New evidence continues to emerge further implicating the White House in what has been called the politically motivated firing of eight U.S. attorneys. On Thursday, ABC News revealed previously undisclosed emails showing presidential adviser Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directly engaged in the process to force out the prosecutors as early as January of 2005. In one email, former aide Kyle Sampson says he and Gonzales spoke about replacing up to one-fifth of the 93 U.S. attorneys. Sampson added they had discussed retaining “[those who] are doing a great job [and] are loyal Bushies.” In another message, Sampson wrote: “Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the U.S. attorney community if we told folks they got one term only. … That said, if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I.” Another email from a White House aide reveals Rove requested in-depth updates on the ongoing discussions over whether to fire the attorneys. The White House immediately backed away from its previous claim former counsel Harriet Miers initiated a plan to dismiss all 93 U.S. attorneys. In a statement, the Justice Department said Gonzales “has no recollection” of discussing the firing of U.S. attorneys while he was White House counsel. The disclosures have given new momentum to calls for Gonzales’s removal. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said: “The odds are very high that he will no longer be the attorney general.”
As Gonzales continues to take heat over the attorney firings, a new controversy is emerging over his role in the administration’s handling of a Justice Department probe into the warrantless domestic spy program. Investigative journalist Murray Waas is reporting Gonzales advised President Bush on whether to shut down the inquiry shortly after he learned his own behavior would likely be examined in the investigation. It is unclear what Gonzales advised, but President Bush took action effectively to sideline the case. Insiders say the blocked inquiry would have likely focused on Gonzales’s own role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he served as White House counsel.
Less than three months after President Bush ordered an estimated 26,000 new troops to Iraq, even more soldiers could now be on the way. The Boston Globe is reporting the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, has asked for up to 3,000 more combat troops. The request would put the U.S. troop increase in Iraq at close to 30,000.
The news comes amid a new showdown over the Iraq War on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, Democrats advanced an Iraq withdrawal resolution in the House but failed to pass a similar measure in the Senate. The House Appropriations Committee voted to send the military spending bill to the House floor. The vote was 36 to 28. The bill would link war funding in part to the withdrawal of combat troops by September of 2008. Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee of California broke party ranks to vote against the measure. Lee says the resolution doesn’t go far enough to end the war. Lee said: “I believe the American people sent a mandate to us to bring home our men and women before the end of the year.” Meanwhile, the Senate voted down a measure to withdraw troops by April of 2008. The final vote was 50 to 48. Before voting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the measure as an opportunity to change course.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “The war has gone on too long. We must change direction in Iraq. We’ve given the president chance after chance. We hear this things are getting better, things are getting better. His own Pentagon says it’s a civil war. His own Pentagon says it’s getting worse.”
Two Democratic senators, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, joined Republicans in voting against the proposal. Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut also sided with Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “We in this chamber have a choice: We can fan the flame, or we can smother it. By voting for a timetable on withdrawal, we are very decidedly doing the latter. Republicans take the hopeful path today.”
In Zimbabwe, 50 opposition activists have been released from prison after prosecutors failed to appear at their court hearing. The activists were rounded up Sunday in a police crackdown on a mass protest. Several were badly beaten. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was released from the hospital earlier today. Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe dismissed Western criticism of the protest crackdown.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe: “Now when they criticize government that is trying to prevent that violence or to punish the perpetrators of that violence, then of course we take the position that they can go hang.”
In the Occupied Territories, the fate of a BBC correspondent kidnapped in Gaza remains unknown. Alan Johnston was seized from his car earlier this week. On Thursday, the BBC’s Simon Wilson appealed for his release.
Simon Wilson: “It is clear from the messages that we’ve heard in the time we’ve been here that these efforts have been enormously appreciated in Gaza, so therefore we would urge everybody with influence here to continue their efforts so that Alan may be reunited with his family and colleagues at the earliest opportunity.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, an audiotape of the kidnapped Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo has been released. The recording is poor quality, but Mastrogiacomo can be heard pleading for his life.
Daniele Mastrogiacomo: “There are only two days. Please. Please. After that they will kill us. That’s what the Taliban want to do. There are only two days. Please. Please. Please.”
Daniele Mastrogiacomo is a veteran correspondent for the La Repubblica. He was seized last week. His captors are said to have backed a call for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan.
In Cuba, the head of the National Assembly says the ailing President Fidel Castro will be in “perfect shape” to run for parliamentary re-election next year. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Ricardo Alarcon said Castro is focusing on recovery and would be able to return to his job.
In Guatemala, Mayan spiritual leaders conducted a purification ritual Thursday at a pyramid President Bush visited earlier this week. The Mayans had led protests against Bush’s trip to the Iximche ruins.
Mayan leader Jorge Morales Toj: “The purpose of the ceremony is to get rid of the bad spirits, to saturate this ancestral place and to ask for better and good paths.”
Back in the United States, the outed CIA operative Valerie Plame is set to testify on Capitol Hill today as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee opens a hearing into the scandal that blew her cover. The hearing comes just over a week since Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction in the investigation into the leaking of Plame’s identity.
In environmental news, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared this winter the warmest on record in the Northern Hemisphere. 2007 is also on pace to become the warmest year overall. If correct, the prediction would continue a trend that has brought record annual temperatures 10 of the last dozen years.
Criticism continues to mount over General Peter Pace’s recent comments calling homosexuality “immoral.” Here in New York, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the U.S. Army recruiting center in Times Square Thursday.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: “We’re blocking entrance to the Armed Forces recruiting station here in Times Square to protest ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, to protest General Pace’s statements, to protest the fact that President Bush has not fired General Pace, and to protest the fact that the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination flubbed their responses and didn’t know how to respond to whether they agreed with General Pace or not. That’s why we’re here. ”
Foreman was later arrested along with Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. The two sat down on the street outside the recruiting center and ignored a police order to disperse. Also attending was former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. McGreevey came out as gay when he admitted to having an extramarital affair while in office.
Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey: “’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is so intrinsically wrong. It’s asking people not to be honest, not to be open with their sexuality. And it’s somehow implying that gay soldiers, gay army, gay military is somehow worth less than straight members in the military. And so, it’s to confront the discrimination, the bigotry, the prejudice, that unfortunately is rife within the military, but also is all too rife throughout America.”
General Pace has come under intense criticism since the Chicago Tribune published comments he made in a recorded interview.
General Peter Pace: “I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.”
And today is the 180th anniversary of the founding of Freedom’s Journal, the first African-American-owned and -operated newspaper published in the United States.
And today is also the fourth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie. On March 16, 2003, an Israeli military bulldozer crushed Corrie to death as she tried to stop the demolition of the home of a Palestinian doctor in the Gaza town of Rafah. Eyewitnesses said Rachel was standing directly in the path of the bulldozer holding a megaphone and wearing a fluorescent jacket. She was 23 years old.