TPM News

A quick update on the House's lawsuit against Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. From The Politico:

The House General Counsel's Office, which is representing the Judiciary Committee in a civil contempt lawsuit against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, has asked a federal judge to set up an expedited schedule to resolve portions of the case, a schedule that would require a ruling by this summer, according to court documents filed today.

The Justice Department, which is representing Bolten and Miers in the case, countered that the only reason the Judiciary Committee is seeking a speedy determination of the case is so that it "recommence prior to Congress' August recess" its investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006. The Justice Department wants a slower review of the contempt case, and it is already warning that it may appeal any ruling that goes against it.

What the House wants is to just settle the White House's more expansive claims of privilege -- namely, that Miers didn't even need to show up in response to the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena and that both Bolten and Miers didn't even need to indicate what sort of documents the White House were claiming privilege for.

A private conference is scheduled for tomorrow. The judge's decision will likely indicate whether the House has any hope of hearing any actual testimony from Miers or seeing any documents from Bolten during the Bush administration.

Who says that Scooter Libby is going unpunished?

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was disbarred from practicing law in the nation's capital on Thursday.

I Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted to lying to a grand jury and investigators last year.

The former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney was convicted last year of lying to a grand jury and federal agents probing the leak of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame Wilson.

"When a member of the Bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory," the District of Columbia Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion, which is posted on its Web site.

It's all part of the president's "measured" approach to Libby's commutation. Sure, Libby won't have to serve that 30 month jail sentence. But the remaining punishments (the bother of reporting to a probation officer, the inconvenience of disbarment, that $250,000 fine) are "harsh."

No one will ever say that Rep. Don Young (R-AK) can't handle the tough questions. OK, so maybe he tends to handle them by shouting down his questioners, but the man can take care of himself.

Well, Young is due for his first debate of the campaign tonight. But unfortunately there won't be any questions about why Young has paid defense attorneys almost $1 million, or whether he violated the Constitution in order to benefit a major campaign contributor, or any of his other entanglements.

That's because it's all about fish:

The kinds of questions that so annoyed the incumbent, Don Young, that he canceled a press conference last month -- his relationship to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff or why he's spent nearly $1 million on legal fees -- will be off limits in Kodiak.

The debate is part of the Comfish exposition and moderator John Whiddon, president of Island Seafoods and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, said any question not directly related to fishing will be ruled out of order.

Somehow you got to figure that someone will manage to work their way under Young's skin nonetheless. The debate will feature six participants, minus Young's prominent Republican primary challenger Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell. But Dem Jake Metcalfe, whom Young has dubbed "Jake the Snake," will be there to get him riled up.

Pentagon officials are at odds over military strategy in Iraq. Ground commanders, like Gen. David H. Patraeus, advocate an inflated troop presence, while the Joint Chiefs believe otherwise. (Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-California) is calling for an investigation in faulty electrical wiring of American military bases in Iraq following the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan D. Maseth, a 24-year-old Green Beret. (New York Times and

Health and Human Services Director Michael Leavitt sent a letter to the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology outlining the Bush administration's policy that allows physicians with moral objections to abortion to refuse referring patients to other outlets. (

(John Amick wrote this post -- ed)

Read More →

Dick Cheney: master diplomat, negotiator and conciliator?!

Ever since late February, the Iraqi government had been deadlocked over legislation that laid out guidelines for provincial elections. That was because one man on Iraq's three-member Presidency Council had objected to the law, calling it unconstitutional. The law would pave the way for the elections to take place on October 1st, a development that would be sure to have an effect on the U.S. election just a month later.

But yesterday, that member, Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, suddenly withdrew his objection. The move came just two days after Vice President Dick Cheney met with Mehdi. So did Cheney have anything to do with that change? Well, it depends on who you ask. From The New York Times::

[Laith Shubar, an adviser to Mr. Mehdi,] said that Mr. Cheney had called Mr. Mehdi in February to ask about his objections to the law, but that the issue did not come up again when Mr. Cheney visited Mr. Mehdi here this week. A spokesman for Mr. Cheney said he could not comment on the meeting, but in an interview on Wednesday with ABC News, Mr. Cheney said, referring to Mr. Mehdi: “I talked with him about that, and a number of others. They expect they’ll have that resolved shortly.”

Shubar says the reversal came because Mehdi "received a promise from the Parliament speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, that lawmakers would discuss the possibility of making changes to the legislation." Sounds like pretty thin gruel.

Meanwhile, the Times reports:

Early on Wednesday morning, American forces accidentally killed three Iraqi police officers, including a lieutenant in the special forces, just outside Hawija, a Sunni town about 140 miles north of Baghdad, an American military statement said. The statement said the officers were shot and another wounded when the Iraqi police, responding to a call for assistance, entered “at a high rate of speed” a cordoned area where American forces were operating about 2:30 a.m..

The police lieutenant, Abdul Amir Hamid Salih, 39, had escaped five assassination attempts and had to change his cellphone number every week because of death threats from insurgents, said his father, Hamid Salih. Lieutenant Salih’s house was burned down six months ago by insurgents, who offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who killed him, his father said.

Hamid Kareem Hussein, the wounded police officer, said, “We were surprised when the Americans asked us for help at night, so we went to this village and we faced gunfire.

“The lieutenant said, ‘Call them on the loudspeaker and tell them we are policemen and that they asked for us,’ and then everything cut out and I didn’t feel anything,” he said, adding, “It’s a tragedy. I hate the police, and I hate Iraq.”

Here's another nugget from Eric Lichtblau's new book.

It's well known that The New York Times held the story about the warrantless wiretapping program for more than a year. A concerted lobbying campaign by the administration at first convinced editors at the Times not to run the story in late 2004. But Lichtblau adds a new detail about how one of the few Democrats who had been briefed on the program seemed to take the administration's side of things.

The administration's main contention (beyond lying about there being no dissent about the legality of the program) was that reporting the existence of the program would compromise it and tip off the terrorists. In his book, Lichtblau tells how a few months after the story was held, he happened to be covering a House hearing where he heard Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) argue passionately for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Lichtblau saw this as an opportunity to question Harman about the warrantless wiretapping program, since Harman, as a member of the "gang of eight," was one of the four Democrats who'd been briefed on it. He writes:

Read More →

In his re-election battle with Al Franken, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) can use all the help he can get. And Democrats are saying that it looks like the White House is working behind the scenes to do what they can.

Remember that one of the key revelations last summer of Karl Rove's machinations in the White House Office of Political Affairs was his use of cabinet members to create free publicity for endangered Republicans. Agency heads or officials who traveled only a handful of times on off years suddenly found themselves whipped into service in an election year. Republicans facing tough challenges could count on a constant stream of photo-ops with administration officials announcing good things for his or her constituents. Rove called the operation his "asset deployment" team.

It looks like the White House may still be at it. From The Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was in Minnesota on Tuesday to announce a proposed pilot project for the federal No Child Left Behind law that would give 10 states more flexibility in addressing struggling schools' specific needs....

However, Minnesota doesn't yet have enough of those schools to participate in the pilot project, prompting some to question why Spellings made the announcement here and whether it was an effort to help Sen. Norm Coleman in his reelection campaign.

Spellings appeared at the state Department of Revenue and the State Capitol alongside Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Coleman.

"It certainly smells that no Democrats were invited to this event, when we already know that this administration has politicized Cabinet agencies," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It looks like a stunt to help Norm Coleman's campaign."

So -- Spellings announced a pilot program in Minnesota that won't even be taking place in Minnesota and none of Minnesota's Democratic lawmakers were invited to the event. The Department of Ed explained to the Star-Tribune that Coleman was invited "because he's sponsoring legislation related to No Child Left Behind." And I guess Pawlenty was there just to be there.

Spellings is currently on a 17-state tour. It'll be interesting to see if any Democrats make it to the dais.

From the AP:

President Bush has chosen veteran prosecutor Ken Wainstein to be his new White House-based homeland security adviser, The Associated Press has learned....

He currently heads the Justice Department's anti-terror efforts. He has also been the top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, and the top lawyer at the FBI.

Funny that the appointment should come one day after Newsweek publishes a story on the White House's "friggin' embarrassing" inability to fill the post.

In March of 2004, virtually every member of the Justice Department's leadership was prepared to resign over the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Thanks to former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony, that much is well known. But even as Congress has debated giving the telecoms immunity from civil suits for participation in that program, it's still not understood precisely what was going on that caused such a revolt.

In his new book on the Justice Department under George Bush, New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, who, along with James Risen, broke the warrantless wiretapping story, sheds more light on this episode (while leaving plenty unexplained). But putting Lichtblau's telling together with recently reported details about the National Security Agency's data driftnet, it's possible to come to a fuller understanding of what was going on.

Shortly after 9/11, the administration began a much more aggressive surveillance program, a program that had two main components: an aggressive data mining program led by the National Security Agency and wiretapping done without a warrant that stemmed from leads generated by the data mining.

While that program was ongoing, the FISA court was still approving warrants submitted by the Justice Department like normal. But sometimes the two processes crossed. Sometimes the Justice Department would want a wiretap for someone who had already been wiretapped without a warrant. Lichtblau reports that "some 10 to 20 percent of all court warrants fell into this area of 'double coverage.'" Department lawyers had a clear reason for wanting to go through the court if possible: they could not build a legal case against a suspect if the surveillance was illegal.

In that case, the Department, with the consent of the chief judge of the FISA court, set up a system where only the chief judge would handle such applications -- since none of the other judges were privy to the program. It was a dicey process. James Baker, the Justice Department official in charge of intelligence issues, set up a process where any Department lawyers working under him could "opt out," if he or she didn't feel comfortable forwarding such a wiretap application to the court, Lichtblau reports. "Several lawyers" took him up on that offer.

But about that data mining. The NSA's driftnet spat out leads that FBI agents found largely useless. Lichtblau explains:

Read More →

From The New York Times:

A sheaf of documents that a federal court forced the Treasury Department to release indicate there have been repeated complaints from American consumers who have been falsely linked to terrorism or drug trafficking during routine credit checks, the organization that sought the documents in a lawsuit said Tuesday.

The more than 100 pages of documents released Monday to the organization, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, include a variety of complaints about the list maintained by the Office of Foreign Asset Control in the Treasury Department, said Philip Hwang, a lawyer for the group....

The documents include e-mail messages from a Navy veteran who had been unable to use the Internet service PayPal, and an 18-year-old who wrote to say that he was not a Libyan minister who was apparently on the list.

A client of a Maryland Toyota dealer reported being checked by a salesperson for tattoos because of a Treasury list match.

A Treasury Department official was baffled by the last claim, saying information on the list did not include physical characteristics....

Another official said the department did not have numbers on how many people might have been falsely identified, since institutions can check their clients’ identity against the list and ignore it if something like the date of birth obviously does not match the person in front of them.

Remember that, according to The Wall Street Journal, the Treasury Department feeds transaction information to the National Security Agency for their vast data driftnet. So it's possible that a mistake on that watchlist could have led to much more than an inconvenience during a credit check.

If you're curious, the Treasury Department posts its watch list here (pdf).