer deserve to be jettisoned, whether or not John Edwards ever makes it to the White House."
PS: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who went through chemotherapy for colon cancer two years ago, at the close of his 3/23 press briefing praised the dignity and optimism Mrs. Edwards showed. "As somebody who has been through this, Elizabeth Edwards is setting a powerful example for a lot of people, and a good and positive one," Snow said. "She's being aggressive. She's living an active life. And a positive attitude, prayers, and people you love are always a very good addition to any kind of medicine you have. So for Elizabeth Edwards, good going. Our prayers are with you." Snow went in for what was expected to be routine surgery on 3/26 to remove a small growth from his lower abdomen, but the White House announced 3/27 that doctors found cancer in his liver.
SENATE VOTES DOWN TAX BREAKS: Eleven Dems joined Senate Republicans to vote down $21.5 bln in property tax relief to states. US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed an amendment to the Senate budget resolution to restore the income tax rate on income above $1 mln a year to pre-Bush-tax-cut levels, and put the $21.5 billion savings into grants to states for special education -- a program that is directly connected to high property tax rates. Because the federal government mandates that states provide the special education funding that the federal government refuses to provide, David Sirota noted at workingforchange.com (3/22), states are forced to pay for this gap primarily through higher property taxes. In addition to 47 Republicans, Dems voting against Sanders' amendment included Max Baucus (Mont.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Tom Carper (Del.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Ben Nelson (Neb), Ken Salazar (Colo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Jim Webb (Va.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), as the amendment was defeated 58-38. "I am optimistic about the new Congress's willingness to better represent middle-class interests," wrote Sirota, co-chair of the Progressive States Network. "But I must admit, when one-fifth of the Senate Democratic Caucus goes on record protecting tax cuts for the 1/3rd of 1% of Americans making over a million dollars a year and voting against property tax cuts for tens of millions of ordinary Americans, my optimism is, ahem, shaken."
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