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Chip Saltsman, the former Tennessee GOP chairman and ex-campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, has just announced that he is withdrawing from the race to be the next RNC chairman.

Saltsman's campaign was upended when he sent a gift CD to committee members by Paul Shanklin, a right-wing comedian who plays parody songs on the Rush Limbaugh show. This CD contained a track called "Barack The Magic Negro," in which Shanklin did an Amos & Andy-style impersonation of Al Sharpton ridiculing white liberals who support Barack Obama. Saltsman blamed the flap on the media.

A survey of committee members by NBC News, published yesterday morning, showed Saltsman with the declared support of only one out of the 168 members.

The full withdrawal statement that Saltsman sent to the membership is available after the jump.

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It's a truism that neoconservatives have a talent for failing upward: for repeatedly getting important things wrong and not seeing their careers suffer - for, in fact, being handed new opportunities to pursue their work (see, e.g., Kristol, Bill; and Hayes, Stephen).

Today we can add another name to that list: Laurie Mylroie, the quintessential conspiracy theorist of the Iraq War era, wrote reports about Iraq for the Pentagon as recently as Fall 2007, years after she was discredited, according to documents obtained by TPMmuckraker.

Mylroie is the author of two studies -- "Saddam's Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM," dated Feb. 1, 2007, and "Saddam's Foreign Intelligence Service," dated Sept. 24, 2007 -- on a list of reports from the Pentagon's Office Of Net Assessment [ONA], obtained by TPMmuckraker through the Freedom Of Information Act. The ONA is the Defense Department's internal think tank, once described by the Washington Post as "obscure but highly influential."

Those who follow the neoconservative movement closely are stunned that Mylroie has surfaced again -- and especially that she is doing government-sponsored work on Iraq. "It's kind of astonishing that the ONA would come even within a mile of her," says Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons. "I think she is completely discredited."

"I'm shocked," Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation says. "If this came out in 2007, she was presumably working on it in 2006, and, by that time, the fate and fortunes of a lot of these people was already switching."

Why is it so astonishing that a government agency would hire Mylroie to write about Iraq? While her career as an Iraq specialist started out auspiciously enough -- she studied and later taught at Harvard, wrote a book on Saddam with Judith Miller in 1990, and served as an adviser to the 1992 Clinton campaign -- Mylroie later veered outside the mainstream and became enamored with theories rejected by virtually everyone else in the field.

Heilbrunn suggests Mylroie has been underappreciated as one of the intellectual progenitors of the Iraq war. "She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with Al Qaeda," he says.

In the definitive profile of Mylroie, written for the Washington Monthly in 2003, terrorism analyst Peter Bergen locates Mylroie's turn in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when she developed her theory that the Iraqi government was behind the attack. Bergen sums up the animating principle of Mylroie's work: that "Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary." (For a good example of Mylroie Logic, read her Sept. 13, 2001, WSJ op-ed "The Iraqi Connection," in which she argues that Iraq had a hand in 9/11 because ... well, mainly just because.) Bergen goes on:

Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the '93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself.

Mylroie's theories wouldn't have mattered - except that she had the ear of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Jim Woolsey, et al. Perle blurbed Mylroie's January 2001 book, Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War against America, as "splendid and wholly convincing."

In response to TPMmuckaker's questions about the selection process for ONA researchers, a DOD spokesperson said in a statement: "All aspects of researchers and research institutions are considered, with an 
emphasis on obtaining the widest range of possible intellectual approaches in order to provide a fully balanced approach to the analysis of future developments."

And how did the Pentagon use Mylroie's Iraq reports? Says DOD: "These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments on-going work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments."

Mylroie's work for the Pentagon is all the more interesting because, as her star faded along with the Iraq war, she largely disappeared from the public sphere. Her most recent public writings consist of a nasty spat with other writers on the right in 2008. The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, himself a prominent perpetuator of falsehoods about Saddam-Al Qaeda links, is one of a group of journalists who cannot stomach Myrloie out of annoyance that her work helps to discredit their own, somewhat less feverish theories. Hayes has reported, with distaste, that Mylroie believes "al Qaeda is little more than an Iraqi 'front group.'" For more, read Daniel Pipes on "Laurie Mylroie's Shoddy, Loopy, Zany Theories - Exposed."

While Mylroie is often identified as an "adjunct fellow" at the American Enterprise Institute, an AEI spokesperson calls that category "a very loose relationship" and says that the main link between Mylroie and the think tank was the publication of her book back in 2001.

Laurie Mylroie did not respond to emails seeking comment. The DOD spokesperson has promised to send me copies of Mylroie's Iraq reports. We'll tell you more when we hear anything.

Rod Blagojevich has been convicted in his impeachment trial by the state Senate, removing him from office, making him as of now the former governor of Illinois.

The vote by the Illinois state Senate just came to a close, with a unanimous 59-0 verdict against him. A threshold of 40 was required to convict, and the impeachers definitely got more than that.

Late Update: The Illinois Senate has just taken the next step in this process, voting unanimously that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is disqualified from holding public office in the state of Illinois ever again.

Much of the debate over the potential effectiveness of Congress' economic stimulus bill centers on how quickly the $800-billion-plus can be spent.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office -- formerly run by Obama's new budget director, Peter Orszag -- has estimated that 64% of the House stimulus money can be disbursed within the first 18 months. Meanwhile, Orszag himself has promised to let loose 75% of it into the economy.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who's been concerned with thae spend-out rate in general, recently asked the CBO to evaluate ways that the stimulus money could be spent quicker. The CBO's first answer? "Waiving requirements for environmental and judicial reviews" of the impact of stimulus spending projects, according to a letter released today (and downloadable here).

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Women's health advocates were dismayed this week to see the removal of family-planning aid from Congress' economic recovery bill after a push by Republicans to politicize a generally cut-and-dry issue of Medicaid waivers. (Time has some good background here.)

But the dismay may not last long. A source present at today's White House signing ceremony for the Lilly Ledbetter bill tells me that President Obama gave assurances that the family planning aid would be done soon -- perhaps as soon as next week, when the House is set to take up a spending bill that would keep the government funded until October.

Obama emphasized that the family-planning aid "makes the budget look better, it's a money saver," the source said. In fact, removing the need for Medicaid waivers for family planning saves states an estimated $700 million over 10 years.

By removing the family-planning aid from the stimulus at Obama's request, Democrats "were giving a nod to the Republicans, believing they would act in good faith," the source added. And given how many GOPers voted for the stimulus bill, sounds like the family-planning aid is back on track.

Here's another funny moment earlier today from the slow-motion comedy show that is the Minnesota Senate trial.

The Coleman team is continuing to call as witnesses some aggrieved voters to complain that their ballots were wrongly rejected. This didn't go too well last time, and the newest pair had their fun moments. One of them was college student Peter DeMuth, who sent away for an absentee ballot because he goes to school in Fargo, North Dakota -- he even drove several hours to St. Paul this morning, just so he could get his vote counted.

Upon cross-examination by Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton, DeMuth said he was contacted by the Republican Party and told about the problem. "They asked me if I knew my absentee ballot had been rejected. I said no," said DeMuth. "They asked me if I was a supporter of Norm Coleman, and I said yes, and they proceeded to ask me if I would like to go further."

Let's think about this for a moment: Over the last several days, the Coleman camp has said repeatedly that they are not cherry-picking who they're helping out, that they don't know who the people they're advocating for actually supported, and for all they know they're helping out Franken-voters.

So much for that argument. On top of that, DeMuth's story is by itself fascinating.

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Ahead of last night's vote on the $819 billion House stimulus bill, which no Republican supported, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) frequently asserted that his party's alternative stimulus plan -- consisting largely of tax cuts -- would create 6.2 million jobs.

That sounds great. After all, it's double the 3 million jobs that the president aims to create or save. But where did the Republicans get that number? By drawing some fuzzy conclusions from a 2007 paper by Dr. Christina Romer, chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

If you look at page 3 of the GOP's document, you'll see this passage:

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Are Blackwater's days in Iraq numbered?

The Iraqi government has said it won't be issuing a new operating license for the contractor, which is the prime security company for the US Embassy in the country.

It's hard to blame the Iraqis. Blackwater has several times been accused of using excessive force. In 2007, its guards opened fire in a crowded street, killing 17 civilians. The guards were charged with voluntary manslaughter and are awaiting trial.

According to Iraqi officials, it was this incident that prompted them not to renew the license, reports the Washington Post.

There's a bit of a catch though. The Post adds:

Blackwater employees who have not been accused of improper conduct will be allowed to continue working as private security contractors in Iraq if they switch employers, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

And according to Wired magazine, that's exactly what could easily happen. It reports:
The State Department has a contract for "Worldwide Personal Protective Services" with three firms: Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy. If Blackwater is no longer allowed to operate in Iraq, a lawyer steeped in the field tells Danger Room, there's no legal reason why the other two firms can't scoop up Blackwater's employees. "State simply issues a new task order to DynCorp or Triple Canopy, who turn around and hire some or all of Blackwater's employees," he says.

So we may ultimately find out whether the string of violent acts we've seen from Blackwater guards were the result of the company's culture itself -- or the types of personnel they hired.

Norm Coleman is not giving up on forgery as a constitutional right.

Just now in court, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg launched into an aggressive defense in the case of Douglas Thompson, the friendly Coleman witness from two days ago who said his absentee ballot should be counted even though his girlfriend forged his signature on the application. Thus, Thompson's ballot was rejected because of a very real signature mismatch against his own signature on the ballot itself.

Friedberg didn't directly mention Thompson by name, but he described the exact same situation. "Now suppose I said to Mr. Trimble [another Coleman lawyer], 'Hey, I'm busy, could you sign an application for me, and send it in for me?' I'm gonna get the ballot, aren't I?" said Friedberg.

After some more back and forth, we got to this interesting exchange:

Friedberg: In point of fact, even though I did something I wasn't supposed to do with the application, my ballot should still count because my signature is genuine.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann: Not according to the procedures we use to determine whether the signature is genuine.

Friedberg: I don't care about your procedures.

(Franken lawyer calls an objection, is sustained.)

Friedberg: Okay, I do care...

Last week, in one of its first moves, the Obama administration told its military prosecutors to ask for delays in the proceedings of 21 Guantanamo detainees who have been charged, so that their cases, and the military commissions process as a whole, could be reviewed.

Most military judges have complied with that request. But one judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, has now declined to do so, saying he found the government's reasoning "unpersuasive," reports the Washington Post.

Pohl wrote:

The Commission is unaware of how conducting an arraignment would preclude any option by the administration. Congress passed the military commissions act, which remains in effect. The Commission is bound by the law as it currently exists, not as it may change in the future.

Pohl is presiding over the case of Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent accused of planning the October 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole warship, which killed 17 service members.

The Pentagon may now be forced to withdraw the charges against Nashiri if it wants to impose the broader delay. It could bring them up again, but that would bring the case back to square one, costing the government time.

But the wider impact of Pohl's opinion isn't yet clear. It may be limited to this specific case, but it could also potentially throw a wrench into the new administration's plan to put the process on hold pending a review, and even complicate Obama's plan to close Guantanamo.

We'll keep you posted as things become clearer.

Late Update: The ACLU has called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to withdraw the charges against Nashiri so that the charges can be tried in a legitimate court. In a statement, the group's executive director, Anthony Romero, said:
Judge Pohl's decision to unabashedly move forward in the al-Nashiri military commission case shows how officials held over from the Bush administration are exploiting ambiguities in President Obama's executive order as a strategy to undercut the president's unequivocal promise to shut down Guantánamo and end the military commissions. Judge Pohl's decision to move forward despite a clear statement from the president also raises questions about Secretary of Defense Gates - is he the 'new Gates' or is he the same old Gates under a new president? Secretary Gates has the power to stop the military commissions and ought to follow his new boss' directives.

Later Update: But the commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold, who is now affiliated with Military Families United, a group that bills itself as a "the nation's premier military family advocacy organization", takes the opposite view. Lippold said in a statement:
Today's decision is a victory for the 17 families of the sailors who lost their lives on the USS Cole over eight years ago. This trial is a long overdue step toward accountability and justice for the attacks on the USS Cole. The seventeen American sailors who lost their lives on October 12, 2000, when we came under suicide terrorist attack by al Qaeda, were not just sailors. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and friends to so many. The sacrifice of these sailors and all of our brave military service members who have died to protect this country and apprehend terrorists is a key reason why we should not close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay precipitously.

By President Obama signing the executive order to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, he is not considering or addressing the impact on the families who have paid so dearly to defend our freedom.