The White House Email Controversy Heats Up

The hidden scandal in the administration's already scandalous purge of eight U.S. Attorneys is the discovery that White House officials have been regularly communicating using nongovernmental email addresses, some of them administered by the Republican National Committee. As we reported a couple weeks ago, this seems a blatant attempt to prevent emails from being archived by the White House computer system and potentially flouts the Presidential Records Act, a law enacted after Watergate to ensure that the papers of presidents and their advisor's are adequately preserved (and eventually made available to the public).

Now that congressional investigators are turning up the heat on the White House to explain this practice and Henry Waxman has asked the RNC to preserve White House communications archived on its servers, the email controversy is "creating new embarrassment and legal headaches for the White House," the Los Angeles Times reports. The paper explains that this "back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes."

Perhaps, but that's just one part of the story. There's evidence to suggest that White House officials aren't simply concerned with separating their political and policy duties. As U.S. News & World Report noted in a brief item in 2004, White House staffers have turned to Web-based email accounts specifically to keep their emails from entering the public record. "I don't want my E-mail made public," one White House "insider" told the magazine.

Not only did White House officials think better of using their official emails, they also instructed the lobbyists who did business with them to avoid the White House system. "...It is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.," one lobbyist to wrote to Jack Abramoff in August 2003 after Abramoff accidentally pinged former Karl Rove aide Susan Ralston on her White House address. "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system," Abramoff replied.

The White House is trying to play down the controversy, spinning the use of outside email addresses as an honest effort to avoid breaching the Hatch Act, which prohibits most federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. But here's the thing: Staffers whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President are exempt from certain strictures of that law and are allowed to conduct political business. That is, under most circumstances, White House officials would have no need to use alternate email addresses when talking politics.

Overshadowed by the U.S. Attorney firings, the email controversy has received scant media attention. But it's the email scandal, with its potential to pull back the curtain on the White House's political operation and possibly unveil other scandals, that really has the GOP's teeth chattering. According to the Times:

Some Republicans believe that the huge number of e-mails — many written hastily, with no thought that they might become public — may contain more detailed and unguarded inside information about the administration's far-flung political activities than has previously been available.

One "GOP activist," in what seems a vast understatement, told the paper, "There is concern about what may be in these e-mails."

Terror Watch List Claims Another Victim

A leading constitutional scholar finds himself on the terrorist watch list for giving an anti-Bush lecture. Read the prof's background and full letter here. Watch the offending lecture here. Read a possible debunk, with some interesting stuff in the comments section, here. But first take a gander at the cliff noted version below.

"When I tried to use the curb-side check in at the Sunport, I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk. At this point, I should note that I am not only the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence (emeritus) but also a retired Marine colonel. I fought in the Korean War as a young lieutenant, was wounded, and decorated for heroism. I remained a professional soldier for more than five years and then accepted a commission as a reserve office, serving for an additional 19 years."
"I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: "Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that." I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. "That'll do it," the man said."
"After carefully examining my credentials, the clerk asked if he could take them to TSA officials. I agreed. He returned about ten minutes later and said I could have a boarding pass, but added: "I must warn you, they=re going to ransack your luggage." On my return flight, I had no problem with obtaining a boarding pass, but my luggage was "lost." Airlines do lose a lot of luggage and this "loss" could have been a mere coincidence. In light of previous events, however, I'm a tad skeptical."

Emphasis mine. Looks like I'm probably on a list somewhere. Are you?

Pelosi's Syria Trip -- in Video Blog Form!

I'm linking to this for a couple reasons: (1) it's a very good rundown of the dust up surrounding Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, and (2) it's a great example of how video blogging can be done well. Kudos, Josh!

See Hillary, John, and BHO Tonight

Interested in finally seeing what all the fuss is about with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and the rest of the Democratic field? Live in one of the roughly 45 states that never see a presidential candidate in the primaries?

Today's your lucky day: MoveOn.org is hosting a virtual townhall, in which people gather in homes and community centers around the country to get online and watch the Democratic candidates joust and spout. You can find one near you here. Hooray for the internet!

Liberalism Is In

Americans have grown more concerned about the gap between rich and poor. Support for the social safety net has grown too, while our military appetite has shrunk, according to a recent Pew survey of public opinion.

More Americans agree with the assessment that "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." Today, 73% feel that way, up from 65% five years ago.

It follows that more of us believe the government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. Fifty-four percent of Americans say the government should help more needy people, even if it adds to the national debt, compared to just 41 percent in 1994.

Just five years ago, 43 percent of of us identified as Republicans, and same for Democrats. Now 35 percent identify as Republicans, and half the country as Democrats.

Also, racism and homophobia are both down. More than 83 percent agree that "it's all right for blacks and whites to date," up six percentage points since 2003 and 13 points from 10 years ago. The number of people who believe that school boards should have the right to fire gay teachers is at 28 percent, down from 51 percent in 1987.

The MoJo summary of all of the above: Americans are getting in touch with reality.

But the sad part may be that "the public is losing confidence in itself." The percent agreeing that Americans "can always find a way to solve our problems" has dropped 16 points in five years. Americans feel more and more estranged from their government. Barely a third would agree that "most elected officials care what people like me think," a 10-point drop since 2002. Saddest of all, young people, who have the rosiest view of government, are the least interested in voting or other political participation.

Bush Doles out More B.S. on the Border

Maybe President Bush genuinely wants to solve the United States' immigration woes, or maybe he's grasping for another hot-button (hate) issue to drum up conservative support. Today, he proposed immigration reforms in Yuma, Arizona, which were a far cry more punitive than those he advocated last year. A 3-year work visa would cost an immigrant $3,500—a sum beyond the imaginings of most rural Mexicans looking for grunt work in the United States. To get a green card, workers would have to return to their home countries, apply for reentry, and pay a $10,000 fine. The proposal brought 10,000 Latinos to the streets of Los Angeles.

Just two weeks ago, I blogged about a Los Angeles Times article that suggested that last year's immigration legislation (sans the fence that, thankfully, has not materialized) has brought illegal border crossings down. The article took the number of illegals caught to be representative of the total number. Bush today made the same point: Fewer caught crossers is good news. But, as Think Progress points out, a year and a half ago, Bush pointed to increased apprehensions as a positive indicator of Border Patrol's performance. As with drugs, the government can manipulate "apprehension" statistics however it wants. (In my previous blog post, I cited Charles Bowden's assertion in "Exodus" that "On the line, all numbers are fictions. The exportation of human beings by Mexico now reaches, officially, a half million souls a year. Or double that. Or triple that.")

If illegal immigration is indeed waning on its own, why are we talking about it now? Wouldn't the war on terror—which we're losing—be a better policy to rehash? But here I seem to have answered my own question: Yes, it would. Bush tactic: Distract; dissemble; drum up hate for some other group. If illegal immigration isn't waning—which seems far more likely—doesn't that beg the question, again, of why we're not addressing its causes like the European Union does?

Gingrich Joins GOP Attack on Gonzales

Newt Gingrich, who would like to be the GOP presidential candidate, is is now calling for Attorney General Gonzales to quit before things get any worse. "This is the most mishandled, artificial, self-created mess that I can remember in the years I've been active in public life," Gingrich said of the US attorney firing scandal. "The buck has to stop somewhere, and I'm assuming it's the attorney general and his immediate team." If he stays, said the former Speaker, there will be endless hearings.

Other Republicans who want Gonzales out include Senators John Sununu of New Hampshire and Gordon Smith of Oregon, along with Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher of California, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and Lee Terry of Nebraska.

Wildly Different Estimates on Najaf Rally

I blogged earlier about the thousands of Moqtada al-Sadr followers who protested the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad in Najaf today.

Well, it appears there is a major dispute over how many "thousands" were actually there. According to this CNN article, the U.S. military's estimate is "5,000 to 7,000." According to this Reuters article that I cited earlier, it is "tens of thousands." And according to this Agence France-Presse article and this BBC article the number of participants is in the "hundreds of thousands." If that's true, did the military really think they were going to fool anybody with that "5,000 to 7,000" nonsense?

Hoo-boy. Who to believe? We'll keep digging...

An Iraqi official who has served as Iraq's trade, defense, and finance minister at various times since 2003 has written a book about his country's four years under the American occupation ("The Occupation of Iraq," published by Yale University Press). According to the AP, it is a detached and nonpartisan look at the United States' and Iraqi government's failings.

Ali Allawi, cousin to former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, was educated in the United States and Britain and demonstrates no preference for the Sunni or Shiite sects within Iraqi society and its badly divided government (he belongs to a secularist political party). He slams a lot of people, but most of all the Americans.

Snippets of Allawi's book, from the AP:

"The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order."
First came the "monumental ignorance" of those in Washington pushing for war in 2002 without "the faintest idea" of Iraq's realities. "More perceptive people knew instinctively that the invasion of Iraq would open up the great fissures in Iraqi society," he writes.
What followed was the "rank amateurism and swaggering arrogance" of the occupation, under L. Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which took big steps with little consultation with Iraqis, steps Allawi and many others see as blunders.

The lies that led to war and the missteps after the invasion that led to failure are all documented in the Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline.

On U.S. reconstruction failures — in electricity, health care and other areas documented by Washington's own auditors — Allawi writes that the Americans' "insipid retelling of 'success' stories" merely hid "the huge black hole that lay underneath."

There have been a lot of great books about the Iraq War, from Ron Suskind to Thomas Ricks to Michael Gordon to Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Now it looks like there is an Iraqi equivalent.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Najaf today to protest the continued American occupation, exactly four years after the fall of Baghdad. (No protests were allowed in Baghdad because the U.S. military shut down the streets.) The protest was anti-American all the way, with chants of "Leave, leave occupier!" and "No, no, to the occupation." The event was organized (or called for, anyway) by Moqtada al-Sadr, and one of his key deputies spoke, saying, "We demand the exit of the occupier and withdrawal of the last American soldier and we also reject the existence of any kind of military bases."

In my mind the most important thing here, after the fact that there is yet more evidence that the Iraqis want nothing to do with us, is the fact that it was a peaceful event. It's safe to say that the majority of the participants were Shiites because al-Sadr is a radical Shiite cleric and major Shiite political player. But the Sunnis stayed away from what was essentially a massive target practice opportunity. Possible reasons: (1) al-Sadr cut some kind of deal, (2) the one thing that brings Iraqis together is hating Americans, or (3) both.

Couple this new sense of cooperation with the face that al-Sadr, who is possibly the most powerful man in Iraq, has called on Iraqis to cease attacking one another to instead focus on killing Americans, and we've got an even more hostile environment in which American forces must operate. Who thought that was even possible?

Update: The number of attendees is in dispute, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to "hundreds of thousands."