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So what's going on this morning with the surveillance legislation?

Here's a statement we've just gotten from Reid's office: "Currently discussions are ongoing in an effort to determine how to move forward on FISA. Senator Reid is closely working with all Democrats including Senators Feingold and Dodd on this issue."

That's another way of saying that he's not selling out on retroactive immunity, it seems. And no deal has been struck yet. We'll keep you updated as things develop.

In his first round of questioning this morning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked a question that's been on everyone's mind: will the criminal investigation that's been launched into the destruction of the CIA's torture tapes also cover the techniques that were documented on those tapes?

Mukasey said, essentially, that it hasn't been ruled out. John Durham, the prosecutor who's been tapped to lead the investigation, he said, will proceed as in any other matter, "step by step." If "it leads to showing motive... then I'm sure it will be explored." He stressed again that Durham, an experienced prosecutor, was in charge (even if he's not completely independent) and that he's joined by an experienced FBI agent.

Update: Here's the transcript:

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Last night, the Senate also quickly passed that 15-day extension to the Protect America Act. So it seems like the President will likely sign that into law.

So what's next? In comments on the Senate floor this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that after holding a meeting in his office at 6 PM last night, he called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He indicated that they may have struck a deal on how to proceed, but it wasn't clear if all the details had been hashed out, and he didn't indicate what the details of that deal might be. We'll keep you updated as we learn more.

Update: See update here.

In a signing statement appended to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, President Bush asserted that he is not obliged to obey four key sections of the bill because they trample on his executive authority. One provision that Bush's statement targets precludes the the use of taxpayer money "to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United States Armed Forces in Iraq" or "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq." (Boston Globe)

Barack Obama's (D-IL) presidential campaign announced last night that it will give to charity over $70,000 in contributions linked to Antoin Rezko, the Chicago developer due to begin trial next month for corruption. The campaign said it discovered the money after it undertook a more extensive review of Rezko-related contributions. (AP)

Civil Rights groups have called upon Attorney General Michael Mukasey to rescind a Department of Justice opinion that authorized an administration scheme by which registered Republicans switch their affiliation to "independent" so that President Bush can stack the bi-partisan, eight person Civil Rights Commission with political allies. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) are leading the effort to have a Bush memo, which laid the foundation for the end run around the Civil Rights Act of 1957, rescinded. (CREW)

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Last time around, Attorney General Michael Mukasey had more than a little trouble telling the Senate Judiciary Committee whether waterboarding is torture. "If it amounts to torture, then it is not Constitutional" just wasn't cutting it.

But this time, he's coming ready. He laid it all out in a letter to the panel last night. When he sits down for his hearing this morning, he'll say... I can't tell you if it's torture, because we're not doing it now anyway and there's no use talking about it if we're not even doing it -- which doesn't mean that we won't do it, but we really probably won't.

Or as he puts it, if I may quickly summarize his 3-page letter:

"[I] have concluded that the interrogation techniques currently authorized in the CIA program comply with the law.... I have been authorized to disclose publicly that waterboarding is not among those methods. Accordingly, waterboarding is not, and may not be, used in the current program.... It is precisely because the issue is so important, and the questions so difficult, that I, as Attorney General, should not provide answers absent a set of circumstances that call for those answers. Those circumstances do not present themselves today, and may never present themselves in the future."

The clear intended message here for the Democrats on the panel is that Mukasey would never approve waterboarding, but they're not going to get him to say why. Somehow I don't think they'll be completely satisfied. Especially if he repeats this line from his letter:

"There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question."

So -- what's up? Marty Lederman, a former lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, speculates that what's really driving Mukasey's refusal to address the question is that "such a repudiation would undermine the legal basis for other of the 'enhanced' CIA interrogation techniques" -- techniques such as stress positions, inducing hypothermia, sleep deprivation and the like.

Remember also that Mukasey has expressed confidence in Steven Bradbury, the current head of the Office of Legal Counsel, who has reportedly approved all these techniques (and waterboarding). And in his statement today, Mukasey seems to be saying above that he's approved them too (minus waterboarding). He supports the current system and doesn't want to rock the boat. With the most controversial technique eliminated, all this unwanted scrutiny will hopefully recede.

We'll be providing live updates of Mukasey's hearing, which starts at 10 this morning.

The Orlando Sentinel reports on how things are going down in Florida, our nation's capital for electoral mayhem (and that's a pic of the patron saint of Florida elections, former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, to the left there):

Sheneka McDonald spent 10 minutes trying to convince poll workers ... that she should have a Democratic ballot. She questioned poll workers when she was handed a Republican ballot but was told, "this is the only ballot we have."

"I said, 'How can this be the only ballot,'" McDonald recalled. "That's when the guy chimed in from the back and said the Democratic primary was in March."

The poll captain eventually apologized to McDonald and told her they had forgotten to unpack all the ballots. "It was a little unnerving this morning," she said. "I don't see how you forget to unpack ballots. This is what gives Florida its reputation."

Note to Florida election workers: Although Florida has been stripped of its delegates, there is most certainly a Democratic primary today.

And TPM Reader KH writes in to tell the story of one man's triumph against incredible odds:

I voted in Lee County, Florida this morning - being in Southwest Florida, its a Republican stronghold in the state. The poll worker who opened the door for me advised "Just show your driver's license to the desk and you can vote." Only problem is that this is patently untrue, Florida providing for casting of provisional ballots and all. When I told the nice lady at the registration desk that I had lost my wallet and was going to cast a provisional ballot, she gave me the perplexed look of the uninformed. Fortunately, there was a gentleman at the "special services" desk who knew what to do and he got me on my way to voting. Then he told me that I had to "contact the supervisor of elections and provide proof of my right to vote or they will not count my ballot." Sigh. This also is not true in Florida - no proof is required if the only basis for casting the provisional was the lack of proper identification. The supervisor is suppose to run the driver's license number provided (which I gave them) against the state database and when they match the vote is counted.

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Who wouldn't want to relive the 2004 election debacle in Ohio?

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) have invited Ohio's controversial former Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (R) for a chat about voting irregularities in the 2004 election. The hearing, which "will explore the current state of voting rights and the allocation of resources to end voter suppression and voter fraud," is scheduled for February 8th. Conyers and Nadler appear to be hoping that Blackwell's past success in suppressing voter turnout will be very informative. The invite is below.

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Just now, the House changed the bill to make it a 15-day extension instead of 30-day one, and the bill passed by voice vote. It all happened rather quickly. So it seems as if there really wasn't much disagreement on this at all. Now it's back over to the Senate....

Note: As I noted yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mentioned that he would agree to a shorter extension than 30 days. So it appears as if two weeks is what the Republicans hit on. In a press release, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) warns: "This is the Democrats last chance - in two more weeks, if they fail to get a bill completed, there will be no more excuses available.”

As if things weren't complicated enough....

Over in the House, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House intelligence committee, took to the floor this afternoon to urge others to vote against any extension to the Protect America Act. His reasoning: 1) the administration's bill was bad law in the first place and brought home the lesson to never pass legislation under "duress brought on by propaganda, misinformation, and fear mongering,” 2) surveillance authorized under the PAA would continue even if the law lapsed, and 3) it wouldn't improve the Dems' negotiating position.

Here's video of his remarks:

He reiterated this in a "Dear Colleague" letter sent to all of the other lawmakers who had voted against the PAA back in August. That letter is below.

So the question becomes whether other Dems will break ranks (all in all, 181 voted against the PAA last August). The vote on the extension is likely to take place in the next hour or so in the House.

In the Senate, they'll get back to debating the surveillance bill as well. Things still seem at a standstill, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) insisting on simple majority votes for all of the amendments -- including the crucial Feingold/Dodd amendment to strip retroactive immunity for telecoms that participated in the administration's warrantless wiretapping -- and the Republicans refusing. We'll keep you updated.

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It's hard enough to get the facts straight when allegations are made. But everything gets all the more complicated in the Bush Administration's hall of mirrors; it's all pots and kettles.

Consider this dust-up between the Office of Special Counsel and the Justice Department. In one corner, you have Special Counsel Scott Bloch, who heads an obscure little office that is charged with investigating whistleblower complaints, Hatch Act violations, and the like -- but who is himself being investigated for retaliating against whistleblowers and politicizing his office. Oh, and he used a tech service called Geeks on Call to scrub his hard drive at work (he says all the info was personal). In the other corner, you have the Justice Department, and well, you know all about that.

In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week, Bloch charged that the Department was blocking his probe of politicization in the DoJ, his investigation of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias' firing (was it because of his Navy reserve service?), and a whistleblower complaint against former U.S. attorney Rachel Paulose. Eric Black, who reported on the letter last night, has helpfully posted a copy here (pdf).

In the letter, Bloch complains that 1) after the Justice Department launched its own internal investigation of the U.S. attorney firings and politicization in the Department last spring, they asked him to back off, and 2) the DoJ has refused to investigate a whistleblower complaint against Paulose.

Bloch's job, at least under the Bush administration, is to write investigatory reports which the White House will then ignore. Tellingly, Bloch complains in the letter that he's been trying to get White House counsel Fred Fielding on the phone for two months and had no luck.

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