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Ari Fleischer: ‘Congress Is Dangerously Politicizing The Justice Department’

Mon, 2007-08-27 13:16

This afternoon on Fox News, Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary and current flack for a new White House front group on Iraq escalation, blamed Congress for “dangerously politicizing the Justice Department”:

Republicans were very hard on Janet Reno. Democrats were brutal to John Ashcroft and now Judge Gonzales. What’s happening is Congress is really politicizing the Justice Department, unfairly so and dangerously so, because there are so many important law important functions that go on there. It’s regrettable, both parties have done it.

Watch it:

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While Fleischer puts his finger on a real problem — the politicization of the Justice Department — he misdiagnoses the culprit. After six years of Congress’s failing to assert any accountability over the Justice Department, the new 110th Congress revealed the ethical wrongdoings of the Gonzales through aggressive oversight. Here’s a review of the record:

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who fired attorneys for political reasons.

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who gave the White House political team unprecedented power to intercede in the affairs of the Justice Department.

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who allowed his department to illegally hire attorneys based in part on their loyalty to the Republican Party and the Bush administration.

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who dissembled and misled about the administration’s spying activities.

– It was Alberto Gonzales, not Congress, who lied in stating that all Bush appointees would be Senate-confirmed.

In an op-ed entitled “Sinking ship leaves rat,” Michael Tomasky writes, “Gonzales’ legacy is so resoundingly awful that one can’t imagine which of his failures and transgressions his eventual obituary writers and future historians will highlight.”

Baird Turns To Conservative Media To Push New, Pro-Escalation Iraq Position

Mon, 2007-08-27 11:55

Nearly two weeks ago, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), who voted against the initial invasion of Iraq, returned from a two-day trip to the war-torn country, proclaiming that “we’re making real progress” in Iraq and that the escalation should be extended “at least into early next year.” Baird expanded upon his new position in an op-ed for the Seattle Times.

As Atrios has noted, until he started supporting Bush’s escalation, Baird had chosen to stay out of the Iraq debate’s media spotlight. But now that he’s calling for “six to eight more” months of escalation, there doesn’t appear to be a camera or microphone that Baird will refuse to speak to.

Baird has engaged in a media blitz, giving at least five mainstream media interviews to promote his pro-war line, including two on national television:

“I have come to believe that calls for premature withdrawal may make it more difficult for Iraqis to solve their problems.” [The Columbian, 8/17/07]

“I think we’re making real progress.” [The Olympian, 8/17/07]

“There’s a long way to go but the progress is real.” [Seattle Times, 8/20/07]

Six to eight more months can make a “very important difference in the ability of the Iraqi government to resolve some of its difficulties.” [All Things Considered, 8/21/07]

“I think six more months of American troops can help stabilize and secure the situation.” [CNN’s The Situation Room, 8/24/07]

Pro-war pundits and politicians quickly latched onto his comments. Baird reciprocated by granting interviews to three explicitly conservative outlets, helping to promote their agenda for an open-ended commitment in Iraq:

“A precipitous withdrawal at this point would probably be at least as big of a mistake as the initial invasion itself was.” [The Lars Larson Show, 8/21/07]

“My own belief is that we are making progress and that Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus and the troops on the ground need time and breathing space.” [MSNBC’s Tucker, 8/21/07]

“A six-month extension of this current troop strength is worth the risk, even though I know it’s uncertain and I know we will lose more good lives and more money.” [National Review Online, 8/25/07]

While the media has trumpeted Baird’s pro-war position, the war criticisms offered by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) after she returned from Iraq — and those criticisms of members of the 82nd Airborne — have received comparably far less attention.

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher has more.

Townsend turned down DHS Secretary position.

Mon, 2007-08-27 11:00

The Swamp reports that Frances Fragos Townsend, White House homeland security advisor, “declined the offer to consider job of Homeland Security Secretary currently held by Chertoff in a recent conversation with the White House.” As ThinkProgress noted earlier today, Bush crony Clay Johnson is now reportedly the frontrunner for the job.

Bush and Cornyn react to Gonzales departure: It’s sad.

Mon, 2007-08-27 10:19

President Bush, commenting on Alberto Gonzales’ resignation this morning, said, “It is sad.” Bush isn’t the only one in mourning. Appearing on MSNBC and CNN, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) repeated the same talking point. “I think it’s a sad thing,” Cornyn said, adding that today is “a sad day.” Watch it:

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In a statement released this morning, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers finds the true sadness in the situation. “It is a sad day when the Attorney General of the United States resigns amid a cloud of suspicion that the system of justice has been manipulated for political purposes,” Conyers said.

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‘Hearts and minds’ campaign insults Afghans.

Mon, 2007-08-27 10:06

On Friday, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan distributed footballs as part of its “hearts and minds” campaign to win over “support from the local population.” But the footballs instead “kicked off a storm of protest” because they were illustrated with the flags of several nations, including bearing “Koranic verses as part of the flag of Saudi Arabia.” Protestors said it was “insulting for texts from the Koran to be put on the ground and kicked.”

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Flashback: Chertoff’s Incompetence At DHS Prompted Repeated Calls For Resignation

Mon, 2007-08-27 09:05

One of the most repeated criticisms of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s tenure was that he continued to serve as Bush’s lawyer, rather than the nation’s lawyer. “He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove,” said Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV) in a statment today.

The media are reporting that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is the frontrunner to replace Gonzales. Yet it’s not clear that Chertoff will be any more independent or competent.

Most recently, Chertoff was criticized for claiming that he had a “gut feeling” the nation faced a heightened chance of a terrorist attack this summer. As head of the agency overseeing FEMA, he managed the administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. He also faced bipartisan criticism for his agency’s misallocation of terrorism funding.

This morning, CNN’s legal analyst Jeff Toobin speculated that there are already “very good sign[s]” for Chertoff’s nomination. But in the past, Chertoff’s incompetence as DHS head has prompted bipartisan calls for his resignation:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called for the resignation of Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday, one day after the government dropped Las Vegas from a list of cities considered potential high-risk targets eligible for special anti-terrorism grants. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1/5/06]

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY): Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, warned that if the funding isn’t fixed, “Chertoff should consider resigning.” [New York Daily News, 6/2/06]

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown: Asked whether Chertoff should be dismissed, Brown said, “Well, I think so.” He said FEMA had been “marginalized” by Chertoff and his predecessor, Tom Ridge, and that he had expected the agency’s performance to suffer. [CNN, 3/3/06]

New York Times: “On Wednesday, an 11-member, all-Republican Congressional panel released a scathing report on the leadership failures before, during and after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. While there is no shortage of incompetent public officials involved in this tragedy, one stands out above the rest. That person is Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. … It would be nice for the administration to finally send a message that if important people do a bad job, they go away.” [2/17/06]

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX): “Do you believe you should be fired because I believe you should.” [House Homeland Security Committee hearing, 2/16/06]

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) and Charlie Melancon (D-LA): “What the majority report does not do, however, is draw the logical conclusion to its own findings and recommend Secretary Chertoff’s removal from office. Our judgment, based on a careful review of the record, is that the Department of Homeland Security needs new and more experienced leadership.” [Minority report by the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate Katrina, 2/15/06]

As Salon’s Glenn Greenwald notes, the “DOJ and the country desperately need a completely outside figure who will ensure that the prosecutorial machinery operates independently. … That is not going to happen if the Democrats allow the confirmation of one of the ostensibly less corrupt and ‘establishment-respected’ members of the Bush circle — Michael Chertoff or Fred Fielding or Paul Clement or some Bush appointee along those lines.”

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Bush shocked by few resources dedicated to bin Laden.

Mon, 2007-08-27 08:30

In this week’s Newsweek, reporter Evan Thomas provides an update on the hunt for bin Laden. Thomas writes that during a 2005 CIA briefing at the White House, Bush was shocked to learn that the Iraq war had so strapped the agency’s ability to focus on the man responsible for 9/11:

The Iraq War, meanwhile, has proved to be a black hole for the Americans, devouring men and matériel and absorbing the attention of the brass in Washington. In 2005, the CIA gave President Bush a secret slide show on the hunt for bin Laden. The president was taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Is that all there are?” the president asked, according to a former intelligence official, who declined to be identified discussing White House meetings. The CIA had already embarked on a “surge” of sorts, and doubled the number of officers in the field. But many were inexperienced and raw recruits, and they produced little improvement in “actionable” intelligence.

Did he resign for the kids?

Mon, 2007-08-27 08:09

After stating earlier this year, “I’m not going to resign — I’m going to stay focused on protecting our kids,” Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation this morning but declined to give an explanation. Gonzales said:

Yesterday I met with President Bush and informed him of my decision to conclude my government service as attorney general of the United States effective as of September 17th, 2007. … And I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people.

After a short statement, Gonzales rushed off the podium, hounded by questions such as, “Why are you leaving?” Watch it:

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UPDATE: The AP has a round-up of reactions from lawmakers and others to Gonzales’ resignation. The Gavel has more.

CNN: Bush Plans To Install Inexperienced, Bush Loyalist Clay Johnson At Homeland Security

Mon, 2007-08-27 07:18

This morning, CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux reported that “very senior level sources” inside the administration are telling her that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff will replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Additionally, these sources say Chertoff will be replaced at Homeland Security by Clay Johnson III, the Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget. Watch it:

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Johnson, who has no homeland security experience, is a professional Bush loyalist. While Johnson may have familiarity with some aspects of DHS’s budget, he appears to have no experience in the many responsibilities of the department, including immigration, air travel security, disaster response, and other aspects of our nation’s homeland defense.

He is one of Bush’s oldest friends, having attended both prep school and college with the President. Johnson served as Bush’s gubernatorial chief of staff in Texas before heading up the Bush-Cheney transition team.

When Bush first chose Johnson as his chief of staff in Texas, he said it was specifically because of his friend’s loyalty to him:

I want someone whose primary interest is me — George Bush — and who doesn’t hope to parlay this into something and isn’t trying to curry favor with this one or that one,” Bush told Johnson and his wife, Anne Sewell Johnson, over lunch.

Asked about his relationship to Bush, Johnson told the New York Times recently that “there’s a lot of devotion to George Bush the person.” Johnson, who “is probably the only person to have spanked” the president’s dog, Barney, “keeps a George Bush doll on his desk.”

Clay Johnson appears to bring the same qualifications to Homeland Security that Alberto Gonzales brought to the Justice Department.

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ThinkFast: August 27, 2007

Mon, 2007-08-27 06:01

Child fighters, once a rare presence on Iraq’s battlefields, are playing a significant and growing role in kidnappings, killings and roadside bombings in the country, U.S. military officials say. Boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber foreign fighters at U.S. detention camps in Iraq.”

In his first major foreign policy address, French President Nicholas Sarkozy called for a timetable to withdraw foreign troops from Iraq. “The Iraq tragedy cannot leave us indifferent. France was, thanks to Jacques Chirac, and remains hostile to this war,” said Sarkozy.

After first claiming he did not want Congress to set a timetable, Sen. John Warner (R-VA) suggested on Sunday that he may support Democratic legislation ordering a withdrawal. “I’m going to have to evaluate it,” Warner said. “I’m going to have to evaluate it,” Warner said. “I don’t say that as a threat, but I say that is an option we all have to consider.”

A sniper killed a Shiite pilgrim on a Baghdad bridge Monday while another was killed and six injured in other attacks as tens of thousands of faithful made their way to the southern city of Karbala for a major religious commemoration.” (more…)

BREAKING: Alberto Gonzales Resigns

Mon, 2007-08-27 05:12

The New York Times reports Alberto Gonzales will announce his resignation later this morning:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

Mr. Gonzales, who had rebuffed calls for his resignation, submitted his to President Bush by telephone on Friday, the official said. His decision was not announced immediately announced, the official added, until after the president invited him and his wife to lunch at his ranch near here.

U.S. News reported this weekend, “The buzz among top Bushies is that beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally plans to depart and will be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Why Chertoff? Officials say he’s got fans on Capitol Hill, is untouched by the Justice prosecutor scandal, and has more experience than Gonzales did, having served as a federal judge and assistant attorney general.”

UPDATE: In March, Gonzales said, “I’m not going to resign. I’m going to stay focused on protecting our kids.” In June, he promised to “sprint to the finish line” to “accomplish all the goals that are important to me.”

UPDATE II: In April, Gonzales said he would stay as long as he felt he could be effective:

I will stay as long as I feel I can be effective, and I believe I can be effective. Obviously, we’ll be working with the Congress to reassure them that we’ve identified the mistakes that have been made here and that we are taking steps to address them. But I can’t just be focused on the U.S. Attorney situation. I’ve also got to be focused on what’s really important for the American people.

UPDATE III: CNN’s John King: “This is the last of the Texans who came with President Bush to Washington in the close White House circle to have a senior job. Karen Hughes, of course, still at the State Department — she left and came back. But Karl Rove leaving recently, now Alberto Gonzales leaving as well. This President does not have the old Texas posse around him anymore.”

UPDATE IV: The AP reports, “A senior Justice Department official said that a likely temporary replacement for Gonzales is Solicitor General Paul Clement, who would take over until a permanent replacement is found.” FDL has some background on Clement.

UPDATE V: Gonzales will be reading a statement at 10:30 a.m. ET. President Bush is expected to make a statement about Gonzales at 11:30 a.m. from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

UPDATE VI: Gonzales said, “Yesterday I met with President Bush and informed him of my decision to conclude my government service as attorney general of the United States effective as of September 17th, 2007.” He offered no reason for his departure.

UPDATE VII: Gonzales’s resignation letter HERE.

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Escalation Architect Bemoans Label Of ‘Armchair General,’ Claims Iraqi Deaths Are ‘Way Down’

Sun, 2007-08-26 11:45

This weekend on Washington D.C. ABC affiliate’s Capital Sunday, Center for American Progress Iraq analyst Brian Katulis debated American Enterprise Institute’s military analyst — and Iraq escalation architect — Fred Kagan.

“Right now, Iraq is in civil war. It’s in fact in multiple civil wars,” Katulis said. “And I don’t think that these military tactics that these armchair generals and the academics offer up fundamentally address the core issue — that Iraqis are in a vicious struggle for power.”

Taking issue with Katulis’ description of him as an “armchair general,” Kagan complained that “you only get called an armchair general when you actually advocate doing anything.” Speaking as an armchair general, Kagan went on to claim “sectarian killings are way down,” despite an AP report that Iraqi deaths have doubled so far this year.

Watch it:

Katulis rejected Kagan’s assertion that Iraqi deaths are “way down”:

Sectarian killing is not down. If you look at the NIE, they say the places where Baghdad has become stabilized, it’s because of sectarian cleansing. Baghdad used to be a 65 percent Sunni majority city. Now it’s 75 percent [Shia], and we’re standing there and watching this happen while the militias are right underneath our nose, infiltrated in the very security forces that we’re supporting. And this raises big questions about what the heck we’re doing over there.

Armchair general Fred Kagan has advocated escalation so the U.S. can militarily confront Syria and Iran in the future. He said of escalation last month, “Whatever you can say about the current strategy, it has not failed.”

Odierno: troop reductions must begin by April ‘08.

Sun, 2007-08-26 11:00

Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general of the coalition forces in Baghdad, suggested that the current escalation could last through April 2008. Speaking on CNN’s Late Edition, Odierno said:

I would say, however, though, we all know that the surge of forces was temporary in nature. And we all know that’s going to come to an end and we all understand that. And it’s important that we decide when those forces begin to leave.

We know that the surge of forces will come at least through April at the latest, April of ‘08, and then we’ll have to start to reduce. So we will make our judgment based on the fact that we know we cannot maintain the surge of forces and we know that they will start to reduce in April of ‘08 at the latest.

National Guard troops cheer call for Iraq withdrawal.

Sun, 2007-08-26 10:23

Speaking to the National Guard Association general conference yesterday, Puerto Rico’s governor said that the Bush administration has “no new strategy and no signs of success” and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. His comments earned him a standing ovation from the more than 4,000 current and former Air and Army National Guard officers.

Claiming He Failed ‘Reporting 101,’ Wallace Attacks Moyers To Defend Rove

Sun, 2007-08-26 09:10

On Friday August 17, PBS’s Bill Moyers criticized Karl Rove for cynically invoking God and Christianity for political purposes while telling others that he is an agnostic, calling him “a skeptic, a secular manipulator.”

Two days later, when Rove appeared on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked him to take on Moyers’ criticism. “I’m a Christian. I go to church. I’m an Episcopalian,” responded Rove. “You know, Mr. Moyers ought to do a little bit better research before he does another drive-by slander.”

Earlier this week, Moyers argued that Wallace shouldn’t have taken Rove’s “every word as gospel,” but instead, should have challenged Rove’s assertion with other sources who report that he is an agnostic. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Wallace responded to Moyers’ rebuke, saying Moyers failed to do “reporting 101″:

Well, to save on postage, Bill, here’s my response. If you want to find out about someone’s religious beliefs, a good first step might be to ask him. If you had talked to Rove as I did, you would have found out he reads a devotional every day and the biggest charitable contribution he ever made was to his church. Of course, you never called Rove. That’s reporting 101, but it would have gotten in the way of a tasty story line about a non-believer flimflamming the Christian right. I guess, Bill, reporting is easier when you don’t worry about the facts.

Watch it:

While taking Rove’s “word as gospel,” Wallace completely disregards the numerous contradictory reports that justify Moyers’ claims:

1) “The White House will miss his indubitable political acumen. What other agnostic could have mobilized hundreds of thousands of conservative Christians behind a political banner?” - San Antonio Express News, [8/14/07]

2) “I could be wrong here, but I distinctly recall conversations with Rove friends who’ve told me that his struggles with faith did not lead him to Jesus Christ. Yet he knew and understood how to interact with (and manipulate, at times) the standard-bearers of the evangelical Right and the Catholic conservative intellectual elite…..” - The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder, [8/13/07]

3) “[Rove] told his friend Bill Israel years ago that he was agnostic and that ‘he wished he could believe, but he cannot.’” - James Moore, co-author of Rove bio, Bush’s Brain, [8/13/07]

4) “Rove once told a colleague that he had no religious affiliation and was ‘not a Christian.’” - James Moore and Wayne Slater in Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.

Additionally, journalist Christopher Hitchens has said he’s learned that “Karl Rove is not a believer.”

Moyers has not said whether he attempted to contact Rove. Still, there is a solid basis for his claims. Wallace never challenged Rove with any of the contradictory accounts of his faith, instead just blindly accepting what he said. As any reporter knows, healthy skepticism is also part of “reporting 101.”

Transcript: (more…)

Allawi paying lobbyists with funds from ‘an Iraqi person.’

Sun, 2007-08-26 08:55

In recent days, there has been some speculation in the blogosphere about where Iyad Allawi received the funds to pay for the lobbying services of Barbour Griffith & Rogers. This morning on CNN, Allawi said, “The support we got is from an Iraqi person. I cannot unfortunately divulge his name. ” He added that he did not know the exact figure of how much money he has received from this anonymous source. Spencer Ackerman suggests the source is Hazem Shaalan, a former Iraqi defense minister who walked away from the position in 2005 with perhaps as much as $1 billion.

Webb: Unlike Vietnam, Iraq War’s ‘Strategic Objective’ Was Unrelated To Reason For Invasion

Sun, 2007-08-26 08:02

In comparing the Vietnam and Iraq wars in a speech last week to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Bush implicitly acknowledged that the present course in Iraq bares similarities to the quagmire of Vietnam. Yet the lesson he took from Vietnam was that the United States withdrew too soon, using it as justification to stay the course in Iraq:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens, whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms, like boat people, reeducation camps and killing fields.

Today on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), a Vietnam veteran who supported the Vietnam war, said that Bush’s conclusion is inaccurate. According to Webb, in Vietnam, the “overall strategic objective” was directly related to the reason for going to war — i.e. ensuring “South Vietnam not fall to communism.” But the “implementation became flawed” and the United States needed to withdraw. On Iraq, he stated:

In Iraq, we’re having a reverse situation. We have an overall strategic objective that was not directly related to what we were attempting to do in the war against international terrorism. We have good people implementing a bad strategy. It’s just not the same situation. … We’re not going to have stability in that region until the American troops are out of Iraq.

Watch it:

Last week, several prominent scholars — including one quoted by Bush — denounced the President’s misuse of history. UCLA historian Robert Dallek, who has written about comparisons of Iraq to Vietnam, said Bush was “twisting history.” “What is Bush suggesting?” asked Dallek. “That we didn’t fight hard enough, stay long enough? That’s nonsense. It’s a distortion.

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Transcript: (more…)

Rep. Baird’s ‘real progress’ in Iraq.

Sat, 2007-08-25 18:13

On Friday, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), who recently returned from a trip to Iraq, wrote an op-ed in the Seattle Times arguing that withdrawal from Iraq “has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem just as success looks possible.” From the New York Times, an example of such “success“:

“That’s real progress,” Mr. Baird said, though he confessed he did not tell his wife about the region’s nickname, the triangle of death, and said the whole scene was a little surreal. “You have your flak jacket on, and your Kevlar helmet and you’re surrounded by guys with automatic weapons as you’re standing there, talking to the mayor. And you realize there’s a dusty old car next to you and you’re saying, ‘God, I hope that doesn’t blow up.’

Gonzales to be replaced by Chertoff?

Sat, 2007-08-25 14:56

U.S. News reports, “The buzz among top Bushies is that beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales finally plans to depart and will be replaced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Why Chertoff? Officials say he’s got fans on Capitol Hill, is untouched by the Justice prosecutor scandal, and has more experience than Gonzales did, having served as a federal judge and assistant attorney general.”

Iraq fraud whistleblowers ‘vilified.’

Sat, 2007-08-25 14:12

A new AP investigation finds that despite the “staggering mess” plaguing Iraq reconstruction, people who have attempted to blow the whistle and clean up the fraud have been shunned by the federal government:

One way to blow the whistle is to file a “qui tam” lawsuit (taken from the Latin phrase “he who sues for the king, as well as for himself”) under the federal False Claims Act.

Signed by Abraham Lincoln in response to military contractors selling defective products to the Union Army, the act allows private citizens to sue on the government’s behalf.

The government has the option to sign on, with all plaintiffs receiving a percentage of monetary damages, which are tripled in these suits. […]

But the government has not joined a single quit tam suit alleging Iraq reconstruction abuse, estimated in the tens of millions. At least a dozen have been filed since 2004.