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There a whole host of issues confronting the Justice Department that remain unaddressed-- overall politicization, the Office of Legal Counsel memos, torture memos, hiring and firing practices, and selective prosecution. But when it comes to hard answers to Congressional Oversight, Attorney General Michael Mukasey dances around the questions, usually deflecting criticism that stems from the Gonzales era.

When Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) requested a listing of the OLC memoranda that the DOJ chose not to review, Mukasey stated that he didn't know that it "would serve anybody's interest" to do so.

When Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) questioned him about why Judith Miller was left in jail, he demurred, stating that it fell into the responsibilities of special counsel.

When Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) wanted to know if anyone was planning on reviewing Gitmo detainees files to see why they were being detained, Mukasey deferred noting the cases were before the D.C. district court.

And when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) demanded accountability for the loss of valuable civil servants to the politicization of the DOJ Honors Program, the Attorney General stated that it had already been "covered by the OIG report."

But when it was Sen. Joe Biden's (D-DE) turn to ask questions, he took a more straight forward approach, tearing into Mukasey as an "enigma," "acting like you float above up in the ether somewhere."

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a new federal wiretapping law this afternoon by a vote of 69-28.

After last month's approval of a similar measure in the House, today's vote essentially clears the way for the bill to go to the White House for a final signature.

The bill approved includes sweeping and retroactive immunity for telecom companies that provided information about customers to government officials without a warrant as part of the Bush Administration's surveillance program imposed after September 11, 2001.

The vote was all but assured after the senators struck down three key amendments this morning that would have overhauled the spying laws without granting immunity to the telecom companies.

Sen Barack Obama (D-IL) voted for the bill. Moments before the final vote, a handful of senators voted to filibuster the vote, including Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

So what does that mean? It means that the nations largest telecom companies no longer have to worry about a batch of multi-million lawsuits filed by customers angered that the companies turned over their personal information to the government without a warrant.

It also means that if you are at home making an overseas phone call to a suspected terrorist, the government can monitor that call without a warrant.

And it's not clear how intel agents define who is a suspected terrorist.

Late Update: This post has been revised from its original version to correct the reporting of Hillary Clinton's vote on the motion for cloture.

The Senate defeated the final -- and least-divisive -- of three amendments to the new federal wiretapping bill it's considering today.

It was closer than the other two votes today -- this one shot down 56-42. Rules required 60 votes to approve the amendment.

The third and final amendment called for Congress to wait until after reviewing a pending inspector general's report about the White House's surveillance program before determining whether to grant immunity to telecom companies. It was sponsored by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).

The defeat of those amendments all but guarantees that the broader FISA law will pass when the Senate takes it up, probably later this afternoon.

The senators broke for lunch.

An amendment calling for federal courts to review whether telecom companies should get retroactive immunity was defeated in the Senate this afternoon.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) was knocked down by a vote of 61-37.

The main bill would grant sweeping retroactive immunity for telecom companies that provided information to the government about their customers without a warrant.

This amendment would have limited retroactive immunity to instances in which a federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional.

Many prominent Democrats voted in favor of the amendment, including Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility reached out for the first time to the Don Siegelman camp on Monday, asking in a letter to Siegelman's attorney for "information and documents that would assist" them in investigation the allegations that the "selective and politically motivated" prosecution of the former Alabama governor.

Vince Kilborn, Siegelman's attorney, said that he would take the OPRs request for assistance as an opportunity to focus on the reasons behind U.S. Attorney Leura Canary's recusal of herself from the case.

From the AP:

[Kilborn] wants a Justice Department review of the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman to focus partly on the reasons a federal prosecutor in Montgomery stepped aside from the case.

. . .Kilborn said the office, an arm of the Justice Department, should seek documents regarding a decision by U.S. Attorney Leura Canary -- a GOP appointee -- to recuse herself from the prosecution of Siegelman, a Democrat. Canary's husband, William, leads the Business Council of Alabama and has been a Republican political consultant.


A copy of the OPR's letter to Kilborn is here.

An amendment sponsored by hold-out Democrats and designed to strip the Senate's wiretapping bill of legal immunity for telecom companies was defeated today with a 66-32 vote.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI), is the first of three the Senate is voting on today dealing with the immunity provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act law.

Without any amendments, the law will effectively end a stack of lawsuits filed against telecom companies that provided information about customers to the government without warrants as part of the White House's surveillance programs after September 11, 2001.

The Senate is wrapping up debate on the FISA law and its proposed amendments today and a vote on the overall law is expected later today.

A bill with similar immunity passed in the House last month and is expected to be signed into law by the president.

The Attorney General is headed to the Hill to testify this morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight of the Justice Department. It starts at 9:30 ET, with a break for the FISA vote at 11:15. We'll be watching and posting developments on both so stay tuned for more.

A federal judge yesterday ordered the Department of Justice to make detainee cases at Guantanamo Bay a priority. The judge argued that the detainees have been waiting for their day in court for too many years, and that they must be dealt with. In response, the Justice Department said that that one in five of the roughly 270 remaining detainee cases at Guantanamo have been cleared for release. (AP)

Congressional Republicans are blaming the federal government for not having appropriate safety standards for chemicals in FEMA trailers used by Hurricane Katrina victims. This removes blame from the trailer companies for using high levels of formaldehyde in the trailers. (AP)

A new report out from the GAO claims federal officials often delete government email, creating gaps in the public record. The report was released on the eve of a scheduled House vote on a bill that would establish standards for email preservation by federal agencies. (Washington Post)

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From the Miami Herald:

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The U.S. government is blocking the American Civil Liberties Union from paying attorneys representing suspected terrorists held here, insisting that the ACLU must first receive a license from the U.S. Treasury Department before making the payments.

ACLU director Anthony Romero on Tuesday accused the Bush administration of "obstruction of justice" by delaying approval of the license, which the government argues is required under U.S. law because the beneficiaries of the lawyers' services are foreign terrorists.

"Now the government is stonewalling again by not allowing Americans' private dollars to be paid to American lawyers to defend civil liberties,'' Romero said.

Dr. Ada Fisher lost the 2006 bid for a North Carolina Congressional seat by a wide margin -- 34 points.

But that didn't discourage her fundraisers, BMW Direct, a Washington-based political firm.

Just a few days after Fisher lost to Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), an official from the fundraising firm emailed the candidate about mounting a post-election money drive -- and maybe signing on for another race.

Ada,

Attached is a debt reduction letter. We still owe outside debt to vendors and this will go to pay it off.

I would also like to set up a time to speak with you about running again. With more time to mail, I think we could do even better.

Timothy


That's an email from Timothy Webster, a founder of BMW Direct, and it was provided to TPMmuckraker by Fisher. She wasn't very happy with the firm, which raised more than $400,000 on her behalf but, after taking out the costs of its own direct mail effort, only provided her campaign with about $30,000.

She also provided us with a draft copy of a "debt reduction letter" drawn up by BMW Direct.

Fisher told us she's not sure whether she ever signed off on the letter and agreed to let BMW send it out.

Read more to see the letter's full text.



Late Update: Jordan Gehrke, BMW Direct's director of development, said in a written response to a query from TPMmuckraker: "To the best of my knowledge we did no debt reduction letters for Dr. Fisher."

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