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Don't miss Rick Hasen's excellent rundown over at Slate on the voter-fraud hype shop American Center for Voting Rights.

Little more than a name to serve as a fig leaf to Republican operatives, ACVR was created, Hasen writes, to "give 'think tank' academic cachet to the unproven idea that voter fraud is a major problem in elections."

That effort to give claims of voter fraud legitimacy explains a lot about what's been happening in the Justice Department. It explains why the administration pressured U.S. attorneys to pursue voter fraud cases and fired the ones who didn't deliver. And it explains why political appointees ruled the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division with such an iron grip.

Here's the apparent scheme from A to Z: ACVR (a think tank with a respectable name) would seize on instances of prosecuted voter fraud by U.S. attorneys (a respected group) to push for voter ID laws. And then once Republicans in the state legislatures passed the laws, the political appointees that ran the Civil Rights Division (a once revered institution) would make sure that the career staff in the voting rights section didn't get in the way. Opponents of the laws would never know what hit them.

There was, as should be expected, some crossover among these groups. A number of political appointees in the Civil Rights Division were sent out to be U.S. attorneys (e.g. Kansas City's Brad Schlozman, among others). And there's at least one case of a political appointee in the Civil Rights Division moving on to work for the American Center for Voting Rights.

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As Newsweek reports, when Justice Department officials got upset over Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card's nighttime visit to John Ashcroft's hospital bed in March of 2004, the White House fell back on their old standby: incompetence.

From Newsweek:

After the incident, there were recriminations over what Comey portrayed as an attempt by Bush's top lawyer and chief of staff to "take advantage" of a very ill man. Comey didn't tell the Senate panel that the bad feelings were stoked even more the next morning when White House officials explained the hospital visit by saying Gonzales and Card were unaware that Comey was acting A.G. (and therefore the only person authorized to sign off on the surveillance program), according to a former senior DOJ official who requested anonymity talking about internal matters. Top DOJ officials were furious, the source said. Just days earlier, Justice's chief spokesman had publicly said Comey would serve as "head of the Justice Department" while Ashcroft was ill. Justice officials had also faxed over a document to the White House informing officials of this. When a Gonzales aide claimed the counsel's office could find no record of it, DOJ officials dug out a receipt showing the fax had been received. "People were disgusted as much as livid," said the DOJ official. "It was just the dishonesty of it." A Gonzales aide at the time (who asked not to be ID'd talking about internal matters) said there was a "miscommunication" and "genuine confusion" over who was in charge.

"Genuine confusion" or disingenuous confusion. You decide.

Via Steve Benen.

In a joint letter today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) wrote to demand documents relevant to the administration's domestic surveillance program, specifically the the legal justifications and analysis for the program.

Noting that the committee has been seeking these documents for the last 18 months, the two wrote, "Your consistent stonewalling and misdirection have prevented this Committee from carrying out its constitutional oversight and legislative duties for far too long." James Comey's testimony last week -- that a number of senior Justice Department officials and FBI Director Robert Mueller were prepared to resign when the administration authorized a surveillance program without Justice Department's legal certification -- has added even more urgency to their request. You can read the letter here.

The two also note that the administration has been making noises about wanting to "modernize" the law governing domestic wiretaps, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Well, they write, such modernization won't be happening without the committee's say so, so hand over the documents: "Before we can even begin to consider any such legislative proposal, we must be given appropriate access to the information necessary to carry out our oversight and legislative duties."

The two requested the documents by no later than June 5, 2007.

Senate Democrats will fight to squeeze in a nearly-unprecedented no-confidence vote against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before Congress gets the hell out of Dodge for the one-week Memorial Day recess, Roll Call reports (sub. required)... but they might not make it.

The Senate’s agenda is packed this week with Iraq and immigration bills heading to the floor, but Republican maneuvering could prove to be the bigger setback:

The problem is Democrats are unlikely to get cooperation on the resolution from Republicans, who could throw numerous procedural hurdles in their way as the Senate tries to leave town Friday. So if Democrats want to pursue the nonbinding resolution, they will have to begin the lengthy process of filing cloture resolutions as early as possible for a final vote to occur by the end of this week.

It doesn’t look like Senate Democrats are prepared to take those first steps today, though they insisted they could pursue a vote later in the week.

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The Center for Public Integrity looks at US spending habits in the war on terror and finds that, for members of the "Coalition of the Willing," human rights are not a precondition for receiving American support. Instead, countries like Djibouti and Ethiopia have found it more expedient to hire lobbyists to protect their interests rather than to address their human rights abuses.

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OK, so you knew Duke Cunningham was dirty, but you didn't know that he was this dirty.

The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught, the book about Cunningham by the reporters who brought him down, hits stores this coming Monday. We here at TPM were lucky enough to get an advance copy and have been tearing through it.

The book is the Cunningham scandal from A to Z -- following from Duke's childhood to his guilty plea, and following the (alleged) bribes from Brent Wilkes' or Mitchell Wade's pocket to the harassed contracting officer in the Pentagon who was to make sure that the contractors got their money. And the book is bursting with details, a number of them new and unforgettable.

Take, for instance, the following scene aboard Duke's yacht, the Duke-Stir. It has a way of seizing hold of your imagination and not letting go, no matter how very, very hard you try:

...even Wilkes drew a line on what he would do for the congressman. For one thing, Wilkes was totally disgusted by the hot tub Cunningham put on the boat's deck during the autumn and winter. What repelled Wilkes -- and others invited to the parties -- was both the water Cunningham put in the hot tub and the congressman's penchant for using it while naked, even if everybody else at the party was clothed. Cunningham used water siphoned directly from the polluted Potomac River and never changed it out during the season. "Wilkes thought it was unbelievably dirty and joked if you got in there it would leave a dark water line on your chest," said one person familiar with the parties. "The water was so gross that very few people were willing to get into the hot tub other than Duke and his paramour." That was a reference to Cunningham's most frequently seen girlfriend, a flight attendant who lived in Maryland.

One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon -- very well done -- with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.

You can read an interview with Marcus Stern, one of the book's authors, here.

There you have it, yet another pile of emails from the Justice Department.

At first viewing, I don't see any significant new information -- just more after-the-fact justifications for the firings, more talking points, more discussions of PR strategy. But I'm just a humble, human muckraker. So if you do see anything new, please let us know in the comments. To identify the document, use the number in the lower right-hand corner of the page.

Happy raking!

Update: Here's a good rundown from Salon's Tim Grieve.

The House Judiciary Committee is prepared to use subpoenas to compel the testimony of Karl Rove and other White House officials, Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and subcomittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) warned White House counsel Fred Fielding today.

"We are today writing to express our extreme disappointment in the White House's rebuff of efforts by the Judiciary Committee to obtain voluntary cooperation with our investigation concerning the firing of at least nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 and related matters," they wrote. "We write to make one last appeal for such voluntary cooperation." You can read the letter here.

If this seems like deja vu, it's because Fielding got a very similar letter from Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) last week. As Sen. Leahy did in that letter, Rep. Conyers and Rep. Sanchez note that the negotiation process between Congress and the White House stopped as soon as it started. After Democrats requested interviews and documents from the White House, Fielding replied with an offer to have Rove and others interviewed privately with no oath and no transcript. The Dems rejected the offer. That was two months ago. There hasn't been any progress since then.

As Sen. Leahy did in his letter last week, Rep. Conyers notes that even without the White House's cooperation, it's become increasingly apparent that the U.S. attorney firings were driven by the White House. That role might become even clearer when Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's former liaison to the White House, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee this Wednesday.

Conyers and Sanchez conclude:

"If the White House persists in refusing to provide information to the House Judiciary Committee, or even to discuss providing such information, on a voluntary basis, we will have no alternative but to begin to resort to compulsory process in order to carry out our oversight responsibilities."

Today Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) will introduce a motion to rebuke Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) for breaking a House rule. The charge? Rogers says that Murtha threatened to deny Rogers’ earmarks for “now and forever” in retaliation for Rogers' opposition to one of Murtha's pet projects. That's a real threat coming from Murtha, who's one of the senior appropriators in the House.

The thing is, Republicans used to do this all the time when they were in power. And that's why the Democrats instituted the new rule this January, which prohibits denying or awarding earmarks (members' targeted spending projects) based on a member's vote.

But Murtha is, if anything, a creature of the old order, a lawmaker who opined to The New York Times that "deal making is what Congress is all about" and called the Democrats' ethics reform bill "total crap." You might say that Rogers' allegation has the weight of credibility behind it. Murtha has declined to respond to the allegation, and Rogers, a former FBI agent, says he has a number of witnesses.

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Congress and the administration keep getting closer and closer to the edge. As part of the U.S. attorney firings investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) has threatened to subpoena Karl Rove and other White House officials, a subpoena the White House will certainly fight. And in the House, House reform committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has subpoenaed Condoleezza Rice to testify next month; Rice has said she won’t comply.

So what happens when they get to the edge? Will we see top officials in cuffs soon?

The short answer: no, but a subpoena still gets results.

Former general counsel to the House Charles Tiefer explained that these face-offs never culminate in court.

"In theory, what happens is, after the House, or the Senate, goes through a certain process, [the case] is kicked over to a prosecutor," Tiefer said. But to think that will actually happen "is a naive way" of looking at Congressional investigations.

No top government official has ever been indicted for failing to respond to a Congressional subpoena. Tiefer, who signed off on more Congressional subpoenas than anyone else while counsel to the House from 1984 to 1996, explained that these investigations mount pressure to achieve results.

When asked if a Congressional subpoena has teeth he asked his own question: “Does a vise have teeth?” Well, no, but, “you could crack stones in a vise.”

The investigation process ramps up political pressure with letters, media outreach, subpoenas and contempt until one side cracks. The more bipartisan support an investigation has, the heavier each move weighs. The more the public supports the opposing branch, the more likely a committee will be to back down.

Usually a negotiated agreement is reached before the investigation hits a serious phase.

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