Is there a more time-honored tradition in Washington than uttering the words, “I do not recall?”
Think you had a bad day yesterday? Look on the bright side: You could have been Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. As The Washington Post reports:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales came under withering attack from members of his own party yesterday over the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys, facing the first resignation demand from a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and doubts from others about his candor and his ability to lead the Justice Department.
Gonzales appeared frustrated, weary and at times combative during a five-hour Senate panel hearing that was widely considered crucial to his bid to hold on to his job. He sought to present a careful defense of the firings, apologizing for the way they were handled but defending them as the “right decision.”
“While the process that led to the resignations was flawed, I firmly believe that nothing improper occurred,” Gonzales said. “It would be improper to remove a U.S. attorney to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain. I did not do that. I would never do that.”
Yet the attorney general, who spent the past three weeks preparing for his testimony, struggled to recall key details of his involvement in the firings, including a pivotal conversation with President Bush. Gonzales conceded that he never looked at the prosecutors’ performance reviews and did not know why two of them were being removed until after they were fired. He also said he did not remember a final high-level meeting in his office suite in November to discuss the firings, nor did he remember when he decided to carry out the dismissals.
“I recall making the decision,” Gonzales said at one point. “I don’t recall when the decision was made.”
The numerous uncertainties irritated many of the Republican committee members, who criticized Gonzales for bungling the dismissals and their aftermath, and questioned his apparent disconnection from the process. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the panel’s most conservative member, joined Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and other committee Democrats in calling on Gonzales to resign.
“I believe there’s consequences for mistakes. . . . And I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation,” Coburn said.
Happy trails, Alberto.
Senator Ken Salazar has excused himself from a discussion about ethics charges involving New Mexico Sen. Pete Dominici. As Lois Romano of The Washington Post reports:
The Senate ethics committee sent a strong signal Wednesday that it is digging in for a long and serious examination of Republican Sen. Pete Domenici’s role in the firing of New Mexico’s U.S. attorney.
In a rare move, Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., recused himself from the investigation into the dismissal of David Iglesias as New Mexico’s federal prosecutor. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will stand in for Salazar for this matter on the evenly divided six-senator panel.
Committee spokesman Cody Wertz told WashingtonPost.com’s Paul Kane that Salazar recused himself Tuesday night because he had worked on projects with Patricia Madrid, the former New Mexico attorney general who narrowly lost her challenge to Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. Wilson, like Domenici, is accused of calling Iglesias in the weeks before the election to pressure him to indict state Democrats.
Salazar’s term as Colorado attorney general overlapped for six years with Madrid’s term as New Mexico’s. They worked together on numerous issues. As attorney general, Salazar also faced accusations from Colorado conservatives that he did not aggressively pursue alleged voter fraud by liberal get-out-the-vote groups before the 2004 presidential election and his own Senate race.
Wertz added that the content of the investigation also prompted Salazar’s recusal: “He may have knowledge of matters that may be investigated by the committee.” The Senate ethics committee is conducting a preliminary inquiry into Domenici, the earliest stage of an investigation. The House ethics panel has not disclosed whether it has begun a probe of Wilson.
Okay, so Alberto Gonzales had a bad day yesterday. But if it makes him feel better, he didn’t have as bad of a day as former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, who was found guilty on 19 counts of insider trading. As Sara Burnett of the Rocky Mountain News reports:
For a few minutes Thursday afternoon, Joe Nacchio dared to smile.
Seated between his attorneys, the former Qwest CEO and one-time titan of the telecom industry looked hopeful as U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham read verdicts of not guilty to the first 23 counts of insider trading. In the first row behind the defense table, Nacchio’s son Michael put his head in his hands and sobbed with relief.
Then the hammer dropped. Nottingham read 19 consecutive guilty verdicts – enough to send Nacchio to prison for 10 years or more. He also could be ordered to pay up to $19 million of fines and forfeit the $52 million of proceeds from the 19 illegal sales.
His smile gone, Nacchio sat expressionless for much of the rest of the proceeding. When it was over, he stood beside his wife, who put one arm around him, and walked quietly from the federal courthouse, his son and attorneys beside him.
“I’m not going to make any statements,” he said.
His lead defense attorney, Herbert Stern, said only: “We’ll certainly appeal.”
Nacchio, 57, who is free on $2 million bail, is scheduled to return to Denver for sentencing July 27.
Here’s why I often don’t understand the legal system: Nacchio “could be ordered” to forfeit the $52 million of proceeds from the 19 illegal sales. Could be? If the sales were illegal, then why would that even be in question? If I rob a bank, is there a chance I could get to keep the money even if I get caught?
Former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate last month, but not before spending a pile of cash. As Mike Saccone of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports:
According to campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission, McInnis’ one-month bid to replace outgoing Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., cost his committee $50,498, leaving him with $888,495 as of March 31.
McInnis dropped out of the Senate race March 21, leaving the Republican side of the ticket a wide-open field.
Democratic congressman Mark Udall, D-Colo., announced this week he will run for Allard’s seat next year.
The former Grand Junction Congressman was initially considered a frontrunner because of his nearly $1 million lying dormant in his former House election committee.
McInnis’ committee expenses included:
$18,000 in consulting fees paid to Castle Rock-based P2, LLC;
$15,862 paid to Susan Smith of Aurora, who worked as McInnis’ press contact;
$1,806 in 2006 state and federal taxes;
$1,225 to the Grand Junction accounting firm of Chadwick, Steinkirchner, Davis & Co.;
$460 at restaurants in Denver and Grand Junction.
McInnis also contributed $12,000 to various charitable organizations, including the Mesa State College Alumni Association and the Mesa County Republican Party.
That’s a lot of money to spend in less than three months. So how much did he raise?
The Colorado AFL-CIO is making leadership changes. As Joanne Kelley of the Rocky Mountain News explains:
he Colorado AFL-CIO plans to cut its top two elected posts and hire an executive director who can bring unity to a labor organization fraught with internal divisions.
The national AFL-CIO took charge of the state federation’s daily operations this year because of internal conflicts among its top leaders.
The conclusion: The organization’s structure must be changed to restore peace within the splintered group.
“We’ll be looking for new leadership,” said Rick Bender, the Washington state labor leader serving as trustee of the Colorado group.
Colorado AFL-CIO President Steve Adams will continue lobbying through the end of the legislative session in May. Secretary-Treasurer Paul Mendrick has been on paid leave since the national office took control of the state organization. Both of their jobs will be cut.
“If we were to keep one or the other, we would probably lose one half of the unions” in the state, Bender said. “There was no way we could bring unity. That’s the rationale.”
A search for an executive director from either Colorado or another Western state will begin soon. The new person likely would stay in that role through 2008. A decision about whether to retain that structure or elect another president will be up to the state AFL, Bender said.
Governor Bill Ritter signed a bill on Thursday that would prohibit public pension funds in Colorado from investing in companies with ties to the Sudanese government. As Mark Couch of The Denver Post explains:
Ritter, surrounded by bill sponsors, Sudanese refugees and schoolchildren, signed House Bill 1184 in a ceremony in the west foyer of the Capitol.
“It has special meaning for me today as we talk about this,” Ritter said. “While in Africa, while living there for three years, I witnessed again and again what can be accomplished in the face of suffering.”
Ritter, who spent three years in the Peace Corps in Africa from 1987 to 1990, said he saw how divestment campaigns had helped force the South African government to change its discriminatory policies.
The new law orders pension funds to maintain a list of companies that either directly or indirectly help the Sudanese government commit genocide. Pension funds are required to divest from companies that do not change their business practices in Sudan within 90 days. Also, funds are prohibited from future investment in those companies.
As of December, the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association had $141 million worth of investments that would be affected by the law. That’s less than one-half of 1 percent of PERA’s total portfolio of $38.8 billion.
Elsewhere at the State Capitol, Gov. Ritter’s plan to freeze property taxes in order to fund schools is drawing new support. As The Pueblo Chieftain reports:
A controversial plan to freeze school district property tax mill levies won a number of supporters Thursday outside the state Capitol, but several lawmakers inside the gold dome said they remained skeptical about the idea.
Leading a group of health-care professionals, educators and retirees, former state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Littleton, outlined just why the Legislature needs to approve the plan, which is designed to free the state from having to spend about $55 million a year on education.
Instead, that money would come from more tax dollars Coloradans would end up paying as their property values go up.
“In 10 years, if this doesn’t pass you’re going to have 71 percent of the school finance budget will be paid by the state,” Anderson said. “That’s why this is such a fair proposal. What that is going to do is create cuts in other parts of the budget.”
While she served in the Legislature, Anderson became one of the leading experts on K-12 education funding, and even tried to get the idea passed in 2004 before her own Republican Party ended her bid.
Anderson said the way the state’s quirky revenue system works, the state’s School Education Fund will become insolvent in only a few years if something isn’t done soon. If that happens, the state will be forced to cut other programs, such as higher education, health-care programs and social services, just to keep up. That’s why Gov. Bill Ritter said he dusted off Anderson’s old idea of freezing the property tax rate, adding a twist of his own.