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All hell just broke loose in the Minnesota courtroom, with Al Franken's lawyers catching Team Coleman in the act of yet more concealing of evidence -- and they've now made a motion to totally strike the Coleman camp's claims about double-counting of ballots, which the Coleman camp has hoped to use to subtract over 100 votes from Franken's lead.

You might remember that on Wednesday, the Coleman team was caught having withheld notes given to them in early January by Pamela Howell, a Republican election worker in Minneapolis. (Note: Minnesota precinct workers are selected by partisan identification, and then buddied up across party lines to keep it running smoothly and honestly.) The court then struck the witness' testimony, relating to double-counting of votes -- but then turned around yesterday and reversed themselves, after the Coleman team said it had been an honest oversight -- that there was no bad faith involved.

This morning, Franken lawyer David Lillehaug was restarting his cross-examination of Howell, and inquired as to whether there had been any further communications between herself and Coleman. The answer was yes -- and Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble then had to cough up some private e-mails he'd sent to Howell in early January.

"Pam, the legal team and campaign have made a strategic litigation decision to hold off from having you sign and us file your affidavit at this time," Trimble (or possibly his assistant, Matt Haapoja) wrote on January 6, saying this was being done "to avoid tying you down to any particular testimony and to avoid having to disclose your name and statement."

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Maybe Judd Gregg's withdrawal as Commerce Secretary nominee really was for the best.

In a lengthy and detailed investigative report, the Associated Press reveals today that the New Hamshire GOP senator funneled federal earmarks to a defunct Granite State air-force base, despite the fact that he and his brother had lucrative real estate investments there.

The key details:

Gregg, R-N.H., personally has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cyrus Gregg's office projects at the Pease International Tradeport, a Portsmouth business park built at the defunct Pease Air Force Base, once home to nuclear bombers. Judd Gregg has collected at least $240,017 to $651,801 from his investments there, Senate records show, while helping arrange at least $66 million in federal aid for the former base.

So let's lay out what we know here.

On one side, Judd Gregg seems to have a significant personal financial stake in Pease. Cyrus Gregg is a partner in a development firm, Two International Group, that has built roughly a dozen office buildings at Pease. And according to state corporate records and Senate disclosure reports, Judd Gregg has invested in several of his brother's projects.

How much has Judd Gregg made from those investments?. According to the AP, which looked at Gregg's Senate disclosure filings, "at least $240,017 and possibly as much as $651,801" between 1999 and 2007 in rent and capital gains.

Now, let's look at the other side: What has Gregg done to benefit Pease from the Senate?

Over to the AP again:
In the Senate, Gregg has repeatedly won federal money for Pease's redevelopment: • At least $24.8 million for a new federal building. The senator said the city of Portsmouth wanted to move an unattractive federal building out of its picturesque downtown. The new building hasn't been built yet, he said. • At least $24.5 million for other New Hampshire National Guard projects at the base, including a new fire and crash rescue station, a new medical training facility, repair to an aircraft parking ramp and the upgrade of an aircraft parking apron. • $8.9 million for a new wing headquarters operations and training facility at Pease for the Air National Guard. • At least $8 million to help Pease's airport transition from military to civilian use, including improving terminal security, buying snow removal equipment, building an aircraft deicing area and adding a parking lot. • $475,000 to shield office buildings at Pease from noise from the former Air Force runway, which is now used by private planes and the New Hampshire Air National Guard. Earlier, Gregg lined up $25,000 in federal money for noise monitoring equipment at Pease. • $400,000 for development of a photonics and laser technology program at the New Hampshire Community Technical College campus at Pease. Earlier, Gregg and then-Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., won federal money to develop the college's biotechnology lab, and education and training center at Pease.

Gregg claims he broke no laws or ethics rules, and that the earmarks don't benefit him financially. But improvements to Pease's terminal security, and efforts to shield Pease's office buildings from noise, would appear, at least potentially, to increase the value of his investment.

It's not clear whether Gregg's interest in Pease played a role in his withdrawal as Commerce Secretary nominee. AP reports:
The senator has said his withdrawal had nothing to do with anything the White House uncovered in his background. A White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, declined to discuss the matter with the AP. AP began looking into the Greggs' activities at Pease before then but had not yet contacted them or the White House before Judd Gregg withdrew.

Fred, what gives? You'll return Columbia Journalism Review's calls, but not ours? Where did we go wrong?

Fred Hiatt has broken his silence on that George Will global warming denialist column that set off such a hulabaloo. In an interview with CJR published last night, Hiatt defended the decision to run Will's column, despite several clear misrepresentations of science that have been thoroughly documented.

Hiatt argued that, rather than trying to prevent Will from expressing his point of view, Will's critics should take him on.

"Do I think it's somehow dangerous to have one of our many columnists casting doubt on this consensus?" Hiatt asked. "No, I think it's healthy. And let the other ones come in and slam him, if they think it's irresponsible. That's what an opinion page is for."

But nowhere in the interview does Hiatt appear to grapple with the actual argument of Will's numerous critics, which is that the column at issue contained outright misrepresentations of scientific data, on a level that goes far beyond honest differences of opinion.

Here's the relevant excerpt from CJR's report, so you can judge for yourself:

"We looked into these allegations, and I have a different interpretation than [those who signed the letter] about what George Will is and is not entitled to," said the paper's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt. "If you want to start telling me that columnists can't make inferences which you disagree with--and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject--I think that's really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject -- so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don't make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn't be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him."

Hiatt said that he has invited both the World Meteorological Organization and the Arctic Ice Center at the University of Illinois to write a letter for publication taking issue with anything that George wrote, but neither organization has taken him up on the offer. Hiatt added that he doesn't think Will has an obligation to point out, "in every column he writes about climate change," that such organizations disagree with his interpretation of their data.

"If you're concerned that readers of The Washington Post don't get a sense that most of the world thinks climate change is real, I think that's a misplaced concern," he said. "And I can tell you: I don't share George's view. If you read our editorial pages you would know that we believe that the evidence of climate change is sufficiently alarming to justify major changes in public policy. But, you know what? I think it's kind of healthy, given how, in so many areas--not just climatology, but medicine, and everything else--there is a tendency on the part of the lay public at times to ascribe certainty to things which are uncertain. I believe, and this me personally speaking, that there is a lot more we don't know about climatology and there's a lot more we have to learn in terms of our ability to predict climatological phenomena and how what's happening in the oceans is going to interact with what's happening in the atmosphere. And do I think it's somehow dangerous to have one of our many columnists casting doubt on this consensus? No, I think it's healthy. And let the other ones come in and slam him, if they think it's irresponsible. That's what an opinion page is for."

Separately, yesterday we got a sneek peak at Will's latest column, in which he digs in his heels on the issue of global warming. (It's now up on the Washington Post site.)

We decided to leave the debunking of Will's self-defense to others more expert in the subject. And Carl Zimmer, who writes frequently about science for the New York Times, has now done so, in a detailed rebuttal to Will posted on the website of Discover magazine, that concludes:
In trying to justify an old error, Will can't help making new ones. But at this point, I'm not expecting any corrections.

Late Update: Andrew Revkin of the New York Times has added his own detailed rebuttal of Will's latest column, which itself was framed as a response to a piece by Revkin earlier this week that criticized Will's original column.

We await Will's response to Revkin's response to Will's response to Revkin's response to Will.

The Justice Department is preparing to bring charges against a man identified as an al Qaida operative who is currently being held on American soil. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, whom the Bush administration had intended to hold indefinitely without charges, will be tried in a civilian court, officials said yesterday. The Justice Department had faced a March 23 deadline to explain to the Supreme Court whether or not it would uphold the Bush administration's policy. The decision to try al-Marri in a civilian court allows the new administration more time to review detention policies. (New York Times)

Lawsuits filed against large financial companies, including Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, contend that female employees are bearing the brunt of recent downsizing. Plaintiffs note that female employees made up 64 percent of Wall Street employees before the crash, and yet 72 percent of the last 260,000 jobs cut were held by women. The firms dispute the allegations, saying it is hard to show that there is no evidence gender is playing a role in firing decisions. (Forbes)

The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against drug maker Forest Laboratories for defrauding the government of millions of dollars by marketing two antidepressants for use in children and young adults. The complaint says that Forest Laboratories concealed a study that showed the drugs were not effective in children and could cause patients to become suicidal. The lawsuit also charges that the company gave kickbacks -- in the form of baseball tickets, gift certificates to expensive restaurants, and paid vacations -- to doctors who prescribed its drugs. (New York Times)

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The Conservative Poliitical Action Conference is brimming with colorful characters looking to ban gay marriage, legalize online poker, help Israel keep every inch of the west bank, and generally stir things up. These are a few of the people I spoke with yesterday at the CPAC meeting in Washington.

First, one of the many groups dedicated to putting the kibosh on gay marriage:

You wouldn't think of poker as a conservative issue, but one of the stars of professional poker, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, is on the board of the Poker Players Alliance which seeks to legalize poker and its attendant gambling online and in parlors everywhere:

There were no shortage of defense-of-Israel groups, mostly with a conservative Christian bent. In fact, one of the more popular lapel pins at the convention is an Israeli and an American flag together. Here's what concerned one activist had to say:

Michael Steele sure has an interesting idea for how to rebrand the Republican Party: Loudly announcing at CPAC that they messed up, and pledging to do better now.

"Tonight, we tell America: we know the past, we know we did wrong. My bad," said Steele. "But we go forward in appreciation of the values that brought us to this point."

But Steele rejected the idea that the recent elections meant the ideological ground had shifted. "I am here tonight to reject the idea that defeats of the past are a repudiation of core conservative values and principles," he said. "Nor do I believe that those defeats are a sign of things to come."

And check out this latest development in Steele's campaign to create a hip-hop image for the GOP. Michele Bachmann praised Steele's speech: "Michael Steele! You be da man! You be da man."

And no, this is not from The Onion.

Today: Obama Giving Speech On Iraq Pullout Timeline President Obama will be speaking at 11:45 a.m. from the Camp Lejeune military base in North Carolina, where he will be laying out his plan for a withdrawal from Iraq. The plan will involve the withdrawal of combat troops by August 2010, with a residual force of 30,000-50,000 troops to continue training the Iraqis through December 2011.

Biden Holding Meeting On Middle Class Issues, Green Economy Joe Biden is at the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia today, where he will be leading the first meeting of the Middle Class Task Force, focusing on the creation of green jobs, accompanied by several cabinet and task force members. This evening, Biden and his wife Jill will be speaking at the Delaware State Education Association Winter Advocacy Retreat in Rehoboth, Delaware.

WaPo: Obama Iraq Plan Faces Opposition On The Left The Washington Post reports that Obama's Iraq withdrawal plan is not impressing other Democrats, and that not one member of the Dem Congressional leadership supported it during a meeting last night between Obama and members of Congress. Chuck Schumer declared that a withdrawal "has to be done responsibly, we all agree. But 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification."

NYT: Obama Budget Repeals Reaganism The New York Times examines President Obama's budget, marveling at its program of progressive taxation and other measures to address income inequality. The Times declares: "The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters."

Obama To Meet With Australian Prime Minister The Obama Administration has announced that the president will be meeting March 24 with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, at the White House. The two leaders will discuss the financial crisis, Afghanistan, climate change, nuclear proliferation and other issues.

Report: Pelosi To Refuse Contributions From Banks Roll Call reports that Nancy Pelosi will refuse campaign contributions from banks, in the wake of their opposition to a mortgage reform bill. Pelosi made the announcement at a Democratic caucus meeting yesterday morning -- perhaps a signal to other members that they should follower her lead on this.

Senate Votes For D.C. Representation In Congress The Senate voted last night by 61-37 to pass a bill to to give the District of Columbia a full vote in the House of Representatives. The bill will be signed into law by President Obama, but will immediately face a court challenge on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

Another Ad Ties GOP Leaders To Rush Limbaugh The labor-backed group Americans United For Change has this new ad out, attacking the Republican leadership for saying "No" to President Obama's stimulus plan, and connecting them to Rush Limbaugh's "I want him to fail" policy:

"So who are Republican leaders listening to?" the announcer asks, followed by Limbaugh's "I want him to fail." The ad is going up on national cable and in the D.C. media market -- essentially aimed at the political class and higher-information voters who watch the news.

We're really now in crunch-time in Minnesota, with the court handing down one important ruling after another -- and they just did it again.

The court has released a new order, co-signed with the consent of both sides' lawyers, to deal with the problem of what have come to be known as "3-A" ballots -- a category where a newly-registering absentee voter included their registration form inside the internal secrecy envelope containing the ballot, rather than immediately within the outer envelope as it was supposed to be done.

When the ballots arrived during the election, many counties rejected them because of a failure to register to vote. But other areas would open up those secrecy envelopes, with the election workers staying blind to the actual vote inside, and feel around for a registration card in order to help get that vote counted.

The court has now commanded the counties to open the ballots on a long list of potential 3-A's -- a little bit over 1,500 envelopes -- to look for registration cards, and to organize a full listing of ballots with complete registrations, incomplete registrations or no form at all, and to get the job done by this Wednesday.

The ballots with valid registrations are not being counted yet -- but this is the first step in getting there.

So who would stand to benefit from this?

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As New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation continues, it's becoming increasingly clear that Bank of America, and its CEO Ken Lewis, haven't been straight on the subject of what they knew about those outlandish Merrill bonuses.

ABC News yesterday revealed details of the agreement signed by the two banks back in September, when they agreed that B of A would take over Merrill starting January 1. According to it sources, the agreement says that bonuses "shall be determined by the company (Merrill) in consultation with the parent (Bank of America)."

The network added that the two firms at first agreed that Merrill could hand out up to $5.8 billion. That figure was then added to "under $4 billion" after a conversation between Merrill CEO John Thain and a top B of A exec Steele Alphin, who's a close Lewis confidant.

In other words, Bank of America had a clear role in working with Merrill to determine the amount of the bonuses awarded.

But that's not at all how B of A has represented things.

When the Financial Times first broke (sub. req.) the bonus story last month, B of A told the paper:

Merrill Lynch was an independent company until January 1 2009. John Thain (Merrill's chief executive) decided to pay year-end incentives in December as opposed to their normal date in January. B of A was informed of his decision.

And in his testimony before Congress earlier this month, Lewis said:
They were a public company until the first of the year, they had a separate board, separate compensation committee and we had no authority to tell them what to do, just urged them what to do.

It's not clear whether that that outright contradicts the language of the agreement, as ABC has reported it. But whether or not the agreement gave B of A formal "authority" to set Merrill's bonus levels, it certainly gave them an explicit role in the process (assuming ABC's sources are rendering the wording of the agreement accurately). Which is a lot more than B of A's few carefully crafted public statements on the subject have implied.

Thain, Lewis, and Alphin have all been subpoenaed by Cuomo (Thain has now "told all, says ABC), so you've got to think we'll be getting to the bottom of this soon. And it doesn't seem like it'll look good for the increasingly embattled Lewis when we do.

The fireworks have been continuing today at the local level in the Minnesota election trial -- and the national parties got involved in Washington, too, the place where this election could finally be decided.

At a Democratic leadership press conference today, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer responded to a question about the case by saying they expected it to be wrapped up and for Franken to be seated in weeks. "The projections -- and they're not locked in -- are that this should all be finished by the very beginning of April," said Schumer.

Schumer did acknowledge that the process isn't over, but predicted that it will end. "The people of Minnesota are very fair people, and they'll grant him appeals," Schumer said. "But sooner or later this is going to come to an end."

Harry Reid chimed in: "There's going to come a time when Coleman's going to have to recognize that he's lost -- he's lost this election. This should have been over a long time ago."

This prompted an angry statement e-mailed out from Michael Steele, who accused the Dems of trying to short-circuit the process in Minnesota:

The people of Minnesota expect and deserve a fair election process that ensures every valid vote is counted and counted only once. As it stands now, there are thousands of absentee ballots that have not been counted and potentially hundreds more that have been counted twice. Instead of attempting to short circuit election law, the Senate Majority Leader should focus on the out of control spending going on in Washington. Once the recount is completed, I fully expect Senator Coleman to be where he was on election night: in the lead. When that happens, we will welcome back a senator who values fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and will not vote to saddle future generations with unprecedented debt. I join my fellow Republicans in standing firmly behind Norm Coleman and his pursuit to ensure no Minnesota voter is disenfranchised."

And the spin keeps going in Minnesota, too.

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