Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Weve just witnessed a

We've just witnessed a ferocious two weeks of attacks over the future direction of our policy in Iraq. And in that brawl, the White House and its surrogates have launched all manner of attacks against those who would 'cut and run' before 'our job is finshed' in Iraq,

Now comes this article in Saturday's Los Angeles Times which reports that said turbo-testicular worthies have reviewed the situation and -- surprise, surprise! -- our job appears to be almost done.

Bearing the good news ...

In a departure from past statements, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that the training of Iraqi troops has advanced so far that the current number of U.S. troops probably will not be needed for much longer.

President Bush will give a major speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in which aides say he is expected to proclaim the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for withdrawing U.S. forces.


Some analysts say the emerging consensus might have less to do with conditions in Iraq than the long-term strain of the deployment on the U.S. military. And major questions over the readiness of Iraq's fledgling security forces pose risks for any strategy that calls for an accelerated American troop withdrawal.

As recently as late September, senior U.S. military commanders told a congressional hearing that just one Iraqi battalion, about 700 soldiers, was considered capable of conducting combat operations fully independent of any U.S. support. Administration officials now dismiss that measure of military readiness, saying more Iraqi units are able to perform advanced operations each day.

I'm going to way out on a limb and take James Fallows' word over the president's and assume that there's been no radical turnaround in the training and functioning of the Iraqi Army over the last couple months.

And if that's true, it clarifies this essential point: there is no debate about withdrawing American troops from Iraq. That's over. What we have is posturing and positioning over the political consequences of withdrawal. The White House and the president's partisans will lay down a wall of covering fire, calling anybody who considers withdrawal an appeaser, to allow the president to go about the business of drawing down the American presence in Iraq in time to game the 2006 elections.

Tory MP offers to

Tory MP offers to publish the Bush-Blair al Jazeera bombing memo (and risk jail) if someone will only slip him a copy.

Anthony Big Tony Moscatiello

Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello implicates Jack Abramoff's business partner Adam Kidan in the 2001 gangland murder of Gus Boulis. The money for the murder was allegedly paid out of the business accounts of SunCruz, the casino boat company Kidan and Abramoff jointly owned.

In August, Kidan and Abramoff were indicted for bank fraud stemming from their purchase of SunCruz.

Just yesterday a TPM

Just yesterday a TPM Reader asked me if the Abramoff operation wasn't mainly restricted to the House of Representatives, rather than both the House and the Senate. Mainly, I said. But senators were in the mix too. And I suggested Montana Sen. Conrad Burns (R) as at least one senator who was tangled up in the Abramoff web. Not to the point of legal jeopardy, I figured, but at least to the point of potentially substantial political damage (here's a run-down I wrote in August about the Burns-Abramoff connection).

Well, seems I spoke too soon.

An article out in today's Wall Street Journal (sub.req.) names Burns as one of four members of Congress DOJ lawyers are looking at in the Abramoff scandal -- the other three being Reps. DeLay (R-TX), Doolittle (R-CA), Ney (R-OH).

(Come to think of it, that's sort of comment on the GOP hegemony in the House: delay, do little and ney!)

In any case, the Journal expresses what seems like an odd level of surprise that the Abramoff investigation goes well beyond bilking those Indian casinos and has spawned inquiries into multiple members of Congress, "more than a dozen current and former congressional aides and two former Bush administration officials." I strongly suspect that understates the scope of the inquiry.

TPM Reader HR comments

TPM Reader HR comments on the post below ...

The thing about Harry Reid you didn't mention was- he represents Nevada. Thus both he and John Ensign are largely off the hook, and either Abramoff is an idiot for forking out to guys who are never going to back competition to Las Vegas in the first place, or Abramoff is a pretty sharp con man for figuring that for $5000 per head- pocket change for him- he could tell his clients that he'd also influenced those two votes, and charge them for it. Your pick.

William Jefferson, on the other hand, from all that I can gather needs to go down now.

Sounds about right to me.

More details about Brownies

More details about Brownie's new disaster preparedness consulting firm.

Earlier today I suggested that from what Michael D. Brown told the Rocky Mountain News, "it seems that Brown's actual angle may be providing not generic emergency response consulting services but rather consulting services to incompetents who've been saddled with emergency preparedness responsibility and fear becoming national laughing stocks when they turn mid-size disasters in to full-on catastrophes through gross mismanagement."

And the new report out from the AP seems to confirm it ...

Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what's going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, critics complained about Brown's lack of formal emergency management experience and e-mails that later surfaced showed him as out of touch with the extent of the devastation.

This guy's really a Bush man through and through, ain't he?

It's important to keep close tabs on everything going on in your disaster so as to avoid the true catastrophe of having the press think you're not on top of things.

It's good to see that getting knocked around last Fall helped get his priorities straight.

Joe DiGenova on the

Joe DiGenova, on the case.

Friday's Times has an article looking at the nature of the bribery charges Michael Scanlon pled guilty to and noting that some of the bribes were not that much different from what happens every day in Washington when campaign contributions are given in (de facto or tacit) exchange for support on various issues.

The author Carl Hulse then quotes Joe DiGenova saying, "The department has rarely charged campaign contribution cases. It would be a surprise that a contribution that has been lawfully reported" would lead to a criminal charge."

He identifies DiGenova as a "a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor."

Not sufficient. A lot more information is required here. Joe DiGenova (as well as his wife and law partner Victoria Toensing) is a part of the DC Republican establishment who is routinely put forward when legal opinions are needed which exculpate Republicans or inculpate Democrats.

There's no other way to put it. Look at their public statements in the various Clinton 'scandals', the Fitzgerald investigation and now this case. In their voluminous public pronouncements they are both, in the clearest sense of the word, advocates. And their 'client' is the Republican party establishment in Washington, DC. That's fine, as far as it goes. But they should be identified as such, albeit perhaps in gentler terms, when they provide quotes in papers like the Times.

And to the underlying issue, is this use of the bribery statute novel?

And is it unfair?

The issue takes on a clearer partisan saliency because of this graf down in the piece ...

Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who has acknowledged being Representative No. 1, dismisses any suggestion that he was persuaded to do Mr. Scanlon's bidding because of campaign aid or perks like meals, entertainment or overseas travel.

"Whenever Representative Ney took official action," a statement from his office said, "actions similar to those taken by elected representatives every day as part of the normal, appropriate government process, he did so based on his best understanding of what was right and not based on any improper influence."

But the scrutiny of Mr. Ney has caught the attention of anxious lawmakers who have lobbying relationships of their own. It has also spurred advocacy groups. The campaign finance watchdog Democracy 21, for instance, is calling for inquiries by the House and Senate ethics committees into whether three dozen other members of Congress received contributions in exchange for intervening on behalf of a client of Mr. Abramoff.

The Associated Press reported this month that various lawmakers of both parties had asked the Interior Department to reject a casino application from a tribe that was a rival to one of Mr. Abramoff's clients. The lawmakers later received campaign aid from the tribe and Mr. Abramoff. Among the beneficiaries was the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who received a $5,000 contribution to his political action committee shortly after sending a letter to the department in 2002.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said Mr. Abramoff and the donation had had nothing to do with the position of the senator, who Mr. Manley noted was an author of Indian gaming laws and an opponent of new Indian casinos. "There was absolutely no connection between the letter and the contributions," he said.

So is Harry Reid singed by this too?

Maybe, though I doubt in any significant way. I've looked at this whole story pretty closely. And while Abramoff's racket was overwhelmingly with Republicans, some Democrats were in the mix too, usually on the margins and never very tightly. But some are there, particularly in some of the states where the Indian gambling issues were located.

In the case of Ney and Reid, the comparison is ludicrous if you look at the case at all seriously.

Abramoff owned Bob Ney. He took him on trips, gave him endless free meals on his tab, gave him contributions galore. And in exchange Ney pulled strings for Jack's clients, tried to get bills passed, helped muscle Gus Boulis to sell his Casino boat line to Abramoff and all sorts of other things. Boulis, you'll remember, is the guy who later got whacked after the deal went sour. And the money paid to the men who are now under indictment for Boulis's murder came out of Abramoff's company.

So, let's just say Abramoff and Ney were tight.

DiGenova notwithstanding, the lawyers at the Public Integrity Section at DOJ (just now coming under the gun from DiGenova and his pals) are doing a pretty decent job finding cases where even the normal rules of the road in Washington were trashed so egregiously and overwhelmingly as to cross over into criminal conduct.

But let's return again to this issue of whether some Democrats might get singed by the Abramoff bonfire. Frankly, so be it. Republicans are about to reap the whirlwind because the operation that Jack Abramoff and Co. were running in Washington went way beyond what the already corrupted and corrupting rules of the road in Washington allow or anyone in the town has witnessed at any time in recent history. And as I've written before, pay offs to dirty reps. like Bob Ney were only one relatively small part of the racket.

But if Democrats are going to run on reform, they need to be for reform. And if they're going to fan the flames of this bonfire they'll need to let it burn its course.

Haaretz In a blow

Ha'aretz: "In a blow to Ariel Sharon, Ben-Gurion University President and noted economist Avishai Braverman Thursday spurned the prime minister's offer to become a part of the new Kadima party, and announced that he would instead join forces with Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz."

Failing up and failing

Failing up and failing west.

Michael D. "Brownie" Brown announces plans to relocate to Colorado and become a government emergency preparedness consultant.

Says Brown, when asked how he plans to pull this off: "You have to do it with candor. To do it otherwise gives you no credibility. I think people are curious: 'My gosh, what was it like? The media just really beat you up. You made mistakes. I don't want to be in that situation. How do I avoid that?'"

So it gets better, Brown is not only selling emergency preparedness expertise, he's opening a secondary racket in 'candor'.

Actually, from the quote it seems that Brown's actual angle may be providing not generic emergency response consulting services but rather consulting services to incompetents who've been saddled with emergency preparedness responsibility and fear becoming national laughing stocks when they turn mid-size disasters in to full-on catastrophes through gross mismanagement.

This actually may be a solid and underserved niche Brown could cater to, though my understanding is that in such a learning process someone like Brown is generally referred to not as a 'consultant' but rather as 'specimen'.

However that may be, this might also suggest more evidence for a government management consultancy bell curve -- GMCBC, also sometimes referred to as the 'Kerik Principle', KP -- in which the most lucrative work is available for the truly able and the abjectly incompetent, leaving the great majority of hard-working, though middling operatives unable to find big-ticket post-government work.

Any takers?