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There's been a lot of talk this week about how Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, spent years as a lobbyist for the Georgia government.

So let's take a look at what Scheuneman was actually doing in that role -- which helped earn his firm nearly $900,000 since 2004. Lobbying for a foreign government is a vaguely defined task that involves cultivating contacts, trying to shape perception and influence key decisions. For Georgia, the goal was clear -- to get on track for NATO membership and secure western backing against Russian influence and aggression.

Schuenemann's dual role of paid foreign agent (as recently as March) and key adviser to a presidential candidate is unusual, especially since McCain has not indicated that Scheunemann will recuse himself from Georgia issues.

That conflict of interest is underscored by McCain's aggressive effort to influence the situation in Georgia over the past week. McCain appears to be conducting his own foriegn policy independent of the White House. The candidate is sending Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to travel to Georgia, though it is not clear how their visit will comport with the State Department's own efforts to manage the situation.

"John McCain is heavily politicizing this process. That is weird when one of the participants in the process is a guy who has taken $900,000 from the Georgia government," said Steve Clemons, director of the foreign policy program at the New America Foundation. "It stinks."

As a paid foreign agent, Scheunemann and his lobbying firm, Orion Strategies, filed disclosure reports with the Department of Justice, which offer some insight into the process of exercising influence in Washington.

Scheunemann spent a lot of time working the phones, talking to key Bush Administration officials about Georgia's efforts to join NATO. He often spoke to Ambassador John Tefft who heads the U.S. embassy in Georgia, as well as Dan Fried and Matt Bryza at the State Department, Dan Fata at the Defense Department and David Merkel from the National Security Council.

Scheunemann also lobbied on Capitol Hill, particularly in late 2006 when a key piece of legislation was moving through the Senate regarding what countries might be added to NATO. He often talked and met with the foreign policy adviser in McCain's office, John Fontaine. He also met regularly with Stephen Rademaker on the Senate majority leader's staff and with Jessica Fugate from the Foreign Relations Committee Staff.

He spent some of his time dealing with journalists. For example in July 2007, Scheunemann met with with Jackson Diehl, a deputy editorial page editor for the Washington Post to discuss developments in Georgia's NATO aspirations. Last year he wrote a letter to Harper's Magazine rebutting a story about Georgia.

When leaders from Georgia came to visit Washington, Scheunemann was out at restaurants introducing them to beltway powerbrokers. For example, in December 2006, Georgia Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli was visiting and Scheunemann arranged a dinner for him with Sen. Joseph Biden(D-DE), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Russ Fiengold (D-WI) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), also of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen, Joe Lieberman (D-CT) of the Armed Services Committee. Also at the table was Jessica Fugate, a staffer on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sheunemann also traveled to Georgia to host key lawmakers from the U.S.. For example, in August of 2006, Scheunemann was there with Sen. John McCain and the rest of a Senate delegation that included Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who sis on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mel Martinez (R-FL) of the Senate Armed Services Committee, , and Sen. John Sununu (R-NH).

Scheunemann also traveled to Georgia for more low-profile visits, like in January 2007, when he flew to Tbilisi and spent five nights in the Marriott hotel in the capital. In April 2005, Scheunemann spoke at a conference in Tbilisi, where he was identified as "a member of the Board of Directors of the U.S. Committee on NATO."

In addition to peddling his access to Washington power brokers to Georgia officials, Scheunemann also appears to have peddled his access to Georgia officials to energy investors. Scheunemann worked with Stephen Payne, the Houston-based energy consultant who was caught on video offering access to top Bush Administration officials in exchange for big donations to the future George W. Bush library fund. One of Payne's groups touts Scheuneman's ties with Georgia as a way to forge deals with the Georgia state-run oil company.

Scheunemann has tried to distance himself from Georgia as McCain's campaign has geared up this year. He de-registered as a foreign agent in March. But he still owns his firm. And that firm signed a new $200,000 contract with Georgia on the same day McCain called Saakashvili and then issued a public statement in support of Georgia. A McCain aide denied there was any connection.

"For a country like Georgia, what they are trying to do essentially is get meetings, to get noticed, to further their goals. What Randy Scheunemann was essentially trying to do is build relationships between key decision makers in the White House and in Congress, to sell the notion that this is a vital democracy," said Clemons of the New America Foundation.

"What Randy Scheunemann achieved was an effort to kind of put Georgia and the ideological meaning of hugging this young democracy over the geostrategic reality of managing vital American interests," Clemons said.

Embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will not be allowed to attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Kilpatrick is restricted to the Detroit metro area due to his assault charges. In another blow, the state's governor, Jennifer Granholm, said Thursday that she cannot legally pardon Kilpatrick. (AP)

A federal appeals court is set to reconsider tossing out the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar based around Arar's claims of torture while in U.S. custody. Born in Syria, Arar was detained by the U.S. in 2002 and sent to a prison in Syria for nearly a year after falsely being accused of links to al-Qaeda. Arar's lawyers did not ask for the federal appeals court to reconsider the increasingly high profile case, but rather the court has come to the decision on its own. (AP)

A lobbyist in Alaska is facing criminal charges accusing him of persistently failing to file lobbying disclosure reports. Prominent lobbyist Ashley Reed faces seven misdemeanors, each punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to a year, or both. (Anchorage Daily News)

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Someone is finally going directly after GOP Congressman Don Young over his suspicious earmark for the Coconut Road interchange in Florida -- but they're just skimming the surface.

The Club For Growth, which is backing Young's GOP primary challenger Sean Parnell, is airing this new ad attacking Young for putting a $10 million earmark for Florida in the budget in order to benefit a contributor:

Unfortunately, the ad doesn't mention the really juicy part -- that Young's staff inserted the earmark in after the whole budget had passed in Congress, making the whole thing almost certainly unconstitutional as well as ethically questionable.

If this whole blogging thing doesn't work out, maybe we'll go into the ad-writing business.

From the AP:

Sen. Ted Stevens says his indictment on federal corruption charges violates the Constitution.

He says the FBI overstepped its bounds when it questioned members of his legislative staff as part of the investigation.

Stevens says that violated the Constitution's speech-and-debate clause, which prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement authority to interfere with legislative business. His lawyers filed court documents Thursday asking that the case be thrown out.

The Senate's longest-serving Republican, Stevens is scheduled to face trial next month on charges that he lied about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and services he received from an oil services contractor.
Late Update: We kind of thought Stevens would try out this argument. Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson (D-LA) tried that, too. And it worked.

Odds are looking good Sen. John McCain will get a favorable ruling next week regarding his request to withdraw from the public campaign financing program.

Democrats complained when McCain sought to opt out of the program -- and its spending limits -- even after he took out a loan that hinged on his participation. A final decision comes next week.

Roll Call reports:

In the recently rebooted agency's first major test, the FEC distributed a draft opinion Thursday siding with McCain, whose fate the commission's three Democrats and three Republicans must still decide at the public meeting next week.

The agency's legal department concluded that McCain did not break the law by taking the loan -- and then exceeding contribution limits -- despite warnings to the contrary from since-ousted FEC chairman David Mason, who had a tense back-and-forth with the campaign in early 2008.

"We believe that the matching payment act does permit candidates to withdraw after they have been declared eligible," the FEC's lawyers concluded in their new draft guidance. "Although no eligible candidate may exceed the expenditure limits, the statues simply do not say whether the commission has discretion to reverse its eligibility determination and decertify a candidate."

Last week, the Washington Post published a story that appeared to finally tie Bruce Ivins to that New Jersey mailbox where the 2001 anthrax letters were mailed -- something the feds have been unable to do in their six-year investigation.

The Post breathlessly reported in a story -- headlined "New Details Show Suspect Was Away On Key Day" -- that Ivins took part of the day off on Sept. 17.

A partial log of Ivins's work hours shows that he worked late in the lab on the evening of Sunday, Sept. 16, signing out at 9:52 p.m. after two hours and 15 minutes. The next morning, the sources said, he showed up as usual but stayed only briefly before taking leave hours. Authorities assume that he drove to Princeton immediately after that, dropping the letters in a mailbox on a well-traveled street across from the university campus. Ivins would have had to have left quickly to return for an appointment in the early evening, about 4 or 5 p.m.
But then Glenn Greenwald over at Salon drilled down into the details and found that the whole story didn't make any sense -- and that the timeline described by the FBI and the Post may actually give Ivins an alibi, since the anthrax letter was stamped Sept. 18.

Now today's story in the Post appears to propose a new theory on when Ivins allegedly drove to New Jersey.
Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Based on information from receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car's gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton. The letters were postmarked Sept. 18.
That's a big shift. But the Post didn't play it that way. Today's story emphasized the incremental development that the feds recovered human hair at the New Jersey mailbox where the 2001 letters were dropped -- and they did not match Ivins.

It's clear that the FBI's case against Ivins is less than airtight. The main question at this point might be whether anyone is going to make the FBI cough up any more details of its investigation. Skeptical scientists are clamoring for more details. And there's movement from Congress, albeit slowly. The Post reports today that the House Judiciary Committee is also negotiating to hold a hearing with FBI officials. That comes on the heels of Sen. Chuck Grassley's questions for Mueller and Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week.

But the furor over the troubled investigation may be fading a bit. Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD), who received one of the anthrax-laced letters in 2001, announced yesterday that he is satisfied that the FBI's investigation was "complete and persuasive." Meanwhile, the AP filed a story yesterday dismissing some of the doubters as conspiracy theorists, comparing Ivins to Lee Harvey Oswald.

For those you wondering how Georgia came to believe that the U.S. might come to their rescue in case of war with the Russians, we found something pretty interesting.

Here's an interview that Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy advisor, gave to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty back in April, which is posted on a Georgia government Web site.

And note the date -- April 28, 2008. That's less than two weeks after Scheunemann's lobbying firm, Orion Strategies, had signed a new $200,000 lobbying contract with Georgia's National Security Council.

At no point in the interview does Sheunemann mention that he was Georgia's primary lobbyist in Washington for several years.

I think what is most important, first and foremost, is to have Western unity in the face of the latest Russian undermining of Georgian sovereignty. Traditionally, we have seen that the Russians will push and push until they meet opposition. And what they need to understand is that all European countries and the United States are united in opposing the latest Russian moves, which is really the culmination of years of what they've been doing, undermining Georgian sovereignty. ...

The reason, I think, that there's been such support for years on a bipartisan basis in the U.S. Congress, as well as support through successive administrations, for Georgia is not because Georgia has resources -- as you point out, Georgia is relatively resource poor -- it is because, in particular since the Rose Revolution, that the Georgian example has inspired Americans and American leaders in their dedication to democracy, their willingness to take risks for democracy, the tremendous reforms that the Saakashvili government has put in place.

It's really about shared values, and it's something that Senator McCain feels particularly deeply. He's been to Georgia, I think, three or four times and witnessed the legendary Georgian hospitality on those occasions, and it had a deep and lasting impact on him that will continue.
Obviously, the government of Georgia thought these sentiments would play well to its domestic audience, or else the transcript would not be on the government Web site. And whatever message was relayed from Washington to Tbilisi over the past few years, Sheunemann was a primary messenger.

You might remember earlier this summer when we pointed out that Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) was getting an exceptionally good deal on an apartment in Capitol Hill.

And -- who would have guessed? -- it's in a townhouse owned by Coleman's political backer and longtime Republican operative Jeff Larson.

Today, Coleman concedes to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he wasn't paying any utility bills and didn't even have a written lease until July, when reporters started asking about the arrangement.

Responding to media requests, the Coleman campaign Wednesday released copies of the lease that Coleman and Larson signed July 3, and the $532.88 check that Coleman's wife, Laurie, made out July 14 to Larson for 12 months' worth of unspecified utilities.
Finding a place for $600 a month just a few blocks from the Capitol is difficult, to say the least. And the deal -- and questions about whether Coleman was essentially accepting undisclosed gifts -- are cropping up as an issue in Coleman's reelection bid against former comedian-turned-Senate-candidate Al Franken.

According to the Star-Tribune:
"The more we learn about this sweetheart rent deal, the more concerns it raises," said Franken spokesman Andy Barr. "Now that Coleman is finally answering questions about what he got, it's time for him to start answering questions about what Larson got in return."

An Army major pleaded guilty Wednesday to bribery charges. Maj. James Momon Jr., who served as a contracting officer in Kuwait in 2005 and 2006, admitted that he had a $5.8 million deal to push contracts for supplies such as bottled water to certain companies. Major Momon was the replacement for a major who pleaded guilty to money laundering in a similar scheme in January. (AP)

An American general testified against another general during pretrial hearings Wednesday at Guantanamo Bay. Gen. Gregory Zanetti, who is deputy prison camps commander at Guantanamo, described his counterpart in the Air Force as haphazardly rushing the military commissions process to an "unprofessional" and "bullying" extent. (McClatchy)

A former sheriff in Oklahoma will stand trial on 35 felony charges after female jail inmates accused him of demanding sex in exchange for help getting them into a drug rehabilitation program. He could face up to life in prison if convicted. (Associated Press)

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In a press conference this afternoon, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) conceded that someone inside her administration pressured the state's Department of Public Safety to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's former brother-in-law, who is now embroiled in a bitter custody battle with Palin's sister.

Palin's statement is the latest in what has come to be known around Alaska as "Wooten-gate." The scandal began on July 11, when Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was fired from his post with little explanation, a move that quickly raised questions in Alaska.

A few days later, Monegan came forward, stating that he had been pressured by those around Palin to fire Wooten -- but had refused to do so -- a choice that he believes led to his sudden dismissal. Palin denied Monegan's accusations, and a Legislative Council has appointed a special commission to probe the matter.

In today's conference, Palin said that state troopers had taped a phone call from Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions whom she appointed last August, in which Bailey inquired about having Wooten fired.

At the press conference today, Palin distanced herself from Bailey's actions claiming that he acted alone, but the recordings suggest that he was acting at her instigation.

"The Palins can't figure out why nothing's going on," Bailey said in the recorded phone call. "So Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads saying 'Why is this guy representing the department, he's a horrible recruiting tool.' You know? So from their perspective everybody's protecting him. . . Audi probably disagrees with me, Walt [Monegan] does and I understand it's really touchy, but I just want you to understand that cops that use excessive force or go out of the lines, they just have no tolerance, because they've seen the facts personally."

Bailey has yet to comment. Calls to his phone went directly to voice mail.

Late update: Audio of Frank Bailey's recorded phone conversation has been released on the governor's state website, you can listen to it here.