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The Nation

Fitzgerald Turns Down Waxman in CIA Leak Case

Members of the Libby Lobby--those conservatives who have urged George W. Bush to pardon Scooter Libby--have decried special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and derided the case he brought against Dick Cheney's former chief of staff as a political persecution. "The criminalization of politics," virtue cop/gambling addict Bill Bennett called it. This attack is the culmination of a campaign that has depicted Fitzgerald as a run-amok prosecutor who abused his power to follow an agenda.

Fitzgerald, though, has refused to cooperate with this campaign. Just ask Representative Henry Waxman, who was hoping to draw the prosecutor as a witness to a congressional hearing this week on the CIA leak case. Fitzgerald apparently had no interest in appearing at an event where he would have an easy opportunity to score political points and settle scores. More on that in a moment.

Fitzgerald has taken plenty of incoming from various quarters. For years, he has been pummeled by media rights champions for his decision to pursue reporters with subpoenas (which led to the imprisonment of then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller for 85 days). But Jack Shafer, media follower for Slate and once a denouncer of Fitzgerald and his methods, recently offered a post-verdict reassessment:

The press (including me) may have overreacted in regarding special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald as some sort of Torquemada, and our fears of a shredded First Amendment are starting to look a little overwrought.

Like other journalists, I had shared Shafer's concern about the precedent Fitzgerald established. (Conspiracy declared: Shafer is a friend.) But it's clear that there has not been a tremendous chilling effect, in that stories about CIA prisons, fired US attorneys, FBI abuses, and the like continue to appear. Official sources still leak--whether as whistleblowers informing the public of government misdeeds or as bureaucratic feuders looking to stab a foe in the neck.

So the portrayal of Fitzgerald as Wrecker of the First Amendment has been overblown, though--to be nuanced about it--he leaves behind a record that could be cited by other prosecutors to come. But what about the rightwing complaint that the Libby case was a political assault?

Fitzgerald claims to be an independent (in political party terms), and throughout the case he insisted the prosecution of Libby was not about the Iraq war or how the Bush administration had steered the country into the mess there. Libby advocates can dismiss these indicators; they can note it's easy to claim partisan independence (what's really in his heart?) and argue it was tactically wise for Fitzgerald to deny the case was related to the war. But there's more that undermines the conservative case against Fitzgerald.

At the trial, Fitzgerald chose not to call Dick Cheney or Karl Rove to the stand. If this prosecutor was looking to cause political damage, he passed up two grand opportunities. He could have grilled each for hours. With the vice president, he could have asked a series of potentially embarrassing questions about Cheney's involvement in the campaign to undermine former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an administration critic. Cheney, according to Libby, was the first official to tell Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, which is a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate. Fitzgerald could have questioned Cheney about that and about Cheney's own efforts to gather information on the Wilsons and to leak selective pieces of intelligence to administration-friendly reporters (such as Judy Miller and the editorial page editors of The Wall Street Journal. He could have interrogated Cheney about the vice president's curious lack of curiosity when Libby volunteered to tell the boss everything about his involvement in the leak affair. Cheney, according to Libby, indicated to Libby he didn't want to know. (See here.)

Fitzgerald could have had a field day with the vice president. And he was prepared to do so--if Libby's defense attorneys were to place Cheney on the stand. But after Fitzgerald refrained from calling the vice president as a witness, Libby's lawyers decided it would be risky, if not foolish, to do so.

Ditto for Rove. With Rove on the stand, Fitzgerald could have asked Bush's top strategist about his role in the leak. (Rove leaked to Bob Novak for the column that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer, and he also disclosed information about her to Matt Cooper, then of Time.) Fitzgerald could have also asked Rove why he told White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he was not involved in the leak, how he managed to keep his job (given the White House position that anyone connected to the leak would be dismissed), and what Bush had known about Rove's leak-related shenanigans.

Rove and Cheney on the stand--it would have been murder for the administration. Fitzgerald, though, didn't pull the trigger. Such restraint undercuts the charge he mounted a political prosecution.

After the verdict, Representative Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the government reform committee, wrote to Fitzgerald and asked the prosecutor to talk to him and Representative Tom Davis, the senior Republican on the committee, about meeting with and/or testifying before the committee regarding "your views and the insights you obtained during the course of your investigation." In a March 14 letter, Fitzgerald, who is also US attorney in Chicago, turned them down, explaining that the Libby case was still pending (due to possible appeals) and that he did not believe "it would be appropriate for me to offer opinions." In a polite brush-off, he suggested that Waxman review the material introduced during the trial. (Despite receiving regrets from Fitzgerald, Waxman is going ahead with the March 17 hearing featuring Valerie Wilson.)

Fitzgerald is no grandstander. He did not exploit the opportunity to inflict maximum damage on the Bush administration. He brought a narrow case against Libby and convinced a jury. Trying to distort the narrative, Libby's comrades claim that Fitzgerald's endeavor was pure politics. The evidence shows they don't have a case.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Legislation Watch

Senator Bernie Sanders – founder and current member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus – wants to raise $100 billion to address the needs of ordinary Americans who are currently struggling, and another $30 billion to lower the deficit.

"It's very, very simple," Sanders told me, "if we have the guts to stand up to the wealthiest one percent of America."

Sanders has introduced the National Priorities Act to "expand the middle class, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and lower the poverty rate" – largely through rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of American taxpayers.

Speaking at a Senate Budget Committee meeting yesterday, Sanders said of a current Senate Budget Resolution for FY 2008: "While the Budget Resolution… is far from perfect, it is much more responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans than the President's….But I think that over the long-term, we can and must do much better in establishing our budgetary priorities than this budget does."

Sanders' National Priorities Act makes his budgetary priorities crystal clear: providing primary and dental care to millions of Americans and health insurance for children; full funding for veterans health care; increasing access to affordable childcare and fully funding Head Start; lowering property taxes by federally covering 40 percent of special education costs for kids; providing 330,000 additional Pell Grants and doubling the maximum allowable amount; creating 200,000 jobs by investing in renewable energy, public transit, and high speed rail; creating 180,000 jobs by constructing, preserving, and rehabilitating at least 150,000 affordable housing rental units; reducing taxes for 10 million working families by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit; and reducing the deficit by $30 billion.

"We're going to make people discuss the idea that if we were to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent, this is what we could do," Sanders said. Not surprisingly, there are still plenty of Democrats – especially in the Senate – who don't want to have that discussion at all. The Republicans have had great success in scaring the bejeezus out of Democrats that come election year, any tax increase on the rich will be misconstrued (through successful Republican spin – and Fox) as raising taxes on everyone.

"It's like Bush with the so-called ‘death tax,'" Sanders says. "Never mind that the estate tax only impacts the wealthiest 3/10th of 1 percent of our population – the Republicans have people thinking it's about small businessmen, family farmers, and ordinary Americans…. And in this case – with my legislation – they scare good people into thinking that it's ‘radical' to rescind taxes on the top 1 percent… even though it's been poll tested and the American people support it!"

Because of the "radical" label there are currently no cosponsors of this legislation and Sanders doesn't seem to be holding his breath for any sudden rush.

"I'm in this for the long haul," he says. "We're going to push Democrats to begin to take on the Big Money interests that have held sway in this institution for too many years."

This truly independent Senator from Vermont has done a great service in providing a simple yet powerful vision of what might be achieved with the right priorities and a dose of courage.

How to Handle a Lawless Attorney General

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he is not going anywhere.

Never mind that he is caught up in the biggest scandal involving a sitting Attorney General since the sordid days of the 192Os.

Never mind that the scandal that plagues Gonzales involves the same sort of concerns about the politicization of the Department of Justice and the federal bureaucracy that ultimately forced Richard Nixon from office in the 197Os.

Never mind that even Republicans are saying the firing of US attorneys who would not agree to launch pre-election prosecutions of Democrats has created "a crisis with the Justice Department"--to borrow a phrase from conservative Nevada Senator John Ensign--while Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are beginning to echo the assessment of New York Senator Charles Schumer, who says that Gonzales has engaged in an "unprecedented breach of trust and abuse of power."

Never mind that Schumer well sums of the crisis when he says that Gonzales has "either forgotten the oath he took to uphold the Constitution or doesn't understand that his duty to uphold the law is greater than his duty to protect the president."

Never mind that Schumer and a growing number of senators and presidential candidates have called on Gonzales to step down.

Gonzales knows that calls for his resignation are no more consequential than complaints about his disregard for the rule of law when it comes to torture and civil liberties.

While he may in fact have violated his oath of office and placed himself in direct conflict with the Constitution, the Attorney General claims that he is accountable only to his president.

"I work for the American people and serve at the pleasure of the president," says Gonzales.

Bush, the Attorney General argues, will decide whether he will continue to run the Justice Department.

Gonazales ought to peruse his Constitution a little more closely.

The Attorney General does serve at the pleasure of the president, who nominated him to serve in the position two years ago and who, according to initial White House statements, "has all the confidence in the world" in Gonzales.

But Gonzales occupies the venerable position of Attorney General because the Senate, which is empowered by the Constitution to provide the president with advice and consent regarding Cabinet picks, consented to his becoming the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

The Congress has the power to withdraw that consent via the process of impeachment.

If Gonzales refuses to do the honorable thing and resign of his own accord, and if Bush refuses to cause his appointee to surrender control of the Department of Justice, Congress is fully empowered to force the hand of the Attorney General.

The Constitution is clear on this point. "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," reads Section 4 of Article 2.

Congress has a rich and healthy history of withdrawing its consent and aggressively challenging lawbreaking attorneys general. In 1923, after Republican political fixer Harry Micajah Daugherty turned the Department of Justice into a den of iniquity, the great Montana populist Senator Burton K. Wheeler led progressives in a fight to bring Daugherty down for protecting the oil profiteers involved in the Teapot Dome scandal and a host of other wrongs. The Attorney General and his allies in the Department of Justice fought back by securing an indictment against Wheeler on trumped up charges, but the progressive reformers stood their ground.

Allies in the House launched impeachment initiatives, and Wheeler and his compatriots in both the Democratic and Republican parties made it clear that the Senate was ready to try the Attorney General. In short order, Daugherty was forced to resign.

Two years later, after Harlan Fiske Stone had cleaned up the mess Daugherty created, Republican President Calvin Coolidge nominated corporate lawyer Charles Warren, another conservative political operative, to serve as attorney general. Prodded by Wheeler and his fellow progressives, a Republican-controlled Senate rejected the Warren nomination twice in a week.

Wheeler said his purpose in refusing to allow attorneys general to serve merely at the president's pleasure was to restore the rule of law and respect for a Constitution "from which we have wandered in recent times."

In this time when another attorney general has wandered from Constitutional fundamentals, the question is not: "Will Alberto Gonzales, of his own accord, do the right thing?" It has been confirmed, time and again, that he won't.

Nor is the question: "Will George Bush, of his own accord, do the right thing?" It has been confirmed, time and again, that he won't.

The question is whether there is a Burton K. Wheeler in this Congress, a member of the House or Senate who is willing to utter the "i" word with regard to Alberto Gonzales and to fight to restore the rule of law and respect for a Constitution "from which we have wandered in recent times."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Ambassador, the Iraqi, and the Penguin

An ambassador--his name happens to be Timothy Carney--an Iraqi, and a penguin walk into a bar. The bartender asks how the Iraqi will ever possibly pay for his drink. The ambassador replies:

"The point to make there is that Iraq is basically a rich country; that in fact there's been a successful effort to mightily reduce the debt that Iraq had incurred during the Saddam Hussein era. I would argue that as Iraq returns to its former levels of 3 million-plus barrels a day of oil exported, that you're going to find as much money as the country needs for the major portion of this effort at maintenance and sustainment as you've defined it."

Oh wait, I think I've already heard this joke before; but back in March 2003, it went like this:

A Deputy Secretary of Defense--his name was Paul Wolfowitz--an Iraqi exile, and a penguin walk into the House Committee on Appropriations. A Congressman asks how the invasion and occupation the Bush administration has just launched will be paid for. The Deputy Secretary of Defense replies that our "Second Iraq War" won't be "overly expensive for American taxpayers": "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people… and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years… We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

Oh, and ambassador Carney, who is officially in Baghdad as the "coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq," offered his gem on how the Iraqis could take over paying for the "reconstruction" of their country in a March 9th, 2007 Department of Defense briefing in the Iraqi capital.

When you hear jokes like this repeated almost four years later, head for the exits… fast.

The Last Anniversary?

March 19 update:
Click here to read hundreds of reports on this past weekend's antiwar events.

Monday marks the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The carnage and waste of the war are obvious to all. As Stephen F. Cohen writes in The Nation, "complete and immediate withdrawal is the only way to redeem our nation for its role the catastrophe." This is what antiwar groups are demanding in a series of protests, demonstrations, rallies and concerts this weekend.

There's a national March on the Pentagon in Washington March 17 and lots and lots of small, local actions taking place nationwide.

An understandable march fatigue has set in among many progressives, but it still seems important to me to mark this terrible anniversary with as much noise as possible. Yes, we've done it before and the war still rages on. And I'm personally glad that the entire antiwar movement, such as it is, hasn't put its energy into bringing as many people as possible to DC this month. Seems better to me at this moment to invest the resources in other forms of opposition and outreach. But I'm also pleased to see that there are at least 1,000 antiwar events planned for this weekend across the US.

In Fayetteville, NC, the home of Fort Bragg, a peace fair with live music from Holly Near and others will start at 10:00am on Saturday.

In Tulsa, there'll be a peace rally and vigil for Oklahoma's war dead starting at 1 pm on Sunday, featuring short speeches, a performance from the All Souls' Unitarian choir and an address by Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls' senior pastor.

In Nashville, musicians, speakers and marchers will gather on Saturday at 2:00 pm at Owen Bradley Park at 16th and Division for a rally and march to the Federal Building at Broadway and 9th Avenue.

Across the state of Maine, more than 100 rural towns will participate in a campaign called "From Every Village Green."

In New York City, marchers will assemble on Sunday at 1:00 pm at 35th Street east of Sixth Avenue for a walk along 42nd St. to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

The weather is expected to be bright and sunny across America this weekend. Click here to see what's going on near you.

Connecting the Dots

Over at TAPPED, Ezra Klein proposes the following maxim as a means of understanding the Bush administration: "Bush's Razor: Given a possible universe of explanations for a particular administration action, the most morally pessimistic and politically cynical will inevitably be proven correct."

As the details of the US attorney purge leak out, it's clear that the Bush administration sought to convert the Justice Department into a partisan sledgehammer reminiscent of the way Nixon subverted the machinery of the state to pursuing his own petty vendettas. So here's the next question: We know that the administration has the power to wiretap any American it wants. Back during the Nixon administration, the White House used similar powers to spy on political enemies. Has the Bush administration done the same? As of now there's no evidence that they have, but given their record, and the hyper partisan mo that the most recent scandal is illuminating, it seems like a perfectly reasonable question to ask.

Hubris in High Places

The scandal action in Washington is intense, almost too much to properly savor.

That squirrely little right-winger at the Justice Department who was arranging a mass execution for US attorneys is compelled to resign. Now people want his boss, the precious-speaking Attorney General, to resign too.

The Army doctors who looked the other way as health care for wounded soldiers deteriorated have resigned. Then the Marine general who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs comes along and gratuitously attacks homosexuals. Maybe he should the join the list.

All this upset takes us back to a more settled time when George W. Bush could walk on water. If he stepped into manure, as he frequently did, nobody would make much fuss. He was Bush-Rove, after all, and invincible. The Republican party thought it was going to be the Thousand Year Majority. Dems grieved over their impotence and sulked at the brilliance of their opposition.

This seems like ancient history now that the Bush regime is in free fall, but it was actually just two years ago. GWB had just won his re-election and had indeed accumulated considerable political capital. He announced he was going to spend some of it by taking down the ultimate New Deal monument--the much beloved Social Security System. Conventional wisdom assumed he would succeed. The people were not consulted. But then they had just re-elected this man so it must be what they want, too. Yes, political reasoning in Washington is that shallow.

It was in this post-election glow of hubris that the twerps at the White House conspired with twerps in the Justice Department on the scheme to politicize federal prosecutors by firing a bunch of them. They assumed, based on the record, that they could do it and get away with it. Karl Rove blessed the project, Bush added his voice. The temperament was utterly Nixonian. After his second-term victory, Richard Nixon was pumped up by the same overweening pride and vast ambitions. Just before his great fall.

The Army administrators at Walter Reed were doubtless also misled by the presidential hubris. After all, they were doing what the Bush crowd wanted--privatizing the hospital by firing the maintenance staff--and nobody had ever gotten in trouble during the Bush years by following lame-brain instructions from the White House.

Scooter Libby is going to prison for a similar misunderstanding.

And the list is likely to grow longer. Painful as may be to behold these powerful, prideful men brought down, good citizens should do their duty and applaud vigorously. We are also permitted to smile (wisely) at their folly.

Obama: Palestinians Matter, Too

Barack Obama did the unthinkable recently: he had the audacity to mention the Palestinians.

"Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," Obama told voters in Iowa on Sunday. That remark hardly endeared him to the hawkish pro-Israel supporters at AIPAC, where Obama (and Hillary) spoke on Monday.

According to the New York Times, Obama and Hillary held dueling receptions to woo Jewish voters. Hillary offered the standard pro-Israel line, even displaying a sign spelling her name in Hebrew (can't imagine Barack translates very well).

In the past, Obama has spoken highly of the Palestinian people and the calamities they've faced. No doubt, his opponents will now try and use that against him. National Review's blog has already posted a picture of him with (gasp) Edward Said.

In the AIPAC primary, it's fair to say Hillary is winning round one.

Stop the Madness

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) --nearly one-third of the Democratic Caucus with 71 members--has challenged a Bush budget that would continue to drain our treasury through increased spending on the Iraq disaster while making tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent.

"Based on the budget that President Bush has sent to Congress it seems that the only priorities he values are cutting taxes on the wealthiest among us, and escalating his disastrous Iraq policy," said CPC co-Chair, Representative Lynn Woolsey.

In a statement issued on behalf of caucus members today, CPC co-chairs – Representatives Barbara Lee and Woolsey – noted that the Bush budget request of $392 billion for domestic, non-military discretionary spending in FY08 doesn't even keep pace with inflation. Meanwhile, the military budget would balloon to $481 billion – an 11 percent increase – not including the $200 billion in requested spending in Iraq over the next 2 years.

The CPC proposes a fairer, saner, and more humane budget that would provide at least $450 billion in domestic, non-military discretionary spending – a figure representing the funding level in FY05 and also adjusted for inflation. Repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans alone – as the CPC favors – would raise at least $348 billion in revenues. (Deborah Weinstein, director of the Coalition on Human Needs, points out in a recent post that "the difference between $450 billion and the president's proposal is nearly made up by the 2008 cost of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires alone--$55 billion.") Additionally, a CPC budget would reduce the Bush defense budget request by $68.7 billion to $412.7 billion in FY08. (And also save at least $187 billion in the next two years by bringing our troops home in 2007.)

Other critical aspects of the CPC budget include: raising tens of billions of dollars in revenues by curbing corporate welfare and collecting underreported and delinquent taxes; savings of at least $60 billion per year by eliminating obsolete Cold War weaponry and implementing GAO recommendations to stop Defense Department waste, fraud and abuse; and increasing funding for Hurricane Katrina recovery, renewable energy development, education, health care and Veterans' health care, community development and policing, housing, food and nutrition programs, and child care.

In a letter to Representative John Spratt, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Lee and Woolsey summarized, "For the good of our country, we need a federal budget that points our nation in a fundamentally fairer and more responsible direction."

At least some Dems are listening to voters who spoke so clearly in November – and pursuing a true alternative to the continuing course of soulless budgets offered by a failed President.