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Democrats savage Justice Department over apparent attempt to blame environmentalists for flood

John Byrne

An email message which suggested the Bush Justice Department was looking to blame environmentalists for a break in the New Orleans levee and the ensuing flood has sparked vehement responses among the Democratic caucus in Congress, RAW STORY has learned.

One congressman, ranking House Judiciary Democrat John Conyers (D-MI), penned a stiff letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales demanding answers.

In the email, obtained by the Mississippi-based Clarion-Ledger, the Justice Department wrote: "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation."

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) fired off this statement to RAW STORY.

“If the President is sincere when he says he accepts responsibility for the abysmal federal response to Hurricane Katrina, he should instruct his Justice Department to stop trying to smear environmentalists by blaming them for the government's failure to shore up the levee system in Louisiana," the California Democrat said.

"This smacks of a political witch hunt," Boxer added. "Instead of pathetic attempts to pass the buck by blaming groups who are looking out for the health and well-being of Americans, the Bush Administration should marshal the Justice Department to stand up for the victims against the con artists and U.S. taxpayers from unscrupulous contractors."

Conyers said the email, if true, results in a "diversion of time and resources" and "political, rather than an attempt to pursue a legitimate law enforcement goal or objective."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement to the Washington Post in Saturday papers that the Bush administration "should be ashamed of themselves" if they are seeking to blame environmental groups for the flooding and its bungled aftermath.

"The slow recovery had little to do with the levees and everything to do with bad decisions in the immediate aftermath of the storm," Schumer said.

Conyers' letter follows.

#

The Honorable Alberto R. Gonzales
Attorney General of the United States
U. S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

Today I learned that according to an article in the Clarion-Ledger that your office has sent an email to U.S. Attorney's Offices asking "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation."

If this is true, I am concerned that the motivation may be perceived as political, rather than an attempt to pursue a legitimate law enforcement goal or objective, which should be the Department's primary goal. This diversion of time and resources would seem particularly problematic given the difficulties the affected U.S. Attorneys offices have no doubt had in responding to Hurricane Katrina, and the incredibly heavy workloads they must be facing. As a result, I would appreciate your responding to the following questions:

  1. Did your office circulate this or a similar e-mail? If so, to which offices was the e-mail circulated?

  2. What caused your office to circulate the e-mail, and what personnel both inside and outside the Department were involved in the matter?

  3. Did you set a deadline for a response? Have you received any responses yet? Please forward to my office any responses you have received or receive in the future.

  4. Please estimate the cost - both out-of-pocket, and lost person hours - to both consider and circulate this request and for the various U.S. Attorney offices to respond?

    1. What safeguards, if any, did you interpose to insure that a responding to this e-mail did not displace any legitimate law enforcement priorities of the applicable offices?
  5. Has the Department ever sought information regarding previous litigation activity in connection with any other natural disaster other than Hurricane Katrina? If so, please provide my office with a description of such requests. I would appreciate receiving a full or partial response to this letter at your earliest possible convenience, and by no later than September 23, 2005 in any event. Please forward your response to my Judiciary Committee Minority Office, 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member
House Judiciary Committee

cc: The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., The Honorable William E. Moschella

Originally published on Saturday September 17, 2005.

 


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