TPM News

That's one fewer corruption case Howard "Cookie" Krongard will investigate. The embattled State IG says he'll step aside from the Baghdad Embassy construction scandal.

In addition to removing himself from all queries related to Blackwater, Inspector General Howard Krongard has given up his role in looking into corruption allegations involving the construction of the new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The move came at the request of a congressional oversight committee chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., which Krongard testified before a day earlier. During the hearing he learned, apparently for the first time, that his brother is a member of Blackwater's advisory board.

"That was at the request of Congressman Waxman's committee because they are doing their own inquiries into the new embassy compound," McCormack said. "Because of the reporting relationship between the IG and the Congress, of course, Howard honored that request."

How does State feel about Krongard remaining on the job? Here's AP's dry wit:

Despite the fact that he has now recused himself from the State Department's two main internal investigations in Iraq and has come under heavy pressure to resign, Krongard has not offered to step down and is, for the moment, continuing as the inspector general, McCormack told reporters. He did not, however, offer Krongard a ringing endorsement.

"He is still doing his work as inspector general," McCormack said. "Obviously, if there weren't support for his doing his job as inspector general, then he wouldn't be doing that job."

Update: There's quite an irony here. As Paul reported, Krongard stopped his staff from investigating corruption in the embassy construction contract -- preferring to personally collect a blanket denial from the contractor after speaking to hand-picked employees and closing the file. Maybe now the IG's office can actually get some work done here.

For months, the Senate Republican leadership have worked to block a Senate bill that would make campaign contributions to Senate candidates immediately and easily searchable. Perhaps figuring that honey works better than vinegar, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) yesterday to ask if he would compromise on the latest effort to sink the bill. We've pasted the letter below.

All the bill would do is require Senate campaign reports to be filed electronically. That's it. The House started doing that six years ago, and journalists, watchdogs, and others constantly rely on the House's easily searchable records to see who's giving to campaigns. The speed of that reporting is especially crucial near the end of campaigns, when Senate candidates' voluminous paper filings, often hundreds of pages long, can make it much harder to figure out a candidates' supporters.

The bill has forty co-sponsors, including sixteen Republicans. Time is running out for the bill to affect the 2008 elections.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has worked to block the bill for months. And Ensign, coincidentally also the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which works to get Republicans elected to the Senate), stepped up this September to employ a canny strategy of attaching a "poison pill" amendment to the bill. We'd laid out the whole scheme here.

In her letter yesterday, Feinstein asks Ensign to be flexible on his offered amendment, which would require all non-profits that file ethics complaints against senators to disclose all donors who gave $5,000 or more.

Last week, a group of watchdogs from left and right wrote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and McConnell to ask that they defeat Ensign's amendment, calling it "a clear attempt to intimidate the public from seeking enforcement of Senate ethics rules."

Read More →

Smell that in the air? It's the bouquet of communications wafting from sender to recipient outside of a wire. E-mail. Skype. That one with the hint of oak? VOIP.

Today's a huge day for the future of the U.S.'s surveillance laws. The Senate Judiciary Committee marks up the intelligence committee's surveillance bill -- which mostly has the support of the White House -- while the House reintroduces the Restore Act. Both bills attempt, to varying degrees, to roll back or amend the Bush administration's Protect America Act. That law, enacted in August, largely removed the FISA Court from government surveillance of foreign-to-domestic communication.

In the Senate, Rep. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will attempt to enhance the minimization provisions of the so-called FISA Amendments Act -- which protect the anonymity of U.S. persons swept up in a surveillance net -- and clarify that any surveillance in the U.S. outside of FISA is illegal. Those two changes don't impact the bill's major provisions: 1) removing the FISA Court from the process or 2) granting retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies for participation in the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. Yet the White House still opposes them. New Attorney General Michael Mukasey urged President Bush to veto the bill if Leahy's changes are enacted.

Read More →

It's not hard to imagine: while Harry Reid launches into his tryptophan-fueled nap after Thanksgiving dinner, President Bush makes a flurry of recess appointments.

The Senate majority leader doesn't want that to happen. So, Roll Call reports (sub. req.), Reid is mulling using a little procedural jujitsu. He could keep the Senate in what's called "pro forma" session, where official recess is avoided by having certain Senate floor personnel show up every three days. No recess, no recess appointments. Reid and Bush struck a deal in August in order to avoid that; Bush got a couple nominees through, but agreed to make no recess appointments. But:

Since then, however, tensions have risen between the two branches, and on Wednesday sources said Reid doesn’t seem willing to negotiate with the White House this time. Also, several Senate aides suggested that Bush is increasingly likely to exercise the option since the clock is ticking on the second term of his presidency.

“I don’t think it should surprise anybody,” said one GOP leadership aide.

The chief candidate for a recess appointment would be surgeon general candidate and gay rights foe James Holsinger, but there would assuredly be others. With two days to go until the break, time is running out for a deal.

So much for those questions. Diane Quest, spokeswoman for State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, says Krongard is "not commenting any further than what was said at the hearing." Asked if Krongard stands by his testimony in light of its direct contradiction by his brother, Quest repeated the no-comment.

Will Krongard stay on the job? Quest says she's heard of "no announcements" by the State Department on Krongard's future.

Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the State Department inspector general, has some explaining to do. Yesterday he told Congress that his brother, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, never told him that Buzzy joined the advisory board of State Department contractor Blackwater. Only Buzzy told me that he told Cookie precisely that in a phone conversation about two or three weeks ago. It's going to be a fun Thanksgiving for the Krongards.

Cookie Krongard pledged at yesterday's House oversight committee hearing to recuse himself from any Blackwater investigations. But here's the question: if Buzzy is telling the truth -- and he has much less motive to lie than his brother does -- why didn't Cookie recuse himself as soon as he learned of Buzzy's ties to Blackwater? Buzzy's timeline puts Cookie's knowledge of the family Blackwater ties near the time when Amb. Patrick Kennedy was reviewing the State Department's relationships to security contractors. Did the inspector general's office contribute to that review?

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said at the hearing yesterday -- but did not elaborate -- that Krongard concealed his brother's ties to Blackwater from his own deputy. How did the deputy learn of the concealment?

Furthermore, with Blackwater remaining a central focus of State Department internal inquiry, how can State function with an inspector general who can't take part in the probes?

We've got calls out to the State Department and to Krongard's office to learn the answers to these questions. Updates to come.

The U.S. military's operating manual for the Guantanamo prison camp was leaked on yesterday, revealing that visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross were denied access to some prisoners (something the military has repeatedly denied). The manual was not classified and the military has confirmed its authenticity. (Reuters, Wired)

Meet representative Ric Keller (R-FL). According to Evangelical leader James Dobson, Keller was “the obvious choice for those who care about the biblical values upon which our nation was founded.” The only problem, as Harper’s points out, is that Keller has proven to be a “true, unreconstructed, all-American family values hypocrite.” Check out the details of his apparent affair with a 23 year old staffer, his suspect payments to her, his divorce from his ill wife, and then his subsequent marriage to that staffer. (Harpers)

President Bush is getting serious, or is seriously worried about his legacy. His new executive order calls for a system of imposing accountability on federal agencies. Each agency must appoint a "performance improvement officer,” measure progress, and set goals. The objective is to ensure that "no dropped batons” – except maybe Iraq -- go “from this administration to the next administration." (Washington Post)

Read More →

There are rare moments when you, the citizen, can feel like you've really made a difference.

Not since Scooter Libby has a devoted, loyal public servant been in such need of your help. Alberto Gonzales was set upon by hordes of journalists and Democrats and finally stepped down for the good of his beloved Justice Department. But his ordeal is not over. Because his enemies misrepresented certain carefully-chosen phrasings as lies, he is being investigated by that same department. "But what can I do?" you ask?

Contribute to the Alberto R. Gonzales Legal Expense Trust:

David G. Leitch, a Gonzales friend and general counsel at the Ford Motor Co., wrote in an e-mail solicitation to potential contributors last month that Gonzales is "innocent of any wrongdoing" but does not have the means to pay for his legal defense after a career spent mostly in public service.

"In the hyper-politicized atmosphere that has descended on Washington, an innocent man cannot simply trust that the truth will out," Leitch wrote. "He must engage highly competent legal counsel to represent him. That costs money, money that Al Gonzales doesn't have."

Leitch also wrote that Gonzales's attorney, George J. Terwilliger III of White & Case in Washington, "has substantially reduced his fees to represent Al Gonzales, but the costs will likely be high nonetheless." A contribution form asking for donations to the Alberto R. Gonzales Legal Expense Trust suggests amounts from $500 to $5,000.

Sure, the business elite, former administration officials and ambassadors (and then finally the President) came through for Scooter Libby. But Gonzales is still exposed to the forces of injustice. Won't you do your part?

You might never have a similar chance again. The Washington Post notes that "legal defense funds are common in Washington, but not for attorneys general." So act now!

Things get worse for Rep. Don Young (R-AK). The feds are chasing Young for his ties to the corrupt oil company Veco (among other things), and he's already blown $450,000 in campaign funds on criminal defense lawyers. But it looks like investigators pulled out all the stops.

FBI agents recorded former Veco president Rick Smith's phone calls with Young, the AP reports today. In September, the AP reported that Veco's CEO Bill Allen had recorded his calls with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

Young was close to Smith in a couple ways. Smith, who pleaded guilty to bribing a number of lawmakers, arranged Young's annual mega-fundraiser pig roast (see picture above) at a cost of about $10,000 to $15,000 for a decade. But the feds are investigating whether there was another, shall we say, more informal arrangement, according to the AP:

The Justice Department is investigating whether an Alaska oil contractor used golf tournaments to funnel cash to Rep. Don Young, people close to the corruption investigation said....

...[T]he events at the Moose Run Golf Course just outside Anchorage were informal and the prizes were cash. There is no record of them on the campaign or personal financial reports that federal lawmakers are required to file.

"That tournament had nothing to do with the campaign or anything official. It was just people getting together to play golf," said Young's campaign spokesman, Mike Anderson, who declined to discuss the tournaments or how often Young won.

So was Young unusually lucky? It's unclear. The piece doesn't say how much cash Young took away, only saying that between sixteen to twenty-four people generally played in the tournament, each paying $100 each. But for some reason people tend to get suspicious when executives hand large amounts of cash to politicians.

Howard "Cookie" Krongard might have just perjured himself before the House Oversight Committee.

Earlier today, the State Department inspector general repeatedly told the panel that he was unaware his brother, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, had joined the advisory board of State Department security contractor Blackwater. Krongard said he had a single phone conversation with his brother about the issue, in October, in which Buzzy didn't tell Cookie he was joining the board.

Only Buzzy says that's not true.

In an exclusive interview with TPMmuckraker, Buzzy Krongard says that in that phone conversation, he specifically told Cookie Krongard he had agreed to join Blackwater's advisory board. "I had told my brother I was going on the advisory board," Buzzy Krongard says. "My brother says that is not the case. I stand by what I told my brother."

Buzzy Krongard says the phone conversation was more recent than Cookie Krongard indicated to the committee. Cookie said it took place about five or six weeks ago. Buzzy says it was about two or three weeks ago. Both men say there was just one phone conversation. How to reconcile the two accounts?

"I told him I was going on this board. He claims I didn't tell him," Buzzy Krongard says. "So what can I tell you?"

Read More →