Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 6, 2010

Holder Under the Bus?

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

Andy McCarthy and I have both been looking at Attorney General Eric Holder’s latest effort to defend in a letter to Mitch McConnell the administration’s handling of the Christmas Day bomber. McCarthy sums it up:

The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder.

Aside from the sloppy legal work by Holder (including citing cases that have been since overturned by the Supreme Court), it is curious to see that the Obami are now retreating to the defense that “Bush did the same thing” (ignoring the instances in which Bush designated terrorists as enemy combatants). None of this seems to be working to shore up support for the criminal-justice model, which the Obami have insisted on employing, in part because the legal arguments are weak (e.g., disregarding the military-commission system, now in place to handle these cases) and in part because neither the public nor members of Obama’s own party think it makes sense to try KSM in a civilian court, Mirandize a terrorist, or ship Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Joining the chorus of other mainstream critics of the Obama approach, Stuart Taylor calls Holder’s decisions to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber and to try KSM in a civilian court “two glaring mistakes” that require a serious course correction by Obama in his anti-terrorism policies.

In a piece in the New Yorker, which aptly describes the gathering storm of opposition, Holder doubles-down (“What we did is totally consistent with what has happened in every similar case”) and lashes out at former Vice President Dick Cheney (“On some level, and I’m not sure why, he lacks confidence in the American system of justice”). But Holder seems to be on thin ice and the White House might now view him as a liability. The New Yorker quotes a source close to the White House:

“The White House doesn’t trust his judgment, and doesn’t think he’s mindful enough of all the things he should be,” such as protecting the President from political fallout. “They think he wants to protect his own image, and to make himself untouchable politically, the way Reno did, by doing the righteous thing.”

Even more ominous for Holder: Rahm Emanuel is making it clear to all those concerned that he disagreed with a string of highly controversial and politically disastrous decisions by Holder. We learn: “Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions.” And then there is the KSM trial:

At the White House, Emanuel, who is not a lawyer, opposed Holder’s position on the 9/11 cases. He argued that the Administration needed the support of key Republicans to help close Guantánamo, and that a fight over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could alienate them. “There was a lot of drama,” the informed source said. . . .  “Rahm felt very, very strongly that it was a mistake to prosecute the 9/11 people in the federal courts, and that it was picking an unnecessary fight with the military-commission people,” the informed source said. “Rahm had a good relationship with [Sen. Lindsay] Graham, and believed Graham when he said that if you don’t prosecute these people in military commissions I won’t support the closing of Guantánamo. . . . Rahm said, ‘If we don’t have Graham, we can’t close Guantánamo, and it’s on Eric!’ ”

Interesting that Emanuel and his spinners are now distancing the White House from their attorney general. One wonders where Obama stands in this drama. Isn’t he, after all, the commander in chief? Either the president was content to go along with Holder’s decisions until they went south or he subcontracted, with no oversight, some of the most critical decisions of his presidency to a lawyer who is prone to making the kind of mistakes a “first-year lawyer would get fired for.

Either way, Obama now must suffer the results of Holder’s ill-advised decisions. There will be much speculation, given Emanuel’s comments, as to whether the White House is getting ready to throw Holder under that proverbial bus. Now, as the Democrats join the Republicans to block the KSM trial and to deny funds for moving detainees to Illinois, it would be as good a time as any.

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What a Difference One Senator Makes

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The stubbornly weak U.S. employment picture is ratcheting up pressure on Washington to fix what ails the labor market, but policy makers and economists are concluding there’s no magic bullet to boost jobs. Opinion is split over which, if any, of the policies in play offers the best hope of spurring employment. Even those who advocate government action say federal efforts can only reduce, not repair, the labor market. More than eight-million jobs have been lost during the recession, a deficit compounded by the fact the economy needs to add more than one million jobs annually simply to keep up with the growth of the labor force.

Despite ample evidence that stimulus spending plans under both the Bush and Obama administrations haven’t done much for private-sector hiring, liberals persist in demanding more and more stimulus spending. Republicans favor tax cuts. Up until now, Democrats largely ignored the suggestions coming from Republicans. As Obama so boldly put it, “We won.” Well, they just lost one in Massachusetts and now, we hear, are scrambling to get some Republican buy-in on Son of Stimulus.

Politico reports:

The bill has shifted from a sweeping piece of legislation to a smaller, bipartisan bill — loaded up with tax cuts to gain Republican support. With Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s swearing-in Thursday evening, the Democrats no longer have the 60 votes they need to overcome a GOP filibuster by themselves.

“We are completely changing the strategy to go for a bill that can get Republican buy-in and pass,” said a Democratic aide. . . .

Moderate Democrats — spooked by the loss in Massachusetts last month — are putting intense pressure on leadership to move a jobs-focus bill before the Senate leaves for February recess. They demanded that Baucus forgo marking up the legislation in his committee, fearing that it would slow down movement of the bill. . . .

[Sen. Chuck] Grassley is demanding that any bill he negotiates be kept out of what one of his aides called a “Dems-only spending fest.” He also wants a commitment that Democrats will take up the estate tax in a “timely manner” — as well as an extension of a series of corporate tax breaks like the research and development credit.

Whether liberals will accept a bill with ample tax cuts remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Democrats looking at the economic and political landscape can no longer keep doing what they’ve been doing this past year — i.e., spending gobs of money in the name of reducing unemployment. It is an admission of their own shortcomings in both policy and politics that they must finally reach across the aisle to the Republican minority. Imagine how much better they (and the country) might have been, had they done this a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The stubbornly weak U.S. employment picture is ratcheting up pressure on Washington to fix what ails the labor market, but policy makers and economists are concluding there’s no magic bullet to boost jobs. Opinion is split over which, if any, of the policies in play offers the best hope of spurring employment. Even those who advocate government action say federal efforts can only reduce, not repair, the labor market. More than eight-million jobs have been lost during the recession, a deficit compounded by the fact the economy needs to add more than one million jobs annually simply to keep up with the growth of the labor force.

Despite ample evidence that stimulus spending plans under both the Bush and Obama administrations haven’t done much for private-sector hiring, liberals persist in demanding more and more stimulus spending. Republicans favor tax cuts. Up until now, Democrats largely ignored the suggestions coming from Republicans. As Obama so boldly put it, “We won.” Well, they just lost one in Massachusetts and now, we hear, are scrambling to get some Republican buy-in on Son of Stimulus.

Politico reports:

The bill has shifted from a sweeping piece of legislation to a smaller, bipartisan bill — loaded up with tax cuts to gain Republican support. With Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s swearing-in Thursday evening, the Democrats no longer have the 60 votes they need to overcome a GOP filibuster by themselves.

“We are completely changing the strategy to go for a bill that can get Republican buy-in and pass,” said a Democratic aide. . . .

Moderate Democrats — spooked by the loss in Massachusetts last month — are putting intense pressure on leadership to move a jobs-focus bill before the Senate leaves for February recess. They demanded that Baucus forgo marking up the legislation in his committee, fearing that it would slow down movement of the bill. . . .

[Sen. Chuck] Grassley is demanding that any bill he negotiates be kept out of what one of his aides called a “Dems-only spending fest.” He also wants a commitment that Democrats will take up the estate tax in a “timely manner” — as well as an extension of a series of corporate tax breaks like the research and development credit.

Whether liberals will accept a bill with ample tax cuts remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Democrats looking at the economic and political landscape can no longer keep doing what they’ve been doing this past year — i.e., spending gobs of money in the name of reducing unemployment. It is an admission of their own shortcomings in both policy and politics that they must finally reach across the aisle to the Republican minority. Imagine how much better they (and the country) might have been, had they done this a year ago.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does French President Nicolas Sarakozy really think of Obama? “Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I’ve lost?” And as relayed by an adviser, Sarko seems to think Obama is “a charmer, a conciliator, but I am not sure that he’s a strong leader.”

Jamie Fly reports that his Israeli cabbie similarly told him: “‘With him, everything is opposite’ of what it should be and scoffed about his Nobel Peace Prize (given that he had done nothing actually to achieve peace).”

On the jobs number: “The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in January, but the economy continued to shed jobs and revisions painted a bleaker picture for 2009, casting doubt over the labor market’s strength.The unemployment rate, calculated using a household survey, fell to 9.7% last month from an unrevised 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast the jobless rate would edge higher to 10.1%. Meantime, non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 compared with a revised 150,000 decline in December.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: “‘Things are getting bad less rapidly,’ said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.’”

And when the 1.1 million of “discouraged job seekers” return to the workforce? “Many economists expect the jobless rate to creep higher in the months ahead as workers who had given up looking for a job out of frustration return to the labor force.” Bottom line: 15 million Americans are unemployed.

What’s the matter with Harry? “Harry Reid may soon have one more Republican opponent in Nevada’s race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers remain in troublesome territory for an incumbent. Reid, like a number of Democratic Senate incumbents, appears to be suffering from voter unhappiness over the national health care plan and the continuing bad state of the economy.”

You can’t say Illinois politics isn’t colorful: “The Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is trailing Republican Mark Kirk in opinion polls ahead of November’s election in which Republicans are aiming to erase Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. . . . Republicans are spotlighting the soured real estate portfolio at the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank, including loans to Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango, a convicted prostitution ring operator. Broadway Bank was recently ordered by government regulators to raise additional capital — after Giannoulias received his share of $70 million in proceeds following his father’s death.”

What a difference a year makes: “There were seven states that Barack Obama won where his approval has slipped below 56%. Three of them are pretty darn predictable — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio — all of which saw extremely close races in 2008. Another three of them though are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada which Obama won by commanding margins of anywhere from 9-15 points. . . . The seventh state Obama won where he’s under 56% is New Hampshire, which may help to explain why Paul Hodes is having so much trouble.”

Speculation is starting already as to whether Obama will dump Joe Biden in 2012.

It seems as though “activists and liberal Mideast policy groups” don’t like the idea of Rep. Mark Kirk getting to the U.S. Senate, given his pro-Israel voting record.” You can understand that these groups wouldn’t want someone who was the “driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group),” a vocal critic of the UN, and an opponent of Chas Freeman.

What does French President Nicolas Sarakozy really think of Obama? “Obama has been in power for a year, and he has already lost three special elections. Me, I have won two legislative elections and the EU election. What can one say I’ve lost?” And as relayed by an adviser, Sarko seems to think Obama is “a charmer, a conciliator, but I am not sure that he’s a strong leader.”

Jamie Fly reports that his Israeli cabbie similarly told him: “‘With him, everything is opposite’ of what it should be and scoffed about his Nobel Peace Prize (given that he had done nothing actually to achieve peace).”

On the jobs number: “The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly declined in January, but the economy continued to shed jobs and revisions painted a bleaker picture for 2009, casting doubt over the labor market’s strength.The unemployment rate, calculated using a household survey, fell to 9.7% last month from an unrevised 10% in December, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast the jobless rate would edge higher to 10.1%. Meantime, non-farm payrolls fell by 20,000 compared with a revised 150,000 decline in December.”

Here’s one way of looking at it: “‘Things are getting bad less rapidly,’ said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.’”

And when the 1.1 million of “discouraged job seekers” return to the workforce? “Many economists expect the jobless rate to creep higher in the months ahead as workers who had given up looking for a job out of frustration return to the labor force.” Bottom line: 15 million Americans are unemployed.

What’s the matter with Harry? “Harry Reid may soon have one more Republican opponent in Nevada’s race for the U.S. Senate, and his numbers remain in troublesome territory for an incumbent. Reid, like a number of Democratic Senate incumbents, appears to be suffering from voter unhappiness over the national health care plan and the continuing bad state of the economy.”

You can’t say Illinois politics isn’t colorful: “The Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias is trailing Republican Mark Kirk in opinion polls ahead of November’s election in which Republicans are aiming to erase Democratic majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. . . . Republicans are spotlighting the soured real estate portfolio at the Giannoulias family’s Broadway Bank, including loans to Michael ‘Jaws’ Giorango, a convicted prostitution ring operator. Broadway Bank was recently ordered by government regulators to raise additional capital — after Giannoulias received his share of $70 million in proceeds following his father’s death.”

What a difference a year makes: “There were seven states that Barack Obama won where his approval has slipped below 56%. Three of them are pretty darn predictable — North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio — all of which saw extremely close races in 2008. Another three of them though are Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada which Obama won by commanding margins of anywhere from 9-15 points. . . . The seventh state Obama won where he’s under 56% is New Hampshire, which may help to explain why Paul Hodes is having so much trouble.”

Speculation is starting already as to whether Obama will dump Joe Biden in 2012.

It seems as though “activists and liberal Mideast policy groups” don’t like the idea of Rep. Mark Kirk getting to the U.S. Senate, given his pro-Israel voting record.” You can understand that these groups wouldn’t want someone who was the “driving force behind a host of legislative efforts to sanction Iran (he’s the founder of of the Iran Working Group),” a vocal critic of the UN, and an opponent of Chas Freeman.

Read Less