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The other shoe drops.

The House Judiciary Committee will meet this Wednesday to vote on contempt citations against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, the committee announced today.

Says Chairman John Conyers (D-MI):

"This investigation, including the reluctant but necessary decision to move forward with contempt, has been a very deliberative process, taking care at each step to respect the Executive Branch’s legitimate prerogatives. I've allowed the White House and Ms. Miers every opportunity to cooperate with this investigation, either voluntarily or under subpoena. It is still my hope that they will reconsider this hard-line position, and cooperate with our investigation so that we can get to the bottom of this matter."


The committee had issued a kind of final deadline to Bolten to comply with the committee's subpoena by this morning. And in a letter this morning, White House Fred Fielding gave the same answer. The committee is targetting Bolten because the subpoena for White House documents related to the U.S. attorney firings was addressed to him, since he's the custodian. Miers, remember, refused to even show up for a hearing before the committee two weeks ago.

The next step after the vote in the committee would be a vote in the full House.

Update: See update here for details on the vote.

The Bush administration’s strategy to bar the Justice Department from pursuing congressional contempt charges against White House officials is buttressed by a DoJ legal opinion released under the Clinton administration. The opinion argued that Congress cannot force a U.S. attorney to pursue contempt charges when executive privilege is invoked. As legal questions abound, Democratic lawmakers do not have an “immediate strategy” to respond to the White House’s actions. (Washington Post)

Jeffrey A. Taylor may soon become a central figure in the US Attorney scandal. Taylor, the interim U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, is required by law to pursue any and all contempt-of-Congress charges, but the White House and the Justice Department have suggested that they will bar him from prosecuting these charges. (LA Times)

A second conviction has come down this week in a case of widespread corruption involving former employees and contractors from the Halliburton subsidiary KBR. Investigators claim that at least six more individuals are likely to face charges in a scheme that included bribing federal officials in order to inflate the price of cargo shipped to Iraq. The focus of scrutiny has been a $20 billion contract awarded to KBR at the start of the Iraq war. (NY Times)

The government must turn over all information on Guantanamo Bay detainees who are challenging their detention, according to a federal court decision last week. The court said “meaningful review” of military tribunals would be impossible without all the information. But all is not peachy for the detainees: the ruling also allowed the Pentagon to limit the topics of discussion between detainees and lawyers and allowed the Pentagon to review lawyers’ mail to remove unauthorized comments. (NY Times)

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Last month, TPMmuckraker reported on an Army reserve intelligence officer who filed a sworn declaration in D.C. Circuit court alleging systemic problems with the way the Pentagon certifies that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are enemy combatants. The officer, Stephen Abraham, claims that the process, known as a Combatant Status Review Tribunal, is weighted -- by design and in execution -- to declare practically everyone at Gitmo an enemy combatant, no matter how dubious the evidence is.

Today Abraham, a lawyer in civilian life, gets treated to a long New York Times profile. A life-long conservative who says he cried when President Nixon resigned, Abraham became, in the eyes of several legal observers, the whistleblower whose account to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals convinced the Supreme Court to take up the question of enemy combatants' habeas corpus rights.

“What disturbed me most was the willingness to use very small fragments of information,” he said, recounting how, over his six-month tour, he grew increasingly uneasy at what he saw. In the interviews, he often spoke coolly, with the detachment of a lawyer, but as time wore on grew agitated as he described his experiences.

Often, he said, intelligence reports relied only on accusations that a detainee had been found in a suspect area or was associated with a suspect organization. Some, he said, described detainees as jihadist without detail.

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This is exactly the kind of story for which our "All Muck is Local" series was created.

Simon Speights is the mayor of Lipscomb, Alabama. He got the job back in 2005 when his predecessor resigned and the City Council voted him in. But Speights isn’t exactly eligible to be mayor.

Speights pleaded guilty to burglary in 1994, and while his voting rights have since been restored, his right to run for political office has not. Records show Speights occasionally uses the surname Speight, which might account for no one realizing the mayor’s criminal record. Oh, and he’s driving a stolen car (no one knows how he got it). And he’s collecting more than twice his authorized salary (no one knows how that happened). Last week, the local district attorney demanded that a judge remove the mayor from office.

But who would replace him? The mayor pro tempore is Gaston Randle, a city councilman and the former police commissioner. Randle might not be the man people want in charge; last month he resigned his commissioner job after being indicted for stalking a local Hispanic woman. And more recently, Randle has been charged with extortion, bribing and impersonating an officer.

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For a millionaire real estate developer, Bob Penney has claimed to be remarkably ignorant of the true value of the riverfront property he sold to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) last year.

He sold Murkowski the wooded plot for $179,400, which happened to be the local assessed value in 2006 at the time of the sale. (The property was reassessed three days later for $214,000). Penney claims that when he sold the land to Murkowski he thought the assessed value at the time of the sale remained approximately $120,000, the assessed value in 2005.

"Word of honor, I did not know what the assessed value was," he said. "I thought it was still $120,000."


But maybe Penney wasn't so out of touch. A few months ago, Penney testified at a state hearing on the economic impact of sports fishing where he seemed much more familiar with assessments in the area. Penney spoke because he is an avid fisherman and a longtime advocate for recreational fishing in Alaska. Here's the audio from one of the comments he made during the hearing:

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From the AP:

President Bush signed an executive order Friday spelling out new interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects that bar cruel and inhumane treatment, humiliation or denigration of prisoners' religious beliefs.

The White House declined to say whether the CIA currently has a detention and interrogation program, but said if it did, it must adhere to the guidelines outlined in the executive order. The order targets captured al-Qaida terrorists who have information on attack plans or the whereabouts of the group's senior leaders....

The executive order was the result of legislation Bush signed in October that authorized military trials of terrorism suspects, eliminated some of the rights defendants are usually guaranteed under U.S. law, and authorized continued harsh interrogations of terror suspects....

The legislation said the president can "interpret the meaning and application" of international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts.


The devil's in the details of course -- we'll have the text of the order up soon.

Update: The order is posted below.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has taken a lot of heat from buying a plot of land far below market value from Alaskan businessman Bob Penney. But she's standing by her decision, saying that she relied on a local assessment to set the low sale price.

Murkowski, who has remained silent since the story broke, finally commented herself yesterday:

"By law in the state of Alaska, the municipalities are required to base their assessment on the fair market price," Murkowski said. "That's what our statute says. What we went off of, what we utilized as our transaction price, was the price that had been set by the municipality."


Despite what the law says, local real estate agents in the area disagree that assessed values do a good job representing market value. In the area where Murkowski purchased her property, value of land is "escalating rapidly" and the assessed value is not keeping up. There is also a limited amount of property along the renowned fishing river.

For Murkowski and Penney, the deal was clearly not based on competitive pricing, but on an agreement between old friends. Penney's family has also been a big financial backer for Murkowski, having donated $10,500 to her campaign fund since 2003.

"I bought the property from a friend that I think I have known since I was probably 5," she said. "It was before elementary school, let's put it that way. My husband knew him before he knew me. So we go back a long way."

...

"And I remember saying, 'Oh yeah, but I can't buy a lot from you. I know you,'" she said. "And he said, 'Lisa, you know everybody in the state."


Nonetheless, if she paid less than what the land is worth, she ought to disclose the difference as a gift. Murkowski's office has filed an amendment with the Senate Ethics Committee, but it'll require a trip up to the public records office to take a look at what she changed. (The office of public records will not give out information over the phone or via fax and the pdf's are not online) We'll have an update for you this afternoon.

President Bush's new executive order targeting financial assets of Iraqi insurgents risks having "a chilling effect" on humanitarian donations in Iraq, according to Michael German, the ACLU's chief national security security lawyer. And those who find themselves in contravention of the order -- a determination residing entirely within the executive branch -- would have no due process rights to contest the freezing of their assets.

Citing the order's "very loose definition of who's doing something improper," German, a former FBI agent, says "a lot of these provisions where charities are being demonized, to a certain extent, would cause a chilling effect, and that's what's so counterproductive with this type of policy."

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All of this comes with the caveat that there's way more in this week's National Intelligence Estimate than we see in the unclassified key judgments. But the description it gives for the presence that al-Qaeda maintains in Pakistan is rather understated.

Al-Qaeda has, the NIE says, "safehaven in the Pakistan Federal Administrative Tribal Areas." That much is no longer controversial among counterterrorism experts. But what the description neglects -- again, at least in the unclassified, introductory section -- is that al-Qaeda has a broader infrastructure inside the parts of Pakistan that General Pervez Musharraf controls as well. Josh Meyer in the Los Angeles Times takes a look at how deeply the jihadist infrastructure is burrowed:

In recent years, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials who focus on South Asia say they have watched with growing concern as Al Qaeda has moved men, money and recruiting and training operations into Pakistani cities such as Quetta and Karachi as well as less populated areas.

Militant Islamists are still a minority in Pakistan, commanding allegiance of a little more than 10% of the population, judging by election results. But Al Qaeda has been able to widen its sway throughout the country by strengthening alliances with fundamentalist religious groups, charities, criminal gangs, elements of the government security forces and even some political officials, these officials said.

Bin Laden's network also has strengthened ties to groups fighting for control of Kashmir, most of which is held by India, a broadly popular cause throughout Pakistan that has the backing of the government and military.

"It is a much bigger problem than just saying it is a bunch of tribal Islamists in the fringe areas," said Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert who served at the CIA, National Security Council and Pentagon and retired last year after 30 years of counterterrorism and policymaking experience.

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No one is manning the bridge at the Justice Department. That's the latest word from U.S. Attorneys around the country, who say that their regional offices are operating as normal but that Main Justice in D.C. is "crippled." And with already six resignations, several investigations, a legal struggle over executive powers and 23 U.S. Attorney positions without permanent leadership, things aren't exactly looking up. (Financial Times)

FEMA, you’re doing a heck of a job. Lawmakers were “infuriated” by subpoenaed documents released yesterday showing the agency, already under fire for not paying companies charged with post-Katrina clean-up, discouraged officials to follow up on reports of toxic chemicals in FEMA trailers. Trailers were not inspected even after occupants complained of respiratory problems, which were later found to result from toxic levels of formaldehyde in trailers. (USA Today)

In an effort to avoid criticism for a mysterious earmark, Sen. John Murtha (D-PA) has claimed that this particular earmark fits a crucial and unmet need for the Department of Energy. Its a good alibi, but one that should have been tested on the DOE, who disputes that the earmarked funds are reserved for a mission critical program. (The Hill)

The State Department may have overstated oil data on Iraq by more than $5.5 billion due to corruption, theft and sabotage, according to a Government Accountability Office report released yesterday. (U.S. News and World Report)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a trip to Capitol Hill yesterday for a closed meeting, where the focus was on his 2004 trip to visit an ailing John Ashcroft in the hospital. According to Rep. Reyes (D-TX), Gonzales was very clear about why he visited Ashcroft and expressed no regret for his actions. (Associated Press)

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