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

FEMA: Still a Costly, Deadly Mess

FEMA spent $900 million to buy more than 26,000 temporary homes for Hurricane Katrina victims, but most can't be used because they're too big or too unsafe for flood zones. That's just one FEMA outrage the Washington Post reports this morning, advancing a Department of Homeland Security report on the agency's Katrina response expected to be released today.

The agency also spent an average $5,100 per month to house evacuees on privately-owned cruise ships, six times the cost of renting two-bedroom apartments, DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner found.

Skinner's report is the most recent indictment of the hapless agency. The House and the White House have already released reports from their investigations; the Senate is expected to issue its own shortly. (WaPo)

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Since we're on the subject of Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), it's probably worthwhile for a flashback to another Taylor highlight - the CAFTA vote last summer.

It was a very tight vote, and Taylor was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Republican leadership was counting every vote, bearing down hard on him, but Taylor comes from a district hostile to free trade. What to do? Yea or nay?

According to Taylor, he meant to cast a vote of "No." But wouldn't you know it? His voting card, which members insert into a machine to record their vote, broke. Or at least, it seems to have broken, even though it worked for a number of other votes the same day.

Soon after he voted (or failed to vote), he disappeared and couldn't be found when it was discovered that he hadn't voted. He only found out about the snafu the next day, he says, when he left the gym.

CAFTA ultimately passed by a razor thin margin of 217-215.

Taylor made an announcement the next day that he'd meant to vote no. He then reinserted his vote - which brought the offical tally to 217-216. One can't help but wonder whether Taylor would have bravely done the same if his vote had been the deciding one.

You can read TPM's highly entertaining coverage of Taylor's remarkable voting debacle last year here.

Heidi Collins, sitting in for Wolf Blitzer, interviewed RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman today, and hit him with a few questions about the New Hampshire phone jamming case.

About the RNC's decision to cover James Tobin's legal bills, Mehlman says, "A decision was made in the past, before I was chairman, that in this case that was going to happen based on assurances he made. I believed it was right to honor that decision."

Transcript* below the fold:

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Earlier, I mentioned that Chris LaCivita was represented by Richard Cullen in the New Hampshire phone jamming case.

Well, I think that means Cullen has pulled far away as the Republican defense lawyer of the moment.

Why? Let's count 'em: he has clients in the Valerie Plame Investigation, the AIPAC investigation, the Abramoff investigation, and now the phone jamming scandal. And since he represents Tom DeLay, he's also got a piece of the Duke Cunningham scandal - Brent Wilkes, one of Cunningham's defense contractors, also courted DeLay.

It really does make it easier for us muckrakers - no matter what the scandal, we can always call the same man. I've got him on speed dial.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-GA) sideshow continues! Somehow we missed it when last week one of her aides shoved a reporter, identified himself as a police officer, and told the lowly journo, "I'm going to put your ass in jail." (here's the video.)

Now we learn that the police union officials are looking into suing McKinney on behalf of the officer she punched two weeks ago. "We're going to make sure the officer won't be harassed. We want the officer to be able talk to experts, who can look at his legal recourses, if he needed to," Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told Atlanta's WSB-TV.

The House Sergeant-at-Arms is looking into the impersonation incident. So is the police union.

Here's one more for the record: Chris LaCivita, the National Political Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told TPMmuckraker last night that he had nothing to do with James Tobin's plan to jam Democratic phone banks on Election Day, 2002. According to him, it was strictly a local affair.

LaCivita, a conservative political operative best known to Democrats for his work as a media consultant to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (whom he lovingly refers to as "the swifties"), also said that the same went for the NRSC. But when pressed about why he'd made an appearance on the prosecution's witness list for Tobin's trial, he referred further questions to his lawyer.

LaCivita, Tobin's boss for the 2002 elections, denied knowing anything about the jamming until it was reported for the first time in the press - which would have been February, 2003, three months after the crime. "We like to win, but we like to win fair," he said.

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Newsweek's Mark Hosenball has an interesting and important new article noting that the Pentagon is considering the merger of two security offices, raising fears that they are creating a "military secret police" with too much information and too much power.

But there's more to the story.

Hosenball reports that one of the outfits is CIFA -- Counterintelligence Field Activity -- which has gotten into hot water for spying on Americans engaged in political protests, among other things. MZM held numerous contracts with that operation, thanks to the earmarking efforts of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who took $1.4 million in bribes from MZM's founder, admitted felon Mitchell Wade.

The other outfit is the Defense Security Service, which handles security clearances and sensitive personal information for 4.5 million defense and intelligence workers.

According to Newsweek, DSS has turned down several inappropriate requests from CIFA for sensitive information on individuals.

What Newsweek doesn't mention is that MZM had employees working at DSS as well as CIFA. In fact, the company continues to provide employees to DSS under its new name, Athena Innovative Solutions, according to news accounts and former employees.

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House Democrat Injured by Flying Hammer!

There are a number of different versions of that headline running all over - the AP goes with "Rep. Kennedy Hit in the Mouth by Hammer."

I'm not sure if it says more about me or Tom DeLay that I thought this referred to DeLay throwing a flying punch at Kennedy. But it seems it was just a plain ol' hammer.

In court filings last night, lawyers for former Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby said that Libby contends neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney authorized him to leak the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame.

They also complained that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was withholding documents they deserved to see.

What, they expect him to turn on a dime? (rim shot)

You can read the docs here. For blogosphere musings, check out TalkLeft (Cheney, Joe Wilson called as witnesses?), Anonymous Liberal (Libby thinks Bush never intended to fire leaker?), firedoglake.

Oh, irony of ironies.

Judge Reggie Walton, who's overseeing the Scooter Libby investigation, has warned the lawyers in the case that he might issue an order to stop them from leaking information to the press, adding that he will not "tolerate this case being tried in the media."

"Despite the Court's prior admonition," Judge Walton writes, "it appears that on several occasions information has been disseminated to the press by counsel, which has included not only public statements, but also the dissemination of material that had not been filed on the public docket."

Both sides have until April 21st to explain their role in the leaks.

You can read his order here.

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