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It looks like Allen Stanford, the billionaire Texan banker whose investment firm is being probed by the Feds, has a positively Gatsbyesque yearning to be accepted into high society.

As we knew, Stanford calls himself "Sir" Allen Stanford, on account of a knighthood he was awarded by the former prime minister of Antigua, where his business is based. But it looks like maybe that wasn't quite good enough for Stanford, since until recently he was claiming, falsely, that the knighthood was presented by the British Royal family.

Check out this report (via Nexis), from last November in the Mail on Sunday of London:

Texan-born billionaire Sir Allen Stanford's corporate website claims that, after he became a citizen of the Commonwealth territory of Antigua, it appointed him a 'Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the Nation'.

'He was presented [with] this honour by His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex,' states the website.

However, The Mail on Sunday has learned that the Prince had nothing to do with the honour and that it was not approved by the Queen.

...

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said it was a coincidence that the knighthood ceremony, conducted by an Antiguan political appointee, took place during a celebration of the island's independence, at which Prince Edward was a guest.

'It is incorrect to say that the Earl of Wessex knighted this person while in Antigua,' said the spokesman.


Stanford's personal web site now says only that the Earl of Wessex attended the ceremony at which the "royal knighthood" was bestowed. (Though the "royal" part still seem dubious, since Buckingham Palace has disavowed any role in the proceeding.)

The whole tale is reminiscent of Stanford's claim to be descended from the founder of Stanford University. The school has denied the link.

Indeed, even the awarding of Stanford's title by the Antiguan government appears to have been pretty irregular. The paper explains:
His knighthood was bestowed in 2006 under an Antiguan law that allows its politicians to draw up an annual honours list.

But the decision to honour Stanford has caused an outcry on the island, where his ownership of a £1billion financial and property empire has made him a divisive figure. Critics deride the award as a 'mockery' and have gone to court to challenge the legislation.

Antigua's National Honours Act authorises the granting of titles to distinguished citizens, who are screened by a bipartisan committee.

But Stanford was knighted under a 2000 amendment to the act, which permits the island's most powerful politicians to allow their candidates to bypass the vetting procedure.

Phillip Abbott, a businessman who is descended from the island's first settlers, has contested in the Antiguan High Court that the amendment is invalid. 'The spectacle of Allen Stanford being knighted got up my nose,' he said. 'This amendment permits politicians to nominate anyone for a title without going through the vetting required by law.'


As we said, Gatsbyesque.

New details have also emerged about Stanford's business, and what might have tipped off regulators that something fishy was going on.

Reuters reports:
According to US regulatory filings, Stanford owns more than 10 percent stakes in three companies trading below $2 per share on the Bulletin Board or Pink Sheets: eLandia International Inc, a Coral Gables, Florida technology company.

Forefront Holdings Inc, a Brentwood, Tennessee provider of golf supplies; and Health Systems Solutions Inc, a New York technology and services company. "These were not exactly blue chip companies," said Bob Parrish, an accountant in Longboat Key, Florida, whose clients pulled roughly $500,000 out of Stanford last year.

The high rates for certificates of deposit, long considered safe short-term investments, seem to have caught the attention of U.S. regulators who began probing the company in mid-2008.


The wire service adds that the Texas Attorney General's office, and the Florida Office of Financial Regulations are also probing the company.

Fun fact: Every court in the state of Minnesota is closed today for the federal holiday -- except the Senate election court.

Today it was very much abbreviated, though. The attorneys spent the morning with the judges in closed negotiations over how to sort through the evidence, then the court held a short 18-minute session.

And even during that 18 minutes, it turns out, lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg was still looking for a loophole to allow forgery. Friedberg presented five ballot envelopes where he admitted a person other than the voter signed the ballot application form. But, he said, it had been done with the "knowledge and authority" of the voter, and was thus a legitimate, genuine signature.

Friedberg did not give any indication that the voters in these cases were disabled or otherwise physically unable to sign their forms, which is the specific statutory exception to allow someone else to sign in one's own name. Without that, the court's opinion from Friday forbade the counting of these votes -- indeed, they singled out one of Coleman's witnesses as an example of this kind of illegal voter.

But Friedberg still seems to be pushing ahead on forgery.

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During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Obama campaign famously ran circles around its opponents when it comes to digital technology and outreach. This item on TechPresident notes that Hillary Clinton's off to a pretty good start at State when it comes to technology. Some of that is owing to the digital outreach of James Glassman, the author and conservative publisher who ran public diplomacy under Condi Rice. (Okay, so my former New Republic colleague was a little off about Dow 36,000) Still it leaves Clinton with a powerful set of tools. Given the world financial crisis has become part of her purview, Geithner and who ever runs Commerce might want to get up to speed.

A funny thing happened this weekend, after congressional Democrats surmounted a fierce lobbying effort and maintained one of three executive-pay limitation plans that were being eyed for removal from the final stimulus bill.

It turns out that Wall Street wasn't the only opponent of more stringent limits on bonuses for bailed-out executives -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers were leading the charge to keep CEO pay caps out of the stimulus.

Oops. Though Geithner and Summers wanted President Obama's loophole-riddled executive compensation limits to be the only game in town, they ultimately lost that battle with Congress. Now what can they do to make sure eminently qualified leaders at companies like AIG and Merrill Lynch don't have to forgo their lucrative pay packages?

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Adam Liptak has an interesting Times piece up on the fact that now every single supreme court justice is a former federal judge, a fact pointed out recently by Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts noted this approvingly. I'm not so sure. Supreme Court justices used to have more diverse backgrounds and former governors and senators and even presidents (okay one, Taft) have served on the court. I have nothing against experience from the bench although I think a life spent entirely on the bench and in the classroom is more likely to yield the likes of a Scalia. I was somewhat comforted by the fact that Roberts himself was primarily a private practice attorney before joining the federal bench. That's no guarantee that you won't be an ideologue but real world court room experience as a litigator is something worth having. I'd love it if Obama put a politician on the Court. Bill Clinton is said to have a lot of regret about not having put one on. I could think of a few including: Jennifer Granholm (being born Canadian is allowed), Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Ed Rendell, even North Carolina Governor Mike Easley. Feingold would be sort of fun, in an irritable way. There's no guarantee that any on them would be a great but if diversity means anything it should mean more than race and gender but also experience. A politician would bring that and could be a unifying force against a conservative chief justice who isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

As the intense debate over the economic stimulus bill wound to a close on Friday, I had the chance to ask Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) about Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the conservative-leaning freshman congresswoman who has had something of a rocky ride since being appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat less than a month ago.

Gillibrand's record and persona have sparked a string of heartburn-inducing headlines for liberals, from her stint as a defense lawyer for Big Tobacco -- exposed in last week's Village Voice -- to her Palin-esque penchant for keeping rifles under her bed, reported just this morning.

One New York Democrat, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, already has vowed to pursue a primary against Gillibrand on the gun control issue. During our discussion, Maloney also declined to rule out a challenge, citing an entirely different policy dispute with Gillibrand.

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Looks like it's not just journalists who are interested in the progress of that DOJ report into whether Bush administration lawyers shaded their opinions on the legality of harsh interrogation methods in order to please the White House.

In the wake of Newsweek's story from over the weekend that a draft of the report criticizes several top Bush officials, including John Yoo, Democratic senators Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse, both of whom sit on the Judiciary committee, have sent a letter to Marshall Jarrett, who heads the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility and is overseeing the report.

In the letter, the senators, who wrote to Jarrett last year requesting the investigation, note that, according to Newsweek, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. They ask for an update on the status of Jarrett's probe by February 23.

They also suggest that they'll take action if the evidence shows that DOJ lawyers shaped their opinions to conform to the White House's views, writing:

Our intelligence professionals should be able to rely in good faith on the Justice Department's legal advice. This good faith is undermined when Justice Department attorneys provide legal advice so misguided that it damages America's image around the world and the Justice Department is forced to repudiate it. If the officials who provide such advice fail to comply with professional standards, they must be held accountable in order to maintain the faith of the intelligence community and the American people in the Justice Department."


As we noted before, it's not clear that the report will ultimately be released to the public. But at least some in Congress appear to be taking it seriously.

In the coming weeks, hopefully we'll be able to provide some insight into the various banking lobbies and how they operate and what we can expect as a bank bailout package goes from blueprint to practice. As I tried to explain on Thursday, the banking lobby is hardly a monolith. While the banking lobby merits interest on its own, it's also a useful prism for asking the larger questions about how much Washington is or is not changing in the Obama era.

On Thursday, before Congress left town for its Presidents Day recess, I had the chance to speak with Jim Himes, the Democratic Congressman from Connecticut who defeated Christopher Shays in last fall's election. The 43-year-old Harvard grad sits on the House Financial Services Committee and he's also co chairing the New Democratic Coalition task force on financial reform along with Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois. His story offers some insight into why its hard to use simple metrics to explain the story that's unfolding in Washington.

Himes's district includes Stamford and the prosperous New York City suburbs that have come to be known as Hedgefundistan for all of the wealth financiers who built megamansions in his district along side the oldline prosperous homes. If you were trying to identify who among Congressional Democrats might be an advocate for the hedge fund industry it would make sense to examine Himes. After all, so many of them live in his district. Besides he's taken a lot of money from various banking interests.

According to the Center for Repsonsive Politics, he received more money from recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP than any other member of the House Financial Services Committee in the 2008 campaign cycle--over $195,000 which is significantly more than the next highest recipient, the ranking member, Spencer Bauchus, the Alabama Republican. Himes earned more than $144,000 from Goldman Sachs employees alone. Oh, and the Rhodes Scholar also used to work for Goldman Sachs

Still, it would be wrong to assume from contributions or a financial services background alone dictates what a Congressman might or might not do. I asked Himes where he stood on the question of compelling hedge funds to disclose their investments, something that is being promoted indirectly in Congress by Senators Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat, and Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican. Their bill would give the Securities and Exchange Commission clear regulatory authority over hedge funds. (Right now the SEC's jurisdiction is ambiguous and has been taken up by the courts.) While Himes would have every incentive, given his district and where much of his money comes from, to protect the industry he said to me that "the highest priority is transparency." He didn't take a definitive position on the Levin-Grassley when I spoke to him but he was emphasizing transparency above all else which cannot be comforting to his neighbors in Hedgefundistan.

On the larger question of financial restructuring, Himes emphasized that "I want to make sure that risk resides with the people who take it."

Himes is one person to watch as we go forward. If winds up voting for a tough oversight of financial services, I think you'll have a good sense that Washington really is changing. The Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut has been in Republican hands since 1969. That it's now represented by a Democrat and one claiming, despite his pedigree, to take on financial services shows that this are changing here.

Over the weekend, the Rod Blagojevich mess got even messier.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Saturday that Sen. Roland Burris admitted, in a signed affidavit, to having talked with several Blagojevich aides about the open U.S. Senate seat. That admission appears to contradict Burris' sworn testimony last month before the Illinois legislature.

In the affidavit, filed February 5th with a Democratic state lawmaker overseeing the impeachment proceedings, Burris acknowledged that he had talked about the seat to Robert Blagojevich, the governor's brother, as well as several other of the governor's advisers. Those conversations, according to the affidavit, occurred in October and November of last year -- both before and after the seat became available thanks to Barack Obama's presidential election victory. Burris wrote that Robert Blagojevich had asked Burris to make a political contribution to the governor -- which Burris says he did not do.

That appears to contradict Burris' testimony last month in front of state legislators, when he said that the only conversation he had had about the seat with a member of the governor's circle had been over the summer with Lon Monk, a former top aide to Blagojevich. That testimony occurred while Burris was fighting an active campaign to be sworn in as a U.S. senator, after Blagojevich had picked him for the seat.

At a press conference yesterday, Burris said he hadn't mentioned the other conversations in his testimony because he hadn't been asked a direct question about Robert Blagojevich. "At no time did I ever make any inconsistent statement," Burris said.

But according to the Associated Press, the transcript of Burris's testimony shows that he was specifically questioned about Robert Blagojevich, and consulted with his lawyer before responding.

There are also questions about the actions of State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, the Democrat chairing the impeachment panel. Currie has said she received the affidavit shortly after Burris submitted it February 5th, but, believing it to be routine, she didn't read it or show it to others on the committee.

Illinois Republicans are now calling for a perjury investigation into Burris. As for Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate, who could ultimately hold the key to Burris' fate, they seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach. A spokesman for Senate Democratic chief Harry Reid told the AP, "Senator Reid is reviewing the affidavit and will await any action by Illinois legislative leaders after they review the matter."

But in the short term, it's not clear what can be done. According to one expert who spoke to the AP, the state legislature could pass a bill calling for a special election, arguing that Burris' appointment was only temporary. But whether such a bill would gain sufficient support to pass isn't known.

Blago's fall was pretty quick. But cleaning up the mess he left may take a lot longer.

Al Franken is now asserting some semblance of political authority, while his paper-thin election victory remains bottled up in court. Franken has just launched a series of town-hall meetings around Minnesota, taking on the role of a sort of Shadow-Senator to discuss the economy -- and obviously, the importance of sending him to Washington soon so he can help fix it.

The Franken camp just announced that Al held the first meeting today in St. Paul, and has more planned for Duluth and Rochester in the next two days. At the events, "Senator-Elect Franken" has been discussing the economic issues with the local mayors, starting today with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (no relation to Norm, who is also a former St. Paul mayor).

From the Franken camp's press release:

"This is not an easy time to be a mayor," said Franken. "Every day, you're asked to do more with less. That's why it was so critical that we pass the economic recovery package. America and Minnesota have been through times of crisis before, and each time we have found ways to turn crisis into opportunity. Minnesota's cities are centers of incredible innovation and economic growth, and I want to help you keep your cities strong."

Mayor Coleman said, "Right now, Washington is debating matters of enormous consequence to Minnesota's economy. Senator Elect Franken understands what our cities need to prosper and we're ready for him to go to Washington to be a voice for us."

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