Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Karl Rove, Harriet Meiers, and the Just Is Department

When Debra Yang quit her job as the U.S. Attorney for the district which includes Los Angeles in October of 2006, the U.S. Attorneys scandal was still just a gas bubble in the swampy minds of Karl Rove and White House Counsel Harriet Miers. The eight attorneys whose firings would blow up into that celebrated scandal were not yet purged from the Justice Department and wouldn't be until December, long after Ms. Yang departed her job. Discussions of their eventual fate -- and Ms. Yang's -- were still only the subjects of internal White House e-mails and memoranda.

But recent articles in the mainstream press, most recently and most notably in the New York Times, question whether Debra Yang was privy to inside-the-White-House information, and quit her job because she knew she was about to be fired. Even more ominously, these articles ask whether Yang's current employer, the southern California law firm Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, might have been secretly induced by someone in the White House to offer Debra Yang the $1.5 million signing bonus which helped finalize her decision to quit her job with the Justice Department and go to work in the private sector.

What makes these questions particularly explosive is the delicate legal standing of Riverside congressional Rep. Jerry Lewis, one of the most powerful Republicans in the House of Representatives and, until the change of majority leadership in January of this year, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

At the time of her departure from her U.S. Attorney position, Ms. Yang was investigating Lewis, focusing on his close ties with Brent Wilkes, the lobbyist implicated in the bribery of convicted and jailed San Diego Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Wilkes has contributed to Lewis's campaigns and at one time also employed a lobbying firm headed by one of Lewis's closest friends, Bill Lowery.

When she went to work for Gibson, Dunn, Debra Yang was already very familiar with that firm, because they represented Lewis in Yang's investigation of the congressman.

Yang is no fool, and has prudently recused herself from any direct involvement in Gibson, Dunn's defense efforts on Jerry Lewis's behalf. Instead she is, according to Adam Cohen of the New York Times, "co-leader of the Crisis Management Practice Group" and working closely "with Theodore Olson, who was President Bush’s solicitor general and his Supreme Court lawyer in Bush v. Gore."

Keeping the Story Alive

The questionable circumstances surrounding Debra Yang's departure from the Justice Department came to the New York Times's attention from two primary sources. One is the tireless bird-dogging of all aspects of the U.S. Attorney scandal by Josh Marshall, proprietor of the "Talking Points Memo" blog, and his writers and reporters at "TPM Muckraker." The Muckraker's Paul Kiel first broached the questions about Yang's post-election departure from Justice on March 4 of this year. The other source was the tenacity of California Senator Diane Feinstein's attention to this story (Feinstein serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee), and her repeatedly telling reporters throughout March that she had questions about the timing of Yang's departure from Justice, to which Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales and other witnesses were not providing satisfactory answers.

Feinstein wants to know whether Debra Yang was tipped off in advance that she was about to be fired. E-mails turned over to the Judiciary Committee reveal that White House Counsel Harriet Meiers and Kyle Sampson, the Justice Department underling delegated to wield the axe in the attorney firings, were frequently discussing whether Yang should be fired as early as September, 2006. Since Yang was a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a group Gonzales has called "a small group of U.S. attorneys that I consult on policy matters," she may very well have had inside information that her job was on the line.

Another possibility is that someone inside the White House, perhaps Karl Rove, who is now known to have instructed the spear carrier Gonzales to target any U.S. Attorneys who were investigating important Republican targets, finagled the Republican-connected Gibson, Dunn firm to get Debra Yang out of the way by offering her the rich financial incentive they eventually did proffer, and thereby monkey-wrench the Lewis investigation, which has gone cold since Yang's departure.

Yang has refused to make any extensive public comment on any of these possibilities, and is striving to maintain an extremely low profile. She says only that she is a single mother who is highly motivated by financial considerations, and that she left her job at Justice for purely personal reasons. She may not have known that she was about to be fired in December along with the eight attorneys who eventually met that fate. But it would have been impossible for her not to be aware of the highly partisan political connections of the firm she went to work for after leaving Justice.

This case raises too many unanswered questions to go away. Meanwhile, long-time congressman Jerry Lewis is amassing funds for his 2008 re-election bid, which, barring a miracle or a Justice Department investigation, will be successful. He was re-elected in 2006 virtually without opposition.

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