Sunday, March 11, 2007

Rove: "He's gone"

UPDATE: Just to clarify, the title of this post is a quote of Rove's, not a news flash that Rove has "left the building". Check out the article from the McClatchy Washington Bureau entitled "Rove was asked to fire U.S. attorney" to get the story.

Josh Marshall sums up the U.S.A. firing scandal rather neatly here. This story may prove to be a big pile of stinking pooh-pooh right on the White House carpet.

Back on March 5th I wrote a lengthy post in which I explained that the defenses offered up by Rep. Wilson (R) and Sen. Domenici (R) actually weren't that different from the charges being levelled against them. This became clear when you reviewed all the facts then becoming available and reading between the lines of their carefully crafted public statements. When these two now-disgraced members of Congress said they were reacting to constituent complaints about US Attorney David Iglesias's slow rate of prosecutions, what they really meant was that prominent Republicans back in New Mexico kept complaining that Iglesias wasn't bagging enough Democrats.

That was fairly obvious then with a little close analysis and informed speculation. Now we have the concrete details in Sunday's stories from the Times and McClatchy.

Republican players wanted their Bush-appointed US Attorney to indict more Democrats. The head of the party took the Iglesias problem up with Karl Rove on multiple occasions. "He's gone," Rove assured him at the White House late last year. They got Rep. Wilson and Sen. Domenici to lean on him too. And when he didn't come through with the indictment of Manny Aragon in time to guarantee Wilson's reelection, he was, as Rove put it, gone.

We're now well past the point where anyone can pretend that Iglesias wasn't fired because he refused to use his office to advance the interests of the New Mexico Republican party by indicting Democrats. The evidence, at this point, is overwhelming and beyond dispute. Indeed, it's not even being disputed, as you can glean pretty clearly from tomorrow's stories in the Times and from McClatchy. Rather than continuing to deny it, state party leaders are giving on the record interviews in which they make the case for the rightness of their attempts to get Iglesias fired for not indicting enough Democrats.

We know something very similar happened in Washington state.

Now let's cut to the chase, the big story at the heart of all of this: San Diego and the firing of Carol Lam.

Given what we know about New Mexico and Washington state, it simply defies credulity to believe that Lam -- in the midst of an historic corruption investigation touching the CIA, the White House and major Republican appropriators on Capitol Hill -- got canned because she wasn't prosecuting enough immigration cases. Was it the cover? Sure. The reason? Please.

I'm not sure Lam would have been canned simply for prosecuting Cunningham. His corruption was so wild and cartoonish that even a crew with as little respect for the rule of law would have realized the impossibility of not prosecuting him. But she didn't stop there. She took her investigation deep into congressional appropriations process -- kicking off a continuing probe into the dealings of former Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis. She also followed the trail into the heart of the Bush CIA. Those two stories are like mats of loose threads. That's where the story lies.
The Muckraker points us to a Newsweek article about fired U.S. Attorneys who received veiled threats in phone calls from a top Justice Department official, Michael Elston.
Bud Cummins never had any intention of making a fuss. A folksy Arkansas lawyer, Cummins had been abruptly fired last year as U.S. attorney in Little Rock to create a slot for a former top aide to Karl Rove. But Cummins is a loyal Republican; he knows how the game is played in Washington, so he kept quiet. Then last month, as the press picked up on the story of Cummins and seven other fired U.S. attorneys, he was quoted in a newspaper story defending his colleagues. Cummins got a phone call from the Justice Department that he found vaguely menacing.

It came from Michael Elston, a top Justice official. Cummins says Elston expressed concern that he and the dismissed attorneys were talking to reporters about what had happened to them. Elston, Cummins says, suggested this might not be a good idea; Justice officials might feel compelled to "somehow pull their gloves off" and retaliate against the prosecutors by publicly trashing them.


Another fired prosecutor, John McKay, of Seattle, tells NEWSWEEK that local Republicans pressured him to launch a criminal probe of voting fraud that would tilt a deadlocked Washington governor's race. "They wanted me to go out and start arresting people," he says, adding that he refused to do so because there was "no evidence." After McKay was fired in December, he says he also got a phone call from a "clearly nervous" Elston asking if he intended to go public: "He was offering me a deal: you stay silent and the attorney general won't say anything bad about you." (Elston says he "can't imagine" how McKay got that impression. The call was meant to reassure McKay that the A.G. would not detail the reasons for the firings.)


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