Mojo - April 2007

New Email Released Shows Sampson's a Fibber

| Sat Apr. 14, 2007 1:44 PM EDT

On March 29, Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to AG Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys. Sampson's testimony incriminated Gonzales, who had claimed he was not involved in the firing process. Sampson finally spoke -- it had been the most awaited testimony during the case that has preoccupied Washington for months. Well, now it looks like Sampson lied under oath. The former aide, as Michael Scherer reported in Salon, had trouble answering many questions that day; he tallied 127 "I don't remembers" uttered by Sampson throughout the hearing. Perhaps Sampson should have said "I don't remember" to this inquiry put forth by committee member Charles Schumer:

Schumer: Did you or did you not have in mind specific replacements for the dismissed U.S. Attorneys before they were asked to resign on December 7th, 2006.

Sampson: I personally did not. On December 7th, I did not have in mind any replacements for any of the seven who were asked to resign.

A January 6, 2006 email just released to the House Judiciary Committee shows that Sampson had named replacement recs for each USA on the list of to-be-fireds. Oops. This news comes during the heating up of the email controversy over the administration using RNC emails to avoid communicating through their own email system. The White House now claims to have lost 5 million of these emails, many of which relate to the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys. It's a pretty tangled mess -- Karl Rove is back on the hot seat (I guess he's never really off) and Plamegate is back in the news.

But the new email released revealing Sampson's fibbing does more than just point to the fact that a former justice official lied under oath and reveal a concerted effort by the administration and the DOJ to conceal their communication, it shows that many of the potential replacements named were Bushies; that the mass purge of USAs in December was indeed a way to make room for "partisan loyalists" (an accusation the DOJ has denied). This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for all DOJ and White House documents relating to the firings that they say they will issue if Gonzales is not forthcoming in his testimony this Tuesday. Senate Dems say that the documents released thus far have been incomplete. I'm banking on there being more juicy bits of information buried in the DOJ and WH's trails of paper and electronic mail. Stay tuned.

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Today is National Day of Climate Action

| Sat Apr. 14, 2007 1:27 PM EDT

Many of you likely know that today is the National Day of Climate Action. There are lots and lots of cool events around the country, which you can search by zip code at the Step It Up 2007 website. Got some free time on a spring Saturday? Try saving the planet for a little bit.

Another Haditha?

| Sat Apr. 14, 2007 12:50 PM EDT

A new report from Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission says that a U.S. Marine unit used excessive force when escaping a suicide attempt last month. Twelve Afghani civilians were killed and 35 were injured by the Marines, who apparently did not distinguish between civilians and insurgents when responding to an attempt on their own lives. From the Times:

Following the March 4 attack in Nangahar province, when an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines, the unit shot at vehicles and pedestrians in six different locations while driving along a 10-mile stretch of road, according to a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.

And this isn't a toothless non-prof spouting off, either. This could result in actual prosecution.

A U.S. military commander also determined that Marines used excessive force, and he referred the case for possible criminal inquiry.

As if the United States needs any more bad press in the Arab world...

Could Those Lost E-mails Cause Fitzgerald to Re-open Leak Case?

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 9:33 PM EDT

Whoopsie! We lost 5 million e-mails! Thus spoke the White House, as Dan blogged earlier today. And a particularly huge number seem to belong to a certain Mr. Rove. All of these e-mails were exchanged during the period of time U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald investigated in connection with the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity. Fitzgerald had been led to believe that he had a full accounting of official communications during the period in question. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington—a watchdog group that is also representing Joe and Valerie Wilson in their civil suit against administration officials—is now calling on Fitzgerald to re-open his investigation, given that the source of the leak may well have covered his electronic tracks. This is getting fun, isn't it?

Paul Wolfowitz: Anatomy of a Scandal

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 9:06 PM EDT

Part of the Bush administration's M.O. is promoting those who screw things up, as long as the ideology of their screw-ups is sufficiently conservative. Case in point: Paul Wolfowitz, one of the major architects of the Iraq War, who went on to become president of the World Bank. Did you think he would lose his ideological zealotry? No, dear reader. Despite his claims to the contrary yesterday on NPR, Wolfowitz, through a managing director he hired himself, pushed the World Bank to purge any references to family planning—which has long been part of the World Bank's standard development plan—in its strategy documents.

Wolfowitz is also in hot water at the bank because he promoted his "companion" into a State Department position that paid almost $200,000—some $60,000 more than she had earned previously. Wolfowitz is divorced. How, you might wonder, could anybody date this guy?

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That is a question I cannot answer. But I can tell you that the woman who does so is an Arab feminist who shares Wolfowitz's passion for bringing democracy to the Middle East—by hook or by crook, apparently, since she was part of the reason he was so hell-bent on invading Iraq. Possible translation: Wolfie led the United States into war with Iraq to butter up his girlfriend.

He has apologized for his role in landing her the plum job, but claims he didn't understand the ethics rules fully. That seems to be a chronic problem.

Updated to reflect that Wolfowitz and the woman in question, Shaha Riza, are still together, and that Riza's new salary constituted a hefty raise.

Carbon Confusion

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 8:34 PM EDT

Two steps taken this week to combat global warming are not all that: One, the EPA relaxed pollution standards for corn milling plants that make ethanol fuel. Two, Australian states vowed to set up a carbon trading market. Why do I doubt them? Keep reading on The Blue Marble.

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The Last, Last Hope?

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 4:25 PM EDT

Yesterday, Slate analyzed the administration's most recent (and secret) search for an Iraq war savior. The new savior is a czar who would "oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies." Um, I'd say it's highly unlikely that the administration is truly willing to relinquish absolute control over these two wars and, apparently, so do the three retired four-star generals who declined the offer to be czar. Slate writes:

Generals do not become generals by being demure. If some retired generals out there had a great idea about how to solve the mess in Iraq, and if the president offered them the authority to do what they wanted to do, few of them would hesitate to step up and take charge.

The point: a.) nobody has a clue how to solve this mess (it's way too late for a Hail Mary) and b.) no one will be given the authority to do so even if they could. I'm having deja-vu. It seems like just yesterday, David Petraeus, the most revered general in the United States Army, was being touted as Iraq's savior, the last hope. So, is the new czar going to be the last, last hope? Will there be a last, last, last hope?

Slate points out another problem -- Dick Cheney. Cheney still has too much influence and the generals don't want to be "outflanked" by him. And considering, earlier this month, the VP asserted the Al Qaeda/Saddam link, I think we want to keep his influence to a minimum. He stretches the truth sometimes.

RE: Those Missing White House Emails

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 3:23 PM EDT

Subpoenas have been authorized, the press is swarming, the Bush administration's flacks are taking a pounding — I think it's safe to say that the White House email controversy has officially blossomed into a full-blown scandal. This week the White House acknowledged that it may have "lost" an unspecified number of emails that were sent by staffers who used non-governmental, RNC-issued email addresses in what seemed at times a conscious effort to prevent their correspondence from becoming public record. "We screwed up, and we're trying to fix it," White House spokesperson Dana Perino told the press yesterday. She noted that only "a small slice" of the president's staff — among them Karl Rove and his deputies — used email addresses, along with BlackBerrys and laptops, supplied by the RNC. However, no mention has been made — and it's possible that in the end there may be no way of knowing — of just how many administration officials were circumventing the White House servers by using conventional Web mail services, such as Yahoo! or Gmail. This also appears to have been a fairly common practice among staffers who, as one administration official told U.S. News & World Report in 2004, "don't want my email made public."

As the White House comes under increasing scrutiny, the picture just keeps getting bleaker. We learned yesterday, for instance, that until August 2004 the RNC had a policy of deleting emails on its servers that were more than 30 days old. After "legal inquires," presumably those of CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the committee began saving the correspondence of White House officials. So, since Karl Rove is said to use his RNC address 95 percent of the time, and is a well known email fanatic, the RNC should have quite a hefty record of his communications, right? Strangely, the RNC doesn't have records of a single Rove email until 2005, which, as the committee's counsel Rob Kelner told members of Henry Waxman's Government Reform Committee, may have been because Rove was deleting them himself. This, it seems, is what led the RNC to remove Rove's ability to delete his messages and place an automatic archiving function solely on his account. Today, Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin explained that his client didn't intentionally purge his emails — rather, in the course of routine housekeeping, he would delete emails to keep his inbox in order. "His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived," Luskin said.

Beyond Rove's missing emails, and others the White House believes may have been lost due to the RNC's email purging policy, it seems there is another trove of emails that are unaccounted for — millions of them, actually. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reported yesterday that, according to two sources, "in addition to the so-called political emails sent through private accounts, there are over five million emails sent on White House servers over a two-year period that are also missing." In 2005, according to CREW, the White House Office of Administration discovered a problem with its archiving system and, after looking further into the issue, realized "there were hundreds of days in which emails were missing for one or more of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] components subject to the PRA [Presidential Records Act]." Though a plan was drawn up to recover the missing emails, CREW says, no action was ever taken to retrieve the lost messages.

In its report, CREW also raises two issues that I brought up in my original story on the controversy. The first is the Hatch Act "excuse," as CREW puts it. The White House has maintained (and the press hasn't challenged) that administration officials with political duties were using a separate, RNC-administered email system in order to avoid breaching Hatch, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. This certainly seems like a reasonable explanation, unless you actually read the law. It states clearly that Senate-confirmed presidential appointees and staffers whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President (read: White House officials) are allowed to engage in political activity that is otherwise prohibited to other federal employees — for instance, they are allowed to talk strategy with the RNC anytime, anywhere — as long as the associated costs are not picked up by taxpayers. While in the Clinton White House separate computer terminals were apparently set aside for staffers with political duties, the use of partisan email addresses is a new and highly unusual wrinkle. As Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy told me a couple weeks back, "It shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable."

The other question I raised has to do with an intriguing line in a January 2006 letter from Patrick Fitzgerald to Scooter Libby's defense team that's buried deep in the USA v. Libby docket. In it, Fitzgerald informs Libby's lawyers that the prosecution had "learned that not all email of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system." Karl Rove's lawyer told the AP today that Fitzgerald had access to emails from Rove's various accounts. He also noted that, in addition to the White House, the prosecutor subpoenaed records from the RNC and the president's reelection campaign. "There's never been any suggestion that Fitzgerald had anything less than a complete record," Luskin said.

Considering that we now know that millions of White House emails are potentially MIA, all of them drafted during a time period that would have been relevant to Fitzgerald's investigation, if that hasn't been suggested before it certainly will be now.

FCC Levies Largest Collective Fine in History of U.S. Broadcasting

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

"Payola" is the term for a practice in which radio broadcasters accept gifts and money from recording companies in exchange for playing music those companies select. Payola is fairly common, and actually legal if, when they play a track, radio broadcasters disclose who paid them to play it. (The FCC's rules on payola are easy to find, and quite clear.) Of course, you never hear a radio DJ saying, "We've been paid $3,000 to play this next J. Lo. track, so enjoy!"

The FCC is sending a message to change all that. Clear Channel Communications, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications, and Citadel Broadcasting have been fined a collective $12.5 million and will now be required to track every gift they receive worth more than $25. The fine is the largest in the history of American broadcasting.

My favorite part of the ruling, though, is this:

On top of the fines, the radio companies voluntarily agreed to launch a new program for independent artists... This local artist showcase commits the industry to 4,200 hours of airplay across the four companies between 6 a.m. and midnight.

In a previous payola investigation, Sony BMG Music Entertainment -- which includes Arista Records, Columbia Records, and Sony Music -- had to pay $10 million after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went after it.

Mia Farrow Calls Beijing 2008 the "Genocide Olympics"

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 2:52 PM EDT

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Mia Farrow's targeted pressure to curb the Darfur genocide "could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not," writes Helene Cooper in the New York Times.

For two years, China has used its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to protect the Sudanese government from UN sanctions. More than half of Sudan's oil exports go to China, and Beijing is the Sudan's leading arms supplier. But Mia Farrow last month started a campaign to spur Beijing into humanitarian cooperation. She called on Steven Spielberg to use his position as an artistic adviser to the Games to pressure China. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, she warned, Spielberg could "go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games." Four days later, Spielberg sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao. Days later, China dispatched a high-ranking official to Sudan.

The turnaround is "as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not," writes Helene Cooper. China has still not agreed to sanctions. But it's been less than two weeks since Farrow's op-ed. And according to J. Stephen Morrison, a Sudan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China values its image more than this oil from Sudan. "Their equity is to be seen as an ethical, rising global power," Morrison says, "not to get in bed with every sleazy government that comes up with a little oil." And the Olympics have been a major source of national pride. The night Beijing won the bid to host the Games, I joined about 200,000 revellers celebrating in Tiananmen Square, dancing and singing; it was the biggest gathering there since 1989.