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Look out Anchorage Daily News (and maybe others)! Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is gonna get ya! He's not saying how, but he's gonna get ya.

Just because two oil executives have pleaded guilty to bribing Stevens, his son, and a handful of Alaska state lawmakers, and a grand jury is hearing evidence against Stevens and his son, the Daily News keeps on reporting that Stevens is mixed up with the wrong crowd. And probably just to sell more papers, whenever one of those Alaska state lawmakers gets convicted of taking bribes from the executives (Bill Allen and Rick Smith of Veco), the Daily News feels compelled to mention Stevens and his son. Stevens spoke his mind to the Daily News in an interview:

"Your papers print (the names of) those people who have been convicted and my son's name and mine at the same time. As far as the public is concerned, it's all the same ball of wax," Stevens said. "I'm not going to comment on that ball of wax."

Just for example, take the trial of former state pol Vic Kohring for taking Veco bribes. The paper reported comments by both Kohring's lawyer and jurors that Stevens and his son were really the ones who should be on trial. And during former Alaska lawmaker's Pett Kott's trial, the paper reported when Veco exec Bill Allen admitted that he'd paid for renovations on Stevens' Alaska home. Now, is that fair?

And is it really that big of a deal that one the most powerful, longest-serving senators in the Senate's history is under investigation?

"I don't see any reason why we should have had this massive press interest in what's going on," Stevens said. "It's just an investigation of a federal agency. They go on all the time. No one else talks about them the way they talk about the one involving me."

So put two and two together: 1) the paper has been unfairly tying him to crooked locals and 2) the investigation isn't that newsworthy anyway. Clearly, the ADN is on a smear campaign. As Stevens said before, the paper's trying to "assassinate" him. And that's a crime that will not go unpunished:

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Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post and Warren Strobel of McClatchy unearth a gem I missed from Wednesday's Cookie Krongard hearing. Apparently, the Justice Department has a criminal probe open into the construction of the Baghdad embassy. That would explain Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) focus on Krongard's alleged non-cooperation with Justice on the embassy contracting issue. Kessler:

The probe came to light Wednesday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing into the actions of State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. Though lawmakers appeared careful not to mention names of people under investigation, Krongard mentioned two people during his testimony, both of whom are key figures in the building of the embassy, as he defended his practice of meeting with people under investigation.

"I would like to tell you exactly what I was doing, both with Mr. Golden and Ms. French," Krongard told lawmakers.

James L. Golden is a Washington-based contract employee of the State Department who oversees the project, though earlier this year the U.S. ambassador to Iraq barred him from returning to that country after he was suspected of altering evidence after a mortar attack. Mary French is the embassy project coordinator based in Baghdad.

Justice isn't commenting. But perhaps this probe is why the FBI paid Krongard a recent visit?

In the middle of a story in the Baltimore Sun about the sibling tension between State Department inspector general Cookie Krongard and his brother Buzzy, there's this revelation: apparently, in the phone conversation where Buzzy told Cookie he was going over to Blackwater, Cookie tried to talk his brother out of it.

Buzzy Krongard was watching that testimony at home in Lutherville and said he was "flabbergasted" by his brother's remarks. The pair had talked about three weeks earlier, Buzzy Krongard said. "I told him I was going on the advisory board, and he then said, 'I don't think that's a very good idea,' and I said that was for me to figure out."

Cookie Krongard, as we reported yesterday, is not saying another word about the incident. But Buzzy's latest revelation -- which he did not mention to me when TPMm broke the story -- suggests even more trouble for Cookie. If true, then Cookie clearly acknowledged that the appointment of his brother to Blackwater's advisory board would create a conflict of interest for him as the State Department inspector general.

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He probably called it a working vacation.

TPMm friend Nick Schwellenbach at POGO highlighted this a couple weeks back, but it's never too late to bring to your attention the travel photos of Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the embattled State Department inspector general.

To the left and above, Cookie hangs out with his security detail. "Not too worried about the bad guys at the moment," the caption says. Unfortunately, those guys weren't around for Cookie's Congressional hearing earlier this week.

To the right, see him kick back in what he calls the "V V I P lounge" of Kabul airport on what appears to be a leopard-skin chair! He must be tired from a hard day of thoroughly investigating waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan all by himself.

Below, a sporty-looking Cookie climbs the ruins of what he claims is a Taliban armored personnel carrier! (They had those?)

The Justice Department is bringing new attention to the "potential criminal activity," poor planning, and faulty construction in the massive $736 million development of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. During testimony at the House Oversight Committee, State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard revealed that one of the individuals under investigation is James L. Golden, who oversees the embassy construction project but was barred from Iraq earlier this year after he was suspected of altering evidence after a mortar attack. Meanwhile, Krongard has recused himself from involving himself in any investigation in the matter. (Washington Post)

The State Department has dropped its plan to force diplomats to take assignments in Iraq. Despite the fact that some diplomats called the “directed assignments” “potential death sentences,” volunteers have filled all of the empty 48 positions. (AP)

Watchdog groups are accusing the Democrats of attempting to reverse a White House policy of ensuring the timely public release of Congressional budget information. A newly released House-Senate conference report reveals Democratic plans to delay by several months the release of spending priorities. (ABC’s “The Blotter)

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Hear that? Those are the hosannas of civil libertarians.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, by a single vote, passed a surveillance bill yesterday. And it doesn't include retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies that complied with the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance programs. Since the Senate intelligence committee's version of the FISA Amendments Act of 2007 does have the immunity provision, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the majority leader, has the discretion to choose which bill to bring to the Senate floor for a vote.

It's more than clear by now that the White House wants the immunity provision badly. AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein says that the reason isn't to spare the telecoms financial indemnity, or a matter of "fairness," as administration officials claim. Rather, it's to stop some 40 class-action suits against the companies from revealing how massive, how domestic and how illegal warrantless surveillance was between 2001 and 2007. Revelations from those suits could even, hypothetically at least, lead to criminal charges against administration officials and telecom companies. So needless to say, the White House is none too pleased with the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. And it won't be pleased with Reid if he brings the judiciary committee's bill to the floor.

The New York Times reports that an immunity compromise pushed by Rep. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has some support:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the panel, is pushing a plan that would substitute the federal government as the defendant in the lawsuits against the telecommunications companies. That would mean that the government, not the companies, would pay damages in successful lawsuits.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said in an interview after the vote Thursday that he would support a compromise along the lines of the Specter proposal.

Mr. Whitehouse was one of two Democrats who voted against an amendment proposed by Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, that would have banned immunity for the companies. “I think there is a good solution somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

Perhaps, but that assumes the White House wants a compromise. In another headache for President Bush, the House passed its companion surveillance bill, the Restore Act, yesterday, and that doesn't include telecom immunity either. We'll see who blinks first.

Elaborating on today's gaggle discussion of the State Department's faith in Howard "Cookie" Krongard, here's what spokesman Sean McCormack had to say at the formal press briefing:

QUESTION: Okay. And just the second thing, you've been asked several times if you could say that the Secretary or the building has confidence in him and you have declined --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, he's still --

QUESTION: -- to say that.

MR. MCCORMACK: He's still -- he is still doing his job as Inspector -- as Inspector General. He has --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that you have confidence in his ability to do the job --

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, it's not --

QUESTION: Do you have confidence in his --

MR. MCCORMACK: It's not for me to judge, Matt, the job the Inspector General is doing. The Congress can do that. The Secretary can do that. There have been questions that he has had to answer. He has answered those with Chairman Waxman. There have been some issues that have been raised with respect to the Inspector General's office. As appropriate, we have asked the overseer board of inspectors general to look into the work of the State Department Inspector General Office. These are -- this is all strictly according to the book. Howard is continuing his work as Inspector General. It's important work, the Secretary believes it's important work, and clearly, the Congress believes it's important work.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- but the word, confident -- you can't use the word, confidence, or give me a yes or no answer to the question, do you have confidence?

MR. MCCORMACK: (Inaudible) you can play the Washington games with people. Howard is still working as Inspector General here at the State Department.
Draw your own conclusions.

In case you haven't heard it enough times, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Or in this case, the lesson is not to make sweeping statements under oath that can be easily debunked. And for that, you can thank Housing and Urban Development Department Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

After Jackson boasted to an audience that he didn't give contracts to critics of the President, the department's inspector general and Congress pounced. Jackson, eager to clear his name, proclaimed, "I don't touch contracts."

Unfortunately, that appears not to be true, as the National Journal first reported last month. Now a grand jury is digging deep into Jackson's help for his friends:

Behind the scenes, Jackson has helped to arrange lucrative contract work running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for friends and associates who went to work at HUD-controlled housing authorities in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands, according to people familiar with his actions. Indeed, one of Jackson's good friends, Atlanta lawyer Michael Hollis, appears to have been paid approximately $1 million for managing the troubled Virgin Islands Housing Authority. Before landing at the authority, some sources said, Hollis had no experience in running a public housing agency.

Jackson's past efforts to aid his friends are causing him no end of headaches. For several months, a federal grand jury, Justice Department prosecutors, the FBI, and the HUD inspector general's office have been exploring Jackson's role in contracting decisions at the housing department. According to people familiar with the investigation, federal agents are focusing on Jackson's relationship with one friend in particular, William Hairston, a stucco contractor from Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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Here's what Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) meant yesterday when he said Howard "Cookie" Krongard's deputy was in the dark about the State Department's inspector general's familial ties to Blackwater.

Contained in a just-released House oversight committee report (pdf) put together by the Democratic staff is this exchange between staff members and Deputy Inspector General Bill Todd:

Q: Do you know whether Mr. Krongard has any relationship with Blackwater or any individuals affiliated with Blackwater?

A: I asked him about it. He says no. ...

Q: Do you know whether his brother, Buzzy Krongard, is affiliated with Blackwater in any way?

A: I have no knowledge of that. I asked him that.

Q: And what did he say?

A: Absolutely not.

It's unclear when Todd was deposed, though I'm checking that with the committee staff. The timing is significant: Buzzy Krongard says he told Cookie Krongard he was joining Blackwater's advisory board about two to three weeks ago. Did Cookie Krongard misrepresent himself to Todd? Indeed, what occasioned Todd's inquiry into Krongard's ties to Blackwater in the first place? I have a call out to the State Department Inspector General's office to try and figure all this out as well.

Similarly, I'm hearing State will release a prepared statement this evening about Condoleezza Rice's ability to fire Krongard. Apparently I wasn't the only reporter today curious about how firing an inspector general works.

Update: Turns out the interview with Todd took place on October 12. That would be before Buzzy told Cookie he was taking the Blackwater position, according to Buzzy's timeline.

We've noted Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) knack for helping out friends and family before. His son Ben for instance, relied on dear ol' dad to channel millions to fishing companies that in turn channeled hundreds of thousands on to him. His former aide Trevor McCabe partnered up with his son Ben and benefited from his relationship with Uncle Ted in other ways that have caught investigators' attention.

Though Alaska's a huge state, the billions Stevens brought home make the state seem quite small. Somehow projects tend to benefit people close to him. Roll Call takes a look (sub. req.) at just one of those, Stevens' recent earmark for $20 million for a ferry project in the state. Stevens has inserted "nearly $50 million for the project into appropriation bills from 2002 to 2006," Roll Call reports. The ferry would connect Knik Arm to Anchorage, cutting down travel time from two hours to 15 minutes. And look who had the foresight to invest:

Several current and former members of Stevens’ staff — including Chief of Staff George Lowe and former top aide Lisa Sutherland — as well as Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) son-in-law Art Nelson own undeveloped land on the Knik Arm....

Along with her husband, Scott, a lobbyist for Ducks Unlimited, Sutherland owns slightly less than four acres on Knik Arm. The value of the land went from $38,400 in 2005 to $65,000 in 2006, according to the borough assessments.

A second former Stevens aide, Trevor McCabe, also owns land on Knik Arm along with Young’s son-in-law, Nelson, and Yardarm Knot Fisheries LLC executive Alan Chaffee through the company Point Bluff LLC, according to public records. Nelson owns a 10 percent stake in the company, according to the Anchorage Daily News....

McCabe and his wife also own a separate 3.7-acre parcel on Knik Arm. The value of that property went from $37,800 in 2005 to $62,400 in 2006, according to the property assessment.

Sounds to me like something the old Tammany Hall pol George Washington Plunkitt would recognize as "honest graft." They seen their opportunities and they took 'em.