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Profile: Charles Schumer
Charles Schumer was a participant or observer in the following events:
According to a 1992 Congressional investigation led by Congressman Charles Schumer (D-NY), between 1979 and 1991, federal law enforcement agencies receive more than 700 tips about BCCI’s criminal activities. The criminal BCCI bank will finally be shut down in 1991 (see July 5, 1991). The tips include BCCI involvement in:
Promoting political unrest in Pakistan.
Smuggling arms to various countries, including Syria, Libya, and Iran.
Financing terrorist groups.
Links to organized crime in the US and Italy.
Time magazine reporters Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne will later comment in a book: “Too many people knew too much about BCCI, and they knew it long before the bank spun itself into bankruptcy and scandal.… That [CIA Deputy Director] Robert Gates could jokingly refer to it in a conversation with Customs chief William von Raab as the “bank of crooks and criminals” three years before the scandal broke merely reflects the run of knowledge around Washington. Indeed, it would probably have been difficult to find very many people with real power who did not know about the bank, based on the wide distribution of CIA reports.” Schumer will later conclude: “At the very least, there was nobody putting together all the pieces.… You could make a credible case that somebody told them not to do anything about BCCI.” [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 346]
Rep. Fernand J. St. Germain (D-RI), with 28 co-sponsors, introduces HR 6267, the “Net Worth Guarantee Act” officially entitled “A bill to revitalize the housing industry by strengthening the financial stability of home mortgage lending institutions and ensuring the availability of home mortgage loans.” [Library of Congress, 5/19/2008] As introduced, the bill would create a fund for loans to those troubled banks and savings and loans institutions that would have to be put into receivership if their condition deteriorates to a small degree from the bill’s qualifying requirements. The provisions are as follows:
Amendments to the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (which regulates the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC), the National Housing Act (which regulates the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, FHLBB), and the Federal Credit Union Act (the National Credit Union Administration Board, NCUAB) so that the regulated bodies can guarantee the net worth of qualified insured institutions.
Requirements that a qualifying depository institution be one that is threatened with insolvency, as measured by very low net worth and a recent trend of losses; that the institution be one that mainly serves the residential mortgage industry, as measured by the share of its loans or other assets that are held in or collateralized by residential mortgages or real estate; and that it continue in this service under the net worth guarantee, as measured by the share of its new deposits that it devotes to certain types of mortgages.
Rules for determining the initial amount of the guarantee, and for either extending or phasing out the assistance to a given institution. Extensions after two years are to be contingent upon a showing that “certified continued earnings losses are caused by general market conditions and not by the actions of the institution.”
Creation of a Net Worth Guarantee Account in the US Treasury in the amount of $8.5 billion to cover the payment of any guarantees.
A sunset date for new extensions of guarantees.
An oversight process in which the three bank regulating bodies report quarterly to Congress on their activities in granting guarantees, and the comptroller of the currency provides semiannual audits. [Library of Congress, 5/14/2008; Library of Congress, 5/14/2008]
Fate in the House - The Net Worth Guarantee Act passes the House of Representatives on May 20, 1982, with amendments that extend the coverage to qualifying State-chartered commercial banks, and qualifying national banks whether or not they are members of the FDIC; that add investment in residential housing co-operative stock and mortgages on multifamily rental projects to the qualifying activities for sustaining the guarantee; that alter the exit path from the program; that add compliance with community credit provision requirements under the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977; that make the Treasury senior to holders of existing subordinated debt of any guaranteed bank that later winds up in receivership; and that clearly give the sunset date as September 30, 1984. [Library of Congress, 5/14/2008; Library of Congress, 5/14/2008; Library of Congress, 5/14/2008]
Eventual Fate - With substantial amendments that address other banking regulatory issues besides the net worth of depository institutions, the bill finally passes the Senate under several short titles, of which the primary is “Depository Institutions Amendments of 1982,” superseding S.2879 sponsored by Sen. E.J. “Jake” Garn. The bill is enacted with the signature of President Ronald Reagan on October 15, 1982 as the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. [Library of Congress, 5/14/2008]
In July 1990, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, was mysteriously able to enter the US and remain there despite being a well known public figure and being on a watch list for three years (see July 1990).
In late October 1990, he travels to London, so he is out of the US when one of his followers assassinates the Zionist rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990 (see November 5, 1990). He returns to the US in mid-November under the name “Omar Ahmed Rahman” and again has no trouble getting back in despite still being on the watch list. [Washington Post, 7/13/1993]
The State Department revokes his US visa on November 17 after the FBI informs it that he is in the US. [New York Times, 12/16/1990]
In December 1990, Abdul-Rahman leaves the US again to attend an Islamic conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. He returns nine days later and again has no trouble reentering, despite not even having a US visa at this point. [Washington Post, 7/13/1993]
On December 16, 1990, the New York Times publishes an article titled, “Islamic Leader on US Terrorist List Is in Brooklyn,” which makes his presence in the US publicly known. The Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) is said to be investigating why he has not been deported already. [New York Times, 12/16/1990]
Yet in April 1991, the INS approves his application for permanent residence.
He then leaves the US again in June 1991 to go on the religious hajj to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and returns on July 31, 1991. INS officials identify him coming in, but let him in anyway. [New York Times, 4/24/1993; Washington Post, 7/13/1993]
In June 1992, his application for political asylum will be turned down and his permanent residence visa revoked. But INS hearings on his asylum bid are repeatedly delayed and still have not taken place when the WTC is bombed in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993). [Lance, 2003, pp. 105-106]
Abdul-Rahman then goes to Canada around October 1992 and returns to the US yet again. The US and Canada claim to have no documentation on his travel there, but numerous witnesses in Canada see him pray and lecture there. Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “Here they spent all this time trying to get him out. He goes to Canada and gives them the perfect reason to exclude him and they don’t.”
After the WTC bombing, the US could detain him pending his deportation hearing but chooses not to, saying it would be too costly to pay for his medical bills. [New York Times, 4/24/1993]
Abdul-Rahman will be involved in the follow up “Landmarks” plot (see June 24, 1993) before finally being arrested later in 1993. It will later be alleged that he was protected by the CIA. In 1995, the New York Times will comment that the link between Abdul-Rahman and the CIA “is a tie that remains muddy.” [New York Times, 10/2/1995]
In 1991, there is a surge in the number of US soldiers adhering to Islam, due to a conversion program sponsored by the Saudi government (see March-September 1991). Islamic activist Abdurahman Alamoudi approaches the US military and suggests they create a program for Muslim chaplains, similar to a longstanding program for Christian chaplains. His proposal is accepted and in 1991 he creates the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAFVAC) with the stated purpose to “certify Muslim chaplains hired by the military.” In 1993, the Defense Department certifies it as one of two organizations to select and endorse Muslim chaplains. The other is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003; Wall Street Journal, 12/3/2003] That group is run by prominent Islamic scholar Taha Jabir Al-Alwani. Most of the roughly one dozen Muslim chaplains in the US military are educated there. In 2002, the US government searches the school and Al-Alwani’s home as part of a raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002). He appears to also be named as an unindicted coconspirator in the Sami al-Arian trial. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz says Al-Alwani is a “person who supports and funnels money to terrorist organizations,” but Al-Alwani denies all terrorism ties and has not been charged with any crime. [St. Petersburg Times, 3/27/2003] Most Muslim chaplains trained at GSISS then receive an official endorsement from Alamoudi’s AMAFVAC organization. US intelligence will learn in early 1994 that Alamoudi has ties to bin Laden (see Shortly After March 1994). [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003] In 1996, counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will warn in a Wall Street Journal editorial that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even after the US government officially designated it a terrorist organization (see March 13, 1996). [Wall Street Journal, 3/13/1996] But Alamoudi will work for the Defense Department until 1998 on an unpaid basis to nominate and to vet Muslim chaplain candidates. After that, he will give the task to others in his AMAFVAC organization. [US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 10/14/2003] Furthermore, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) will later allege the US the military allowed Muslim chaplains to travel to the Middle East on funds provided by the Muslim World League, which has been linked to al-Qaeda (see October 12, 2001). Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) will later comment, “It is remarkable that people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains.” [US News and World Report, 10/27/2003] In late 2003, Alamoudi will be arrested and later sentenced to 23 years in prison for terrorism-related crimes. The US military will announce around the same time that it is reviewing and overhauling its Muslim chaplain program. [US News and World Report, 10/27/2003]
Congress approves legislation which repeals the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, greatly reducing regulation of Wall Street and clearing the way for the cross-ownership of banks, securities firms and insurers. The measure is approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House by 362 to 57. President Bill Clinton will sign the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act into law on November 12th, 1999. [Library of Congress, 3/27/2009] The New York Times reports that passage of the bill elicits optimism that the measure will enhance American competitiveness and ensure American dominance in the global financial marketplace, as well as concerns that deregulation will lead to a future financial meltdown. The Times further notes that experts predict the new law will result in a wave of large financial mergers.
Optimism over Passage of the Measure - Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers praises the legislation, declaring that the law “will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.” Among others praising passage of the measure:
Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), sponsor of the bill, says: “We have a new century coming, and we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”
Rep Jim Leach (R-IA) remarks: “This is a historic day. The landscape for delivery of financial services will now surely shift.”
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) says, “There are many reasons for this bill, but first and foremost is to ensure that US financial firms remain competitive.”
Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) says, “The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown.”
Warnings over Implications of the Measure - The measure provokes warnings from a handful of dissenters that “the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system,” according to the Times. Among the dissenters are:
Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), who says: “I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010;”
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), who remarks that the bill is “mean-spirited in the way it had tried to undermine the Community Reinvestment Act;”
Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), who says: “Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” [New York Times, 11/5/1999]
Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Byron L. Dorgan, Barney Frank, Bob Kerrey, Charles Schumer, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Congress, Jim Leach, Phil Gramm, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Larry Summers, Paul Wellstone, Maxine Waters, Glass-Steagall Act
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
President Bush is taken to the headquarters of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, from where he calls government officials in New York and Washington, DC, prepares and records a speech to the nation, and watches television coverage of the terrorist attacks. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 10/2/2001; American History, 10/2006 ] After landing at Barksdale (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001), Bush was initially driven to a conference center on the base, where he made a brief phone call (see (11:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Newseum et al., 2002, pp. 164]
Bush Is Driven to the 8th Air Force Headquarters - Bush emerges from there at 12:11 p.m. accompanied by his senior adviser, Karl Rove, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, his military aide, some other aides, and several Secret Service agents. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112; American History, 10/2006 ] He is then driven to “Building 245” on the base—the headquarters of the 8th Air Force—in a small motorcade that also includes the pool of reporters who have been traveling with him on Air Force One. Inside the building, they all can see a sheet of paper that has been taped to a door, with words written in large black type, “Defcon Delta”—the highest possible state of military alert. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 112] Bush and his staff go to the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, where they get to work responding to the attacks. [American History, 10/2006 ]
Bush Prepares a Speech to the Nation - Bush and Card together draft a speech to the nation that the president is going to record at the base, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] However, according to journalist and author Bill Sammon, the speech is drafted by Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who is with the president at Barksdale, and edited by White House counselor Karen Hughes, who is back in Washington. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 113] Once the speech is ready, Keck escorts Bush to the building’s conference room to be filmed delivering it. [American History, 10/2006 ] The reporters traveling on Air Force One go to the conference room after entering the 8th Air Force headquarters building and are there when Bush records his speech at 12:36 p.m. (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001]
Bush Watches TV, Makes Phone Calls - Bush watches the latest developments on a television in Keck’s office. After recording his speech, he sees the footage, shown on CNN, of the World Trade Center towers collapsing for the first time, according to Keck. He then tells Keck, “I don’t know who this is, but we’re going to find out and we’re going to go after them, and we’re not just going to slap them on the wrist.” Keck replies, “We’re with you.” There is a secure phone in Keck’s office, and, while he is at the base, Bush uses it to talk with Vice President Dick Cheney at the White House (see (12:11 p.m.-1:25 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon (see 1:02 p.m. September 11, 2001), and Hughes. He also talks over the secure phone with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, New York Governor George Pataki, and New York Senator Charles Schumer.
Bush Is Informed of the Intelligence about the Attacks - Keck remains at Bush’s side for the entire time the president is in the 8th Air Force headquarters building. He works intently, monitoring base security and keeping up to date with the latest information from the 8th Air Force Command. He and his team keep Bush and his aides informed about the intelligence coming in via Air Force channels about the morning’s attacks and ongoing events. After nearly two hours at Barksdale, Bush and his entourage prepare to leave the base. Keck will accompany the president as he is driven back to Air Force One. [Associated Press, 10/2/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; American History, 10/2006 ; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, Charles Schumer, Donald Rumsfeld, George E. Pataki, Andrew Card, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, US Secret Service, Thomas Keck, Karen Hughes
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001] About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. [BBC, 11/6/2001]
Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” [US Congress, 9/3/2003] Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” [Hill, 5/18/2004] According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” [National Review, 9/11/2002] There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New Yorker, 11/5/2001] The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 ] Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. [National Review, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” [Boston Globe, 9/30/2003] Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” [Judicial Watch, 6/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Omar bin Laden, Bin Laden Family, Dale Watson, Charles Schumer, Michael Rolince, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Osama bin Laden, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, US Department of State, Khalil bin Laden, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just hours before the testimony of FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose accusations of FBI malfeasance before the 9/11 attacks have sparked Congressional interest (see June 6, 2002). Mueller promises the committee that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that Rowley is correct in some of her assessments, including her insistence that the bureau change to meet the threats posed by loosely organized terrorist groups. “When we looked back, we saw things that we should have done better and things that we should have done differently, but we also saw things that were done well and things that we should do more,” Mueller tells the assembled lawmakers. [CNN, 6/6/2002] Some senators take Mueller’s assessments even farther. Herbert Kohl (D-WI) says, “Had the FBI been totally alert and had the FBI used its current capabilities to the best of its ability, there was at least a very good chance that the terrorist plot could have been uncovered.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Refuses to Answer Questions about Presidential Discussions - Committee member Joe Biden (D-DE) repeatedly asks Mueller whether President Bush consulted with him before the 2001 reorganization of the nation’s domestic security apparatus under the Homeland Security rubric (see September 20, 2001). Mueller refuses to discuss his conversations with Bush. “There is no executive privilege here,” Biden says. “I’m asking you whether you were consulted. I think this is ridiculous.” Law enforcement officials later confirm that both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft were consulted as part of planning for the reorganization.
'Antiquated' Computer System - Democratic senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) questions Mueller about the antiquated computer system used by the FBI (Rowley herself will testify that her agents could not search FBI files for information pertaining to their inquiry into so-called “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui—see August 21, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001). Mueller confirms that Rowley and agents working with her could not search for terms such as “flight school,” but instead were limited to single-word searches such as “flight” or “school,” which produced masses of irrelevant results. Schumer calls the FBI system “almost laughable,” and adds, “It just makes my jaw drop to think that on 9/11 or on 9/10 the kind of technology that is available to most school kids, and certainly every small business in this country, wasn’t available to the FBI.” Mueller says it will take two or three years to upgrade the FBI’s computers. “I think we are way behind the curve,” he says.
Criticism of Civil Liberties Reductions - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) criticizes Mueller for his decision, in conjunction with Attorney General John Ashcroft, to loosen restrictions on the FBI that limit the bureau’s ability to investigate and monitor citizen dissidents and organizations. “In particular, I’m troubled by the visa-holder-registration policy announced yesterday,” he says, referring to a Justice Department plan to require that about 100,000 foreigners in the United States be fingerprinted by the government. “Your agency is expending valuable time and resources to recruit these US citizens in our Arab and Muslim communities. And at the same time, the Justice Department is photographing, fingerprinting and registering their law-abiding siblings, cousins, visiting the United States.” [New York Times, 6/7/2002] “What impact do you think these policies will have on the Arab and Muslim communities in the US if you’re holding job fairs in the morning and fingerprinting them in the afternoon?” Kennedy asks. Mueller responds that the FBI will be careful not to step on anyone’s constitutional rights: “I still believe that we have to protect the freedoms that we have in this country that are guaranteed by the Constitution, or all the work we do to protect it will be at naught.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, John Ashcroft, Coleen Rowley, Herbert Kohl, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Joseph Biden, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Zacarias Moussaoui
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
FBI agent Coleen Rowley, the whistleblower who wrote a stinging memo questioning the bureau’s handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see May 21, 2002), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her memo, in which she accused FBI Director Robert Mueller of participating in what she called “a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of facts… at the highest levels of FBI management,” has become a focus of Congressional probes into what many lawmakers perceive as a systemic failure of intelligence gathering preceding the 9/11 attacks. Rowley calls the FBI a bureaucracy rife with “risk aversion,” “roadblocks” to investigations, and “endless, needless paperwork.” Rowley says she is concerned that the FBI has moved towards even more bureaucracy and micromanagement in the months following the attacks. [CNN, 6/6/2002; BBC, 6/6/2002; Senate Judiciary Committee, 6/6/2002] “Seven to nine layers” of management “is really ridiculous,” she says. “We need a way to get around the roadblocks.” But Rowley is more sympathetic to Mueller in her testimony than in her memo, and praises him for appearing willing to consider some of the new ideas and approaches that she says need to be implemented. [New York Times, 6/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002] In his own testimony before the same committee just hours before Rowley speaks, Mueller promises that Rowley will not be punished for speaking out, and admits that some of Rowley’s assessments are correct (see June 6, 2002). [CNN, 6/6/2002] The questioning and commentary by the committee members varies somewhat by party affiliation, with Democrats such as Charles Schumer (D-NY) repeatedly praising Rowley “for performing a national service in coming forward,” but even committee Republicans such as Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) engage in criticizing the FBI. [New York Times, 6/7/2002] Charles Grassley (R-IA) calls Rowley “a patriotic American who had the courage to put truth first and raise critical but important questions about how the FBI handled a terrorist case before the attacks, and about the FBI’s cultural problems.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2002]
Newsweek reports that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar may have received money from Saudi Arabia’s royal family through two Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Newsweek bases its report on information leaked from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Newsweek, 11/22/2002; New York Times, 11/23/2002; Washington Post, 11/23/2003] Al-Bayoumi is in Saudi Arabia by this time. Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia just five days earlier. Saudi officials and Princess Haifa immediately deny any connections to Islamic militants. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] Newsweek reports that while the money trail “could be perfectly innocent… it is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9/11…” [Newsweek, 11/22/2002] Some Saudi newspapers, which usually reflect government thinking, claim the leak is blackmail to pressure Saudi Arabia into supporting war with Iraq. [MSNBC, 11/27/2002] Senior US government officials claim the FBI and CIA failed to aggressively pursue leads that might have linked the two hijackers to Saudi Arabia. This causes a bitter dispute between FBI and CIA officials and the intelligence panel investigating the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 11/23/2002] A number of senators, including Richard Shelby (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), express concern about the Bush administration’s action (or non-action) regarding the Saudi royal family and its possible role in funding Islamic militants. [Reuters, 11/24/2002; New York Times, 11/25/2002] Lieberman says, “I think it’s time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11—you’re either with us or you’re with the al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 11/25/2002] FBI officials strongly deny any deliberate connection between these two men and the Saudi government or the hijackers [Time, 11/24/2002] , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Joseph Lieberman, Omar al-Bayoumi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Saudi Arabia, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama Basnan, Richard Shelby
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Ghassan Elashi holds a press conference and denies any connection to terrorist funding. [Source: Associated Press]Mousa Abu Marzouk, his wife, and five brothers (Ghassan Elashi, Bayan Elashi, Hazim Elashi, Basman Elashi, and Ihsan Elashi) are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, dealing in the property of a designated terrorist, illegal export, and making false statements. The brothers are arrested in Texas, but Marzouk and his wife are living in Syria and remain free. Marzouk is considered a top leader of Hamas. FBI agent Robert Wright had been investigating Marzouk and the brothers since the late 1990s. Wright is set to appear on ABC News on December 19, 2002, to complain that the FBI had failed to prosecute Marzouk for years. As the New York Post notes, “That got results: A day before the show aired, Attorney General Ashcroft announced he would indict Marzouk.” [BBC, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/18/2002; Washington Post, 12/19/2002; New York Post, 7/14/2004] FBI agent John Vincent, who worked closely with Wright, comments, “From within the FBI, [Wright] and I tried to get the FBI to use existing criminal laws to attack the infrastructure of terrorist organizations within the United States, but to no avail. It took an appearance [on television] by [Wright] and I to propel them into making arrests that they could have made as early as 1993.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] ABC News similarly notes, “Marzouk was in US custody in 1997 and under criminal investigation then for much the same crimes cited today.” [ABC News, 12/18/2002] Ghassan Elashi was the vice president of InfoCom Corporation, which was raided on September 5, 2001 (see September 5-8, 2001). He was also chairman of Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down in December 2001. InfoCom and Holy Land were based in the same Texas office park and shared many of the same employees. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; CBS News, 12/18/2002; Associated Press, 12/23/2002] Holy Land raised $13 million in 2000 and claimed to be the largest Muslim charity in the US. The government charges that Hamas members met with Ghassan Elsashi and other Holy Land officials in 1993 to discuss raising money for the families of suicide bombers (see October 1993). Wright had begun an investigation into Holy Land that same year, but he faced obstacles from higher-ups and eventually his investigation was shut down. [CBS News, 12/18/2002; New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2004, the five Elashi brothers will be convicted of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws. In 2005, three of the brothers, Ghassan, Basman, and Bayan Elashi, will be found guilty of supporting Hamas by giving money to Mazouk through 2001. [BBC, 7/8/2004; Associated Press, 4/13/2005] In July 2004, Ghassan Elashi will be charged again, along with four other former Holy Land officials. Two other Holy Land officials will also charged but not arrested, since they had recently left the country. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will state: “I wonder why this prosecution has taken so long. I think until recently we have not put the resources needed into tracking groups that finance terrorism, and the fact that they didn’t get 24-hour surveillance on these two who escaped is galling and perplexing.” [New York Times, 7/28/2004] In 2007, this court case will result in a mistrial, and be cast as a major setback for the Justice Department (see October 19, 2007).
In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 193-197; Time, 6/17/2006] Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-220; Time, 6/17/2006] Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. [CNN, 6/18/2006] University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” [United Press International, 6/27/2006] An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. [Stratfor, 6/21/2006] CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) asks FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the likelihood that “two senior members of the Bush administration made the identity of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative public.” Schumer bases his request on news reports by, among others, columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Newsday (see July 21, 2003). Schumer writes that the exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson “was part of an apparent attempt to discredit [her husband, former ambassador Joseph] Wilson’s findings about potential uranium exports from Niger to Iraq and intimidate other officials from speaking their minds.” He reminds Mueller that “the unauthorized disclosure of information relating to the identity of an American intelligence official is a crime punishable by fines and up to 10 years in prison under the Intelligence Identities and Protection Act” (see July 16, 2003). He adds: “On Tuesday of this week, the White House denied that it had given any authorization to release such information on Ms. Plame. It is essential, therefore, that you discover source of this information because it would appear that a significant intelligence asset has been illegally compromised.” Schumer goes on to note: “By disclosing the identity of a reportedly senior undercover operative who is active in our nation’s fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), administration officials have possibly endangered Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her entire network of intelligence contacts in order to avoid political embarrassment. In the process, they may also have undermined our national security just as the specter of WMD threats from North Korea and Iran loom on the horizon. If the facts that have been reported publicly are true, it is clear that a crime was committed. The only questions remaining to be answered are who committed the crime and why? I request that you immediately launch an investigation to determine the source of this information and assess whether there is enough evidence to refer the matter for criminal prosecution.” [US Senate, 7/24/2003]
The Justice Department authorizes the FBI to open a criminal investigation into leaks of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity by sources within the Bush administration (see July 14, 2003, July 30, 2003, and September 16, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] The investigation is headed by the Justice Department’s counterespionage chief, John Dion. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004]
Questions of Impartiality - Dion is a veteran career prosecutor who has headed the counterespionage section since 2002. He will rely on a team of a half-dozen investigators, many of whom have extensive experience in investigating leaks. However, some administration critics are skeptical of Dion’s ability to run an impartial investigation: he will report to the Justice Department’s Robert McCallum, who is an old friend and Yale classmate of President Bush. Both Bush and McCallum were members of the secret Skull & Bones Society at Yale. Others believe the investigation will be non-partisan. “I believe that the career lawyers in Justice—the people who preceded [Attorney General] John Ashcroft and who will be there after he leaves—will do a nonpolitical investigation, an honest investigation,” says legal ethics specialist Stephen Gillers. “Ashcroft’s sole job is to stay out of it.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]
CIA Director Filed Request - The request for an investigation (see September 16, 2003) was filed by CIA Director George Tenet; a CIA official says Tenet “doesn’t like leaks.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he knows of no leaks about Wilson’s wife: “That is not the way this White House operates, and no one would be authorized to do such a thing. I don’t have any information beyond an anonymous source in a media report to suggest there is anything to this. If someone has information of this nature, then he or she should report it to the Department of Justice.” McClellan calls Joseph Wilson’s charges that deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove leaked his wife’s name (see August 21, 2003) “a ridiculous suggestion” that is “simply not true.” A White House official says that two administration sources (later revealed to be Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see June 13, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) leaked Plame Wilson’s name to six separate journalists (see Before July 14, 2003). The White House is notoriously intolerant of leaks, and pursues real and supposed leakers with vigor. Wilson says that if the White House did indeed leak his wife’s name, then the leak was part of what he calls “a deliberate attempt on the part of the White House to intimidate others and make them think twice about coming forward.” [Washington Post, 9/28/2003]
White House, Democrats Respond - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that the White House is willing to have the Justice Department investigate the charges. “I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate,” she tells Fox News. “My understanding is that in matters like this, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action and that’s what is going to be done.” However, some Democrats want more. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the charges, since the department has an inherent conflict of interest: “I don’t see how it would be possible for the Justice Department to investigate whether a top administration official broke the law and endangered the life of this agent (see July 21, 2003). Even if the department were to do a thorough and comprehensive investigation, the appearance of a conflict could well mar its conclusions.… Leaking the name of a CIA agent is tantamount to putting a gun to that agent’s head. It compromises her safety and the safety of her loved ones, not to mention those in her network of intelligence assets. On top of that, it poses a serious threat to the national security of this nation.” Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO) says the White House should find out who is responsible for the leak, and Congress should investigate the matter as well. [Washington Post, 9/28/2003; Fox News, 9/29/2003]
FBI Will Acknowledge Investigation - The FBI officially acknowledges the investigation on September 30 (see September 30, 2003), and informs the White House of the investigation. [New York Times, 2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Karl C. Rove, Richard Armitage, Stephen Gillers, US Department of Justice, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan, John Dion, Robert McCallum, George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales waits 12 hours after receiving formal notification of the FBI’s investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003) to formally notify the White House staff of the investigation, including notifying the staff of the Justice Department’s orders not to destroy documents related to the investigation (see September 30, 2003). Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats are angered by the delay. “Every good prosecutor knows that any delay could give a culprit time to destroy the evidence,” Schumer says. [New York Times, 9/30/2003]
DOJ Says Permissible to Wait - According to a later narrative by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, Gonzales asks the Justice Department if he should inform the White House about the investigation with a formal letter that same evening, or if it would be acceptable to wait until the next morning. The next morning would be fine, the Justice Department says. Gonzales informs the senior staff of the investigation at 7:30 a.m., during the morning meeting. He tells the officials to tell their respective staffs to preserve “all materials that may be related” to the leak, and adds, “The president has directed that we fully cooperate with this investigation.” Gonzales says he will e-mail all White House staff at 8:30 a.m. with specific instructions. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 213-214]
Text of E-Mail - Gonzales sends the following e-mail above his signature: “PLEASE READ: Important Message From Counsel’s Office. We were informed last evening by the Department of Justice that it has opened an investigation into possible unauthorized disclosures concerning the identity of an undercover CIA employee. The department advised us that it will be sending a letter today instructing us to preserve all materials that might be relevant to its investigation. Its letter will provide more specific instructions on the materials in which it is interested, and we will communicate those instructions directly to you. In the meantime, you must preserve all materials that might in any way be related to the department’s investigation. Any questions concerning this request should be directed to Associate Counsels Ted Ullyot or Raul Yanes in the Counsel to the President’s office. The president has directed full cooperation with this investigation.” [Alberto R. Gonzales, 9/30/2003]
Senate Democrats attempt to pass a non-binding resolution asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to name a special counsel to investigate the Plame Wilson leak, but Republicans squelch the resolution on procedural grounds. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the sponsor of the resolution, says, “This is not just a leak; this is a crime, plain and simple” and deserves an independent inquiry. Democrats say the Justice Department has an inherent conflict of interest in investigating the White House; they note that top Bush strategist Karl Rove, who has been accused of having a role in the leak, once was a consultant to Ashcroft. [Washington Post, 10/1/2003] US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will be named as special counsel for the investigation (see December 30, 2003).
President Bush says offhandedly of the Plame Wilson leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003) that Washington “is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don’t know if we’re going to find out the senior administration official.… You tell me: How many sources have you had that’s leaked information, that you’ve exposed or had been exposed? Probably none.” Many find Bush’s insouciance astonishing, considering the lengths his administration has gone to in the past to punish leakers. In response, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls for a special counsel to investigate the leak. Schumer also asks for an investigation of the three-day delay between the original announcement of the investigation and the instructions to the White House staff to preserve all relevant records (see September 29-30, 2003), and the possible conflict of interest concerning Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had once employed White House political strategist Karl Rove, named as a likely source of the leak (see September 30, 2003). [Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 102] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, will later write that he was “particularly offended” when Bush told reporters he wanted to know the truth, but then placed the responsibility upon journalists themselves to find the source of the leak. Wilson will reflect, “His lack of genuine concern stunned and disappointed me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 397]
White House officials scramble to meet the 5 p.m. deadline for submitting all documents, e-mails, and other materials that might be relevant to the FBI’s investigation of the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see October 3, 2003). The White House counsel’s office, headed by Alberto Gonzales, says it will review all submitted materials before turning them over to the Justice Department, and may withhold those it deems irrelevant, perhaps asserting executive privilige or national security concerns. Democrats such as Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) say this arrangement is unacceptable, and gives Gonzales undue control over potential evidence in such an important case. “I am very troubled by the fact that the White House counsel seems to be a gatekeeper, and I want to know what precautions Justice is taking to ensure that it gets all relevant information from the administration,” Schumer says. Government officials say the White House will begin turning over the most immediately relevant documents very soon, but the Justice Department will not get all the records for a week or more. The White House is operating under a schedule mutually agreed upon by both White House and Justice Department officials. [Washington Post, 10/8/2003]
Frank Lautenberg, one of the Senate Democrats critical of the White House’s response to the leak investigation. [Source: Washington Post]Congressional Democrats question whether President Bush and White House officials are trying to influence the Plame Wilson leak investigation through their comments. Recently, Bush told reporters that he doubted the person or persons who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press would ever be identified (see October 7, 2003). While administration officials say Bush was just acknowledging the difficulties such an investigation presents, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says his comments threaten to undermine the investigation by lowering expectations. “If the president says, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to find this person,’ what kind of a statement is that for the president of the United States to make?” Lautenberg asks. “Would he say that about a bank-robbery investigation? He should be as indignant as everybody else is over this breach.” Bush, says Lautenberg, “certainly seems far less certain about finding the leaker than he is about finding Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.” Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson agrees. “This goes far beyond someone identifying my wife,” he says. “This was a breach of public trust, and I would think it would behoove the president to ensure that the appropriate assets are devoted to identifying the leaker.” In contrast, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that criticism of the investigation “appear[s] to be more about politics than about getting to the bottom of the investigation.” Democrats are also critical of the White House’s vocal opposition to the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the investigation. And they question McClellan’s recent attempts to exonerate three administration officials—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—from any responsibility for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). In a letter to Bush, four Democratic senators—Tom Daschle (D-SD), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)—write that McClellan’s assurances are part of an overall pattern of missteps and errors surrounding the White House’s response to the leak investigation. McClellan lacks the legal expertise to question possible suspects, they note. “The White House has now put the Justice Department in the position of having to determine not only what happened, but also whether to contradict the publicly stated position of the White House,” the senators write. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says that anything White House officials say has “nothing to do with this investigation. The investigation will follow the facts.” [New York Times Magazine, 10/10/2003]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Frank R. Lautenberg, US Department of Justice, Scott McClellan, Joseph Biden, Joseph C. Wilson, Elliott Abrams, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mark Corallo, Tom Daschle, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Patrick Fitzgerald. [Source: US Department of Justice]Citing potential conflicts of interest, Attorney General John Ashcroft formally recuses himself from any further involvement in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 30, 2003). The Justice Department names Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Chicago region, to handle the investigation. In a letter to Fitzgerald authorizing the position, Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes: “I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the attorney general with respect to the department’s investigation into the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as special counsel independent of the supervision or control of any officer of the department.” Many believe that Ashcroft’s continued involvement has become politically untenable, and that the investigation has reached a point where his potential conflicts of interest can no longer be ignored. The White House steadfastly denies that any of its officials leaked Plame Wilson’s name to conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame Wilson in his column (see July 14, 2003), or any other member of the press. The FBI has already spoken to White House political adviser Karl Rove, suspected of being one of Novak’s sources; Rove has close political ties to Ashcroft. Upon Ashcroft’s recusal, the investigation was given over to Comey, who immediately named Fitzgerald to head the investigation. Fitzgerald and Comey, himself a former Manhattan prosecutor, are close friends and colleagues. [Office of the Deputy Attorney General, 12/30/2003 ; Associated Press, 12/30/2003; New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Appearance of Conflict of Interest - Comey tells the press: “The attorney general, in an abundance of caution, believed that his recusal was appropriate based on the totality of the circumstances and the facts and evidence developed at this stage of the investigation. I agree with that judgment. And I also agree that he made it at the appropriate time, the appropriate point in this investigation.” Comey says that while Ashcroft denies an actual conflict of interest exists, “The issue that he was concerned about was one of appearance.” White House officials say that President Bush had no role in the decision; some White House and law enforcement officials were surprised upon learning of Comey’s decision.
Investigation Reaching into White House? - Some Democrats believe that Ashcroft’s recusal is an indication that the investigation is moving into the White House itself. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of Comey’s decision, “This isn’t everything that I asked for, but it’s close.” In regards to Fitzgerald, Schumer says, “I would have preferred to have someone outside the government altogether, but given Fitzgerald’s reputation for integrity and ability—similar to Comey’s—the glass is three-quarters full.” Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, says Ashcroft’s decision “is too little, too late.” For the last three months, the investigation has been run by John Dion, the Justice Department’s chief of counterespionage. Whether Fitzgerald will ask Dion or other Justice Department investigators to remain on the case remains to be seen. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought maybe he ought to keep some or all of the career folks involved,” says Comey. Fitzgerald has the authority to issue subpoenas and grant immunity on his own authority, Comey confirms. “I told him that my mandate to him was very simple. Follow the facts wherever they lead, and do the right thing at all times. And that’s something, if you know this guy, is not something I even needed to tell him.” [New York Times, 12/31/2003]
Fitzgerald's 'Impressive Reputation' - Fitzgerald has earned an “impressive reputation,” in Plame Wilson’s words, as a government prosecutor. In 1993, he won a guilty plea from Mafia capo John Gambino, and a conviction against Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see July 3, 1993). He put together the first criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden. In 2003 he indicted former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan on fraud and conspiracy charges; in 2005, he indicted several aides of Chicago Democratic mayor Richard Daley on mail fraud. He brought charges of criminal fraud against Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. As Plame Wilson will write, “Fitzgerald was not easily intimidated by wealth, status, or threats.”
'Belated Christmas Present' - In 2007, Plame Wilson will write: “It was a belated but welcome Christmas present. Ashcroft had clearly given some thought to his extensive financial and personal ties to Karl Rove, who even then was believed to have had a significant role in the leak, and made the right decision.” She will also add that several years after the recusal, she hears secondhand from a friend of Ashcroft’s that Ashcroft was “troubled” and “lost sleep” over the administration’s action. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 174-175]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, US Department of Justice, John Dion, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, James B. Comey Jr., Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Howard Dean, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
In an apparent act of political retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney blocks the promotion of a Justice Department official who raised concerns about the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department counsel, provided much of the research used by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in Comey’s own refusal to approve the wiretapping program (see March 9, 2004 and March 10-12, 2004). Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had replaced Ashcroft as attorney general when Philbin’s name came up for promotion. After Cheney warns Gonzales that he will oppose Philbin’s promotion, Gonzales decides not to promote Philbin to the position of deputy solicitor general. In May 2007, Comey will testify before Congress, “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter. The attorney general chose not to pursue it.…It was my understanding that the vice president’s office blocked that appointment” (see May 15, 2007). Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) says in 2007 of Cheney’s opposition to Philbin’s promotion, and Cheney’s attempts to pressure Justice Department officials to back the wiretapping program, “…White House hands guided Justice Department business. The vice president’s fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Comey will resign in 2005 and give a farewell speech in which he will say that some Justice Department officials paid a price for their commitment to doing what’s right. When asked in his 2007 testimony what he referred to, Comey will answer, “I had in mind one particular senior staffer of mine who had been in the hospital room with me and had been blocked from promotion, I believed as a result of this particular matter.” Comey is speaking of Philbin, who would have likely been promoted to solicitor general in Bush’s second term. Instead, Philbin resigns from the Justice Department and enters private practice. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007]
Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Associated Press reports that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed outrage that Nabil al-Marabh was deported in January 2004 (see January 2004). Several senators have written letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft, demanding an explanation. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IN) states that the circumstances of al-Marabh’s deportation—who was “at one time No. 27 on the [FBI] list of Most Wanted Terrorists”—are “of deep concern and appear to be a departure from an aggressive, proactive approach to the war on terrorism.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote to Ashcroft, “The odd handling of this case raises questions that deserve answers from the Justice Department.… Why was a suspected terrorist returned to a country that sponsors terrorism? We need to know that the safety of the American people and our strategic goals in countering terrorism are paramount factors when decisions like this are made.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “It seems that pursuing a military tribunal, a classified criminal trial, or continued immigration proceedings would have made more sense than merely deporting a suspected terrorist.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has also made inquiries into the case. Prosecutors in several US cities sought to bring criminal cases against al-Marabh and a US attorney in Chicago drafted an indictment against him, which he apparently was not allowed to pursue (see January-2002-December 2002). [Associated Press, 6/30/2004] Apparently, no explanation from Ashcroft is ever given. The 9/11 Commission Final Report, released a couple of months later, will fail to mention al-Marabh at all.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) claims that Saudi leaders and members of the Saudi royal family continue to fund Islamic militant schools and groups in the US. He calls on the Bush administration to cut US ties with Saudi Arabia, and says, “There’s been much too close a relationship between Saudi royal family, the White House, and big oil. We have to be much tougher with the Saudis.” [Associated Press, 7/11/2004]
President Bush nominates former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, replacing outgoing DHS head Tom Ridge. Kerik is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who pushed Kerik for the position. Kerik also actively campaigned for Bush in the recent presidential campaign. “Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America,” Bush says. “In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success. I’m grateful he’s agreed to bring his lifetime of security experience and skill to one of the most important positions in the American government.” Kerik recently returned from a stint in Iraq, where he trained Iraqi police officials (see May 2003 - July 2003). Kerik was also in charge of New York City police activities during the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). Kerik says: “I know what is at stake. On September 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and the very best.… I saw hatred claim the lives of 2,400 innocent people, and I saw the bravest men and women I will ever know rescue more than 20,000 others.” Bush says of Kerik: “He was there when the Twin Towers collapsed—he knew the faces of the rescuers who rushed toward danger, he attended the funerals for the officers who didn’t come back. Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on September 11. The resolve he felt that morning will guide him every day on his job and every first responder defending our homeland will have a faithful ally in Bernie Kerik.” Congressional Republicans laud Kerik’s nomination. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees DHS, calls Kerik a “strong candidate” for the post. “He knows first hand the challenges this country faces in guarding against terrorist attacks,” Collins says. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) calls Kerik “the perfect choice for the job,” and goes on to say: “There is no doubt that Bernie is a strong, no-nonsense manager who is intimately familiar with the homeland security mission. The new standing Committee on Homeland Security will work closely with him to build on the strong foundations laid by Tom Ridge to secure America against terrorism.” Some Democrats, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), also praise Kerik’s nomination. “Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” Schumer says. “He has a strong law enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world.” Kerik’s biggest drawback as the choice to head DHS may be his lack of experience in managing a federal bureaucracy, some observers say. Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safire says of Kerik: “Bernie is a very good operational person, he knows how to run the operation. What he needs to learn and what he’s going to need help with is the Washington bureaucracy.” DHS is an umbrella department overseeing and managing 22 separate federal agencies and some 200,000 employees and contract workers. [New York Times, 12/2/2004; Fox News, 12/3/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246] “People here are waiting to find out who this guy is and what changes he’ll bring,” says an anonymous Homeland Security senior official. “He’s really an unknown factor here in Washington.” [New York Times, 12/4/2004] In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will describe DHS as “still in its infancy and still struggling to define its identity,” and will call it a “vast, unwieldy agglomeration of dozens of formerly independent agencies, now bundled together under one name, and with a new focus (physical threats to the American ‘homeland’) that sometimes contradicted the old mandates. Homeland Security was hampered by bureaucratic infighting, incredibly complex coordination challenges, and slumping employee morale.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246] Less than two weeks later, Kerik will withdraw his name from consideration, ostensibly over a problem with an illegal immigrant he hired to babysit his children (see December 13, 2004), though some believe his withdrawal is spurred by the media’s interest in his business dealings (see December 9-10, 2004).
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he still intends to fire anyone involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and if he is “displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the [CIA] on WMD issues.” Bush, described as looking “mildly annoyed,” responds, “We have a serious ongoing investigation here,” and adds: “[I]t’s being played out in the press. And I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don’t know all the facts. I would like to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who’s spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know all the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” The last line regarding a “crime” was carefully selected before the conference by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who, press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, wanted to “redefine the terms of firing someone who might have been involved in the leak, specifically Karl.” The New York Times observes, “The remarks appeared to shift the standard for dismissal that has been expressed repeatedly over many months by Mr. Bush’s spokesmen—from promises to fire anyone who played a role in the disclosure, to Mr. Bush’s statement today that criminal conduct would have to be involved.” McClellan dutifully echoes the new phrase in his own press conference, “barely objecting that it did not square with what the president had previously committed to do” (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). “I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration,” McClellan tells reporters. “I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.” McClellan will later describe himself as “psychologically battered” by this point (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 7/18/2005; White House, 7/18/2005; New York Times, 7/19/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 262-263]
Accusations of Shifting Standards, 'Lowering the Ethics Bar' - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says he is disappointed in what he believes to be Bush’s shifting stance. “The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn’t break the law,” he says. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to Bush charging that he has “significantly changed” his position, and that a president has “an affirmative obligation” to take quick action to protect national security secrets without waiting for a prosecution to run its course. [New York Times, 7/18/2005] Other Democrats charge that Bush has “lowered the ethics bar” for his administration. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says: “It appears that an administration that came to office promising ‘honesty and integrity’ and to avoid ‘legalisms’ is now defining ethical standards downward. In this White House, apparently no aide will be fired or forced to resign unless and until the jail cell door is locked behind him.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Rove Held to Different Standard of Accountability, Say Experts - Some experts say that by insisting on waiting for a final legal verdict, Bush is setting a different standard of accountability for Rove than for other government employees. Elaine Kaplan, who headed the Office of Special Counsel from 1998 through 2003, says: “Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don’t have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That’s not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime.” Beth Slavet, the former chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board, adds: “The government can fire a Civil Service employee if it can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would ‘promote the efficiency of the service’ to do so. The person does not have to be guilty of a crime. You can be dismissed because you didn’t submit paperwork on time, you didn’t follow instructions, you repeatedly showed up late for work, or you yelled at supervisors and fellow workers.” [New York Times, 7/19/2005]
Bloomberg News reports that Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, testified that he first learned of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert. Libby will make this claim a staple of his defense in his upcoming perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007). He is referring to a conversation he had with Russert in July 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003). He testified to the claim when he was interviewed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). Russert has told FBI investigators that he did not tell Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see November 24, 2003 and August 7, 2004). Similarly, White House political strategist Karl Rove has testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from columnist Robert Novak (see September 29, 2003, October 8, 2003, and October 15, 2004). Novak has told investigators that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Rove, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Fitzgerald has determined that both Libby and Rove may have deliberately lied to the FBI and to his investigations in making their claims (see October and November 2003). According to Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin, Rove told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that “he had not heard her name before he heard it from Bob Novak.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the White House should suspend Libby and Rove’s security clearances (see July 13, 2005), and that President Bush should fire anyone involved in the leak, presumably meaning Libby and Rove. [Bloomberg, 7/22/2005; Washington Post, 7/23/2005]
Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Karl C. Rove, Charles Schumer, Bill Harlow, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Luskin, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A number of senators from both political parties lash out at President Bush’s acknowledgment that he reauthorized the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program over thirty times since its inception in late 2001 (see December 17, 2005). Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that such warrantless wiretapping is outside of the law. “He’s trying to claim somehow that the authorization for the Afghanistan attack after 9/11 permitted this, and that’s just absurd,” Feingold says. “There’s not a single senator or member of Congress who thought we were authorizing wiretaps.… If he needs a wiretap, the authority is already there—the [Foreign] Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). They can ask for a warrant to do that, and even if there’s an emergency situation, they can go for 72 hours as long as they give notice at the end of 72 hours.” Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says the behavior of the White House and NSA “can’t be condoned.” Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says his committee will immediately begin investigating the matter. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the report swayed his decision on the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. “Today’s revelation that the government listened in on thousands of phone conversations without getting a warrant is shocking and has greatly influenced my vote,” he says. [CNN, 12/16/2005]
According to the White House, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove gives up his day-to-day control over the Bush administration’s domestic policy in order to concentrate on the upcoming midterm elections. The announcement comes on the same day as press secretary Scott McClellan’s resignation announcement (see April 20, 2006). Many observers believe that the internal shakeup has something to do with the ongoing Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and the upcoming trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). The shakeup is being handled by White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, himself a recent replacement for the departed Andrew Card. Rove will retain his title and his position as President Bush’s senior adviser. “The president and the new chief of staff said they wanted me focused on the big strategic issues facing the administration,” Rove says. Rove’s domestic policy duties will be assumed by Joel Kaplan, the White House’s deputy budget director. Rove’s recent mishandling of the White House’s failed attempt to “sell” the privatization of Social Security to Congress and the citizenry is also a factor in his reassignment, observers note, as well as his poor handling of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the failed attempt to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Some Congressional Republicans believe Rove has too much influence within the White House, and is being distracted by the Plame Wilson investigation. The director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, James Thurber, says: “Karl Rove is a great guy in terms of developing issues for a campaign, but he’s not done well on advocating policy in a governance setting. The job is diminished, but he probably doesn’t mind that. He’s a racehorse in a campaign.” White House communications director Nicolle Wallace says Rove’s reassignment takes the White House back to its successful personnel strategy from the first Bush term: “We’re returning to the structure we had at the beginning of the first term. All that changes is that the management of the day-to-day policy process will be put under Joel. Karl will keep the high-yield strategic role that he’s always had.” But former Republican House member Vin Weber, a lobbyist who is close to the White House, says that Rove’s role in the White House will change little, and that the reassignment is largely cosmetic. “The notion that this is a demotion just doesn’t ring true to me,” Weber says. “He’s been the guy who wrote his own job description pretty much. I think that is still more true than less true.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) applauds the change, saying: “The White House has never separated politics from policy and that’s been one of the reasons for its undoing. Late is better than never, but the key for the White House will be getting a new person in charge of policy independent from Karl Rove who understands that policy is not simply politics.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean calls Rove’s reassignment a “demotion,” and says Bush should have fired Rove over his role in the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2006]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Vin Weber, Andrew Card, Scott McClellan, Charles Schumer, Nicolle Wallace, Karl C. Rove, Howard Dean, James Thurber, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joshua Bolten, Joel Kaplan, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Arlen Specter, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Coburn, Tony Snow, US Department of Justice, Adam Putnam, Senate Intelligence Committee, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, John McCain, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Dana Perino. [Source: Associated Press]White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacts with confusion to Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertions that the vice president is neither wholly part of the executive nor legislative branches (see 2003 and June 21, 2007). Perino says in response to reporters’ questions: “I’m not a legal scholar… I’m not opining on his argument that his office is making… I don’t know why he made the arguments that he did.” Reporter Keith Koffler remarks, “It’s a little surreal,” to which Perino replies, “You’re telling me.” Koffler presses, “You can’t give an opinion about whether the vice president is part of the executive branch or not? It’s a little bit like somebody saying, ‘I don’t know if this is my wife or not.’” Asked if President Bush believes Cheney is part of the executive branch, Perino sidesteps, calling it “an interesting constitutional question.” After further dodging, reporter Helen Thomas says, “You’re stonewalling.” Reporter Jim Axelrod suggests Perino is denying “sky-is-blue stuff” and points out that Cheney’s assertion revises “more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship.” Koffler continues, “He can’t possibly argue that he’s part of neither [branch], and it seems like he’s saying he’s part of neither.” Perino finally surrenders, “Okay, you have me thoroughly confused as well.” Cheney’s current position—he will not comply with an order governing the care of classified documents because the vice presidency is not “an entity within the executive branch”—contradicts his 2001 argument that he would not cooperate with a Congressional probe into the activities of his Energy Task Force because such a probe “would unconstitutionally interfere with the functioning of the executive branch.”
'Neither Fish Nor Fowl' - The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes, “Cheney has, in effect, declared himself to be neither fish nor fowl but an exotic, extraconstitutional beast who answers to no one.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees, saying: “The vice president’s theory seems to be one almost laughable on its face, that he’s not part of the executive branch. I think if you ask James Madison or Benjamin Franklin or any of the writers of the Constitution, they’d almost laugh if they heard that.” [Washington Post, 6/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/31/2007] Interestingly, Perino does assert that Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has no standing to investigate the compliance of the vice president’s office with the executive order. “The executive order is enforced solely by the president of the United States,” she says. “I think this is a little bit of a non-issue.” The government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) retorts that, if Cheney and Perino are to be believed, then the Office of Senate Security, the counterpart to Waxman’s committee, should investigate Cheney’s office. “By claiming the Office of the Vice President is within the legislative branch does Mr. Cheney agree that he is subject to Senate security procedures?” CREW executive director Melanie Sloan asks. “The Security Office’s standards, procedures and requirements are set out in the Senate Security Manual, which is binding on all employees of the Senate.” [Raw Story, 6/24/2007]
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. [Bush commutes Libby prison sentence, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” [New York Daily News, 7/8/2007]
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. [Politico, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Fred Thompson, Curt Smith, Valerie Plame Wilson, Douglas Berman, Charles Schumer, Barack Obama, Roy Blunt, Nancy Pelosi, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph C. Wilson, Hillary Clinton, John Conyers, Harry Reid, Joseph Biden, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Edwards
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007]
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007] After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007; CNN, 7/24/2007]
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” [CNN, 7/24/2007] In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’s conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington Post, Robert S. Mueller III, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, “Gang of Eight”, Paul Clement, Sheldon Whitehouse, New York Times, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Schumer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. [Associated Press, 7/25/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Porter J. Goss, Nancy Pelosi, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, John Negroponte, Andrew Card, Arlen Specter, Bill Frist, Charles Schumer, “Gang of Eight”, James B. Comey Jr., Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007] (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) [CBS News, 7/26/2007] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” [US Senate, 7/26/2007] Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. [USA Today, 7/26/2007]
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” [New York Times, 7/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Paul J. McNulty, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Tony Snow, Sheldon Whitehouse, William W. Mercer, Paul Clement, Patrick J. Leahy, Russell D. Feingold, Monica M. Goodling, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Brian Roehrkasse, Harry Reid, National Security Agency, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Michael Mukasey. [Source: US Department of Justice]After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. [CNN, 11/8/2007] Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” [National Public Radio, 11/7/2007] Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” [CNN, 11/8/2007] Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. [National Public Radio, 11/9/2007] All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. [Fox News, 10/30/2007] However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. [Associated Press, 11/8/2007] Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
In a blistering editorial, the New York Times lambasts both the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in the Senate for allowing Michael Mukasey, the new attorney general, to slide through the confirmation process with so little challenge (see November 8, 2007). The only thing left in the Senate’s traditional responsibility of “advice and consent” is the “consent” part, the editors write. The editorial continues: “Once upon a time, the confirmation of major presidential appointments played out on several levels—starting, of course, with politics. It was assumed that a president would choose like-minded people as cabinet members and for other jobs requiring Senate approval. There was a presumption that he should be allowed his choices, all other things being equal. Before George W. Bush’s presidency, those other things actually counted. Was the nominee truly qualified, with a professional background worthy of the job? Would he discharge his duties fairly and honorably, upholding his oath to protect the Constitution? Even though [he or] she answers to the president, would the nominee represent all Americans? Would he or she respect the power of Congress to supervise the executive branch, and the power of the courts to enforce the rule of law? In less than seven years, Mr. Bush has managed to boil that list down to its least common denominator: the president should get his choices.” The Times observes that in the first six years of Bush’s rule, he had an enthusiastically compliant set of Republican allies in Congress, but during that time, minority Democrats “did almost nothing… to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.” The editors focus particularly on two issues: Mukasey’s refusal to answer straightforward questions on whether waterboarding is torture, and the Democrats’ refusal to filibuster the Senate vote. The Times notes that Mukasey passed confirmation with a 53-40 vote. Democrats have made what the Times calls “excuses for their sorry record” on a host of issues, and first and foremost is the justification that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. “So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes?” the Times asks. “Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.” The editors do not accept the rationale of Mukasey supporters like Charles Schumer (D-NY), who argued that by not confirming Mukasey, the path would be clear for Bush to make an interim appointment of someone far more extreme. The Times calls this line of argument “cozy rationalization,” and by Mukasey’s refusal to answer questions about his position on waterboarding, he has already aligned himself with the extremist wing of the administration. For the record, the Times notes, “Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), and the Geneva Conventions.” Therefore, “[i]t is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer ‘yes.’” The Times speculates that Mukasey was not permitted to answer the question by the White House because a “no” answer “might subject federal officials who carried out Mr. Bush’s orders to abuse and torture prisoners after the 9/11 attacks: the right answer could have exposed them to criminal sanctions.” All in all, the Times is appalled by “the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.” [New York Times, 11/11/2007]
Scott McClellan. [Source: White House]Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he “passed along false information” at the behest of five top Bush administration officials—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Andrew Card—about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson during his time in the White House. McClellan is preparing to publish a book about his time in Washington, to be titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and available in April 2008. [Editor & Publisher, 11/20/2007] According to McClellan’s publisher Peter Osnos, McClellan doesn’t believe that Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby’s and Rove’s involvement in the leak. “He told him something that wasn’t true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” Osnos says. “The president told him what he thought to be the case.” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007] Early in 2007, McClellan told reporters that everything he said at the time was based on information he and Bush “believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given.” [Associated Press, 11/21/2007] In his book, McClellan writes: “Andy Card once remarked that he viewed the Washington media as just another ‘special interest’ that the White House had to deal with, much like the lobbyists or the trade associations. I found the remark stunning and telling.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 155]
White House Denials; Outrage from Plame, Democrats - White House press secretary Dana Perino says it isn’t clear what McClellan is alleging, and says, “The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information,” adding that McClellan’s book excerpt is being taken “out of context.” Plame has a different view. “I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps,” she says. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds, “If the Bush administration won’t even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007; Associated Press, 11/21/2007] Senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd (D-CT) calls for a Justice Department investigation into Bush’s role in the Plame outing, and for the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to lead the investigation. [Raw Story, 11/21/2007]
Alleged Criminal Conspiracy - Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes: “George W. Bush joined in what appears to have been a criminal cover-up to conceal the role of his White House in exposing the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. That is the logical conclusion one would draw from [McClellan’s book excerpt] when it is put into a mosaic with previously known evidence.” [Consortium News, 11/21/2007] Author and columnist John Nichols asks if McClellan will become the “John Dean of the Bush administration,” referring to the Nixon White House counsel who revealed the details of the crimes behind the Watergate scandal. Nichols writes: “It was Dean’s willingness to reveal the details of what [was] described as ‘a cancer’ on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account. Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.” Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree says: “The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame’s name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn’t fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth.” [Nation, 1/21/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Osnos, Public Affairs, Michael Mukasey, Scott McClellan, Robert Parry, Richard M. Nixon, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nichols, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Joseph C. Wilson, Christopher Dodd, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Chellie Pingree
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, urges President Bush to veto an upcoming bill prohibiting waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation after himself voting against the bill. The bill passes the Senate on a largely partisan 51-45 vote. It has already passed the House on a similar party-line vote, and Bush has already announced his intention to veto the bill. McCain has won a reputation as an advocate of prisoner rights and a staunch opponent of torture; his five-year stint as a POW in North Vietnam is well-known. But McCain voted against the legislation when it came up for a vote in the Senate, and he opposes the bill now. McCain says he is opposed to waterboarding, but does not want the CIA restricted to following the practices outlined in the US Army Field Manual, as the legislation would require. McCain says: “I knew I would be criticized for it. I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not” torture. “I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate” international rules against torture. McCain has said he believes waterboarding is already prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (see December 30, 2005). And CIA director Michael Hayden has said that current law may well prohibit waterboarding; he claims to have stopped CIA agents from waterboarding detainees in 2006, and also claims that the technique was not used later than 2003. McCain’s Senate colleague, Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that if Bush vetoes the bill, then he in essence “will be voting in favor of waterboarding.” [New York Times, 2/13/2008; Associated Press, 2/21/2008] Bush will indeed veto the bill (see March 8, 2008).
New Republic legal correspondent Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, writes an analysis of appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, considered by many to be a leading candidate to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Rose from Poverty to Consideration for High Court - Rosen gives a brief biographical sketch of Sotomayor, whom he labels as a “compelling” candidate both for her legal accomplishments and her life story. Sotomayor is the daughter of poor Puerto Rican immigrants, grew up in the South Bronx, and graduated with high academic honors from Princeton and Yale. She has served as a prosecutor, a corporate litigator, and a judge. If nominated and confirmed, Sotomayor would be the Court’s first Hispanic member and only its third female member. She has the support of both New York senators, Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Conflicting Opinions Largely from Anonymous Sources - Rosen notes that her former clerks praise her as “demanding but thoughtful” and “commit[ted] to legal fairness,” a “rule-bound pragmatist—very geared toward determining what the right answer is and what the law dictates, but her general approach is, unsurprisingly, influenced by her unique background.” Rosen quotes several anonymous sources—“nearly all… former law clerks… or former federal prosecutors in New York”—who, he says, question “her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.” According to one former law clerk, Sotomayor is “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” egotistical, and “domineering.” In contrast, one of his named sources, fellow Second Circuit appeals court judge Jose Cabranes, said of her, “She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media.” Anonymous sources tell Rosen that Sotomayor is more apt to quibble with a colleague’s grammar and syntax rather than the focus of their legal arguments. Another former clerk praises Sotomayor for being tough-minded and “impressive.” Rosen admits that he has not read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions “to have a confident sense of them,” nor has he “talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths. It’s possible that the former clerks and former prosecutors I talked to have an incomplete picture of her abilities. But they’re not motivated by sour grapes or by ideological disagreement—they’d like the most intellectually powerful and politically effective liberal justice possible. And they think that Sotomayor, although personally and professionally impressive, may not meet that demanding standard.” Rosen concludes that President Obama would be taking an unnecessary “gamble” by nominating her to the high court. [New Republic, 5/4/2009]
Repercussions of Analysis - Rosen’s column triggers several demeaning characterizations of Sotomayor in the conservative press (see May 4, 2009 and May 5, 2009), characterizations that will intensify when she is nominated for the Court (see May 26, 2009). His use of anonymous sources to base his negative coverage will be repudiated by a number of critics (see May 5, 2009).
Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, makes several revisions to the “final” draft of the Chairman’s Mark of the America’s Healthy Future Act (AHFA, the name for health care reform legislation—see September 16-17, 2009). The “chairman’s mark” is a recommendation by a committee or subcommittee chair of measures to be considered in a markup, and is usually drafted as a bill. Baucus says in a statement: “The modifications focus largely on making care more affordable for low and middle income Americans by increasing the Health Care Affordability Tax Credit, lowering the penalties for people who fail to meet the individual requirement to have health insurance, and increasing the High Cost Insurance Excise Tax threshold for people whose basic health care is more expensive… and effectively slows the growth of skyrocketing health care costs.… This modification incorporates important ideas from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.” According to Baucus, AHFA as it now stands will make it easier for families and small businesses to buy health care coverage, ensure Americans can choose to keep the health care coverage they have if they like, and slow the growth of health care costs over time. “It will bar insurance companies from discriminating against people based on health status, denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or imposing annual caps or lifetime limits on coverage.” Baucus continues to assert that AHFA will not add to the federal deficit. Some of the new provisions include:
Lowering the amount that insurance companies can vary premiums based on age, ensuring that these companies cannot charge elderly clients far more than younger ones. The provision was first submitted by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Providing $5 billion in additional assistance to small businesses attempting to provide coverage for their workers. The provision was first submitted by Senators Kerry and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Including more senior citizens in the Medicare Advantage program.
Making prescription drugs more affordable for senior citizens by reducing co-payments. This provision was first submitted by Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Improving Medicare beneficiary access to bone density tests, a provision first submitted by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
Creation of a three-year Medicare Hospice Concurrent Care (HCC) demonstration program that would provide Medicare patients eligible for hospice care with all other Medicare-covered services during the same period of time. This provision was first submitted by Senator Wyden.
Improving access to Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) for low income individuals in Medicaid who are in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Kerry.
Creating nursing home alternatives for patients in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Provide alternatives to nursing home care for disabled individuals on Medicaid, a provision first submitted by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
Improving access to mental health care for Medicaid patients, a provision first submitted by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
Financial assistance for “high-need” states having difficulty paying for their Medicaid obligations, and use of surplus Medicaid funds to improve the program.
Create an exemption to encourage health care beneficiaries to use generic prescription drugs by waiving co-payments, a provision first submitted by Senator Stabenow.
Remove the mandate that would require states to cover all prescription drugs for Medicaid beneficiaries.
Direct the secretary of health and human services to implement programs to reduce waste in the way drugs are dispensed to seniors in long term care facilities. [Senior Journal, 9/22/2009; New York Times, 9/22/2009; The Capitol (.net), 2011]
Entity Tags: Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Debbie Stabenow, Jeff Bingaman, Charles Schumer, John D. Rockefeller, America’s Healthy Future Act, Maria Cantwell, Max Baucus, Olympia Snowe, Ron Wyden, Senate Finance Committee, John Kerry
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” overturning of corporate campaign finance restrictions (see January 21, 2010) a disaster. Schumer says, “With a stroke of a pen, the court decided to overrule the 100-year-old ban on corporate expenditures and override the will of millions of Americans who want their voices heard in our democracy.” Other Democrats agree. When questioned about Schumer’s comments by reporters from the Tampa Bay Times’s PolitiFact investigative arm, Schumer’s office says that the “100-year-old” reference refers to the 1907 Tillman Act (see 1907), and cites Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent, which stated: “The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907.” PolitiFact finds that Schumer’s characterization is “a stretch” because of the differences between independent expenditures and direct contributions. Independent expenditures are monies spent by corporations to support or oppose an issue or a candidate. Direct contributions are donations to a candidate’s campaign. Corporations may not make direct contributions to campaigns; they have to form political action committees (PACs) for that purpose. The Citizens United decision does not affect that portion of the law. According to PolitiFact, the Tillman Act applies more to independent expenditures than to direct contributions, as does the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (see June 23, 1947). Schumer’s characterization, PolitiFact finds, is not entirely accurate. “[H]e ignores the fact that the ban on direct donations from corporations to campaigns still exists,” PolitiFact writes. “And the oldest law that specifically banned independent expenditures dated to 1947. You could also argue that we should be dating this from the 1970s campaign finance laws, or even the 1990 Austin case (see March 27, 1990). So he’s exaggerating the scope of the ruling and how long the laws have been on the books.” [Tampa Bay Times, 1/22/2010] Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) joins Schumer and other Democrats in criticizing the ruling, calling it the “worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case” (see March 6, 1857). [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
In his weekly radio and Internet address, President Obama denounces the recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that lets corporations and labor unions spend unlimited amounts on political campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). “This ruling strikes at our democracy itself,” he says. “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.… This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way—or to punish those who don’t.… The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.” The decision, Obama says, will make it harder to enact financial reform, close tax loopholes, promote energy independence, and protect patients from health insurance abuses. “We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” Obama says. “And we don’t intend to.” He says he is asking Congress to work with the White House to “fight for the American people” and develop a “forceful bipartisan response” to the decision. “It will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done.” Norm Eisen, Obama’s special counsel for ethics and government reform, has already met with Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to begin talks on how Congress might respond. [New York Times, 1/24/2010; Associated Press, 1/25/2010]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are introducing legislation that would undo the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on political advertising (see January 21, 2010). The proposed legislation is a “patchwork,” in the New York Times’s phrasing, “of spending restrictions and disclosure requirements—many based in current laws. The measure would greatly expand the scope of an existing ban on political commercials paid for by foreign corporations, ban political commercials paid for by government contractors or recipients of bailout money, and force corporations and unions to make public details of what they spend directly or through advocacy groups.” Schumer and Van Hollen say they want the legislation enacted in time for it to constrain spending in the November 2010 midterm elections. “Otherwise the court will have predetermined the winner of the midterm elections,” Schumer says. “It won’t be the Republicans or the Democrats. It will be corporate America.” At least one Republican senator would have to vote to allow the bill to come up for a vote, and as of yet, it is unclear than any Republican senator will do so. Schumer and Van Hollen say they crafted the legislation to remain in line with Citizens United, providing firmer constitutional ground for the spending restrictions and disclosure requirements in the bills. The Times explains, “The Court has frowned on speech restrictions aimed at specific speakers and leaned toward disclosure as a constitutionally permissible response to fears of corruption or undo influence.” The proposed legislation would not ban corporate or labor union spending outright, but would ban spending by any domestic domestic corporation with at least 20 percent foreign ownership, any corporation whose board included a majority of foreigners, or any corporation where executive control belonged to a foreign company or government. The disclosure requirements are broader—if a corporation paid for a political ad, the legislation would require that corporation’s CEO to appear at the end of the ad to take responsibility for the message. For advocacy group ads, the biggest donor would be required to appear, and the five biggest corporate contributors would be named in the ad. The legislation would also force corporations and interest groups to set up political spending accounts and file reports of their activities. [New York Times, 2/11/2010] A Times editorial appearing six days after the initial press reports lauds the legislation as “a sensible” if “partial” response to the Citizens United decision. The Times will state: “The Schumer-Van Hollen bill is expected to be introduced later this month. Congressional leaders should put it on a fast track so it can be in place in time for this year’s midterm elections. It could help keep special interest money in check until the real solution comes: a Supreme Court ruling reversing the deeply antidemocratic Citizens United decision.” [New York Times, 2/17/2010]
Senate Democrats are unable to break a filibuster by Senate Republicans that is blocking passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
Act Would Mandate Disclosure of Donors - The DISCLOSE Act—formally the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act—would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would have created new campaign finance disclosure requirements and made public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. Additionally, all outside groups, including “super PACs,” would have to report the names of donors. Moreover, the legislation would provide for so-called “Stand By Your Ad” requirements mandating that super PACs and other outside campaign groups producing political advertisements disclose the top funders in the ad. The CEO or highest-ranking official of an organization would, under the act, have to appear in the ad and officially “approve” the message. [Open Congress, 6/29/2010; OMB Watch, 7/24/2012]
Unbreakable Filibuster - Even public support from President Obama fails to sway enough Republican senators to vote against the filibuster, as did changes made to the bill by sponsor Charles Schumer (D-NY) designed to assuage some of Republicans’ concerns about the bill. The bill has already passed the House, shepherded through under Democratic leadership against Republican opposition. Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate also, but Senate rules allow the minority to mount filibusters that require 60 votes to overcome, and a number of Republicans would need to break from the Republican pack to vote down the filibuster. Additionally, some conservative senators such as Ben Nelson (D-NE) have not publicly stated their support for the bill. One Republican who had previously indicated she might vote for cloture (against the filibuster), Susan Collins (R-ME), dashed Democrats’ final hopes by saying she would not vote for cloture after all. “The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,” says Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Senator Collins believes that it is ironic that a bill aimed at curtailing special interests in the election process provides so many carve-outs and exemptions that favor some grass-roots organizations over others. This, too, is simply unfair.” Other so-called Republican moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) have previously indicated they would not vote for cloture. Ironically, one of the “carve-outs” in the bill Schumer added was on behalf of the far-right National Rifle Association (NRA), an addition that Schumer says was made to placate Republicans. Schumer says that even if the bill does not pass now, attempts to reintroduce it will be made. The DISCLOSE Act “is one of the most important for the future of our democracy, not just for the next six months but for the next six decades,” he says. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “I don’t know what the final vote will be tomorrow, but I know that you—if you had a sliver of Republicans that thought special-interest giving and corporate influence in elections was… part of the problem, then this bill would pass. Now we get to see who in the Senate thinks there’s too much corporate influence and too much special-interest money that dominate our elections and who doesn’t. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) retorts: “The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010). In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency.” [Politico, 7/26/2010] The “Cornhusker Kickback” McConnell is referencing is a deal struck in late 2009 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to win Nelson’s support for the Democrats’ health care reform package, in which Nebraska, Nelson’s state, would receive 100 percent government financing for an expansion of Medicare. [Las Vegas Sun, 12/20/2009]
Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Federal Election Commission, Charles Schumer, Ben Nelson, Barack Obama, US Supreme Court, US Senate, Susan Collins, Scott Brown, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Olympia Snowe, Mitch McConnell, National Rifle Association, Robert Gibbs, Kevin Kelley
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; Raw Story, 1/25/2011; CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” [Raw Story, 1/25/2011]
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” [CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; Raw Story, 1/25/2011] The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” [CNN, 1/26/2011]
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. [Real Clear Politics, 12/1/2011]
Entity Tags: David E. Price, US Senate, US House of Representatives, Craig Holman, Aaron Schock, Barack Obama, Chris Van Hollen, David Arkush, Charles Schumer, Thomas Jeffery Cole, Public Finance Action Fund, US Supreme Court, Presidential Election Campaign Fund, Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Eric Cantor, Fred Wertheimer, George W. Bush, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Lynn Woolsey, Obama administration, Meredith McGehee, Nancy Pelosi
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Six US Senators led by Tom Udall (D-NM) introduce a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the right to regulate the federal campaign finance system. The amendment is directed towards overturning the Citizens United decision that allows almost unregulated spending by corporations, unions, and special interests in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). Udall is joined in sponsoring the amendment by Michael Bennett (D-CO), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). In a press release from his office, Udall is quoted as saying: “As we head into another election year, we are about to see unprecedented amounts of money spent on efforts to influence the outcome of our elections. With the Supreme Court striking down the sensible regulations Congress has passed, the only way to address the root cause of this problem is to give Congress clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system.” In the same release, Bennett adds: “The Supreme Court’s reversal of its own direction in the Citizens United decision and other recent cases has had a major effect on our election system. State legislatures and Congress now may not be allowed to approve even small regulations to our campaign finance system. This proposal would bring some badly needed stability to an area of law that has been thrown off course by the new direction the Court has taken.” Harkin is quoted as saying: “By limiting the influence of big money in politics, elections can be more about the voters and their voices, not big money donors and their deep pockets. We need to have a campaign finance structure that limits the influence of the special interests and restores confidence in our democracy. This amendment goes to the heart of that effort.” And Merkley is quoted as saying: “It was President Lincoln who described the genius of American democracy as ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ We office holders work for the people. They elect us. They are in charge. Citizens United puts in motion the opposite: it moves us towards government by and for the powerful. As such, it is a dagger poised at the heart of American democracy. If we are going to preserve a government responsive to its citizens, we need commonsense reforms that give the American people a full voice. This constitutional amendment is essential for the people to be heard.” The amendment would:
authorize Congress to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns and allow states to regulate such spending at their level;
include the authority to regulate and limit independent expenditures, such as those from Super PACs, made in support of or opposition to candidates;
not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges. [US Senate, 11/1/2011]
Passing a constitutional amendment is not an easy task. Two-thirds of Congress must agree to the amendment, or two-thirds of state legislatures must call for the amendment. Once proposed, three-quarters of state legislatures must vote to ratify the amendment. [Think Progress, 11/2/2011] This is not the first proposal to amend the Constitution to limit corporate spending (see September 20, 2011).
Five men, including several conservative religious leaders, testified before a House committee on female contraception issues. No women were allowed to testify. The Senate later blocks a bill restricting contraception from passing. [Source: Twitter / London Daily Mail]The Senate votes down the controversial “Blunt amendment” 51-48, on a nearly party-line vote. The amendment, offered by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) as a rider to a routine highway bill and co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 22 other senators, would have allowed health care providers to refuse to pay for contraception and other health care procedures on religious or moral grounds. If the amendment had passed, health insurance plans and employers could refuse to provide or pay for coverage of “specific items or services” if the coverage would be “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” Blunt and the bill’s supporters characterize the legislation as an attempt to restore religious freedoms taken away by the Obama administration’s “government health care takeover,” in Blunt’s words; opponents say the bill is an attack on women’s rights and an effort to ban contraception. Blunt said during the debate of the bill: “This amendment does not mention any procedure of any kind. The word ‘contraception’ is not in there because it’s not about a specific procedure. It’s about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.” McConnell says the bill is an attempt to fight for “religious liberty,” which he and others say is under attack by the White House and Congressional Democrats. The Obama administration’s health care policy requires organizations to cover the cost of contraception, but does not require religious establishments to cover the cost. Employees of religious establishments can still obtain contraception from the health care insurance company. Mitt Romney (R-MA), a Republican presidential candidate, first stated his opposition to the bill, then quickly reversed course and said he was for it. The only Senate Republican to vote against the bill is Olympia Snowe (R-ME), widely considered a moderate Republican; three conservative Democrats vote for the bill. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), considered a strong candidate to run as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in the 2012 elections, says the Senate’s refusal to pass the bill is “a setback for religious freedoms in America.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the bill a straightforward effort to ban contraception. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote in a recent op-ed, “Instead of coming together to fix our economy and strengthen the middle class, the Senate is considering a measure so extreme that it would allow any employer—religious or secular—to deny their employees coverage of any preventive service, including contraception, mammograms—anything the employer deems unfit to be covered.” Senator Patty Murray (D-MA) says, “The Senate will not allow women’s health care choices to be taken away from them.” Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says Republicans are attacking women’s health care as part of “a systematic war against women.” Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had asked the Senate to reject the proposal, saying, “The Obama administration believes that decisions about medical care should be made by a woman and her doctor, not a woman and her boss.” Dr. Hal C. Lawrence of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out against the amendment, saying contraception “improves and saves babies’ lives, improves maternal health, and can be life-saving for women with serious medical problems.” The American Cancer Society released a statement opposing the amendment, saying it would allow employers to deny coverage of life-saving preventive services like mammograms and smoking cessation programs based on “undefined religious beliefs or moral convictions.” [New York Times, 3/1/2012; The State, 3/1/2012; The Week, 3/2/2012] After the bill is voted down, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh vilifies Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, who was not allowed to testify before a House committee meeting debating the bill [Think Progress, 2/16/2012] , calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating the free availability of contraception (see February 29, 2012). Fluke gave her testimony before a panel of House Democrats and posted it on YouTube, where she discussed the needs of young women who use birth control and other contraceptives for medical needs such as cancer prevention. Specifically, she cites the example of a friend who needed, and was unable to obtain, birth control pills to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome. [Think Progress, 2/16/2012] Democrats and others criticized committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for only allowing men to testify before the House Oversight Committee on the topic of female contraception. It was Issa’s decision to bar Fluke from testifying before the committee. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said at the time: “The Republican leadership of this Congress thinks it’s appropriate to have a hearing on women’s health and purposely exclude women from the panel. I may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.” Issa only allowed committee Democrats to name one witness; they named Fluke, whom Issa barred from testifying as she was “unqualified” to speak. [Daily Mail, 2/17/2012]
Entity Tags: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kathleen Sebelius, Darrell E. Issa, Charles Schumer, Barbara Mikulski, American Cancer Society, Willard Mitt Romney, US Senate, Rush Limbaugh, Hal C. Lawrence, Olympia Snowe, Obama administration, Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Mitch McConnell, Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, Sandra Fluke
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections
The US Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, strikes down a century-old Montana ban on corporate spending in elections (see December 30, 2011 and After), effectively reaffirming its Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, untraceable corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). Some observers expected the Court to temper its original finding in the Citizens United decision, but such is not the outcome. The case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, originates in Montana’s 19th-century ban on corporate spending in elections. In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law (see December 30, 2011 and After), finding that the Citizens United ruling allowed for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government could demonstrate that the restrictions were as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Today, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Montana Supreme Court’s argument is invalid, saying there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling supersedes Montana state law. Two dissenting Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, argued for the case to be presented to the Court, viewing the case as “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.” However, the Court’s conservative majority strikes down the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and invalidates the CPA. Breyer writes in his dissent, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.” The next recourse for Montana citizens is Ballot Initiative I-166, which would establish that corporations are not people in Montana and would call on Montana’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. [American Tradition Partnership, Inc., FKA Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Of Montana, et al, 6/25/2012 ; SCOTUSBlog, 6/25/2012; Reuters, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 6/25/2012; OMB Watch, 7/10/2012] Democratic campaign lawyer Marc Elias says of the decision: “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone. To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the Court is “[f]or apparently political reasons… further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calls the decision an “important victory for freedom of speech.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2012]
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