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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

People Just Need to Hear the Truth

In the short Q/A session that followed President Bush's defiant "offer" to Congress on information related to the US Attorney issue, the President provided the following answer to a question (#1):

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Q Sir, in at least a few instances, the attorneys that were dismissed were actively investigating Republicans -- in San Diego, in Arizona, in Nevada. By removing them, wouldn't that have possibly impeded or stopped those investigations? And, sir, if I may also ask about the Attorney General. He does not have support among many Republicans and Democrats. Can he still be effective?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he's got support with me. I support the Attorney General. I told you in Mexico I've got confidence in him; I still do. He's going to go up to Capitol Hill and he's going to explain the very questions you asked. I've heard all these allegations and rumors. And people just need to hear the truth, and they're going to go up and explain the truth.

Q In San Diego, Nevada, Arizona, Republicans were the targets of investigations, and those U.S. attorneys were removed. Does that not give the appearance --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't -- it may give the appearance of something, but I think what you need to do is listen to the facts, and let them explain to -- it's precisely why they're going up to testify, so that the American people can hear the truth about why the decision was made.
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People just need to hear the truth…

Words from the President's own lips.

The President's response included the following highlights:

1) an "offer" to have Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales and some of his staff "interviewed" by appropriate members of the House and Senate --- But not under oath and with no written transcript of the "interview" for a permanent record.

2) access to over 3000 documents from within the Justice Department and between the Department and the White House --- But how many other email servers has the White House been operating outside the scope of previous controls and obligations related to document retention and archiving? We already know of four others (gwb43.com, georgebush.com, rnchq.com and even aol.com).

3) an outright "dare" to Congress to attempt to force testimony under oath via subpoenas -- His concluding remarks essentially asserted Executive Privilege protection over confidential White House deliberations.

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One prefacing comment first…

United States Attorneys are political appointees within the Executive branch. Until recent changes to the "Patriot Act", replacements had to be confirmed by the Senate but still serve at the the pleasure of the President and can be replaced at any time. I'm appalled that ANY President (Bill Clinton, George Bush, ANYONE) would ever find the need to fire a US attorney on any more than a onsie / twosie basis, much less ever consider replacing ALL of them en masse. However, it is each President's prerogative. PERIOD.

Unfortunately, the right of the President (this President or any President) to fire US attorneys is not the issue.

The issues involved here are:

1) Testimony from Administration officials to Congress which is directly and repeatedly contradicted by documents subsequently obtained by Congress. Alberto Gonzales testified in front of Congress in January 2007 that the Administration had every intention of submitting each replacement US Attorney to the Senate for confirmation despite the altered Patriot Act language that permitted what were essentially lame duck, non-confirmed appointments. In reality, correspondence within Gonzales' office referenced the desire to exercise the new Patriot Act authorization to appoint replacements without confirmation. Executive Privilege might have some bearing on a Congressional request to see details of a purely internal White House policy conversation. This issue involves testimony and evidence provided willingly by the Executive Branch to Congress and subsequently found to be incomplete, misleading and downright false. Executive privilege cannot be waived then reclaimed on matters related to communication BETWEEN the Executive branch and Congress. You cannot un-ring a bell.

2) Evidence that the White House has been using computer servers and email systems outside traditional Executive branch systems for conducting routine Administration business. While the network domains involved (gwb43.com, georgebush.com, rnchq.org) don't indicate serious efforts were made to completely hide any audit trail, the fact these systems are not under the control of official government channels makes it far easier to destroy important chains of communication or to alter electronic archives -- the Internet era equivalent of an 18-minute gap in an audio tape. Staff in the National Parks Department or the Small Business Administration might be forgiven this faux paus. Senior leadership of the Justice Department who should be intimately familiar with the security, privacy and custodial aspects of using non-government, non-secured email systems for this type of correspondence have no excuse. Use of external email systems and networks is highly suspicious activity worthy of investigation in its own right.

3) A highly coincidental sequence of events related to the firing of US Attorney Carol Lam who bubbled to the top of the "must-go" list within a day of news that she was pursuing an investigation of CIA Executive Directory Kyle Fogge as part of the bribery investigation of California Representative Randall Cunningham. While Lam was already referenced in some Justice Department correspondence putting her on the "bubble" prior to the Fogge news, her review for 2005 found her "an effective manager and respected leader". In 2006, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein sent a letter to Gonzales inquiring about her immigration enforcement efforts (indicating some legitimate performance / policy concerns even on the part of Democrats) yet a response from the Justice Department a month later defender her record. (#2) With this contradictory record of performance, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to raise a concern about possible prosecutorial interference when an action taken against someone with ties to the White House is followed within one day by an immediate decision to put her on the "axe" list.

President Bush tells us we need to hear the truth, yet he provides copies of documents created on systems the Executive Branch shouldn't be using for official business to bolster conflicting testimony his own officials provided to Congress then claims executive privilege protects any of the players from testifying under oath.

That's an interesting variety of truth we have here that cannot be provided under oath with a stenographer present. There seems to be a lot of this "truth" in this Administration.

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#1) http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2007/03/bush_will_correct_fired_us_att.html

#2) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8983665