Archives for March 2007
The Seattle Times David Postman thinks that ousted U.S. Attorney for Western Washington John McKay added few new details in his interview yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press, and accuses the Washington Post of “making too much” of McKay’s choice of words. But I think both Postman and the Post underplay the most significant word choice of all: “illegally.”
I think that what happened here, because the stories have changed so frequently, what happened here has to be investigated. Those who either acted unprofessionally or even illegally have to be held accountable for what they did.
One of the unquestioned assumptions that has run through the media coverage of this growing scandal is that although the firings may have been improper, they were not illegal. Since the U.S. attorneys serve “at the pleasure of the President” we are told, he has the legal authority to fire them at will, whatever his motives. I myself have been guilty of repeating this snippet of common wisdom.
But it is simply not true.
As Adam Cohen pointed out recently in the NY Times, if the motive behind a firing was to punish an attorney for not misusing his office, or to interfere with a valid prosecution, that may well be illegal.
In law schools, it is common to give an exam called the “issue spotter,” in which students are given a set of facts and asked to identify all the legal issues and possible crimes. The facts about the purge are still emerging. But based on what is known — and with some help from Congressional staff members and Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University — it was not hard to spot that White House and Justice Department officials, and members of Congress, may have violated 18 U.S.C. §§ 1501-1520, the federal obstruction of justice statute.
Cohen goes on to suggest that some of the crimes a special prosecutor might look into involve misrepresentations to Congress, undue influence by representatives under Sarbanes-Oxley, witness tampering, and outright obstruction of justice. This sort of legal analysis runs counter to the oft repeated “at the pleasure” meme that has permeated our news coverage, but is beginning enter the public debate. And I think the fact that McKay specifically referenced it in his nationally televised interview Sunday morning, represents quite a significant and deliberate choice of words.
David Sirota on the 60 Minutes interview:
Perhaps the most disturbing display of all, however, was 60 Minutes’ Katie Couric. She spent most of her interview with the Edwardses behaving like a prosecutor, cross-examining them about why they are going forward with the presidential campaign. And when I say “interrogate” I mean interrogate. This was no ordinary interview – this was a televised guilt trip. She stated as fact to John Edwards that he is supposedly “putting your work first, and your family second.” She also pulled the “some say” technique, claiming that an unnamed “some” say that in making this decision, Edwards is displaying “a case of insatiable ambition.”
I think the “some say” device is a dishonest interview tactic. It’s a dumb trick best used by FOX News. It allows an interviewer to ask a question even if that question has no relevance. It’s lazy, and I’m glad I haven’t seen it much in the local media. Rush Limbaugh’s bullshit musings do not deserve to be cloaked by Couric with the phrase, “some say.”
The decision to continue their campaign belongs to John and Elizabeth Edwards alone. Their decision not to surrender to cancer is admirable. As Elizabeth said, “we’re all going to die someday.” No amount of interview spin can hide that fact.
“The president says, ‘I don’t care.’ He’s not accountable anymore. He’s not accountable anymore, which isn’t totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don’t know. It depends how this goes.”
Coming up tonight on “The David Goldstein Show”, 7PM to 10PM on Newsradio 710-KIRO:
7PM: Where is Sound Transit going?
Ric Ilgenfritz, executive director of policy and public affairs joins me to talk about Sound Transit’s current projects and future plans, and what a proposal for a regional transportation commission might hold for light rail in Seattle and beyond. Is Seattle’s light rail on track? Will it ever reach to the Eastside? Give Ric a call and ask for yourself.
8PM: Were the U.S. attorney filings illegal?
Ousted U.S. Attorney for Western Washington John McKay appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press today, where he suggested that those involved in the scandal may have not only acted improperly, but “even illegally.”
Tune in tonight (or listen to the live stream) and give me a call: 1-877-710-KIRO (5476).
Coming up tonight on “The David Goldstein Show”, 7PM to 10PM on Newsradio 710-KIRO:
7PM: How much is a baby worth?
A Texas legislator has proposed offering women consider abortion $500 not to end their pregnancies, while at the same time college students will see the cost birth control triple as the federal government ends a subsidy to college health systems.
Tune in tonight (or listen to the live stream) and give me a call: 1-877-710-KIRO (5476).
A caller to the show last night seemed unconcerned with the government snooping into every aspect of his personal life. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he told me, insisting that secret wiretaps and other intrusions were a small price to pay during “a time of war.” Of course the Bush administration and its strongest backers expect the war on terrorism — or “The Long War” as some administration officials have frighteningly called it — to go on indefinitely, resulting in an indefinite suspension of some of our most basic personal liberties… rights like habeas corpus, which actually predates our Constitution.
Well, for those who are less sanguine than my caller about our ever eroding civil liberties, an anonymous guest column in this week’s Washington Post is a disturbing illustration of how our government’s expanding program of secret domestic spying intrudes on the personal lives of average, law abiding citizens.
Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand — a context that the FBI still won’t let me discuss publicly — I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled.
Rather than turn over the information, I contacted lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, and in April 2004 I filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSL power. I never released the information the FBI sought, and last November the FBI decided that it no longer needs the information anyway. But the FBI still hasn’t abandoned the gag order that prevents me from disclosing my experience and concerns with the law or the national security letter that was served on my company. In fact, the government will return to court in the next few weeks to defend the gag orders that are imposed on recipients of these letters.
Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case — including the mere fact that I received an NSL — from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie.
I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.
[…] I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I’ve now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point — a point we passed long ago — the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy.
The NSL received by the author was only one of more than 140,000 the FBI issued between 2003 and 2005, without prior judicial approval or showing of probable cause, seeking sensitive, private information about U.S. citizens and residents.
If you support this and other similar provisions of the USA Patriot Act, then you must support the notion that the author of this column, should his identity be revealed, be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned for speaking publicly about his experiences under the law. And if you support that, then I’m not quite sure what it is about America that you are hoping to defend. Or, as Benjamin Franklin more eloquently put it: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
I’m filling in again for Frank Shiers tonight on 710-KIRO from 9PM to 1AM. Call in and give me a piece your mind: 1-877-710-KIRO (5476).
Oh man was I jealous yesterday to learn that 710-KIRO colleagues Jane Shannon and Tony Miner had scored an interview with embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the result. Jane and Tony lobbed follow-up after follow-up as Gonzales ducked and dodged. Give a listen to the proper way to conduct an interview, no matter how important or uncooperative the interviewee.[audio:http://sea.bonnint.net/2007/0323gonzalesARC.mp3]
Of course, Gonzales knew he was going to be asked these questions, and he had no intention of answering them. The very premise of this PR tour — an educational campaign about online sex predators — was cynically designed to give Gonzales the excuse to evade reporters by accusing them of focusing on the politically trivial, while he was out their focusing on “protecting our children.” So it came as no surprise when Gonzales answered every question by rephrasing it.
Jane: Seattle as you know, is home of former U.S. Attorney John McKay. Mr. Gonzales, why was he fired?
Gonzales: Listen, we made a decision at the department as to the appropriate way forward. And there was nothing improper about the decision here. The president of the United States has the authority to hire and remove political appointees for any reason. Obviously the question here is whether or not, were these political appointees removed for improper reasons?
No… the question here is “Why was McKay fired?” I thought Jane made that pretty damn clear.
Gonzales went on to emphasize that it is “reckless and irresponsible to allege that these decisions were based in any way on improper motives,” an allegation Jane never implied. So she tried to ask the question more specifically:
Jane: Was it a matter of McKay’s performance?
Gonzales: Again, the question is whether or not it was improper. It was not.
And again, no… that was not the question.
Perhaps it was a bad phone connection, so this time Miner steps in and puts the same question another way:
Tony: Mr. Attorney General, as a way to diffuse this controversy now, why not just come out and tell the American people exactly why these prosecutors were fired? What did they do?
Gonzales: Well, of course that’s something we’re engaged with in a dialogue with the Congress.
Yeah… a dialogue they want to have behind closed doors, off the record, and not under oath.
Gonzales: Some of the information is already out there. Some of that information is available in the documents.
And some of the information we’ll never know, because White House and DOJ officials refuse to testify in public, on the record and under oath.
Gonzales: But I want to remind your listeners about one thing, whatever those reasons are, and people have subjective views as to whether that person should go or should that person not go, there may be disagreements about that, but the president has the authority and the discretion to make that decision. And whether or not you agree with it, he has the authority and it is OK for him to do so based on my recommendation.
Well, he may have the legal authority, sure… but, um, once again, that was never the question.
Gonzales: What we should all be concerned about is, whether or not were the firings, the removals, based on improper motives, and I am saying to the American people and to your listeners, that the answer to that is no.
Oh. Well, I guess that answers all our questions. Well, at least that answers the one question Gonzales keeps posing to himself. But wait, there’s more…
Gonzales: And it is irresponsible and reckless to continue to insist that this great Department of Justice was involved in something improper.
Hmm. I think I heard that sound bite somewhere before.
So Jane bravely tries one more time:
Jane: Well you can certainly understand some confusion, sir, when in August of last year one of your deputies recommended McKay for federal judgeship and just a month later McKay’s name was put on a list, basically, of prosecutors to be pushed out. This is according to e-mails obtained from your department. What changed in that short period of time?
Gonzales: Listen, the fact that someone may have had an idea or a discussion, that does not necessarily represent the view of the department or represent my view. These U.S. attorney positions … are on the front lines protecting our kids, they’re out there today talking about this ad campaign that I want to talk with your listeners about with respect of what we can do to further protect our kids from predators. And so this an issue that’s very important for me, and we will continue to focus on the work for the American people, and that’s what I’m focused on as Attorney General.
Translation: “I’m not going to answer your question because I’m busy protecting our children from predators. Hmm. Maybe you’re a sex predator yourself. Are ya Jane? Huh, are ya?”
We all knew Gonzales would show up ready to play dodge ball. Kudos to Jane and Tony for continuing to wing ’em at his nuts.
[And a special thanks to David Postman. I was halfway through laboriously transcribing the interview, when I discovered that he had already done most of the work. You can read a full transcript over at Dave’s place.]
[Update: The AP is reporting:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in a November meeting, according to documents released Friday that contradict earlier claims that he was not closely involved in the dismissals.
That’s got to hurt! — Darryl]
Here’s the money quote from a Seattle Times article on West Seattle and the Viaduct:
“People want to put the same thing up there because anything new is different, and people are concerned because it would be different,” said Mark Wainwright, president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association.
Is the Viaduct a roadway or a security blanket?
Leave it to working-class Delridge to provide some common sense:
Paul Fischburg, Delridge Neighborhood Association president, said he personally supports a surface road, as long as there’s an “enormous investment in transit.”
“If I could just wave a magic wand, it would be extending light rail in the southwest and northwest through downtown … that would be the best-case scenario,” he said. But “you know this city’s history on mass transit.”
Long term, I’d like to see a train that connects with the current Sound Transit train at SODO. Until then, there’s the E-3 Busway which can be configured to connect with the Spokane Street Viaduct.
Unfortunately, the light rail planning is concerned with Bellevue and Lynnwood at the moment. Seattle residents have no way to mandate additional transit projects through Sound Transit’s governence structure.
Wow. I guess voters aren’t quite as stupid as Karl Rove took them for, after all:
Public allegiance to the Republican Party has plunged since the second year of George W. Bush’s presidency, as attitudes have edged away from some of the conservative values that fueled GOP political dominance for more than a decade, a new survey has found.
The survey, by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for People and the Press, found a “dramatic shift” in political-party identification since 2002, when Republicans and Democrats were at rough parity. Now, half of those surveyed identified with or leaned toward Democrats, while 35 percent aligned with Republicans.
What’s more, the survey found the public attitudes are drifting toward Democrats’ values: Support for government aid to the disadvantaged has grown since the mid-1990s, skepticism about the use of military force has increased and support for traditional family values has edged down.
Rove is reportedly fond of William McKinley, but when it comes to political realignments, I think the Republican presidency George W. Bush will most closely be compared to is that of Herbert Hoover.
Andrew Sullivan agrees:
It’s a devastating indictment of the Bush-Rove strategy for conservatism and the Republican party. They may have created the most loyally Democratic generation since the New Deal with the under 25s. […] It turns out that Karl Rove has gone a long way toward securing a permanent majority in American politics … for liberals and Democrats. The collapse of a coherent, freedom-loving, reality-based conservatism is surely part of the reason.
- This is the best AWV comment ever written. From my friend Lee:
I have to admit, I haven’t been following this as closely as everyone else, but am I correct in noting that Nick Licata
a) opposes spending $500 million to keep the Sonics from leaving town
b) favors spending $3 billion to keep Ballard Oil from leaving town
- Elizabeth Edwards has cancer, again. I fully expect the right-wing trolls to attack John and Elizabeth for deciding to continue John’s campaign for president. You see, if John were a Republican, he’d leave his wife, just like Newt Gingrich did.
- A few days ago I described right-wingers as being “retards.” I now know that this may have offended some people. I promise never to compare the developmentally disabled to conservatives ever again.
- Newsflash: most people don’t really care about the WA presidential primary controversy. It won’t award any delegates, so let’s cancel it.
- It’s really stunning to see the P-I’s map of Seattle’s March 13th election. It shows which neighborhood voted for and against which option. The heavy “No Rebuild” area looks almost exactly like a map of the 43rd LD.
That’s Frank’s district.
I’ll be filling in for Frank Shiers tonight and tomorrow night on 710-KIRO from 9PM to 1AM. Sen Brian Weinstein will join me at the top of the first hour to talk about SB 5550, the Homeowner’s Warranty Bill. I’ll post more on tonight’s show later.
Could the Seattle Times editorial board be any more dense or dishonest? Well yeah, of course they could. But that sloppy, wet kiss they planted today on Rep. Dave Reichert’s manly punim is one humdinger of a premeditated prevarication.
The Times celebrates Reichert’s “independence” and congratulates him for speaking out in defense of ousted U.S. Attorney John McKay:
Reichert picked a good cause and a good time to push back on a White House that clearly blew it by firing McKay.
No doubt it’s a good cause and a shrewd (if obvious) piece of political maneuvering. But a “good time”…? Um… wouldn’t a better time to have displayed his “conscience-driven independence” have been way back in December… when McKay was fired?
Let’s look at the time line here. We heard nothing but crickets chirping from Reichert when news of McKay’s ouster broke back in December, and when Reichert was asked to submit candidates for the office, McKay’s name was noticeably absent from the list. Wouldn’t that have been the “occasion where sticking his neck out really counts”…?
It is not until months later, with the scandal threatening to take down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and drag our nation into a constitutional crisis, that Reichert finally sticks up for McKay. And even then, he didn’t actually submit McKay’s name for consideration, or formally request he be reinstated. No, he just made a statement to a reporter.
Not exactly a profile in courage.
The only thing accurate about the Times editorial is the headline: “Reichert reacts.” A real leader — a real independent — would have been proactive in defense of John McKay and our justice system, instead of sticking his finger in the political winds and spitting out a sound bite after the fact.