TPM News

When the White House nominated Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) to succeed Ken Mehlman as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, some wondered why they'd exchanged one man with a Jack Abramoff problem for another.

The RNC won't vote to approve Martinez until January. But we hear that new revelations about Martinez's ties to the now-imprisoned Abramoff are due to be released before that happens. If that happens, and it jeopardizes Martinez's bid to lead the GOP, the party could face some serious questions about why it can't seem to find a qualified, muck-free leader.

As we've noted before, Abramoff had aggressively courted Martinez when he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of his tribal clients. In his guilty plea, Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) admitted to lobbying Martinez on Abramoff's behalf. And when Martinez launched his Senate bid in 2004, Abramoff co-chaired a fundraiser that netted him $250,000. Martinez has said that he never met Abramoff when he was Secretary of HUD. But it seems there's more to that tale.

Ken Mehlman, of course, despite his protestations to the contrary, was close to Abramoff -- so close that Abramoff's associates referred to him as their "rock star" for his many favors on their behalf.

Yesterday, we noted that the Justice Department's Inspector General had announced in a letter to Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) that his office was probing the National Security Agency's warantless wiretapping program.

You can read the letter announcing the investigation, in all its four-paragraph glory here (click to enlarge):

ABC's now reporting that First Daughter Barbara Bush has left Argentina, while her sister Jenna will stay behind for ten days.

The dynamic duo was recently asked to leave the country by the U.S. embassy, which had concerns for their safety, ABC reported. (The embassy has since denied this.) The two have been in Buenos Aires since last week for what what was planned to be a two-week trip in celebration of their 25th birthday. As one reader pointed out, the sisters apparently skipped the Bush Thanksgiving dinner in favor of drunken carousing in the antipodes. So much for family values?

Court Rejects N.Y. Times on Leak Probe "The Supreme Court ruled against The New York Times on Monday, refusing to block the government from reviewing telephone records of two Times reporters in a leak investigation concerning a terrorism-funding probe.

"The one-sentence order came in a First Amendment battle that involves stories written in 2001 by Times reporters Judith Miller and Philip Shenon. The stories revealed the government's plans to freeze the assets of two Islamic charities, the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation.

"U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to track down the reporters' confidential sources for the stories. Fitzgerald's spokesman, Randall Samborn, declined to comment on the Supreme Court's order." (AP, WSJ)

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Over at the New Republic's Plank blog, Michael Crowley raised eyebrows with a couple striking pre-invasion quotes from could-be House intel chair Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). Glenn Greenwald added a couple more, detailing Harman's for-it-but-against-it take on the NSA's domestic wiretapping program.

If Democrats are looking for a chief intelligence overseer who will be strong on constitutional protections and intel analysis that "gets it right," these quotes indicate they may want to look beyond "the best Republican in the Democratic party," as Harman has called herself.

Harman on-the-record quotes are legion, likely owing in no small part to her love of the spotlight (and the microphone). We've put a few we dug up together with those already unearthed. Heard a good Harman quote? Send it along.

On Colin Powell's U.N. speech: "I happen to know that our intelligence agencies made absolutely certain that it was totally accurate, and that anything put out there had been reviewed 100 times to make sure it was accurate." (Fox News, Big Story with John Gibson, 2/6/03)

On Saddam Hussein's WMDs: "There's a strong intelligence case that Iraq has not destroyed its weapons of mass destruction and is building the capability to use them." (Washington Post, 1/30/03)

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The election battle continues in Florida's 13th District this week, as the state begins its audit of electronic voting machines. At issue is why Sarasota County's electronic voting machines failed to register a vote in Florida's 13th District congressional race for more than 18,000 voters, an "undervote" rate far higher than the 13th's other counties. Analyses of those undervotes show that they cost Jennings (who lost the official tally to Republican Vern Buchanan by fewer than 400 votes) the race.

But that audit, conducted by the state's Division of Elections, has drawn criticism for a number of reasons. As we noted last week, the state's lead computer expert is a die-hard Republican. The conditions of the audit have also drawn fire from Democrat Christine Jennings camp.

Speaking earlier today, Jennings lawyer Kendall Coffey pointed to what he saw as key deficiencies in the audit, which might undermine Jennings' efforts to contest the election results. Jennings' lawsuit is on hold until the state completes its audit this Friday.

Above all, Coffey said that the state's process went against "the basic notion of an audit that it's supposed to be independent." Instead, "the same state agency that is responsible for the reliability of voting systems and software are now conducting an audit to find out where that agency created problems."

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AP reports:

In a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders and obtained by The Associated Press, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said his investigators would focus on the Justice Department's role in carrying out the spying program run by the National Security Agency.

Fine wrote that he wants to ensure that prosecutors are following laws governing the handling of information NSA gathers when spying on suspected terrorists in the United States.

"After conducting initial inquiries into the program, we have decided to open a program review that will examine the department's controls and use of information related to the program," Fine wrote in the four-paragraph letter.

President Bush earlier stonewalled a similar inquiry, you might recall. In July, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told Congress that the president had personally prohibited investigators from DoJ's Office of Professional Responsibility from obtaining the security clearances they needed to determine whether senior Justice officials had broken the law when they approved and monitored the secret NSA domestic surveillance program.

Curiously, when Fine asked for clearances from the White House he got them, according to his letter. It's not immediately clear how -- or if -- Fine's probe differs from OPR's thwarted effort.

Update: You can read Fine's letter here.

Despite growing pressure to leave the region, Bush's daughters insist upon staying in Argentina. Where did they learn that kind of stubbornness?

Reports ABC's Blotter:

Amid a growing barrage of front-page headlines, U.S. embassy officials "strongly suggested" President Bush's twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara Bush, cut short their trip to Buenos Aires because of security issues, U.S. diplomatic and security sources tell ABC News.

Withdraw in the face of mounting security problems? A ludicrous notion.

Last week ABC reported that Barbara had her purse stolen. Even worse, their shenanigans are creating headlines in the country. One tabloid featured a story about the two running naked, Borat-style, down the hallway of their hotel, according to ABC.

Security problems continue, according to the network:

Thursday night, an ABC News producer was able to walk into their hotel unchecked and engage Barbara Bush in conversation while she checked her e-mail on a computer in the lobby. Jenna sat talking with friends on a sofa nearby. No Secret Service agents were anywhere to be seen in the lobby, according to ABC News' Joe Goldman.

But no, Barbara and Jenna aren't cut-and-runners. "Sources tell ABC News the twins plan to stick to their original itinerary and stay in Buenos Aires until Thursday." That's the spirit.

In a little less than two weeks, we'll learn if the growing cloud of corruption allegations surrounding Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) will motivate his constituents to end his career before the Justice Department gets its shot to do the same.

On Saturday, December 9th, Jefferson's fate will be decided by a runoff election in which he faces Democratic state Rep. Karen Carter. Will voters be content to wait around for Jefferson's promised "honorable explanation" for why federal agents found $90,000 cash in his freezer?

No polls seem to be available, only a wide expectation that the race will be close. Jefferson led Carter 30%-22% in the general election, where there were a host of other Dem challengers.

To make matters even more interesting, the muck hasn't stopped coming on Jefferson, despite the fact that the DoJ's mammoth bribery investigation has gotten tied up in the courts over the FBI's raid of Jefferson's congressional office.

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Rumors are flying that Katherine "Pink Sugar" Harris may try to re-take her House seat in 2008, Roll Call's "Heard on the Hill" column reports (sub. req.).

Harris gave up the seat, which represents Florida's 13th District, in order to mount her disastrous Senate bid. That district is now the scene of a hotly contested election. Republicans say their candidate, Vern Buchanan, won the seat by a few hundred votes; Democrats charge voting machine glitches illegally prevented thousands of Democratic votes from being counted.

Needless to say, Buchanan would need to lose this fight so Harris could run in '08. And the federal investigation into Harris would need to conclude without indictment. So for now, us rakers can only wait. .. and hope.