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For Democrats, the stakes are high for Hans von Spakovsky's nomination to the Federal Election Commission. They say that a man who politicized the Justice Department and worked to disenfranchise voters has no place on the body regulating election issues. But the stakes for the fallout from his confirmation battle may be even higher.

Right now, the fight over von Spakovsky's nomination is at a stalemate. Senate Republicans insist that if von Spakovsky isn't confirmed, then none of the other three nominees to the Federal Elections Commission will get a vote. But a select group of Senate Democrats, led by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), say that they'll prevent any vote on von Spakovsky if his nomination is tied to the other nominees. For now, neither side is budging.



In holding the other three nominees hostage, the Republicans have a clear strategy. The commission typically has six members, three of them Republicans and three Democrats. If the Senate did not vote on any of the four nominees up for confirmation, then the commission would be down to only two members by the end of the year, which would effectively incapacitate it. The commission requires four members to operate. To prevent that from happening, President Bush could stock the commission with recess appointees while Congress was out of session.

Either one of those scenarios is "fraught with potential danger," Fred Wertheimer, the executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog Democracy 21, told me.

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The Blackwater guard who drunkenly shot a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi in December 2006 was back working for a Department of Defense contractor by February, CNN reported this morning.

And in a letter House oversight committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today, he asks why. He suggests that the reason it was so easy for the guard, Andrew J. Moonen, to get back to work, was because the State Department didn't inform the Defense Department about what the ex-Blackwater employee did to get initially expelled from Iraq. Moonen returned to Kuwait in February, CNN reported, working for Defense Department contractor Combat Support Associates (CSA).

During this week's Congressional hearing on Blackwater, a State official refused to tell Waxman anything about the incident -- including whether State had helped Moonen flee Iraq after the shooting.

"It is hard to reconcile this development with the State Department’s claim that 'We are scrupulous in terms of oversight and scrutiny not only of Blackwater but all of our contractors,'" Waxman writes.

Waxman requested all of the Departments documents concerning Moonen and the Christmas Eve, 2006 shooting.

Waxman's full letter is below.

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Associated Press spokesman Jack Stokes confirms today that the AP still hasn't received a videotape confiscated by U.S. troops on Wednesday.

Lt. Colonel Scott Bleichwehl told the AP that the footage -- shot in the aftermath of a Baghdad bombing that wounded the Polish ambassador -- would be returned to the news organization "shortly," in the AP's paraphrase. The cameraman who shot the footage was detained by an unnamed U.S. unit for about 40 minutes, with no reason provided to him or the news organization.

Bleichwehl has yet to respond to two emails requesting comment about the episode, nor has Multi-National Corps-Iraq spokesman Lt. Colonel James Hutton.

It happened nearly five years ago, but House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) still has plenty of questions about the New Hampshire phone jamming case.

In a letter Wednesday, he asked Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler a number of questions about the case, focusing in particular on whether the Justice Department has "adequately investigated and prosecuted" the case. You can read the letter here.

On Election Day, 2002, remember, Republicans schemed to jam Democratic get-out-the-vote phone banks (here's our timeline of the scandal). The executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, Charles McGee, who hatched the scheme, subsequently explained that he'd gotten the idea from his time in the Marines, where he was taught to jam the enemy's communications. Both McGee and Allen Raymond, who ran the consulting firm that arranged the jamming, pled guilty and have served their time.

The case moved slowly -- the pleas not occurring until June of 2004. And it wasn't until after the 2004 election that James Tobin, who'd been the Republian National Committee's New England Regional Political Director, was indicted for his role in the conspiracy. He was ultimately convicted, but then the verdict was reversed on appeal. Tobin will go to trial again this December.

Democrats say it's no accident that the case took so long.

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Not that State is conceding Blackwater or other private-security contractors protecting U.S. diplomats have done anything wrong, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is leaning in the direction of imposing a few restrictions on their activity in Iraq:

An internal State Department review ordered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recommends overhauling U.S. diplomatic security practices in Iraq after the Blackwater USA shooting incident in which 13 Iraqis were killed, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Rice has ordered the recommendations be followed, including requiring U.S. diplomatic security agents to accompany Blackwater-escorted convoys of U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The government security service also will bolster monitoring of the private security escorts by installing video cameras in cars and recording radio traffic between convoys and the U.S. embassy.

"She wants to make sure there is a management feedback loop," McCormack told reporters.


What's not changed? Oh, yeah -- the rules of engagement that allow private firms to use lethal force with apparently minimal provocation, which U.S. military officials consider a liability. On the other hand, those video cameras are sure to capture some wacky bloopers:

A Government Accountability Office report described the ways in which the Federal Communications Commission broadcasts which items it is about to vote on “even though that information is not supposed to be released outside of FCC.” At issue is the extent to which some “stakeholders” gain advance access to FCC information and then gain a competitive advantage. One stakeholder informed the GAO that FCC staff calls them to directly inform them of scheduled votes. (Washington Post)

Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN) has proposed seven-year terms for inspector generals and new rules that subject them to removal for cause, rather than presidential whim. Cooper’s proposed law would also allow inspector generals to request funds directly from OMB and congressional committees, and establish a council to investigation any misconduct of the inspectors. (U.S. News & World Report)

Former Gov. Don Siegeleman will have to continue his case from prison, according to a recent court decision that denied him bail pending appeal. The judge ruled that Siegelman has failed to demonstrate that his appeal raises substantial questions of law or fact that might overturn the verdict. (Associated Press)

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While the State Department has frequently covered for Blackwater, particularly over the Nisour Square incident, the military has tended to be more candid. "It may be worse than Abu Ghraib," a senior officer said last week, at a time when diplomats were, at most, conceding "there's an issue here" and urging calm in the aftermath of the shooting. That shouldn't be surprising: after all, it's the 160,000 troops in Iraq who suffer by association with reckless contractors.

Now, after Blackwater got off lightly at a Congressional hearing Tuesday -- in which Nisour Square was not explored -- the military is pressing the point harder. U.S. military reports from the scene at Nisour Square, separate from the initial Blackwater-penned "first blush" inquiry, portray Blackwater guards as out of control and trigger-happy, firing on Iraqi civilians and Iraqi security forces almost indiscriminately. "It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," a U.S. military official tells The Washington Post.

The most significant new detail added by the U.S. military account about the chaos at Nisour Square on September 16: Contrary to Blackwater's frequently-repeated account, no Iraqi civilian or policeman fired upon its guards. The small-arms fire was, in other words, all coming from the contractors.

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It looks like Veco plays favorites. Since 1993 the oil services company tangled in several of the Alaska corruption investigations has given Rep. Don Young (R-AK) more than two and a half times what it's donated to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the AP reports.

Young's raked in $180,630, while Stevens has only pocketed $70,500 (but that presumably doesn't include other perks like Veco employees remodeling his house or parking cars at his fundraisers.) Young and Stevens are both under federal investigation for their ties to the corporation. The FBI is particularly interested in the annual pig roast former Veco CEO Bill Allen would host for Young.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has only pulled in a pittance ($41,250), but she's only been in Congress since late 2002, when her father bequeathed his seat to her to become governor of Alaska.

A statement just out from Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) after their opposition to Hans von Spakovsky's nomination scuttled a deal to move von Spakovsky quickly through the Senate:

“While at the Department of Justice, Hans von Spakovsky was directly involved in efforts to politicize the Department and use the Voting Rights Section to disenfranchise voters, rather than enforce our nation’s civil rights laws. As a recess appointee to the FEC he has been a committed, ideological opponent of the campaign finance laws he is supposed to enforce. Putting him at the head of the FEC is just another example of this administration putting the fox in charge of the hen house. We oppose his nomination, and any effort to tie his nomination to the other pending nominations to the FEC.”

Another day, another resignation.

This time, it's Scott Jennings, who worked under Karl Rove in the White House.

Jennings, among other things, was a frequent contact concerning the U.S. attorney firings for Justice Department aides Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling in the White House. The other Rove aide involved in the firings, Sara Taylor, left the White House earlier this year. When he was subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he refused to discuss the firings (or even discuss his role in appointing U.S. attorneys in general), citing executive privilege.

But we'll remember Jennings most of all for his remarkably effective parroting of the White House talking points about the political briefings Jennings gave at various department and agencies. Jennings, remember, gave the most infamous of those briefings, at the General Services Administration. After Jennings had finished his rundown of which GOP candidates were in trouble of losing reelection, GSA chief Lurita Doan asked aloud how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates." Jennings reportedly replied that the top would be better discussed "off-line."

So in appreciation for Jennings' service, here's last months' TPMtv episode on the subject, complete with Jennings' and Taylor's mind-wracking message discipline:

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