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. Now, onto the Texas Toast…

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SEN. HATCH QUESTIONS:  Let me start by saying Guantanimo is scary.  Be afraid of terrorists.  No closing it — because I’ve staked my political livelihood on the scary terrorist meme.  [CHS notes:  Am paraphrasing here.]   I’d like to give you a full opportunity to fully describe your CYA story about the Ashcroft hospital visit.  Gonzales says that the DOJ had repeatedly approved the NSA domestic spying two years prior — Hatch asks whether COmey had been there that whole time, and Gonzales says no, but he can’t remember how long he’d been DAG.  Gonzales says that the consensus of Congressional leadership was that the program should continue.  [CHS notes:  Hmmm...concensus -- so it was a unanimous agreement from Congressional Gang of 8 folks, meanign that there was dissent about this that the WH previously has not acknowledged either.]  Congressional leadership consensus also that it would be difficult to obntain legislation without compromising the program [CHS note:  i.e., without revealing that the WH had been serially breaking the FISA law for the last few years.]   Gonzales says that they wouldn’t have aked anything of Ashcroft had he not been competent.  Ashcroft talked most of the time, was lucid about legal issues — he and Card spoke with Comey after Ashcroft indicated that Comey was making the decision and he stood by him on that.  So, basically, according to Gonzales, it’s the fault of the Gang of Eight that Gonzales and Card had to go to the hospital to try and take advantage of a sedated and medicated man who had given his authority for this program to his DAG.  Hatch then goes through the membership of the Gang of Eight — that it is a bi-partisan committee, and that the consensus (as in NOT EVERYONE) was to allow this to continue, again skating any dissent.  [CHS notes:  Someone should ask about Gang of Eight dissent, given Rockefeller's written memorialization of it to Cheney, among others.]

Gonzales now whining about having to follow the FISA laws that have been in palce for multiple Administrations and that attorneys all over the country along with investigators follow every day in terms of third-party review of subpoenas for surveillance.   [CHS notes:  Including in dinky little jurisdictions like the one in which I worked, where manpower was at a premium -- we still managed to fill out our paperwork properly and follow the law.]

Hatch goes into the attempted end-run of the Senate on appointments for USAttys.  Will you get Senate advice and consent?  [CHS notes:  of course, Hatch fails to note that it was his former staffer that slipped that provision into the Patriot Act in the first place for the WH's benefit...but hey, who was expecting candor?]  Gonzales says they will do so.

SEN. LEAHY:  Could you not have taken 30 seconds or a minute to tell me that you wanted FISA amendments or updates?  You know, I have a listed phone number.  Gonzales says he thinks it’s been communicated to staff…Leahy says he has a listed phone number, feel free to call me any time if it is that important to you.

SEN.  FEINSTEIN QUESTIONS:  I listened to both openings, and then I listened to your response, which was non-responsive.  I don’t think you understand the problems in terms of integrity in the department and what it means to the nation.  You cannot tell me that you went to see Ashcroft for any reason other than to reverse what Comey’s decision had been.  Gonzales says yes, that’s what we were trying to do — if he’d been competent to make the decision.  Feinstein makes the point that Ashcroft told you directly that Comey was in charge, and that they had to abide by that. 

What I’d like to establish once and for all is who put the names of the USAttys on the list.  Kyle Sampson was the “aggregator.”  Comey didn’t even know the process was going on…and on and on.  [CHS notes:  Feinstein does a great job laying this all out.  Hope someone pulls this clip.]  Whoa pproved those names?  Gonzales says that he ultimately approved the names on the list that was presented to me.  How many names did you approve total?  Seven on December 7th.  I’ll have to get back to you on that.  Feinstein says “you don’t know after all we’ve been through, hearing after hearing?”  Gonzales says well, there were 7 on Dec. 7th to leave by January 15th.  There were others who were asked to resign?  Gonzales says yes.  Cummins and Graves — and there were others who were asked to leave because there was “legitimate cause.”  Feinstein says “so the others were asked to leave for illegitimate cause”?”  Gonzales backs away from this, and says that no, what he means is egregious conduct, blah blah blah. 

Read to you what has been dropped from the earlier addition of the DOJ manual.  (1) restriction on bringing a voter fraud case close to an election.  (2)  Care for overt investigations in the pre-election period and while election is underway.  “Most if not all prosecutions and investigations should await the end of the election.” — underlined in the prior volume — has been removed.  Reason for that was to not impact the election.  Gonzales, predictably, has no idea what Feinstein is talking about and can’t answer why those changes were made.

Feinstein says that this is relevent because two, possibly three, USAttys did no bring these small cases which could have impacted the elections.  And when you look at the changes in the regs on this, something is rotten.

SEN. KYL QUESTIONS:  Back to Guantanimo.  [CHS says:  The usual Kyl tactic of changing the subject continues...]   Oh, look over there — it’s internet gambling and the NCAA.  blah blah blah  Sports need to be clean blah blah blah.  Immigration and “criminal aliens”…blah blah blah.

SEN. CARDIN:  I want to return to the USAtty issue.  You have offere conflicting testimony as to who was responsible for the firings.  We still dont’ know how particular names got on the list.  Going through the list of USATTys who were fired.  Iglesias.  Problems with local GOP establishment in NM.  In Arizona, local GOP establishment not happy with Charlton.  With LAM, not happy with the expansion of the investigation on Duke Cunningham.  In Missouri, same thing — we’ve spoken about that.  What are we to think — when you and the WH are not giving us answers without the assertion of executive provilege?  [CHS notes:  Can someone please bring up the fact that the President is obstructing an investigation into his own WH by improperly asserting a blanket executive privlege to cover his own aides and his own WH?]   Gonzales says that he didn’t put names on the list, but the names didn’t surprise him — he got recommendations from others.  But fails to identify who put the names on the list.  Cardin says if you don’t know how the names got there, how can you tell me that they weren’t put on for political reasons?  Gonzales says that he’s just certain that didn’t happen, but that’s being investigated and he can’t really talk about it.

Cardin then gets into the Gang of Eight meeting.  These are not public meetings, are they?  Gonzales says no, that hasn’t been talked about publicly, but Congress has been informed about some of this from the WH.  They are not in open session.  Those proceedings are kept confidential.  Advice given are not made public.  To the extent that there is an importance of confidence to Congress for maintaining a working relationship, it seems to me that you are making a very selective use of what you do or do not hold in confidence.  You release information that you think you can use for your benefit and you withhold independent information that might lead us ultimately to the facts if it might be harmful to someone the WH is trying to protect.

Let’s go to another area.  Civil rights division hirings for career hires — used to be they were reviewed by career attorneys.  That was taken over by political appointees.  I hope that you will go back to a non-partisan environment for hiring career appointees.  We have had testimony, from Monica Goodling and others, that crosses the line in what is appropriate.  Gonzales says he thinks they have taken those steps, but doesn’t sound very sure.

SEN. GRASSLEY QUESTIONS:  Puts a list of outstanding document requests in the record.  WIll you personally assure that I will get the information that I have requested for oversight of the FBI?  Gonzales says he’ll personally assure that Grassley gets what he thinks is apporpriate for him to get.  Grassley then goes on to the DOJ’s failure to prosecute war profiteering cases. 

True the DOJ has failed to prosecute at least 10 fraud cases?  Gonzales says he doesn’t know — the fact that they decline doesn’t mean they don’t follow the case, and they closely monitor the case and may decide to intervene at a later time or follow an amicus.  Grassley says that declination of intervention does seem to indicate that you are not prosecuting these cases.  How many cases are under seal relating to Iraq fraud contractors?  Gonzales says that yes, they do have some.  Grassley asks about the DOJ trying to escape accountability by using the seal to mask conduct?  Gonzales says no, they want to expose fraud and that keeping it hidden protects the interests of the US.

Grassley goes on to a Custer Battles case.  [CHS notes:  Gonzales' suit has massive shoulder pads today.  It's an odd look -- a sort of Joan Crawford effect with the padding at the top.]  Gonzales stalls on answering anything about the case.

BREAK

Quote from Sen. Leahy to reporters at the break: 

“There is a greater morale problem at the department of justice than I have seen in 33 years in the Senate.”

Am going to start a fresh thread