TPM News

During a press conference this afternoon, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced that the White House had still not responded to the committee's subpoena for documents relating to the legal basis for the warrantless surveillance program. "Time is up," Leahy said, "we've waited long enough." He went on to say, however, that he remained open to cooperating with the White House for the production of the documents: "I prefer cooperation to contempt." But if the administration has still not responded to the subpoena by September when Congress returns from recess, he said that he would pursue contempt proceedings in the committee "if that's what it takes."

You can see video here:



Leahy made clear that contempt proceedings would be a measure of last resort and that he'd prefer getting the documents through cooperation to a long court battle. On the other hand, he signaled that there's a limit to what that cooperation might mean. Asked by a reporter about noise from the White House that it would need certain "accommodations" in turning over documents relating to the surveillance program, Leahy said "the only accommodations we tend to get from the White House are 'do it our way and we'll be happy with you.'" That said, he clearly remained open to negotiating, saying that it was a choice between a court battle and "find out what happened."

Read More →

Remember the good old days when politicians faced scrutiny in discrete media -- print, radio and television? No longer. New media convergence is here and it's killing folks like Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), according to the NBC affiliate in Alaska, KTUU.

KTUU said there's a new rule for politicians: "if it's out there, it's going everywhere."

Stevens learned that lesson last week when the Anchorage Daily News posted audio from an editorial board interview on its site, where Stevens complained that the paper is out to "assassinate" him. It was a big first for the paper and popular with several other outlets that picked it up (cough), including a local radio show that aired parts of the interview.

Read More →

Thomas Kontogiannis really can't help himself. We knew that the New York-based businessman was convicted in 1994 of committing visa fraud and bribing officials at the U.S. embassy in Athens; and again in 2000 of paying a Queens school district official 50 grand in a paper bag to steer lucrative contracts to his company. But there was big money in those capers: the contract for installing computer equipment at the schools involved millions of dollars, and Kontogiannis and his henchmen ultimately had to repay the district nearly $5 million. Most notably, in February, Kontogiannis pleaded guilty to a count of engaging in an illicit monetary transaction for Duke Cunningham after Cunningham gave him up for laundering millions in bribes from Mitchell Wade and Brent Wilkes.

But in his nephew John Michael's motion, we see a seedier side of Kontogiannis: a guy who can't help himself when there's money to be snatched. Apparently, in 1996, Kontogiannis stole the identity of a certain Thomas Conti, opened at least ten credit cards in Conti's name, and racked up a couple grand in purchases. All this occurred when Kontogiannis was on federal probation in the visa-fraud case.

That's not all. Exhibits filed along with Michael's motion also reveal that in December 1996, Chase Manhattan declined Conti's application to start a line of credit, alerting him that he already had a delinquent account with the bank. In response, Kontogiannis actually created a limited power of attorney for himself over Conti's finances in order to stop fraud investigations by the banks and credit card companies. He and "Conti" wrote to American Express's fraud division on December 23, 1996:

Since all accounts with American Express were current and in good standing and after a personal visit with Mr. Kontogiannis, there is no reason to further pursue this and it would be greatly appreciated that Mr. Contis [sic] accounts be restored at the earliest convenience.


That, at least, was generous of Tommy K. The documents, unfortunately, don't specify what he bought with Conti's money. But his buddies down at the Bing must have been impressed.

On Friday, indicted Duke Cunningham co-conspirator John Michael attempted to turn the tables on his uncle Thomas Kontogiannis, who appears to be cooperating with the government to convict Michael in order to get his own sentence reduced. Michael threw down the gauntlet in a wide-ranging motion seeking the dismissal of charges against Michael, the exclusion of Kontogiannis's testimony, and the removal of one of the U.S. attorneys on the case, Philip Halpern, as Kontogiannis's daughter purchased a home owned by Halperin's uncle in Nassau County, New York. Reports the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The papers allege that Kontogiannis' daughter, Annette Apergis, purchased a Nassau County, N.Y., home from a member of the Halpern family in June 2005. The prosecutor's uncle died in 2003 and the home, on a privately owned and maintained street, was bought from his widow, according to the papers.

But the transaction wasn't recorded until this year – after Kontogiannis took a plea deal from prosecutors. Kontogiannis pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for his role in hiding the bribes given to former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham through mortgages.

The motion filed by Granger, says the case against Michael should be dismissed because prosecutors have allowed Kontogiannis to continue to profit from his complex mortgage and financial frauds, even after he pleaded guilty in February.

Granger is asking District Court Judge Larry Burns to dismiss the indictment against his client, or prohibit Kontogiannis from testifying. Michael is going on trial along with Brent Wilkes, the Poway defense contractor who is alleged to have bribed Cunningham to win lucrative defense contracts.


We've added Michael's motion to our Document Collection, and you can read it here. Check back for choice tidbits, as it reveals aspects of Kontogiannis's murky, extralegal history.

Update: This post initially stated that Kontogiannis' daughter sold her home to Halpern's uncle, when in fact it was Annette Kontogiannis Alpergis who purchased the property.

On Friday, the White House requested a second extension to the deadline to comply with subpoenas issued about the origins of the warrantless surveillance program. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) response? "The deadline is 2:30," says Leahy spokeswoman Erica Chabot.

White House counsel Fred Fielding wrote in a letter to the committee Friday that the White House needed until after Labor Day to cull its files for information pertinent to the legal justifications for the surveillance program -- and, in any event, practically all of it falls under executive privilege.

The original compliance deadline was July 18, but the committee and the White House agreed to an extension after Fielding and chief of staff Josh Bolten called Leahy to say that "thorough collection and review of responsive documents" would take until around August 1. After another week lapsed beyond that, on August 8, Leahy told the White House that August 20 -- today -- is the final deadline.

Read More →

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) isn't letting a federal investigation stop him from doing business with his favorite lobbying firm. Innovative Federal Strategies, a lobbyist firm under watch for its relationship with the California lawmaker, nevertheless secured $55 million for its clients through earmarks that were sponsored or co-sponsored by Lewis. (The Hill)

Another kind of deployment. The Washington Post details how Karl Rove, along with his “deployment” team, coordinated official government announcements to maximize President Bush’s political gain, particularly during election time. Cabinet officials with government largesse would visit key battleground states just before the elections. Rove may have executed nearly 100 political briefings to various Cabinet departments and agencies. (Washington Post)

The Defense Intelligence Agency is looking to outsource even more of its intelligence gathering responsibilities this year. As of now, the cost looks to be over one billion dollars paid to private firms in charge of core intelligence gathering and analysis. This comes only months after Congress forced the DIA to decrease the number of private contractors gathering intel. (Washington Post)

Michael “Brownie” Brown, the former director of FEMA who resigned under pressure after the government’s dismal response to Hurricane Katrina, has found a new (and we imagine, a more lucrative) calling: consultant to government agencies and other customers on disaster relief and data-mining. With his success, Brown is not that bitter about being the scapegoat for the Bush administration: “There is life after government…even after you have been thrown under a bus by the leader of the free world.” (Chicago Tribune’s The Swamp)

Read More →

It looks like Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) $10 million Coconut Road earmark has roped him into another FBI investigation, McClatchy reports.

Young slipped the money into a 2005 transportation bill just days after a real estate developer, Daniel Aronoff held a fundraiser in Florida that fetched Young $40,000 in campaign contributions. The earmark raised our eyebrows higher when a report commissioned by the local government in Lee County, Florida exposed how Young rewrote the bill's language after the House and Senate had voted, but right before the legislation landed on the President's desk, targeting the money specifically for a Coconut Road-I-75 interchange, rather than a larger project. The Coconut Road interchange is unpopular in the community, but a boon for Aronoff.

Already entangled in the widening, criminal Veco-Alaska corruption investigation, this scrutiny appears to be entirely separate, according to McClatchy:

Young's action is among a number of congressional "earmarks" for specific pet projects drawing scrutiny from the Justice Department and an FBI team investigating alleged influence peddling on Capitol Hill, said the source, who insisted on anonymity.

Read More →

Call it a rookie political mistake. It's one thing for a politician to lend a hand to his constituents, particularly the ones who can afford to make campaign contributions. But please; be discreet.

Last week Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning ordered Nelnet, a student lending company caught up in the recent industry-wide scandal, to pay a fine of one million dollars. Nelnet has, at least twice, paid university administrators who recommended that students finance their debt through the firm. The company is also hired by universities to educate students about how to pay for college; not illegal, but surely a conflict-of-interest practice that they have agreed to stop.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing, except the million dollars is actually a fine that Bruning assigned the company all the way back in April, a fine that he forgave only two weeks ago.

Bruing erased the fine after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo ordered a similar punishment for Nelnet. Cuomo has made investigating student lenders a focus of his office; already, several banks have been ordered to contribute to a national education fund. Cuomo announced on July 31st that Nelnet would be paying $2 million to the fund.

Upon hearing the news, Bruning immediately forgave Nelnet his part of the obligation. He also used the opportunity to take a few shots at his fellow AG, saying that he “never believed that the investigation was particularly useful.” Bruning went even further, saying, "Nelnet is an ethical, decent, honest company…. I will never apologize for being a defender of Nelnet."

Read More →

Don't get your hopes up yet. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has told the government that it needs to submit an argument for why the court shouldn't disclose rulings from earlier this year on the warrantless surveillance program that prompted the Bush administration to gut the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Ten days ago, the ACLU filed a motion with the secret court seeking the release of two contentious rulings in particular: a January 10 ruling that Alberto Gonzales described as "innovative" enough as to allow the surveillance program to be placed under FISA; and the ruling from the spring that led to the wholesale FISA revision. In a conference call today, Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU disclosed that around lunchtime, the court, in response to the ACLU's "unprecedented request," asked the government to file any objections it has to a disclosure by August 31. Jaffer cautioned the court action doesn't herald actual disclosure, but it shows that the court is taking the ACLU's request seriously.

The workings of the FISA Court have been a black box in the entire affair. It remains hard to understand how the court could be so "innovative" in January with regard to the Terrorist Surveillance Program but so restrictive in the spring. The court's notice today brings us a step closer to finding out how much revision to FISA was really warranted.

The verdict is clear: Alberto Gonzales is the lying-est attorney general in recent history. "I don't trust you," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told him last month. Ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) sounded him out for his "lack of credibility." "He tells the half truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that Gonzales. “He’s one sneaky, lying S.O.B., to put it bluntly" is Rep. David Obey's (D-WI) frank take.

But even though we've been cataloging the troubles, and Gonzales' dwindling credibility, at the Justice Department for the past several months, we hadn't yet done a rundown. So we've collected below what are, as far as we can tell, Gonzales' six most brazen public untruths.

To do this, we were forced to constrain the endeavor. Gonzales' amazingly faulty memory is clearly cause for strong suspicion -- but his countless "I don't recall"s have not yet been proven to be dishonest. And there have been a stream of dubious statements -- such as that he'd never fire a U.S. attorney for political reasons or his insistence that they were fired for "performance" reasons -- countered by weighty circumstantial evidence. But we've set a high bar. Certainly we expect our little list to lengthen in the future as more evidence is produced -- and as Gonzales continues to speak publicly.

We arrived at the six statements below. Some can be judiciously described as lies, i.e. apparently consciously false statements made with the intent to deceive. Some are better described as "wily" prevarications, or as literally true statements made with the intent to deceive or cover up. (I count #2-5 in the former category, #1 and #6 in the latter.)

Yesterday, Sen. Leahy requested that the Justice Department's inspector general investigate five public statements that Gonzales had made -- the same five statements that we chose as #1-5 in our tally. Certainly these statements will play a significant role in impeachment proceedings, should Democrats decide to go that route.

Enjoy:

Read More →

TPMLivewire