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Like a Bad Penny... Gonzales Back in the News

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September 2, 2008

Today a report dropped from the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office on the conduct of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and some classified information. The report, it looks like, was leaked to the press yesterday in an effort to soften up the ground for our old buddy Gonzales by his lawyer George Terwilliger. The Post‘s headline , in part, reads: “No Evidence of Data Breach; Criminal Sanctions Unlikely Against Gonzales.” Way to control the story guys. (Interesting sidenote: Gonzales’ attorney is George Terwilliger, a former Goerge H. W. Bush Justice Department guy. Oh, also? He debated my boss, ACLU Washington Legislative Office Director Caroline Fredrickson, on the merits of the FISA Amendments Act on the Newshour this past June 20th — the day the House passed the bill. From what I remember, he was very smart and, in my opinion, very wrong in his defense of the bill and the immunity within. Caroline schooled him!)

Emptywheel over at Firedoglake has a fantastic and detailed post on the story this morning. I highly, HIGHLY suggest you check it out.

Here’s the gist. After former acting Attorney General James Comey gave his fairly stunning testimony last year on the infamous Ashcroft hospital bed visit, the IG began investigating whether or not classified information was discussed in front of people it should not have been, namely one Mrs. Ashcroft. While investigating that incident it appears the IG found that Gonzales had taken notes at ANOTHER infamous meeting — the March 10, 2004 meeting between administration officials (including President Bush) and the Gang of Eight (which consists of House and Senate Leadership and the chairmen and ranking members of both Intelligence Committees.) Let’s do a quick Congressional roll call. At that meeting we have one Jay Rockefeller, a Jane Harman, Ms. Nancy Pelosi herself and former minority leader Tom Daschle. There were some Republicans, too, but let’s focus on the Dems for the moment, as it was on their watch that the ridiculous FISA legislation squeak through.

So there’s Rocky, Harman and Pelosi in the room. The administration apparently asks for emergency legislation to legalize what they’re doing (after telling them that Comey disagrees with the legal basis). Sound familiar? But the Gang of Eight says no. Yay! Then, as the story goes, the GoE encouraged the administration to continue wiretapping without warrants. Yay! Wait… What?

Harman and Rockefeller have already come out swinging about Gonzales’ representation of the meeting (shocker) but let’s focus on our boy Alberto. So, Gonzales has these notes now right? Since they’re classified materials the notes now come with a strict protocol. Like, being kept in a “sensitive compartmentalized facility” which, I guess, means to Gonzales that he should keep them in a safe in his office or his briefcase or, you know, whatever. In terms of the protocol, DOJ IG Glenn Fine says:

Our investigation found that Gonzales did not fulfill these obligations and instead mishandled highly classified documents about the NSA surveillance program and a detainee interrogation program.

In short, Gonzales — beginning in January 2005 — starts throwing the notes in his briefcase and carrying them around town. Now, I have my theories but, again, Emptywheel does a great job dissecting this story so I’ll let her do the speculating for me (for instance making some great points about how these meeting notes may have played a role in negotiations around legislation rewriting FISA.)

So Gonzales screwed up again. Now what? Justice? Nope. The DOJ and IG are not prosecuting. Why would they? There’s clear evidence pointing to Gonzales’ peripheral and direct involvement in legally questionable administration actions and policies — illegal wiretappinng, illegal detention, aggressive politicization of the DOJ — and he has suffered no consequences. The fact that there have been no criminal prosecutions for all that this administration has done in our country’s name over the past eight years is appalling. Now, with Gonzales’ mishandling of these documents and his clear violation of the law, it’s like having Capone on tax evasion and giving him a pass. Unbelievable.

Here’s hoping that someday soon, Congress will grow some backbone and insist on conducting real oversight and challenging the executive branch when it goes off the rails. It has a lot to do when it gets back next week and a lot of mess to clean up during the next administration. Hopefully it will take that obligation seriously and stop sitting on its hands. And if they don’t? Well, we’re itching for another fight…