TPM News

Florida GOP Chairman Defends Steele, Blasts Critics Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer has sent a letter to RNC members, defending Michael Steele -- and lambasting his critics: "What I find so disturbing is that some Republicans cannot see the absolute necessity of providing unwavering loyalty and support to Chairman Steele as he embarks upon leading the Republican Party into the future."

Steele Hires Chief of Staff For RNC The RNC announced that Michael Steele has hired Ken McKay, former campaign manager and chief of staff to Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, to be the new RNC Chief of Staff. One of the criticisms of Steele in the last month and a half is that he has been slow to fill the key staff positions, but he is now starting to make progress on that front.

Obama's Day Ahead: Focusing On The Economy President Obama is having a closed meeting with Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chairman Paul Volcker at 12 p.m. ET. At 12:45 p.m. ET, he will deliver remarks from the Oval Office on the economy. At 1:15 p.m. ET he is meeting with Vice President Biden for lunch.

Biden Promoting Stimulus With Dem Members of Congress -- And Specter Vice President Biden will be administering the oath of office to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis this morning. At noon, he will head up an event at Union Station to announce funding for Amtrak as part of the stimulus program. Others in attendance include Democratic members of Congress such as Senators John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Frank Lautenberg and others -- plus Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

Big Day In Minnesota: Closing Arguments Closing arguments in the Minnesota election trial are scheduled for today. Each side will have an hour at bat to make their final case to the judges. After that, the judges are expected to spend two to three weeks working on a determination of who has legally won the most votes, and is entitled to the certificate of election -- a decision that is likely to be appealed.

WaPo: U.S. Attorney Situation Remains Unclear The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration faces some very complicated choices in appointing new U.S. Attorneys, between the interest of appointing their own people versus the need in some cases to keep current Attorneys in places to pursue pending cases. Perhaps the most controversial example involves Mary Beth Buchanan, a conservative U.S. Attorney from western Pennsylvania who is quite publicly refusing to resign.

Virgil Goode Files Papers For Potential 2010 Comeback Bid Former Congressman Virgil Goode (R-VA), who was defeated in a huge upset by Democrat Tom Perriello by a margin of 727 votes out of over 315,000 in 2008, has filed papers to run again in 2010. Goode is perhaps best known for denouncing the election of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress.

Another fun detail to the story about the Coleman campaign's breach of online donors' credit-card data -- which was caused after the site's entire unencrypted database was briefly posted online in late January.

The campaign's FAQ page about the breach -- which promises that the individuals who stole this information will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and urges any concerned supporters to cancel their credit cards -- ends with a solicitation to send more money:



Of course, the donation has to be sent by snail-mail, or made with a credit card over the phone, because they've had to take down their Web site's credit-card functionality.

On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias celebrated the imminent closing arguments tomorrow. "This is truly not only a historic recount and election contest in its size and the long period of time that it's gone on, but also in its thoroughness," said Elias. "And the people of Minnesota and all the people of the United States can take a great deal of confidence and pride in the process that has gone on for the last nearly five months."

I asked about the intriguing possibility raised to me by Professor David Schultz of Hamline University -- that the Franken camp could potentially use the loser-pays provision of the election-contest law to stop any appeal from Coleman, by forcing his campaign committee to come up with millions of dollars to be placed in escrow to cover Franken's attorney's fees before any appeals continue.

"You know I've gotten a number of questions over the course of the last five weeks about the cost-shifting provision of the law," said Elias. "And in honesty I'll give you the same answer now I've given before, which is I have not spent really any time looking at it. I will now have a chance, now that the evidence is closed, to now look to the next step in this, which would be what happens post-decision by the court. But I will take a look at that and probably be in a better position to answer that in the next few days."

It seems that the mystery of the holds on two of President Obama's senior science advisers has been solved.

All attempts to delay John Holdren, nominated to lead the White House science and technology office, and Jane Lubchenco, nominated to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, were lifted this afternoon after a closed-door meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee, according to Greenwire.

Why the Commerce panel needed to vote on Holdren and Lubchenco again after affirming them once last month remains unknown, as do the identities of the holders whom we've been working to unmask.

Greenwire reports that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the senior GOPer on Commerce, pointed a finger at Democrats for slowing the nominees to win concessions on other issues. Hutchison told me earlier this week that she was unaware of any objections -- we'll let you know more as soon as we know.

Late Update: Here's why the committee had to meet again this afternoon ... CQ's original report that stated Holdren & Lubchenco were "approved" last month was incorrect. The nominees were actually "discharged," which in Senate parlance means that they were quickly cleared without the panel voting.

That seems to have made the duo a magnet for senatorial objections -- the source of which remains murky, even to folks in the Senate. Now that the committee has met again to give the official stamp of approval to Holdren & Lubchenco, however, they can be moved towards unanimous approval without further shenanigans.

Tomorrow is going to be a big day in the Minnesota trial: Closing arguments, which will then bring this whole phase of the court proceedings to an end, pending a ruling and subsequent appeals. And what happens next could be very long -- or not.

Lead attorney Joe Friedberg will do the closer for the former Republican Senator, and Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton will be delivering closing arguments for his side.

So what happens next? Hamline University professor David Schultz tells TPM that he now expects the court to probably rule at some point in the first week of April, with a declaration that Al Franken is the winner. From there, this goes into an appeals process at the state Supreme Court that could take perhaps two months -- and then there are the federal courts. So this could take from anywhere between early April, assuming no appeals, to all the way through Labor Day, with June as the ballpark middle figure.

"The lakes'll be fully melted before we have a U.S. Senator -- which is the opposite of when Hell freezes over," said Schultz. "Maybe when Hell thaws out, something like that."

On the other hand, Schultz poses a very interesting scenario, one that could bring the entire appeals process to a crashing halt and force the granting of a certificate of election.

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This doesn't look good....

The New York Times reports that last September, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) set up a meeting with Treasury Department bank regulators for several minority-owned banks, including OneUnited, one of the nation's largest black-owned banks. At the meeting, OneUnited's CEO, Kevin Cohee, bluntly asked the officials for $50 million in bailout money.

But what Waters didn't disclose was that her husband, Stanley Williams, had served on the bank's board of directors until early 2008, and has owned at least $250,000 in stock in the bank. Treasury learned that fact only later.

One official told the Times:

"It angers me. You got to know you have to be careful when you are dealing with people who you have personal relations with.


In the end, OneUnited didn't get that $50 million, but it did get $12 million in TARP funds, becoming the first minority owned bank to cash in through the program.

This is hardly the first allegation against OneUnited. Adds the Times:
[I]t had been harshly criticized by regulators in 2007 for failing to give a sufficient number of loans to lower income residents in Miami, while favoring wealthier customers there.


And:
[T]he F.D.I.C. sanctioned the institution in October 2008 for "unsafe or unsound banking practices," including excessive compensation for Mr. Cohee. The bank had provided him with a 2008 Porsche SUV and maintained his $6.4 million beachfront compound in Santa Monica. Calif., with views of the Pacific and a spa and pool.


For his part, Cohee suggested to the Times that race is at the heart of the issue. "This is where the race issue comes in," he said.

The Wall Street Journal detailed some of the ties between Waters, who sits on the House Financial Services committee, and OneUnited, in a report (sub. req.) published earlier today.

Oe of our favorite wide-ranging probes, the one into corruption in Alaska state government, grinds relentlessly on.

The Justice Department just announced that Beverly Masek, a former member of the state House of Representatives, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit bribery, in connection with cash payments she received from oil-services contractor Bil Allen, in exchange for using her position to take actions that benefited Allen's company.

Masek faces a maximum of five years in prison, and is due to be sentenced in May.

The wide-ranging probe, of course, has already netted Ted Stevens -- the Republican former U.S. senator, who was convicted last fall of making false statement on his Senate disclosure forms in connection to gifts he received from Allen. -- as well as several Alaska state lawmakers in addition to Masek.

In an interview with TPM just now, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was sharply critical of Michael Steele comments in the GQ interview, elaborating on his statement today that Steele had assured him earlier this week that he would uphold the party platform.

"Well, I mean he said as party chairman he would be upholding the party platform. The interview he did with GQ was done from the chairman's office," said Perkins. "And if in fact his personal views are subordinate to the party platform, the evidence is pretty thin that that's the case. In every interview I've seen, I've heard him talk about his personal views, and have yet to hear him talk about the party platform."

I asked Perkins if he felt misled -- that Steele had told him he would uphold the party platform, when in fact Steele had done an interview two weeks earlier that had yet to be published, in which he made apparently pro-choice statements. "I understand the time difference here," said Perkins. "But I don't think the time difference is important."

I asked Perkins if he'd seen Ken Blackwell's statement that Steele should "get to work -- or get out of the way." Perkins had indeed seen it, but declined to say if he agreed that Steele should shape up or resign. "That's a party function, that's up to members of the Republican Party to have to decide. My only interest is, those are policy issues that we work on at the Family Research Council," Perkins explained. "What the Republican Party does is their interest, but you have mixed signals sent because the party has said this is where we stand on the issues, and you have a leader of the party saying something different."

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If you were looking for watchdogs to ensure that the $790 billion economic stimulus law is put to work for the taxpayers, who would you choose? Earl Devaney, the former inspector general who's now the presidential stimulus watchdog? Elizabeth Warren, the much-praised monitor of the financial bailout?

How about the same GOPers who fought the stimulus tooth and nail?

Hmmm, might it be a bit counter-productive to put the stimulus' leading partisan critics in charge of its implementation? Not to the Republicans. At a press conference today, they announced their intentions to become guardians of the economic recovery effort.

The House and Senate GOP plan to hold hearings "of our own" and talk with state officials to make sure the stimulus is on the right track, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) told reporters:

So while most of us did not support spending the $1 trillion of taxpayer money because we didn't think it was targeted, timely, and temporary as Speaker Pelosi said stimulus bills should be, we absolutely intend to spend our time over the next two years to make sure it's spent as wisely as possible to help the American taxpayer.


This effort would seem to pose a potential conflict with the official stimulus monitoring being performed by the Obama administration.

Not to mention the logical question that it raises: If we take Republicans at their word, assuming they opposed the stimulus because they didn't think the spending would work ... why are they now forming an organized panel to ensure that it works?

Here's the full text of Bernad Madoff's statement made in court this morning, in which he admitted his crimes and described them in detail.

Madoff pleaded guilty to all 11 counts on which he was charged, in connection to a multi-billion dollar financial fraud.

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