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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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The big question in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist has just declared his candidacy for his open GOP-held seat, is just how much of a frontrunner he is -- and whether the GOP primary could get messy.

For example, the conservative blog RedState.com is already telling readers to not give any support to the NRSC because of their immediate endorsement of Crist: "We can disagree with the NRSC on many things, but this one is a bridge too far." And the Club For Growth is calling on Crist to reject a state budget plan that includes tax and fee increases.

A Florida Democratic source confidently predicted to me that Crist, who supported the stimulus bill and has taken other moderate positions, will face a divisive primary against former state House speaker Marco Rubio, running on the right. "It's already happening," the Dem source said. "Before he [Crist] was even in the race, his last campaign manager and former chief of staff was already taking shots at Rubio, and Rubio obviously took a lot of shots at him yesterday. So it's already ugly. They're not even waiting."

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So, what came out of today's hearings on torture?

  • Perhaps the main piece of news came when Philip Zelikow, the former top State Department lawyer, revealed that the memo he wrote offering an alternative view on the legality of torture -- which he says the Bush White House tried to destroy -- has been located, and is being reviewed for declassification. The memo figures to be a hot item when released.

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Here's some fun/horrifying video form the torture hearings this morning of Lindsey Graham browbeating a witness, David Luban of Georgetown Law, who disagrees with him. Graham repeatedly asks questions, then prevents Luban from finishing his answer when the witness starts to say something that Graham objects to.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D) has just announced via press release that she is running for governor of this big swing state in 2010.

Sink had previously a top choice of national Democrats to run for the Senate seat now held by retiring GOPer Mel Martinez, but she passed up the race in January. Now with Gov. Charlie Crist (R) running for Senate, Sink has thrown her name into the governor's race.

There is going to be a whole lot of movement in Florida's statewide offices now, with a Senator retiring, a governor running for Senate, and the other statewide officers running for governor or other state positions.

Full press release after the jump.

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As I reported below, Senate Republicans have blocked, for now, the confirmation of David Hayes as Undersecretary for the Interior. The vote was 57-39, with Reid voting with the minority for procedural reasons. Here's the roll call. Sixty votes were required to move the nomination forward.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted for cloture. Presumably for procedural reasons, so did Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate Minority Whip. But Sens. Kerry (D-MA), Kennedy (D-MA), and Mikulski (D-MD) didn't vote at all. If they'd been around this morning, the Democrats might have had the votes. Kennedy has missed a number of votes for health reasons, but where were Kerry and Mikulski?

Late update: Kerry is apparently in Massachusetts at the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq.

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