No Comment — September 18, 2008, 8:42 am

Bush Justice for Sarah Palin and Jack Abramoff

The news today bears witness to the Bush Justice Department and its commitment to public integrity.

In Alaska, the McCain campaign turns to desperation measures to block a legislative inquiry—initiated and supported by Alaska Republicans—into the involvement of Governor Sarah Palin, members of her family, and senior staff in the firing of Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan.

Although the inquiry long antedates Palin’s presence on the G.O.P. ticket, the McCain camp charges that it is “politically motivated.” It’s worth taking a close look at how the McCain team is attempting to shut the investigation down. As Mike Isikoff reports at Newsweek, the project has been entrusted to Edward O’Callaghan, who only days ago was a senior official of the Justice Department, with responsibilities in national security and counterterrorism. O’Callaghan has approached the problem with a perfect replay of the stall-and-run-out-the-clock tactics that the Justice Department uses today to thwart Congressional oversight.

First, Palin has asserted that her records and communications are protected by executive privilege. Second, her senior assistants have been instructed not to cooperate with the probe. Third, the Alaska attorney general (a Palin appointee and confidant who faces conflict-of-interest charges himself) has issued a series of opinions designed to bar the way for the probe. So how does the McCain team deal with accusations that it is attempting a cover-up of Palin’s involvement in a matter which, at the very least, raises severe questions about Palin’s credibility? They argue that the inquiry should be handled by the Alaska Personnel Board, not by the legislature. The Personnel Board, of course, is dominated by Palin’s cronies and reports to her. If it works in Washington, why not in Juneau?

The next example comes in the investigation surrounding Jack Abramoff. For years now, the Department of Justice has responded to criticism of its public integrity section by pointing to the high-profile investigation into Jack Abramoff. The corruption scandal which finds Abramoff at its center has been labeled by Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, two seasoned observers of Beltway banditry, as the greatest political corruption scandal in the nation’s history. And the Justice Department’s management of it merits close study. Thus far it has been an amazing exercise in slow-walking and containment, not a demonstration of zealous pursuit of public integrity concerns.

The Department’s major objective has evidently been to get to the end of the Bush Presidency with a minimum number of prosecutions while keeping what prosecutors have learned under wraps. The Abramoff investigation should have touched on the White House, Karl Rove, and dozens of prominent Republican leaders, who benefited financially from Abramoff’s tactics. However, most roads of inquiry were shut off by Justice Department minders. And today the Associated Press helps us understand why the Justice Department was so eager to keep the wraps on the Abramoff investigation.

Two senior Bush Justice officials, former Solicitor General Paul Clement and David Ayres, the chief of staff to John Ashcroft, are revealed to have had serious dealings with Kevin Ring, one of Abramoff’s key players. Ring was a former senior Ashcroft staffer and is close to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom he profiled in a biography. Ring’s ties with Robert E. Coughlin, a senior figure in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, were revealed last year, leading to Coughlin’s resignation.

It’s unclear at this point exactly how Clement and Ayres are involved, but the disclosures highlight what was earlier taken as a given: Abramoff had regular access to key figures across the Administration, including those at the pinnacle of the Justice Department. And the Justice Department remains most eager to keep this fact quiet.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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