TPM News

We noted yesterday that the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General issued a report on the found that former Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales had mishandled classified documents during his time in office -- and that the DOJ had decided not to press charges.

But that doesn't seem to be half as bad as what CQ Politics' Jeff Stein dug up -- fact checking Gonzales' testimony to investigators with . . . well, the report's own stipulated facts.

From CQ Politics' SpyTalk:

But the IG report shows that Gonzales did more than "mishandle" his notes, which included operational details on what he himself, somewhat ironically, called -- after it had leaked -- "one of the most highly protected [programs] in the United States ... a very, very secretive, protected program," and correspondence between congressional Intelligence Committee leaders and CIA chief Gen. Michael Hayden.

In a statement that doesn't pass the laugh test, Gonzales told IG investigators he didn't know the documents were secret.

Gonzales said that he was unaware of the classification level and compartmented nature of the NSA program he referenced in the notes. Gonzales also stated he did not recall thinking that the notes themselves were classified.

But the IG found the smoking gun -- in Gonzales's hand, no less.

The envelope containing documents related to the NSA surveillance program bore the handwritten markings, "TOP SECRET - EYES ONLY - ARG" [the attorney general's initials] followed by an abbreviation for the SCI codeword for the program.

Inside the envelope, moreover, were "documents relating to a detainee interrogation program," which were all classified with cover sheets and markings in the top and bottom margins, as Top Secret/Sensitive Classified Information.

As part of a wide-ranging probe of corruption in Alaska politics, the FBI secretly taped over 100 phone calls involving indicted GOP senator Ted Stevens.

The revelations were contained in court filings made last night by Stevens' attorneys. Some of the FBI's recordings of phone conversations had already been made public during the corruption trials of other Alaska politicians, but the number of calls involving Stevens had not previously been known.

Stevens faces charges that he lied about gifts worth more than $250,000, including renovations to his home, that he received from Bill Allen, an oil contractor.

Stevens' attorneys appear likely to argue that the calls should not be admitted into evidence. They write in the filing that only conversations relating to people or topics named in a warrant can legally be recorded by the FBI, and Stevens was not named as a target. The FBI did not tap Stevens' phone, but did tap the phones of several contractors in the case.

McClatchy notes another strategy being pursued by the defense:

His lawyers also continued to press their case for throwing out the indictment based on the speech-or-debate clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars government prosecutors from using speeches and legislation introduced by members of Congress as evidence. Prosecutors said that evidence protected by legislative immunity granted by the Constitution was not shown to the grand jury that ultimately indicted Stevens.

Jury selection for the trial begins September 22, and the trial itself starts two days later. Stevens is also facing a tough re-election fight against Anchorage mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat.

Tom DeLay may be able to escape prosecution for money laundering, on the grounds that the Texas money laundering statute does not apply to checks, according to Republican justices in Texas. A panel of judges voted along party lines not to rehear a decision that would exempt checks from the definition of "funds" in the money laundering law. DeLay's attorneys believe that this will force prosecutors to dismiss charges against DeLay. (Houston Chronicle)

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers demanded an explanation for why the Justice Department failed to pursue charges against former Attorney Gen. Alberto Gonzales following yesterday's release of an inspector general report concluding that Gonzales mishandled classified information. According to Conyers, the report clearly indicates that Gonzales violated department rules. (House Judiciary Committee)

A second U.S. after-battle investigation continues to contradict reports by Afghan officials, human rights groups, and the United Nations that large numbers of civilians were killed in a recent U.S. airstrike. The new U.S. investigation claims that between 30 and 35 Taliban militants were killed in the attack, along with seven civilians. The U.N. previously found "convincing evidence" that up to 90 civilians were killed. (AP)

Read More →

In the latest sign that Sarah Palin's promised cooperation with the Trooper-Gate investigation is failing to materialize, her lawyer is now demanding that the entire case be taken out of the hands of the independent prosecutor hired by Alaska lawmakers, and given over to a state personnel board -- whose three members were appointed by the governor herself.

In an unusual "ethics disclosure" filed last night, along with related documents, to the state Attorney General, Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, asked the personnel board to look into the firing of Walt Monegan, the former public safety commissioner at the center of the case. Van Flein also asked the legislature to drop its own investigation, contending that only the personnel board has jurisdiction over ethics. And he suggested that if the legislature didn't agree to hand the matter over to the personnel board, Palin would not be made available for a deposition.

Sen. Hollis French, the Anchorage Democrat in charge of the legislature's investigation, immediately told the Anchorage Daily News that the probe would go ahead as planned. French has said before that he is willing to issue subpoenas if necessary.

"We're going to proceed. If they want to proceed, that's perfectly within their right but it doesn't diminish our right to do so," he said.

The case concerns allegations that Palin improperly pressured Monegan to fire a state trooper who was embroiled in a family dispute with the Palin family, then fired Monegan when he refused to axe Wooten.

Van Flein, whose fee is being paid for by the state of Alaska, also used last night's complaint -- released the night before Palin is to speak as John McCain's vice presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention -- to put out information intended to paint the trooper, Jim Wooten, in a negative light, as well as to undercut Monegan's claims that the governor pressured him to fire Wooten.

In the words of the ADN, the complaint contends that:

"Monegan never told the governor or Todd Palin that Wooten had been disciplined over complaints brought by the family that included tasering his stepson, illegally shooting a moose and telling others that Heath would 'eat a f***ing lead bullet' if he helped his daughter get an attorney for the divorce."


"Recently, Wooten's supervisor intervened when he wouldn't return the children after a visit, the complaint says. Wooten warned his ex-wife he was going to get her and Palin, the complaint says. 'There is evidence suggesting that Wooten was following the governor,' it says."

Retracting past statements, the chair of the secessionist Alaska Independence Party told TPMmuckraker that they were mistaken in stating that Sarah Palin was once a member of their party -- but that her husband Todd, was.

"We searched for it everywhere, but we couldn't find anything to back up what we had been told by our source," Lynette Clark, chairman of the fringe third-party AIP told TPMmuckraker. "We made a mistake, but Todd definitely was a member of the party. We know that for sure."

Earlier today, TPMmuckraker posted that Todd was a member of the AIP party from 1995 to 2002.

Since the announcement in late July that a bipartisan committee of the Alaska Legislature has hired an independent investigator to look into Trooper-Gate, Sarah Palin's office has consistently pledged to cooperate fully with the probe.

At first, that cooperation appeared to be forthcoming. Legislators announced in mid-August that they didn't expect to have to issue subpoenas, because the governor's office was being so amenable.

But it looks like all the happy talk is no longer operative. Judging from a report in The Anchorage Daily News today, Palin now appears to be pursuing a strategy of slow-rolling the probe.

Her lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, argued in a letter to the independent investigator Steve Branchflower that the case should not be even be handled by the legislature, but rather by the state personnel board -- whose members are appointed by the governor -- since it is "statutorily mandated" to handle ethics complaints. He also asked for all witness statements, documents and other materials collected in the course of the investigation. Perhaps most ominously, Van Flein wrote that the investigation is "bad timing", thanks to Palin's selection as John McCain's running mate, and that he couldn't guarantee that she'd be free to sit down for her deposition this month.

In a written response to Van Flein, Sen. Hollis French, the Democrat who heads the committee overseeing the probe, asserted that the legislature has its own power of investigation, and said that he has instructed Branchflower not to provide the requested documents. And French warned that if witnesses were not made available, he would issue subpoenas. Van Flein and French escalated their war of words in the ADN.

"Our concern is that Hollis French turns into Ken Starr and uses public money to pursue a political vendetta rather than truly pursue an honest inquiry into an alleged ethics issue," Van Flein told the paper.

In response, French asked: "How does he explain the unanimous vote (to pursue the investigation) by the Republican-dominated Legislative Council?"

Later, French added, "It's too bad the governor has stooped to hiring a name-calling lawyer. That doesn't seem very open and transparent does it?"

The investigation is focused on Palin's alleged involvement in an effort to fire a state trooper who had had been embroiled in a bitter dispute with Palin's family. The state's former public safety commissioner has asserted that he was fired for failing to fire the trooper.

The McCain camp today disputed rumors that presumptive vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin was ever registered with the secessionist Alaska Independence Party by releasing years of voter registration history . . . but it looks like that doesn't apply to her husband.

This afternoon, the director of Division of Elections in Alaska, Gail Fenumiai, told TPMmuckraker that Todd Palin registered in October 1995 to the Alaska Independence Party, a radical group that advocates for Alaskan secession from the United States.

Besides a short period of a few months in 2000 when he changed his registration to undeclared, Todd Palin remained a registered member of AIP until July 2002 when he registered again as an undeclared voter.

It looks like Sarah Palin's claim to represent a cleaner brand of politics could be about to take a bruising.

The Washington Post reports today that, while Mayor of Wasilla, Palin oversaw the hiring of a lobbyist, Steven Silver -- a former chief of staff to now-indicted GOP senator Ted Stevens -- to help win federal earmarks for the city.

But Silver appears to have additional ties that could further undercut Palin's image as a squeaky-clean reformer. According to Senate lobbying disclosure reports examined by TPMmuckraker, from 2002 to 2004 Silver listed as a client Jack Abramoff's lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig. On Greenberg's behalf, Silver lobbied the federal government on "issues relating to Indian/Native American policy," "exploration for oil and gas" and "legislation relating to gaming issues" -- the very issues that Abramoff headed up for Greenberg at the time. In other words, Silver appears to have been a part of "Team Abramoff."

Indeed, one specific bill that Silver lobbied on for Greenberg, according to the forms, was S.627, also known as the Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act. A former Greenberg lobbyist confirmed to TPMmuckraker that Silver would have been working to oppose the bill. And it was an earlier version of this very bill that Abramoff famously worked to spike, with the support of Christian conservative leaders Lou Sheldon and Ralph Reed.

There's additional evidence of ties between Silver and Abramoff. Emails released by a House committee in 2006 as part of a probe of Abramoff show the now-disgraced lobbyist scheduling a meeting with Silver in 2001.

Silver is a member of the Anchorage-based law firm of Robertson, Monacle, and Eastaugh, which the Post describes as having "close ties" to Stevens, and Alaska Congressman Don Young, who's under federal investigation for allegedly taking bribes. Since 2005, Silver has contributed $3500 each to Stevens and Young, according to campaign contributions records posted at

This is far from the first time that Abramoff's trail of corruption has led to Alaska. Last year, Mark Zachares, a former aide to Young, pleaded guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from Abramoff in return for using his position to advance Abramoff's goals.

Silver did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

From the AP:

The report says Gonzales failed to store the documents in proper secure facilities and at one point took them home. The report released Tuesday also says he stored them in his briefcase because he did not know the combination to the safe at his house.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine referred the security breach to the department's National Security Division. But the reports says prosecutors there declined to bring charges against Gonzales.

. . . Additionally, Gonzales kept some of the documents in a safe in his office that was accessed by several employees who "lacked the necessary security clearances for this information," the report concludes.

The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [FISC] which determines whether government wiretapping of terrorism suspects is constitutional, refuses to grant the public access to their decisions and deliberations. The court recently denied a request by the ACLU to access unclassified portions of FISC rulings, citing concerns that classified information could be compromised. The ACLU criticized the decision, arguing that "[t]he intelligence court should not be deciding important constitutional issues in secret judicial opinions issued after secret hearings at which only the government is permitted to appear." (ACLU)

Another senior official has left the Office of Special Counsel, whose leader, Scott Bloch, has been under investigation for destroying documents and retaliating against employees. Special Counsel chief of staff Jim Mitchell was reportedly fired without warning or explanation. The firing comes one month after the resignation of deputy special council Jim Byrne, who accused Bloch of putting "political agendas and personal vendettas" ahead of the office's mission. (NPR)

The Service Employees International Union is now being investigated by the U.S. Labor Department, for alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds. Three union leaders, including president Tyrone Freeman, have already stepped aside pending the investigation. A SEIU spokewoman said that the union was fully cooperating. (Los Angeles Times)

Read More →