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March 20, 2007

The DOJ 'Document Dump' -- Fear and Loathing in D.C.

I've just spent the last four hours poring through the Justice Department's document dump (totalling about 1,000 pages so far, with more to come) and most of it reads like an excruciatingly bad first novel. It's repetitious, disjointed and filled with characters possessing little self-awareness or social skills who, in the absence of any meaningful life purpose, have made ass-kissing and ass-kicking their raison d'etre. Sadly, it's not a novel. It's Your Government at Work. The insecurity and hostility of those populating the place is rivaled only by the idiocy most of us displayed in junior high school. The spoiled kids at the DOJ don't appreciate people with independent streaks and that's one of the main reasons they didn't like John McKay. He didn't fall in line well enough or often enough.

On August 30, 2006, McKay sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, outlining the great work that had been accomplished since the LinX -- an law enforcement information file-sharing program created by McKay and eventually adopted as the national model -- was put into place. But the letter also asks McNulty to please continue supporting the idea of expanding the program by lobbying for more Congressional funding and it's signed by about a dozen U.S. attorneys, at least one of whom later said she didn't realize her name would be added to the letter. I don't know the ins and outs of DOJ protocols but, apparently, this mixing of LinX program participants, a DOJ head honcho and a request to go to bat for the program's expansion was "outrageous." At least that's the word used by Mark Connor to Michael Elston in a DOJ email the next day. (Elston, if you will recall, is the DOJ official who threatened both McKay and USA Iglesias with getting publicly smeared if they didn't shut up to the press after their firings.) Interestingly, there's no email or other document showing that the DOJ relayed those concerns to McKay. To make matters worse, less than a month later, McKay spoke to the Seattle P.I. about the difficulty of prosecuting worthy cases when the budgets for the U.S. Attorneys Office had been cut for three years running:

The federal prosecutor for Western Washington says his office is "stressed to the limit" because of years of budget cuts that threaten to slow the pace of criminal prosecutions.

U.S. Attorney John McKay has issued this warning to county prosecutors and special agents in charge of federal agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement: "We may not be as responsive as you want us to be on the cases you refer to us."

The office has been hemorrhaging prosecutors and support staff members even as the other Washington is poised to impose another budget cut for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

The office, which handles federal criminal prosecutions and civil cases involving the U.S. government, is down six criminal prosecutors and one civil attorney, leaving 58 assistant U.S. attorneys, McKay said.

Elston sent around an email the same day complaining, "Even when he's in Ireland he causes problems! He needs to stop writing letters." But again, there is no DOJ document showing any communication between the department and McKay about the issue. However, by now McKay's name had been added to an internal DOJ email on USAs the department was "pushing out" or "considering pushing out." Maybe it was the third strike. After all, McKay had been continually harassed by state and national Republicans for not charging somebody, anybody, for voter fraud violations in the governor's race the previous year. State GOP party boss Chris Vance, BIAW pitbull Tom McCabe and Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Bob Williams were so rabid about it they went and contacted the DOJ's Inspector General and Karl Rove's go-to gal for the Western States, Glynda Becker, about dumping McKay. Other USAs had been attacked for not going after Democrats too. It was only a matter of time before the various players in the department finally got their act together and devised a way to get rid of all the USAs they could in one fell swoop on December 7, 2006.

On pages 20 through 24 of the pdf. document 2-5 there's a chart on the ousted USAs, with one column describing the outside evaluation team's assessments (EARS), and one column for Justice's leadership assessments. The first bullet point of McKay's EARS says:

USA McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the USAO and the District's law enforcement community. 

The first bullet point of the leadership assessmant says:

Pattern of insubordination, poor judgement and demonstration of temperment issues in seeking policy changes without regard to appropriate methods and tactics.

When you see the statements right next to each other in the pdf it provides a rather striking contrast. Maybe there really was a legitimate reason for the McKay firing but the DOJ has changed its stories on the oustings of the eight prosecutors so many times it would be impossible to discern which one is true. The only thing that's for certain in these thousands of pages is that "the U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president." It's certainty is due to the fact that the line is repeated ad nauseum throughout this extraordinarily bad piece of literature known as the DOJ Document Dump.

Since they keep reminding us that it's the president's pleasure that wasn't served by these prosecutors, isn't it time that the president himself -- "the decider" -- tells the American people the real reason he fired them? For certainty's sake? I mean, really. Hearing the truth from this White House, just once, would be... a real pleasure.

Posted by shoephone on March 20, 2007 at 05:23 AM in National and International Politics | Permalink

Comments

"Prosecutor Fired for Trying to Fight Terrorism Effectively". That should have been the headlines in mid-December when McKay and the other "wayward" prosecutors were fired.

I'm gathering that McKay's creation, LinX, that he wanted to spread widely among law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors, was what got him on the bad side of the great Republican poohbahs. No matter that such a system was strongly recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

Posted by: Lynn | Mar 20, 2007 7:41:19 AM

Oh, shoe - you are a better person that I for having read all of those documents - even though there is a huge amount of repetitive material, it still had to be looked at long enough to make sure it was not something new.

What is not clear to me is the actual beginning point for what was apparently a several-years' project of pushing out some of these people. We originally were told it was Meiers who first raised the idea of a total purge, but the administration has backed off of that, somewhat - memories are getting hazier the closer we get to the truth, I think. There are some real memory problems over there at the White House.

It is also interesting to me that they were pretty cavalier about the use of the term "performance issues" in their public statements, allowing the perception to be that these were people who were not doing their jobs properly, knowing that to allow that perception to stand could be the death blow to careers of individuals who were, in fact, highy regarded in the legal community.

I also find it interesting that Bud Cummins was willing to play ball on his own departure, even going as far as to consider writing a recommendation for Tim Griffin, and to offer to help with the argument for why the Patriot II provision made sense because judges were not qulaified to appoint interim prosecutors. That tide turned, I guess, when he felt threatened.

We have heard relatively little from the other side of this mess - the fired prosecutors - and it is my hope that they can shed some light on this from their perspective. I fear that it will be so "inside baseball" for most people they will just listen to the media on it - and I have no faith that the media will get it right. Last night on ABC, their legal correspondent opined that Gonzales was having a tough time because Democrats were giving this the appearance of a scandal. Excuse me?

Will look forward with great interest to the next chapter of this saga - and to Patrick Leahy sinking his teeth into the meat of it.

Posted by: Anne | Mar 20, 2007 7:50:51 AM

Shoephone, thanks for digging in the dumpster and coming up with what is needed to present this mess to us lazybones - a narrative. Once you and your ilk get this installment chewed up, I'd love to see another doc dump with information about prosecutions pursued and prosecutions avoided by the 85 USAs they didn't fire.

Posted by: op99 | Mar 20, 2007 9:23:04 AM

Great work again, shoe. Anne, I heard that idiotic line on ABC last night with a Grrr to match yours.

So far I've sampled just a few of the items they're posting at TPM Muckraker (http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/002809.php), but the carrying-on they reflect really is (as you say, shoey) adolescent. It's obvious that the only issue was "party line" all along, and that many of these USAs never dreamed they weren't smack on it. Margaret Chiara's emails back to Main Justice are first begging, then threatening as she sees her meal-ticket disappearing. And Bud Cummins' moves, as Anne notes, have a stink of their own.

You know that Dem quoted the other day, something like, "My God, we've only had six weeks so far, and every tree we've barked up has a cat in it. Imagine where we'll be in six months"? Well, look out, BushCo -- it's raining cats and they're coming atcha claws-first. WOWF!

Small wonder Cheney went back to the hospital today.

Posted by: lotus | Mar 20, 2007 9:30:58 AM

Just to be fair: I think the Navy created the prototype for LinX. And have you seen DOJ's press releases on the subject? I recommend:
http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/waw/press/2007/jan/mckay2.html

http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/waw/press/2007/jan/mckay.html

Seriously, you can't have it both ways.

Posted by: mary | Mar 20, 2007 9:35:05 AM

Mary, it's hard to read those links and put them together with being fired - or pushed out or let go or whatever they are calling it today - for performance issues.

And when you look at who Reichert has recommended as his replacement, you have to be concerned that they are winnowing out the most effective and diligent prosecutors for those who will be more mindful of politics and allegiance to party, which will necessarily - I believe - be at the expense of the people these prosecutors purport to serve.

Posted by: Anne | Mar 20, 2007 9:57:49 AM

I agree with you, Anne, 100% that the DOJ press releases are thoroughly at odds with Main Justice's current--and shifting--characterizations of Mr McKay's work.

Actually, I'm astonished that anyone at Justice can keep a straight face when saying that he was fired for a program they touted upon his departure.

But I just want to make sure the Navy Deepartment gets credit where it's due.

Posted by: Mary | Mar 20, 2007 10:31:02 AM

Great post, shoephone. This, apparently, is what happens when our government is run by people whose emotional development froze in junior high.

Mary - Seriously, you can't have it both ways.

But they do want to have it both ways - and they've been able to do so, in obscenely Orwellian fashion, for most of the last six years. They must be in such severe shock at everything that is happening now.

And DOJ has been politicized and demoralized to the point where it is extremely difficult, as Anne says, for it to do the job it's actually supposed to do.

Too bad we don't have a clear majority in the Senate as well; then we could just impeach the lot of them.

Posted by: Leslie in CA | Mar 20, 2007 11:29:11 AM

Our good friend from the Olympic Peninsula, SusanHu, put up a diary on DailyKos this morning about McKay, LInX, and the P-I story. That most of the comments turned out to be banter between SusanHu and me is coincidental.

Link: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/3/20/131540/811

Posted by: N in Seattle | Mar 20, 2007 11:49:00 AM

There is so much garbage in the doc dump, it takes awhile to realize there are lots of gems too. For example, the issue of the Patriot Act "slip in": In pdf 1-8, starting on page 48, there's a whole section devoted to "Why 120 Days is Not Enough" time for replacements of interim prosecutors to be found. It's just so much posturing, whining and excuse-making. The document says 120 days is "Not a realistic period of time in which to interview and select a candidate for background investigation", have them go through the FBI backgrounds, prepare the nomination, submit to the Senate, blah blah blah.

All I could think of while reading through it was "Is this going to be their excuse for the inclusion of Rick White's name on the new recommend list to replace McKay?" These people really have nothing to fall back on at this point. And since the POTUS and the WH have already said they won't block this morning's vote to change the law back to pre-Patriot Act advice and consent, how does that square with the DOJ's absolute stance in favor of keeping the snuck-in statute?

Posted by: shoephone | Mar 20, 2007 12:18:21 PM

And don't you think the garbage is supposed to lull the reader into skipping and skimming and possibly missing the important stuff that's buried there?

Fielding has only offered to have Rove and Meiers have a "conversation" behind closed doors, unsworn and with no record. Dems are not buying what he's selling, and why should they? At the same time, I do fear acceptance of a compromise, given that the Dems have been conditioned to thinking that any bone thrown their way by an otherwise intransigent administration represents a victory - but am hoping Pat Leahy stands firm in his resolve and will take this to the mat if need be.

Let's have the constitutional crisis - I think the facts are on our side. In words Bush understands: Bring it on!

Posted by: Anne | Mar 20, 2007 1:10:05 PM

Froomkin (who's apparently read more of the pdfs than I have) is saying that the Big Dump is mostly cover for/distraction from the Small Dump the other day, and he quotes a comment on TPM's "Doc Dump HQ" thread who's highly suspicious of the gaps in it. Leahy and Conyers have got to put their feet firmly down on this and not let the Schumers among them pry them off the spot. It's years past time for this showdown.

Posted by: lotus | Mar 20, 2007 2:34:02 PM

Well, and now we see that they've already got their interim guy on their real agenda:

Builders group calls for voter fraud inquiry, 3/16/07, Seattle PI:
"A home-building industry group has asked the interim U.S. attorney for Western Washington to investigate possible voter registration fraud in King County."

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Mar 20, 2007 4:39:39 PM

For those interested in helping, Mash and I are trying to create a wikipedia for these documents, so that we can collaborate on entering and analyzing this information. If you want to help out, go to:

http://www.docstrangelove.com/gonzopedia/index.php/Main_Page

Read the Help page, then pick a document and dig in.

Lynn, there's a reference to the LiNX system and John McKay here:

http://www.docstrangelove.com/gonzopedia/index.php/3-19-2007_DOJ-Released_Documents_1-1#Pages_8-9

Posted by: Cujo359 | Mar 20, 2007 5:05:41 PM

mary, there's a reference to NCIS in that LiNX-related link I posted above. Apparently, there was a contractor called CSM that had something to do with it.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Mar 20, 2007 5:08:39 PM

Thanks for all your hard work Shoephone great post. I linky-loved it over at my pad.

Posted by: HopeSpringsATurtle | Mar 20, 2007 6:15:28 PM

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