Patterico's Pontifications

3/15/2007

My Letter to the Readers’ Rep About that Carol Lam Story

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 11:16 pm

Below is the text of an e-mail I just sent to the L.A. Times Readers’ Representative regarding their recent misleading story on the timing of the targeting of former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam. For the sake of readability, I won’t indent it. Everything that follows is the letter:

Jamie,

I am writing regarding a story in this morning’s L.A. Times about the timing of the Bush Administration’s decision to target former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam for firing. (“Gonzales aide called proscutor a ‘real problem,'” March 15.)

I believe your paper badly disserved its readers with this article. The story is, as a whole, highly misleading in its omission of critical facts. Moreover, it flatly misstates facts about when Lam was initially targeted for dismissal. The ultimate result is to suggest that the Bush Administration targeted Lam due to her investigation of Randy “Duke” Cunningham. The evidence — unreported and distorted in the article — is flatly to the contrary.

Here is the timeline of events:

  • March 2, 2005: Kyle Sampson informs White House Counsel Harriet Miers that Lam is being targeted for possible dismissal. Sampson attaches a list of U.S. Attorneys, dated February 24, 2005. The names of those targeted for dismissal are stricken out. Lam’s name was stricken out, meaning she had been targeted for possible dismissal as of March 2, 2005. You can view Sampson’s March 2, 2005 e-mail at this link.
  • June 12, 2005 (three months later): Marcus Stern of the San Diego Union-Tribune breaks the news of the Randy Cunningham scandal: “A defense contractor with ties to Rep. Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham took a $700,000 loss on the purchase of the congressman’s Del Mar house while the congressman, a member of the influential defense appropriations subcommittee, was supporting the contractor’s efforts to get tens of millions of dollars in contracts from the Pentagon.” View the story at this link.

Carol Lam was on a list of targeted prosecutors three months before the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal ever broke.

Why did today’s article not make that point?

And make no mistake: Lam did not investigate Cunningham before Marcus Stern’s article was published. To the contrary, Stern’s article was the only reason Cunningham was prosecuted. One of the lead prosecutors confirmed this in a 2006 interview with the American Jouralism Review:

“Without Marc Stern’s story there might not have been a Cunningham case,” says [Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip] Halpern, one of the lead prosecutors, who considers Stern the “genesis of the investigation. [He] was responsible for the criminal prosecution. This is the first time in my [25-year] career I have predicated a case upon a news story.”

In an article questioning whether Lam was targeted because of the Cunningham investigation, it is absolutely critical to tell readers that Lam was initially placed on a working list of targeted U.S. Attorneys three months before the Cunningham investigation ever came to light.

Yet today’s article not only fails to make this point, it positively misstates the date when Sampson told the White House Counsel that Lam had been targeted. Today’s article says:

On May 11 — the month after Sampson told the White House counsel’s office that Lam was being targeted for dismissal — The Times reported that federal prosecutors in Los Angeles had begun an investigation into [Republican Rep. Jerry] Lewis.

The Times report in question was published on May 11, 2006. The article thus asserts that Sampson told the White House counsel’s office that Lam was being targeted for dismissal the month before — in April 2006. But in reality, Sampson had communicated this to the White House counsel more than a year earlier — in March 2005, months before the Cunningham scandal ever came to light.

I can’t see how you can even begin to justify this. The entire article is about whether Lam was targeted because she prosecuted Cunningham. You have proof that Lam was targeted well before Lam even began to investigate Cunningham. Indeed, Lam was targeted months before anyone even knew that there was anything about Cunningham that merited investigation. Not only is this basic point hidden from your readers, but worse, your paper misstates the date of the initial targeting. The article tells readers that Lam was targeted in April 2006, which is months after Cunningham pled guilty — when she had initially been targeted in March 2005, before Cunningham’s corruption came to light.

I understand that the March 2005 list was a working list, and that the official decision was made later. It is still critical information that the initial decision to target Lam far predated the Cunningham investigation. This is strong evidence that the Cunningham investigation was not the reason Lam was targeted. Your readers deserve to know this, and they weren’t told. Indeed, they were specifically told something very different.

Your paper also makes quite an issue of the timing of an e-mail from Kyle Sampson to White House Deputy Counsel William Kelley on May 11, 2006. The article tries to tie this to the publication of an L.A. Times article on the same day, which reported that the investigation was spreading to another Republican Congressman. The article omits critical context that, if reported, would give a possibly innocent reason for the timing of the e-mail.

The article states:

“The real problem we have right now is Carol Lam,” D. Kyle Sampson told White House Deputy Counsel William Kelley on May 11. “That leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

Let me take the liberty of quoting from the actual e-mail, including the context that your paper chose to omit. I’ll put the critical context in bold:

Per your inquiry yesterday after JSC, this is the e-mail I sent to Dabney last month at Harriet’s request. Please call me at your convenience to discuss the following:

  • [Redacted]
  • Tim Griffin for E.D. Ark; and
  • The real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated on 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.

The e-mail sent to Dabney the month before had confirmed that DoJ recommended Lam for removal. (Again, this was not the first time that the White House had been told that Lam had been targeted; as I pointed out above, that first occurred in March 2005.)

I’ll not comment in detail on the numerous mistakes The Times made in the simple act of quoting this e-mail accurately. Those are evidence of sloppiness, but they are not misleading. What is misleading, however, is your paper’s failure to report the fact that Sampson was responding to an inquiry made by Kelley the day before Sampson’s e-mail was sent.

Why was Sampson writing Kelley on May 11? Maybe it’s because The Times reported that Carol Lam was investigating Jerry Lewis. [See the UPDATE below — actually, she wasn’t. Debra Yang was. — P] But maybe — just maybe — Kelley was responding to a specific request that the Office of the White House Counsel had made the day before. Your job isn’t to decide which interpretation is right; it’s to report the facts and let the reader decide. But the reader can’t do that, because the reader is not told of Kelley’s request from the day before. If the timing of the e-mail is so critical, don’t readers deserve to know about a possible innocent explanation? But instead of telling readers this, the story says that Sampson “fired off” the e-mail — language that implies that the idea for the e-mail originated with Sampson, when in fact he was simply responding to a request.

Finally, the story reports that the probe into Lewis was being handled in Los Angeles and not San Diego. But instead of presenting that fact as evidence that Administration officials were not upset at Lam over the Los Angeles-based Lewis investigation — why would they be? It wasn’t Lam’s case! — the article instead assumes that the Administration was upset at Lam, and presents it all as a mystifying paradox:

Debra Wong Yang, then the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, said Wednesday that she was befuddled that anyone in Washington would be upset with Lam over a case being pursued in Los Angeles. “I’m not sure I understand the link,” she said.

The fact that the case was being handled in L.A. is, quite simply, evidence of the Administration’s innocence. Why not simply present it as such?

I know that these suggestions I am making would result in a less splashy story. But it would be a fairer story. And a more accurate one.

I look forward to your response.

Yours truly,

Patrick Frey

[UPDATE: My letter says “Why was Sampson writing Kelley on May 11? Maybe it’s because The Times reported that Carol Lam was investigating Jerry Lewis.” But she wasn’t — the Central District’s Debra Yang was. — P]

The Indefensible Aspects of the U.S. Attorney Firings

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:04 pm

I had a great time on CQ Radio, and ended up agreeing with Ed Morrissey on a number of issues surrounding the U.S. Attorney firings. I haven’t emphasized these in recent days, because I have been busy combatting the Democrat spin that the firings were motivated by a desire to influence political prosecutions. But let me take a step back and make a few things clear:

  • Alberto Gonzales is either a liar or incredibly incompetent. I think he’s a dead man walking. I predict that, late tomorrow (Friday) afternoon, or possibly one week from tomorrow, Alberto Gonzales is going to decide he needs to spend more time with his family.
  • The Kyle Sampson plan to sneak in U.S. Attorneys under a little-known Patriot Act provision had a weaselly appearance to it. It had the immature feel of a little boy saying; “Hey, look! A new bike! Let’s ride it on the freeway!” And I am very upset with his scheming to lie to Congress about it.
  • It looks horrible for Pete Domenici to have called up David Iglesias about a pending case.

That said, I find virtually no evidence in the e-mails to suggest that any U.S. Attorney was targeted because of political prosecutions. And I am convinced that Carol Lam was initially targeted for proper reasons like her inexplicable decision to de-emphasize illegal immigration prosecutions. I think the L.A. Times has distorted the facts with selective quotation, cleverly placed ellipses, and a particularly shameful pattern of rank distortion on the timing of the targeting of Carol Lam.

And if you think I’m done with that issue, think again. I’m just getting started. It’s time for a letter to the Readers’ Representative.

UPDATE: Add to the list of suspicious items the timing of Iglesias’s inclusion on the firing list. (h/t dday, who was rather rude in the way he brought this to my attention.)

Patterico on CQ Radio Tonight with Captain Ed

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 4:42 pm

Barring technical problems, I will be on CQ Radio tonight with Captain Ed, discussing the U.S. Attorney firings. Listen live here beginning at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time.

UPDATE: The show is archived here. Click on March 15 and start listening at 33:13. We got off to a rough start, as I was cut off just before I was about to come on the air. As usual, I got more comfortable as the show went on.

L.A. Times Outrageously Misstates Facts on Timing of Targeting of Lam

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:22 am

The L.A. Times has the unmitigated gall to write an entire story about the timing of an e-mail regarding Carol Lam, without telling its readers that Lam was on a list of targeted prosecutors well before the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal ever broke. Worse, the paper misstates the facts to its readers to support its position.

On March 2, 2005, Kyle Sampson sent Harriet Miers a list (dated February 24) of prosecutors. The names of those targeted were struck out. Lam’s name was stricken out, meaning she had been targeted.

As I told you earlier this morning, the Cunningham investigation broke months later in June 2005, with the publication of this story. Even the lefty TPM Muckraker admits that Lam was targeted before that date. TPM Muckraker also admits that Carol Lam was not investigating Cunningham until the scandal was broken by a newspaper in June 2005, after Lam had been targeted.

This morning’s dishonest Times article nowhere makes this clear. Instead, it focuses on (and misquotes) a later e-mail from Sampson, misstating the facts in the process:

“The real problem we have right now is Carol Lam,” D. Kyle Sampson told White House Deputy Counsel William Kelley on May 11. “That leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires.”

. . . .

On May 11 — the month after Sampson told the White House counsel’s office that Lam was being targeted for dismissal — The Times reported that federal prosecutors in Los Angeles had begun an investigation into [Republican Rep. Jerry] Lewis.

This is outrageously wrong. Sampson’s e-mail to Harriet Miers, in which he targeted Lam, was sent on March 2, 2005 — more than a year earlier, and before the Cunningham scandal broke. The report about the investigation into Lewis was published on May 11, 2006. The paper implies Sampson targeted Lam in April 2006 — well after the Cunningham scandal had broken. This is utterly false.

It’s interesting how the Times repeatedly says “May 11″ without reporting the year. It’s even more interesting that the paper doesn’t tell you that the timing actually proves that there was no connection between Lam’s targeting and the Cunningham case.

ReadersRep@latimes.com

UPDATE: One more point: the supposedly suspicious timing of Sampson’s May 11 e-mail? The L.A. Times forgot to mention that he was responding to a request made the day before.

UPDATE x2: My letter to the paper about this is here. Their response, and my reply to the response, is here. And thanks to Mickey for the link.

The Actual Text of the E-mails Provides Further Support That the U.S. Attorney Firings Were Not Motivated by a Desire to Affect Political Investigations

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 12:00 am

U.S. Attorney Carol Lam was on a list to be fired months before the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal even broke.

One of the fired U.S. Attorneys wouldn’t prosecute illegal re-entry cases until the illegal alien had been apprehended 13 times after his original deportation.

These are things I learned reading the entire set of released e-mails regarding the firing of the U.S. Attorneys. These e-mails confirm my conclusion from yesterday: the media is manufacturing a phony scandal out of these firings, and piggybacking it onto the genuine scandal of the Justice Department’s misleading testimony to Congress about the responsibility for the firings. If these e-mails are given a fair reading, they support the idea that U.S. Attorneys were pushed out largely for legitimate reasons relating to the performance of the USAs in question.

For example, the e-mails make it crystal clear that Lam was fired over lax border enforcement and not political investigations. An Appointment Summary from February 24, 2005 (see Set 1) includes Lam’s name on the list of potential people to be cut — months before June 2005, when the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal first broke.

Did the Administration look into a crystal ball and foretell the Cunningham scandal? Do the lefties now think Bush has paranormal powers?

(The lefties are sticking to their story, though, advancing an argument that can be summarized as follows: “Ahem. We are not letting the facts get in the way of our very fervent beliefs. Thank you.”)

Some of the U.S. Attorneys’ failings are actually quite stark. As I mentioned yesterday, what jumped out at me was the apparent concern that the Administration showed for border enforcement, and the egregious way in which some USAs were failing in this area. I was particularly struck by one e-mail from Set 3, which is worth quoting at some length, because it shows what the Bushies were up against in trying to get something done in border districts. The e-mail is from Robert Jacobs to Rachel Brand, with cc’s to several other people, and it begins:

Rachel –

Congressman Lamar Smith is concerned that the Administration’s policy is to only prosecute aliens once they have been caught entering the country multiple times. Specifically, Smith cites Laredo, where he claims illegal aliens are apprehended and removed eight times before finally being prosecuted.

When I was in Phoenix with Jon, we met with USA Paul Charlton. Charlton told us that his office didn’t prosecute illegal aliens until they were apprehended 13 times (after the initial removal order). His exceptions to that “policy” were: aliens with aggravated felonies; alien smugglers with 12 or more people; and aliens who cross the border illegally with children not their own.

No, that’s not a typo. It says “13 times.” Illegal re-entry prosecutions required 13 apprehensions after the initial removal order.

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat, Batman!

If that doesn’t amaze you, you’re beyond being amazed.

Picture an illegal alien who smuggled 10 people into the country, and who had already been apprehended and deported 12 times, since his original deportation. Under USA Charlton’s policy, that person would not qualify for prosecution under the illegal re-entry law.

Are you really going to criticize the Administration for doing something about that?? Because concerns like these appear to have supported the firings of more than one nominee, including Lam and Charlton. That seems like a good reason to me.

It’s easy for people to be cynical about this issue, given the Administration’s seeming laxity towards illegal immigration. But if you’re tempted to be cynical, I encourage you to read the e-mails. If you bother to sit down and pore through them, as I have, you will clearly see that they are not intended as a whitewash for public consumption. There is a level of frankness in the tone of the e-mails that shows that the authors never expected them to be public. In fact the disclosure of these e-mails is probably going to have a chilling effect on the candor of future e-mails sent within the Executive Branch — a candor that is sometimes necessary to get things done. I’m surprised Bush didn’t invoke executive privilege.

By the way, I am less impressed by the rationale that USAs Charlton and Bogden were too soft on obscenity. I actually praise these USAs for de-emphasizing obscenity prosecutions. This is about the lowest priority imaginable, when we have serious issues of terrorism to deal with. If anyone wants to line up to whack Bush across the skull for pushing out USAs who don’t care about obscenity prosecutions, show me where the line is, and I’ll get in it right now.

But this still constitutes nothing more than the Administration setting priorities — albeit (in this instance) priorities with which I disagree. That’s a far cry from the accusations of political hackery that the Democrats are making. I’m just not seeing the evidence for that in these e-mails.

A reading of the e-mails provides context for some of the revelations in recent newspaper articles. For example, many newspapers — including the Los Angeles Times — took special care to quote the e-mail that proclaimed that Sen. Domenici was “happy as a clam” upon being told of the ouster of USA Iglesias, whom Domenici had inappropriately phoned about a pending case. Out of context, there is an implicit suggestion that Iglesias was ousted at the behest of Domenici, due to displeasure over the handling of one politically charged case.

But in context, matters look different.

It turns out that the architects of the firings had drafted a specific plan for breaking the news of the firings to the USAs and the Senators of their home states. The idea was to make simultaneous phone calls to everyone. A script was provided to deal with objections. Afterwards, officials contacted people within the offices of the home Senators to see how the news was going over.

It turned out there were different reactions. For example, Sen. Ensign of Nevada was upset about Bogden. He wondered why the office was being left in the hands of an “interim” USA when previous nominations had been quickly confirmed. Why not just leave the office in the hands of the capable Bogden? was the question from Sen. Ensign’s office.

By contrast, reports came back, Sen. Kyl was fine with the firing of a U.S. Attorney in his state. And Domenici was “happy as a clam” and eager to submit names for replacements.

Viewed in context, the comment about Domenici was just another report of several on the issue of how the home Senators were reacting to the news. This doesn’t mean that Domenici was responsible for the firing of Iglesias. As I said yesterday morning: “These e-mails show an (amused) awareness that Domenici had been unhappy with Iglesias — but the e-mails are not evidence that Domenici’s unhappiness had any effect.” I think it’s more likely that Iglesias’s failures in the area of voter fraud, which I discussed yesterday morning, were behind his ouster.

This is not to say that everything in the e-mails is innocent. If I were a Democrat, I’d follow up on two things:

First, there is one e-mail (in Set 2) in which Sampson tells Harriet Miers:

Let me know when you have read this; I have one follow up item I would want to do over the phone.

The natural interpretation of this language is: I have one item that is too hot to commit to paper. If I were a Democrat, I’d subpoena Sampson and Miers and ask them what that was.

The second item concerns Sampson’s plan to keep Tim Griffin on as an “interim” USA for the rest of the Bush Administration, by lying to Congress about his status as an interim, and pretending to be interested in getting Senate confirmation for a permanent replacement. Sampson says the Administration should “run out the clock” — and adds:

All of this should be done in “good faith,” of course.

When someone puts the phrase “good faith” in quotes, you should watch your back.

This is undoubtedly the sort of thing that led to Sampson’s sudden desire to spend more time with his family. Don’t be surprised if the Democrats decide to further investigate who was in on this plan to lie to Congress.

The deception to Congress is the single most disturbing aspect of this whole affair. And, to be sure, that dishonesty may well be an attempt to disguise truly nefarious actions in the firings of these U.S. Attorneys. But if that’s the case, there’s almost zero evidence of it in the e-mails — and there’s plenty of evidence to contradict that theory.

P.S. I encourage readers concerned about this topic to read them. Here are the links, one more time:

UPDATE: The L.A. Times has outrageously misstated the facts on the timing of the Lam targeting. Details here.

UPDATE x2: A commenter makes the point that, due to limited resources, U.S. Attorneys’ offices must enact guidelines that limit prosecution of certain large-volume felonies, like the illegal re-entry cases. Therefore, they say, it was the Administration who failed — by not providing sufficient resources. I think this is a potentially very valid point. However, if it gets to the point where an office won’t prosecute illegal re-entry cases unless there have been 13 subsquent apprehensions, then a U.S. Attorney has two duties: 1) reprioritize so that illegal immigration cases get a higher priority, and 2) make a lot of noise about the lack of resources. If the border USAs did this and were fired anyway, that would be one thing. In the case of Carol Lam, she made a conscious decision to deprioritize immigration cases — in San Diego. I’m sorry, but that’s inexcusable.


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