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Marcy "emptywheel" Wheeler is continuing her heroic efforts to report the events of the Libby trial live via Firedoglake.

Among other developments this morning, she reports that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald got his hair cut, and the jury appears to have lost one of its members.

Army Investigating Contractor Fraud Army investigators are probing up to 50 instances of fraud, conspiracy, bribery, and bid rigging on the part of private contractors hired to assist the United States' efforts in Iraq and the war on terror. "Senior contracting officials, government employees, residents of other countries and, in some cases, U.S. military personnel have been implicated in millions of dollars of fraud allegations." (AP)

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The Iran-U.S. PR battle is in full swing.

With word that the U.S. plans to offer public proof of Iran's hostile role in Iraq sometime this week, Iran's ambassador to Iraq suddenly agreed to an interview with The New York Times. Call it pre-emption:

[Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qumi] ridiculed the evidence that the American military has said it collected, including maps of Baghdad delineating Sunni, Shiite and mixed neighborhoods — the kind of maps, American officials have said, that would be useful for militias engaged in ethnic slaughter. Mr. Qumi said the maps were so common and easily obtainable that they proved nothing.

He declined to say whether he believed the maps bore sectarian markings or address other pieces of evidence the Americans said they had found, like manifests of weapons and material relating to the technology of sophisticated roadside bombs. But that is not why the Iranians were in the compound, he said.


And Qumi had something else up his sleeve for the U.S. -- following quickly on the Bush administration's confirmation Friday of their new strategy of "kill or capture" for Iranian agents in Iraq --: news that Iran planned to open a national bank in Iraq, "in effect creating a new Iranian financial institution right under the Americans’ noses," and that Iran had made offers of "military assistance" to Iraq.

All this was news to the U.S., it seemed, who would not respond to Qumi's statements until they'd made their way through "official routes."

Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer is set to testify today in the Scooter Libby leak trial, under a grant of immunity from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. He's the first -- and could be the only -- witness to testify under immunity.

"He is likely to turn out to be the most important witness to date," writes National Journal investigative reporter and professional Plameologist Murray Waas, "not in terms of whether the legal case against Libby is strong or not-- but rather in providing us with new information as to what went on inside the Whte House during the crucial time that Bush administration officials leaked to the press that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer."

Fleischer is expected to testify about a July 7, 2003, lunch he had with Libby, in which the former Cheney chief of staff told him that Valerie Plame, wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, worked for the CIA. Prosecutors believe Fleischer later told members of the White House press corps about Plame's identity.

And here's some Libby trial trivia for you: both Fleischer and Libby are Miami Dolphins fans.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports:

White House anxiety is mounting over the prospect that top officials—including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and counselor Dan Bartlett-may be forced to provide potentially awkward testimony in the perjury and obstruction trial of Lewis (Scooter) Libby.

Both Rove and Bartlett have already received trial subpoenas from Libby’s defense lawyers, according to lawyers close to the case who asked not to be identified talking about sensitive matters. While that is no guarantee they will be called, the odds increased this week after Libby’s lawyer, Ted Wells, laid out a defense resting on the idea that his client, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, had been made a “scapegoat” to protect Rove.

Since last March, nine top federal prosecutor positions have gone to conservative loyalists, according to a new story from McClatchy Newspapers:

Being named a U.S. attorney “has become a prize for doing the bidding of the White House or administration," said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who's now a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "In the past, there had been a great deal of delegation to the local offices. Now, you have a consolidation of power in Washington."

. . . Since last March, the administration has named at least nine U.S. attorneys with administration ties. None of them would agree to an interview. They include:

- Tim Griffin, 37, a former aide to White House political adviser Karl Rove and a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, the U.S. attorney for Arkansas.

- Rachel Paulose, 33, who served briefly as a counselor to the deputy attorney general and who, according a former boss, has been a member of the secretive, ideologically conservative Federalist Society, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota.

- Jeff Taylor, 42, a former aide to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. Taylor worked as a counselor to Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

- John Wood, the husband of assistant secretary of homeland security Julie Myers and an ex-deputy general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget, U.S. attorney in Kansas City.

- Deborah Rhodes, 47, a former Justice Department counselor, in Mobile, Ala.

- Alexander Acosta, 37, a former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division and a protege of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in Miami.

- John Richter, 43, chief of staff for the Justice Department’s criminal division and acting assistant attorney general, in Oklahoma City.

- Edward McNally, senior associate counsel to President Bush, in southern Illinois.

- Matt Dummermuth, a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, in Iowa.

Three makes a trend!

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) -- who was defeated largely because of his ties to Jack Abramoff -- is heading to K Street, Roll Call reported Monday (sub. req.).

Put together with ex-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who's landed a lobbying gig with a lobbyist whose access to Burns when he was in office attracted the attention of the feds, and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), who's signalled an interest in lobbying, Pombo makes the third GOPer we know of who voters tossed out of office for his ties to K Street, and who's now off to lobby.

Pombo, whose mutual animosity with evironmental groups was legendary, is in talks with Pac/West Communications, a lobby firm with "a roster of timber and energy clients," according to Roll Call, and one which enjoyed a particularly close relationship to Pombo.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) dressed down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last week over the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom the U.S. seized and sent to Syria where he was tortured.

Gonzales stumbled when trying to explain why he couldn't discuss the matter, finally promising Leahy a secret briefing on the matter. Leahy still hasn't gotten the briefing, although he says he expects to have one very soon.

"The question remains why, even if there were reasons to consider [Arar] suspicious, the U.S. Government shipped him to Syria where he was tortured, instead of to Canada for investigation or prosecution," Leahy said in a statement released today, echoing the sentiments he shared with Gonzales last Thursday. "I look forward to hearing the Justice Department's answer to that question next week."

From today's New York Times:

The Bush administration has employed extraordinary secrecy in defending the National Security Agency’s highly classified domestic surveillance program from civil lawsuits. Plaintiffs and judges’ clerks cannot see its secret filings. Judges have to make appointments to review them and are not allowed to keep copies.

Judges have even been instructed to use computers provided by the Justice Department to compose their decisions.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will give a formal apology to Maher Arar, the Canadian software engineer whom the United States detained and extradited to Syria, where he was brutally tortured.

The announcement, which appears to be a public rebuke of the official U.S. position that Arar may be a terrorist, is set for 12:15, according to Harper's office. Arar will hold a separate news conference at 2 p.m.

Arar's case has caused a deepening rift between Canada and the United States, which has to date refused to apologize for their treatment of Arar and will not remove him from its terrorist watch list. Yesterday, the National Post reported that the U.S. ambassador to Canada "scolded" a top Canadian offical for insisting Arar's name be removed from the U.S. watch list.

Bush Administration officials have delivered secret briefings to the Canadian government in the hopes of justifying Arar's presence on the watch list, but Canada continues to press the U.S. to clear Arar. "It simply does not alter our opinion that Mr. Arar is not a threat, nor is his family," Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said.

Update: CBC reports Canada will pay Arar $8 million plus legal fees to settle his case against them.

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