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An amendment sponsored by hold-out Democrats and designed to strip the Senate's wiretapping bill of legal immunity for telecom companies was defeated today with a 66-32 vote.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), is the first of three the Senate is voting on today dealing with the immunity provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act law.

Without any amendments, the law will effectively end a stack of lawsuits filed against telecom companies that provided information about customers to the government without warrants as part of the White House's surveillance programs after September 11, 2001.

The Senate is wrapping up debate on the FISA law and its proposed amendments today and a vote on the overall law is expected later today.

A bill with similar immunity passed in the House last month and is expected to be signed into law by the president.

The Attorney General is headed to the Hill to testify this morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight of the Justice Department. It starts at 9:30 ET, with a break for the FISA vote at 11:15. We'll be watching and posting developments on both so stay tuned for more.

A federal judge yesterday ordered the Department of Justice to make detainee cases at Guantanamo Bay a priority. The judge argued that the detainees have been waiting for their day in court for too many years, and that they must be dealt with. In response, the Justice Department said that that one in five of the roughly 270 remaining detainee cases at Guantanamo have been cleared for release. (AP)

Congressional Republicans are blaming the federal government for not having appropriate safety standards for chemicals in FEMA trailers used by Hurricane Katrina victims. This removes blame from the trailer companies for using high levels of formaldehyde in the trailers. (AP)

A new report out from the GAO claims federal officials often delete government email, creating gaps in the public record. The report was released on the eve of a scheduled House vote on a bill that would establish standards for email preservation by federal agencies. (Washington Post)

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From the Miami Herald:

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The U.S. government is blocking the American Civil Liberties Union from paying attorneys representing suspected terrorists held here, insisting that the ACLU must first receive a license from the U.S. Treasury Department before making the payments.

ACLU director Anthony Romero on Tuesday accused the Bush administration of "obstruction of justice" by delaying approval of the license, which the government argues is required under U.S. law because the beneficiaries of the lawyers' services are foreign terrorists.

"Now the government is stonewalling again by not allowing Americans' private dollars to be paid to American lawyers to defend civil liberties,'' Romero said.

Dr. Ada Fisher lost the 2006 bid for a North Carolina Congressional seat by a wide margin -- 34 points.

But that didn't discourage her fundraisers, BMW Direct, a Washington-based political firm.

Just a few days after Fisher lost to Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), an official from the fundraising firm emailed the candidate about mounting a post-election money drive -- and maybe signing on for another race.


Attached is a debt reduction letter. We still owe outside debt to vendors and this will go to pay it off.

I would also like to set up a time to speak with you about running again. With more time to mail, I think we could do even better.


That's an email from Timothy Webster, a founder of BMW Direct, and it was provided to TPMmuckraker by Fisher. She wasn't very happy with the firm, which raised more than $400,000 on her behalf but, after taking out the costs of its own direct mail effort, only provided her campaign with about $30,000.

She also provided us with a draft copy of a "debt reduction letter" drawn up by BMW Direct.

Fisher told us she's not sure whether she ever signed off on the letter and agreed to let BMW send it out.

Read more to see the letter's full text.

Late Update: Jordan Gehrke, BMW Direct's director of development, said in a written response to a query from TPMmuckraker: "To the best of my knowledge we did no debt reduction letters for Dr. Fisher."

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We've previously followed some of Sharon Weinberger's coverage at Wired on former Representative Curt Weldon's ties to shady arms-dealings. Weldon, a defeated Republican from Pennsylvania was employed as Chief Strategic Officer for Defense Solutions after losing his election in November 2006.

Lost in the holiday weekend traffic was a Wired story on the Pennsylvania based arm dealer's multiple contracts, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to corner the supplier market from Eastern Bloc countries to to Iraq. The deals, which the magazine describes as "often legally murky" were brokered by Weldon, who is currently under investigation by the FBI for corruption stemming from his work in Congress.

In an update yesterday, Weinberger expanded on Defense Solution's claim that they had an exclusive deal with Ukraine to supply their armored vehicles to Iraq. The boast was bolstered by a signed letter from Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andri Veselovsky, to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Stephan Minikes.

Defense Solution's CEO, Tim Ringgold, bandied the letter about as proof of their relationship -- that is until Veselovsky told Wired the letter was a fake, and that it wasn't his signature. Now Ringgold seems to be taking it all back.

In an update on Weinberger's Wired blog DANGER ROOM:

Timothy Ringgold, the CEO of Defense Solutions wrote DANGER ROOM to express some objections with this post. His letter, with our answers, follows......

Ringgold writes: Your article of July 7, 2008 11:07 a.m. has a number of significant inaccuracies, not he least of which deals with your allegation of forgery: As I informed you during our phone conversation, I have no knowledge of a "letter" from Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister, but I am aware of an email dated February 25, 2008 received from the Deputy Foreign Minister. Since I spoke with the Deputy Foreign Minister after receiving it, I think it safe to conclude the email was genuine. [DR: The forgery allegation is not ours; it is Veselovsky's. He stated quite clearly it is not his signature on the letter. When asked about the Veselovsky letter during the interview, Ringgold acknowledged it, until he was told the Veselovsky denied signing it.]

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) is wielding more than his gavel against Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In a letter to the AG today, Waxman brought out the big guns, stating that the Committee would vote to hold him in contempt on July 16, if he failed to produce a report on an interview with Vice President Cheney regarding the Valerie Plame leak scandal.

From Waxman's letter:

Despite the Committee's repeated requests, you have consistently refused to provide these reports to the Committee or unredacted versions of the reports of FBI interviews with White House staff. In response to the Committee's June 16 subpoena, you wrote: "we are not prepared to provide or make available any reports of interviews wi t h t he President or Vice President from the leak investigation" because of "core Executive Branch confidentiality interests and fundamental separation of powers principles."

. . .I regret that your failure to produce responsive documents has created this impasse, but Congress has a constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch. Therefore, unless all responsive documents, with the exception of the FBI interview report of President Bush, are provided to the Committee or a valid assertion of executive privilege is made, the Committee will meet on July 16 to consider a resolution citing you in contempt. I strongly urge you to reconsider your position and comply with the duly issued subpoena.

We've gotten our hands on an interesting mailer sent out by BMW Direct, the Washington political firm that raises campaign cash and spends most of the money on its own direct-mail efforts.

This one was sent out on behalf of Dr. Ada Fisher, a black Republican who ran for a North Carolina Congressional seat back in 2006.

It refers to the black leaders Al Sharpton and Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, rallying opposition to their "liberal policies" that are "harming America."

With Fisher's photo in the top corner, the letter reads: "We need proud conservative Republicans to bring our message to the African American Community...Ada you're just what the Republicans need!"

Click on the letter to see a full-size version.

Vice President Dick Cheney's office apparently worked to cut swaths of the Center for Disease Control's congressional testimony on the effects of greenhouse gases.

The information was revealed in a letter from recently-resigned associate deputy EPA administrator, Jason Burnett, obtained by the AP, to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA):

"The Council on Environmental Quality and the office of the vice president were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony (concerning) ... any discussions of the human health consequences of climate change," Burnett has told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

. . . The letter by Burnett for the first time suggests that Cheney's office was deeply involved in downplaying the impacts of climate change as related to public health and welfare, Senate investigators believe.

Cheney's office also objected last January over congressional testimony by Administrator Johnson that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment."

An official in Cheney's office "called to tell me that his office wanted the language changed" with references to climate change harming the environment deleted, Burnett said. Nevertheless, the phrase was left in Johnson's testimony.

As we've reported, the Senate and House have been trying for months to check communications and other documents on the role of political influence in the EPAs work.

Burnett left the EPA in June after disagreements over the "agency's response to climate change":

The White House, at the urging of Cheney's office, "requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change," wrote Burnett.

"CEQ contacted me to argue that I could best keep options open for the (EPA) administrator (on regulating carbon dioxide) if I would convince CDC to delete particular sections of their testimony," Burnett said in the letter to Boxer.

But he said he refused to press CDC on the deletions because he believed the CDC's draft testimony was "fundamentally accurate."

[Late update]: To view the letter from Burnett to Boxer, click here.

A memo written in March by the EPA's chief enforcement officer claims that the EPA's guidance document on wetlands policy is undermining the Clean Water Act. The memo was obtained by Greenpeace and released by two Democratic committee chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA) and James Oberstar (D-MN). (Washington Post)

KBR, along with other contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, is planning on a major PR campaign to fight back against charges of corruption and malpractice. The campaign, run by former Republican staff director of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee David Marin, plans to erase the "anti-contractor climate on Capitol Hill" through lobbying. (Politico)

A new disclosure form on an ethics law passed last year may do more harm than good in bringing sunlight to lobbyist activities. The form is said to have a large number of discrepancies that get in the way of ethics oversight. (Washington Post)

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