The first priority of an Obama administration should be to reverse the excesses of the Bush administration—particularly the unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice.

In a panel discussion on “The Next President and the Law” at the Netroots Nation conference in Austin (7/18), John Dean, who as former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon during and after the Watergate burglaries in the early 1970s knows something about executive overreach, noted that Barack Obama has indicated that he would investigate allegations of wrongdoing by the outgoing administration. Dean said that would be a “huge break in precedence.” But the first task will be to plow through thousands of memos from the White House Office of Legal Counsel to reverse executive orders and restore the rule of law.

Michael Waldman said the Brennan Center for Justice, which he directs, and other liberal groups will be asking the next president to give up power that the Bush administration has assumed.

“9/11 didn’t really change everything,” Waldman said. The Bush administration continued a longstanding effort to gain untrammeled executive power, he said. Dick Cheney had claimed monarchical privileges from the start of the administration, Waldman noted. “After 9/11, untrammeled power was just a bad idea whose time had come.”

While the mood of the mainly liberal bloggers attending the conference was for punishment of wrongdoing, Dean said Nixon’s pardon “probably healed (the country) more than it hurt.” But he added, “The whole formal relationship between the Department of Justice and the White House needs to be re-established.”

Dean also noted that Congress has the inherent power to enforce subpoenas of administration officials, even if the Justice Department refuses to back it up. “If they don’t do that, then (Congress) have got to build their own machinery to enforce their subpoenas,” he said.

The last case in which Congress exercised its inherent contempt authority was in 1934, when the Senate ordered William P. MacCracken, a lawyer and former postmaster general, had allowed clients to rip up subpoenaed documents. He was found guilty by the Senate and sentenced to 10 days in a D.C. jail. The Supreme Court upheld the Senate action. Courts also have found that congressional contempt is outside the reach of a presidential pardon.

SIEGELMAN CLAIMS MISCARRIAGE OF ‘JUSTICE’. Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman credited bloggers with raising questions about the prosecution by Bush’s Justice Department that knocked the legs out of his attempt at a political comeback in 2006 and then put him in prison for nine months before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered his release while he appeals the conviction.

Siegelman was convicted of bribery for taking a $500,000 contribution from Richard Scrushy, an Alabama hospital executive, for a PAC Siegelman had set up to support a lottery proposition to aid the state’s public education programs. Scrushy later was appointed to a state health board—though Siegelman noted that Scrushy had served on the same board under three previous administrations and abstained on items having to do with his business. Siegelman noted that there was no allegation that he personally profited from the contribution, which is normally a requirement for a bribery prosecution.

The first case against Siegelman was brought in 2004 by Alice Martin, the US attorney for Northern Alabama, but it was dismissed. The second prosecution was brought in 2005 by Leura Canary, US attorney for Middle Alabama and wife of Bill Canary, who was working for Gov. Bob Riley (R), who had defeated Siegelman in a disputed 2002 election and against whom Siegelman was planning a rematch. Siegelman was brought to trial a month before the Democratic primary in 2006. The main witness was an Alabama businessman who got a reduced prison term in exchange for testifying against him. Siegelman’s judge was a political rival appointed by Bush who, upon Siegelman’s conviction, ordered the former governor shackled and taken immediately to prison, which is nearly unheard of for a white-collar criminal. Then the judge, Mark Fuller, refused to explain his actions to the appeals court.

After Siegelman’s imprisonment, a bipartisan group of 54 former state attorneys general wrote a letter of support for Siegelman, calling his conviction “a shocking miscarriage of justice.” A Republican lawyer, Dana Jill Simpson, has said that she overheard Bill Canary in 2002 assure Bob Riley Jr., son of the Republican governor, that “his girls,” referring to Leura Canary and Martin, would “take care of” Siegelman and that he had worked it out with Karl Rove. The House Judiciary Committee opened an investigation of the Siegelman case and other partisan misuse of the judiciary. It subpoenaed documents relating to the Siegelman case but the department has refused to turn over documents.

“This case was filled with red flags,” Siegelman said, adding that he realized his protests could be seen as self serving. “But if this can happen to me, it can happen to any one of you. We have to insist that Congress dig in and find the truth.” (Also see ContemptForRove.com.)

Sam Seder of AirAmerica Radio noted that of 375 public officials investigated by the Bush administration, 298 turned out to be Democrats and 67 were Republicans.

Karl Rove has declined to honor a subpoena to testify before the Judiciary Committee, claiming executive privilege, causing Siegelman to wonder if Rove discussed his case with President Bush. In any case, he thinks Congress can put pressure on Alabama witnesses who cannot claim executive privilege. “Somebody’s going to throw (Rove) under the bus,” he said, adding, “If you believe that all roads lead to Karl Rove, this is the shortest route.”

Although Siegelman is glad to be free on appeal, he said, “This case is not about Don Siegelman. This case is about restoring justice and preserving and protecting our democracy.” He has faith in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and he hopes that Congress will keep the pressure on the Justice Department. “A change is going to come,” Siegel said. “Whether it’s for better or worse depends on what we do.”

CORPORATE MEDIA SERVES YOU RIGHT. Paul Krugman was allowed to criticize the Bush administration in his New York Times column, even when Bush’s popularity soared after the 9/11 attacks, but the columnist said he “came close to being urged to lay off some things” in 2005, as editors suggested that the 2004 election had settled some things. “Katrina took care of that,” he said.

But Krugman noted that pundits who were wrong on issues such as whether the war in Iraq would be a cakewalk and whether the housing bubble looked like trouble still get invited to talk shows while the skeptics stay home. “The old line that it’s better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right is still true,” he said.

At most newspapers, there are two kinds of opinion writers, he noted: “those who are conservative and those who are very even-handed.”

There are professional hazards, he said, such as constant “truth squadding,” where everything he writes is subject to claims that he is wrong; mail campaigns, where a controversial column can bring in a thousand post cards and letters, many of them bearing a remarkable similarity; and character assassination, with “accusations of moral turpentine,” such as the frequent references to his having once been paid to talk to Enron. He noted that the Enron gig was before he was employed by the Times, a detail that is sometimes overlooked by his critics.

Of his time as one of the few high-profile Bush critics, he said, “I would like to say that I was courageous, but the truth was that I had another job,” as professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University.

Duncan Black, founder of eschatonblog.com, noted that Media Matters, where he is a senior fellow, found that the pundits invited to appear on Sunday talk shows usually are conservatives or reporters. “There are no liberals. ... We have a president below 30% approval for maybe two years, but where is that viewpoint portrayed?”

While the mainstream media is still loath to take on the Bush administration, Krugman said he is confident that an Obama administration will turn that around. “I’m reasonably sure that Obama will be president and within three months you’ll see an adversarial press re-emerge,” he predicted.

That’s what makes the blogosphere so important. “One thing the Republicans are really good at is opposing Democratic presidents,” Digby Parton of Hullabaloo said. “We’re not much,” she said of her fellow bloggers; “We may be all the Democrats have, but at least we’re here this time.”

WHERE PRESIDENTIAL MONEY COMES FROM. Barack Obama did not let up his fundraising operation after clinching the Democratic nomination in June, as he reported raising $54mln that month, compared with $22mln for John McCain. More than $21mln of Obama’s contributions were unitemized donations of under $200. To date, Obama has reported raising $336mln from 1.7 mln individual contributors and 49% of his donations have come in donations of $200 or less, according to FEC.gov. McCain has reported $132.7mln in total contributions, with 32% in donations of $200 or less.

Of the $154,625,761 in itemized campaign contributions reported by Obama’s campaign in the 2008 election cycle through 6/30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (opensecrets.org), the top contributors to Obama’s campaign were PACs, employees and their immediate families from Goldman Sachs, $601,480; University of California, $488,159; JPMorgan Chase & Co, $373,507; Citigroup Inc., $371,054; UBS AG, $370,850; National Amusements Inc, $332,089; Lehman Brothers, $330,760; Harvard University, $325,424; Google Inc, $321,964; Sidley Austin LLP, $305,345; Skadden, Arps et al, $281,163; Morgan Stanley, $274,213; Time Warner, $268,227; Jones Day, $251,250; Exelon Corp, $237,311; University of Chicago, $230,175; Latham & Watkins, $228,026; Microsoft Corp, $223,895; Wilmerhale Llp, $222,080; General Electric, $210,329. About 72% were identifiable by business and/or industry.

Of the $85,978,641 in itemized contributions to McCain’s campaign through 6/30, the top contributors were PACs, employees and immediate families from Merrill Lynch, $249,960; Citigroup Inc, $249,251; Blank Rome LLP, $188,176; Goldman Sachs, $171,945; Morgan Stanley, $167,371; AT&T Inc, $160,930; Greenberg Traurig LLP, $157,087; JPMorgan Chase & Co, $150,200; Credit Suisse Group, $123,225; UBS AG, $110,915; Lehman Brothers, $99,550; Blackstone Group, $97,200; Bank of America, $96,525; US Government, $96,306; Wachovia Corp, $96,062; Bear Stearns, $94,200; Bank of New York Mellon, $89,500; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, $81,000; PricewaterhouseCoopers, $79,720; Deutsche Bank AG, $79,561. About 74% were identifiable by business and/or industry.

The two candidates spent about the same amount of money in June—Obama spent $26mln and McCain spent $27mln, Politico.com noted (7/21). But their priorities were entirely different as Obama began building an unprecedented, nationwide ground operation. McCain in June spent $16mln on advertising, compared to Obama’s reported $5mln. Meanwhile, Obama’s payroll expenses amounted to $2.3mln while McCain’s hovered around $724,000.

At the end of June, Obama had $72mln in the bank, compared to McCain’s $27mln. But the RNC reported having $69mln, which gave the GOP a slight edge over Obama, Politico.com reported. The DNC, which has spent heavily on building state party operations, reported having $20mln in cash on 6/30.

PRIMARY TURNOUT BLASTS RECORDS. An unprecedented 58.7mln voters—more than one in four of all eligible voters—participated in a primary or caucus this year, the Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network (nonprofitvote.org) reported. That exceeded the previous record of 35mln set in 1988. It also is well above the 33mln that participated the last time both party nominations were contested in 2000. Voter participation in Democratic primaries was up 112% and caucuses by 223% compared to 2004. The turnout of voters in Democratic primaries doubled and tripled in the caucuses. Voter participation in GOP primaries was up 10% and caucuses rose by 70% compared to the most similar primary season in 2000. Youth participation doubled and tripled in primaries and caucuses. Turnout by voters ages 18-29 went up for the third consecutive national election year, also rising in the national elections of 2004 and 2006. Latino voter participation surged in many states, including Texas and California. The Pew Hispanic Center reported huge increases in turnout of Latino voters in Texas and California, where a third of voters turning out in the Democratic primaries were of Hispanic origin. Latino turnout was up but uneven in other states and unchanged in New York and Arizona. Jonathan Singer of MyDD.com noted that about two-thirds more voters turned out for the Democratic primaries than did for the GOP primaries.

ANTHRAX PROBE STILL COLD AFTER PAYOUT. It’s been nearly seven years since the anthrax attacks. The FBI has dropped “hundreds of thousands of agent-hours on the case,” says its website. Nine thousand interviews have been conducted; 6,000 grand jury subpoenas have been issued; and 67 searches completed. The result? On 6/27, the Justice Department settled with biological weapons scientist Steven Hatfill—the FBI’s longtime lead suspect in the case, famously declared a “person of interest” in 2002 by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft—for $5.82mln. The move amounts to a public confession from the FBI that its anthrax investigation has gone cold, Bruce Falconer noted at MotherJones.com (6/30). Envelopes containing letters with anthrax spore powder that appeared to come from the Army bioweapons research facility at Fort Detrick, Md., were mailed to US Sens. Tom Daschle, then the Senate majority leader, and Pat Leahy, Judiciary chairman, both Dems, and two news outlets in the fall of 2001, killing five people and sickening at least 17 others,

LIEBERMAN RECONSIDERS VOWS. During his campaign against Ned Lamont after Lamont beat him in the Democratic primary, Sen. Joe Lieberman and his aides vowed multiple times that he would continue caucusing with the Dems, Greg Sargent of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted (7/14). Lieberman also vowed to help elect a Dem to the White House in 2008, Sargent noted, but the New York Times had a long piece (7/14) on Lieberman’s support for John McCain and the possibility of his eventual switch to the GOP without bothering to mention either campaign pledge.

NADER PUTS ISSUES ON THE TABLE. Ralph Nader scheduled a campaign stop in Athens, Ga., (7/25) to address issues that the major party candidates have taken “off the table” and the Nader/Gonzalez campaign hopes to put back on the table. They include: a comprehensive, negotiated military and corporate withdrawal date from Iraq; a single-payer, Canadian-style, private delivery, free-choice public health insurance system for all; a living wage and repeal of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act; a no-nuke, solar-based energy policy supported by renewable, sustainable, energy-efficient sources; a carbon tax to deter global warming; an end to the corporate welfare and corporate crime that has resulted in millions losing pensions, savings and jobs and squandered tax dollars; and more direct democracy reflecting the preamble to our constitution which starts with “we the people,” and not “we the corporations.” See www.VoteNader.org.

FORMER FED ON NO-FLY LIST. Former Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson said he is one of thousands of innocent Americans who find themselves questioned, searched or otherwise hassled because their name is similar to one on the government’s terrorist watch list. Robinson joined the American Civil Liberties Union (7/14) to urge fixing the list that’s supposed to identify suspected terrorists, Associated Press reported. “It’s a pain in the neck, and significantly interferes with my travel arrangements,” said Robinson, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division during the Clinton administration. He believes his name matches that of someone who was put on the list in early 2005, and is routinely delayed while flying—despite having his own government top-secret security clearances renewed last year. “I suppose if I were convinced that America is a safer place because I get hassled at the airport, I might put up with it,” Robinson said. “But I doubt it.”

The list is believed to have 1mln names, representing 400,000 people. More than 30,000 airline passengers asked Homeland to clear their names as of October 2006, AP reported. Chicago-area computer consultant Akif Rahman, who was born in Springfield, Ill., said he has been detained at least seven times after traveling abroad. During one such incident in May, he said, he was held for five hours, shackled to a chair and kicked by a Customs Service agent after being stopped at a US checkpoint on the Canadian border, the AP reported.

One of those who found himself on the no-fly list was Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), as airline agents tried to block one of the most recognizable public figures in the US from boarding airplanes on at least five occasions in 2004 because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist. It took several weeks for the Department of Homeland Security to clear the matter up, the New York Times reported.

BRITS: CAN’T TRUST US ON TORTURE. In Britain, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has issued its Human Rights Annual Report that concluded that America’s word can no longer be trusted when it comes to claims about torture, rendition and human rights abuses. The London Observer reported (7/20:)that the government should no longer take at face value statements from senior politicians, including George Bush, that America does not resort to torture in the light of the CIA admitting it used “waterboarding.” That would have implications for extradition of prisoners to the US, as Britain has signed the UN convention taht bars sending individuals to nations where they are at risk of being tortured. “The UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the government does not rely on such assurances in the future,” the committee said. “We also recommend that the government should immediately carry out an exhaustive analysis of current US interrogation techniques on the basis of such information as is publicly available or which can be supplied by the US.”

The BBC noted that the report also concluded that the British Government must not trust the word of the US Government in light of prior deceit with regard to “rendition” flights — when detainees are taken to countries where bans on torture may not apply. The UK had repeatedly accepted assurances that Britain had not been used for such flights, but it was discovered earlier this year that two rendition planes refuelled on the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

The British Government also suffered substantial embarrassment in March after its denials that its territories were used for “extraordinary rendition” were undermined by United Nations reports that Diego Garcia has been used as a detention center to hold “high-value detainees.”

“If Britain—one of America’s closest allies during the Bush era—is openly proclaiming that it cannot trust the word of our government, then who can?” Glenn Greenwald asked at Salon.com (7/21). “Moreover, Britain has hardly been a standard-bearer of human rights itself over the last seven years. Indeed, while our political class in the US is busy covering-up and immunizing our Government’s lawbreaking and human rights abuses, members of both the British Left and Right are joining together to demand investigations into what appears to be compelling evidence that their own intelligence officials abducted British citizens and turned them over to Pakistani security services in order to be interrogated and tortured. ... For the British, of all countries, to conclude in a formal Report that the US is essentially an untrustworthy rogue nation when it comes to human rights abuses ... is about as potent an indictment of how far we’ve fallen as one can imagine.”

LAW SCHOOL DEAN PUSHES BUSH WAR CRIMES. Lawrence Velvel, dean of Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, is planning a September conference to map out war crimes prosecutions targeting President Bush and other administration officials, Debra Cassens Weiss wrote at the ABA Journal online (abajournal.com, 6/17). Velvel wrote that “plans will be laid and necessary organizational structures set up, to pursue the guilty as long as necessary and, if need be, to the ends of the Earth.” Other possible defendants, he said, include federal judges and John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who wrote one of the so-called torture memos. “We must insist on appropriate punishments,” he continued, “including, if guilt is found, the hangings visited upon top German and Japanese war criminals in the 1940s.” For information email Jeff Demers at demers@msl.edu or phone (978) 681-0800.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2008

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