Thursday, February 02, 2006

Who's Running This Asylum?

From NYT's Eric Lichtblau:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — The Bush administration is rebuffing requests from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for its classified legal opinions on President Bush's domestic spying program, setting up a confrontation in advance of a hearing scheduled for next week, administration and Congressional officials said Wednesday.

Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department is saying that the warrantless spying was okay because they said it was, and they don't need to explain why they thought it was okay.

According to Lichtblau, Senator Charles Shumer, the Democrat from New York who serves on the judiciary committee, is considering serving the White House subpoenas to get the requested documents. "Without the Justice Department memos and without more witnesses, it's hard to se how anything other than a rehashing of the administration line is going to happen," Shumer says.

Shumer is right, but is he going to be able to get subpoenas through the Republican majority on the judiciary committee?


Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) seems to have some interesting ideas about why the committee needs to see the documents.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Mr. Gonzales, Mrs. Feinstein said the legal opinions and other internal documents were needed for Congress to assess whether the president "has the inherent authority to authorize this surveillance."

I find this somewhat disconcerting. Feinstein appears to be granting Gonzales ultimate authority to define the limits of presidential power, in which case there are no limits. And if there are no limits on Mr. Bush's powers, he's not a president, he's a… Well, pick your favorite word for it.


And from NYT's James Glanz we get the story of Robert J. Stein Jr., the American businessman with a prior conviction for fraud who was put in charge of $82 million earmarked for reconstruction of the Iraqi town of Hilla.
In United States District Court in Washington, court papers indicate, Mr. Stein will plead guilty today to conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, possession of a machine gun and being a felon in possession of firearms, for essentially giving millions of that money to Mr. Bloom, and taking millions more for himself. Mr. Stein used some of his stolen money, the papers say, to buy items as wildly diverse as grenade launchers, machine guns, a Lexus, "an interest in one Porsche," a Cessna airplane, two plots of real estate in Hope Mills, N.C., a Toshiba personal computer, 18 Breitling watches, a 6-carat diamond ring and a collection of silver dollars. The papers say that the ring of corruption was much wider than previously known, drawing at least seven Americans, including Mr. Stein, Mr. Bloom and five Army reserve officers, into what is portrayed as a maelstrom of greed, sex and gun-running at the heart of the American occupation of a conservative Muslim country.


Over all, Mr. Stein is accused of stealing at least $2 million of American taxpayer money and Iraqi funds, which came from Iraqi oil proceeds and money seized from Saddam Hussein's government, accepting at least $1 million in money and goods in direct bribes and grabbing another $600,000 in cash and goods that belonged to the Coalition Provisional Authority. In return, Mr. Stein and his cronies used rigged bids to steer at least $8.6 million in contracts for buildings like the police academy, a library and a center meant to promote democracy, the papers say.

What I want to know is who in the wide world of sports put $82 million in the hands of a convicted felon.


The results of the Quadrennial Defense Review are in. According to NYT's David S. Cloud, the review, "eliminates no major weapon systems and calls for only incremental change in other priorities[.]"

It's incredible that at a time when our armed services have clearly demonstrated they are not equipped or trained to fight the kind of war they're fighting, the Pentagon has decreed there's no need to make significant changes to the force structure.

The Chinese and the rest of the world will sit back and laugh as we continue to pour national treasure into an obsolete form of national power.


  1. The shouldn't be able to get "legal opinions" as those sorts of documents should be protected by privilege. Non-legal opinions should be turned over. I don't buy the argument that they can't turn them over because they are classified. Surely the Senate Judiciary Committee can be allowed to view classified documents.

    Your analysis of Feinstein's argument is right. They don't need to legal memos to find out if the President has inherent authority on this, unless they're simply planning to take Gonzales' word for it.

  2. IMO, Feinstein does and says a lot of not too smart things. During the Alito hearings, she constantly referred to John Yoo's claims of "plenary" presidential powers, given credence to the claim as she was theoretically trying to refute it.

  3. Yes, I need to know who put Stein in charge of $82 million. And how much that person got. And if they're hiring any more motivated self-starters...!

    Slightly off-topic, but SOTU final point: Thomas Jefferson stopped addressing Congress for the State of the Union, saying that it was too much like a monarch. He filed written reports instead.

    "What's all this we hear about the Founders' original intent? Hmm? Speak up? How convenient!"

    Even if it is in the office of the President, we now have a monarchy, or dictatorship, take your pick.

  4. Whoever gave Stein the job had to be pretty high up in DOD, which means he or she is a Rumsfeld crony (or Rumsfeld himself) and will never be held responsible.

  5. It will be difficult to get those memos because the Democrats don't have a majority on the Committee.

    As for Feinstein, she is a great Senator and gets a lot done because of her reputation for being a moderate and bi-partisan. Of course, I'm a little biased because I worked in her office in DC for a while on education policy. But she has a really great judiciary staff helping her out on these matters. The problem I see is that she never went to law school and doesn't have a law degree - and she is serving on the judiciary committee. She's still a really smart woman - she graduated from Stanford and was a prestigious Coro fellow.

    But she stall has no official legal training. Her JUD staff can give her the best scripts possible but that's all they are - scripts - she has a more difficult time asking improv questions of judicial nominees or acting on her own without advice from the people in JUD.

    She's still a great Senator and I'm still going to vote and campaign for her this year. She has provided strong leadership on numerous important Democratic issues such as the Assault Weapons Ban.

  6. Michael,

    I have no problem with Feinstein's policies and she's obviously very popular in her state.

    I do, however, think she says things at times that are contrary to her desired effect. Another instance I can think of was her repeating "plenary powers" over and over at the Alito hearings. I think she was unwittingly acting as a wall in the echo chamber that attempts to make Americans think that "plenary" presidential powers actually exist.

    Best of luck with the campaign, and thanks for dropping in and posting.