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The trial is underway in Italy of 26 Americans, mostly CIA operatives, accused of abducting a radical Egyptian cleric in Italy and whisking him off to Egypt for torture.

They're on trial in absentia, but there's an Los Angles Times reporter there, telling a great story of "spies spying on spies"

Italy's top counterterrorism official, Bruno Megale, took the stand in Milan yesterday to tell how tapping phones helped to blow the lid off the Bush Administration's practice of "extraordinary rendition."

Megale obtained records of all cellphone traffic from the transmission tower nearest the spot where Abu Omar was abducted, for a 2 1/2 -hour period around the time he disappeared. There were 2,000 calls.

Then, using a computer program, Megale was able to narrow down the pool by tracing the phones that had called each other, in other words, an indication of a group of people working together. Seventeen phone numbers, which showed intensifying use around the time of the abduction, were pinpointed. By following all other calls made from those phones, the investigators ultimately identified 60 numbers, including that of a CIA officer working undercover at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

In his testimony, Megale revealed that one telephone number he recognized was that of Robert Seldon Lady, then-CIA station chief in Milan. Lady and Megale had worked together in counter-terrorism investigations. It was a number, Megale said somberly, that he and his team knew.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has repeatedly voted to back the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping program, allowing immunity for telecom companies that willingly comply with the government surveillance. He is now changing his mind on the issue just in time for his run for the Oval Office. (Washington Post)

Amnesty International has released their annual report on global human rights. Singled out for their human rights infractions are the likes of China, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and the United States for the continued employment of torture at Guantanamo Bay. (New York Times)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to close and move the last of the Hurricane Katrina-trailer parks in Louisiana. FEMA is closing the parks due to the start of the new hurricane season, as well as the toxic fumes in the trailers and their desire for residents to find housing elsewhere. (USA Today)

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John McCain's go-to economics adviser isn't holding up very well under close scrutiny.

Phil Gramm, the former Texas senator and economist, is taking a lot of heat after reports that up until April 18 he was a registered lobbyist for UBS, the Swiss bank that is the world's largest manager of private wealth.

A former economics professor at Texas A&M, Gramm has long advocated for tax cuts, supply-side economics and less government regulation. But as David Corn over at Mother Jones reports in "Foreclosure Phil?" Gramm also played an integral role in the financial scandal commonly known as the "subprime meltdown."

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Federal prosecutors questioned staffers of Sen. John McCain as part of their corruption investigation of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ).

U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Diane J. Humetewa and fellow prosecutors disclosed the interviews with aides for McCain and fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl in a written response to Renzi's attorneys, who asked for the contents of the interview to help prepare for Renzi's upcoming trial, which is scheduled for October.

The aides were interviewed about land exchanges, according to an April letter from Humetewa filed with the U.S. District Court of Arizona late last week. The letter did not indicate when the interviews occurred.

A federal land swap critical to developing a $3 billion copper mine southeast of Phoenix is at the heart of the case against Renzi, who is facing 35 public corruption charges, including conspiracy, money-laundering, extortion and insurance fraud. Renzi is retiring at the end of this session.


The feds have also requested some documents from McCain, which as of April 14 they had not received.

Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) has been defaulting on her mortgage payments, but that hasn't stopped her from loaning her campaign cash.

She had three homes in default and has been renegotiating at least one loan with her lender, Washington Mutual, to stop foreclosure.

A spokesman for the freshman lawmaker said it was unclear whether she used money from the mortgages to fund her Congressional campaign. But she did use precisely that tactic last year to obtain $100,000 to loan to her campaign for the California General Assembly, the spokesman told The Hill.

A third home that Richardson borrowed heavily to move into in Sacramento was sold at auction earlier this month -- at a $150,000 loss to the bank that issued her the $535,000 loan. ...

Even as that was happening, ethics watchdogs were crying foul over Richardson's personal finances and questioning how she was able to lend her campaign to Congress $77,500 in the midst of multiple home loan defaults. ...

Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports show that Richardson loaned her campaign a total of $77,500 -- in three installments -- between June and July of 2007.

Richardson's year-end FEC filing showed that her campaign still had $331,000 worth of debt but $116,000 cash-on-hand. ...

Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, said it would be reasonable for the FEC to look into the timing of the loan against the timeline of Richardson's home loan defaults.

"In situations like this it's very important for whoever loaned her the money to demonstrate that they treated her equitably, not favorably," McGehee said. "Otherwise, you're getting into a situation of a corporate underwriting of a campaign."

The Defense Department wants more manpower to police itself.

The Defense Department's Inspector General says the massive growth in military spending during the past six years has far outpaced its ability to keep track of the money. A new report made public by the Project on Government Oversight outlines how the IG's office plans to grow -- by about 30 percent -- in the next seven years.

The rapid growth of the DoD budget since FY 2000 leaves the Department increasingly more vulnerable to the fraud, waste and abuse that undermines the Department's mission.


and

Furthermore, the demand for IG services to support the [Global War on Terror] and the ongoing operations in southwest Asia has forced us to adjust our priorities, resulting in gaps in coverage in important areas, such as major weapons acquisition, health care fraud, product substitution and defense intelligence agencies.


"Weapons acquisitions" is a pretty broad catagory and probably includes $531 million war ships, like the one the New York Times wrote about a few weeks ago. The Navy has been notoriously bad about cost overruns and runaway spending.

For years, the Pentagon's accounting procedures have been so shoddy that the Defense Department cannot even properly fail an audit. Trillions -- with a T -- of dollars are improperly accounted for. In fact, the Pentagon says there is no way it'll be able to handle a real audit until at least 2016.

Part of the problem may be that many retired military officials go on to work for defense contractors in later life.

The GAO has also been harping on the military's use of money

So it's no wonder that we've been hearing about absurd contracts like a 25-year-old Miami club goer who wins a $300 million contract to arm our allies in Afghanistan.

The Defense Department consumes about 19 percent of all federal spending.

Criticisms leveled in former White House spokesman Scott McClellan's new memoir are sure to get a lot of attention over the next few days.

What separates McClellan's account from other tell-all books from former Bush Administration officials is the personal tone. McClellan followed Bush from Texas and left the White House on good terms. But he's obviously not pleased with some decisions that were made -- and the way he was treated at times.

To some degree, McClellan's book tells us a lot of things we already know.

From today's Washington Post:

Bush is depicted as an out-of-touch leader, operating in a political bubble, who has stubbornly refused to admit mistakes.


But he also takes a swipe at the Bush public persona that exudes confidence.

"A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people's ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness to change," he writes.


Among the most interesting stories McClellan recounts is his role in the CIA leak investigation that led to Scotter Libby's conviction for obstruction of justice last year. Here is where McClellan seems to get personal.

"I could feel something fall out of me into the abyss as each reporter took a turn whacking me," he writes of the withering criticism he received as the story played out. "It was my reputation crumbling away, bit by bit."


Intriguingly, he recounts his suspicions about a previously undisclosed West Wing meeting between Rove and Libby:

"There is only one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss," he writes. "It was in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, and it sticks vividly in my mind. ... Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card's office], ... Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. 'You have time to visit?' Karl asked. 'Yeah,' replied Libby.

"I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately. ... At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much. ...

"The confidential meeting also occurred at a moment when I was being battered by the press for publicly vouching for the two by claiming they were not involved in leaking Plame's identity, when recently revealed information was now indicating otherwise. ... I don't know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic? Like the whole truth of people's involvement, we will likely never know with any degree of confidence."


McClellan writes in a way suggesting he really didn't see this at the time. Really?

Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, a top Army medical officer, says mental care for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder is inadequate, as more than 28,000 troops have been diagnosed with PTSD in recent years. The Army is attempting to fill 120 more mental health professional positions, Schoomaker says. Between 12 and 15 percent of soldiers deployed Iraq and Afghanistan are taking some kind of medication to combat stress. (Baltimore Sun)

The U.S. investigation into whether guards working for Blackwater maliciously fired onto a crowd of Iraqis in Baghdad on Sept. 16, killing 17, continued Tuesday. Family members of the slain Iraqis testified before a federal grand jury. Witnesses of the shootings claim the guards fired into a crowd unprovoked. The convoy was responding to a car bombing in Baghdad's bustling Nisoor Square. (Associated Press)

Long-running investigations of Muck All-Stars Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, both Alaskan Republicans, may unfold before this fall's election, resulting in indictments of the two politicians. Those two of three Alaskan congressional seats are already highly contentious, as both Stevens and Young have been scrutinized for their connections to disgraced Veco CEO Bill Allen; Young also faces allegations of misconduct regarding a shady earmark in Florida and the ongoing Jack Abramoff probes. (Anchorage Daily News)

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A federal judge has rejected Rep. William Jefferson's latest effort to have the case against him dismissed:

But U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III said that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that bribery charges can be brought even if the acts don't fit into the "responsibilities explicitly assigned by law."

He said it will be up to a jury to determine whether the actions alleged by the government relate to the performance of official duties or "settled customary duty or practice" and relates to a government decision or action."

"Whether or not the government is able to prove each of these elements ... is a question properly addressed at trial, not on a motion to dismiss an indictment," Judge Ellis wrote.


Jefferson's trial has been delayed indefinitely while the Louisiana Democrat appeals other pre-trial motions.

Last we checked in with Bob Schaffer, the GOP's Senate candidate in Colorado was fending off news reports about parasailing in the Mariana Islands on Jack Abramoff's dime while supposedly personally investigating the plight of foreign workers there.

Now we learn about a federal criminal case in Colorado against former business and political associates of Schaffer's involving government contracts with a nonprofit foundation where Schaffer was a member of the board of directors.

Schaffer, a former House member who is battling with Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) to replace the retiring Sen. Wayne Allard, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the federal prosecutor handling the case told TPMmuckraker in a telephone interview that Schaffer was added to a witness list in the federal fraud trial of Bill Orr, a Denver businessman accused of bilking the government out of more than $2 million.

Orr's trial is currently underway, and the jury has been deliberating since last week. Schaffer could still be called to testify in Orr's sentencing if Orr is convicted.

Orr successfully lobbied Congress in 2000 for a $3.6 million earmark, which he said he would use to develop a new clean-energy fuel that would emit less pollution. It's not yet known which member of Congress inserted Orr's earmark. Prosecutors say he "falsely represented" the scientific tests that convinced the EPA to turn over more than $2 million of the earmark money. Orr had created a separate not-for-profit group called the National Alternative Fuels Foundation to utilize the federal money.

And that's where Schaffer comes in. After leaving Congress, Schaffer was a "director" at the NAFF from October 2004 to March 2005, according to his Senate financial disclosure form. That's not a very long time, but it overlaps with the time frame when prosecutors say the NAFF was wrongfully accepting government cash -- from December 2001 through December 2004.

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