TPM News

National Republican Congressional Committee staffer Christopher J. Ward was the golden boy of the Right's fundraising efforts. He handled more than $360 million at the committee since 2003. Now he is the subject of an FBI embezzlement inquiry. (New York Times)

Legislation spearheaded by the Senate Armed Services Committee will attempt to shift the influence defense contractors like Blackwater have acquired overseas. Yet news of these efforts has caused the defense companies to counteract, deploying a massive lobbying effort to sway legislators to reconsider shutting the private contractors down. (Politico)

Rep. Ron Paul's campaign for president is still going ... in case you weren't aware. The fully functional campaign staff is at the forefront of his continued push. And as FEC reports show, he's literally keeping the family together. (Washington Post)

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Karl Rove is getting more creative -- and less convincing -- with his non-denial denials about the politicization of prosecutions over at the Justice Department.

Asked directly by ABC's George Stephanopolus on Sunday whether he spoke at all with the DOJ officials about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman for corruption, Rove stammered and repeated the phrase: "I found out about Don Siegelman's indictment by reading about it in the newspaper."

The question's been nagging Rove for a year now, and will probably continue to since the House issued a subpoena last week ordering him to testify on Capitol Hill. House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) rejected Rove's proposal to submit a written statement to the committee. The White House asserts that executive privilege bars Rove from having to testify.

The question from Stephanopolus was more direct than he's faced in the past. But Rove has issued vague, strangely worded, lawyerly specific answers to essentially the same question before.

About one year ago, when he was first accused of pushing for Siegelman's prosecution, he could only refute the specific detail of an individual conversation he allegedly had with Alabama officials.

"I know nothing about any phone call," Rove told reporters in Alabama in June 2007, before a White House press aide intervened and said, "What he meant to say was that he has no comment."

Sen. John McCain has seen a flood of lobbyists leave his campaign for president due to conflicts of interests, yet the staff continues to straddle its self-imposed ethical lines by keeping the likes of Charlie Black around. (New York Times and Huffington Post)

Further restrictions on photojournalists at Guantanamo Bay are being put into place in the name of "operational security." (Miami Herald)

Elsewhere at Gitmo, an report by an official there that detainee Ibrahim al Qosi had called his family in Sudan in order to find legal counsel outside of the U.S. military lawyer offered him turned out to be untrue. A later notification by a spokeswoman retracted the earlier report; Qosi's call is still in the works. (Reuters)

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Maybe we'll eventually get to the bottom of just what the Pentagon was up to when it cultivated the TV networks' supposedly independent military analysts as part of a massive PR push to support Bush Administration policy in Iraq. Well, it's pretty obvious what it was up to. But maybe we can better learn the full scope of the domestic PR effort undertaken.

The New York Times' April expose on the massaging of public opinion through "message force multipliers" (a term only the Pentagon could come up with) has now prompted at least two investigations. The program was suspended following the initial NYT report.

The Department of Defense inspector general announced last Friday that it was undertaking a investigation of the program, and the Congress' own General Accountability Office has "already begun looking into the program and would give a legal opinion on whether it violated longstanding prohibitions against spending government money to spread propaganda to audiences in the United States."

The investigations come after the House last Thursday passed an amendment to this year's military authorization bill mandating investigations by the DOD IG and the GAO. Democrats argued that the program amounted to illegal domestic propaganda. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the program part of "a military-industrial-media complex" (with apologies to Eisenhower).

Meanwhile, the TV networks have remained largely silent, as their credibility and transparency have been tarnished by the revelations about the program. As Media Matters has documented, the military analysts named in the Times piece appeared or were quoted more than 4,500 times on broadcast networks, cable news channels, and NPR. One minute they were giving ostensibly objective analysis, the next they were fawning over Rummy in private as "the leader."

It all depends on what your definition of "exclusive" is.

At the heart of the debate over warrantless wiretapping is whether FISA, by its own terms, is the exclusive means for the government to undertake electronic surveillance in counterespionage and counterterrorism cases.

The plain language of the FISA statute seems clear, stating that FISA is the "exclusive means by which electronic surveillance . . . and the interception of domestic wire, oral and electronic communications may be conducted."

But nothing is ever that simple with the Bush Administration.

This week Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released a declassified sentence from one of John Yoo's notorious memos, written while he was serving in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. In it, Yoo managed to rationalize away the exclusivity provision of FISA in order to justify a warrantless wiretapping program outside of the FISA framework, without judicial oversight or regular reports to Congress:

"Unless Congress made a clear statement in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that it sought to restrict presidential authority to conduct warrantless searches in the national security area -- which it has not -- then the statute must be construed to avoid [such] a reading."

Poof! Just like that, exclusivity disappeared and the Bush Administration was free to pursue warrantless wiretaping with the official blessing of the OLC. (Former OLC attorney Jack Goldsmith has described his office's memos as "advance pardons").

The Bush Administration says it no longer relies on the Yoo memo as the legal underpinning for warrantless wiretapping, pointing instead to perhaps an even weaker rationale, the post-9/11 AUMF:

The Justice Department told the senators it no longer relies on Yoo's FISA memo. "The 2001 statement addressing FISA does not reflect the current analysis of the department," wrote Brian A. Benczkowski, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legislative Affairs.

He "respectfully" requested that if the senators "wish to make use of the 2001 statement in public debate," they refer to the administration's current position, which pins the authority to choose non-FISA procedures on a law that Congress actually passed, not merely its failure to rule out alternatives.

When Congress approved the Authorization for Use of Military Force of Sept. 18, 2001, it "confirmed and supplemented the President's Article II authority to conduct warrantless surveillance to prevent catastrophic attacks on the United States," Benczkowski said.

Exclusivity remains a key sticking point in passage of a new FISA law. Democrats are demanding language that erases whatever doubt there might be (although in fact there is none). The White House is balking.

Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, fired by the Bush administration under suspect circumstances, speaks out in an interview with this Sunday's edition of the New York Times Magazine. Iglesias, now calling himself a "disillusioned Republican," ruminates on Karl Rove's role in his firing, being jilted by the administration following his dismissal and how he plans on voting in November. (Editor and Publisher)

On the same day House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers issued former Bush-adviser Karl Rove with a subpoena for his role in the firing of U.S. attorneys and the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D), lawyers for Siegelman appealed his 2006-conviction for bribery. Siegelman claims the alleged bribes were contributions he asked for on behalf of the Alabama Education Lottery Foundation, and the sentence he received was overly harsh because he went public with suspicions that Republicans were responsible for his prosecution. (Associated Press)

A Pentagon audit has found $8.2 billion of taxpayer funds lost through contracts the U.S. Army has with contractors since the payments rarely followed federal rules. The absence of accountability in Iraq allowed contractors to receive massive payouts from the U.S. despite little or no record of results on the ground. (New York Times)

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At the same time that the House Judiciary Committee voted to issue a subpoena to former presidential adviser Karl Rove today, it released a May 5 letter from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility to committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) disclosing that the OPR is investigating "allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, and Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor."

Most reader are already familiar with the Siegelman case. Georgia Thompson, you'll recall, was the Wisconsin state employee whose federal corruption conviction, obtained by Milwaukee-based U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic, was considered so flawed that it was thrown out by the appeals court immediately after oral arguments.

Diaz and Minor may be less familiar to TPMmuckraker readers. Diaz is a former Mississippi State Supreme Court justice, and Minor is a Mississippi attorney. Their prosecutions by U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton have been under scrutiny by the House Judiciary Committee as well:

Diaz and his ex-wife, Jennifer, were indicted in 2003 along with prominent Gulf Coast attorney Paul Minor and two former lower court judges on federal bribery allegations. Oliver Diaz was eventually cleared of all charges. The others were not.

Separately OPR is conducting a joint investigation of the U.S. attorney firings with the DOJ inspector general.

So much for all those negotiations:

The subpoena issued Thursday orders Rove to testify before the House panel on July 10. He is expected to face questions about the White House's role in firing nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 and the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers had negotiated with Rove's attorneys for more than a year over whether the former top political adviser to President Bush would testify voluntarily.

Will Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) do some ass-kicking (his words) now?

Late Update: Rep. Conyers released a statement following the vote to issue the subpoena:

"It is unfortunate that Mr. Rove has failed to cooperate with our requests," Conyers said. "Although he does not seem the least bit hesitant to discuss these very issues weekly on cable television and in the print news media, Mr. Rove and his attorney have apparently concluded that a public hearing room would not be appropriate. Unfortunately, I have no choice today but to compel his testimony on these very important matters."

Later Update: Conyers released the latest correspondence between Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, and the committee, part of a lengthy back-and-forth between the parties. Apparently the subpoena was issued today after Luskin told the committee in a letter yesterday that Rove would not voluntarily testify, essentially ending the negotiations.

Still Later Update: Here's is the cover letter that Cnyers sent Luskin along with the subpoena.

Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central reports on the return of former U.S. Attorney and Karl Rove aide Tim Griffin to oppo research.

As I wrote on the main blog, TPM, especially TPMmuckraker, has a long history with Griffin. His return to doing oppo research for the RNC brings his story full circle.

For newer readers, here's our Tim Griffin reporting over the last 18 months or so. For you regulars, it's a trip down muck memory lane.