By Al Kamen
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In the Justice Department's Great Hall (the very room where giant, blue drapes covered the underdressed statuary during John Ashcroft's tenure as attorney general), an array of prosecutors, securities regulators and FBI honchos gathered yesterday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the President's Corporate Fraud Task Force.
Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who famously prosecuted former vice presidential aide Scooter Libby, was chatting with a pair of reporters about his upcoming appearance on the National Public Radio program "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!" when none other than Attorney General Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales appeared at his side.
"Good job," Gonzales said, extending his hand to Fitzgerald. Must have been thinking of Fitzgerald's office's successful prosecution last week of media mogul Conrad Black for fraud, obstruction, etc. Fitzgerald, taken aback, didn't say much in response, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.
Loop Fans may recall that a former Gonzales aide had placed Fitzgerald's name on a list of prosecutors who had "not distinguished themselves" in March 2005, just after Fitzgerald had indicted former GOP Illinois governor George Ryan and as he was investigating the leak of the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.Red Lawn
Speaking of Gonzales, old-timers covering the White House often compare its vaunted secrecy to that of the Kremlin in Soviet days, when reporters would try to figure out who was in or who was gulag-bound by noting how far each official stood from the top guy on the podium at Moscow's annual May Day parade.
So President Bush's failure to acknowledge the presence of his attorney general at Sunday's White House Tee Ball game had reporters buzzing.
Bush, in pregame remarks, acknowledged the VIPs there: "I do want to thank John Warner, Senator John Warner, from the great state of Virginia, and his family, for joining us," Bush said. "Proud you're here, Senator. I see Alphonso Jackson and Dirk Kempthorne, of my Cabinet, who have joined us. I'm proud you all are here."
Gonzales, who was listed on the White House info sheet given to reporters, was sitting in button-down shirt and dark sunglasses just behind Jackson and Kempthorne.
Was Bush not "proud" he was there? The Kremlinologists wondered.King What's-His-Name
President Bush has always enjoyed giving people nicknames. So we weren't surprised to see this announcement Monday from the White House: "President Bush called His Majesty King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Mubarak of Egypt in three separate phone calls this afternoon."
Most likely he decided to call the Saudi king "Abdallah" as opposed to his actual name, "Abdullah," to avoid confusion with the Jordanian. Well, better than "Ab-man."Baby Steps
The Bush administration, hit with distressing regularity by bad news, is accentuating the positive whenever possible. So the president, faced with a less-than-stellar report card on Iraq last week, focused on the barely passing grades on the most meaningless benchmarks.
And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, detecting a sliver of good news from Serbia, announced that she was rewarding the Serbian government with a cool $6 million in aid for doing not a whole lot to come to grips with its genocidal past. (Congress had suspended aid to Serbia for not turning over all those indicted for atrocities.) You missed this news? You weren't checking the State Department's announcements at 9 p.m. on July 3?
Rice was happy Serbia, after about a decade of stalling, finally sent a couple of lesser thugs to the Hague tribunal for war crimes, turned over some papers, said it would cooperate with investigators and "reorganized to effectively search for the remaining fugitives." (Reorganizing is invariably an important milestone.) Rice said, however, that the Serbs still must catch Ratko Mladic, the alleged "Butcher of Srebrenica," where 7,000 Muslims were summarily executed in 1995, and Radovan Karadzic, who in the early '90s allegedly helped plan and carry out the extermination of Bosnian Muslims -- the definition of genocide.
For years, the duo had been -- if not exactly on the Belgrade party circuit -- fairly visible, though of late they've been maintaining a more discreet profile.
"Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face . . ."FEMA Ice Is Going, Going . . .
And from the gift that keeps on giving . . . FEMA, after paying $12.5 million in storage fees, announced Monday that it is throwing away the last 42,000 tons of ice it purchased after Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005.
FEMA bought 112,000 tons in all for $24 million, and kept the unused portions for future use, but no major hurricanes hit since 2005. Now it's going to pay $3.4 million to melt what's left.
FEMA said it didn't know the shelf life for ice; it just buys the stuff. The industry assumes one year, FEMA said, and it had to "consider the health risks" of using its stockpile. In any event, after searing news reports that FEMA sent truckloads of ice after Katrina on odysseys around the country because it could not keep track of them -- and eventually donated some to zoos for use by polar bears and other cold-weather animals -- FEMA is no longer in the business of buying ice for disasters. It will now rely on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hey! Maybe Rep. William J. "Cold Cash" Jefferson (D-La.) could use some?