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The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into whether Merrill Lynch misled it when the firm told the committee, in a letter sent last November, that no decisions had been made on bonuses.

As we noted earlier today, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is probing the bonuses, included the letter, dated November 24, in court filings made yesterday. Cuomo also included testimony from a Merrill director, saying that the firm decided November 11th to award bonuses that December. Cuomo, who is trying to persuade a judge to compel Bank of America to disclose information on the bonuses, suggested that the testimony implies Merrill's letter was designed to mislead the committee, which was conducting its own invesitgation of the bonuses, and was chaired at the time by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).

Congress rarely takes kindly to being misled, and this appears to be no exception. The committee's current chair, Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), today issued a statement asserting that the Cuomo filings "raise the disturbing possibility that Merrill Lynch executives may have obstructed this Committee's investigation," and adding that Towns had directed committee lawyers to begin a "detailed investigation of this allegation."

Lying to a Congressional investigation, even in a letter, could potentially lead to perjury charges. There's an important difference between misleading and lying, however, and neither Cuomo nor Towns have accused Merrill of the latter.

Still, things are getting interesting...

The full statement from Towns follows after the jump ...

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Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, winding down his testimony before the Senate Budget Committee today, was asked a simple question by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): Does the government have the legal authority to prevent another company from imploding on the same monumental level as AIG?

Geithner's simple answer was "no."

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For two weeks now, TPMDC has been tracking the mysteriously delayed nominations of John Holdren, named as the president's next chief science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, slated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A convincing, but still incomplete, trail of evidence points to Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who won cheers from conservatives for sharply questioning Holdren during the nominees' confirmation hearing last month. But when I asked him directly, Vitter denied placing the hold, raising the question of whether his staff may have been raising objections on his behalf.**

After all, a similar situation occurred in the case of Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), whose office stalled the confirmation of two other Obama environmental nominees in January. Barrasso aimed to use those nominees as leverage to meet with White House climate adviser Carol Browner, and he ended up getting what he was after. Could Vitter's staff be working a similar angle for him?

Strangely enough, Vitter's press office won't say. My multiple attempts to reach the senator's spokesman over the past few days have been unsuccessful. Why wouldn't the office simply confirm what Vitter told me himself, that he's not the source of the holdup?

We can rule out several other suspects in Holdren and Lubchenco's delay.

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Mike Huckabee is also slamming Michael Steele's comments about abortion in the GQ interview, with this post on his leadership PAC's blog:

Comments attributed to Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele are very troubling and despite his clarification today the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grassroots politics. Since 1980, our party has been steadfast and principled in believing in the dignity and worth of every human life. We have supported a Constitutional amendment to protect life and the party has taken the position that no one individual has the supreme right to own another person in totality including the right to take that life. For Chairman Steele to even infer that taking a life is totally left up to the individual is not only a reversal of Republican policy and principle, but it's a violation of the most basic of human rights--the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. His statement today helps, but doesn't explain why he would ever say what he did in the first place.

In a very worrying sign for Steele, Huckabee is clearly aware of Steele's clarification this morning that he is pro-life and supports a Human Life Amendment. But it doesn't appear to be good enough.

(Via Taegan Goddard.)

I just spoke with Republican political strategist Roger Stone, and he predicted that Michael Steele's latest foul-up over abortion and gays could cost him dearly.

"Well, it's just one more nail in the coffin," said Stone, after I read the relevant quotes to him. "He just doesn't seem to understand his role as party chairman, which is not to criticize any wing of the party. I mean, three weeks ago he was offending moderates, now he's offending conservatives. He shouldn't be offending Rush Limbaugh or Arlen Specter."

"I'm not sure why the chairman has to opine on abortion at all," Stone added. "I mean, we have a platform, just refer to it."

Stone has also told me that the anti-Steele feelings among Republicans would have been there no matter what -- but Steele has badly mismanaged it: "The reason he has a problem, and the reason this hasn't been squelched, is that his maiden voyage hasn't been successful. He keeps putting his foot in his mouth."

Stone has heard the name of Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan GOP chairman who also ran in the RNC race, circulating as a possible new chairman. "I've monitored this pretty closely. I think Saul is on the move as well," said Stone. "It wouldn't be surprising if all the guys who had run had their knives out."

In an e-mail to TPM, Anuzis strongly denied that he is in any way not supportive of Steele, or that he would be a candidate in any new election. "A few folks are trying to spin some trouble," said Anuzis. "We're moving ahead."

Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and ex-rival of Michael Steele for the chairmanship of the RNC, just made this statement to, positively lambasting Steele's comments in the GQ interview:

"Chairman Steele, as the leader of America's Pro-Life conservative party, needs to re-read the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the 2008 GOP Platform. He then needs to get to work -- or get out of the way.

You might recall that Blackwell's endorsement of Steele, when Blackwell had dropped out after four ballots, helped put Steele over the top.

Now he's telling Steele to read his Bible or get out of the way. Ouch.

A new Siena poll suggests that Democrats are catching up in the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat in upstate New York.

Republican candidate Jim Tedisco, who started out with much higher name recognition as the state Assembly minority leader, now leads Democratic businessman Scott Murphy by 45%-41%, with a ±3.7% margin of error. Two weeks ago, Tedisco had a much stronger lead of 46%-34%.

At first glance, it might look like Democratic-leaning undecideds are quickly breaking into the Dem column as the candidates become better known. But the internals actually paint a much more complex picture.

Two weeks ago, Tedisco led 45%-31% among independents. But Murphy has turned that around, and now leads among indies by 43%-37%. What this suggests is that the Dem attacks against Tedisco -- mainly targeting his refusal to take a firm position on the stimulus bill -- could be having their intended effect.

The office of Washington DC's chief technology officer has been raided by FBI agents, reports the Politico.

But this isn't just a local story. Vivek Kundra, who served in the position until February 4, was last week appointed the first ever Federal Chief Information Officer by the Obama administration.

An FBI spokeswoman told Politico that the search was part of an "ongoing investigation." And a separate source told the site that the FBI had sent all staffers at the office, aside from senior executives, home for the day.

The White House declined to comment to Politico.

We'll keep you posted on this.

Late Update: It looks like Kundra may not be the focus of the probe after all. The Washington Post reports that an employee in the office, Yusuf Acar, who serves as the information systems security officer for the city, has been arrested as part of a federal bribery sting.

A spokesman for the US Attorneys office said the case is "is under seal."

It looks like Andrew Cuomo has escalated things in the Merrill Lynch bonus probe.

Cuomo is now accusing the firm of misleading Congress on the matter. In a court filing made yesterday, according to the Wall Street Journal, Cuomo included a November 24th letter, sent by Merrill to a House oversight committee, assuring lawmakers that no decisions on yearly bonuses had yet been made. Cuomo also filed testimony from a Merrill director, saying that on November 11th, the firm's compensation committee had decided that Merrill would pay bonuses in December, rather than January, when bonuses were usually paid (and when the firm would be under the control of Bank of America.)

Cuomo is trying to convince a judge to force Bank of America to disclose information about who got the bonuses -- which the company has so far been refusing to do.

The House Oversight committee, chaired at the time by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), had asked Merrill for information on the bonuses, as part of an effort to ensure that the firm wasn't using bailout money for compensation.

There's another interesting nugget in the Journal's report:

Mr. Cuomo also disclosed that John Thain, Merrill's chairman and chief executive, was told that he would lose any chance of succeeding Kenneth Lewis as CEO of Bank of America if Mr. Thain kept pressing Merrill directors last fall for a 2008 bonus of as much as $40 million.

"He was told very strongly that you should not do that; that you would damage yourself with the Bank of America board if you do that, and if you ever wanted a chance to be in the running for my job, then that would eliminate it," Mr. Lewis said in his testimony last month, according to the filing.

Thain soon lost his chance to succeed Lewis anyway, as he was ousted in mid January amid anger over the bonuses and Merrill's massive fourth quarter losses.

Michael Steele has sharply walked back a statement in his GQ interview that seemed to indicate he agreed abortion is an individual choice. "I am pro-life, always have been, always will be," Steele said in a new statement.

As we've also found out, the statements about abortion to GQ were made over two weeks ago. Family Research Council head Tony Perkins has responded to the newly-published interview, and he's not happy: "I expressed my concerns to the chairman earlier this week about previous statements that were very similar in nature. He assured me as chairman his views did not matter and that he would be upholding and promoting the Party platform, which is very clear on these issues. It is very difficult to reconcile the GQ interview with the chairman's pledge."

Note that Perkins said he spoke to Steele about the issue earlier this week, and Steele assured him that he would promote the party's platform. So Steele told Perkins that he would publicly uphold the party's official policies, about two weeks after he'd done a yet-to-be-published interview to the contrary.

So let's compare Steele's stated positions from now versus then.

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