leahytoast.jpg(Image via Twolf1.  Alternate image via Cozumel:  Texas Toast, the continuing saga…)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is set to testify today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Testimony will begin at 9:30 am ET — and will be covered live on C-Span3.  I’ll try to liveblog to the best of my ability this morning as the hearing moves forward — but that requires a little cooperation from all of you.  The more you fill up the comments with one-liners and/or irrelevent, off-topic comments, the faster I have to change threads.  Which means I have to pause my Tivo…and that puts the liveblogging behind.

So, keep the comments sparse, and I’ll liveblog as quickly and accurately as I can, and we’ll all be happier.  Thanks gang.  Happy birthday to dratty this morning.  Now, onto the Texas Toast…

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9:32 am ET

SEN. LEAHY gavels the hearing into session. 

SEN. LEAHY OPENING:  Three months ago when AG Goznales last appeared before thsi committee, I said that the DOJ was experiencing a crisis of leadership perhaps unrivaled in its history.  That crisis continues.  The AG has lost confidence of the American public — the DOJ must be restoreed to be worthy of tis name.  It should not be reduced to being a political arm of the WH — it was never intended tobe that.  With the department shrouded in scandal, the DAG has announced his resignation, others have asked that their names be withdrawn rather than face a confirmation hearing.  The DOJ’s chief of staff, WH liaison and others have resigned.  I joke that the last one out should turn out the lights.  This WH values loyalty over judgment, secrecy over openness and ideology over competence.  Political considerations factored into the firing of at least nine USAttys.  The list was compiled by high ranks within the WH — whether federal prosecutors were doing enough to file partisan voter fraud cases in strategic locations.  The question remaining is who made the decision to fire these prosecutors.  We know from testimony that the President was not involved.  The evidence we have been able to collect points to Karl Rove and political operatives in the WH — the stonewalling continues to our desire to get to the truth.  What is the WH so desperate to hide?  This WH has ordered former officials not to appear, including Harriet Miers — the WH is asserting its claims of privilege — further than have ever been asserted in our nation’s history — and that neither Congress nor the courts can review it.  Again, this WH puts itself above the law.

Discussing the Todd Graves refusal to bring a case which would have stripped a number of African American voters from the voter rolls.  When Graves was fired, Schlozman was brought in — and did what the WH wanted, including filing a case on the eve of an election contrary to DOJ internal regulations.  This is what happens when a responsible prosecutor is replaced by one who is politically motivated.  [CHS notes:  AG Gonzales is using an old lawyer trick this morning -- keep yourself busy taking notes as someone is speaking so that you don't show emotion.  When he is looking upward at Leahy, it is all he can do to suppress a massive stink-eye look.  Leahy's opening is quite good thus far.]

Discussing the Todd Graves refusal to bring a case which would have stripped a number of African American voters from the voter rolls.  When Graves was fired, Schlozman was brought in — and did what the WH wanted, including filing a case. 

Mr. Schlozman also bragged about hiring ideological soulmates.  Monica Goodling likewise admitted to crossing the line by using a political litmus test for hiring considerations.  Instead of keeping law enforcement above politics, this Administration has put its political needs above the law.  The lack of independence and the actions of the AG in acting as though he were the President’s own lawyer and not the AG of the United States.  Leahy lists:  torture memo, going to Ashcroft’s bedside to try and force him to sign off on NSA spying while he was incapacitated, and other actions taken which show that the AG was working toward the President’s interests only. 

Leahy brings up the AG lying about the Patriot Act violations under oath — recently discovered through FBI testimony, not through the AG being open about having testified falsely.  Leadership at the DOJ only admits mistakes when public revelations force such apology — the regrets are that we have found out about these excesses and abuses, not for the problems themselves.  With no other outside check or balance — with an Administration trying to cut the courts and the Congress out of any oversight — what the WH is doing amounts to “trust us.”  I am not willing to do so — you have squandered the public trust.

A tragic dimension of all of this is the undermining of the integrity of the thousands of officials and prosecutors and investigators who do their jobs and do them well.  Once the government shows a disregard for the independence of the justice system and the rule of law, it is very hard to restore the people’s faith.  This committee will do what it takes — both Republicans and Democrats agree — to restore the DOJ.

SEN. SPECTER OPENING: I direct my remarks to you.  You saying that you accept full responsibility is not enough.  The DOJ must function properly in order to protect the vital interests of the American public:  national security cases, drug and violent crime, and many other issues.  This investigation has placed a heavy cloud over the DOJ — there is evidence of very low morale, of mismanagement — and this is due to your actions or inactions.  I have asked you both formally and privately to give us an explanation for the USAtty resignations, and that has not been done.  We have sought an accommodation for interviewing the remaining witnesses — and the Administration has continued to stonewall.  [CHS notes:  Arlen is now offering a full cave to the WH to make this go away.  Hello, Lord North.]  Then says that the Congress cannot give up their power of oversight — will not give them up as an arrangement with this Administration.  Remarkable turn of events:  announcement that the DCUSAtty will be prevented from enforcing a contempt citation.  The President can stymie Congressional oversight by doing so — that is taking this controversy to an incredible level.

Specter is laying out the Presidential claims as dictates.  [CHS notes:  which, they are...]  Specter now going through conflict of interests analysis, both for the AG and the WH.  We also have an inherent contempt procedure of trying this in the Senate.  We also have the potential Alcee Hastings proceeding as precedent — using a committee — and we are going to move ahead on this however we have to do so. 

Every week a new issue arises.  I sent you letters advising you that we would be pursuing these matters at this hearing.  One is on the legality of the terrorist surveillance program — you said categorically there was no disagreement on this.  From Comey’s testimony, we know very difference facts from your testimony.  Going through the Ashcroft hospital visit — it bedevils me to see any real explanation for how you could honestly say there was no disagreement when you had to try and weasel a signature out of a man in the hospital who was incapacitated.  I also wrote to you about the Paul Charlton death penalty case — you wouldn’t give him more than 5 to 10 minutes with your deputy, you wouldn’t talk to him.  The oxycontin case — there was malicious, deliberate falsification.  Is your department functioning?  How many other matters will there be that we discover that you haven’t told us about or that we haven’t heard from in the news?

Gonzales being sworn in under oath.

AG GONZALES OPENING:  Wants to change the subject to scary terrorism — instead of talking about how his lack of leadership and his weakening of the DOJ with his incompetence makes the nation as a whole less safe.  Typical.

Talking about the end-run of FISA court, griping about having to follow the law — wants the laws changed to allow them to do as they like.  [CHS notes:  Man, is he barking up the wrong congressional tree.  "Sorry we suck.  Now give us even more unsupervised power."]

Leahy says AG’s full statement will be made part of the record.

SEN. LEAHY:  We have documents, not of course given to this committee, but via FOIA lawsuits.  There were violations of the Patriot Act safeguards on improper search warrants and other problems.  You said in testimony under oath that there were no reports of problems — and I followed up with written questions about these problems, and you never revealed that you knew of these problems from earlier written reports.  Do you care to revise your prior misleading testimony?  Gonzales says that he understands the prior statements that he made may have been confusing — similar to Director of FBI.  Leahy interrupts and says he is not concerned with other people’s comments, he wants an explanation of Gonzales.  AG says that the IOB reports say that these are not intentional abuses — Leahy asks so you are saying this isn’t an abuse if the requirements are broken without malice?  Gonzales goes off on a long-winded bureaucratic explanation of procedural niceties and doesn’t answer the question.  Leahy says that the general counsel of the FBI hasn’t received a single response from the IOB — for five years — “I thought Congress was the only group that didn’t get responses.”  Are you saying that if we send it to the IOB and they bury the problem that there isn’t then a problem?  That’s almost an Alice in Wonderland Administration.

Gonzales says appropriate action is taken.  Leahy asks, after a long pause, “Such as?”  [CHS notes:  think skeptical tone.]  Gonzales says some additional training is a good example of what they do.  Leahy says that there are 17 remaining USAatty positionsare open — when canwe expect actual nominations from the Bush Administration?  And don’t think that you will be end-running the Senate for advice and consent, either.  Gonzales says they are working on it — the vetting process takes time.  [CHS says:  jeebus!  17 positions are open!  OMG!!!]

Leahy then gets into the constitutional duty of faithfully executing the law and enforcing a contempt citation?  Gonzales says that he is recused from this ongoing controversy and that Leahy will have to talk with the Soliciter General.  [CHS notes:  who, I think, is an acting SG, if I remember correctly he may have been a recess appointment?  Does anyone know for certain?]

SEN. SPECTER QUESTIONS:  About Mr. Comey’s testimony.  You said there were no serious questions about the NSA program.  Comey directly contradicts your statement.  Gonzales says that they didn’t go to the hospital to talk with Ashcroft about the domestic spying program but, rather, about other intelligence activities — not about the surbeillance program that the President announced to the American public.  And I’d like to talk to another meeting that occurred at the WH that puts the meeting at the hospital in context.  Emergency meeting at the WH involving senior members of the WH and the Gang of 8 — Comey said that he couldn’t approve the continued surveillance question.  Specter says how could you get approval from Ashcroft for anything if he was under sedation?  Gonzales says that there are no rules to decide whether Ashcroft was able to answer — they decided to leave it up to Ashcroft.  [CHS notes:  This tap dance on this is appalling.  Ashcroft had relinquished his authority, they knew he had just had emergency surgery and was under sedation and very strong pain medication.  If he thinks that anyone believes they weren't trying to take advantage of that, he is crazy.]

Specter is now pissed.  Moves on to executive privilege — and the WH attempt to bar the Congress from getting a proper determination about whether you can have a constitutional government where Congress exercises its duty of oversight where a President refuses to allow the oversight?  Gonzales says sometimes accommodations are reached, but he’s not going to answer Specter’s question because this relates to an ongoing controversy and he isn’t going ot answer it.  Specter says that Gonzales is the AG and also a lawyer — and this is a fundamental constitutional question.  A court decides when a conflict exists — this has nothing to do with the USAttys who were asked to resign.

Does the President have a conflict of interest in allowing the former WH counsel to respond to subpoena?  Gonzales says that he’s not going to answer that question either.

Let’s see if I can find a question you will answer.  How about the death penalty case?  Forensic problems with the case, Charlton contacted your office and said there were problems with the case and that it wasn’t a proper death penalty case.  Charlton spoke with McNulty — had a deputy then call Charlton and say that McNulty had spent “perhaps as much as 5 or 10 minutes” a significant period of time on this matter.  Gonzales says that he doesn’t remember this particular case.  Specter says what you are saying is that you do not recall about how you stood on a matter of having a man executed.  [CHS notes:  Good lord, I remember every freaking case that I ever tried where a significant period of incarceration was involved, because they are personally difficult cases even where defendants deserve the penalties involved.  We are not a death penalty state in WV -- I can only imagine the additonal level of consideration that goes into that for an attorney, and Gonzales is breezing over this as if it were nothing at all.  Appalling and immoral, and that's just for starters -- what kind of unfeeling dolt dosn't pay attention when they are required to make that sort of decision.  I've handled hundreds of court files -- but the big cases stick in my mind in detail.  Still.  Years later.]  Specter now makes this point as well.

SEN. KOHL QUESTIONS:  Guantanimo continues to harm our image around the world.  Goes into which former Bush officials, including current DOD head Gates, that it needs to be closed.  Recent press reports are underway to close Guantanimo — but recent press reports say that AG Gonzales and others at the DOJ are blocking the closure.  Gonzales begins his answer with the strawman argument of releasing everyone to fight against us again (which no one advocates for any real terror suspect), or bringing them to US soil which Gonzales thinks is unfeasible.  Kohl says if you support closing Guantanimo, why don’t you put things itno place that would allow for this to happen?  Gonzales then going on about bringing them to the US, problems with asylum questions on sending people back to nations where they might be tortured.  [CHS notes:  Gonzales really nervous in answering these questions.  And dismissive.]  Gonzales says President wants to close Guantanimo, but will require consultation with Congress to do so.  [CHS notes:  So, the WH pass the responsibility to someone else strategy extends to Guantanimo.  Good to know.]  Kohl now goes over the price of gas and why the DOJ isn’t enforcing the law with regard to cartel price fixing.  Gonzales says they have to worry about “the downstream of impact” of the legislation on this.

Since last oversight hearing, doesn’t seem like anything has improved at the DOJ.  Lots of resignations at the DOJ, positions not being filled because people keep turning down the jobs.   This cannot be all about you — the DOJ is more important than the person who fills the job.  Why wouldn’t the US be better served with someone who had believeablity, trust and credibility, which you do not have?  Gonzales says he has decided to stay and fix the problems.  [CHS notes:  and continue to be a firewall for the WH...]  Says they are bringing in good, experienced people to temporarily fill these positions.  [CHS notes:  without, of course, having them go through traditional Senate confirmation process or anything...for the record]  The way you measure morale is to measure output — and output has been outstanding.  [CHS notes:  That's because most of the people who work there are professionals, you jerk.]

Starting a fresh thread