TPM News

The Justice Department Office of the Inspector General has released its 392 page tome on its findings in the investigation into the removal of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006.

The report can be found here (pdf). We'll be digging through it all day, but since it's a monster of a report, we welcome you to sift through it and let us know in the comments section what you find.

We'll be bringing you updates throughout the day so stay tuned.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who faces corruption charges, yesterday asked that the trial be dismissed or retried, saying that new evidence has appeared that will exonerate him and accusing the prosecution of withholding evidence from defense lawyers. Stevens is on trial for taking and concealing $250,000 worth of gifts from VECO, an Alaska oil company. Former VECO CEO Bill Allen, the prosecution's star witness, is scheduled to take the stand tomorrow. (Politico) Chair of the House Oversight Committee Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) pressed Lehman Brothers Friday to hand over internal documents and e-mails, part of the government's investigation of the company's failure. The documents were due last Thursday, but Lehman said they cannot comply because the papers were discarded. Lehman CEO Richard Fuld goes before the committee Oct. 6. (Committee Press Release)

The U.S. continues to hold a Chinese man in Guantanamo, despite a June ruling saying he was illegally detained. Lawyers have asked that their client, a Muslim from a region that has sought independence from China, be taken to the U.S. to testify and then released, as he faces possible dangers at home. The request will go before a federal judge Oct. 7. (Chicago Tribune)

Read More →

Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general who oversaw the Justice Department during the firings of nine U.S. attorneys, won't be presently referred to a grand jury for his role in the affair, but a prosecuter will be appointed to continue investigating the involvement of the Bush administration and other law makers in the firings, according to Washington Post sources familiar with a report expect to be released today.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey is preparing to name a prosecutor from within the DOJ to continue the work of the Offices of Professional Responsibly and the Inspector General, the same sources told the Post.

The report, the product of more than a years worth of investigations into the attorneys' firings is expected out this morning. It is co-written by the DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine and the OPR Director H. Marshall Jarrett.

We'll be bringing you more from the OIG report as soon as it's released today so check back for updates

The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General will on Monday morning release on its website its report into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, according to David Iglesias, one of the former U.S. attorneys whose firing is at issue.

Iglesias told TPMmuckraker that he had been notified about the report's imminent release by Mark Masling, one of the investigators on the case. Iglesias said Masling told him that the report, which has been in the works since March 2007, is "very long" but wouldn't offer further details.

The probe, which centers on the firing of Iglesias and seven other U.S. attorneys, expanded to address allegations that a DOJ official, Monica Goodling, illegally took party affiliation into account in the hiring and firing federal prosecutors.

In July, Iglesias made some predictions about the reports conclusions, telling Harper's:

I expect them to conclude that there is sufficient evidence to show that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty committed perjury in their statements before Congressional committees and investigators.

At the center of the case against Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican senator whose trial opened this week, are renovations to his home that the prosecution alleges were paid for by the oil-services contractor VECO.

And today, four construction workers testified that when they worked on Stevens' home, they either worked for VECO or reported to its staffers.

On of the workers testified that Stevens' wife, Catherine, once brought them muffins. On Wednesday, Stevens' defense lawyer seemed to try to shift responsibility onto Catherine Stevens, by claiming that she was the driving force behind the renovations and handled the project's finances.

Stevens is charged with failing to report gifts, of a value of $250,000, on Senate financial disclosure forms.

Murray Waas reports on the website of the Atlantic that Alberto Gonzales is now telling investigators that he was being personally directed by President Bush when, as White House counsel, Gonzales made a much-discussed late-night visit in 2004 to the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, in order to get Ashcroft to certify that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program was legal.

During Congressional testimony last year, Gonzales repeatedly refused to answer persistent questioning from Sen. Chuck Schumer as to whether the president, or Vice President Cheney, had directed him to seek out Ashcroft in the hospital.

Cheney himself told CNN's Larry King shortly afterward: "I don't recall that I gave instructions to that effect."

It's an important question, because its answer would shed light on the extraordinary lengths to which the president was willing to go to see the wiretap program reauthorized. At the time of the hospital-room meeting, Ashcroft, in Waas's words, "had been in intensive care for six days, was heavily medicated, and was recovering from emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder."

Waas adds:

Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey has said that he believes that Gonzales and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, who accompanied Gonzales to Ashcroft's hospital room, were trying to take advantage of Ashcroft's grievously ill state--pressing him to sign the certification possibly without even comprehending what he was doing--and in the process authorize a government surveillance program which both Ashcroft and the Justice Department had concluded was of questionable legality.
Gonzales' claim has come to light as part of an investigation being conducted by the Inspector General for the Department of Justice into whether Gonzales lied to Congress. In a separate story posted today, Waas reports that DOJ investigators are also looking into whether Gonzales created a set of fictitious notes to provide a rationale for the president's reauthorization of the program.

Gonzales had claimed during his testimony that at a 2004 meeting just prior to the Ashcroft hospital visit, Congressional leaders had given their support to the program. Four of those leaders have since denied that. President Bush had cited Gonzales' notes of the Congressional meeting as a rationale for reauthorizing the program. But the notes weren't written until days after the meeting, and after Bush and Gonzales had officially reauthorized the program. Gonzales has told the investigators that Bush personally directed him to write the notes, though it is unclear when. Investigators believe that, depending on when they were written, the notes could be evidence of an effort to provide a post-hoc justification for the reauthorization of the program.

Update: Evidence of Bush's involvement in Gonzales visit to Ashcroft's hospital room was previously reported by Barton Gellman, who wrote in his recent book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency: "The phone rang at Ashcroft's bedside. Bush told his ailing cabinet chief that Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card were on their way." It had not been known, however, that Gonzales has told DOJ investigators of Bush's involvement.

It looks there's another John McCain adviser with a personal background that doesn't exactly jibe with the candidate's recent effort to portray himself as a populist crusader for ordinary folks.

Last week in Green Bay, McCain declared: "At the center of the problem were the lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats who succeeded in persuading Congress and the administration to ignore the festering problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

Of course, as Barack Obama has pointed out, McCain's campaign is a virtual who's who of former lobbyists for Fannie and Freddie.

But another McCain adviser has close personal ties to one of the industries that, like Fannie and Freddie, spent too long assuring the public that the housing market was in good health, and thereby forestalling efforts that might have protected homeowners and staved off a crisis.

Nancy Pfotenhauer, a senior economic adviser to McCain, has been all over the airwaves in recent days touting McCain's decision to "suspend" his campaign over the bailout. But her husband, Kurt Pfotenhauer, worked until late last year as the top lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, a trade group that in recent years downplayed fears of a housing bubble, only to be proved spectacularly wrong.

When MBA released a report in 2005 on the state of the housing market, its chief economist told reporters: "There are risks but they're far less dramatic than the hyperbole of recent months." An MBA vice president added: "We're trying to dismiss the overheated rhetoric on bubbles." Part of the purpose of the ho-hum rhetoric, it would appear, was to discourage government regulators from looking more closely at the problems in the market, and ultimately taking action to protect homeowners. And many experts blame that regulatory inaction in the housing market for the current financial crisis now shaking the country.

Since January, Kurt Pfotenhauer, who did not immeduately respond to a detailed request for comment, has served as the CEO of the American Land Title Association, a trade association representing the title insurance industry. But during the current crisis, his old employer, MBA, has been at the center of lobbying efforts -- successful it appears -- to oppose a provision, sought by Democrats, that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residents. The lending industry has long fought such measures, arguing that it would force lenders to increase mortgage rates. In a statement issued yesterday, the MBA asserted that the provision "would throw into question the value of the collateral that backs every mortgage made in this country -- the home." According to one Democratic lobbyist, MBA's current top lobbyist, Francis Creighton, has lately been "living in the halls" of Congress in an effort to influence lawmakers on the bill.

Allies of Kurt Pfotenhauer have lately been willing to tout his ties to the McCain campaign, through his wife, to bolster his professional credentials. An advanced notice of a speech Kurt was to give last week to the Indiana Land Title Association (ITLA), an ALTA affiliate, published in an Indiana newspaper and seemingly written by the ITLA, noted that he would "provide a public policy update from the nation's capital, with an emphasis on the housing and mortgage finance crisis." It added: "His wife, Nancy, is a senior advisor and national spokesperson for presidential candidate John McCain."

Of course, there's no reason why Nancy Pfotenhauer's career should be limited by her husband's lobbying work. But at the very least, Kurt Pfotenhauer's recent role as an advocate for banking interests that discouraged regulators from paying closer attention to the problems in the housing market raises questions about the backgrounds of the advisers John McCain surrounds himself with -- especially in light of the recent populist turn of his campaign rhetoric.

The national press may have mostly left Alaska, but the legal maneuvering over Trooper-Gate continues. Yesterday, Attorney General Talis Colberg filed suit to throw out the subpoenas issued to witnesses in the legislature's investigation.

Colberg, who was a little-known assemblyman and private-practice lawyer until Palin tapped him for the AG job, argued that the Senate Judiciary Committee lacks the authority to issue subpoenas. Since early September, the Palin camp has maintained that the state personnel board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is the only appropriate body to conduct an investigation -- though that claim would appear to hold little water.

The list of witnesses currently defying subpoenas includes Todd Palin, and several of the governor's key aides. Nonetheless, the legislators running the probe have said that independent investigator Steve Branchflower will wrap up his report by October 11 and release a report soon after.

In response to Colberg's move, Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the legislature's probe, told the Anchorage Daily News: "For over 200 years, legislatures have exercised their right to oversee the activities of the executive branch. Denying us that authority undermines the basic democratic process."

A separate lawsuit filed by five Alaska legislators aims to stop the investigation, which was initiated by a 12-0 bipartisan vote, entirely.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), currently on trial for accepting gifts from powerful oil company VECO, netted more than $238.5 million in earmarks for Alaska this year, narrowly edging out Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) as the top-scoring politician. In his four decades in the Senate, 84-year-old Stevens has built a reputation for steering funding his state's direction, earning the nickname "Uncle Ted." The ranking, compiled by the non-profit Taxpayers for Common Sense, showed that the special-interest spending included $2 million on a study about hibernation as treatment for battlefield trauma. (Wall Street Journal)

Alaska Gov. and GOP Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin returned campaign contributions yesterday after media reports circulated that linked the money to corrupt state legislators, such as the recently indicted state senator John Cowdery. Today, the Washington Post reports that Palin accepted more than $25,000 in gifts while governor from mining and other lobbying interests, including a $1,200 gold-nugget pin. In the 2006 governor's race, Palin campaigned on ending government corruption and special interest dealings. (AP and Washington Post)

Sarah Palin (R-AK) will not release her financial records until the day after her first vice-presidential debate, almost two weeks after the original due date. The Federal Election Commission granted the extension after the Palin campaign said it was confused about the deadline and needed more time. Biden filed the paperwork last week. (AP)

Read More →

Looks like Rick Davis isn't the only lobbyist problem the McCain camp is dealing with these days.

Mother Jones reports that two actively-registered lobbyists are currently working on John McCain's campaign for president.

Wayne Berman, co-chairs McCain's national finance committee. James Jay Baker co-steers McCain's National Steering Committee of Sportsmen for McCain. Both work for the lobbying firm, Ogilvy Government Relations as managing directors.

This month, the NRA -- a client of Baker and Berman's -- launched attack ads against Barack Obama. MoJo points out that besides conflicting with McCain's claims for running a straight-shooting, non-lobbyist campaign, Berman and Baker's presence also could come into conflict with the actual campaign rules that banned active lobbyists from working full time for the campaign, or participating in 527s or groups that "oppose any presidential candidate."

From Mother Jones:

Asked whether he might be in violation of the campaign's conflict rules, Berman told Mother Jones, "Hmmm, I hadn't thought of that." He said he was currently lobbying for the NRA but not involved in the group's campaign activities. "I'm in full compliance with campaign policy," he maintained. "I will check over there....I will continue to be in compliance. If that requires me to make changes, I'll make them." He added, "You've done me a favor" by raising this issue.