The Cable

Graham blasts Cheney on 'al Qaeda 7' ad

Senior senators on both sides of the aisle leveled heavy criticism Tuesday against a controversial ad put forth by Liz Cheney and William Kristol, which labeled Justice Department lawyers as the "al Qaeda 7."

The ad, paid for and produced by the group Keep American Safe, referred to the U.S. Justice Department as the "Department of Jihad," and called out Attorney General Eric Holder for hiring but not revealing the names of several attorneys who had previously worked to defend terrorism suspects. More than a dozen Bush administration era legal officials have already condemned the ad.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, told The Cable Tuesday that the Cheney-Kristol ad was inappropriate and unfairly demonized DOJ lawyers for doing a noble public service by defending unpopular suspects.

"I've been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all," said Graham. "This system of justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer."

Graham pointed out that when Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito were facing Senate confirmation, some attempted to use their client lists against them and it was wrong then too.

"I'm with Kenneth Starr on this one," Graham added, referring to a letter signed by several GOP lawyers, many of whom defended Bush-era detainee policies, condemning the "al Qaeda 7" ad.

"To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit," read the letter, which was organized by the Brookings Institution's Benjamin Wittes and signed by David Rivkin, Lee Casey, and Philip Zelikow, among others.

Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Carl Levin agreed with Graham, and told The Cable that the ad was symbolic of the type of rhetoric put forth by the Cheney-Kristol group.

"They probably would have called President John Adams a terrorist too, because he defended the British soldiers who killed Americans at Bunker Hill," said Levin. "I don't think folks like that will stop at anything to attack the president and Democrats. I don't know if there are any limits to their venom.... I haven't seen any."

Even senior Republicans who agreed with the ad's criticism of Holder's appointment of the lawyers said that the ad was beyond the pale.

"An ad that says it's the Department of Jihad is over the top and unjustified," said Jeff Sessions, R-AL, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, Sessions said he agreed with the thrust of the ad and its overall criticisms of Holder.

"Out of the hundreds of thousands of lawyers in America, they picked seven that cut their teeth defending terrorists and put them in key positions," Sessions said. "Yes, you can defend criminals and work at the department of justice, but it says something to me about why they've been so wrong on this issue."

Terror suspects are entitled to good, strong legal representation, Sessions added.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said that McConnell has not and would not use the terms "al Qaeda 7" or "Department of Jihad."

Meanwhile, Graham is still working with the White House to come up with some way to build congressional-executive agreement on the handling of suspects who the administration may want to detain indefinitely without a charge, perhaps through new legislation.

"My latest is what I've been doing for four years, trying to find legal infrastructure that will help in court, meet the needs of justice, and deal with unique issues," such as what to do about cases for suspects who have successfully filed for writs of habeas corpus but who still are too dangerous to release, Graham said.

Levin said he was not directly involved in the negotiations over detainee policy but planned to meet with the White House soon. He said he wasn't sure if the president needed any additional specific legal authorities to hold prisoners indefinitely, beyond what's provided for in the Geneva Conventions.

"I leave it up to the executive branch to decide where people are tried and what they're tried for," Levin said.

Sessions said he was not on board with Graham's proposal and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, said the ball was in the administration's court, not Congress's.

"You have to have an overall policy," said McCain. "They have not developed one; they have been all over the map."

But Graham emphasized that there needs to be a legal basis for indefinite detention that can be defended as a policy coming from the American people through Congress, not just as an executive decree.

"If you're worried about what people think about America, you should," Graham said. "We're a nation at war, but we have to fight the war within our value system."

"Neither Senators Graham nor Levin offers any defense for Eric Holder's attempts to stonewall the public as to the identities of the al Qaeda lawyers working at the Justice Department," said Michael Goldfarb, advisor and spokesman for the group. "Senator Graham is working with the administration to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and Keep America Safe opposes those efforts."

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The Cable

Coming soon: early details on Clinton's strategy review

The State Department is getting ready to release some of the results of its grand organizational and policy review, which will reveal key details about how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to integrate American diplomacy with international development.

The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) has been ongoing for about a year, with a massive organizational structure that includes committees, working groups, and buy-in from stakeholders throughout the bureaucratic community. Led by Policy Planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter and Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, it overlaps with the National Security Council's Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7), which is also underway.

Community leaders, State Department sources, and Hill staffers are telling The Cable that State is expected to release an interim report on the QDDR this week or next, with some major decisions about the fate of the U.S. Agency for International Development to be announced at that time as well.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, pressed USAID administrator Rajiv Shah for details about the QDDR at a hearing last week.

"The QDDR has completed now its first phase of work," Shah told Berman, saying that "a broad set of exploratory conversations" had completed and more operational decisions would be made in April or May. The full QDDR release is not expected until this fall.

Shah is also heavily involved in the PSD, stating that it was also "now transitioning into also a more operational focus to come up with specific constructs that will define the development strategy of this administration going forward."

The QDDR will call for USAID to have its own policy-planning staff, said Shah, and in fact the rebuilding of that staff, which was taken away during the Bush administration, is already underway. On the other main question about USAID, will it control its own budget, Shah was more guarded.

He said USAID would partner with the "F Bureau" at State to develop a new and improved budget process. But he didn't say who would actually hold the money, State or USAID.

"We will get to a place where we have the opportunity to develop a budget, working in partnership with others. But we clearly need to be able to make strategic resource trade-offs in order to be held accountable for the performance of the agency," said Shah.

Outside experts close to the process had more specific ideas of how the QDDR budget debates were shaping up inside the system. Brian Atwood, a former USAID administrator, told The Cable that the decision has already been made to keep the money at State, but negotiations were still underway to see how USAID could have more of a role.

"It's clear that the secretary of state is going to control the budget," Atwood said, referencing what he is hearing about the QDDR. "The question is whether or not there will be a firewall around the development assistance budget so people at lower levels at the State Department can't raid it, use it for political purposes, or short-term objectives."

How exactly USAID and the F Bureau will coexist going forward remains unclear.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, there are foreign-aid reform bills cooking in both chambers but neither of those is expected to move before the administration has a chance to lay out some of its own agenda first. Foreign-aid reform provisions will be left out of this month's markup of the State Department authorization bill, a senior Senate staffer said.

Congress has some divergent views from the administration regarding foreign-aid reform and a draft Senate report goes further in calling for USAID's independence than what is expected in the administration review. On the budget question, lawmakers want to know how much actual authority USAID leadership will have.

But the back and forth between Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill seems to have tapered off, partly because the administration was getting bogged down by having too many voices in the discussion at one time, the staffer said.

"Initially the process was created to be done in a consultative manner.... That stopped and there hasn't been a formal meeting on this since early December. So from a Hill perspective we're very much in the dark at this point."