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Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) plans to introduce a Constitutional amendment in the coming months to impose limits on the president's near absolute pardon power, he told an NYU-Harper's forum on justice in the post-Bush era Thursday night.

Nadler, who two weeks ago introduced a resolution demanding President Bush not issue 'pre-emptive' pardons of officials in his administration, said his amendment would bar presidents from pardoning members of their own administration for official acts. The president would retain the power to pardon the secretary of state for, say, beating his wife, Nadler said, but not for actions taken in an official capacity.

Nadler added he is considering adding a section limiting the pardon power in the final months of a presidential administration.

"This is something the Congressman thinks is very important, and it's a priority for him," Nadler spokesman Ilan Kayatsky told TPMmuckraker today. Kayatsky said Nadler's office is still doing planning and research on how to structure the amendment.

The president's pardon power is drawn from Article II, Section II of the Constitution, which states in part:

[The president] shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.


Nadler's amendment would have to be passed by a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and the House and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Looks like the man who takes the lead in writing our tax code, Rep. Charles Rangel, could be in more hot water.

Rangel, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means committee, already faces an ethics investigation into claims that he didn't pay taxes on income from a rental property and that he got a special deal on a group of Harlem apartments.

Now, Politico reports that, between 2004 and 2007, Rangel paid nearly $80,000 in campaign funds to a company run by his son, Steven Rangel, for two poorly designed websites that, according to an expert, should have cost no more than $900.

The payments to the company, Edisonian Innovative Works, are probably legal, says one campaign finance wonk, but "definitely wrong."

The quality of work on the web site does appear shoddy. Politico describes it as "slapped together in a hurry, intermittently updated and never spell-checked." The site notes:

An apologetic note near the top of the site warns readers that the page is undergoing "routine maintenace (sic)" and cautions that "much of our content is currently unavailable."

Another button urges visitors to "Give Contribuition [sic]."


According to FEC filings looked at by Politico, the sum paid by Rangel for this prodcutwas the most paid for web sites by any House member. And Rangel has not faced a competitive race for his Harlem seat in decades, meaning there would appear to be even less need to spend so much on a campaign website.

Politico adds: "Rangel's 2008 campaign site was designed and run by non-relatives for less than $25,000."

Some things don't change. The Bush administration has just 46 days before its time expires, but that isn't stopping it from running roughshod over Congress in an effort to loosen environmental regulation. The Interior Department issued a new rule Thursday that prevents Congress from blocking the use of federal land for mining and drilling. The law, invoked just five times since its creation in 1976, was used this summer to place a moratorium on mining and drilling on lands near the Grand Canyon. (New York Times)

The Chicago Tribune reports on U.S. involvement in the indiscriminate roundup and imprisonment in the Horn of Africa of 100 people, including 22 women and children, who fled Somalia last year. The "snatch-and-jail operation," conducted in the name of anti-terrorism, captured some militants, but most of the detainees have been released without charge. Kenya and Ethiopia led the program, dubbed "Africa's Guantanamo," but European diplomats, human-rights groups, and detainees say the C.I.A. and F.B.I. interrogated many of the captives. (Chicago Tribune)

Arizona GOP Rep. Rick Renzi pleaded not guilty Thursday to new charges brought against him alleging that he participated in an insurance scam. He has already been indicted for using his legislative position to engineer a land swap. The new charges accuse Renzi of bilking $400,000 from clients of his insurance company. (MSNBC)

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The Department of Justice has reopened an investigation into crucial allegations made by a whistleblower in the Don Siegelman trial, according to documents submitted last week by prosecutors in the case.

Siegelman, the Democratic former governor of Alabama, was convicted in 2006 on corruption charges. (He is appealing the conviction). The whistleblower, who works in the US Attorney's office in Alabama, has claimed that, during his trial, there were inappropriate contacts between members of the jury and the prosecution, including messages passed by jurors revealing that some jury members had developed a romantic interest in an FBI agent attached to the prosecution team.

A DOJ investigation of the claims, launched after the whistleblower came forward and carried out by two US Attorneys, concluded that no such contacts had occurred. But in a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey last month, Rep. John Conyers, whose judiciary committee has been looking into the issue, questioned the thoroughness of that probe, noting that investigators had not contacted the jurors themselves, or the federal marshals who allegedly passed notes between the jurors and the prosecution team.

In the recent court filing -- which responds to a filing made previously by Siegelman's defense lawyers in connection with his appeal -- prosecutors referred to that DOJ investigation, then added in a footnote:

Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of Justice recently reopened the investigation into this matter in response to concerns raised about the completeness of the investigation ... It remains the case that we are not aware of any improper contacts.


In other words, DOJ appears to agree that Conyers' concerns have merit, and has reopened the investigation into whether inappropriate contacts between jurors and the prosecution team did indeed occur. That could be good news for Siegelman as his lawyers seek to have his conviction thrown out on appeal.

Almost from the start, there has been evidence that the prosecution of Siegelman was politically motivated. Among other things, documents recently surfaced showing that the US Attorney on the case, Leura Canary -- who had recused herself because her husband is a GOP operative and Karl Rove associate who ran the campaign of Siegelman's opponent for governor -- continued to advise prosecutors on the case. DOJ has been notably unwilling to aggressively look into this and other evidence of politicization.

In a recent interview with TPMmuckraker, Siegelman accused Canary of "outrageous criminal conduct."

A Senate staffer has confirmed to TPMmuckraker that the hold placed on the nomination of Neil Barofsky to be inspector general for the bailout has now been removed.

Politico had reported the removal of the hold earlier today, as we noted.

So now the focus is squarely on the identity of the GOP senator who placed the hold. And it now seems pretty clear, as we suspected from the start, that it was Jim Bunning of Kentucky.

According to the Senate staffer we spoke to, senators are working on the assumption that Bunning was responsible. And the staffer described a highly semantic argument that a Bunning aide made when asked about the issue, which would appear to only add to the evidence that Bunning was responsible.

The staffer said that a Bunning aide, speaking to an aide to another senator, tried to make the argument that technically, no hold had been placed, because there had been no request for unanimous consent on the floor of the Senate. A "UC request" would need to be made before calling for a voice vote on the issue, and it's at that point that the hold would officially go into effect. But in this case, Chris Dodd, the chair of the banking committee, had already been informed by the GOP cloakroom that one GOP senator wanted a hold put on -- which was what prompted Dodd to issue the statement that first revealed the existence of the hold.

The culprit is under no obligation, the Senate staffer said, to ever come clean. So we may never get official confirmation -- and the more important fact is that a vote on Barofsky's nomination is now set to proceed, probably by tomorrow, according to the staffer.

But at this point, the mystery seems all but cleared up.

Is the Department of Justice going back on its word about a report on its investigation into whether crimes were committed in the U.S. Attorney firings scandal?

When prosecutor Nora Dannehy was appointed to run the probe, in the wake of another investigation by the department's Inspector General, it was reported that Dannehy was expected to provide Attorney General Michael Mukasey with a status report on her findings within around 60 days.

That timeline was confirmed by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine in testimony before Congress at the time:

REP. NADLER: Mr. Fine, it's been reported that Ms. Dannehy was appointed to special counsel, will make a preliminary report to the attorney general within the next two months. Do you know when this report will be made public?

MR. FINE: I think what it is is the status of the investigation at that point to the deputy attorney general or the attorney general to see where she is in the process.

...

I don't think it's sort of a formal report; I think it's more of a status report.


And it was reiterated a few weeks later in a letter from Mukasey to House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Mukasey wrote:
As the Inspector General testified, Ms. Dannehy is expected to report on the status of the investigation to the Attorney General approximately 60 days after her appointment.


Now that 60-day deadline has come and gone. And DOJ won't confirm that any such report has been provided, instead referring us to a spokesman for Dannehy who wouldn't comment on the issue.

In other words, at first DOJ had been clear that it wanted a report submitted within 60 days. But now it won't even confirm that such a report has been submitted, or give any further information.

So is the department now going back on its requirement that Dannehy submit a report within 60 days? Is it exerting pressure to reduce the likelihood that details about Dannehy's progress -- like the fact that she's contacted Gonzales -- will slip out? What's going on?

A staffer for the House judiciary committee told TPMmuckraker that they haven't been able to get anythign out of DOJ either on whether Dannehy has submitted a report. A call to the Senate judiciary committee was not immediately returned.

We'll keep you posted as we learn more...

Politico reports:

The anonymous hold on Neil Barofsky, the Bush administration's TARP special IG, was lifted late Wednesday, according to Chuck Schumer. That clears the way for (sic) quick voice vote on his nomination.


The government watchdog group POGO had also written on their website this morning that the hold had been lifted.

Still no confirmation on whether Kentucky GOPer Jim Bunning was behind it. But we've posted his photograph anyway.

On Monday we noted a court filing made recently by defense lawyers for Mitchell Wade, the Duke Cunningham crony who's about to be sentenced in connection with his role in bribery scandal that felled the GOP congressman.

In arguing for a lenient sentence, Wade's lawyers claimed that their client had helped prosecutors' probe "at least five other members of Congress" who were under investigation for "corruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham."

The blogger and Cunningham expert Seth Hettena named Katherine Harris, the former Florida congresswoman, and Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode as two of those members.

And now Hettena says he's identified the other three: Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI), Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA).

Hettena told Marcus Stern, the former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter who broke much of the Duke Cunningham story and now writes for Pro Publica, that those identifications are based on "information I developed and confirmed with two sources with knowledge of the investigation."

But what does all this amount to? According to Stern, perhaps not much. He writes:

No charges have been filed against any of the five lawmakers, and there is no evidence of any current criminal investigations against any of them. Lewis, Goode, Mollohan and Harris have all come up in the case before and have all denied wrongdoing. As for Inouye, we have called his office for comment. (We'll update the post as soon as we hear back.)


Stern also give us a rundown on what we already know about the alleged involvement of all of these lawmakers:
Lewis, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had been under investigation beginning in 2006 by the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. That case, which focused on Lewis' role in helping lobbyist Bill Lowery get earmarks for his clients (including Cunningham co-conspirator Brent Wilkes), is cold without any charges being filed.

Goode and Harris both were beneficiaries of a combined $78,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Wade and helped Wade in his efforts to get multimillion-dollar military intelligence contracts through earmarks.

But prosecutors have repeatedly said there was no evidence the two lawmakers knew the contributions were illegal and they are not the targets of any current investigations. Harris left the House to pursue a quixotic and failed bid in 2006 to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. Goode is awaiting a recount in his 2008 House race, with the initial tally showing he narrowly lost.

Mollohan received $23,000 in campaign contributions and gifts to a family foundation from Wade's company, MZM Inc., and another firm that did business with MZM, Hettena wrote in his blog on Monday, adding that in October 2002, MZM gave $20,000 to Mollohan's Summit PAC. The legality of those contributions has never been challenged.

The link to Inouye, set to take over the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is less clear but appears to involve the activities of one of Wade's co-conspirators, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, according to Hettena. There are no known allegations of misconduct against Inouye in connection with the Cunningham scandal.


But don't despair, fellow scandal junkies. Stern notes that a memo filed by prosecutors in the Wade case said that Wade had provided information for a "large an important corruption investigation" unrelated to the Cunningham matter.

Worth keeping an eye on...

The Texas Ethics Commission will hold a public hearing today to review the case of state Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht. Hecht, a Republican, is accused of receiving discounted rates in 2006 from the law firm Jackson Walker when he used the company to defend him before the Commission on Judicial Conduct for promoting the Harriet Miers nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas judges are forbidden from making public political endorsements. (Houston Chronicle)

Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, a Republican, was charged Wednesday with mismanaging a college savings fund when he was state treasurer." Krolicki, who has said he will challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010, says the indictment is politically motivated. (USAToday)

Sixteen Indiana National Guardsmen sued defense contractor KBR Inc., a former Halliburton subsidiary, Wednesday for knowingly exposing its employees to toxic chemicals. Some of the plaintiffs now have health problems related to the exposure. This is not the first time the Houston-based company's treatment of employees has come to public attention. McClatchy reported Wednesday that a KBR subcontractor appears to be violating U.S. guidelines on human trafficking, living conditions, and pay in its treatment of 1000 Asian men it employs in Iraq. (AP)

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We've told you about the Bush administration's last-ditch efforts to help political appointees burrow into career posts in the bureaucracy -- where they can quietly affect government policy for years to come.

Well it looks like we've found another example.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development told TPMmuckraker today that Darlene Williams, who was appointed by President Bush in 2005 to the post of Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, will return to a career post under the new administration.

Williams had joined the department in 2003 as General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, before shifting over in 2005 to become General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration. Both of these are career posts. Later that year, she was appointed by Bush to the higher-ranking political job she now holds.

That's slightly different from the usual burrowing dynamic, in which presidential appointees are new to the department. But it would appear to be burrowing all the same.

This is hardly the first sign of muck at HUD under Bush. Former HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson was found in a 2006 inspector general's report to have urged staff members to favor friends of President Bush when awarding contracts. When Jackson resigned earlier this year, federal authorities were investigating whether he used his position to enrich himself and his friends.

As for Williams, she's drawn criticism from HUD workers and their union for leading a controversial office move, which is transferring members of the Policy Development and Research team into temporary cubicles while part of the office is renovated.

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