TPM News

A new Rasmussen poll in the New Jersey gubernatorial race finds that the establishment Republican choice, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, could be in a tough race for the GOP nomination against the conservative insurgent, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.

The numbers: Christie 39%, Lonegan 29%, with a ±5% margin of error. The winner of the Republican primary, on June 2, will face Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, whose approval ratings have been in negative territory.

From the pollster's analysis: "In primary elections, turnout is often the key. Lonegan's supporters are somewhat more committed to participating in the primary suggesting that a low turnout could favor his prospects."

My own perspective as a New Jerseyan: This state has become heavily Democratic, with Barack Obama carrying it by a 57%-42% margin. The last time the Republicans won the governorship was with the narrow re-election of the moderate Christie Whitman in 1997. In 2001, the conservative insurgent Bret Schundler won the GOP nomination, and then lost the general election by more than ten points.

Greg Sargent gets the answers from Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) that I've been seeking for weeks. The two both say they remain undecided about the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he'd need "a couple" Republicans to cross the line before he could move Johnsen's confirmation to the floor, as Greg notes, this suggests her nomination's simply stalled--not dead in the water.

But here's the corollary to that.

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AIG CEO Ed Liddy's much-anticipated appearance in Congress today was... not really worth all the anticipation, in our humble opinion. Questions posed by members of the House Oversight Committee included "what is the address of AIG?", an inquiry into whether the company's value was reflected in its stock price, and the follow up to the first question "Is that in New York City?"

But today the blog ZeroHedge wonders something we'd like to see Ed Towns bring up next time: wherefore the apparent halt in the unwind of derivatives held by the money vortex called AIG Financial Products? Back in February the company was saying it had unwound 25% of its $2.7 trillion in notional exposure, which would leave it with 2.025 trillion in outstanding swaps. By March they said they had unwound another $400 billion and change. But in the two months since then, if Liddy's testimony today is accurate, the unit has only managed to offload $100 billion in additional exposure. What's to explain for the sudden halt? Did someone give up "unwinding complex trades" for Lent?

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Former President Bill Clinton has a clever response to former Vice President Dick Cheney's public criticism of the Obama Administration, CNN reports.

"I wish him well," Bill said, adding that "it's over," presumably a reference to the Bush-Cheney years being done with.

Bill added: "But I do hope he gets some more target practice before he goes out again."

One Republican is willing to openly say that Norm Coleman has a tough time ahead of him in his legal fight for the Minnesota Senate seat: Ken Starr, who described Coleman's situation as an "uphill battle," but isn't ruling out the idea entirely.

The former independent counsel was asked in a radio interview with WCCO-AM in the Twin Cities whether the U.S. Supreme Court would grant certiorari to Coleman's case. "I would tend to doubt it," said Starr. "I can understand why given the stakes, that every avenue of appeal would be exhausted. But we select our Senators through state elections, and so it is ultimately for the state, subject to fundamental rights of equality and so forth. So I would say it would be an uphill battle."

Starr did go on to add, though: "So I would just say, good lawyers can do a great job in making a case that might seem at first blush -- especially in light of Bush vs. Gore -- the kind of case that the Supreme Court might not want to be involved in, but you would be surprised. Some cases get up there that the smart money was wrong."

It looks like a major figure in the ever-expanding public pension fund scandal is cooperating with New York AG Andrew Cuomo's probe.

The player in question is Julio Ramirez, a former Los Angeles politico who until March worked for the tony boutique investment bank Blackstone. In the nineties, Ramirez managed one of former LA mayor Richard Riordan's campaigns and worked on various others. Yesterday Cuomo announced Ramirez had pleaded guilty to securities fraud in the scheme allegedly masterminded by Hank Morris, the former top adviser to Comptroller Alan Hevesi, along with David Loglisci, the chief investment officer of the New York general pension fund. Ramirez could be the key to unwinding the Western wings of what Cuomo yesterday called "a matrix of corruption - which grows more expansive and interconnected by the day."

The AG office says Ramirez got involved in the scheme in 2003 while he was working for two hedge funds on behalf of Wetherly Capital Group, a well-connected placement agency in LA. Morris, who effectively became the "gatekeeper" of pension investments after Hevesi won the 2002 comptroller election, promised to secure investments for Ramirez's clients if he gave him a 40% cut of his fees. Unbeknownst to the pension funds and money managers, Ramirez wired a cut of his fees into a shell company Morris incorporated called PB Placement. In a statement Wetherly president Dan Weinstein called Ramirez a "part-time employee who...dragged the firm into this controversy."

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On the issue of the torture briefings, is the main story starting to give way to the back story?

Here's what we mean:

The main story, reduced to its key elements, is that by the end of 2003, it seems clear that Nancy Pelosi and other top Dems had learned that we had water-boarded detainees. Whether Pelosi did enough in response to that information, or whether she was legitimately constrained by congressional protocol and by the atmosphere of fear that prevailed at the time is a matter for debate.

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Earlier today Republicans blocked the confirmation of David Hayes, President Obama's Deputy Interior Secretary-designate. Hayes isn't a controversial nominee. He's served in that very position once before and his credentials aren't really questioned by either party.

So why was he filibustered?

As explained in this post, Republicans decided to oppose the nomination (at least for now) out of solidarity with Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) who placed a hold on Hayes several weeks ago. Holds, though not binding, are generally respected in the Senate, but a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that Reid decided to try and move the nomination forward anyhow, having grown tired of Republicans' slow-walking the nomination.

So why did Bennett place the hold in the first place?

A number of reports today suggest that the controversy has to do with the Obama Interior Department's decision to cancel oil and gas leases in Utah, sold off during the last days of the Bush administration. Here's a bit more detail:

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Last night, Michelle and Barack hosted a poetry jam in the White House. Joshua Bennett, James Earl Jones, Eric Lewis, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Mayda Del Valle and Esperanza Spalding all performed, and students from several nearby Universities were invited. "We're here to celebrate the power of words and music to help us appreciate beauty and also to understand pain,'' President Obama told the crowd.

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First Lady Michelle Obama urged their guests to "enjoy, have fun and be loose" during the evening of musical and spoken word performances.

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Esperanza Spalding, a 2005 recipient of the Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship, performs.

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The first couple, on their way to the East Wing.
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Joe and Jill Biden also attended

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Joe and Spike Lee spoke as they arrived at the East Room.

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Eric Lewis, aka ELEW, performs.
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James Earl Jones recited from Othello.

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"Our goal really is to bring the house alive,'' said Desiree Rogers, the White House social secretary. "We're all American, but all of us come from different backgrounds. We want to expose Americans to other Americans that are doing brilliant work.''

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