Investigating Justice

Robert Novak

2/17/2007 12:01:00 AM - Robert Novak

House Democrats, led by Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel, are targeting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the Justice Department under him in a wide-ranging congressional investigation.

The point of the Democratic attack is dismissal of seven U.S. attorneys, all involved in probes of public corruption. On Thursday, Emanuel sent Gonzales his second letter demanding the appointment of Carol Lam, fired as U.S. attorney in San Diego, as an outside counsel to continue her pursuit of the Duke Cunningham case.

Emanuel's targeting of Gonzales was accelerated Thursday by a report in The Washington Post that Sue Ellen Wooldridge, while an assistant attorney general, bought an expensive vacation home with oil lobbyist Don R. Duncan. Wooldridge approved rulings that benefited Duncan's employer, ConocoPhillips.

PRO-LIFE RUDY?

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's move to the right on abortion, mainly based on a pledge to nominate conservative judges if he became president, has not won over pro-life forces.

Interviewed by Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel Feb. 5, Giuliani said he still strongly supports a "woman's right to choose." However, he added that "I hate" abortion and as president would nominate judges "very similar to" President George W. Bush's conservative, anti-abortion selections, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

Pro-life activists were unimpressed. They said Giuliani had not improved himself and remained unacceptable for president.

BOWING TO RANGEL

Rep. Jim McCrery, the new ranking Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee, quickly agreed to Democratic Chairman Charles Rangel's proposal providing business tax increases far into the future.

To get an increase in the minimum wage through the Senate, Rangel reluctantly accepted tax benefits for business. But his package represents a $225 million tax increase over the next six years. While Rangel's tax cuts are temporary, the compensating increases are permanent.

McCrery's acquiescence to Rangel's plan contrasts sharply with retired Republican Rep. Bill Thomas, Rangel's predecessor as chairman. In the majority, the combative Thomas would not give Rangel the time of day.

DEALING WITH HARRY

In the opinion of Senate insiders, the quick and quiet confirmation of a Republican appellate court nominee Thursday would not have happened had the Senate Republican leadership not acquiesced to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's omnibus appropriations bill.

After the Senate Wednesday night voted 81 to 15 to pass the money bill dictated by Reid without permitting even an attempted Republican amendment, Reid scheduled a Thursday vote on Idaho State Judge N. Randy Smith's confirmation for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was first nominated by President Bush on Dec. 16, 2005.

The 94 to 0 vote for Smith's confirmation can be attributed to the fact he was recently named for a Idaho seat on the 9th Circuit after his earlier nomination for a California seat was blocked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. However, Senate sources say Smith would not have been confirmed any time soon if Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had prevented cloture from being imposed on the appropriations bill.

ABSENTEE FUND-RAISING

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota was the stand-in Wednesday at a Washington fund-raising luncheon for the hospitalized Sen. Tim Johnson, who is up for re-election in South Dakota next year.

The $1,000-a-plate luncheon was held at 101 Constitution Ave., a private office building at the foot of Capitol Hill, to contribute to "Tim Johnson for South Dakota." Democratic fund-raiser Haroon Khan told this column he plans 13 similar fund-raisers for the absent Johnson between now and March. The senator will not attend any of these events.

Johnson has not left the George Washington University Hospital in Washington since suffering a brain hemorrhage Dec. 13. No target date has been announced for his return to the Senate, and no indication has been given of whether he will run for a third Senate term in 2008.