Bye-bye to Secret Spy Program?
"Republicans who limped back to Washington for a lame duck congressional session last week found a host of marching orders from President Bush, but perhaps none more urgent than this: Before Democrats take control of Congress in January, they must pass legislation authorizing the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program.
"His plea for a legislative stamp of approval on the controversial spy effort is an 'important priority in the war on terror,' Bush said. The response: deafening silence. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist quickly dispatched aides to put out the word on Bush's request: Not gonna happen." (USNews & World Report)
Treating Oversight As an Afterthought
"Congressional Republicans now routinely lament that more of them might still have their jobs if Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had lost his before election day.
"That might be right. But it's also true that Rumsfeld might have been out of work sooner had more congressional Republicans done their own job.
"With rare exceptions, House and Senate Republicans refused to publicly question or conduct serious oversight on the administration's performance in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
"Because congressional Republicans exerted so little pressure on President Bush to change direction, they made it easier for him to essentially stay the course despite the steady deterioration on the ground." (LATimes)
Investigation of DeLay Staff's Actions Begins
"The House chief administrative officer opened an investigation Friday into the possible destruction of computer files in the office of newly elected Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.
"The Houston Republican requested the investigation Thursday, saying former staff members erased the files from office computers shortly before they quit as a group Tuesday." (Houston Chronicle)
Experts Say Probe Request Hurt Sekula-Gibbs' Political Future
"Six days ago, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs stood on the House floor, basking in the applause of colleagues who welcomed the 109th Congress' newest â and final â member.
"Refusing to be hemmed in by a term that spans only a few weeks, the Houston Republican vowed to accomplish much: help cut taxes, fix a broken immigration system and battle terrorism.
"But in less than a week, her star has been badly tarnished by an odd series of actions, and she's been lampooned on Web sites, talk radio and in gossip columns." (Houston Chronicle)
Democrats Split on How Far to Go with Ethics Law
"Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, mindful that voters in the midterm election cited corruption as a major concern, say they are moving quickly to finalize a package of changes for consideration as soon as the new Congress convenes in January.
"Their initial proposals, laid out earlier this year, would prohibit members from accepting meals, gifts or travel from lobbyists, require lobbyists to disclose all contacts with lawmakers and bar former lawmakers-turned-lobbyists from entering the floor of the chambers or Congressional gymnasiums.
"None of the measures would overhaul campaign financing or create an independent ethics watchdog to enforce the rules. Nor would they significantly restrict earmarks, the pet projects lawmakers can anonymously insert into spending bills, which have figured in several recent corruption scandals and attracted criticism from members in both parties. The proposals would require disclosure of the sponsors of some earmarks, but not all." (NY Times)
Senate Dems Plan Overhaul of Military Tribunals Bill
"Gearing up for a major clash with the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, several key Senate Democrats are planning to overhaul the newly minted legislation governing military tribunals of detainees....
"Sen. Chris Dodd [D-CT], who is running for president and who, come January, will be the second ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, introduced legislation today that would amend the existing law." (The Hill)
9/11 Prisoner Abuse Suit Could Be Landmark
"Some 1,200 Middle Eastern men were arrested on suspicion of terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. No holding place was so notorious as Brooklyn's nine-story Metropolitan Detention Center. In a special unit on the top floor, detainees were smashed into walls, repeatedly stripped and searched, and often denied basic legal rights and religious privileges, according to federal investigations.
"Now the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the jail, has revealed for the first time that 13 staff members have been disciplined, two of them fired. The warden has retired and moved to the Midwest.
"And in what could turn out to be a landmark case, a lawsuit filed by two Brooklyn detainees against top Bush administration officials is moving forward in the federal courts in New York.
"A judge turned down a request by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft to dismiss the lawsuit against them. The case is before an appeals court, where a panel of three judges signaled last month that they too believed it should go forward." (LATimes)
Judge: Detainee Can't Speak to Attorney
"A suspected terrorist who spent years in a secret CIA prison is not allowed to speak to a civilian attorney until an appeals court decides what rights military detainees have, a federal judge said Friday.
"The Justice Department argues that under a new anti-terrorism law, detainees have no right to challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts. Human rights groups argue that's unconstitutional.
"Until the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia settles the question, legal challenges brought by hundreds of detainees remain in limbo.
Terror suspect Majid Khan is among those whose cases are pending. Khan and 13 other prisoners designated as 'terrorist leaders' were transfered from CIA custody to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in September." (AP)
Padilla Case Raises Questions About Anti-Terror Tactics
"After he was arrested in 2002, Jose Padilla was considered so dangerous that he was held without charges in a military prison for more than three years -- accused first of plotting a radiological "dirty bomb" attack and later of conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up apartment buildings with natural gas.
"But now, nearly a year after his abrupt transfer into a regular criminal court, the Justice Department's prosecution of the former Chicago gang member is running into trouble." (WaPo)
Some Believe 'Truth Serums' Will Come Back
"If there is a "truth serum" that works, it is a secret that nobody is giving up.
"The debate earlier this year on interrogation techniques in the war on terrorism raised anew a question that goes back at least 2,000 years. Is there something you can give a person that will make him tell the truth?" (WaPo)
Funds Sought for Court at Guantanamo
"The Pentagon will ask Congress for $115 million to build a court complex at its Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba to try suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members on war crimes accusations, a Defense Department spokesman said Friday.
"The Pentagon will propose a complex that includes a courthouse with two large courtrooms and a high-security area as well as housing for legal personnel, dining areas, a media center and other infrastructure, according to Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a department spokesman." (Reuters)
Leahy Seeks Documents on Detention
"Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, asked the Justice Department to release two newly acknowledged documents, which set U.S. policy on how terrorism suspects are detained and interrogated....
"The first is a directive President Bush signed giving the CIA authority to establish detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees.
"The second is a 2002 memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to the CIA's general counsel regarding interrogation methods that the spy agency may use against al-Qaeda leaders." (AP)
3 Detainees at Guantanamo Are Released to Albania
"Three detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects have been released to Albania, months after authorities determined they were no longer "enemy combatants," officials said yesterday....
"The three were the last of 38 detainees to be released after a U.S. combatant-status review determined that they were no longer enemy combatants. It took months for the State Department to find countries that would accept the former terrorism suspects, and in the meantime they were held separately at one of six camps at the Guantanamo Bay compound. That camp will be closed, Pentagon officials said." (AP)
Foley Scandal Figure Gets Skunk's Welcome on Hill
"Kirk Fordham, who resigned as chief of staff to Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) amid the damning page scandal, was seen around Capitol Hill last week.
"Fordham was spotted Thursday coming out of the National Republican Congressional Committee, chaired by Reynolds. On Friday, he was seen hanging around the Longworth House Office Building as House Republicans chose their new leaders.
"Aides were surprised by Fordhamâs presence.
"'What the hell is he doing here?' asked one, who requested anonymity. 'Heâs one of the reasons weâre in the minority.'" (Roll Call)
Gonzalez Blasts Surveillance Critics
"Attorney General Alberto Gonzales contended Saturday that some critics of the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program were defining freedom in a way that poses a 'grave threat' to U.S. security....
"Gonzales told about 400 cadets from the Air Force Academy's political science and law classes that some see the program as on the verge of stifling freedom rather that protecting the country." (AP)
Leahy Calls on Justice Department to Investigate Laura Ingraham's Phone Jamming
"On election day, ThinkProgress posted audio of right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham urging her listeners to obstruct efforts to protect voting rights by jamming a free voter protection hotline.
"Yesterday in a Senate Judiciary Commmittee hearing, Pat Leahy (D-VT) asked Wan Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Departmentâs Civil Rights Division, whether his department would be investigating Ingrahamâs phone jamming. Kim said Ingrahamâs actions sounded like a 'voter fraud scheme,' but that they didnât fall under his divisionâs responsibilities, which cover 'voter access.'â (Think Progress)
Ex-Aide Sentenced in Online Sex Case
"A 56-year-old former Homeland Security press aide was sentenced Friday to five years in prison after he pleaded no contest to sending sexually explicit Internet messages to someone he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
"Brian Doyle, who resigned shortly after his April 4 arrest, also will have to serve 10 years of probation and register as a sex offender." (AP)
Did Florida Foul Another Ballot?
"Six years after the phrase "Florida recount" entered the national lexicon, another recount in the Sunshine State is sparking new controversies about poorly designed ballots, faulty voting equipment and negligent election officials.
"This time the problem isn't butterfly ballots and hanging chads, however, but the new, multimillion-dollar touch-screen voting equipment that officials purchased in the wake of the 2000 election fiasco.
"The machines, critics say, may have lost more than 18,000 votes cast in Sarasota County last week for a congressional seat that Republican candidate Vern Buchanan seized by a margin of fewer than 400 votes." (Wired)
Inhofe's Environmental Role Challenged
"After losing the chairmanship of the Senate committee that oversees environmental issues, Sen. James Inhofe [R-OK] might also lose standing as the panel's senior Republican member.
"Sen. John Warner [R-VA] said Friday he'll ask fellow GOP senators to elect him as the top GOP member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. With Democrats taking over control of the Senate and House, Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-CA] will become the committee's chairwoman in January." (AP)
Another Republican Blocks Bush Pick to Lead FDA
"Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has protested U.S. President George W. Bush's pick to head the Food and Drug Administration, according to a letter released on Friday, making him the third Republican lawmaker blocking the nomination.
"Nominee Andrew von Eschenbach, who has served as acting FDA commissioner since September 2005, refused to cooperate with a Senate investigation into a controversial antibiotic that included requests for agency documents and staff interviews, Grassley said.
"'I am extremely disturbed by the Acting Commissioner's continued failure to comply with the committee's subpoenas over the past six months,' Grassley, an Iowa Republican, wrote in a November 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist." (Reuters)
Judge Won't Halt AT&T Wiretapping Suit
A federal district judge on Friday rejected the Bush administration's request to halt a lawsuit that alleges AT&T unlawfully cooperated with a broad and unconstitutional government surveillance program.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the lawsuit could continue while a portion of it was being appealed, despite the U.S. Justice Department's arguments that further hearings and other proceedings would consequently endanger national security. (ZDNet)
Rumsfeld Likely Won't Pound Pavement for Long
"Departing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may be leaving behind a legacy of discord and failure at the Pentagon and in Iraq. But that doesn't mean he won't be highly sought after as a board member or maybe even a corporate executive, say headhunters who have tracked his career.
"'He has a great business background and a great government background. As long as Nancy Pelosi isn't the lead director, I think he would be a real prize for any board,' said Greg Crecos, who heads Chicago search firm Gregory Michaels & Associates. Pelosi is the California Democrat who will be the next speaker of the House." (Chicago Tribune)
Condit Files New Defamation Suit against Author
"Former Modesto-area Rep. Gary Condit is back in federal court, again charging author Dominick Dunne with defamation.
"Condit and Dunne have fought it out before, settling an earlier defamation suit just hours before Condit was set to face explicit questioning about his sex life. Now, Condit claims Dunne resumed slandering him a year ago on national television. . . .
"A raconteur, novelist and cable television commentator on celebrity crimes, Dunne has opined frequently on the disappearance of one-time Washington intern Chandra Levy. Raised in Modesto, Levy was last seen in public on April 30, 2001. Her remains were found in Washington's Rock Creek Park a year later; the police don't have any known suspects in her death." (SacBee)