Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

QUESTIONING GOODLING....Dahlia Lithwick, in the process of reaming Democratic members of the House judiciary committee for doing a lousy job of questioning Monica Goodling, mentions something I hadn't noticed in yesterday's reports:

[Goodling] tells Brad Sherman, D-Calif., that she looked at Web sites detailing the political contributions made by applicants for assistant U.S. attorney positions, and that she felt she could take account of political considerations in evaluating immigration judges. (Kyle Sampson told her that was OK.) She tells the committee that she didn't give one job candidate a position, adding, "I didn't know she was a Democrat. But I had heard she was a liberal." The committee, however, seems to miss all this. Indeed, they are so delighted when she points fingers at Sampson and McNulty, they don't remember to ask what precisely Sampson and McNulty did.

Goodling looked up the political contribution history of applicants for career civil service positions? That's interesting, isn't it? I wonder if anyone else did that. Seems like this is something that deserved some followup.

Which it didn't get, of course. I know that politicians are in love with their own voices, but it never ceases to amaze me that they insist on questioning witnesses like Goodling themselves. For starters, most of them are no good at it. For finishers, Perry Mason himself would have a hard time making headway if he were limited to five-minute bursts. Instead, why not block off a couple of hours and hand off the questioning to a tough, well-briefed staffer who knows how to cross examine a hostile witness? Then sit back and watch the show.

I guess that's why I'll never be a politician. Watching a good show appeals to me more than participating in a mediocre one.

Kevin Drum 2:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (65)

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Comments

I was just nonplussed by the softballs and lack of follow-up. My only hope is that the Senate gets a crack at her.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

The house committes have been execrable.

I thought the Senate committees have been pretty good, however.

It would be better if only 2 or three senators divided up the time (Sheldon Whitehouse, for instance, would be a good lead questioner), but overall the senate did a good job.

The house committee was a joke, no way around that.

Posted by: blatherskite on May 24, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else miss Barbara Jordan?

http://americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barbarajordanjudiciarystatement.htm

Posted by: Karen in Austin on May 24, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

No Kidding. The 5 min was so irritating, and with all of the Republican interruptions, it was almost unwatchable. The frequent breaks also gave Goodling plenty of time to get coaching from her lawyers. The hearing yesterday was basically pointless and a huge disappointment.

Posted by: CKT on May 24, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Blatherskite,
You do know that Whitehouse was a former prosecutor, right? Give me Feingold, Whitehouse and Leahy any day. Conyers and crew are horrible.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on May 24, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

It's called the Lower House for a reason.

Posted by: Old Hat on May 24, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Karen in Austin: To answer your question, yes, yes, yes!!!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

This is an excellent idea. This would also eliminate the egregiously gratuitous praise given to witnesses.

Posted by: JD on May 24, 2007 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

"why not block off a couple of hours and hand off the questioning to a tough, well-briefed staffer who knows how to cross examine a hostile witness? Then sit back and watch the show."

What, and risk getting actual answers?

It's time to face the truth. Democratic members of Congress have never shown any desire, in any hearing that I've ever watched, to ascertain the truth.

I have decided that Democratic members of Congress don't want to know. I believe that's the only explanation for the utter lack of sensible questioning.

My god, they don't even do the most basic followup questions. I believe that if a hostile witness said "Congressman, your shoe is on fire", the Congressman would not ask "which shoe".

Although he might deliver a lecture on the mistreatment of shoe factory workers in Thailand.

Posted by: zak822 on May 24, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Conyers and crew are horrible.

B-b-but he posts stuff on DailyKos! People power!

Posted by: Old Hat on May 24, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Also, I heard Lithwick on NPR singing the praises of Goodling, all because she admitted wrongdoing and that she stands out because she's the only one that's done that so far in this whole sorry affair. WTF is up with that?!? She broke the law, and that makes her some kind of hero? I usually like Lithwick, but her going ga-ga for Goodling made me wretch.

Posted by: CKT on May 24, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if anyone else did that.

Correct me I'm wrong Kevin, but didn't Goodling say she was the only one who did it? Now that she's been fired, you don't have to worry about it anymore. Seriously, Congress should go back to its job of passing laws instead of grandstanding with this political theater. This political theater is why Congress's approval rating is so low and the American people have a higher approval rating of Bush than Congress.

Posted by: Al on May 24, 2007 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

I know that politicians are in love with their own voices, but it never ceases to amaze me that they insist on questioning witnesses like Goodling themselves. For starters, most of them are no good at it.

And they remaining blissfully unaware of what total asses they're making of themselves. Which makes me want to tell them.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Find out who your neighbors give money to.

Pop in your address and there they are!

Posted by: cld on May 24, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, former Assistant US Attorney Artur Davis grilled Goodling pretty well...so well that other representatives were ceding their time to Davis so that he could continue his line of questioning. Too bad that, when he was making headway, the Repubs on the committee started throwing up procedural chaff in order to stall and stop any momentum Davis was building.

But, yeah, the whole bit of the five-minute sermonizing - particularly by the Republicans - was pretty useless.

Posted by: grape_crush on May 24, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

That was just a hearing. The trials and perp walks are yet to come.

Posted by: bakho on May 24, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'm old enough to remember the Watergate hearings. While individual senators did ask questions, there was a majority counsel and a minority counsel, who were not senators but lawyers on staff, and they each had large chunks of time to ask questions of witnesses, more in the way that a trial attorney would.

Instead we have the likes of Joe Biden, who, when he gets a ten-minute slot, gives an eight-minute speech, then remembers that he's supposed to ask a question, and rambles on for another minute and a half, at which point the witness asks for the question to be repeated, and the chairman says that time is up.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 24, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

That's what the House and Senate did in the Iran-contra investigation. Most of the questioning was done by staff attorneys who were very tough.

Posted by: ASF on May 24, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

I've always loved that site, cld. Just ran it again and it seems the guy across the street gave two large to Lieberman. I happen to know he's afraid of dogs and I have a big one, so I'll be rerouting my walks for a few days to be sure to keep him in in our circle.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

"Give me Feingold, Whitehouse and Leahy any day."

I'd add Schumer. Those guys are really great, and yes, these House questioners do suck.

Posted by: AP on May 24, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why not use "enhanced" interrogation techniques? They say it works at Gitmo.

Posted by: alex on May 24, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, you can use Fundrace.com to locate Monica Goodling, who kicked-back $750 to G.W. Bush for her DOJ job.

In case you want to serve a lawsuit on her or something.

Posted by: Find Goodling on May 24, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I do agree the Davis was the only highlight. All the other Dems on the panel should have ceded all of their time to him. It would have made a much better contrast to the pathetic whining and gushing for Goodling from the GOP side.

Posted by: CKT on May 24, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Shortstop - I just ran the address of my coop without any unit numbers - and I think I might be the farthest to the right of anyone in our building! Virtually everyone in the building has donated at least $500 to Kucinich, Dean and the DNC - not a dime to the DLC.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

I do agree the Davis was the only highlight. All the other Dems on the panel should have ceded all of their time to him.

Pretty much my reaction too.

Posted by: frankly0 on May 24, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a followup hearing? Can the house committee schedule a pair of hearings, say, one week apart, so that their aides can do the research required to ask *real* followup question in the meantime? This seems like a no-brainer. Are there rules against it? I presume that they can request that Goodling come back, but you'd think they would know in advance that she'd feed them lines of bullshit and that they'd want to see her again.

Posted by: SkippyFlipjack on May 24, 2007 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.): I think I might be the farthest to the right of anyone in our building

What kind of neighbors do you think you get in an energy efficient building? Besides, everyone knows that Kansas City should be renamed the "Midwestern Moscow".

Posted by: alex on May 24, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I blogged about that very issue at my blog and Proctoring Congress.

Where's the committee majority staff on this? Remember, that's how people like Bobby Kennedy and Fred Thompson got their names ... committee staff asking actual, or seemingly so, hard-hitting questions on major investigations.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 24, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans support George W. Bush and the mess he's gotten us in.

Posted by: MarkH on May 24, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Alex - this zip code anyway...We are as far left as this state goes, both geographically and politically.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on May 24, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

That's funny, Blue (and Alex's "Midwestern Moscow" made me laugh). This neighborhood had a whole lot of Kerry supporters, some scattered contributions to other Dems and one lonely donation to George W. Bush.

Er, made by a restaurant owner who will perhaps not miss my business now that he's lost it.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

My neighborhood is about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, but the Republicans give far huger amounts.

Posted by: cld on May 24, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Girl, et al:
When up in Dallas, I gave money to Kucinich, then the Green Party.

And opposed Iraq in print in my suburban Dallas newspaper in summer, 2002; opposed the then-unnamed "Patriot Act" three weeks after 9/11.

Eventually came to a compromise with the managing editor of our newspaper group as to how often I would write columns like that!

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 24, 2007 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

So true. I watched the morning session, and I was consistently disappointed and frustrated at the poor questioning. Meandering, overly wordy, unfocused... The worst was Maxine Waters, stupidly pushing Goodling to confess that, in her job at the DOJ, she had used the skills in opposition research she had developed in partisan Republican jobs -- i.e. knowing how to use Westlaw and LexisNexis. It was pathetic.

Posted by: DNS on May 24, 2007 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I just typed in the White House, and the first line is Honorable John Kerry, $25,000 to the DNC!

Posted by: cld on May 24, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Blame it on CSPAN -- staffers used to do most of the Q&A before the tvs arrived.

Posted by: JOe on May 24, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe Nancy Pelosi gave Dick Gephardt two thousand bucks.

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Keeps him quiet.

Posted by: cld on May 24, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

“I don’t think that I could have done it more than 50-times."

Posted by: Monica Goodling 5/23/07 on May 24, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

I lack confidence in those websites that list contributions, since they don't find mine. I guess it is because I make several small contributions, and they don't aggregate them. But they do list some small contributions. Very curious.

Posted by: EmmaAnne on May 24, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Remember when Joe Biden had a chance to ask Colin Powell the "hard questions" in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq? Remember what a joke that turned out to be? They really just need to get some attorneys to ask the questions. Congress critters can't formulate questions worth a damn.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on May 24, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

A sloppy thread. Because the voters didn't elect "well briefed staffers," Kevin; they elected members to perform the job, that's why. Also people here who claim staffers did most of the questioning at hearings before TV is simply not correct. (Nice theory, though.) That has never been the case in the committees of the U.S. Congress.

Posted by: Pat on May 24, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

As a litigator, I find it impossible to watch members of congress question witnesses. Most of them are exruciatingly bad at it. They bloviate too much, don't know how to pin a witness down or follow up appropriately. When you question a witness you ask short pointed questions. You nail down one thing, move to the next, nail that down and so forth. You don't make speeches -- you make the witness talk. When the witness tries to evade, prevaricate and filibuster, you then jump in and stop it.

In a case like this, it would be better to designate one member who is skilled to do this or have committee counsel handle the questioning, assuming they are competent to do such things.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut on May 24, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Kiel at TPMmuckraker says the Democrats have 5 more days to pose follow-up questions to Monica Goodling. Doesn't say whether that's face-to-face examination, or what.

http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/003289.php

Posted by: rg on May 24, 2007 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Goodling looked up the political contribution history of applicants for career civil service positions? That's interesting, isn't it? I wonder if anyone else did that. Seems like this is something that deserved some followup.

That would be unnecessary piling on. I listened to a portion of that exchange, and he'd already asked her point blank if considering political affiliation was "against the law." She tried to soften this by saying, I was told it was "against the rules." He again said, "against the law."

At this point, it's clear that laws were broken. I believe that criminal charges are next for Sampson, and that Gonzales will be removed if he doesn't resign first.

Posted by: JeffII on May 24, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

This political theater is why Congress's approval rating is so low and the American people have a higher approval rating of Bush than Congress." Posted by: Al on May 24, 2007 at 2:23 PM

Tut, tut, Al. Bigger networks than you say otherwise:

CBS askes the people: HOW IS THE WAR GOING?

Now
Well 23%
Badly 76%

4/2007
Well 31%
Badly 66%

DID U.S. DO THE RIGHT THING GOING TO WAR WITH IRAQ?

Now
Right thing 35%
Should have stayed out 61%

DIRECTION OF THE COUNTRY
Wrong track 72%
Right direction 24%

BUSH’S JOB APPROVAL RATING
Approve 30%
Disapprove 63%

APPROVAL OF CONGRESS
Approve 36%
Disapprove 52%

Posted by: Zit on May 24, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

This just proves they shouldn't shoot all the lawyers just yet. First they should use them.

Fercryinoutloud.

Between praise from the Repubs and the Democrats' minds wandering, how can we get our meltdown on the stand. No Perry Mason moments is right.

Posted by: Kenji on May 24, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'd imagine the reason why many of them like to do their own questioning, apart from egotism, is that they want the publicity, have their constituents see them on the teevee. Their main job is getting reelected, after all.

Posted by: Royko on May 24, 2007 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Give me or any competent trial attorney two (2) hours and she is toast.

You hit the nail on the head again. That is why this is my favorite blog.

Posted by: Brad on May 24, 2007 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Royko,

You're absolutely right. But you wish they could defer the ego gratification for the greater good of nailing these bastards. I really can't watch because I keep thinking what Brad said -- give me two hours with the little Pat Robertson clone or the dumbass we call attorney general and 1) they're toast and 2) with a little luck they are worrying about jail time.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut on May 24, 2007 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

When they've given a witness immunity, they should come to the hearing prepared and be merciless. It's pretty much that simple.

Posted by: serial catowner on May 24, 2007 at 6:44 PM | PERMALINK

I think it would have been much more in the Democrats favor politically to not have given Goodling immunity and make her take the Fifth on every question. A good Christianist woman giving the Fifth as answers to questions about impropriety in the Justice Dept. on TV would have done more to sway public opinion than what was done.

Posted by: Brojo on May 24, 2007 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

EmmaAnne: I lack confidence in those websites that list contributions, since they don't find mine. I guess it is because I make several small contributions, and they don't aggregate them. But they do list some small contributions. Very curious.

Every contribution of $200.01 or more must be reported. In some cases, candidates do report smaller ones, but most don't because their contributors tend to expect that $200 or less will keep them anonymous.

I've made my share of $200-and-under contributions and still a Man in Black showed up at my door. Sheesh!

Posted by: shortstop on May 24, 2007 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Dems are acting like shit, as Pelosi says " I won't vote for this bill(the no-benchmark bill) in hopes the voters don't notice she throw her whole leadership in a toilet.

Pelosi could have stood up to Bush but she choose not to, right along with ever spineless Harry Reid.

AND HEY, may of these lawmakers are ex-attorneys were prosecutors themselves, like tht ever lazy, no-account, smorgasbord loving lard butt. Sen. Leahy. There is NO excuse for Dem laziness, most of them ARE ex-attorneys so THEY knew how stupid they were being, they knew it, they just didn’t care beyond the politicization of the Goodling show. In this way, those same Dems simply spit on Josh Marshall and all his hard work.

It’s so easy to play Bush’s little victim over and over again, NEVER standing up to anything, NOT ever.

This is why Howard Dean should NEVER have promised Dems to support “who ever was elected” because THAT is what those nasty little harpies were waiting for - Dean’s stupid promise.

Howard Dean OR Al Gore should run as an independent, because many of us are sick and tired of this spin shit game, whereby Dems play you the way Repugs do. They all agree to spit on Americans and it’s coming from BOTH Party’s.

Sen. Hagel has the right idea.

Posted by: Cheryl on May 24, 2007 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody get a shock and awe rapid response assault team over to that pinko, islamofascist, lefty condo commune Ble Girl is holed up in! We gots to stop them there before they come out here to the West Coast.

Posted by: bmaz on May 24, 2007 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

What I wonder is why none of them asked--was that a general practice in the department to use political information in hiring? Why did she think it was okay? Was it an atmosphere that condoned it? Was she just a renegade(she hardly seemed like one)? Or was it a common practice in this administration..an accepted practice?

Posted by: c on May 24, 2007 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

One of the finest trial attorneys I have known, once told me how he had replied to a friend at a cocktail party who asked him for legal tax advice. He told his friend that he should find an excellent attorney who specialized in tax law. His replied, "But, you're an attorney". He said, "Yes, I am, but I do not do tax law".

Just because some of these Reps and Senators have been attorneys or even prosecutors, doesn't mean squat when it comes to having the expertise and current experience at deposing and cross-examining witnesses.

Ollie skated because he brought a top gun slinger, Sullivan of the "Am I a potted plant?", who tore up the "attorney Senators".

As mentioned above, most of these coifed individuals simply bloviate for 5 minutes, without any knowledge or expertise in confronting a witness. Hire a pro to do your work. Don't just try to "play trial lawyer" on TV.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on May 24, 2007 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

The reason no real dirt came out of the Monica Goodling questioning is that there's no dirt. No laws were broken. Six or eight attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the President were replaced. That's legal and not abnormal.

Kevin thinks the problem is structural: the 5-minute questioning periods or a lack of quesitoning skill. I don't agree. I think the problem is that there's no there there.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 24, 2007 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

Ex-Liberal - i am sure that is what you think; but after being around here a while, it is crystal clear that thinking is definitely not one of your strengths.

Posted by: bmaz on May 24, 2007 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

bmaz, so please tell me what the scandal was. What laws were broken? Who broke those laws?

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 25, 2007 at 1:13 AM | PERMALINK

"Goodling looked up the political contribution history of applicants for career civil service positions? That's interesting, isn't it? I wonder if anyone else did that."

Good point. If Goodling was doing this at the DOJ, then other Bush appointees were probably doing this in many, if not all, other executive branch departments.

The key will be for Congress to determine who has been doing the "hiring" in each department and then call them in for questioning.

Are any of the other Regent University graduates, the 150 in the Bush administration, involved? If Monica Goodling was placed so she could do a partisan hatchet job on hirees, then other of her fellow Regent University alums might have been placed to do the same thing in other departments.

The "culture of corruption" Republican executive branch MUST be checked from top to bottom.

Posted by: The Oracle on May 25, 2007 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

Ex-Liberal...I think

LIAR!!!

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on May 25, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

ex-lib: "Six or eight attorneys who serve at the pleasure of the President were replaced."

Are you still singing that old song? God, you are lazy as well as stupid. Just not sure why you are so proud of it.

Posted by: Kenji on May 25, 2007 at 3:20 AM | PERMALINK

In support of what Kevin suggests here, my abiding memory of the Iran-Contra hearings was not of any congressmen, but of John Nields questioning the witnesses. He kept his cool and was never nonplussed by witness responses, but just waited for them to finish their speechifying and then asked the logical next question. These House investigating committees need to find the John Nields on their staffs, or go out and hire one, and let him take over the questioning.

Posted by: mrgumby2u on May 25, 2007 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Caging lists, caging lists, caging lists. No one mentioned them in this whole thread of comments, and the Slate piece makes no mention of them. I think Goodling was asked once about them, and dismissed them as "a direct mail thing". That apparently satisfied the Congresspeople, because their was no follow-up. It's hard not to conclude that she wanted immunity because she was involved in drawing up those caging lists. It's a FELONY. Black and Hispanic soldiers serving in Iraq had their votes unlawfully thrown out, and she was a big part of making that happen.

Posted by: Plantsman1 on May 27, 2007 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK
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