TPM News

So how lenient will Jack Abramoff's judge really be?

He'll find out on Sept. 4, which a judge in Washington today set as his sentencing date.

But don't expect that to be the end of the multi-year investigation of his lobbying ring. The feds expect him to keep up is cooperation, and possibly even testify at some point. Keep in mind that Abramoff has been cooperating from federal prison since he began serving time for his role in the separate fraud case in Florida.

Attorneys in the case came to an interesting agreement this week, according to a joint motion filed in federal court.

While the government anticipates that Mr. Abramoff's cooperation in the form of possible testimony will continue for the foreseeable future, the parties believe that they are in a position to inform the court about the full scope of his misconduct and cooperation, and that, consistent with the commitments in the plea agreement with Mr. Abramoff, sentencing in the near future in this case is appropriate.


Under his plea agreement, Abramoff can expect to receive a jail sentence of 9 1/2 to 11 years, and he is required to make restitution of $26.7 million to the IRS and to the Indian tribes he defrauded.

We just learned that the head of the U.S. Office of Special Council, whose office and home were raided by federal agents last month, had a habit of instructing employees to go online and post comments rebutting news stories that he perceived as negative, according to a report from CongressDaily

"That did go on," said a former employee who has been involved in the activity. "Bloch would suggest posting things in the comments section. ... There'd be a negative article about Scott's involvement on something ... and [the] comment would be something like 'This Bloch guy is doing a good job." Two former OSC employees have gone so far as to describe Bloch as thin-skinned and "obsessed" with his press coverage.


Admittedly, Bloch has gotten some bad press in recent years. The man running the office in charge of investigating whistle-blower complaints, Bloch himself came under investigation in 2005 for retaliating against whistle blowers.

Then the feds got involved, suspicious that he was obstructing justice when he had a firm called "Geeks on Call" delete a batch of office emails potentially related to the investigation.

Meanwhile, through it all, Bloch still found time to worry about what everyone is saying about him, especially in his home state.

The employee suggested at least one OSC worker posted comments on the Web sites of such publications as the Washington Post, Topeka Capital-Journal, and the Lawrence Journal World. The two Kansas-based publications have written about Bloch because he is from the state.

In another instance confirmed by CongressDaily, an OSC employee who has not served in the military identified himself as "A Combat Vet" in an online response to a July 13, 2007, article on GovernmentExecutive.com. In the article, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans faulted Bloch for his use of personal e-mail to discuss agency business.

The anonymous posting said news organizations were devoting too little coverage to OSC's enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which bars discrimination against people based on service in the armed services.

"Where is the coverage of USERRA?" the posting asked. "OSC helped my buddy out when he couldn't get his job back, and it doesn't seem like anybody is checking into how it helps veterans. ... Who the hell cares if Bloch sent an email about congresscritters goofing off and playing pattycake. This USERRA issue is a huge deal for us who served. Does anyone give a crap?"


TPMmuckraker has tracked Bloch's travails pretty closely over the past several months. We don't have any indication his underlings were posting comments here -- but it does make us curious.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has had enough of the great stonewaller himself, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

In a letter today to Johnson, Waxman threatens to hold Johnson in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas requesting information on two recent controversial decisions by Johnson that overruled EPA's professional staff: his refusal to grant California a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and his refusal to fully raise ozone standards.

Waxman, the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a similar letter threatening contempt to White House official Susan Dudley, in the Office of Management and Budget, for the White House's refusal to comply with a related subpoena.

You have neither complied with these subpoenas by their returnable date nor asserted any privilege to justify withholding documents from the Committee. In light of your actions, I am writing to inform you that the Committee will meet on June 20 to consider a resolution citing you for contempt of Congress. I strongly urge you to comply with the duly issued subpoenas.


The full text of the letters are here (pdf) and here (pdf).

More from Sharon Weinberger over at Wired regarding former Rep. Curt Weldon's ties to Russia.

We learned earlier this week that Weldon's under investigation in what is "an element of a broader U.S. Justice Department probe into what officials suspect are efforts by Russian-backed firms to gain influence or gather information in Washington."

Now Weinberger, who co-wrote a book about nuclear weapons, found this nugget in her notes. In 2006, Weldon told her that he met with Sergey Chemezov, a former KGB officer and then the head of Rosoboronexport, which handles Russian weapons exports.

"Chemezov offers--it's an amazing offer with Putin's support... there are countries in the Middle East that are approaching Russia to buy replacement weapons and spare parts. Chemezov is here to say, "We want to work with America to either establish either a joint company, or even an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy. So American would not think we're going behind their back."


Weldon thought it was a great idea.

Weeks after FEMA attempted to confiscate the rest of their trailers used by victims of Hurricane Katrina, a CNN investigation found around $85 million in goods meant for those misplaced victims sat in warehouses for two years before being sent to other federal and state agencies. (CNN)

Lawyers for Texas death row inmate Charles Hood are claiming the judge and the prosecutor in Hood's 1990 double-murder trial were having an affair. The possible relationship was a violation of fair trial rights, and Hood should not be put to death, the legal team states. (New York Times)

Mark Brener, an operator of Emperors Club VIP escort service, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit prostitution crimes and money laundering, but did not agree to fully cooperate with investigators in related cases. It is unclear how Brener's lack of cooperation will affect the case of one of the club's customers, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. (Reuters)

Read More →

If the special-rate Countrywide loan that led to Jim Johnson's resignation from Barack Obama's VP screening team was shady, then there's a few other Washington insiders who may have some explaining to do.

A new article from Portfolio rattles off a list of top Washington officials, current and former, who also received discounted loans because they were personally approved by Countywide Financial's top exec Angelo Mozilo.

Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide's "V.I.P." program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.

Other participants in the V.I.P. program included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and former U.N. ambassador and assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Jackson was deputy H.U.D. secretary in the Bush administration when he received the loans in 2003. Shalala, who received two loans in 2002, had by then left the Clinton administration for her current position as president of the University of Miami. She is scheduled to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 19.


The loans translate into money saved. For example, in Dodd's case, Portfolio calculates that "the lower rates save the senator about $58,000 on his Washington residence over the life of the loan, and $17,000 on the Connecticut home."

In the case of Conrad, he saved about $10,700 on a loan he took out for his $1.07 million home in Bethany Beach, Del. He also took out a loan on an investment property when he refinanced an eight-unit building he owns with his brothers in Bismarck, ND. That violated Countrywide's normal rules about only providing those loans for buildings of four units or fewer. However, "in an April 23, 2004, email, Mozilo encouraged an employee to 'make an exception due to the fact that the borrower is a senator.'"

Read More →

The other day we told you about the Russian not-for-profit group that was giving undisclosed payments to the wife of former Rep. Curt Weldon's chief of staff.

Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who lost his reelection bid in 2006, had sought federal grants for International Exchange Group, which was run by a Russian with ties to the Kremlin. IEG was involved in "promoting U.S.-Russia business exchange, including nonproliferation issues."

IEG popped up again this week. Over at Wired Sharon Weinberger, who recently co-wrote a book about nuclear weapons, pointed out another connection the group had to the U.S. government.

IEG signed a deal with the U.S. military's Missile Defense Agency back in 2004 promising to provide "Russian radar data" for use with the U.S. missile defense's early warning system.

From Wired:

But the entire structure of IEG was suspect, and smacked of conflict of interest: why should the U.S. government have to pay an openly Kremlin-linked nonprofit in order to ensure government cooperation?


It didn't pass the smell test with upper-level decision makers at the Pentagon, who halted the 2004 deal at the last minute.

Weldon's connection here is unclear. But he has promoted the Russian group and he's also a longtime supporter for the Defense Missile Agency.

Weldon has been under federal investigation for a couple of years concerning his actions on behalf of a natural-gas company, Itera International Energy LLC, which has longstanding connections to alleged Russian organized-crime figures. Weldon just dumped his last $80,000 in campaign money into his legal defense fund.

And the Wall Street Journal reported this week, the probe of Weldon may be "a broader U.S. Justice Department probe into what officials suspect are efforts by Russian-backed firms to gain influence or gather information in Washington."

Now it's official. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted this morning to formalize the draft report that detailed convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence peddling at the White House.

From the AP:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

The justices handed the Bush administration its third setback at the high court since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The vote was 5-4, with the court's liberal justices in the majority.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."


Late Update: The court did not say that the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay should be released.

It did, however, say that they can take their individual cases -- or petitions of habeas corpus -- into federal court.

Plain, old federal court. So you can expect to see a sudden, steady stream of accused terrorists in orange jumpsuits appearing alongside drug dealers and kiddie-porn downloaders.

The ruling could resurrect many detainee lawsuits that federal judges put on hold pending the outcome of the high court case. The decision sent judges, law clerks and court administrators scrambling to read Kennedy's 70-page opinion and figure out how to proceed. Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth said he would call a special meeting of federal judges to address how to handle the cases.


Is this the end of secret prisons?

In another case of the CIA plucking a citizen from a foreign country based on suspicion, officials from Italy, Germany, Spain and Switzerland all cooperated in the effort to kidnap Egyptian cleric and terrorism suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in 2003. Nasr was released from an Egyptian prison in 2007, claiming he was tortured while there. (Associated Press)

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have introduced legislation that would tighten laws on lobbyists that work for foreign-owned companies, requiring lobbying operations to disclose more aspects of those relationships than current law demands. The proposed review of foreign influence on American lobbying comes during an election season in which Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has come under scrutiny for employing several individuals on his campaign staff that have track records of foreign lobbying. (New York Times)

A senior British intelligence agent left top secret documents containing information on al Qaeda on a train, officials said Wednesday. The file was retrieved and given to the BBC. This comes after the loss of a laptop containing data on 600,000 recruits by Britain's Ministry of Defence, prompting critics to hurl charges of lax security at Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Reuters)

Read More →

LiveWire