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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was just asked at a briefing about Congress's subpoena, issued yesterday to Karl Rove, seeking his testimony on the US Attorneys firings.

Gibbs replied that the White House counsel's office "is studying those issues and will advise us when they have a recommendation."

As we reported earlier, the ball is now largely in President Obama's court as to whether Rove can continue to defy Congress's subpoena.

We'll keep you posted.

House Democrats have removed a provision from their stimulus bill that would exempt states from the need to get waivers for covering family planning under Medicaid. The family-planning aid has been the subject of repeated Republican attacks over the past few days, and health care advocates were dismayed by the Democrats' decision to give in on its removal.

"We are disappointed that the Medicaid Family Planning State Option, a common-sense provision to expand basic health care to millions of women, including many who have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn, was a victim of misleading attacks and partisan politics, and dropped from the economic stimulus bill," Planned Parenthood for America President Cecile Richards said in a statement today.

But the House's move didn't necessarily mean that the family-planning aid is dead. After all, the Senate still has to act and could include the provision in its stimulus bill -- right?

Maybe not.

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It looks like Arlen Specter, the ranking GOPer on the Senate Judiciary committee, has decided to support Eric Holder's nomination to be Attorney General after all, as Elana reports over at TPMDC.

Specter has put up roadblocks to Holder's confirmation from the start, first getting the hearings delayed a week, then getting the committee vote itself delayed another week, until tomorrow.

Here's a statement just put out by committee chairman Pat Leahy, who has led the fight to get Holder confirmed:

I am glad that Senator Specter has resolved his concerns and will support Eric Holder's nomination to be the next Attorney General. He joins the dozens of organizations and individuals across the political spectrum that for more than two months have praised the qualifications, integrity, and independence of this nominee. Tomorrow the Committee will move forward to report this historic nomination to the Senate, and I hope the Senate will debate and vote on Mr. Holder's nomination without further delay.

We have seen the best thing that Norm Coleman's legal team has done so far in this election trial -- and it ain't pretty.

This afternoon the Coleman team was bringing in rejected absentee voters to show that their ballots were improperly tossed. So far the court has heard from six people, most of of whom said they were contacted by the Republican Party in the last few weeks. They mostly seemed sympathetic enough, putting a human face on the disenfranchised Coleman voter -- but at least two of them appeared to have been rejected properly under the conditions of Minnesota law.

One of the voters was Douglas Thompson, who admitted under oath that his girlfriend filled out his absentee ballot application for him, signing his name with her own hand and purporting to be himself. His ballot was rejected because the signature on his ballot envelope (his own) did not match the signature on the application (his girlfriend's). The Coleman team's argument appears to be that he is still a legal voter in Minnesota, as the signature on the ballot was his own, even if admitted dishonesty was involved in getting the ballot.

Keep in mind: Thompson's story came up during the direct examination by Coleman lawyer James Langdon. So the Coleman camp fully knew this information and decided to make him into a witness.

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Last Friday, New York governor David Paterson announced that he had picked Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. That same day, Joe Bruno, the powerful GOP former New York state Senate leader, was indicted on corruption charges.

What's the connection? It turns out that, though Bruno and Gillibrand are from different parties, that indictment could end up bringing some unwanted publicity to New York's new senator. That's because, though it's remained largely under the press's radar, a business deal between Bruno and Gillibrand's father, Doug Rutnik, was a partial focus of the federal probe that culminated with Friday's indictment.

Let's back up:

By most accounts, Rutnik, a well-connected Albany Republican lobbyist and power-broker, has been the prime architect and fund-raiser for Gillibrand's political career.

Rutnik is tight with just about every powerful Republican in the state, including former governor George Pataki, and former senator Al D'Amato -- in whose office Gillibrand got her start as an intern, before running for Congress as a Democrat.

Rutnik is also close with Bruno. In fact, as the Albany Times-Union (via Nexis) has reported, in the 1990s, Rutnik and another lobbyist, James Featherstonhaugh, bought hundreds of acres of isolated swampland in New York's Rensselaer County, which they planned to develop. Bruno and his brother ultimately invested in the venture, known as the First Grafton Corporation.

Bruno's son Kenneth Bruno, and his girlfriend Theresa Russo, both of whom were lobbyists at the time, bought parcels of the land, as did the wife of Jared Abbruzzese, a local businessman and friend of Joe Bruno who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants approved by the former Senate leader.

But the venture turned out to be a bust. Rutnik's corporation bulldozed the land and built a road without the necessary environmental permits, prompting federal and state lawsuits that delayed development.

And according to a court document obtained by the Times Union, (via Nexis) in his 2004 divorce proceedings, Kenneth Bruno was accused by his wife of hiding commissions on land deals related to First Grafton "brought to the table by his father Joseph L. Bruno."

In the end, Rutnik and Featherstonhaugh lost $100,000, Featherstonhaugh has said. First Grafton was dissolved in 2005.

And in December 2006, the Associated Press reported (via Nexis) that Featherstonhaugh had complied with a request from federal investigators looking into Bruno's business dealings to turn over First Grafton's records.

"I did receive a request for some records and those records have been provided," Mr. Featherstonhaugh told the AP.

It's not known what aspect of First Grafton the feds were interested in. And neither Rutnik, Featherstonhaugh, or First Grafton are named in Friday's indictment agasint Bruno -- though Abbruzzese is central to it.

Still, the fact that the prime architect of the career of New York's new senator has ties to the state's indicted former Senate leader -- and specifically, that the two teamed up on a business deal that has attracted scrutiny from federal investigators -- deserves more attention that it's yet gotten.

And it's worth asking whether Paterson considered the connection before he named Gillibrand.

The House Judiciary Committee's subpoena of Karl Rove raises interesting questions as my colleague Zach Roth notes. I spoke with a Washington lawyer who has dealt with many presidential privilege issues and he (or is it she?) raised some interesting questions and offered a prediction.

The first interesting point the person raised is that Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, may have made a tactical mistake in writing to White House Counsel Greg Craig for an opinion. "Be careful what you ask for," the source said. After all, Craig could come up with a rationale for Rove testifying. And why rush to Craig at all when you might prevail in the courts? True, the courts have been loathe to offer hard and fast rules in these cases but it would seem worth pursuing such a legal avenue before going to the Democratic White House for solace. My source predicted that in the end there probably will be some kind of accomodation with Rove answering questions on some topics and not on others rather than a showdown that drags on endlessly. Interestingly, the source thought Obama's executive order on presidential records differed enough from the question of testimony that it probably would not be determinative in the end.

I note myself the hypocrisy of Republicans who demanded practically every Clinton official to march up to the hill and testify on everything under the sun who can be sure to defend executive privilege in Rove's case and that of Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers.

It's probably worth noting here, just for the record that I have some history with Karl Rove. If you haven't been in an Ecuadorean jungle for the last six years you know what it is. If you have been, you can get caught up here and here.

We've been watching Republican leaders play a little game today with the economic recovery plan that's headed for its first vote in the House tomorrow. The object of said game: making the stimulus bill "bipartisan" enough to win Republican votes.

First President Obama made a concession; the GOP turned up its nose. Then Republicans had a neck-snapping change of heart.

But what do Democrats make of this silliness? You remember them -- the party that actually controls the government and wrote the stimulus bill. It turns out that Democrats are perfectly happy to let Republicans chase after their enigmatic (and, dare we say, largely non-existent) notion of a "bipartisan" stimulus.

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The Employee Free Choice Act has galvanized business lobbies like nothing else in recent years. After all, most issues--say, trade--pits one business lobby against another but few issues unite them. So it's interesting and notable to say the least that one of the most talked-about parts of business is staying out of the EFCA debate: the trade group representing private equity firms like the Carlyle Group and BlackRock. On one hand you would think that private equity firms would have a particularly big stake in fighting EFCA. After all, they often buy businesses under the assumption that they keep the unions out. The Service Employees International Union, for instance, fought the Carlyle Group's takeover of Manor Health Care, a chair of assisted living facilities. . It ultimately failed but it's still trying to organize the chain's workers. Dunkin Donuts is owned by a partnership of Bain Capital, Mitt Romney's old firm, the Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners. But the main voice of private equity firms in Washington, the Private Equity Council, has stayed out of the fight and the answer would seem to be owing to the fact that unions provide so much capital to private equity. In fact, the Private Equity Council's own research shows in 2007 alone," the top 20 public pension funds, representing nearly 10 million retirees in states including California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, had a collective private equity investment of nearly $140 billion." This is a long way, of course, from getting Steve Schwarzman or Henry Kravis or David Rubenstein to support EFCA. But at least, as unions press forward with EFCA, they don't have private equity's trade group joining the rest of the business lobby.

After the Bernard Madoff fraud came to light, costing investors an estimated $50 billion, it emerged that the SEC had fallen down on the job, in part because, as we detailed last month, it had soft-pedaled its enforcement duty. And today, the head of the agency's Office of Compliance, Inspections and Examinations, Lori Richards, testified before the Senate Banking committee about how to prevent future Madoffs.

Richards said the agency plans to increase the frequency of its examinations of investment advisers, investigate the existence of unregulated advisers, and broadly consider different regulatory structures -- an idea that seems to have gained ground lately.

Richards said that in recent years, the number of registered investment advisers has grown past 10,000. OCIE has just 425 employees to oversee them. And Madoff wasn't even registered -- hence the need to begin monitoring them too.

It'll be a while until we know how all this will play out. But it certainly looks like under President Obama and new agency chair Mary Schapiro, enforcement will no longer take a backseat at SEC, as it did during the Bush years.

TPMLivewire