TPM News

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced yesterday that it began an investigation of its New Orleans office last week, relating to equal employment opportunity complaints. The news came after Rep. Anh Cao (R-LA) raised questions about cronyism and other misconduct at the office. (Associated Press)

For the second time since the Inauguration, the Obama administration finds itself defending Bush's use of state secrets claims. The Justice Department is seeking to delay hearings in a lawsuit involving warrantless wiretaps of a now-defunct Saudi Islamic charity operating in Oregon. The Bush administration had previously warned that the judge in the trial would not be able to protect against the release of sensitive information if the trial were allowed to proceed. The case is the first and only to challenge warrantless wiretapping. (Associated Press)

A report published by the Department of Energy's Inspector General Monday found that 15 government facilities licensed to hold nuclear materials did not have as much in their inventories as had been originally recorded. The report points to accounting errors, and lax record-keeping regarding nuclear material loaned to other institutions such as universities and commercial research facilities. Among the materials listed as missing were enriched uranium and plutonium. The report was a follow-up on a 2001 probe that found similar problems with record keeping. (NTI.org)

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The talk from the Coleman campaign about how the Minnesota election results are unreliable, and that a do-over election could be an option, has now gone beyond just Norm Coleman's lawyers -- it's now coming from the mouth of Norm himself.

Coleman did an interview with Sirius conservative talk-radio host Andrew Wilkow, and discussed the campaign's argument that the court's current strict standards for allowing in previously-rejected ballots must by extension render illegal a whole lot of ballots accepted and counted on Election Night, when local election officials used lax standards:

"What does the court do?" Norm asked rhetorically. "Yeah, you know some folks are now talking about simply saying run it again, just run it again."

"Have another statewide election?" Wilkow asked.

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Michael Steele's back-and-forth flirtation with possible primary challenges to the party's pro-stimulus Republicans is now causing him to catch some real flak. And it's not just from those same Republican, but also from conservatives concerned about winning elections -- perhaps indicative of internal strains in the GOP between a hard-line conservative agenda, versus the basic electoral goal of winning office.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), a pro-stimulus Republican who will be up for re-election in 2012, told Roll Call that she approached Steele about his comments and asked him bluntly: "You didn't really mean that, did you?" She said that Steele has agreed to set up a meeting with the three pro-stimulus GOPers to discuss this.

Snowe pointed out that the loss of GOP moderates, and the view that they don't belong in the party, has contributed to the party's overall decrease. "When we were in the majority, there were more of us. Now that we're in the minority, there are less of us," Snowe explained, also adding: "If that's what they want to be, well that's their choice."

And NRSC chairman John Cornyn, a right-winger whose job description right now is quite simply to elect more Republicans, said that while Steele has backed off a bit, Republicans should focus on attacking the Democrats and not each other: "We need to be finding candidates that can win in different parts of the country ... not forming circular firing squads, especially when our numbers are so small."

Obama's Day Ahead -- Introducing His Budget President Obama is giving a speech at 9:30 a.m. ET this morning from the White House, at which he will lay out his proposed federal budget. At 2 p.m. ET he will be meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Then he and Vice President Biden will meet with Tim Geithner at 3 p.m. ET, and then Hillary Clinton at 3:45 p.m. ET. Finally, the president will hold perhaps the most crucial event of the day at 4:45 p.m. ET: A meeting with members of the Chicago Bulls.

Biden Meeting Kosovar Leaders Later today, Joe Biden will be meeting with a delegation from Kosovo: President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, and Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni.

Report: Deficit To Hit $1.75 Trillion The first Obama budget will reportedly have a projected federal budget deficit of $1.75 trillion, thanks in part to the one-time mass spending/tax-cutting from the $787 billion stimulus bill.The deficit is expected to stay at about $1 trillion for the next two years, before falling to $533 billion in 2013, after the Bush tax cuts on top-earners would have been allowed to expire.

Obama Seeks Tax And Premium Hikes On Top-Earners To Fund Health Care President Obama will reportedly seek $634 billion over the next ten years to fund health care for the uninsured. This would be funded by allowing the Bush tax cuts on top-earners to expire, as well as taking other measures such as charging upper-income beneficiaries higher premiums under the Medicare drug plan, which was passed in 2003 without a thorough plan for how to pay for it.

Bill Clinton Gives Thumbs-Up To Obama Speech In an interview with Greg Sargent, Bill Clinton praised President Obama's Congressional address from Tuesday night, saying it struck the right balance between optimism and realism about the current economic crisis. "I think people appreciate the fact that he's not jerking them around and [is] just telling them the way it is," said Bill. "But they do wanna know that we are gonna get out of this."

Obama's Congressional Address Gets More Than 52 Million Viewers More than 52 million people watched President Obama's speech to Congress on Tuesday -- effectively his first State of the Union -- according to Nielsen Media Research. Note that this is only the measure of how many people watch on TV, and doesn't include people who watched it online. For comparison, then-President George W. Bush's first Congressional address in early 2001 attracted 39.8 million viewers.

Poll: Public Backs Surge For Afghanistan A new ABC/Washington Post poll says that about two-thirds of Americans support the recently-announced increase of 17,000 troops for Afghanistan, a sharp contrast to the opposition to then-President Bush's Iraq surge in polling at the time. On the other hand, the public is split evenly on whether the Afghanistan War has been worth its costs, and only say by a 50%-41% margin that winning in Afghanistan is essential for success in broader efforts against terrorism.

Black Caucus Wants White House Involved In Census CQ reports that the Congressional Black Caucus wants the White House to stay closely involved in the census, a direct counter-point to Republican charges that the Administration might politicize it, due to the importance the program has in allocating federal funds for various programs. Said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA): "I think the census is extremely important, and support for avoiding the undercount takes leadership, and the president has to provide that leadership."

Coleman spokesman/lawyer Ben Ginsberg is really stepping up the rhetoric about how the entire vote count in Minnesota is tainted and unreliable -- and he is quite conspicuously not ruling out the idea of asking for a do-over election.

Ginsberg just held a dramatic press conference in the hallway of the court building, with six easels containing photocopies of absentee ballot envelopes that were already accepted and counted on Election Night. Ginsberg said he had 300 examples of ballots from St. Louis County (Duluth), a Democratic stronghold, where the voters clearly didn't follow instructions and the ballots should not have been accepted.

Ginsberg said this didn't just impugn the reliability of the recount -- it showed the illegality of Election Night totals, too, with the number of illegal votes far greater than the "erstwhile margin" of the race: "It also means with this sort of overwhelming evidence that were the court to certify the Election Night results they would be including illegal votes. And the court's charge is to count legal votes, and that would be a clear contradiction."

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A great nugget from Laura Rozen...

Source said that Goss lied in his testimony, that he was not aware about the problems with Foggo when he hired him for executive director. He said that a major fight had broken out between Goss staffer Patrick Murray and then associate deputy director of operations Michael Sulick about the Foggo hiring. "Murray told ADDO/Counterintelligence Mary Margaret that if Dusty's background got out to the press, they would know who to come looking for. Mary Margaret tried to warn them that Dusty Foggo had a problematic counterintelligence file. Sulick defended Mary Margaret. Goss told deputy director of operations Steve] Kappes he had to fire Sulick." After that, Kappes and Sulick quit. "Goss bears major responsibility here," source says. It was finally the "White House tht demanded that Goss fire Dusty and he refused." So they both got fired.


It's not clear whether the fight that the source refers to occurred before or after Foggo's actual hiring. Though the context -- and the source's claim that Goss lied in his testimony -- suggest it was before.

Earlier, we posted Goss's explanation of the circumstances under which he hired Foggo, in which Goss gives the clear impression he believed Foggo to have a clean record when he hired him.

The Minnesota election court just laid down some serious punishment against Norm Coleman's legal team, granting Team Franken's motion to strike the testimony of a key witness involved in Coleman's claim that absentee ballots had been double-counted.

This came about because the witness, election worker Pamela Howell, had typed up some personal notes weeks ago and gave them to the Coleman campaign, who then failed to properly share them with Franken. Without Howell's testimony, the Coleman camp's efforts to show double-counting have been unambiguously damaged.

"The court will issue a written order with further explanation," said Judge Elizabeth Hayden. That further explanation should be interesting to read.

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Yesterday, we revealed how a bill that might have sought to close off-shore tax loopholes -- and which might have helped catch Allen Stanford -- died in Max Baucus' Senate Finance committee in 2007.

Now, a Finance committee aide has provided an emailed statement to TPMmuckraker, making the case that the committee didn't take up the bill, sponsored by Carl Levin, because Baucus differed with some aspects of the bill's approach, and noting that Baucus is working on a separate bill to address the problem.

In a nutshell, according to the statement, Baucus favors an approach more targeted at giving the IRS the necessary tools to detect tax cheats than was the Levin bill, which took a broader tack.

The Chairman announced in 2008 that he is writing legislation to address the use of tax havens by individuals. In particular, Senator Baucus and his staff are working with Treasury and the IRS to give them the right tools to detect the tax abuse we are all concerned about. Senator Baucus's goal is to move the sharpest possible bill that will give the IRS tools -- including additional reporting requirements -- to determine when a taxpayer uses a tax haven and the identity of the user.

It will be important to move legislation that gives the IRS the best chance to find abusers in the first place, in order to apply certain rebuttable presumptions that would make income US-sourced income on which US taxes should be paid.

The bill you mention is quite broad, and while it creates a series of changes to the burden of proof, that only helps once the IRS has detected the use of a tax haven.

The Finance Committee actively fights offshore tax havens - in the JOBS bill with inversions policy, tax shelter penalties, and increased transparency with regard to tax shelter promoters; in last year's military bill, with provisions to stop US companies with Federal contracts from setting up entities in tax havens to run employees through in order to avoid employment taxes. FOGEI/FORI in the energy bill tightened up a bit the way oil and gas pay US tax on foreign-earned income. Other proposals have been made public as well, particularly with regard to Bermuda reinsurance. The Committee also sent the GAO to Ugland House in the Cayman Islands to investigate one of the most notorious suspected tax havens in the world. And the Committee will take this issue up again at a hearing in March.


In other words, according to the aide, this was an issue of legitimate policy differences -- not an effort by Baucus to kill legislation opposed by a contributor.

We'll be watching for those hearings in March.

The Wall St. Journal reports that John Boehner made an interesting observation about the Republican Party's problems: It's simply harder to sell their own ideas to the public, compared to the easy answers offered by the Democrats.

"We have a tougher job than our friends across the aisle. They've been offering Americans a free lunch for the last 80 years, rather successfully," Boehner said, at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Those of us that believe in a smaller, more accountable government, we have a tougher time making our principles relevant to the American people. But it's our challenge, and we've got to do it."

A note about free lunches and small government: Boehner voted in 2003 for the Medicare drug bill, a mega-expensive expansion of entitlement spending with no method laid out on how to pay for it. And the modern GOP's platform is based largely on tax cuts, with the constant claim that they'll result in even more revenue.

Norm Coleman's lawyers just had a very awkward moment in court, in their attempt to prove that absentee ballots were double-counted -- it turns out they've failed to share evidence with the Franken camp, involving a key witness.

The Coleman camp called Pamela Howell, a Republican election worker in Minneapolis, who said she heard another election judge exclaim that they had forgotten to properly label duplicates of absentee ballots that had been too damaged for the machines to count. She also said she did not recall whether they had made a note of this in the precinct incident logs.

Franken lawyer David Lillehaug then got up, setting out to impugn Howell as an unreliable, partisan witness. She admitted that she called up Coleman's legal team during the recount, informing them of the problem. Lillehaug then asked her if she'd spoken to the lawyers before her testimony today. "Not today," she said. He then asked if she ever spoke to them about her testimony. Yes, she did.

It was then revealed that several weeks ago she made notes on her computer, taking down the information she would need to know for her testimony. She gave a copy to the Coleman side -- and the Franken camp had never received it.

(By the way, this exchange included a fun bit where Lillehaug asked if her notes had a file name, and she said no. After some more direct questions, she said it was saved on her machine under the name "testimony.")

There then followed a contentious sidebar, after which Judge Elizabeth Hayden confirmed with lead Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg that he would be willing to serve a copy to Franken. They then went into a brief recess.

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