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DOJ’s Political Landscape Briefings


On Saturday, the Washington Post disclosed Alberto Gonzales’s “correction” to his July 24 testimony concerning Karl Rove’s political briefings. It turns out that such briefings did in fact occur, and Paul Kiel at TPM has more details. Nothing too surprising–who was there? Sampson, Goodling, and the “Agency chiefs of staff.” Where was it? At the White House. Who conducted the briefing? Karl Rove.

The purpose of the briefing was to discuss what these political appointees at Justice could do to advance the election efforts of the Republican Party. We know from notes of other briefings, and from copies of Rove’s slideshows, that he frequently went state-by-state with a hit list of Democratic officeholders. Let’s see what we can do to make these folks look bad, he said.

Now, how might the Justice Department act on such a suggestion? Via investigations and prosecutions. That, indeed, was Rove’s hallmark technique from the time of the Texas Agriculture Commissioner election that he managed for Rick Perry in the late eighties.

Kiel notes that just days after the briefing, Sampson was finishing up a list of U.S. attorneys to be purged:

These, of course, were the two 30-something senior staffers at the center of the U.S. attorney firings, and the briefing was given shortly before the firing process entered its final stage. One week after the briefing, Sampson sent then-White House counsel Harriet Miers another draft list of U.S. attorneys to fire — the first such list he’d drafted for more than six months. There’s no evidence that the briefing, which was given to political appointees from a number of agencies, led directly to the generation of that list, but surely it helped Sampson and Goodling, who were at the forefront of the politicization of the Department, to be well apprised of “the political landscape.”

And now the White House tells us that Karl Rove’s briefing of these young whippersnappers from D.O.J., as well as the squad commander politicos, is subject to “executive privilege” because, if it were revealed, it would damage Rove’s ability to advise the president about sensitive matters. Ditto for the communications with Harriet Miers. That contention is hysterically absurd. But honestly, does it take much imagination to envision what was going on?

The G.O.P. electoral landscape was being linked directly to the performance of specific U.S. attorneys. There was a strong focus on the “battleground states” (and indeed, the names of U.S. attorneys that emerged on that list are U.S. attorneys from these states), and the questions are simple: what have they done to help the electoral cause. They were expected to do two things: pursue the “voting fraud” fraud to try to suppress voter turnout in Democratic communities; and prosecute Democratic officeholders. They were expected to avoid prosecuting Republicans. Each of the U.S. attorneys on the list violated one or more of these injunctions. The facts couldn’t be clearer.

Do we need any better reason for Fredo’s faltering memory? This is just the sort of thing he should fail to remember . . . until embarrassing documents get in the way.

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