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Elena Kagan Will Be The Most Unqualified Justice In History

NBC News is reporting Elena Kagan is Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the liberal lion, Justice John Paul Stevens. Kagan is a remarkably poor choice.The stunning lack of curiosity and involvement in the important legal issues of her age, not to mention the law itself, and remarkable absence of compelling written work and record on the part of Elena Kagan has been previously covered in detail by Glenn Greenwald.

I have previously explained the total lack of any experience – ever – of any kind – on Kagan’s part in the court system of the United States. Kagan has never set foot as an attorney of record into a trial courtroom in the United States, not even a small claims justice court; nor for that matter, any appellate court save for the literally handful of spoon fed cases she suddenly worked on as Solicitor General. Kagan has never been a judge in any courtroom, of any court, in the United States. Quite frankly, there is not even any evidence Elena Kagan has sat as a judge for a law school moot court exercise. I have had paralegals and secretaries with better experience than this. Does a nominee for the Supreme Court have to be Gerry Spence, Pat Fitzgerald or David Boies? No, but it would be nice if they had the passion, curiosity and commitment to their profession to go to court at least once. Never has there been a United States Supreme Court Justice with such a complete lack of involvement in the court system. Never.

Duke Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles has damningly demonstrated a Kagan record of lily white hiring, and corresponding shunning of people of color, at Harvard Law under her guidance that, if considered under the seminal Batson standard of prejudice, would have netted Kagan a sanction from the court and a potential misconduct referral to the appropriate bar authority.

Curiously, and very notably, the only pushback by an Obama Administration, who has consistently gone beyond the call of duty in protecting and bucking up a patently poor nominee in Elena Kagan, has been on the racial hiring component exposed by Professor Charles. Here are the “talking points” memo the Obama Administration sent around to its acolytes and stenographic mouthpieces in the press and internet ether to counter the substantive criticism of Elena Kagan.

Notice anything missing in the official Obama White House talking points? I do. They are solely focused on the racial exclusion charge (and here is the response eating their lunch on that). Did you see what is NOT responded to, or addressed, in any way, shape or form by the White House? If you guessed “Elena Kagan’s complete lack of any record whatsoever of participation or accomplishment in the legal process of the United States”, take a bow, you are Read more

The Timeline of Torture Tape Destruction in John Durham’s Documents

As I said the other day, most of the documents we received the other day are the 13 or so documents that CIA had cleared for FOIA release, but over which John Durham had declared a law enforcement privilege. This chart compares what we got with what had been declared in Vaughn Indices in November (this showed the hard copy documents explaining the destruction of the torture tapes) and January (this showed the electronic documents discussing the destruction of the torture tapes; there are 6 files total to this index). While this doesn’t show us everything John Durham is looking at (presumably, there are a number of documents that are too sensitive to release), looking at the documents from this perspective gives us a sense of what Durham is investigating.

As you’ll see from the chart, I have numbered the documents from 1 to 27. I just assigned them in the order the documents appear in the complete PDF file. I’ll also refer to the PDF number for each document.

The Documents Not on Durham’s List

First, assuming I matched the documents up to the Vaughn descriptions properly, there are four documents that were not on Durham’s list:

  • Document 9, January 9, 2003, Review of Interrogation Videotapes (PDF 24-28)
  • Document 11, June 18, 2003, Interview Report (PDF 33-37)
  • Document 22, December 3, 2007, Potential Statement (PDF 86-93)
  • Document 23, December 10, 2007, Trip Report (PDF 95-99)

I believe these documents all did appear elsewhere in the earlier FOIAs on this (I’m going to try to find the Vaughn descriptions later), but presumably CIA had earlier said it could not release them, which meant it was that decision, rather than Durham’s determination, that had prevented their earlier release.

Most of these documents (except the questions) pertain to the CIA Office of General Counsel review of the torture tape, and the Inspector General’s subsequent discovery that the original review had neglected to mention key details about blank tapes and discrepancies between what was portrayed in the video and what OLC authorized. Curiously, their release seems to be tied to the events reported by the WaPo, in which John McPherson, reportedly the lawyer who conducted that review, was given immunity to testify before the grand jury in the last month or so. In other words, now that McPherson has testified about this stuff, CIA has decided to release the details of his review publicly. I have included the documents in the timeline below.

Update: I’ve added in some of the dates reflected in the Vaughn Indices that I think flesh out this timeline. Those dates will not be bolded.

The Chronology on the Tapes

Many of the rest of these documents pertain to the correspondence regarding videotapes. The chronology they show is:

April 13, 2002: Interrogators start videotaping interrogations.

April 17, 2002: Two page Top Secret cable providing guidance on the retention of video tapes.

April 27, 2002: A letter directing the tapes “should all be catalogued and made into official record copies” and asking when they would “arrive here.” (Document 1; PDF 1)

May 6, 2002: Someone sends a cable providing guidance to “please do not tape over or edit videos of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations” and “please preserve all videos.” Note, we don’t get the original copy of this, but it appears in an email forwarding the cable to Scott Muller and John Rizzo in January 2003. (Document 10; PDF )

September 5, 2002: According to October 25, 2002 cable (see below), “HQS elements discussed the disposition of the videotapes” and determined that “the continued retention of these tapes … represents a serious security risk.” (Documents 2 and 3; PDF 3-7)

September 6, 2002: Two emails: A five-page email between CIA attorneys regarding a draft of a cable discussing the disposition of the video tapes, and a one-page email between CIA attorneys on the revisions of a draft cable regarding the disposition of the video tapes.

October 25, 2002: Cable directing field to tape over tapes each day and promising someone will deploy to assist in destroying the existing tapes. (Document 2, Document 3; PDF 3-7)

October 27, 2002: Some excerpts the October 25 cable and another one (which is entirely redacted) into a one-page summary. Note that both prior cables were classified Secret, but this summary is classified Top Secret. (Document 4; PDF 9)

November 28, 2002: It appears this cable was included among those collected in Document 12 some time after the tape destruction. But what we got in FOIA cuts off the cable (and entirely redacts what is there). (PDF 39-50) Note that the November 11, 2009 Vaughn Index described document 12 as a 13 page document, but we’ve only got 12 pages.

November 30, 2003: John McPherson reviews the torture tapes. This is noted in an undated timeline of the facts surrounding the torture tape destruction. (Document 25; PDF 103-104)

December 1, 2002: A two-page email that discusses the notes of a CIA attorney.

December 3, 2002: After McPherson reviewed the videotapes on November 30, someone sent out a cable stating that it was a mistake to move the videotapes, and ordering that “no tapes will be destroyed until specific authorization is sent.” Documents 5, 6, and 7 all appear to be identical copies of this cable, save for routing information that is redacted; the routing on Document 6 is very long. (PDF 11-18)

December 3, 2002: A one-page email outlining the destruction plan for video tapes.

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Is John Durham Finally Done?

While we’re waiting to get the documents discussed in these NYT and WaPo and WSJ stories, in which (among other things) Dusty Foggo’s Deputy records that Porter Goss “laughed and said that actually, it would be he, PG, who would take the heat” about the destruction of the torture tapes, I wanted to look at this passage from the NYT:

One American official familiar with the matter cautioned that the e-mail messages were merely the account of one unnamed C.I.A. official, not the results of a formal investigation.

“It’s a little risky to draw cosmic conclusions from something like that,” he said.

And this similar passage, from the WaPo:

“There may have been some people who thought precise procedure wasn’t followed, but I haven’t heard of anyone who believed at the time that any law had been broken,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the subject of an ongoing investigation. “That’s quite a different thing.”

I raise these quotes–dismissing the damning nature of the emails while suggesting they don’t amount to criminal activity–because these emails look like they could be some of the 13 documents John Durham withheld in the ACLU’s FOIA. For example, the documents described appear to be some of these documents.

Document 5, November 8, 2005, Request for approval to proceed w/authorization of tape destruction

This document is a one-page cable from the field to CIA Headquarters requesting permission to destroy 92 videotapes.

Document 2, November 9, 2005, Request approval to destroy field videotapes

This document is a fourteen-page email chain with six embedded cables. Three of the cables relate to the decision to destroy the 92 videotapes. The remaining cables discuss an unrelated counter-terrorism operation.

Document 4, November 9, 2005, Videotape destruction confirmation

This document is a one page cable from the field to CIA Headquarters, confirming the destruction of the videotapes.

Document 23, November 25, 2005, Short backgrounder of tape destruction

This is a three-page email chain that provides background information on the tape destruction.

I’m interested in whether these documents are the 13 documents, because Durham was withholding those until his investigation was finished. Which would sure suggest that Durham may be finished.

Now, Robert Bennett appears in all these stories talking about how Rodriguez should be treated as a hero for destroying these tapes. The quotes make Bennett sound almost desperate to defend his client. So maybe … just maybe … we’ll get an indictment over this.

Or the two officials quoted (perhaps they’re the same guy) are simply trying to tamp down expectations before John Durham announces all this was hunky dory.

One more thing. The WSJ version of the story notes that the CTC drafted the request to destroy the tapes on November 4.

More than a year later, on Nov. 4, 2005, the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center was asked to draft language requesting approval from Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then chief of the agency’s National Clandestine Service, to destroy the tapes, the memorandum says. Mr. Rodriguez authorized the tapes’ destruction four days later, it says.

November 4 was the day after Leonie Brinkema asked the government whether it had any tapes of interrogations of various detainees, and the same day that a member of Congress wrote a letter to CIA’s IG (I suspect this was one of Jay Rockefeller’s requests to see the IG report on the tapes). It was just days after the Dana Priest article on the black sites. But I’m sure the timing is all a coinkydink.

Rove Has a Date with HJC–He Just Doesn’t Want to Tell Fox News That

As I noted earlier, Fox reported yesterday that Miers had testified before HJC, but there was not yet an agreement to have Rove testify.

But that’s not right. According to a status report filed in the HJC suit against the White House over ten days ago, Rove has a date to appear.

Pursuant to the Court’s order dated March 5, 2009, the parties respectfully submit this joint status report.

Since the last status report, the parties have made substantial progress towards fulfilling their obligations under the Agreement Concerning Accommodation. The Committee has now been provided access to all of the documents covered by the Agreement, and the parties have agreed to a schedule for interviews with Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, to take place under the agreed terms and conditions.

Miers, Rove, and the documents!?!?! What a novelty. Oversight–just two years in the making.

If Harriet Can Appear Before HJC, Why Not Rove, Yet?

Fox is reporting that Harriet Miers snuck into HJC for a deposition yesterday. It’s all very nice that–two years after she was subpoenaed, Harriet is just now getting around to showing up before Congress. (h/t fatster)

But I’m more troubled by Fox’s report that there still isn’t an agreement for Rove to testify.

In March, Miers and former Bush adviser Karl Rove agreed to testify under oath.

Miers testified today behind closed doors. It remains unclear when Bolten could be deposed. But a senior House Democrat familiar with the inquiry described Bolten as “a tasty little morsel.” The senior lawmaker indicated to FOX that Rove ”is really the big catch.” But there is still no agreement for Rove to appear.

It has been, by my count, 114 days since Greg Craig and HJC finalized the plan to have Turdblossom (and Miers) testify. Yet he still–according to Fox, which ought to know–hasn’t shown his face for his deposition.

Now perhaps Rove’s interim engagement with Nora Dennehy, in May, explains the delay. After all, HJC might be willing to postpone their chat with Rove to allow a federal prosecutor to grill him first.

But otherwise, what’s the delay? Is it that he’s just more scared of Congress than Harriet Miers?

The HJC Agreement with Rove and Miers

Here’s the written agreement between HJC and the Bush Administration for Rove and Miers’ testimony. Some highlights:

The House Judiciary Committee (the “Committee”) will interview Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, but there will be no additional interviewees / witnesses (subject to the one exception [possibly William Kelley, who has reportedly been subpoenaed in the probe on this]). 

On this, I wonder whether there isn’t someone else in the White House who was the real fulcrum of the effort? Rove’s denials have always been couched to say he didn’t talk to DOJ, but leaving open the possibility that someone else did (at least on these issues). I wonder if they’ve included this requirement to protect that person?

The scope of the interviews will be limited to: (1) facts relating to the evaluation of, decision to dismiss, or decision to replace the former U.S. Attorneys in question; the alleged decisions to retain certain U.S. Attorneys; and any allegations of selective prosecution related thereto; and (2) testimony or representations made by Department of Justice officials to Congress on the U.S. Attorneys matter. For the period beginning on March 9, 2007 (the date of the Committee’s first written demand for information from the White House), interviews will not include the content of conversations involving: (i) Mr. Rove and members of the White House Counsel’s office; or (ii) Ms. Miers and members of the White House Counsel’s office. In the case of Mr. Rove, the interview also will include facts relating to the prosecution of Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

I’ve asked whether bullet (1) includes the alleged attempt to fire Pat Fitz–will let you know if I hear.

As to the rest–they’ve clearly carved out the White House Counsel Office, presumably to protect Attorney-Client privilege. Bill Clinton and his blow job, of course, enjoyed no such privilege.

As to official privileges, counsel will direct witnesses not to respond to questions only when questions relate to communications to or from the President or when questions are outside the scope of questioning set forth above.

Regarding the David Iglesias firing, of course, there are allegations that Bush intervened directly to give the order to fire him. Read more

Breaking: Turdblossom and Harriet to Testify

And, just as importantly, the notion of Absolute Immunity dies a well-deserved death (via email).

In an agreement reached today between the former Bush Administration and Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers will testify before the House Judiciary Committee in transcribed depositions under penalty of perjury. The Committee has also reserved the right to have public testimony from Rove and Miers. It was agreed that invocations of official privileges would be significantly limited.

In addition, if the Committee uncovers information necessitating his testimony, the Committee will also have the right to depose William Kelley, a former White House lawyer who played a role in the U.S. Attorney firings.

The Committee will also receive Bush White House documents relevant to this inquiry. Under the agreement, the landmark ruling by Judge John Bates rejecting key Bush White House claims of executive immunity and privilege will be preserved. If the agreement is breached, the Committee can resume the litigation.

Chairman Conyers issued the following statement:

"I have long said that I would see this matter through to the end and am encouraged that we have finally broken through the Bush Administration’s claims of absolute immunity. This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight. It is also a vindication of the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether U.S. Attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom."

You think maybe Rove’s lost his 5 time’s a charge charm with perjury?

Update on timing: The Committee is going to get the documents it had requested and read them before they do the interviews with Harriet and Karl. And the interviews will be done by staffers, with the option of doing a public hearing with questions from Congresspersons if that seems useful. So the timing for the moment seems to be driven by how quickly they get documents. 

Update: Pelosi does a victory dance for the authority of Article I (via email):

The agreement for Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to testify upholds a fundamental principle: no one is above the law and Congressional subpoenas must be complied with.

As public officials, we take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. It is the institutional duty of Congress — as an independent branch — to Read more

Will the House Hold Rove in Contempt before March 4?

Just before I disappeared for a week, John Conyers sent Karl Rove a sternly-worded letter insisting Rove show up for his deposition today.

I also cannot agree to your request for a delay to accommodate Mr. Rove’s schedule. As you know, the deposition was originally scheduled for February 2. On January 29 I in good faith acceded to your request for a delay since you were scheduled to be out of town at the time and requested more time to prepare. I also notified your office of the new February 23 date at that time. Thus, absent an actual commitment by Mr. Rove to comply with the subpoena, I am not in a position to agree to yet a further delay. In essence, given Mr. Rove’s public statements that he does not intend to comply with the subpoena, I am puzzled as to why Mr. Rove needs a mutually convenient date to appear.

Well, the blogger formerly known as Kagro X reports that Rove indeed blew off the House Judiciary Committee (for what must be the third or fourth time) today (h/t Petrocelli).

I find that interesting for several reasons. First, remember that Conyers sent that sternly-worded letter at a point when HJC was already negotiating with the Obama White House about what to do with the Miers/Bolten suit.  

Next, consider some of the other language Conyers used in his sternly-worded letter.

Finally, conducting a voluntary deposition under these circumstances [limiting testimony to the Siegelman witch hunt and excluding the US Attorney firings and other politicization issues] could simply serve to further delay matters beyond the nearly two years I have been waiting, since the Committee could not then be in a position to utilize contempt or other enforcement mechanisms in response to any improper refusal to answer questions. [my emphasis]

Conyers was clearly thinking about contempt when he wrote that letter–at a time when he was in negotiations on the Miers/Bolten suit.

Finally, as I reported earlier, Obama got the second week of his requested two week delay for his brief on the Miers/Bolten suit. HJC agreed to go along with that delay.

Now, I have no reason (besides noting the coincident dates) to believe that there’s a connection between the additional week extension on the Appeals Court brief and any response to Rove’s latest contempt for an HJC subpoena.

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And Now the Appeals Court Jumps in the Fray

This is weird. The DC Appeals Court apparently doesn’t want to give Obama time to make a deal between Bush’s minions and the House Judiciary Committee.

After specifically invoking the benefit of "permitting the new President"… "to express [his] views on the merits of the lawsuit" between the House Judiciary Committee and Harriet Miers and John Bolten last fall when it stayed Judge Bates’ ruling knocking down Absolute Immunity, and in spite of the fact that said new President asked for two additional weeks to submit his brief on the debate over Harriet Miers’ testimony, and in spite of the fact that HJC agreed to that two week delay, the DC Appeals panel has ordered DOJ to submit its brief by February 25, half the time the Obama Administration requested. 

That’s weird for several reasons. Normally, when the legislature and the executive get into a squabble, the courts like to have them try to resolve the squabble on their own. One of the reasons Obama had wanted two weeks was to try to broker a deal himself. Given reports that such a deal is taking some time, the order to submit briefs this Wednesday makes it much less likely that HJC and Bush’s minions will make a deal before the Appeals Court gets involved again.

The one-week extension also guarantees that Obama will submit his brief before Dawn Johnsen takes over at OLC; her confirmation hearing is scheduled for the same day as the new deadline for the brief. One way Obama could have responded to this suit would be to simply withdraw Steven Bradbury’s audacious memo expanding Absolute Immunity, but that won’t happen before Johnsen takes over.

Now, I have no idea why the Appeals Court is so antsy to get involved here, but there are several possibilities.

It’s possible that they’ve seen Greg Craig’s statement explaining that Obama will not "do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency" and they worry that Obama will craft a deal that preserves Absolute Immunity, and they want to prevent that from happening (though why they think John Conyers would agree to such a deal, I have no clue).

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Rove Deadline Delayed

John Conyers has delayed Rove’s deadline to give a deposition by three weeks–from February 2 to February 23.

But before he left office, Bush, acting through former White House Counsel Fred Fielding, decided not to respond to any congressional subpoenas. Bush, citing executive privilege, asserted an “absolute immunity” claim in responding to such subpoenas, meaning senior Bush aides were directed not to even appear when subpoenaed.

Obama and his legal advisors have rejected that view as an overbroad reading of the president’s authority, but they have yet to fully formulate their own response to the question.

Conyers had demanded that Rove comply with the subpoena by next Tuesday, Feb. 2, but the deadline has been extended to Feb. 23, according to sources close to the issue.

I realize at least one of you was planning your birthday around Rove’s testimony (though it’s not yet clear whether it’ll be public or not), but I think this is a good thing.

I expect Obama to reject at least some parts of what Rove is trying to do here–certainly the idea that former senior aides have absolute immunity from showing up before Congress if not the notion of absolute immunity in general (to say nothing of former aides of former Presidents). Pushing the deadline out gives Obama several additional ways to respond here. They can respond through their filing on the suit, which is due on February 18. And, presumably before this deadline, Dawn Johnsen will also be installed at OLC with the option to pull Steven Bradbury’s opinion authorizing "absolute immunity" for former aides, which (after all) literally contradicts the logic Rehnquist used to justify absolute immunity in the first place.

Bush’s legal team keeps pretending there will be some point at which Obama is forced to negotiate with the Bush Administration on this. And that’s probably true for Miers’ testimony. But given the sketchiness surrounding Bush’s claim to privilege for Rove, that may not be true at all for Turdblossom.