They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

There's a loose thread to this "secret hold" story, and it bothers us.

By this morning, the dogged persistence of hundreds of bloggers and blogreaders garnered denials from 98 senators saying they did not hold up the Coburn/Obama spending transparency database bill. Only one senator, Ted "King of Pork" Stevens (R-AK), has admitted placing a hold on the bill.

But do the math -- you'll find that makes 99 senators. And Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) ain't one.

That's right: Byrd, whose penchant for pork would probably win him the Pork Crown if he weren't saddled with minority status, has for days declined to answer constituents and others who have asked if he put a hold on the spending database proposal, S. 2590.

We have called and emailed his office and press secretary at least a half-dozen times over two days. Yesterday, we were promised a statement by the end of the day; none came. This morning, spokesman Tom Gavin continued to blame Byrd's travel schedule for the lack of response.

What's more, staff in the personal and leadership offices of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have been almost uniformly mum on the issue. If Byrd placed a hold on the legislation, he would have had to notify Reid's office to do so. After several calls and conversations with numerous staffers, Reid spokesman Jon Steinberg would say for the record only that "it's the policy of our office not to talk about holds."

However, Reid's office on Tuesday confirmed that the senator himself had not placed a hold on the bill.

The office of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), who would know of the existence of a Democratic hold but not necessarily the identity of the holder, declined to comment. Frist has encouraged all senators to publicly declare their actions with regard to the Obama/Coburn bill.

We aren't the only ones wondering about Byrd's status. Yesterday, unsubstantiated rumors came from Senate Republican staffers claiming that GOP leadership staff knew of a Democratic hold on the bill.

Some blogs, including RedState.com and Suitably Flip, have reported without proof statements from anonymous "reliable," "Capitol Hill" sources that Byrd has a hold on the bill.

So, does he? It's a mystery to us how every one of Byrd's 99 colleagues have gone on record regarding the hold, yet he himself won't sing.

Jack Abramoff won't be seeing a prison cell until 2007 (long after the midterm elections), since prosecutors would like him free for much more cooperation.

As MSNBC reports, prosecutors have asked the judge to postpone Abramoff's prison date until January at the earliest -- he had been due to report October 2nd. Abramoff has already been sentenced to five years, ten months for fraud charges arising from his catastrophic purchase of a Florida gambling company; but he's yet to be sentenced for his role in bribing public officials. So in addition to postponing Abramoff's prison date, prosecutors have also asked to defer setting a sentencing date for their bribery case as he continues to cooperate, naming names.

Abramoff will ultimately face a sentence of between 9 1/2 and 11 years, depending on his cooperation.

Frist Expected to Get Medical Board Fine "Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will probably be fined and have to make up for failing to do continuing medical education that Tennessee requires of doctors with active licenses.

"Additional disciplinary action, such as suspending his medical license, is unlikely, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health said Wednesday....

"In a license renewal form filed with the board earlier this year, Frist certified he had met the state's continuing education requirement — 40 hours over the previous two years.

"In response to several inquiries from The Associated Press, however, the Tennessee Republican acknowledged Tuesday that he had not done all the work." (AP)

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About an hour ago, CNN posted a story on Sen. Stevens' exposure as the secret pork-meister and highlighted the way a host of different blogs (yes, including TPMmuckraker.com) helped smoke him out. But TPMm Reader AC still isn't satisfied, and emailed us the following:

[CNN: Sen. Stevens is 'the secret senator']
POSTED: 4:38 p.m. EDT, August 30, 2006

"CNN has confirmed that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has placed a hold on a bill that would require the government to publish online a database of federal spending."

[TPMm: "MASKED" BILL-BLOCKER REVEALS SELF] By Paul Kiel - August 30, 2006, 1:59 PM
"A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) just confirmed his boss was the man behind the secret hold on the Coburn/Obama spending database bill, which has captivated a segment of the political blogging community in recent days."

CNN... Catch-up News Network


Hey, he said it. We didn't.

Buried amid our nonstop "anonymous holder" coverage yesterday was a real gem of a muck: serial lawbreaker/administration appointee Kenneth Y. Tomlinson got busted -- again -- for improper activities in another senior post.

But Tomlinson, whom the Washington Post calls a "longtime ally" of Bush adviser Karl Rove, isn't in danger of losing his new job at the Broadcasting Board of Governors: the White House says it continues to support him, and the Justice Department has declined to prosecute him based on the new findings.

What's disheartening about Tomlinson is the pattern apparent in his record: he's not a guy who, in a fit of greed or a moment of weakness, crossed a line. He appears to engage -- routinely -- in petty, me-first corruption: hiring friends, eschewing proper procedures, getting himself double-paid, and pursuing his own private agenda without regard for the organizations he's responsible for.

And his boss -- the White House, which continues to appoint him to senior posts -- lets him get away with it. Why?

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) held up a bill that would create a free, searchable database of government contracts and grants because he was worried about the proposal's price tag, his spokesman told me this afternoon. Its cost has been estimated at $15 million.

Stevens' office has asked Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the sponsor of the bill, for "a cost-benefit analysis to make sure this does not create an extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy,” spokesman Aaron Saunders said. The Senator “wanted to make sure that this wasn’t going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve.”

Saunders added that Stevens' hold was not "secret," and that he would back the bill if the analysis shows that "it achieves its goal and it achieves its goal well."

But Sen. Coburn's spokesman John Hart questioned Stevens' motive. "The only reason to oppose this bill is if he has something to hide," Hart said.

Hart said that Stevens, who's on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, failed to attend any hearings on the bill, an assertion backed up by vote tallies. "If he had concerns, he should have addressed them in regular order rather than blocking something that will benefit millions of taxpayers," Hart said. He added that after Stevens' office raised the concerns, Coburn's office requested a meeting, but never got one.

The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that Coburn's proposal would cost "$4 million in 2007 and about $15 million [total] over the 2007-2011 period." By comparison, Stevens -- who's been called the "King of Pork" by one government watchdog -- was recently publicly lambasted for his appropriation of more than $200 million for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," which would link Ketchikan, Alaska (population 8,900) with its airport on Gravina Island (population 50).

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A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) just confirmed his boss was the man behind the secret hold on the Coburn/Obama spending database bill, which has captivated a segment of the political blogging community in recent days.

"Sen. Stevens does have a hold on the bill," said the spokesman, who would only speak on the condition he not be named. He added that Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) office was notified of the hold after it was placed. So Coburn's comments two weeks ago may have been duly informed.

So why does Stevens say he placed the hold? Why did it take this long for him to say so? And will he lift it?

We'll have more soon...

In a recent directive to its employees, the National Security Agency explains that "the media," in its opinion, includes bloggers.

The document defines "media" as "any print, electronic, or broadcast outlet (including blogs) where information is made available to the general public."

The NSA directive orders the secretive agency's 45,000 employees to report "unauthorized media disclosures" of classified information. That is, leaks.

It raises an interesting question: do bloggers enjoy the reporter's privilege of protecting their sources in court?

In a landmark case from 2004, Apple computer argued that bloggers aren't journalists because they aren't professional, and therefore aren't protected by "shield laws." Such statutes keep law enforcement from forcing reporters to reveal confidential sources. The company lost the original ruling -- and lost on appeal this May.

NSA's point of view appears to bolster bloggers' standing as journalists. If anybody who can disseminate information -- that is, receive and broadcast a leak -- is a member of the media, then that means us bloggers are in the club. "I thnk that's becoming increasingly obvious," Kurt Opsahl, a blogging-rights expert and counsel to the California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me. "There's no principled way to distinguish between the various media."

(Courtesy dickarmitage.blogspot.com. No, just kidding. via Secrecy News)

Update: An earlier version of this post cited an article on the case of Josh Wolf, a California blogger currently in prison for refusing to turn over videotapes to a federal grand jury. However, at the federal level, California's shield law did not apply; federal prosecutors did not take a stance on Wolf's reporter status. Jurt Opsahl, a blogging-rights expert and counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told me he is not aware of a case in which the federal government has asserted bloggers are not journalists.

Scalia Discloses 24 Expense-Paid Trips "Justice Antonin Scalia was the Supreme Court's most frequent traveler last year with 24 expense-paid trips that took him as far as Ireland, Italy, Turkey and Australia. Law schools and legal groups paid for most of Scalia's travel, although Italian heritage organizations, media giant Time Warner Inc., the Roman Catholic Diocese of Louisiana and the Julliard School also covered some trips." (AP)

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Twelve days ago, at a town meeting in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) accused Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) of obstructing his porkbuster-database bill with an anonymous hold.

That's according to an Aug. 18 article in the Fort Smith (Ark.) Times Record:

One of the senators most criticized for his personal projects, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has a hold of his own on Coburn’s bill to make public the spending patterns of the government. Called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, the legislation calls for the creation of a database open to the public where citizens can track government spending.

“He’s the only senator blocking it,” Coburn said of Stevens.


Coburn's office was not available for comment this evening.

The article has gone largely unnoticed in recent days, as hundreds of bloggers and blog-readers (at TPMm and elsewhere) have called Senate offices in an effort to determine who placed the "secret" hold on Coburn's bill. The piece does not turn up in a Nexis search, although it is in Google.

Stevens has been the odds-on favorite since the hunt for the Holder Who Dare Not Speak His Name began.

But did he really do it? Well, he had a motive: As the paper and others have noted, Stevens and Coburn have clashed before -- in particular over Stevens' now-legendary "bridge to nowhere." Coburn attempted (and failed) to block the $233 million boondoggle. And revenge certainly fits the senior Alaskan's m.o. "Stevens can play rough," the Seattle Times noted in June. "Despite denials from his staff, he retaliates - and doesn't mind waiting years to do so."

Stevens' office has so far refused to comment on the hold. Ninety-five other senators have confirmed they were not responsible.

Thanks to TPMm Readers MP, GC for the tips.

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