In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The fireworks have been continuing today at the local level in the Minnesota election trial -- and the national parties got involved in Washington, too, the place where this election could finally be decided.

At a Democratic leadership press conference today, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer responded to a question about the case by saying they expected it to be wrapped up and for Franken to be seated in weeks. "The projections -- and they're not locked in -- are that this should all be finished by the very beginning of April," said Schumer.

Schumer did acknowledge that the process isn't over, but predicted that it will end. "The people of Minnesota are very fair people, and they'll grant him appeals," Schumer said. "But sooner or later this is going to come to an end."

Harry Reid chimed in: "There's going to come a time when Coleman's going to have to recognize that he's lost -- he's lost this election. This should have been over a long time ago."

This prompted an angry statement e-mailed out from Michael Steele, who accused the Dems of trying to short-circuit the process in Minnesota:

The people of Minnesota expect and deserve a fair election process that ensures every valid vote is counted and counted only once. As it stands now, there are thousands of absentee ballots that have not been counted and potentially hundreds more that have been counted twice. Instead of attempting to short circuit election law, the Senate Majority Leader should focus on the out of control spending going on in Washington. Once the recount is completed, I fully expect Senator Coleman to be where he was on election night: in the lead. When that happens, we will welcome back a senator who values fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and will not vote to saddle future generations with unprecedented debt. I join my fellow Republicans in standing firmly behind Norm Coleman and his pursuit to ensure no Minnesota voter is disenfranchised."

And the spin keeps going in Minnesota, too.

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Brian Melendez, the state Democratic chairman in Minnesota, just gave TPM this statement in response to Norm Coleman's comments that a do-over election could be necessary:

Former Senator Coleman's sudden interest in a "do-over" election is astonishing both for its ignorance of the law and for its ignorance of political reality -- or at least his feigned ignorance. First, the people of Minnesota went to the polls in November and elected a new United States senator; it's bad enough that Norm Coleman has been aggressively trying to disenfranchise so many of them throughout the recount and now during his election-contest trial, but now he wants to disenfranchise all of them.

Norm Coleman is a lawyer and he knows better. I hope that Governor Pawlenty will quickly disown Coleman's shameless scheme for a back-door appointment that will get him back the seat that he couldn't hold on to in a free and fair election.

Coleman has every right under the law to contest his recount loss, but he and his spinmeisters need to show some respect to Minnesotans' intelligence by acknowledging the fairness of our justice system and not fabricating scenarios that disregard Minnesota law.

Zesty and dated rock tended to accompany speakers here at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Creedence Clearwater Revival "Down on the Corner" for John Bolton, Smashmouth's cover of "I'm a Believer" for Mike Pence, early Beatles--"Love Me Do"--at the Building a Conservative Hispanic Coalition seminar and Kenny Loggins hit from the Top Gun soundtrack, "Danger Zone". If Lee Greenwood is here, I haven't heard him.

In addition to the speakers and seminars, there's a giant exhibition area where different conservative outfits are peddling their wares. My favorite bumper sitcker for sale was "Obama Bin Lyin'. Impeach Him Now." I picked up an "It's OK to be Ex Gay" button. There are rows and rows of conservative talk show hosts broadcasting from here and a bloggers row. There are pro life groups and pro gun groups and anti global warming groups. I was handed an ice cream sandwich by a woman dressed as a polar bear. When I asked her what she was advocating she lifted her mask and cheerfully told me that the polar bears were fine and that conservative principles would do more for the environment than government.

We have some videos coming that will, if you haven't watched any of the proceedings, give you a flavor of the conservative movement as it deals with its exile.

A couple of thoughts.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that most people here think that what cost them the election was not adherence to conservative principles but deviance from them. In this view, Republicans were too squishy and moderate. They carried the weight of Congressional scandals, bloated budgets and GOP-sponsored social initiatives like No Child Left Behind and the expansion of Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit. There's not a lot of soul searching about policy.

I was surprised by the session on building a Hispanic Conservative Majority. It wasn't that well attended but those conservatives who went got to hear a blistering attack on the anti-immigration tone and policies of the Republican party and a passionate plea for an immigration policy that doesn't revolve around deporting illegal immigrants. If there's going to be a rethinking of Republican orthodoxy maybe it'll be here.

In general, though, the faithful are sticking to their creed. When Tucker Carlson, the conservative commentator, suggested that conservatives ought to start more New York Times media outlets of their own, dedicated to reporting, he got jeers. He tried to make it clear to the crowd that he thought the Times was liberal and distorting but they were at least dedicated to fact gathering. This small bit concession to the Times was too much for some in the crowd.

More later when we get the videos.

The Coleman campaign may have just given away the store on a very important point in their challenge to the Minnesota election results -- conceding that missing ballots from the recount that were still included in the final numbers did in fact exist.

During the recount, a deep-blue Minneapolis precinct came up with over 130 less ballots than were counted on Election Night, costing Al Franken a net 46 votes. The city eventually concluded that an envelope full of ballots labeled "1 of 5" was missing. After it wasn't recovered, the state canvassing board agreed to revert to the Election Night total for this precinct, rather than disenfranchise these voters.

The Coleman campaign vowed to contest it in court. Their position had been that there was no evidence the ballots existed, citing an earlier hypothesis by the city that ballots might have counted twice by the machines on Election Night -- which the city had quickly discarded when the precinct roster nearly matched the number of Election Night votes. And even if they do exist, the Coleman camp has still said they can't be included in the recount.

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Ben Ginsberg, the Coleman spokesman/lawyer who has held colorful press conferences attacking the court, the reliability of the election results, and just about everything under the sun that looked bad for Norm Coleman, is no longer seeking to actually work for Norm in the courtroom.

Ginsberg, who was on George W. Bush's legal team during the Florida recount in 2000, has been holding his daily press conferences since the beginning of this trial, billing himself as a Coleman attorney. But it was only last week that he filed his motion for admission pro hac vice -- the filing that an out-of-state lawyer is supposed to make in order to appear before a local court.

Just today, Team Coleman submitted this motion to withdraw the request, which hadn't yet been granted: "Mr. Ginsberg will not participate in the trial and no longer seeks the court's permission to do so."

The real question now is whether Ginsberg will still continue to hold his amazing press conferences -- for example, yesterday he made a now-debunked charge that a heavily Dem county had illegally included 300 bad absentee ballots -- or whether he's now out of this case completely. We could find out tonight.

Oh, boy. Yesterday, Coleman spokesman/attorney Ben Ginsberg held a dramatic press conference to announce that 300 clearly invalid absentee ballot envelopes -- roughly 150 of them weren't even signed by the voters -- had been improperly opened and counted Election Night in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis County (Duluth). It was a major part of the Coleman camp's push to undermine the legitimacy of the whole vote count, possibly in pursuit of a new election.

But now Noah Kunin at The Uptake looked into this with the county officials, showing them quite a few examples, and they've told him a different story: It appears these were not actually the envelopes used by those voters -- they were for in-house use by the local election workers, and these votes were legal.

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The Minnesota election court giveth to Coleman, and now they taketh away.

After granting Coleman mercy on a serious defeat he had suffered yesterday, the court has now shot him down on a separate matter, granting in full a Franken motion to forbid Coleman from obtaining questionable evidence from the counties, in Coleman's effort to get more ballots for himself counted.

Two days ago, the Coleman camp sent e-mails to county officials, asking them to certify that selected absentee voters whose ballots have been rejected did in fact meet all the legal requirements pertaining to voter-registration, and that they didn't also vote on Election Day. Coleman was pursuing one side of his case -- that votes for himself weren't counted that should be -- and wanted local officials to be able to phone it in rather than come to court. The Franken camp filed a motion in limine to forbid this maneuver, arguing it violated the rules of evidence by seeking out new documents without the ability to properly cross-examine the officials.

The court said that Coleman can submit pre-existing government documents such as voter registrars, Election Day precinct rosters, etc. But this new evidence simply isn't trustworthy -- they would be new judgments of government officials, specifically solicited by a single party in the middle of litigation.

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If you imagine Paul McCartney at Shea Stadium in 1965 you have some idea of the reception that the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, gave John Bolton this morning. The former United Nations Ambassador packed the largest ballroom at Washington's Omni Shoreham Hotel and delivered a rousing speech filled with attacks on the Obama administration but also plenty of broadsides aimed at George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice. He ripped the administration for ruling out the use of force to stop the Iranian nuclear program and he denounced the multilateral, six-party talks that the Bush administration initiated to thwart North Korea's nuclear ambitions. According to Bolton, the talks succeeded only in giving the Pyonyang regime another five years to perfect its nuclear program and strengthen its missile capacity.

He saved his strongest attacks for the Obama administration, saying that it had appeased Russia during the campaign when then Senator Obama called on both sides of the Russian-Georgian conflict over South Ossetia to show restraint. He condemned Hillary Clinton for not making more of human rights issues on her recent trip to Asia and said that the administration's diplomatic approaches to Iran and North Korea were only allowing both nations to fuel their nuclear ambitions.

When it comes to Israel, Bolton was especially hard on the administration saying that "for those who thought an Obama administration would be friendly to Israel, it's time to wake up." Bolton did show moderation on some fronts. When asked by an audience member whether the policies of the Obama administration would lead to an armed revolution in the United States, Bolton said that he only wanted "a revolution at the ballot box." After his address, Bolton went to the exhibit hall where a long line of fans stood in line for him to sign copies of his latest book.

The Minnesota election court just decided to cut Norm Coleman a serious break, reversing their decision yesterday to strike the testimony of a key witness in Coleman's attempt to prove double-counting of votes, after the Coleman camp failed to share evidence with the Franken side.

The court's memorandum explains why they took this severe step to begin with -- Coleman's repeated failures in the past to fully share evidence in a timely manner:

The Court recognizes that striking testimony is a severe sanction but notes that this trial has been underway for five weeks and that the parties have been repeatedly instructed of the need to supplement discovery responses. The Court believes this sanction was within its discretion in light of Contestants' repeated failures to adhere to their discovery obligations under the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure.

In plain English: The court took an extraordinary step because they were very, very angry.

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The overview of the Obama Administration's first budget is now going live at the White House's site, where the public can take a look at it.

So here's an open thread for all of you to see it, scrutinize it, praise it or criticize it. We'll be looking through your comments for insights into items in the budget that may deserve more coverage and attention. So flag anything you find newsworthy. Have fun.

Obama's FY 2010 Budget Overview