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On Friday the CIA issued an official denial of Ron Suskind's claim that the White House ordered the CIA to fabricate a letter suggesting a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The statement declared flatly that "it did not happen," and called Suskind's charges "false" and "offensive."

One of Suskind's key on-the-record sources for the claim, former CIA official Rob Richer, had challenged Suskind's account when it was first reported earlier this month. And over the weekend, Richer told The Washington Post that he agrees with the CIA statement, saying that the forgery "never happened."

In response, Suskind suggested to the Post that he thinks the Bush administration has been leaning on his sources. "The White House is focusing on this because there may be legal complications for the administration," he said.

To be continued, no doubt. . .

The Obama camp has issued a statement calling the hiring of voter suppression guru Hans von Spakovsky at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which we first reported yesterday, "unbelievable."

From Obama spokesman Michael Ortiz:

"Given Hans Von Spakovsky's controversial record on voting rights, it's unbelievable that he would now be offered a staff position with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a federal entity charged with ensuring that voting rights are not violated. This is yet the latest indication that the Bush Administration is not serious about protecting the most fundamental right that protects all others - the right to vote."

This might be something that deserves looking into, oh, before November.

Earlier this month, Ron Suskind reported in an excerpt from his book, The Way of the World, that in September 2003, the White House ordered CIA Director George Tenet to fabricate a letter suggesting a level of collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda that did not exist.

Now the CIA has responded. A statement obtained by Editor and Publisher, to be posted on the CIA's website this afternoon, reads:

In his book, "The Way of the World," author Ron Suskind makes some serious charges about the CIA and Iraq. As Agency officers current and former have made clear, those charges are false. More than that, they are not in keeping with the way CIA works. In fact, they are profoundly offensive to the men and women who serve here, as they should be to all Americans.

As E&P notes, Suskind recently responded to denials by posting a portion of one interview on his website. And a Congressional committee has begun an investigation, so we may yet learn more.

Full statement after the jump...

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Ah yes, that's the principled, straight-talking maverick we all know and love...

Back in 2000, when John McCain was running for the GOP nomination as an insurgent against the Republican establishment, he trumpeted his desire to change the party platform's call for a human life amendment banning all abortions. McCain wanted to add an exception in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother. And in a primary debate, he went after George W. Bush for wanting to leave the platform unchanged.

As late as April 2007, he was singing the same tune, telling reporters in Iowa that he stood by his 2000 position .

But The Wall Street Journal reports today that the McCain camp now says he has no plans to try to change the platform. A campaign spokeswoman told the paper: "The delegates are going through the process and we are going to let them work their will on the platform." In other words, McCain is taking a hands-off approach.

As notes, McCain's shift comes after a graphic warning from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who said in June that if McCain tried to alter the abortion plank, he "would be aborting his own campaign" by angering socially conservative voters.

Looks like McCain got the message.

Attorney Gen. Michael Mukasey has agreed to postpone new FBI guidelines that would relax conduct of national security investigations. Mukasey was asked to do this earlier this week by the chairman and ranking minority leader on the Senate Judicial Committee out of civil liberties concerns. Mukasey will not sign off on the new regulations until he at least hears the testimony of FBI Dir. Robert Mueller in September. (Senate Judiciary Committee)

Two marines have been ordered to testify against their former squad leader, on trial for killing four Iraqi detainees. The marines, Sgt. Ryan Weemer and Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, have already been jailed twice for refusing to testify against Jose Luis Nazario. Prosecutors allege that Nazario killed "unarmed, submissive, docile" Iraqi civilians in Fallujah. (AP)

An office of the Bureau of Land Managment made improper deals with private helium reginers at the expense of taxpayers. According to a Department of Interior report, a field office in Texas allowed refiners to profit by overcharging for equipment. The deal may result in the government's equipment costs almost doubling by the time the contracts expire in 2015. (Washington Post)

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Maybe John McCain can't remember how many houses he owns, but it sounds like indicted GOP Sen. Ted Stevens (AK) has a pretty short memory too.

Just yesterday, we highlighted five Alaskans who called into a talk radio program on Tuesday to question Stevens on his upcoming trial and the charges against him.

But at a Republican Senate primary debate last night, Vic Vickers, a primary opponent to Stevens, posed a similar question to Ted about why he accepted $250,000 in gifts from VECO executive Bill Allen. And Ted's response, was. . . well. . . confusing:

"As I've traveled around Alaska, you know, I haven't had that question asked to me by anyone but a newsperson. And now you join that rank. Uh, the Alaskans I've talked to said "Ted, we believe in ya'," "Ted, I'm gonna give ya' a prayer," "Ted, we'll see you through this," uh, "We know, we know (emphasis) that you're innocent 'cause you said you're innocent."

Apparently, for Stevens, constituents who question him are entirely forgettable.

So yesterday the McCain campaign showcased its newly announced keynote convention speaker, Rudy Giuliani -- fully rested after his own disastrous presidential run -- on a conference call, with reporters. Also on the call was the campaign's top foreign-policy hand, Randy Scheunemann.

But this isn't the first time that Rudy and Randy's names have popped up in the same context. Both have ties to Stephen Payne, the former White House official who reportedly promised access to Bush administration higher-ups in exchange for contributions to Bush's Presidential Libary. Since 2001, Scheunemann has been paid about $130,00 as an adviser to Payne's various energy development and consulting firms. And a document put out by one of Payne's firms listed Guliani's law firm, Bracewell-Giuliani, as "outside strategic and legal counsel."

With all the signs suggesting that Giuliani will play a major role in vouching for McCain's terrorist-fighting bona-fides this fall, the link to Scheunemann and Payne serves as a reminder -- as if any were needed -- that America's Mayor hasn't always been too careful about the company he keeps.

It looks like Hans von Spakovsky, an old TPM favorite, is back in business. The former Justice Department official, whose nomination to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was thwarted when Democrats objected to his long record of support for restrictions on voting rights, has been hired as a "consultant and temporary full-time employee" at the ostensibly bi-partisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) the agency confirmed to TPMmuckraker.

If Spakovsky's history of backing efforts to make voting more difficult strikes you as a poor fit with the Commission's mission of defending voter rights, consider that of the eight current commissioners at the agency, only two are registered Democrats, a politicization that the New York Times' Charlie Savage brought to light last year.

Among Spakovsky's duties will be overseeing the USCCR's report on the Justice Department's monitoring of the 2008 presidential elections, a source inside the USCCR told TPMmuckraker.

Spakovsky's hiring is at the request of Commissioner Todd Gaziano, who works for the conservative Heritage Foundation on FEC issues and has defended Spakovsky in the press before. According to a federal government source, Gaziano has recommended Spakovsky at the government's highest payscale -- which would work out to about $124,010 annually if Spakovsky was to stay for an entire year.

And it seems that Gaziano may not have been exactly excited to make his selection of Spakovsky public knowledge. At a July 28th meeting (pdf) where the commissioners approved the hiring of the "special assistants," the new hires identities were kept confidential. According to the transcript of the meeting, when one of the commissioners asked for more information on the identity of who was being hired, the question was never answered.

So where is the money coming from? Well it turns out that USCCR is about $400,000 (pdf) under budget, and something had to be done with all that money before December. Although according to a federal source, the agency has other pressing needs -- understaffing and out-of-date technology -- the commissioners decided instead to spend at least part of that money on four temporary staff assistants.

Attempts to contact Graziano were referred to the Commission public affairs office. Calls to Spakovsky were not immediately returned.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) has asked the Senate Ethics Committee for permission to create a legal expense fund to help pay for costs related to his legal defense. Stevens was recently indicted on seven felony counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home repairs. If granted, individuals and political action committees will be allowed to contribute up to $10,000 to the expense fund. (McClatchy)

The trial of a former U.S. marine charged with war crimes in Iraq begins today. Jose Luis Nazario Jr. is charged with the voluntary manslaughter of four unarmed Iraqi detainees during the fighting in Fallujah in 2004. He is the first person to be charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, a law written to allow the prosecution of civilian contractors and former members of the military who commit war crimes overseas. (AP)

House Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) issued a subpoena yesterday for documents related to the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Earlier this month, Waxman had sent a letter to the EPA setting a deadline that passed last week for the documents. (House Oversight Committee)

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Embattled Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) took to Alaskan radio Tuesday, and to no one's surprise but his own, he was confronted by callers with questions about his recent indictment for lying on financial disclosure forms about favors he received from a campaign contributor.

Stevens' responses to his constituents inquiries ranged from general shock, to confusion, to denial, and even to John Wayne-like challenges.

As more and more people called in to the show asking questions about his upcoming trial and indictment, Stevens' patience seemed to wane. At about forty minutes into the show, host Steve Heimel stepped in to break up a shouting match between Stevens and a caller.

"Excuse me, Steve," the caller said, "but the senator is a big boy and can take care of himself. He's been in the game a long time."

"You're damned right I can take care of myself," Stevens responded. "Any time you want to come, friend."

When asked by Heimel what would happen to his campaign if he was convicted at his trial in September, Stevens had a simple, head-in-the-sand, response:

I don't think about that. I have faith that that is not going to happen. As a matter of fact, approaching this whole issue is a matter of faith Steve. And I am convinced I am innocent, so I, I must maintain my position that I have faith I will not be reaching that position that you just indicated. If that happens, we'll have to make some decisions, but I don't expect it.

We've compiled a highlight reel for your enjoyment.

Partial transcript after the jump.

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