Thursday, March 29, 2007

US Attorney dismissals

Republican Politics, American Style
Published March 29th 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

A major controversy over the Bush Administration’s dismissals of several US Attorneys last December has been in the news headlines lately in the United States, so I will now attempt to explain why this has suddenly become a major issue in the US some 3 months after the fact.

To begin with, the national news media was slow to grasp the significance of the dismissals of 8 of the 93 Republican US States Attorneys on December 15th of last year. It is common practice for new presidents to replace all of the US Attorneys shortly after they take office. Presidents Regan, Clinton and Bush Sr. all did this shortly after taking office as did President Bush in 2001.

What was unusual about these dismissals was that they came with only 2 years remaining in President Bush’s term in office. While appointments as US Attorney typically are for 4 year terms, when Presidents Clinton and Regan were re-elected they did not dismiss the US Attorneys they had appointed 4 years earlier. Nor did they dismiss almost 10% of their US Attorneys after mid-term elections just 2 years before they were to leave office.

Keep in mind that all of the US Attorneys that were fired on December 15th, were prominent Republican lawyers who had first been nominated for their positions by the Bush administration after it first took office in 2001. Their appointments were then confirmed by the US Senate while the Republican Party still held a majority in Congress. Why were they being so abruptly replaced with just 2 years remaining in their and the Bush administration’s term of office? Why would the Bush administration want to nominate replacements who would have to be vetted and confirmed by a new US Senate controlled by the Democratic Party?

The answer to the last question, rested on an obscure provision which had been secretly inserted by a Republican congressional staffer into the US Patriot Act before it was renewed by Congress last year. Unbeknownst to most Republican and Democratic Senators, this new provision allowed “interim” US Attorney nominees to serve indefinitely without Senate approval, instead of for only 120 days.

Once these Senators discovered that they had unknowingly approved giving such authority to the Executive Branch of government, they rebelled en masse, Republicans and Democrats alike. As more and more evidence began to emerge that the firings were politically motivated, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to rescind that provision and force President Bush’s new US Attorney nominees to go thru the confirmation process.

As for why they were being so abruptly replaced, initially the US Department of Justice (DOJ), for whom the US Attorneys work, said nothing. When pressed for an explanation, the DOJ finally said it was a just a personnel matter related to performance issues. This explanation understandably didn’t sit well with the US Attorneys in question or some of their Republican supporters back in their home states.

It also sounds funny, because 5 of the 8 attorneys had received glowing DOJ evaluations for their work throughout their terms in office up to and including their most recent evaluations in 2006. One of them had even been asked to conduct a seminar for other federal prosecuting attorneys because of his excellent work setting up a task force to address an area of particular DOJ concern. At this point, other members of the news media took notice and began to investigate whether or not some of these terminations were in fact politically motivated.

The DOJ began fumbling with its explanations as more media investigation and attention was brought to bear on these US Attorneys dismissals. The DOJ’s initial story about them being strictly performance related and not political in nature slowly began to unravel. A case in point was the DOJ’s acknowledgement that the US Attorney for eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, had not been dismissed for performance issues, but rather to make way for Tim Griffin, a protégé of Karl Rove, the President’s chief political advisor.

Tim Griffin was an attorney from Arkansas who had very little experience as a prosecutor. But from 1999 to 2006 he had worked as a Republican Party opposition researcher digging up dirt on Democrats for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Karl Rove. While at the RNC he also put together a “caging” scheme to wipe out the voting rights of 70,000 likely Democratic voters who were poor, black or serving in the military prior to the 2004 election. Nice resume for a potential US Attorney.

Then e-mails by the US Attorney General’s Chief of Staff, alluding to the fact that Karl Rove and Harriet Miers wanted Tim Griffin to take Bud Cummins job were released. Tim Griffin wanted this particular US Attorney’s position as a favour from the White House for his political research work, so he could burnish his resume back home in Arkansas prior to his run for political office as Arkansas’ State Attorney General in 2008 0r 2010.

This news really stimulated the national news media because now there was apparently a direct link between the political wing of the White House and the DOJ’s termination of at least one of these US Attorneys. This did not go down well with many Republicans or Democrats in Congress, since the DOJ is supposed to function as an independent federal government agency, not as an extension of the White House.

The President and the Attorney General finally admitted that the dismissals and subsequent conflicting explanations had been handled poorly and that “mistakes had been made.” Members of both parties began to complain about the conflicting explanations coming from the Attorney General’s office and the DOJ and started calling for Attorney General Gonzales to resign and for a Congressional investigation to find the truth.

The DOJ then released over 3000 pages of e-mails between the DOJ and the White House concerning the terminations, in an effort to show that they were not politically motivated. However there was a gap of 16 days from November 15th until December 2nd (just before the firings) where there were no e-mails. Hmmm, this reminds me of the “missing” White House recordings back in the days of the Watergate scandal.

As I write this, the White House and Congress are now heading for a constitutional showdown over the President’s right to “executive privilege”. Congressional Committees in both the House and Senate are issuing subpoenas to Karl Rove and other White House officials to testify under oath regarding their role in the firings of these US attorneys and the White House is refusing to allow this.

Welcome to the world of divided government in the United States.

Lewis Libby and Journalists

Republican Politics, American Style
Published March 22nd 2007in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

On Tuesday March 7th 2007, Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s long time right hand man and Chief of Staff, became the first Bush White House official to be convicted of a felony while serving in an official government capacity. He was convicted on 4 of the 5 felony counts he was indicted for, including counts for lying to the FBI, a Federal Grand Jury and for obstruction of justice. He is the highest ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980’s.

The case originally stemmed from an investigation into who in the Bush Administration had leaked the identity of a 20 year undercover CIA agent named Valerie Plame Wilson, to conservative pundit Robert Novak, in an attempt to discredit her husband, former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Ironically we now know that two of Mr. Novak’s sources for the original leak were Richard Armitage, Bush’s deputy Secretary of State and Karl Rove, the Presidents chief political advisor who confirmed her CIA identity in a phone call with Mr. Novak. It appears that neither of these officials will ever be charged with a crime however, even though the special prosecutor has evidence that Karl Rove also initially lied to the FBI and the Grand Jury about his role in leaking Valerie’s CIA identity to the press.

Mr. Rove avoided an indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice, by suddenly recovering his memory of discussing Ms. Plame with Time reporter Matthew Cooper. He did so only after learning from his lawyer, Robert Luskin that he was likely to be indicted for not disclosing this in previous testimony to both the FBI and the Federal Grand Jury investigating the leak of Ms. Plame’s CIA ties.

The special prosecutor’s evidence against Karl Rove centred on a one week period in May of 2003 when Mr. Rove discussed Ms. Plame’s CIA identity with 2 reporters, Robert Novak and Matthew Cooper, and then reported this back to other high level White House officials. Karl Rove also discussed with his White House colleagues, the political importance of countering former Ambassador Wilson’s claims that the Bush administration had knowingly twisted pre-war intelligence regarding Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium from Niger.

Mr. Libby also had a role to play in discrediting former Ambassador Wilson, but not as the first administration official to leak the information about his wife being an undercover CIA operative. He sought to further the campaign to discredit Mr. Wilson in private discussions with Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and NY Times reporter, Judith Miller during which he also discussed Ms. Plame’s true identity. When questioned about these conversations by the FBI, Libby lied and claimed he had first learned of Valerie’s CIA role from NBC TV newsman Tim Russert, instead of other White House officials like his boss Dick Cheney.

Mr. Libby concocted this story in an attempt to cover up the Bush Administration’s whispering campaign, which was designed to discredit Mr. Wilson and defend the Bush administration’s use of discredited and false intelligence about Iraq trying to obtain uranium from Niger to justify the US invasion of Iraq. Mr. Libby did not want the public to learn that his boss, Vice President Cheney had asked the President to selectively declassify a top secret document so that the information could then be leaked to the press in an attempt to discredit Ms. Plame’s husband.

The trial of Mr. Libby was notable for exposing the sometimes incestuous relationships between Washington DC based journalists and the government officials they rely on as sources for their news stories. It also showed the way in which government officials sometimes use the press in an attempt to mislead the public, in this case to help defend the US government’s reasons for invading Iraq, most notably Bush’s claim that we had to prevent Saddam Hussein from using his “weapons of mass destruction” which have never been found.

Additionally, trial testimony showed that Bush administration officials tried to use the press to discredit their critics by whispering that Mr. Wilson had been dispatched to investigate the Iraq uranium acquisition claims at the behest of his CIA operative wife. They hinted that this was just a case of nepotism on the part of Valerie Plame, when in fact nothing could have been further from the truth. Mr. Novak was sympathetic to these claims by his friends in the White House which is why he exposed Valerie Plame’s identity in an attempt to support the Bush Administration’s campaign to discredit former Ambassador Wilson.

One of the unfortunate side effects of the Libby trial was the special prosecutor’s success in compelling a number of reporters to reveal their confidential sources.

This could have a chilling effect on future journalists’ ability to obtain confidential information that the public has a need or a right to know, from government sources. Three reporters initially fought to defend their conversations with Mr. Libby and keep his identity secret, by both invoking their rights under the First Amendment and by pointing to the crucial role that confidential informers play in a free and democratic society. In the end their testimony proved to be crucial in convicting their one-time secret government source.

Furthermore, a long-time understanding in Washington DC politics that government leak investigations would only go so far in pressuring reporters to reveal their sources was smashed in this case. Mr. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Libby case has shown that this pact between the government and the press no longer carries much weight and can not be counted on to protect confidential government informers in future leak investigations.

Even though Bush Administration officials were clearly using the press for their own illegitimate reasons in this particular case, that is an acceptable trade-off as far as I am concerned in terms of the press and their right to protect confidential government sources. Society’s right to know what is going on in government is often dependent on the willingness of government insiders to reveal important and often classified information to reporters, with the assurance that they won’t have their identities exposed later.

A chilling consequence of the Libby case may be that government officials will become less willing to disclose vital information that the public has a right to know in the future. While I am glad that the devious inner workings of Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove and the Bush administration were exposed in this case, I am very worried about the cost that was paid to obtain Libby’s conviction in terms of continued diminution of First Amendment protections for the press and their informants.

I hope I’m wrong, but only time will tell if my concerns are indeed valid.

Barack Obama Part 2

Republican Politics, American Style (Barack Obama Part II)
Published on March 15th 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

Today I will elaborate further on why Barack Obama is the best potential Presidential candidate. In my previous column, when I acknowledged Senator Obama’s political acumen, I was referring to his record as an Illinois legislator where he built a reputation as a man who could build coalitions and work effectively with Republicans and Democrats. This has continued in the US Senate where he has a record of working with Republicans to co-sponsor legislation dealing with Immigration reform and legislation providing US citizens with a transparent way to see which organizations around the country receive Federal funds, which Government agency gave them the money and what it was for.

Senator Obama, unlike our current and previous Presidents, has admitted using marijuana and cocaine regularly as a teenager. He has acknowledged experiencing some emotional problems coping with his multi-racial heritage and growing up in single parent home without his father present. He is an honest man who has acknowledged his own shortcomings and past mistakes. That’s’ the type of person I know I can trust. This is what I mean by possessing a sense of personal responsibility.

Senator Obama has also urged Democrats to reach out to evangelical Christians and engage in discussions with them and communicate what their own values are, stating that; “we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.” Senator Barack Obama stands for unifying the American people, not dividing them so he can achieve his own political goals. That is the sign of a principled person and an “honest broker.”
This is the kind of person I must support if and when he does decide to run for the US Presidency. A person who seeks to unify rather than divide our country.

Having said all that, I must also express my concern about his run for President in 2008. I have a strong sense that it is too soon. Only once in American history have 3 consecutive presidents been re-elected to a second term, James Madison was the only one in 1821.

If history is prologue, then whoever wins the Presidency in 2008 is likely to serve only a single term. Conversely, history also favours the re-election of any President who is subsequently elected to succeed a one term President.

History also favours candidates running for office following the end of a divisive foreign war, when citizens long to have their country reunited again. Andrew Johnson failed in his attempt to hold onto the Presidency following the end of the Civil War. The Democrats lost the Presidency after the end of World War I and Winston Churchill was turned out of office as Great Britain’s Prime Minister following the end of World War II. While Harry Truman retained the Presidency following the end of World War II with a huge upset win over his Republican rival Thomas Dewey, he failed in his bid to win re-election after the end of the Korean War. Gerald Ford also failed to win re-election following the end of the Vietnam War.

Because I am certain the Iraq war will still be going on when President Bush leaves office, his successor, Republican or Democrat, will have to preside over the end of it. Victory in that war, as previously defined by President Bush, is highly unlikely. Whatever his successor does to extricate the US from this conflict is likely to be regarded unfavourably by a large percentage of the voters in the 2012 elections. Is past history is any kind of indicator, and I believe it is, then Bush’s successor isn’t likely to win re-election or even their own party’s nomination.

If Senator Obama had waited until 2012, he would have been more likely to be seen as a unifying force than he will be viewed in 2008. The Republican Party will make sure that 2008 is a nasty and negative Presidential campaign, no matter who the Democratic nominee is, because this is what has always worked best for them. Senator Obama could have avoided this desperate last ditch attempt by Republicans to hold onto the Presidency and regain some of their power in Congress, instead of confronting it. I believe the divisions caused by the Iraq war will still be very evident come November 2008 and for some time thereafter.

I believe the Senator’s lack of experience will also be used against him. Barack Obama has only been on the national stage as a Senator for two years and has never been in a national race. If he had decided to sit out 2008, he could have spent the next 4 years continuing to build a national base of support by campaigning and raising money on behalf of other political candidates.

The next round of redistricting following the 2010 census will probably weaken the Republican Party and reduce the number of safe seats they currently count on holding no matter what happens nationally. This should then result in a stronger slate of candidates for the Democratic Party in both state and Congressional elections, which will also help the Party’s 2012 Presidential nominee. But above all, I just have a strong indefinable sense that he should have waited, that it’s just not his time yet. I really do hope I’m wrong about this.

I just wish he would have waited until 2012. If elected in 2012, Barack Obama would begin his first term in office, January 20th 2013, 150 years after a Republican from another era, who was both a great leader and a true statesman, named Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. That’s just another bit of history for all of us to consider.

Barack Obama

Republican Politics, American Style (Barack Obama Part I)

Published on March 8th 2007 in Metro Eireann

By Charles Laffiteau

Today I would like to begin discussing my opinions regarding one of the recently announced Democratic Party contenders for the 2008 Presidential contest, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. I was going to use just a couple of lines to summarize my assessment of this candidate in my previous column, where I discussed all of the other Democratic and Republican potential or announced Presidential candidates.

However, doing so would have been a cowardly way out of my current dilemma. I am in a dilemma because, of all the announced or potential candidates, Republicans and Democrats, I honestly believe that Senator Obama is the best man for the job as our next President.

As a life long Republican, it pains me greatly to say this. Many Republicans will now dismiss me and my opinions as never having been representative of the Republican Party. They will accuse me of turning my back on the Republican Party and of being a “turncoat” or “traitor” if you will. Some will even say “He never really was a Republican anyway.”

I can understand such sentiments and will offer the following as my only defence: “I am an American citizen first and a member of the Republican Party second.” As such, my duty as an American citizen and as a voter is to support and vote for the man or woman I believe will do the best job as President of our country. Those who disagree with me are well within their rights to do so and I will respect their opinions even though they are contrary to mine.

Having stated this justification for my position, as well as my belief that Barack Obama is the best man for the job, I would also like to say that I truly hope he decides against running for President in 2008. Before I elaborate on why I hope Senator Obama decides not to run in 2008, let me first explain why I believe he is the best person for the job of President of the United States.

I believe that Barack Obama possesses that unique combination of leadership skills, political acumen, strongly held principles and possession of a sense of personal responsibility needed by anyone chosen to lead the worlds’ oldest democratic government. The Presidency of the United States (US) is unlike any other national leadership position in the rest of the world, because the US is the world’s only true global superpower. The greater the power at one’s disposal, the more judicious one must be in terms of using or exercising such power.

Unfortunately, President Bush and his Republican supporters fell victim to that intoxicating elixir of power which is best exemplified by that old adage “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. They were seduced by the power at their disposal, as have so many other national leaders (throughout the world) over the centuries. These misguided souls deceived themselves into believing they could do no wrong and that they were “men of destiny” rather than simply mere mortals.

Like so many others who have come before them, Bush and Company weren’t very good students of history, thus they were doomed to repeat those same mistakes rather than learning from them. Was the US invasion of Iraq and our justifications for doing so really much different than Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979? Afghanistan was Russia’s next door neighbour instead of halfway around the world, but couldn’t we still learn some lessons from their failures there? What about the US experience in Vietnam? How could the Bush administration ignore the historical warning signs?

I truly believe that Barack Obama would not have made many of the same disastrous decisions that the Bush administration has made, because he is very much aware of the limitations of US power. He is well aware that it is not as overwhelming as Bush believed and Senator Obama knows it should still be exercised sparingly.

Alone among all Presidential contenders, be they Republicans or Democrats, Barack Obama took a politically unpopular stand and opposed the US invasion of Iraq. In 2002 he spoke at an anti-war rally in Chicago and said; "I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and with a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings."

This is an excellent demonstration of Senator Obama’s leadership skills and strongly held principles. Barack Obama will undoubtedly make some mistakes while he is in office, but he isn’t likely to repeat the same mistakes he or others have made. Next week I will elaborate further on why I believe Senator Obama is deserving of both mine and other Americans support, in his run for the US Presidency and why I hoped he would not run in 2008 but rather wait until some later date.

Early look at the 2008 US Presidential Race

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on March 1st 2007 in Metro Eireann
By Charles Laffiteau

So who do I like in the 2008 Presidential Sweepstakes? I will dispense with the horse racing vernacular and try to explain my reasoning using what little “horse sense” some people think I possess.

For starters, I believe the upcoming 2008 Presidential election will end up being one of the nastiest and most expensive set of primary and general elections in US history. Why? Because I think the Republican Party will pull out all the stops in an attempt to regain the footing they lost in the 2006 mid-term elections.

Those mid-term elections were largely a referendum on the Bush Presidency and although it was a stinging defeat for the Republican Party, the election was much closer than it appeared, given the total reversal of the House majority which transpired between the Democratic and Republican camps. Congressional redistricting is still five years away and until then, the Democrats are going to have a tough time holding on to some of those 33 seats they won in the 2006 mid-term elections.
Some of those new Democratic seats were won in staunchly Republican districts thanks largely to ethics and corruption charges against the Republican incumbents. Other seats were won by very narrow margins of only a few hundred votes in normally Republican districts in Georgia and Ohio.

The Republican Party is painfully aware of how close they came to winning a number of those seats and will stop at nothing to win them back in the 2008 elections. Most Republican incumbents and potential candidates in newly Democratic districts are already distancing themselves from the President and his policies, in an attempt to avoid any further wrath from voters who are increasingly at odds with the President’s Iraq war strategies.

Barring some dramatic turnaround in the situation in Iraq, I don’t expect to see President Bush asked to help Republican candidates out on the campaign trail in 2008 in any battleground states or congressional districts. Most Democrats in these areas would like nothing better than to get some videos or pictures of their Republican opponents, standing beside the President. I think the Republicans are way too smart to let that happen though.

One sign of the President’s low standing is the fact that in just the first 3 days, over 10,000 Methodists in Dallas (most of whom probably voted for Bush) signed a petition opposing Southern Methodist University’s selection as the site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Usually, Presidential Libraries are highly sought after by cities and their universities as popular tourist attractions and prestigious academic “crown jewels.” Such rapidly escalating opposition comes as a bit of a surprise to me.

As for the Republican candidates to replace President Bush in 2008, here is my assessment of them and their respective chances at this stage early in the race. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is now out of a job in a southern state which has apparently returned to the Democratic fold. He is a darling of the Christian conservatives. Another of their fair haired boys is Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who will be out of a job in 2010 because he announced during his 2004 election campaign, that he would not run for another term because he supports term limits.

Both of them will get votes from the social conservatives of the Republican Party, but have little chance of winning the Party’s Presidential nomination. The rest of the field consisting of former New York Governor George Pataki and former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge are also out of work politicians who stand little or no chance of winning the party’s nomination, much less the general election. All of the above are just angling for a new job as Vice President on the Republican ticket which will probably be headed by either Senator John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

While I can live with any of these three at the top of the Republican ticket and tolerate one of the others in the Vice President’s slot, I would have to support Rudy Giuliani if the vote were held today. Mitt Romney was my original choice, but I question his flip flopping on abortion and several other issues. I know he’s trying to win over the Christian conservatives, but while playing to that audience will help you in some states Republican primaries; it will not help you in the general election. My concerns about John McCain are mainly about his age and his health, rather than his stance on any particular issues.

Given the mood I sensed when I was back in the states for 3 weeks last month, I think Rudy Giuliani has the best chance of winning the general election against any of his likely Democratic opponents. He has demonstrated leadership skills during his terms as Mayor of New York City and he doesn’t flip flop on the issues to please those Republicans who disagree with him.

On the Democratic side I believe that the Republicans would genuinely celebrate should Hillary Clinton win the Democratic Presidential nomination. The Clinton name at the top of the ticket would galvanize the social conservatives and when they get riled they have demonstrated time and time again the ability to get the vote out. I don’t question Hillary’s abilities or that many of her positions, but I just don’t think she is electable in the general election. I think many Democrats also question her electability and will throw their support to either 2004 Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards or Illinois Senator Barak Obama instead.

Former Senator John Edwards of South Carolina is the Democrat with the best chance of riding the current wave of anti-Bush national sentiment to victory on November 4th 2008 and I think most Republicans and many Democrats would agree with me on this. Edwards has a strong organization in Iowa and if he comes away a winner in the Iowa caucuses, then the momentum he gets there may be all he needs to make him the “winner” Democrats want at the top of their 2008 Presidential ticket.

The rest of the Democratic field is hoping for a stalemate or a major gaffe by one or more of the 3 current front runners to give them a chance. Otherwise they, like some of their Republican counterparts are just going to be angling for a spot at the bottom of the ticket. I would be very surprised to see any of them last much beyond the first month or two of the primaries.

Did I forget about Barak Obama? Not hardly. The good Senator from Illinois will be the subject of my next 2008 Presidential election column.