Highlights of This Page
CIA shuts down unit devoted to tracking bin Laden. Novak confirms Rove as one of his sources on Plame. Israel invades Lebanon. Bush blocks NSA wiretapping investigation by denying investigators security clearances.
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
"It could take eight to ten years. Insurgencies have a tendency to do that." -- Donald Rumsfeld on how long it might take to defeat the Iraqi insurgency, quoted by Bob Woodward
- July: Reporter Bob Woodward discusses the idea of troop levels with defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who heatedly denies that he was the one who had forced the initial levels of occupying forces in Iraq to be so low. Rumsfeld denies that he stopped the planned entry of an additional 90,000 troops into Iraq after the invasion of March 19, 2003. Instead, Rumsfeld insists, it was all General Tommy Franks's idea. "He made a judgment that he had what he needed, or would have as this played out and that he would not need the additional ones that were in the queue.... And he made that recommendation and I made the recommendation to the president, and we agreed with it." Rumsfeld denies that he had micromanaged the troop deployments, but merely stood aside and let the commanders on the ground -- Franks, John Abizaid, and others -- make the actual call. Rumsfeld is lying, a fact proven in interviews with half a dozen generals and civilians who had worked most closely with Rumsfeld.
- Rumsfeld also denies that he is even in the chain of command on Iraq, an astonishing statement for a secretary of defense. He denies being any sort of military commander, and Woodward ticks off the chain of command for him: "It's commander in chief, secretary of defense, combatant commander." Rumsfeld, the prime mover of the Iraq invasion and the micromanaging planner of the disastrous occupation, then tells Woodward that he is "two or three steps removed" from the decision-making process. Woodward is incredulous. "How could he see his role and responsibility?" he writes. (Bob Woodward)
CIA shuts down unit devoted to tracking bin Laden
Novak confirms Rove as one of his sources on Plame
- July 12: Conservative columnist Robert Novak confirms that one of his two sources for the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson was White House political strategist Karl Rove. Novak outed Plame in July 2003 in an apparent act of revenge by the White House for the criticisms of Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, against the Iraq war. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has recently annouced that he will not indict Rove for crimes related to the Plame outing. Bush once vowed to fire anyone connected with the leak of Plame's name, but the White House refuses to address the issue now that Rove has been confirmed as Novak's source. As for Novak, he once promised to retire from journalism rather than reveal a source, but it is now known that while he was publicly bragging about his commitment to journalistic ethics, he was singing his heart out to Fitzgerald's investigators. Rove refuses to name his second source, but that source is later revealed to have been then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Novak says he confirmed Plame's identity with a third source, then-CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, whose role in talking to Novak have been previously reported. Novak also confirms that prosecutors already knew his sources when he agreed to disclose them. Former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby faces five felony charges of lying to Fitzgerald's investigation, and for obstructing justice. "Published reports that I took the Fifth Amendment, made a plea bargain with the prosecutors or was a prosecutorial target were all untrue," Novak writes in his column. But keeping quiet had the effect of providing protection for the Bush White House during the 2004 presidential campaign, because the White House had denied Rove played any role in the leak of Plame's CIA identity. (AP/USA Today)
- July 12: Conservative pundit Ann Coulter accuses the New York Times of committing treason by reporting on the NSA's illegal domestic wiretapping program, saying that the Times did "something that could have gotten them executed, certainly did get [Julius and Ethel] Rosenberg executed." (MediaMatters)
Israel invades Lebanon
- July 14: Israel invades southern Lebanon, in response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by the terrorist organization Hezbollah, launching bombing raids that kill scores of Lebanese civilians, and sending in small detachments of troops. In return, Hezbollah fires hundreds of rockets into northern Israel, killing civilians and starting forest fires. The New York Times says that, while tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been high for years, and both sides have exchanged fire, this time Hezbollah "crossed the line" in three ways that the Israelis were unwilling to either ignore or negotiate over. First, Hezbollah extended its military operations past the disputed Shebaa Farms area. Secondly, it coordinated its strategy with the Palestinian Hamas organization and, at a remove, with Syria, making Israel feel it was suddenly facing enemies on two fronts at once. Third, Israel believes that Hezbollah, by unilaterally taking Lebanon into a conflict with Israel, is trying to oust the anti-Syrian majority in Parliament and the Lebanese government, which opposes Hezbollah's militarism against Israel but is too weak to exert any real control over the group. Hezbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group bankrolled by Iran and with close ties to both Iran and Syria, is apparently making a ploy to increase its influence over the Lebanese government, if not take it over entirely. After several weeks of intense fighting, the conflict fizzles out to an indeterminate end; Hezbollah, by virtue of being far smaller and less well armed than the Israeli military, is portrayed as a heroic, somewhat victorious opponent of Israel, especially among the world's Muslims; Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasralla, is, among many Muslims, a "rock star."
- John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, says that the way Israel will handle the Lebanese offensive was antiquated and inadequate. "Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it," he says. "The warfare of today is not mass on mass. You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focused on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result."
- In August 2006, as the conflict is beginning to peter out, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh writes that Israel discussed invading Lebanon well before its soldiers were kidnapped, and that Bush and Cheney were both enthusiastic about the prospect. "It's not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into," says one of Hersh's intelligence sources, "but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it." Bush and Cheney believed that such an Israeli offensive would ease Israeli's security concerns, beat back Hezbollah, and, most importantly, serve as a prelude to an American air strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Shabtai Shavit, a national-security adviser to the Knesset who headed the Mossad, Israel’s foreign-intelligence service, from 1989 to 1996, says that Israel acted independently: "We do what we think is best for us, and if it happens to meet America’s requirements, that’s just part of a relationship between two friends. Hezbollah is armed to the teeth and trained in the most advanced technology of guerrilla warfare. It was just a matter of time. We had to address it." Israeli journalist Yossi Melman agrees. "The neocons in Washington may be happy, but Israel did not need to be pushed, because Israel has been wanting to get rid of Hezbollah," he says. "By provoking Israel, Hezbollah provided that opportunity."
- Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, several Israeli officials visited Washington separately "to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear," says a US security consultant. "Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council." After that, "persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board." The plan also had the support of National Security Council advisor Elliot Abrams -- a significant ally because, in the view of many European diplomats, Abrams's influence in the White House is rising at the expense of Rice's. One thing they all wanted was for Israel to do it quickly. A former intelligence officer says, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later -- the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.'" Cheney's biggest argument was, in the worlds of the intelligence officer, "We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon." One thing that has surprised many veteran Israeli military observers is the speed at which the offensive took place -- usually such a decision would have taken months of discussion and planning. Instead, the first air strikes happened within hours of the kidnappings. But, as one former intelligence officer says, Hezbollah can be counted on to do something provocative on a regular basis. All Israel had to do was pick an incident -- a kidnapping, a rocket attack -- and declare itself sufficiently outraged to launch a counterattack.
- While Bush officials deny any prior knowledge of the Israeli offensive, US military planners were apparently ready to study the offensive for its own purposes. "The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully," says the former senior intelligence official. "Who is the closest ally of the US Air Force in its planning? It's not Congo -- it's Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, 'Let's concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.'" The source says that Donald Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the issue. "The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," a US government consultant with close ties to Israel says. "Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran." He adds that the Israeli plan was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran."
- Former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who served in the Bush administration until his boss, Colin Powell, resigned in 2005, says in August that in light of Israel's difficulties with Hezbollah and the firestorm of criticism it has received, the invasion should not serve as a template for an Iranian strike, but as a warning. "If the most dominant military force in the region -- the Israel Defense Forces -- can't pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of 70 million. The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the population against the Israelis." And the outcome of the Israeli offensive was not to the administration's liking. The long-term plan seemed to be to defeat Hezbollah and, Hersh writes, "to help set up a Sunni Arab coalition -- including countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt -- that would join the United States and Europe to pressure the ruling Shi'ite mullahs in Iran." The consultant says, "But the thought behind that plan was that Israel would defeat Hezbollah, not lose to it." When Saudi Arabia insisted that the US pressure Israel to end the attacks, the White House was clearly disappointed. A Middle East expert says the lack of a decisive Israeli victory,"is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back."
- But, say Hersh's sources, the likelihood that Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld will draw the right conclusions from the Israeli invasion is small. As with Iraq and Iran, Cheney and Rumsfeld have been massaging and cherry-picking intelligence from Lebanon to suit their own ends. "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," says the former intelligence official. "When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran." (New York Times/International Herald Tribune, Wikipedia, New Yorker)
- July 14: Former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, file a lawsuit against Dick Cheney and Bush presidential adviser Karl Rove because they engaged in a "whispering campaign" to destroy Plame's career. Plame, who was outed as a CIA agent by conservative columnist Robert Novak, says, "I and my former colleagues trusted the government to protect us in our jobs [but it] betrayed that trust. I'd much rather be continuing my career as a public servant than as a plaintiff in a lawsuit." Wilson adds, "We are under no illusions about how tough this fight will be. But we believe the time has come to hold those who use their official positions to exact personal revenge accountable and responsible for their actions." Plame and Wilson allege in the lawsuit that Cheney, Rove, and Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, leaked her CIA status to reporters to punish Wilson for criticizing the Bush administration's motives in Iraq. Plame's identity as a CIA officer was revealed in a July 14, 2003, article by Novak. At the time, Plame's job as an operations officer was classified information. Novak's column appeared eight days after Wilson alleged in an opinion piece in the New York Times that the Bush administration had twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war. The lawsuit accuses Cheney, Libby, Rove and 10 unnamed administration officials or political operatives of putting the Wilsons and their children's lives at risk by exposing Plame, who left the CIA in January and is writing a book about what's happened to her. "This attack was based on lies and disinformation and it included the compromise of Valerie's identity," says Wilson. "I have confidence in the American system of justice and this suit is about the pursuit of justice." The civil lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, attorneys fees and costs. Libby is the only administration official charged in connection with the leak investigation. He faces trial in January 2007 on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, accused of lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about when he learned Plame's identity and what he subsequently told reporters. (AP/USA Today)
- July 18: The UN issues a report that says Iran attempted to secure what it calls a huge shipment of uranium-238 from the African nation of the Congo. Tanzanian officials say in August that it discovered the shipment as it was being smuggled from the Congo through its country on October 22, 2005; the uranium was destined for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. In a nuclear reactor, uranium-238 can be used to breed plutonium used in nuclear weapons. The UN is threatening economic sanctions against Iran if it does not halt its attempts to enrich uranium, a critical step in the creation of nuclear weapons. "The container was put in a secure part of the port and it was later taken away, by the Americans, I think, or at least with their help," says a Tanzanian customs official. "We have all been told not to talk to anyone about this." The Lubumbashi mine in the mineral-rich province of Katanga has been closed since 1961, but UN investigators say they have evidence that illegal mining is taking place now. (Sunday Times)
Bush blocks NSA wiretapping investigation by denying investigators security clearances
- July 18: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee that in March 2006, Bush personally halted an internal Justice Department investigation into whether Gonzales and other senior department officials acted within the law in approving and overseeing the administration's domestic surveillance program. The investigation, by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, was halted when lawyers who were going to conduct the investigation were denied the security clearances that would have allowed them to view classified documents related to the surveillance program. Bush made the decision to deny the security clearances for the investigators, Gonzales testifies. "The president of the United States makes the decision," Gonzales says in response to a question by Republican senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who wanted to know who denied the clearances to the investigators. Bush's personal intervention into the investigation, by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, is an unprecedented intrusion by a president into the legal operations of a government agency. By doing so, Bush prevented OPR officials from looking into possibly criminal complicity and collusion by Justice Department officials with the NSA's illegal wiretapping program.
- Some senior Justice Department officials say they are stunned by Gonzales's testimony. They had been led to believe that Gonzales himself had made the decision to deny the clearances after consulting with intelligence agencies whose activities would be scrutinized. The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating the story, first revealed by Murray Waas in an earlier story by the National Journal, that reported the OPR investigation was quashed because of the refusal to allow investigators security clearances. Senior Justice Department officials said then that the investigators were seeking only information and documents relating to the National Security Agency's surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department's possession. A senior Justice official said that the refusal to grant the clearances was "unprecedented" and questioned whether the clearances were denied because investigators might find "misconduct by those who were attempting to defeat" the probe from being conducted. The official made the comments without knowing that Bush had made the decision to refuse the clearances.
- On April 21, 2006, the lead counsel for OPR, Marshall Jarrett, wrote a letter to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, to point out that while OPR was denied security clearances to conduct its inquiry, requests from prosecutors and FBI agents tasked with investigating who first leaked details of the NSA surveillance program to the New York Times were "promptly granted." Jarrett wrote, "We note...that the Criminal Division's request for the same security clearances from a large team of attorneys and FBI agents were promptly granted, and that their investigation of certain news leaks about the NSA program is moving forward." Jarrett also noted that while he and his attorneys were denied the clearances, five "private individuals" who serve on the president's "Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question." Private citizens -- especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels -- have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. In contrast, Jarrett noted, OPR's "repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this Office, which is charged with monitoring the integriy of the Department's attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties." Though reporter Murray Waas, the author of this article, refuses to draw the obvious conclusion, it is clear that Bush's decision was politically motivated -- to refuse security clearances for qualified government officials who are embarking on an investigation that might prove embarrassing for the administration, and to grant clearances to private citizens, cronies of Bush, who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut.
- "Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving Executive Branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels," Jarrett wrote. "In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation." Gonzalez wrote yesterday to Specter that "The president decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised."
- Specter asks Gonzales, "Why wasn't OPR given clearances as so many other lawyers in the Department of Justice were given clearance?" Gonzales's response is as revealing as it is unclear: "The president of the United States makes decisions about who is ultimately given access." Specter presses, "Did the president make the decision not to clear OPR?," to which Gonzales provides a dodgy confirmation: "As with all decisions that are non-operational in terms of who has access to the program, the president of the United States makes the decision."
- Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, said in a telephone interview in May that his staff "never, ever was denied a clearance" and that OPR had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of attorneys general. "No attorney general has ever said no to me," Shaheen said. According to White House press secretary Tony Snow, Bush was justified in not granting the security clearances because "the Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting" an inquiry of Gonzales and other government attorneys. Snow also said there was other governmental oversight in place of the NSA's program to ensure that it was being conducted within the law. Snow ignores the fact that the OPR is specifically tasked with such inquiries.
- The investigation was launched in January by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- a small ethics watchdog set up in 1975 after department officials were implicated in the Watergate scandal. OPR investigates "allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice," according to the office's policies and procedures. Four House Democrats -- Maurice Hinchey, John Lewis, Henry Waxman, and Lynn Woolsey -- requested the OPR investigation after the surveillance program was revealed in late 2005 and asked the agency to determine whether it complied with existing law. Jarrett wrote back to Hinchey, "We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program. Beginning in January 2006, this office made a series of requests for the necessary clearances. On May 9, 2006, we were informed that our requests had been denied. Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation." When Hinchey and other Democrats members inquired of Jarrett as to why he was not able to obtain the necessary clearances, Jarrett wrote them back on June 8 that he could not answer their questions because to do so "would require me to disclose client confidences and internal Justice Department deliberations, which I am precluded from doing." Hinchey says he isn't surprised by the news that Bush stymied the Justice investigation by denying the probes, and asks if Bush took the action to protect Gonzales from the inquiry. "It was the president of the United States himself who prevented this investigation from going forward," he says. "In obstructing the investigation, he was protecting the people around him, and not protecting the Constitution." Hinchey adds that the Republican leaders of Congress have "been complicit" with the administration in "disregarding the Constitution by not conducting its own inquiry into the matter: This has been a rubber-stamp Congress that has not stood up to the administration and for the separation of powers provisions in the Constitution." (National Journal, Washington Post)
"I was a Republican - until they lost their minds." -- former NBA star Charles Barkley, July 20
- July 21: Conservative talk show host Michael Savage (Michael Weiner) flaunts his in-depth understanding of foreign policy matters regarding Iran and the United Nations: "I don't know why we don't use a bunker-buster bomb when he comes to the UN and just take [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] out with everyone in there." (MediaMatters)
- July 23: As with so many other government departments, the Bush administration has reworked the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division (CRD), staffing it with lawyers who have strong ideologically conservative credentials but who have little experience or knowledge of civil rights.
In 2003, the rules were changed to give political appointees more influence in the hiring process. Since that time, only 42% of the lawyers for the CRD have any civil rights experience. In the two years before the change, 77% of those hired had civil rights backgrounds.
- Until the Bush administration, the CRD was perceived as needing to be politically neutral, and hiring for careed jobs in the division was handled by civil servants, not political appointees. But in the fall of 2002, then-attorney general John Ashcroft changed the procedures. The Civil Rights Division disbanded the hiring committees made up of veteran career lawyers. For decades, such committees had screened thousands of resumes, interviewed candidates, and made recommendations that were only rarely rejected. Now, hiring is closely overseen by Bush administration political appointees to Justice, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.
- The CRD is no longer focusing on hiring lawyers with civil rights backgrounds -- since 2003, only 19 of the 45 lawyers hired have any civil rights experience whatsoever, and nine of those have experience in defending employers and corporations against discrimination lawsuits or by fighting against race-conscious policies. Instead, the CRD is now being packed by lawyers with hard-line conservative credentials. Since 2003, eleven lawyers have been hired who belong to the conservative Federalist Society. Seven are members of the Republican National Lawyers Association, including two who volunteered for Bush-Cheney campaigns. Many of the new hires have worked for prominent ideologues such as former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, former attorney general Edwin Meese, Mississippi senator Trent Lott, and Judge Charles Pickering. Six list membership in Christian organizations that promote hardline, socially conservative views.
- The CRD is also changing the kinds of cases it is working. Instead of pursuing cases of the denial of voting rights and race-discrimination cases, the CRD is actively pursuing allegations of discrimination against whites and against Christians. "There has been a sea change in the types of cases brought by the division, and that is not likely to change in a new administration because they are hiring people who don't have an expressed interest in traditional civil rights enforcement," says Richard Ugelow, a 29-year career veteran who left the division in 2002.
- Bush administration spokespersons deny that the White House is doing anything untoward in the CRD, and deny that anything they are doing has any political content. DOJ spokeswoman Cynthia Magnuson says the CRD has no "litmus test" for hiring, and says the division is only hiring "qualified attorneys." She also denies that hiring a raft of lawyers with no civil rights experience -- except perhaps defending corporations and employers against complaints -- is harmful to the CRD's stated goal of ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination laws throughout the country. And other administration defenders say that the administration has every right to pack the CRD, and any other Justice Department office, with its own loyalists. Robert Driscoll, who headed the CRD from 2001 through 2003, says that many of the longtime career civil rights attorneys wanted to bring big cases on behalf of racial groups based on statistical disparities in hiring, even without evidence of intentional discrimination. Conservatives, he says, prefer to focus on cases that protect individuals from government abuses of power. Hiring only lawyers from civil rights groups would "set the table for a permanent left-wing career class."
- But Jim Turner, who worked in the CRD from 1965 to 1994 and was the top lawyer in the division for the last 25 years of his career, has a different view. He says that hiring people interested in enforcing civil rights laws is not the same thing as trying to achieve a political result through hiring. Most people interested in working to enforce civil rights laws happen to be liberals, Turner says, but Congress put the laws on the books so that they would be enforced. "To say that the Civil Rights Division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things," Turner says. Jon Greenbaum, a career attorney in the voting rights section from 1997 to 2003, says that since the hiring change, candidates with conservative ties have had an advantage. "The clear emphasis has been to hire individuals with conservative credentials," says Greenbaum. "If anything, a civil rights background is considered a liability."
- Many lawyers still with the CRD describe a clear shift in agenda accompanying the new hires. Since the shift, division supervisors have routinely overruled the recommendations of longtime career voting-rights attorneys in several high-profile cases, including whether to approve a Texas redistricting plan and whether to approve a Georgia law requiring voters to show photographic identification. In addition, many experienced civil rights lawyers have been assigned to spend much of their time defending deportation orders rather than pursuing discrimination claims. As a result, staffers say, morale has plunged and experienced lawyers are leaving the division. Last year, the administration offered longtime civil rights attorneys a buyout. Department figures show that 63 division attorneys left in 2005 -- nearly twice the average annual number of departures since the late 1990s. At a recent NAACP hearing on the state of the Civil Rights Division, David Becker, who was a voting-rights section attorney for seven years before accepting the buyout offer, warned that the personnel changes threatened to permanently damage the nation's most important civil rights watchdog. "Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level," Becker said. "In the place of these experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experiences."
- Established in 1957 as part of the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Division enforces the nation's antidiscrimination laws. The 1957 law and subsequent civil rights acts directed the division to file lawsuits against state and local governments, submit "friend-of-the-court" briefs in other discrimination cases, and review changes to election laws and redistricting to make sure they will not keep minorities from voting. The division is managed by a president's appointees -- the assistant attorney general for civil rights and his deputies -- who are replaced when a new president takes office. Beneath the political appointees, most of the work is carried out by a permanent staff of about 350 lawyers. They take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. Until recently, career attorneys also played an important role in deciding whom to hire when vacancies opened up in their ranks. "We were looking for a strong academic record, for clerkships, and for evidence of an interest in civil rights enforcement," says William Yeomans, who left the division in 2005 after 24 years there. That is no longer the case. Instead of a formal changeover, DOJ officials simply stopped convening the hiring committee, and its members later learned that it had been disbanded entirely. Driscoll says that Ashcroft changed hiring rules for the entire Justice Department, not just the Civil Rights Division. But career officials say that the change had a particularly strong impact in the Civil Rights Division, where the potential for political interference is greater than in divisions that enforce less controversial laws.
- The academic credentials of the lawyers hired into the division underwent a shift at the same time. Attorneys hired by the career hiring committees largely came from Eastern law schools with elite reputations, while a greater proportion of the political appointees' hires instead attended Southern and Midwestern law schools with conservative reputations. The average US News & World Report ranking for the law school attended by successful applicants hired in 2001 and 2002 was 34, while the average law school rank dropped to 44 for those hired after 2003. Clearly, academic qualifications now take a back seat to politically correct conservative ideology. (Boston Globe)
- July 24: An American Bar Association task force unanimously calls for Bush to stop using signing statements to justify his decision to ignore laws that he has signed, according to a 32-page report issued today.
(The lack of seriousness accorded to the issue is demonstrated by the headline of the Boston Globe article discussing the report: "Panel chides Bush on bypassing laws." One "chides" children for spilling the milk, not a president for breaching Constitutional law. The article itself, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charlie Savage, is far more serious in tone.)
- The bipartisan panel, convened in June 2006 by the ABA, includes a former FBI director, a former federal appeals court chief judge, former Republican officials, and leading scholars. The panel declares that presidents do not have the authority to declare that sections of the bills they sign are unconstitutional, and that they thus need not be enforced as Congress wrote them. Bush has used these so-called signing statements to challenge more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office, more than all previous presidents combined. "The president's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being, unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," the report reads. "The Constitution is not what the president says it is." The full House of Delegates of the ABA will vote next month on whether to adopt the recommendations.
- Using the unconstitutional theory of the "unitary executive," Bush and Dick Cheney, the administration's prime proponent of the theory, have declared that the Constitution puts Bush beyond the reach of Congress in military matters and executive branch operations. Few outside the White House agree with this imperial view of the presidency. The laws Bush is ignoring include a ban on torturing detainees, oversight provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act, restrictions against using US troops in combat against rebels in Colombia, and numerous requirements to provide information to Congress, among many others. The task force reports that its work had been prompted by "the number and nature of the current president's signing statements," but emphasizes that its criticism is "not intended to be, and should not be viewed as, an attack on President George W. Bush. ...Our recommendations...are directed not just at the sitting president, but at all chief executives who will follow him, and they are intended to underscore the importance of the doctrine of separation of powers." Republican committee member Mickey Edwards says, "It's not about Bush; it's about what should be the responsibility of a president. We are saying that the president of the United States has an obligation to follow the Constitution and exercise only the authority the Constitution gives him. That's a central tenet of American conservatism -- to constrain the centralization of power."
- While an adminstration lawyer, Michelle Boardman, last month tried to mollify the Senate Judiciary Committee by saying, unbelievably, that Bush's use of signing statements instead of repudiatable vetoes was actually a sign of respect to Congress, the task force reminds Bush that he does not legally have that option. The Constitution requires the president either to veto a bill in its entirety -- giving Congress a chance to override his decision -- or to sign the bill and enforce all its components as Congress wrote them, it notes. "A line-item veto is not a constitutionally permissible alternative, even when the president believes that some provisions of a bill are unconstitutional.... A president could easily contrive a constitutional excuse to decline enforcement of any law he deplored, and transform his qualified veto into a monarch-like absolute veto." Boardman also argued that presidents must use signing statements because it is often impractical to veto an entire bill over small constitutional problems if the bill contains other measures that the executive branch deems are urgently needed; the task force shoots down that argument as well, observing that the Constitution's limits on presidential power trump such pragmatic considerations. "The Founding Fathers contemplated bills with both attractive and unattractive features packaged in one bill with heterogeneous provisions," it writes. "The president nonetheless was expected to veto 'urgent' bills that he believed were unconstitutional in part. If the urgency were genuine, Congress could either delete the offending provisions or override the president."
- If Congress and the White House cannot reach an agreement on the signing statements, the task force observes, the courts must decide the issue. The task force urges Congress to pass legislation giving it standing to sue a president over such signing statements, a threat issued -- however hollowly -- by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Arlen Specter, who has accused Bush of "a very blatant encroachment" on the constitutional prerogative of Congress to write laws. (Boston Globe)
- July 27: Without a shred of evidence, conservative pundit Ann Coulter accuses former Democratic vice president Al Gore of being a homosexual. In responding to MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews's question, "How do you know that Bill Clinton's gay?", Coulter, who had previously accused Clinton of being both a serial rapist and a homosexual, responds, "I don't know if he's gay. But Al Gore -- total fag." (MediaMatters)