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Bush not ruling out a pardon for Libby
U.S. Legal News | 2007/07/04 18:15

One day after commuting the sentence of former White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush defended his decision and left open the possibility of granting him a full pardon, saying, "I rule nothing in or nothing out." Federal officials, meanwhile, said that Bush's action on Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, marked the only time that the president has sidestepped the normal Justice Department review process on pardons and commutations.

"I had to make a very difficult decision," Bush said at a brief meeting with reporters after visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "I felt like the jury verdict ought to stand, and I felt like some of the punishments that the judge determined were adequate should stand. But I felt like the 30-month sentencing was severe."

Bush's commutation wiped out Libby's 30-month prison sentence, but left intact his criminal conviction, a $250,000 fine, and the two years of probation Libby must serve. With some Republicans calling for a full pardon and many Democrats condemning Bush's action, the president said he does not regret making the controversial decision.

"I made a judgment, a considered judgment, that I believe was the right decision to make in this case," the president said. "And I stand by it."

While the commutation continued to generate heated debate yesterday, it also served as a reminder that presidents from both parties have made controversial decisions to grant clemency. Conservatives defending the Libby commutation point to President Clinton's 11th-hour pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich. On his last day in office, Clinton granted clemency to Rich, who faced prison time for tax evasion; his former wife, Denise, contributed $70,000 to a fund supporting Hillary Clinton's Senate bid.

Senator Clinton, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, issued a stinging rebuke of Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence. Leniency for Libby "sends the clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice," she said in a statement issued Monday.

Clinton, however, is continuing to deal with the fallout of her husband's decision to pardon a Tennessee couple who were represented by her brother, Anthony Rodham, who has said he talked to President Clinton about the pardons.

A US Bankruptcy Court in Nashville is slated next week to hear arguments that Rodham should pay more than $100,000 to the couple's estate; at issue is whether Rodham received the money as salary or as a loan that must be repaid. It is possible that Anthony Rodham could be called to testify about the matter, reviving questions about the role of Hillary and Bill Clinton in the pardon.

Lawyers for both sides in the case said they are in negotiations this week that could lead to a settlement.

Another of Senator Clinton's brothers, Hugh Rodham, represented two clients who received a pardon and a sentence commutation from President Clinton.

Her brothers' involvement in cases related to pardons and commutations her husband issued was an embarrassment to Senator Clinton during her first Senate bid and could resurface as she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination. She has denied playing a role in the clemency decisions.

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Clinton's presidential campaign, said there is no comparison between the Clinton pardons and Bush's grant of clemency to Libby. "What sets this incident apart," he said, "is the administration politicizing national security in an effort to intimidate its critics."

Libby, a White House insider and chief proponent of the Iraq invasion, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to a grand jury and authorities as they tried to determine who leaked the name of a CIA operative -- part of a White House effort to undercut criticism of Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq.

After a federal judge sentenced him, Libby asked to remain free on bail while his case is on appeal. On Monday, a federal appellate court rejected that request, but Bush's commutation spared Libby any time behind bars.

At a press briefing yesterday, reporters asked White House spokesman Tony Snow whether Cheney -- who calls Libby a friend and who has enormous influence within the White House -- had pressed for Bush to commute Libby's sentence.

"I don't have direct knowledge," Snow said. "But on the other hand, the president did consult with most senior officials, and I'm sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views."

A Justice Department spokesman said the Libby commutation is the only instance in which the president did not rely on a review from the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Bush issued 113 pardons but just three commutations of sentence before the Libby action, according to Justice Department officials.

Snow said Bush did not ask for a review of the case because, "It's not like people's memories are fuzzy about the details or the circumstances."

Bush has issued far fewer pardons and commutations than Clinton to date, although presidents tend to grant clemencies in bunches in their waning days in office. President George H. W. Bush, George Bush's father, granted 74 pardons and three sentence commutations during his four-year term, while President Clinton granted 396 pardons, 61 sentence commutations, and two remissions of fines during his two terms in office, according to federal records.

Both issued a number of controversial pardons: Besides pardoning Rich, the fugitive financier, Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, while the elder Bush pardoned his former secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, of charges related to the Iran-contra affair.

Margaret Love, the Justice Department's pardon attorney under both the elder Bush and Clinton, said that the current President Bush has used his clemency power sparingly. Of the more than 5,500 commutation requests Bush has received, Love said, he has denied 4,108 of them, left more than 1,000 cases pending, and granted just four cases -- including Libby's.

Similarly, Bush has received 1,399 pardon requests, denying 1,022 and granting 113.

Though she is "agnostic" about the merits of Libby's case, Love said she represents a number of individuals seeking clemency and hopes the Libby action is a positive sign.

"I would hope that this is a harbinger of greater use of the power by this president," Love said. "He has not been very eager to use it for ordinary people. A lot of people have applied and a lot of people are waiting and a lot of people are serving excessive sentences."

Congress-Bush subpoena fight could end up in court
U.S. Legal News | 2007/07/02 15:11

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said yesterday he was ready to go to court if the White House resisted congressional subpoenas for information on the firing of federal prosecutors. "If they don't cooperate, yes, I'd go that far," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). He was asked in a broadcast interview whether he would seek a congressional vote on contempt citations if President George W. Bush did not comply. That move would push the matter to court.

"They've chosen confrontation rather than compromise or cooperation," Leahy said. "The bottom line on this U.S. attorneys investigation is that we have people manipulating law enforcement. Law enforcement can't be partisan."

At issue is whether the White House exerted undue political influence in the Justice Department's firing of prosecutors.

Leahy's hardening stance is pushing the Democratic-led investigation closer to a constitutional showdown over executive power and Congress' right to oversight.

The White House accused the committee of overreaching.

"After thousands of pages of documents, interviews and testimony by Justice Department officials, it's clear that there's simply no merit for this overreach," presidential spokesman Tony Fratto said.

He said Leahy "is seeking access to candid and confidential deliberations from the president's advisers - an intrusion he would never subject his own staff to. We have gone to great lengths to accommodate the committee in their oversight responsibilities."

Separately, the Senate has subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's office for documents related to the administration's legal basis for conducting warrant-free eavesdropping on people in the United States.

Leahy and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who heads the House Judiciary Committee, have demanded a White House explanation by next Monday as to its grounds for claiming executive privilege in refusing to turn over additional documents.

The two lawmakers say that regardless whether the White House meets the deadline, they would begin acting to enforce the subpoenas as appropriate under the law.

White House Letter Rejecting Subpoenas
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/28 15:12

President Bush, moving toward a constitutional showdown with Congress, asserted executive privilege Thursday and rejected lawmakers' demands for documents that could shed light on the firings of federal prosecutors. Bush's attorney told Congress the White House would not turn over subpoenaed documents for former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. Congressional panels want the documents for their investigations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' stewardship of the Justice Department.

The Democratic chairmen of the two committees seeking the documents accused Bush of stonewalling and disdain for the law, and said they would press forward with enforcing the subpoenas.

"With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation,'' White House counsel Fred Fielding said in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. "We had hoped this matter could conclude with your committees receiving information in lieu of having to invoke executive privilege. Instead, we are at this conclusion.''

Thursday was the deadline for surrendering the documents. The White House also made clear that Miers and Taylor would not testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas, which were issued June 13. The stalemate could end up with House and Senate contempt citations and a battle in federal court over separation of powers.

"Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law,'' said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He portrayed the president's actions as "Nixonian stonewalling.''

His House counterpart, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said Bush's assertion of executive privilege was "unprecedented in its breadth and scope'' and displayed "an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government.''

In his letter, Fielding said Bush had "attempted to chart a course of cooperation'' by releasing more than 8,500 pages of documents and sending Gonzales and other senior officials to testify before Congress. The White House also had offered a compromise in which Miers, Taylor, White House political strategist Karl Rove and their deputies would be interviewed by Judiciary Committee aides in closed-door sessions, without transcripts.

Leahy and Conyers rejected that offer. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said the Democrats should have accepted it.

"We would be much farther ahead in finding out whether there's any real impropriety here or not,'' said Hatch, a former chairman of the committee. He also said presidents have legitimate reasons to protect the confidentiality of the advice they get.

In his letter, Fielding explained Bush's position on executive privilege this way: "For the President to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisors and between those advisors and others within and outside the Executive Branch.''

This "bedrock presidential prerogative'' exists, in part, to protect the president from being compelled to disclose such communications to Congress, Fielding argued. And he questioned whether the documents and testimony the committees seeking are critically important to their investigations.

It was the second time in his administration that Bush has exerted executive privilege, said White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. The first instance was in December, 2001, to rebuff Congress' demands for Clinton administration documents.

Tensions between the administration and the Democratic-run Congress have been building for months as the House and Senate Judiciary panels have sought to probe the firings of eight federal prosecutors and the administration's program of warrantless eavesdropping. The investigations are part of the Democrats' efforts to hold the administration to account for the way it has conducted the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Democrats say the firings of the prosecutors over the winter was an example of improper political influence. The White House says U.S. attorneys are political appointees who can be hired and fired for almost any reason.

Democrats and even some key Republicans have said that Gonzales should resign over the U.S. attorney dismissals, but he has steadfastly held his ground and Bush has backed him.

Just Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's office, demanding documents pertaining to terrorism-era warrant-free eavesdropping.

Separately, that panel also is summoning Gonzales to discuss the program and an array of other matters - including the prosecutor firings - that have cost a half-dozen top Justice Department officials their jobs.

The Judiciary panels also subpoenaed the National Security Council. Leahy added that, like Conyers, he would consider pursuing contempt citations against those who refuse.

Supreme Court Eases Campaign Finance Restrictions
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/26 14:42

Free speech rights take precedence over government restrictions on political advertising, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision that opens the door for greater influence by interest groups in the closing days of an election. In a 5-4 ruling, the court eased legal barriers aimed at corporate- and union-financed television ads, a decision whose tone suggests greater hostility on the court to federal limitations on money in politics.

The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that a Wisconsin anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections. The law unreasonably limits speech and violates the group's First Amendment rights, the court said.

The law, a provision in the 2002 campaign finance act, banned corporations and unions from paying for political "issue ads" that mentioned a candidate for federal office within 60 days of a federal election and 30 days of a primary or caucus.

"Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. "Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

The law's provision not only applies to organized labor and business corporations, but also to any special interest that operated as a corporation, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club -- groups frequently involved in elections. The ruling does not change a ban on ads that specifically call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

"This decision helps put the NRA in the same playing field as the politicians and the big media conglomerates going into the 2008 elections," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said in an interview.

A first test of the impact of the court's opinion could come as early as December, a month before presidential caucuses and primaries in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina open the nomination process.

The case addressed television ads by Wisconsin Right to Life that asked voters to contact the state's two senators, Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and urged them not to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees. Because Feingold was up for re-election at the time, the Federal Election Commission said the ads violated the 2002 campaign finance law that Feingold and Sen. John McCain helped write.

Campaign finance experts said that while the court's decision, written by Roberts, applied specifically to the Wisconsin case, the ruling has far-reaching implications.

In making his argument, Roberts said ads that focus on a legislative issue, take a position on an issue and urge the public to contact a public official is a legitimate "issue ad" that should run no matter how close to the election. Whether the ads intend to affect an election, Roberts said, does not matter.

"I don't think (Chief) Justice Roberts is naive," Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, said. "He knows full well that the test that the court has articulated today will lead to a great deal of corporation- and union- funded election advertising."

Writing more broadly, Roberts said the court has upheld contribution limits and some limits on expenditures in the interest of preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption. But he said that interest "must be stretched yet another step" in the Wisconsin case.

"Enough is enough," Roberts wrote.

Some campaign finance experts said Roberts' phrase carried a deeper meaning.

"For anybody who is looking for trouble ahead, that's certainly one of the places you would look," Robert Bauer, a campaign finance lawyer who is representing Barack Obama's presidential campaign. "He wants to remind everybody that having reviewed the entire line of argument up to this point he had quite enough of it."

The court's decision does not address the more far-reaching component of the campaign finance law -- it's ban on the ability of political parties to raise unlimited and unrestricted amounts of money from unions, corporations and wealthy donors.

But some campaign finance experts said that by opening the door to corporate and union-financed advertising, the court set the stage for a broader challenge to the law.

"Fundamentally what this case does is destabilize the state of campaign finance law as it existed when Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor was on the court," said Nathaniel Persily, professor of law and political science at Columbia Law School.

The decision means the FEC likely will have to step in and write specific rules about advertising that reflects the court's opinion. The commission may face pressure to act before the end of the year.

The decision is a setback for McCain, who is now running for president. McCain has come under criticism from conservatives for attempting to restrict political money and political advertising.

"Obviously, I regret that decision, but it was very narrow," McCain told reporters in Columbia, S.C.

Presidential rival Mitt Romney cheered the ruling: "It's the beginning of an opening, I believe, to remove McCain-Feingold and its provisions that affect free speech and hopefully its broader provisions." Another candidate, Rudy Giuliani, praised the ruling as "a welcome victory for free speech and personal liberty." He previously had expressed support for the campaign finance reform act.

The court's majority was itself divided on the issue, with Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito saying only that the Wisconsin group's ads are not the equivalent of explicit campaign ads. They specifically said they were not overruling a 2003 court opinion that upheld the campaign finance law provision.

The three other justices that formed the majority -- Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- would have overruled the court's 2003 decision.

Justice David Souter, joined by his three liberal colleagues, said in his dissent that the court "effectively and, unjustifiably, overruled" the earlier decision.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens joined Souter's dissent.

Bush Remarks on Stem Cell Research
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/21 14:04

Text of President Bush's remarks on stem cell research Wednesday, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions.America is a nation that leads the world in science and technology. Our innovative spirit is making possible incredible advances in medicine that could save lives and cure diseases.America is also a nation founded on the principle that all human life is sacred. And our conscience calls us to pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects human dignity and upholds our moral values.

I appreciate the fact that we're joined by a lot of folks who share the deep desire to advance science and at the same time uphold our moral values.

I appreciate the fact that Mike Leavitt's here, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

I want to thank the members of the United States Congress and Senate who have joined us. Thank you for taking your time to be here on this important announcement today.

I'm joined on stage by two good docs, really smart, capable people: Dr. Bill Hurlbut, professor of Stanford University Medical Center, Dr. Don Landry, professor at Columbia University Department of Medicine. Actually, he's the chairman of the department.

The reason they're here is these are brilliant biologists who are seeking new ways to develop stem cell lines without violating human life. And these are smart folks, and I cannot thank them enough for coming to Oval Office to share with me their wisdom and their _ and their vision.

I'm also up here with Carol Franz. She has whipped cancer twice by using stem cell _ adult stem cells. In other words, adult stem cells have saved her life.

She's a determined woman who believes strongly that there are different alternatives available to use stem cells other than that _ those which are created as the result of destruction of human life.

And finally, I'm up here with the McNamara family. Kaitlyne is with us. I'm going to talk about her in a second.

I do want to thank the other stem cell patients and researchers and advocates who are here with us today. If you're not in any of those categories, you're welcome, too.

In 2001, I announced a policy to advance stem cell research in a way that is ambitious, ethical and effective. I became the first president to make federal funds available for embryonic stem cell research, and my policy did this in ways that would not encourage the destruction of embryos.

Since then, my administration has made more than $130 million available for research on stem cell lines derived from embryos that had already been destroyed. We provided more than $3 billion for research on all forms of stem cells, including those from adult and other non-embryonic sources.

This careful approach is producing results. It has contributed to proven therapeutic treatments in thousands of patients with many different diseases. It's opening the prospect of new discoveries that could transform lives.

Congress has sent me a bill that would overturn this policy. If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line.

Last year, Congress passed a similar bill. I kept my promise by vetoing it. And today I'm keeping my word again: I'm vetoing the bill that Congress has sent.

Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical. And it is not the only option before us.

We're already seeing remarkable advances in science and therapeutic uses of stem cells drawn from adults and children and the blood from umbilical cords with no harm to the donor.

Researchers value embryonic stem cells because they are pluripotent, which means that they have the potential to develop into nearly all the cell types and tissues in the body. Researchers are now developing promising new techniques that offer the potential for new pluripotent stem cells without having to destroy human life.

For example, several new studies released earlier this month showed the potential of reprogramming adult cells, such as skin cells, to make them function like embryonic stem cells.

It's exciting new research taking place in the United States of America.

Scientists from all over the country hail this as an important breakthrough. And I'm pleased to report to you that my administration and the NIH helped fund this exciting work.

The taxpayers' dollars are going to new kinds of therapies, new kinds of science, new kinds of work that do not cross a moral and ethical line.

A few months earlier, scientists discovered that cells extracted from amniotic fluid and placentas could also provide stem cells that seem to do what embryonic cells can.

Still other researchers are investigating how to combine reprogramming and other innovative techniques to produce stem cells with the abilities of embryonic stem cells, without creating or destroying embryos.

There's a lot of interesting work going on that's ethical and moral.

Scientists are exploring ways to collect stem cells in the same manner that doctors now rescue organs from patients who have died.

With us today are patients who are benefiting from ethical stem cell research, including Kaitlyne McNamara.

Kaitlyne was born with spina bifida, a disease that damaged her bladder. None of the treatments her doctor tried had worked. She was in danger of kidney failure.

Then her doctors took a piece of her bladder, isolated the healthy stem cells, and used them to grow a new bladder in a laboratory, which they then transplanted into her. And here she stands, healthy.

Scientific advances like this one are important and should give us hope that there's a better way forward than scientific advances that require the destruction of a human life.

The researchers pursuing these kinds of ethically responsible advances deserve our support. And there is legislation in Congress to give them that support.

Recently, the United States Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Norm Coleman and others, that would authorize additional federal funding for alternative stem cell research. The bill was approved with the backing of 70 United States senators.

The House leaders need to pass similar legislation that would authorize additional funds for ethical stem cell research. It would be an important advancement. It would be an important statement, because we can't lose the opportunity to conduct research that would give hope to those suffering from terrible diseases and help this country move beyond the controversies over embryo destruction.

We have a good chance to put aside all the politics, focus on a good piece of legislation that advances science and doesn't cross an ethical line.

Norm, I want to thank you and Johnny Isakson for sponsoring that piece of legislation.

In the meantime, my administration is taking immediate action to increase our support for researchers and their vital work. Earlier today, I issued an executive order to strengthen our nation's commitment to research on pluripotent stem cells.

This order takes a number of important steps.

The order directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the NIH to ensure that any human pluripotent stem cell lines produced in ways that do not create, destroy or harm human embryos will be eligible for federal funding.

The order expands the NIH embryonic stem cell registry to include all types of ethically produced human pluripotent stem cells.

The order renames the registry, calls it this: the Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry. So it reflects what stem cells can do, instead of where they come from.

The order invites scientists to work with the NIH so we can add new ethically derived stem cell lines to the list of those eligible for federal funding.

Direct Secretary Leavitt to conduct an assessment of what resources will be necessary to support this important new research. This science that does not cross ethical lines requires money. I believe it is a good use of taxpayers' money to spend money on this kind of science and research, and Michael's going to expedite it. That's what that means: That's a fancy paragraph for saying he's going to get it done.

With these steps, we'll encourage scientists to expand the frontiers of stem cell research. We want to encourage science. We want to say, 'We stand on your side in an ethically responsible way.'

Scientists have recently shown they have the ingenuity and skill to pursue the potential benefits of pluripotent stem cell research. Here's two of them right here. That's why they're standing here; they have showed what's possible. I have confidence in their abilities to continue to develop new techniques.

With our expanded support of nondestructive research methods, we will make it more likely that these exciting advances continue to unfold.

Technical innovation in this difficult area is opening up new possibilities for progress without conflict or ethical controversy. So I invite policymakers and scientists to come together to speed our nation toward the destination we all seek, where medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life.

Thank you all for coming. May God bless.

Congress Subpoenas Miers and Former Bush Aide
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/13 14:18

Two former White House officials were subpoenaed today as Congressional Democrats intensified pressure on the Bush administration over the dismissals of eight United States attorneys. Key Evidence of White House Involvement in Firings The Senate and House judiciary committees ordered Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and Sara M. Taylor, a former deputy assistant to President Bush and the White House director of political affairs, to appear before their panels.

Ms. Taylor was ordered to appear before the Senate committee on July 11. Ms. Miers, who was briefly a nominee for Supreme Court justice, was told to appear before the House panel the following day.

The committees had already voted to authorize such subpoenas, so it was not surprising that they decided today to go ahead and issue them. Still, the action stepped up the political confrontation over the dismissals, and over the general performance of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and the state of the Justice Department.

So far, the White House has said it will not make any current or former officials available to testify before the panels on the matter except in private interviews, with no transcripts kept. The lawmakers have disdained that arrangement as unacceptable.

"By refusing to cooperate with Congressional committees, the White House continues its pattern of confrontation over cooperation, and those who suffer most in this case are the public and the hard-working people at the Department of Justice," Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate committee, said in a statement today.

Representative John D. Conyers of Michigan, the chairman of the House committee, said the subpoenas were "a demand on behalf of the American people."

"The breadcrumbs in this investigation have always led to 1600 Pennsylvania," Mr. Conyers said, referring to the White House by its street address. "This investigation will not end until the White House complies with the demands of this subpoena in a timely and reasonable manner, so that we may get to the bottom of this."

The White House reacted quickly today to the subpoenas, arguing that the committees could easily obtain all the facts they need through interviews and relevant documents, but that the Democratic chairmen "are more interested in drama than facts," as Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, put it in an exchange with reporters.

The latest development follows the Senate Democrats’ attempt to pass a symbolic "no confidence" resolution against Mr. Gonzales. That attempt was thwarted on Monday when Mr. Gonzales’s critics fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to clear a procedural hurdle. That effort, too, was dismissed by the White House as a publicity stunt.

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