The Gonzales Justice Department may be seeking to orchestrate a smear campaign blaming environmentalists for the flooding of New Orleans.

The Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger reports that the following email was sent to various federal attorneys this week by the Justice Department:

SUBJECT: Have you had any cases involving the levees in New Orleans?

QUESTION: Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps’ work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation.

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A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment to the paper, because the message is “an internal email.” The C-L wonders if someone in the DOJ got a little inspiration from the conservative press:

Whoever is behind the email may have spotted the Sept. 8 issue of National Review Online that chastised the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for suing to halt the Corps’ 1996 plan to raise and fortify 303 miles of Mississippi River levees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The Corps settled the litigation in 1997, agreeing to hold off on some work until an environmental impact could be completed. The National Review article concluded: “Whether this delay directly affected the levees that broke in New Orleans is difficult to ascertain.”

The problem with that conclusion?

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The levees that broke causing New Orleans to flood weren’t Mississippi River levees. They were levees that protected the city from Lake Pontchartrain levees on the other side of the city.

The NRO’s reporter — a Competitive Enterprise Institute journalism fellow — takes a few swipes at the Clinton administration, “liberal activists,” and the press for good measure.  Hey — any port in a storm, right folks?

And don’t forget that Los Angeles Times article from Sept. 9 I noted here a few days ago — in which a retired Army Corps of Engineers employee got away largely unchallenged with accusations that a wetlands protection group was to blame for the flooding of the Big Easy, because it sued in 1977 to block a Corps hurricane barrier project — one the Corps might have moved forward if it had just done a comprehensive environmental impact study, instead of a shoddy one.

Whoa — even as I type, The Washington Post seems to be breaking this story:

A Senate committee asked the Justice Department this week to provide information about legal challenges to New Orleans levee projects by environmental groups, prompting accusations that Republicans are seeking to blame environmentalists for the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

Maybe this sort of maneuver is what President Bush had on his mind when he uttered his carefully composed admission on Wednesday: ” … to the extent that the federal government didn’t do its job right, I take responsibility.”