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Remember, at the beginning of the week, when the New York Times reported that "at least 10 people" had access to that critical flask of anthrax linking Dr. Bruce Ivins to the 2001 anthrax attacks?

At the time, we thought that was really significant. Ten people? How did the FBI eliminate the other nine people as suspects to know Ivins was the guilty one?

But then on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the number of people with access to that anthrax was much higher.

In addition, more than 100 people had access to the anthrax in question, a larger number than many had previously believed.
Now today, the Washington Post reports that the flask in Ivins' lab was not the only one containing that particular strain matched to the 2001 letters.

FBI officials said the powdered bacteria mailed to news outlets and Senate offices had a distinct genetic heritage that precisely matched anthrax spores Ivins kept in a flask in his laboratory. But the officials also acknowledged that 15 other labs had the same strain, known as RMR-1029.
At this rate, by the end of next week, we'll find out that this strain of anthrax is typically found in most 10th-grade science labs.

Ron Suskind's bombshell report -- that the CIA essentially forged a letter in late 2003 linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and nuclear weapons -- has been getting knocked around all week.

And so far, it's holding up well under scrutiny.

The specific allegations first reported on Monday say former CIA Director George Tenet ordered a former Marine and CIA agent to create a letter indicating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta was trained in Iraq and also that Iraq was receiving suspicious shipments from Niger (the implication being the now infamous "yellowcake uranium").

The assignment for the agent, Rob Richer, the former number-two in command at the Operations Directorate, was to track down Saddam's former intel chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush, in Jordan and convince him to write the letter in his own handwriting on Iraqi government letterhead, backdated to July 2001.

The order to concoct the letter was drawn up on White House stationary, Richer told Suskind. The book says the CIA ultimately carried out the order, but it does not say how.

The fake letter became public in December 2003 and fueled global media speculation about an Iraq-al Qaeda link. At that time, the U.S. military had failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and American domestic support for the war was fading.

The story's veracity took a hit early in the week when Richer, who is now retired, issued a public statement Monday denying any involvement. Well, actually, the White House issued that statement for him, along with its own vague denial that Suskind's report was "absurd."

Today Suskind took the unusual step of publishing a transcript of his taped interview with Richer in June. Richer left the agency in 2005, saying that he lacked confidence in the agency's leadership.

Also today the story got new legs -- and additional details -- from Joe Conason's column in Salon. Conason takes us back to the time of the bogus letter's first appearance.

That letter first popped up in a credulous report in London's Sunday Telegraph, where the reporter cites a key source as Ayad Allawi. You might remember him, the CIA lackey who was propped up as Iraq's interim prime minister in 2004, only to see his political career end when Iraqis held elections a year later.

Conason also notes that Allawi was visiting CIA headquarters just a few days before that story broke in the Telegraph.

The most interesting question raised about Suskind's accuracy came yesterday from Philip Giraldi, a former CIA agent, writing in the American Conservative. According to him, the Bush Administration did order up a forged letter, but did it through the Pentagon and Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans. Giraldi notes the the military has its own false documents center used to draw up fake papers for special ops officers traveling under cover as businessmen.

That does sound plausible, given that the CIA was always more circumspect of the Saddam-al Qaeda links that were popular with the neocons in Feith's office across the river.

Looking back at all the aftershocks this week, what stands out for us is the narrow, legalistic denials that the White House and others coughed up this week.

Take a close look at what Tony Fratto, deputy White House press secretary, told Politico:

"The allegation that the White House directed anyone to forge a document from Habbush to Saddam is just absurd."
Is it false, or just absurd? Did they direct anyone to forge any documents? From Habbush to someone else? Or from someone else to Saddam? Sounds like an attorney wrote that one.

And here's what Tenet said in a statement also issued by the White House.
"There was no such order from the White House to me nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort."
In the transcript Suskind released today, he asked Richer about what kind of paper trail is created when setting an operation like this in motion. Richer said there was only one, closely guarded, piece of paper that originated from the White House.

Rob: It probably passed through five or six people. George probably showed it to me, but then passed it probably to Jim Pavitt, the DDO, who then passed it down to his chief of staff who passed it to me. Cause that's how--you know, so I saw the original. I got a copy of it. But it was, there probably was--

Ron: Right. You saw the original with the White House stationery, but you didn't--down the ranks, then it creates other paper.

Rob: Yeah, no, exactly."

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was supposed to be released from jail today, but instead he faces a new set of felony charges relating to his allegedly shoving a sheriff's deputy into his partner last month. The two deputies were reportedly trying to deliver a subpoena to a friend of the mayor when the incident occurred.

Attorney General Mike Cox -- the first Republican AG in 48 years -- charged the Motown mayor with two counts of felonious assault for "assaulting ... police officers in the furtherance of their duties."

The new charges are separate from those relating to the "Text Message Scandal," which resulted in indictments for obstruction of justice and perjury.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Kilpatrick attorney James Thomas said they were going to fight the new charges as they fought in court today with "law and common sense." He said of the new charges, "it's just an allegation, let's take it step by step." At the suggestion the latest case was on the fast, track, he laughed and said, "Mike Cox could dismiss it in one day."


Kilpatrick comes from a strong political family in Detroit. His mother is U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D), who is currently running for re-election.

Late update: The DFP reports that Kilpatrick was released from jail and arraigned on his new charges this morning. The mayor was fitted with a tether, and forced to pay $50,000 bond in order to secure his release on the two new felony charges.

Kilpatrick has also been forbidden to travel, which includes his planned appearance at the Democratic National Convention later this month.

U.S. military documents show that at least 17 detainees at Guantanamo Bay were forced to repeatedly move from place to place to cause disorientation and sleep deprivation. This program, called the "frequent flyer" program, occurred even after it was banned in March 2004. (Washington Post)

The Mayor of a Maryland suburb is demanding that the Department of Justice investigate a July 29th police raid when police fatally shot his two dogs. The raid was apparently targeting a drug-trafficking scheme in which drugs were delivered to unsuspecting people, such as the mayor, to be picked up later by drug dealers. (AP)

After spending last night in jail, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick may face a new criminal charge for confronting a detective trying to serve a subpoena. He was released from jail today after violating the terms of his bond. (AP)

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Concerns about the FBI's circumstantial case against military microbiologist Bruce Ivins are reaching Capitol Hill.

Last night, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) sent a three-page letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller III, asking them to respond to 18 questions about virtually every aspect of the probe.

In the House, Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat who represents the New Jersey district where the anthrax-laced letters were mailed, says he's talking to other House members about a combined inquiry involving the judiciary, intelligence, science and technology, and government oversight committees.

Grassley has some pretty good questions. For example:

Was Dr. Ivins ever polygraphed in the course of the investigation? If so, please provide the dates and results of the exam(s). If not, please explain why not.
And
What role did the FBI play in conducting and updating the background examination of Dr. Ivins in order for him to have clearance and work with deadly pathogens at Ft. Detrick?
Read more for the full text of the letter.

Read More →

From the AP:

The government is still searching for evidence that Bruce Ivins was solely responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks despite declaring the case solved.

Search warrants and other documents filed Thursday in federal court in Washington show the FBI wants to look through computers Ivins used at his local library before he killed himself last week.

A reporter yesterday asked United States Attorney Jeffrey Taylor what evidence -- hard evidence -- the FBI had against Bruce Ivins in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

"We have a flask that's effectively the murder weapon," Taylor said.

But this is not like Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.

A lot of ambiguity remains because the FBI's investigation hinges on the complexities of microbiology and genomics.

And it's not just that we don't understand those details. The FBI did not release them.

What the FBI tells us is this: the anthrax started out in a wet, almost liquid form. Then somehow Ivins -- and only Ivins -- converted that into the fine, weapons-grade powder that was sent through the mail and killed five people.

That's an exceptionally elaborate process for just one person, said Brenda Wilson, a microbiology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She did post-doctoral research on anthrax.

"I don't believe that he could do this all on his own. It does require more people than one," Wilson told TPMmuckraker.

"First you have to lyopholize it," Wilson explained. "Lyopholiziation is a drying process. But then after you dry it down, in order to make it weapons-grade, you have to do a lot of grinding and stuff -- it's like a milling process. And during the milling process you need to add substances to it, like sillica, that sort of coats the spores and makes them less sticky."

"People would notice what he was doing. People would be aware of him doing it. I know what people are doing in my lab. Even if he wanted to be sneaky about it, people would know that things were done."

"I could see if someone else made it and he took it and did something with it. That I could believe," Wilson said.

Officially, the U.S. does not have or keep any weapons-grade anthrax. President Nixon ordered the dismantling of U.S. biowarfare programs in 1969 and the destruction of all existing bioweapons, including anthrax.

Wilson pointed out the FBI talked about the flask of "wet" anthrax but there is no evidence they found any other remnants of the weapons-grade version beyond the letters sent in the mail.

"Where is the original batch? We know somewhere it had to be made and put into those envelopes," she said.

We also talked to George Weinstock, a professor of genetics and the associate director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis.

Compared to Wilson, Weinstock comes from a different field of science, so he had a different set of questions about the Anthrax investigation.

His main question was: How exactly did the FBI link the weaponized anthrax from the letters in 2001 to the flask of "wet" anthrax in Ivins' lab?

When matching DNA, it's much easier to prove something doesn't match than proving it does, he said.

We hear a lot about DNA matching in people -- such as paternity testing. But matching spores of anthrax is different. They're not as complex, so the odds of two sets of anthrax spores sharing the same genetic code is much higher.

In court documents, the FBI said it tested roughly 1,000 samples of anthrax before concluding that Ivins' anthrax was a parent strain of the anthrax in the letters.

Based on that level of testing, what are the odds that the "forensic microbiologists" got a false match?

"This might put the chance at one in 1,000. Think about one in 1,000 if it was a paternity suit? Whether that would stand up in court, I don't know. You really need to look at a much larger sample to have accurate statistics," he said.

"We need more information about these particular spelling mistakes" in the spores' gene sequence, Weinstock said. "We just don't know that information and it wasn't presented in the affidavit."

Murray Waas confirmed today something we've suspected for a long time: that the Justice Department has widened the net in the Inspector General's U.S. attorneys firing probe to include allegations that senior White House officials made false statements to Congress.

From the Huffington Post:

The Justice Department investigation into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys has been extended to encompass allegations that senior White House officials played a role in providing false and misleading information to Congress, according to numerous sources involved in the inquiry.

. . . Federal investigators have obtained documents showing that Kyle Sampson, then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Chris Oprison, then an associate White House counsel, drafted and approved the letter even though they had first-hand knowledge that the assertions were not true.


The letter referenced was sent from the Justice Department to Congress on February 23, 2007 and denied Karl Rove's involvement in the replacement of fired U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins by Rove protege Tim Griffin.

Just a month later, however, the DOJ was forced to admit that the February letter had been "contradicted by Department documents."

Most notable in those "Department documents," was an email between Sampson and Oprison on December 19, 2006 in which Sampson wrote that getting Griffin appointed was "important to Harriet, Karl, etc." The email from Sampson, who was chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales at the time, directly contradicted the DOJ's earlier denial.

Sampson bumbled his way through an explanation of this discrepancy during his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in March of 2007.

We pulled the video from our archives. Take a look:

From the AP:

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - A military jury has sentenced Osama bin Laden's former driver to 5 1/2 years in prison for aiding terrorism, making him eligible for release in just six months. Salim Hamdan was acquitted of conspiracy in the first Guantanamo war crimes trial.
Late Update: Here's an interesting detail noted over at ProPublica:

Even after Hamdan's "sentence" is up, the military can continue to hold him as an enemy combatant. He can be freed when one of two things happen: 1) the government decides that he is "no longer an enemy combatant" 2) the war on terror ends.

Nothing can ever be easy with these two.

The Justice Department, on behalf of Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten, filed its request for appeal today in the July 31 ruling in House Judiciary Committee v. Miers et al.

While the appeal is resolved, however, the DOJ also requested that the judge grant a stay on the subpoenas, allowing Miers and Bolten to continue to evade the House Judiciary Committee.

From the AP:

Without a quick stay of the ruling, Miers and Bolten may be forced to testify before an appeal can be heard, the two said in a court filing. Democrats have announced they would schedule hearings in September, at the height of election season.

"Whatever the proper resolution of the extraordinarily important questions presented, the public interest clearly favors further consideration of issues before defendants are required to take actions that may forever alter the constitutional balance of separation of powers," the Bolten and Miers request said.

A stay would also benefit Republicans, since the subpoenas expire at the end of the year, not long before Bush leaves office.
Late Update: Also today, White House Counsel Fred Fielding sent a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that despite the court order last week, the White House will wait for the outcome of its appeal before responding to further subpoena request.

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