TPM News

When a new president comes in, he usually replaces all 93 US attorneys with his own nominees. But, in what could be bad news for Rod Blagojevich, at least one high-profile US Attorney won't be asked to step down, it looks like.

NBC News reports that Patrick Fitzgerald, the no-nonsense U.S. attorney for Chicago, will stay on under President Obama, despite being a Bush appointee.

Fitzgerald is preparing an indictment against the former Illinois governor. He also served as the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame leak case, in which Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury.

The new administration has asked all the US the current Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys to stay on in the short term, while it decides which to retain. But it has already made a decision on Fitzgerald, it appears.

The suggestion to keep Fitz, who has been in the job since 2001, was made by Sen. Dick Durbin, who's close to Obama. Durbin's suggestion was "positively received," according to DOJ officials, as well as aides to Durbin.

The decision is not unexpected, since replacing Fitzgerald while he's in the midst of a high-profile and long-running probe of his state's former governor, would likely have generated an outcry.

Coleman lawyer/spin-man Ben Ginsberg made a stunning announcement at this evening's press conference: Stearns County now reports that they've found seven new ballots.

"That's another significant development, showing the inaccuracy of the canvassing board total," Ginsberg said, "and we feel good about the votes that will be coming in."

This comes after two other pro-Coleman counties, Washington and Anoka, were finding similarly small numbers of missing ballots late last week, events that the Coleman campaign cheered. (Stearns voted 46%-34% for Coleman.)

These ballots could all indeed be legitimately lost and now found. Unfortunately, there's always room for human error in a recount involving 2.9 million ballots. But think for a second about what the spin would be on Fox News if the roles were reversed -- if Franken's team was currently behind, and boasting about newly-found votes coming in dribs and drabs.

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In addition to his work on executive compensation limits, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has also earned a reputation for pinning down government officials on touchy issues stemming from the financial bailout.

Today was no exception, as Sherman pressed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the central bank's ostensibly unlimited ability to lend money "in unusual and exigent circumstances." With the Obama administration today proposing $1 trillion more in Fed lending backed by an infusion of TARP bailout money -- on top of an existing Fed balance sheet that tops out at $1.8 trillion -- Sherman asked Bernanke whether he was willing to accept any limits on his lending.

The answer was yes. But Bernanke's limit might be higher than some Americans can believe: $12 trillion. That's more than the entire debt limit of the U.S. government (now $11.3 trillion), from which the Fed is independent.

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I'm told old friends, Joe Biden and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, had a good private meeting yesterday, one of many meetings the vice president and senior administration officials have been having and will have with top labor leaders. (If the labor movement wasn't so atomized they might have all gone in together.) "No real news coming out of the meeting," one person with knowledge of the session said. "It was more of a general, and ongoing discussion. They discussed a whole variety of things," and part of a continuing and ongoing dialogue" between Labor and the Obama White House.

Among the topics discussed were the Employee Free Choice Act, which the administration has assured labor leaders it still wants to push for in late Spring, and the nomination of Hilda Solis to be Labor Secretary. Republicans seem to be softening in their opposition to Solis but it now looks like there won't be a committee vote on her nomination until after Congressional recess, February 23rd, making it likely to be the last cabinet seat to be filled.

On another front, TPM Alumnus Greg Sargent now of quotes David Axelrod downplaying the New York Times reported rift between him and Tim Geithner, something he downplayed in the Times story itself.

My nugget to add to this is that no one on the economic team, so far as I can tell, was pushing for the kind of showy, punitive measures that might have made today's ugly roll out of the new bailout plan at least more appealing to those who want to see banks punished. It echoes what I said last week about Summers and Geithner. People who expected to see fireworks between those two are ignoring their decades of friendship and how ideologically sympatico they are. Future fireworks, if there are any in the land of no drama, are likely to come between the economic team and otherson the periphery. In any event, the bailout plan such as it is, is now out there. It was a half-built house when it was unveiled this morning and given the market reaction today to the thing it's probably going to get revamped even more.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is testifying right now before the Senate Banking Committee on the financial rescue re-modeling he unveiled this morning. Many senior senators are just now getting up to speed on the outlines of the new Treasury plan, but the emerging consensus among Democrats is cautious approval of Geithner's goals (even as Republicans blast those goals as unclear).

"We're in uncharted waters," Chuck Schumer (NY), the third-ranked Senate Democrat, told me. "They're trying their best."

Schumer praised Geithner for adding "some degree of conditionality" to his dealings with individual troubled banks, contrasting the new Treasury Secretary with predecessor Hank Paulson, who "lurched from one plan for every bank to another plan for every bank."

Schumer also said the Federal Reserve's massive program of lending to spur the credit markets, known as TALF, was "the one successful part of the initial plan" and worth expanding under Geithner.

Meanwhile, senators as right-leaning as John Ensign (R-NV) and as left-leaning as Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have pushed the Fed today to be more transparent in disclosing which entities are receiving TALF loans. "I think it's a good idea to ... say to the Federal Reserve, 'Let's see what you are actually doing in the marketplace,'" Ensign told reporters today, "because the American people who are the ones who are on the hook."

But let's return to the Democrats for a moment.

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Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, has been a stalwart skeptic of the Treasury's bailout program since it was first announced in the fall.

But he's particularly savvy on the issue of executive compensation -- Sherman, a certified public accountant, was among the first to challenge the Obama administration's recent CEO pay limits as riddled with loopholes.

Unfortunately, Sherman told me that he believes the executive compensation limits added to the Senate's stimulus are going to get removed during conference talks with the House. The reason: a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that the pay caps will cost the government $10.8 billion in lost tax revenue over the next 10 years.

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Two funny moments today from the Minnesota trial:

Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble was asking Kevin Boyle, the election/records manager in Republican-leaning Dakota County, about the requirement that an absentee voter put his residential address on the ballot envelope, as opposed to a P.O. box where he might actually receive his mail. Quite a few ballots have been thrown out because of this.

So Trimble asked what the county would do if a voter gave his P.O. box for the purposes of paying his property taxes, clearly expecting a simple, common-sense answer that the county would accept the money:

Trimble: Is there any reason you would reject it?

Boyle: I think you're talking about property taxation--

Trimble: That's correct.

Boyle: --and I'm a bit unfamiliar with what their practices are.

Trimble then confirmed that property taxation is the office where Boyle works.

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We just talked to an Alaska state legislator to get a handle on the news that Attorney General Talis Colberg, a key Sarah Palin ally during Trooper-Gate is resigning.

"The weight of Trooper-Gate finally got to him," said the lawmaker, a Democrat, who made clear that they weren't speaking from direct knowledge of Colberg's decision, but rather on the basis of involvement in the issue as a legislator.

The lawmaker said that Colberg's decision, during Trooper-Gate, to sue to quash subpoenas issued by the legislature to key Palin administration witnesses was now widely viewed as "a bad call." That move helped delay the witnesses' testimony, and limit its scope, meaning that the legislature's report on Trooper-Gate, released just before the election, remained incomplete.

"The advice he gave to members of the Palin administration not to appear was very bad advice," said the lawmaker. "He's gotten a lot of bad press over that, and so has the governor."

"You can't ignore a legislative subpoena," the lawmaker went on. "By doing so they had some short term gain ... now, the elections over and the chickens have come home to roost on that issue."

The lawmaker, who stressed that they wished Colberg well, and bore no ill will toward him, continued: "Everyone was caught up in the moment of the presidential election, and there were some political decisions that were made that people are ultimately regretting today."

The lawmaker said that after the nine witnesses, including Todd Palin, were found in contempt last week, many in the legislature publicly expressed the view that Colberg needed to answer more questions. Colberg had appeared before a contentious House committee, but might well have been forced to appear before the Senate as well.

"He's hoping that by stepping down, he'll be able to put the whole issue behind him," concluded the lawmaker.

Talis Colberg, who was plucked from the obscurity of a small-town Alaska law practice by Sarah Palin to become the state's Attorney General, has resigned, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Colberg, who had been a GOP assemblyman and Palin backer, was criticized during the Trooper-Gate scandal last fall for often appearing to represent the interests of his patron, the governor, rather than the Alaskan people. Although he himself had led an internal investigation designed to help Palin get out in front of Trooper-Gate, Colberg ultimately dismissed calls to recuse himself from any involvement in the matter. He then helped Palin stifle the probe into the matter by trying to block subpoenas, issued by the legislature, to state officials.

It's unclear as yet what prompted Colberg's move. He said in a statement:

I determined that it was in the best interest of the state of Alaska to move on and pursue other opportunities.

Something tells us there's more to this story...

We wondered last week what would become of the growing House GOP frustration over the White House's plans to direct oversight of the 2010 Census, rather than leave the process to Commerce Secretary nominee -- and Census skeptic -- Judd Gregg.

House Republicans, no matter how ready they are to cry foul over the politicization of the Census, need at least one Senate GOPer to raise the issue during Gregg's coming confirmation hearing. And it looks like they've found that senator.

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