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A great find by the Huffington Post offers additional evidence that the Bushies used torture to try to Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda :

A line buried on page 353 of the July 2004 Select Committee on Intelligence report on pre-Iraq war intelligence reads:

CTC [Counter Terrorist Center] noted that the questions regarding al-Qaida's ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented to senior al-Qaida operational planner Khalid Shaikh Muhammad following his capture.

"Among the first presented".

Yesterday we rounded up the other evidence that torture was used to bolster the political case for war with Iraq.

CIA director Leon Panetta has just sent the following message to staffers in response to Nancy Pelosi's claim that the agency misled her over torture:

Message from the Director: Turning Down the Volume

There is a long tradition in Washington of making political hay out of our business. It predates my service with this great institution, and it will be around long after I'm gone. But the political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.

Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing "the enhanced techniques that had been employed." Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.

My advice--indeed, my direction--to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.

We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is--even if that's not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it. (our itals)

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When Arlen Specter became a Democrat nearly three weeks ago, everyone in Washington was extremely "surprised," but nobody was really all that surprised. Specter had been taking a beating from the right for, among other things, supporting the stimulus bill. He had lost the confidence of many in his party and, to ward off attackers, he was tacking steadily to the right to protect himself from a primary challenge he nonetheless seemed poised to lose.

So he became a Democrat. The move made sense as a matter of both Senate and electoral politics. Specter fits in just as well among the significant ranks of conservative Senate Democrats as he does among the ever-shrinking ranks of moderate Republicans, and his move into the majority renews what had been his dwindling hopes of re-election.

But then, unthinkably, he doubled down on all of the positions he'd taken as a threatened Republican. He bucked his new party on health care, reiterated his freshly minted objection to the Employee Free Choice Act (a bill he once wholly endorsed), and he flatly opposed the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who President Obama has nominated to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

Now, though, he's showing some signs of easing up on the Republicanisms.

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We just told you about the probes underway of Charlie Millard, the obscure Bush-appointed former director of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which provides a form of limited bankruptcy insurance to the retirement funds of 44 million Americans. Millard's aggressive plan to sell off most of the PBGC's bonds and plow the majority of its funds into stocks and real estate has been a pension world controversy since he started at the agency in May 2007, at the beginning of the credit crunch. Even by the highly imperfect standards of conventional Wall Street wisdom, the former Lehman Brothers executive's investment strategy appeared almost gratuitously risky.

But it wasn't until the Office of the Inspector General began sniffing around the agency that Millard's short-lived stint in the federal government began to take on a more sinister light. We've boiled down the draft report of their audit, released yesterday by Congress, to a few key figures, adding a few of our own for perspective.

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now getting in on the same fundraising act as their Senate-side counterparts at the DSCC: Offering small donors a chance to win a paid trip to Washington and get their picture taken with President Obama.

The DCCC has sent out its own fundraising e-mail, much like the DSCC's e-mail from yesterday, telling donors of only $5 or more that they can be entered into a drawing to attend the Democratic Party's big fundraising dinner in Washington on June 18, and get their picture taken with Obama. The lucky winner will have his or her hotel and airfare paid for, including a guest.

Both committees are essentially making a wager: That this raffle will bring in enough money to generate a profit over the costs of the airfare and hotel. In the modern age of Internet fundraising, this doesn't seem like an unreasonable guess.

Full DCCC e-mail after the jump.

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In a blow to national Democrats in their effort to reach 60 seats in the U.S. Senate, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced that he will not challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr in 2010.

"While I am honored by the encouragement I've received, I don't want to go to Washington and serve as a U.S. Senator at this time," Cooper said in a statement. "I am committed to public service and I want to serve here in North Carolina rather than in Washington."

Polls had shown that Cooper could beat Burr, who for his own part has very weak approval ratings. That said, Democrats could still potentially find a good candidate. The state is trending Democratic and voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008, and few people would have ever guessed at this point in the 2007/2008 campaign cycle that GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole would have lost re-election by nine points against Democrat Kay Hagan.

A new Rasmussen poll finds that only 37% of Republican voters think the party has no clear leader, a definite improvement from a 68% figure two months ago. But there's a catch: There's no agreement on who the party's clear leader actually is.

John McCain comes in first place among possible leaders at 18%, followed by Michael Steele with 14%, Sarah Palin on 10%, Mitt Romney at 8%, Rush Limbaugh with 6%, and Dick Cheney at 4%.

The polling memo reiterates a recent point by Scott Rasmussen: "To be relevant in politics, you need either formal power or a lot of people willing to follow your lead. The governing Republicans in the nation's capital have lost both on their continuing path to irrelevance."

Even later update -- Earlier posts read as though Millard's investment plan had been entirely implemented, which we don't believe to be the case. A Congressional staffer said the PGBC had refused to say how much of the fund had already been reallocated under Millard's guidelines. But a PGBC spokesman told BusinessWeek none of it had and that the agency would "work with our board to decide whether these contracts should be terminated and whether strategic partnerships fit into the board's investment approach going forward."

The original version of this post was also somewhat unclear on the specifics of the various investigations into Millard. Both houses of Congress are investigating Millard and a group of senators requested a criminal investigation as well.

Remember Charles Millard? He's the former Bush-appointed director of the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation, and we expect to be seeing a lot more of him as congressional investigations into his brief but significant tenure at the agency gathers steam, starting with a scheduled appearance next Wednesday.

Some background: the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation insures a portion of the retirement funds of 44 million Americans to protect their savings accounts from the capriciousness of market conditions. Somehow, by the perverse illogic that defined the financial services industry of the past few years it came to pass that this fund would be run by a former Lehman Brothers executive who would devise a plan to plow the majority of its investment portfolio into the volatile stock market and the massively overheated real estate market under the pricey guidance of financial advisers at Wall Street's most prestigious investment banks, such that some such that billions of dollars would vanish in the course of months. An honest mistake, or was unethical behavior involved?

The Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit of Millard, who spearheaded this effort, and found no evidence he'd committed any actual crimes -- but enough "clear violations" of agency ethics rules to alarm Congress, which released the OIG's draft report yesterday and announced an investigation of Millard and said it had requested a criminal probe of him as well.

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There's another part of Lawrence Wilkerson's widely circulated blog post from yesterday that hasn't been given the attention it deserves.

Wilkerson, the former US Army colonel who was Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, wrote:

My investigations have revealed to me--vividly and clearly--that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering "the Cheney methods of interrogation", simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.

What I am saying is that no torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama's having shut down the "Cheney interrogation methods" will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?

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In the latest development in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is facing a more conservative opponent in the GOP primary, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, both candidates have signed the anti-tax pledge of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

In a possible move by Crist to appeal to right-wing voters and activists -- a demographic that might oppose him because of his support for the stimulus bill -- his campaign announced yesterday that he was the first candidate to sign the pledge. Rubio then signed up hours later.

The pledge binds candidates to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses ... and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing taxes."