March 11: Schumer calls on Gonzales to resign
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership and a member of the Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign in the wake of the dismissal of U.S. attorneys and the disclosure that the FBI had illegally sought personal information about people in the United States under the aegis of its counterterrorism program.
"Attorney General Gonzales is a nice man, but he either doesn't accept or doesn't understand that he is no longer just the president's lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution even when the president should not want it to be so," Schumer said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), on CNN's "Late Edition," seconded Schumer's call, while Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said on "Face the Nation" that Gonzales' future is "a question for the president and the attorney general, but I do think there have been lots of problems."
Eight U.S. attorneys were fired in December by Gonzales's Justice Department, moves that department officials called routine and others have suggested were politically motivated. Gonzales last week called the firings "an overblown personnel matter" in a USA Today opinion piece, a comment that drew a scathing response from Specter.
And last week, the Justice Department inspector general reported that the FBI had used tools known as national security letters and emergency letters to improperly obtain telephone records and other private data.
Specter and Schumer agreed that the provision of the Patriot Act that grants the FBI expanded powers to conduct investigations with national security letters might have to be reexamined in upcoming congressional hearings. "The provision has been very badly abused, ... I think that the hearings ought to go beyond an analysis of the failures to comply with the law, but very active consideration about withdrawing some of those power," Specter said.
Democrats search for unity on Iraq
Schumer suggested Democrats would oppose, as part of his party's broader effort to limit U.S. involvement in Iraq, a decision announced yesterday by President Bush to send nearly 5,000 more troops to Iraq.
Bush also announced a deployment of 3,500 troops to Afghanistan, a move Schumer said that Democrats are unlikely to oppose.
SCHUMER: Most Democrats will support more troops in Afghanistan. After all, that's where the nexus of terrorism is. ... As for Iraq, whether it's 4,000 more troops or 40,000 more troops, we Democrats believe almost unanimously that we need a dramatic change in course, change in strategy away from policing a civil war and much more in the direction of a much more limited and narrow mission, which is preventing terrorism such as we're trying to prevent in Afghanistan.
Specter said he would like to hear more about the impact of the additional troops that have already gone to Iraq as part of the president's "surge" plan. "There have been reports that things are improving. Perhaps not a whole lot, but to some extent," Specter said. "As yet, the Democrats in the House who have taken the lead on curtailing funding have not come up with a plan."
Democrats last week announced aggressive new measures to narrow U.S. involvement in Iraq. A House spending bill could begin withdrawals by the year's end and require combat duties to cease by August 2008. Senate Democrats have proposed a joint resolution to limit the authority Congress gave President Bush in 2002 to invade Iraq. It would require withdrawal to begin within four months and set March 2008 as a goal for withdrawing most troops
But appearances by Democrats on the Sunday shows indicated that the party has not yet unified behind either bill.
On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of her party's liberal wing, said she wouldn't sign on to the Democratic House proposal because it does not go far enough in cutting funding for the war. "We just voted on a non-binding resolution that said we do not support the surge, or the expansion, and now we're going to fund it? We believe that we should use funding to safely exit our soldiers from Iraq with a well-thought-out exit plan."
Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested the U.S. can't do anything to help Iraq. "What is happening here is, there is a self-sustaining sectarian violence. Shia killing Sunni. Let's cut through it all. Everybody in the outside could go away and be perfect. No one involved. We still have Americans getting killed."
On ABC's "This Week," Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), though, said it is improbable that Democrats could block funding for the war or even for the troop increase Bush announced yesterday. "As long as he has the authority as commander-in-chief to conduct the war, he's going to be able to control a lot of these sorts of things. I don't think people are going to go against him in terms of cutting back the appropriations for more troops," Webb said.
War in the Middle East: Iraq Security Summit
U.S. and Iraqi officials portrayed Saturday's Baghdad security summit involving Iraq, the U.S., Iran and Syria as a first, limited step toward regional cooperation, but they acknowledged that a wide gulf remains between the U.S. and Iran.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said on NBC's "Meet the Press," "There was agreement that there will be working groups formed involving Iraq and its neighbors to deal with security, to deal with the issue of oil and electricity, and also with the refugees. So there were agreement on practical steps to move forward. We will see what happens on the ground."
Khalilzad said his direct contact with Iranian officials was limited to exchanges across the negotiating table and a brief, two-minute conversation while shaking hands. There was "no substantive bilateral meeting," Khalilzad said.
The issue was notable because the U.S. has resisted direct talks with the Iranians, because of Tehran's nuclear program and allegations that it was materially supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Khalilzad said he raised the issue with the Iranians, and "we are monitoring their behavior."
Khalilzad also insisted that the meeting was not a change in policy, and that he has been authorized to have talks with Iran over Iraq. He suggested that the standing policy of not meeting with Iran only concerned nuclear policy.
"A secretary of state level meeting with them and any discussion on nuclear issues will not take place until they verifiably suspend their enrichment and related nuclear program," he said.
On CNN, Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, called the meeting a "major success." But he said that, despite his country's repeated requests that Iran stop supporting the insurgency, it has only received mixed messages.
"Sometimes they deny, sometimes they say there may be people acting beyond the authorities, but their fingerprints are there, definitely. And we have repeatedly asked them not to interfere. And we also alerted them to the dangers of a spillover of the situation here in Iraq immediately on their interests," Zebari said.
Thompson mulling presidential bid
Fred Thompson, the actor-turned-senator-turned-actor, said he is considering running for the Republican presidential nomination. On Fox, the former Tennessee senator, who has acted in films such as "Cape Fear" and has a recurring role on NBC's "Law & Order, said he won't make a decision for several months.
"I'm giving some thought to it, going to leave the door open," Thompson said. Displeasure with the top tier of Republican candidates among social conservatives has surfaced recently, and Thompson was asked whether he could fill a gap in the current field. "It is not really a reflection on the current field at all," he said.
In contrast, though, to the current top three candidates, Thompson, 64, has a reputation for opposing abortion rights, gay marriage and gun control. He also said he supports the president's current Iraq policy in precisely its current form, and immediately would pardon former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Speculation about Thomspon intensified after former Senate majority leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) recently touted him as a viable candidate.
"I think people are somewhat disillusioned. I think a lot of people are cynical out there. I think they're looking for something different," Thompson said. "And I think that they're going to be open to different things."
Also on the 2008 watch, "This Week" host George Stephanopoulous asked Sen. Webb if he would consider being the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2008. Webb said he is still finding his way in the Senate and noted that he cares a lot about criminal justice issues. But by no means did he say he wouldn't accept a spot on a White House ticket.
Walter Reed Scandal
Former Kansas senator and GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, who was appointed to co-chair a bipartisan commission to probe military and veterans health care in the wake of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal, said he would have virtually unlimited power to investigate.
"If we can find one soldier who is not being treated properly as far as medical care and under transition of the V.A. or back to their unit or the Guard or reserve, he wants us to fix it," Dole said on ABC. He will lead the commission with Donna Shalala, the health and human secretary during the Clinton administration.
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