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Leahy: Missing RNC E-mails are like Nixon's 18-minute gap
Michael Roston
Published: Thursday April 12, 2007
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The top Senate Democrat leading investigations into the dismissal of 8 U.S. Attorneys by the Justice Department is comparing e-mails lost by the Republican National Committee to President Richard Nixon's famous "18-minute gap" in White House tape recordings.

"Now we are learning that the 'off book' communications they were having about these actions, by using Republican political email addresses, have not been preserved," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor.

He added, "Like the famous 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes, it appears likely that key documentation has been erased or misplaced. This sounds like the Administration's version of 'the dog ate my homework.'"

The senator was referring to the Nixon White House tapes subpoenaed during the Watergate investigation. On one tape, there was an 18 1/2 minute gap. The former president's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, claimed responsibility for "accidentally" erasing 5 minutes of the recording, but not the remainder of the gap. Further investigations raised questions about the veracity of her testimony.

The Associated Press also noted that when actually delivered, Senator Leahy raised further doubts about the Republican Party's explanation for the lost e-mails.

"They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that!" he proclaimed. "You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers."

Leahy threatened further action in response to the news. "Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."

The Vermont Democrat's speech also took up the activities of the first 100 days of the Democratic-controlled Senate, particularly in the area of oversight.

"I come to the Senate today to thank the Majority Leader and those senators who have been working so hard to restore balance to our government, protect the liberties and rights of all Americans, and revive America's leadership in the world," Leahy said.

The prepared version of Leahy's speech, sent to RAW STORY this morning, is presented in full below.

A clip of the Leahy's floor speech is presented below

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Chairman, Judiciary Committee United States Senate April 12, 2007

Today we mark the 100th day of the new Congress. While we have much more to do on behalf of the American people, much has already been accomplished. We have heard the American people’s call for accountability and competence in their government and have started making those goals a reality. We have returned the focus to the rights and interests of the American people.

Just as I have commended the Members of the Judiciary Committee for their help and active participation in the work of our Committee, I come to the Senate today to thank the Majority Leader and those Senators who have been working so hard to restore balance to our government, protect the liberties and rights of all Americans and revive America’s leadership in the world.

First and foremost, we are making progress restoring the Senate and the Congress to their proper constitutional role. From the FBI’s illegal and improper use of National Security Letters to the politically motivated dismissal of so many of the Nation’s U.S. Attorneys, there are concerns about the competence and independence of the Department of Justice. This pattern of abuse of authority and mismanagement causes me, and many others on both sides of the aisle, to wonder whether the FBI and Department of Justice have been faithful stewards of the great trust that the Congress and American people have placed in them. We need to keep our Nation safe, while respecting the privacy rights and civil liberties of all Americans. Last year in the former Congress, the Administration sought expanded powers in the PATRIOT Act reauthorization to appoint U.S. Attorneys without Senate confirmation, and to more freely use National Security Letters. The Administration got these powers, and they have badly bungled both.

The Judiciary Committee early oversight efforts included our January 18 hearing with Attorney General Gonzales. There we examined the change in course of this Administration, which had engaged in warrantless wiretapping of Americans contrary to the law for years. Under the watchful eye of the new Congress, the President’s program for warrantless wiretaps on Americans has been revised and the government is seeking approval for all such wiretaps from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as the law requires.

We must engage in all surveillance necessary to prevent acts of terrorism, but we can and should do so in ways that protect the basic rights of all Americans, including the right to privacy. The issue has never been whether to monitor suspected terrorists but doing it legally and with proper checks and balances to prevent abuses. The Administration’s recent reversal of course and was a good first step.

Last month we held an oversight hearing with FBI Director Mueller in which we called him to task for the longstanding FBI abuses of national security letters. The Inspector General’s report we insisted be provided included troubling findings of widespread illegal and improper use of National Security Letters to obtain Americans’ phone, financial, credit and other records. Inspector General Glenn Fine testified that there could be thousands of additional violations among the tens of thousands of National Security Letters that the FBI is now using each year. The Inspector General also found widespread use by the FBI of so-called “exigent letters.” These letters, which are not authorized by any statute, were issued at least 739 times to obtain Americans’ phone records when there was often no emergency and never a follow-up subpoena, as the FBI had promised. Despite these extensive abuses, the top leadership at the FBI sat idly by for years, doing nothing to stop this practice.

We questioned the FBI Director about these matters and reports that the FBI has repeatedly submitted inaccurate information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in its efforts to obtain secret warrants in terrorism and espionage cases -- severely undermining the Government’s credibility in the eyes of the Chief Judge of that Court. These abuses are unacceptable. Director Mueller now knows that and knows that these abuses and violations can no longer be continued or repeated.

The Judiciary Committee is now in the midst of an investigation in which we are uncovering an abuse of power that threatens the independence of U.S. Attorneys offices around the country and that undermines the trust and confidence of all Americans in federal law enforcement. We are examining the mass firings of U.S. Attorneys and are trying to get to the truth in order to prevent these kinds of abuses from happening again.

I want the American people to have a Justice Department and United States Attorneys offices that enforce the law without regard to political influence and partisanship. I want the American people to have confidence in federal law enforcement and I want our federal law enforcement officers to have the independence they need to be effective and merit the trust of the American people.

Sadly, what we have heard from the Administration has been a series of shifting explanations and excuses and a lack of accountability or acknowledgement of the seriousness of this matter. The women and men replaced and whose reputations were then stained by those seeking to justify these firings as “performance related” were appointees of President Bush. Several had significant achievements in office and glowing performance reviews.

As we learn more details about the ousters of these U.S. Attorneys the story grows more troubling. Had we accepted the initial testimony of the Attorney General and other Department officials we would not have gotten to the truth. The White House and the Attorney General have dodged Congress’s questions and ducked real accountability for years. In the past they counted on a rubberstamping Congress to avoid accountability. The American people have a new Congress, one that looks for answers.

The Attorney General has admitted “mistakes were made” without specifying what they were. He will have another chance to tell the whole truth next Tuesday at our next Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. The days when he could come by once a year and not answer questions are over.

I made no secret during his confirmation hearing of my concern whether Mr. Gonzales could serve as an independent Attorney General of the United States on behalf of the American people and leave behind his role as counselor to President Bush. The Department of Justice should serve the American people by making sure the law is enforced without fear or favor. It should not be turned into a political arm of the White House.

For years preceding this new Congress, accountability has been lacking in this Administration. Loyalty to the President has been rewarded over all else. That lack of accountability, and lack of the checks and balances that fostered it, must end and, I hope, has ended.

We do not need another commendation for the “heckuva job” done by those who have failed in their essential duties to the American people. True accountability means being forthcoming, and it means there are consequences for improper actions.

The White House continues to stand by the firings of the U.S. attorneys and despite assurances by the President that we would receive cooperation, documents and access to witnesses, the White House has yet to produce a single document or make any witnesses available.

Now we are learning that the “off book” communications they were having about these actions, by using Republican political email addresses, have not been preserved. Like the famous 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes, it appears likely that key documentation has been erased or misplaced. This sounds like the Administration’s version of the dog ate my homework. I am deeply disturbed that just when this Administration is finally subjected to meaningful oversight, it cannot produce the necessary information. This Administration has worn out the benefit of the doubt and undermined whatever credibility it had left. The American people are right that they are entitled to full and honest public testimony of the White House staff responsible for this debacle.

We have asked for Administration officials and now former officials to cooperate with the Judiciary Committee in its inquiry and I hope that they will. Through the Committee’s oversight work so far, we know some of the answers to some of the questions we have been asking, and the answers are troubling. We have learned that most of the U.S. Attorneys that were asked to resign were doing their jobs well and were fired for not bending to the political will of some in Washington. Apparently, their reward for their efforts at rooting out serious public corruption is a kick out the door.

Along with these oversight matters the Judiciary Committee has taken up questions relating to the war in Iraq and congressional authority to condition funding, the plight of Iraqi refugees, the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group on policing and the administration of justice in Iraq, and contracting fraud and abuse in Iraq. We have examined enforcement of our antitrust laws, restoring open government by reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act, ending antitrust immunity for insurers, increasing drug competition, strengthening protections against identity theft and providing for fair and comprehensive immigration reform.

We have also moved legislative initiatives. Indeed, I think the first legislation passed by the Senate this year was our bill to restore the cost of living adjustment for federal judges. We have passed a bill to amend the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to honor the contribution of Cesar Chavez and other outstanding Americans. We passed by a bipartisan vote of 94 to 2 a bill to repeal that part of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization that had contributed to the U.S. attorney firings and thereby moved decisively to repeal the Attorney General’s unlimited authority to appoint so-called interim U.S. Attorneys without Senate consideration. At long last, we have given final passage to the bill against animal fighting that has languished for so many years. And we have passed the Genocide Accountability Act, the first legislative result of the new subcommittee I worked with Senator Durbin to create within the Judiciary Committee on Human Rights and the Law.

I hope that the Senate will soon be considering a number of our other legislative initiatives. We have reported a court security bill, S.378; a bill to increase drug competition by giving the FTC authority to stop drug companies from paying other companies not to compete, S.316; a bill to establish a school loan program for those willing to serve as prosecutors and public defenders, S.442; and legislation to reauthorize the successful Byrne grant program for law enforcement, S.231. A number of additional items are not far behind, including a bill to reauthorize the COPS program, S.368; and a bill that Senators Sessions and Senator Landrieu cosponsored attacking fraud in disaster and emergency relief funding. I hope to see action on our bill against war profiteering, S.119, as well.

The new Congress is off to a strong start in restoring accountability, in revitalizing the checks and balances of our system, and in earning back the public’s trust in government that has eroded during a rubberstamp Congress. Much remains to be done but we have made meaningful progress in just 100 days.

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