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Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is not the type to back down without a fight. Or even without an unnerving display of belligerence. Remember his threat to bite another lawmaker "very much like the mink in my state that kill their own."

It seems recently that the whole world is against him. During this past weekend's state Republican convention, Young was blindsided when Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell announced that he would be running in the Republican primary. Parnell is an ally of the popular and pregnant Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who's defined herself in opposition to the old guard of Alaskan politics, namely Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the Bridge to Nowhere team.

Young was already an unhappy lawmaker before that surprise. But he's clearly determined to make his case to voters on his merits: namely, on his remarkable earmarking abilities. In his speech this past weekend (during which the above picture was taken), Young defended bringing pork home to the state, proclaiming that "there hasn't been a state community that hasn't come to me and Sen. Stevens to ask for an earmark," and: "If you don't want earmarks, then don't ask me for them."

What Young's campaign is not based on is disclosure and transparency. That was made abundantly clear during his press conference last month, during which he testily rebuffed question after question. (Strike "change," too, a word he uttered with disgust.) You can see the highlights here:

Young has refused to comment at all on why he's spent more than $850,000 on defense lawyers. Is he under investigation for his ties to Veco? to Jack Abramoff? Other areas of interest? Not telling. How many jurisdictions are you being defended in? "I have no idea." (You can see the whole session here.) A taste:

Young said his constituents have not asked him about the legal fees. It's just the media, he said.

A television reporter objected that, as an Alaskan and a voter, he was a constituent.

"Did you vote for me last time?" Young asked him.

"No sir," the reporter replied.

Young was no more forthcoming on questions about his infamous Coconut Road earmark: whether he managed to change the text of a bill after it was passed by Congress in order to benefit a major campaign contributor.

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Preparations begin for the end of the Bush administration.

From the AP:

The CIA announced Monday that it will now pay the full cost of legal liability insurance for about two-thirds of the agency workforce....

One shift is already looming: A change in administrations could make it more likely lawsuits will be filed against CIA interrogators for a controversial program approved by the Bush White House — the use of harsh interrogation techniques and the secret movement of prisoners, known as extraordinary rendition.

The insurance comes from private companies to cover legal expenses that arise out of actions undertaken in the course of a CIA officer's official duties. It is meant to cover potential litigation expenses including damages. It covers legal expenses associated only with those activities undertaken after liability insurance is taken. The reimbursement program began in 2000.

Agency Director Michael Hayden on Monday announced that he had expanded the pool of those eligible to be reimbursed for insurance to include all employees involved in covert activities, not just those involved in counterterrorism and counterproliferation.

As the president of one of the companies that provides the insurance to CIA agents and other government officials put it, "The things that help us are any negative events related to the federal government, and there have been plenty.”

Late last week, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) sat down with The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times for 90 minutes each to answer questions about all things Tony Rezko.

As a result, the Tribune's editorial board pronounced themselves satisfied:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.

The most remarkable facet of Obama's 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the three dozen Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did.

The outcome of the more combative Sun-Times interview seemed similar, so that near the end, there was this exchange:

Q: Comparing the benign-ness of the fact pattern and the trouble it's caused you, do you think you've mishandled this at all?

A: I think that running for president is a series of gauntlets you have to run. And I think that we could have - setting aside the initial mistake which I deserve some blame for, I have acknowledged publicly - I think that understanding that there would be heightened interest in me, that Rezko had been finally indicted and arrested, that there was gonna be a need for us to do this again, I think was, it probably would have been good for us to do earlier. There's no doubt about it.

The main revelation of the two interviews was that Rezko had raised about $100,000 more for Obama than the campaign had disclosed before, making it a total of approximately $250,000. The reason for the discrepancy, Obama explained, was that it was impossible to discover just what contributions Rezko had been responsible for in his state senate and run for the House in 2000. Obama estimated that Rezko helped raise between $50,000 to $60,000 in his run for the House and the remainder for his three state senate campaigns.

And about that house deal. Obama was much clearer about the timeline of how Rezko came to be involved in the deal. Remember that Rezko purchased the side yard of Obama house, raising suspicions that Rezko had helped out as a favor to Obama.

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President Bush is in no rush to make good on his 2005 promise to expedite a massive backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests. In fact, he has appointed a person to manage already low expectations and inform citizens just how long their request may take to be reviewed. The National Security Archive, a private research group at The George Washington University, says that because unanswered requests only declined from 217,000 to 212,000 over two years, "many of the same old scofflaw agencies are still shirking their responsibilities to the public." (AP)

Questions about Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson's role in his alleged efforts to punish a housing authority director for not helping a friend, remain unanswered even after a round of Senate testimony last week. Jackson refused to answer most questions about an e-mail exchange in which Jackson's assistants discussed how they could make life "less happy" for the Philadelphia Housing Authority director Carl Greene by stripping his agency of federal funds. Jackson claimed that a judge's gag order prevented him from discussing the matter but Senator Specter (R-PA) discovered that this order did not apply to congressional testimony. (Washington Post)

President Bush is the "decider," except when Stephen Johnson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is the "decider." Johnson has vehemently rejected allegations that the EPA weakened its new smog reduction standards because of orders from Bush. Though records show that Bush became personally involved, Johnson declared, "I made the decision." (AP)

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Beyond the decision to invade in the first place, it was no doubt the most disastrous decision of the war. In May of 2003, the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi Army, rendering more than 200,000 armed Iraqis angry and unemployed. This morning, The New York Times provides the most detailed account yet of how the decision went down. It's not pretty.

The original plan, concocted by the seasoned and competent Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, was to not disband the army. Only the Republican Guard would be disbanded. The reason was clear, according to a March, 2003 PowerPoint presentation given at a National Security Council meeting. Said one slide of the presentation: “Cannot immediately demobilize 250K-300K personnel and put on the street.”

Exactly whose idea it was to disband the army, no one can say. No, Paul Bremer won't take the credit for it. But Bremer and his deputy did champion the idea. And in late May, he told the president and his aides that he was going to disband the Iraqi Army the next day. The president signed off on it. But it's pretty remarkable who did not:

Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was never asked for advice, and was in Paris when the May 22 meeting was held.

Mr. Powell, who views the decree as a major blunder, later asked Condoleezza Rice, who was serving as Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, for an explanation.

“I talked to Rice and said, ‘Condi, what happened?’ ” he recalled. “And her reaction was: ‘I was surprised too, but it is a decision that has been made and the president is standing behind Jerry’s decision. Jerry is the guy on the ground.’ And there was no further debate about it.”

And then there's the question of whether Bremer consulted the military command in Iraq about the decision. Funny story, that. The senior commander there at the time, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, had clearly opposed the idea of disbanding the army. And when the time came to see if he would sign off on the plan to disband the army, Bremer assigned a retired officer on his staff, Col. Greg Gardner, to check in on McKiernan. For some reason, the two sides can't seem to agree on whether McKiernan signed off:

Mr. Bremer’s headquarters was in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, while General McKiernan’s was at a base near the Baghdad airport several miles away. Colonel Gardner said that there were problems with telephone communications but that he finally reached a member of General McKiernan’s staff who told him that the general accepted the decree.

“I got the impression that Lieutenant General McKiernan was not all that keen about the course of action,” Colonel Gardner said, “but was clearly told that he did endorse the draft.” Colonel Gardner added that he could not recall the name of the staff officer he spoke with.

General McKiernan, however, asserted that he neither reviewed nor backed the decree. “I never saw that order and never concurred,” he said. “That is absolutely false.”

Lt. Gen. J. D. Thurman, who serves as the Army’s chief operations officer and was the top operations officer for General McKiernan at the time, had a similar recollection. “We did not get a chance to make a comment,” he said in an e-mail message. “Not sure they wanted to hear what we had to say.”

Bremer did apparently notify Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before the decree and says that Rumsfeld approved in a phone conversation. If that is the case, Rumsfeld doesn't seem to have thought much about it. And if you sense a pattern here, it's that those who might have thought much about it weren't consulted:

“Anyone who is experienced in the ways of Washington knows the difference between an open, transparent policy process and slamming something through the system,” said Franklin C. Miller, the senior director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, who played an important role on the National Security Council in overseeing plans for the postwar phase. “The most portentous decision of the occupation was carried out stealthily and without giving the president’s principal advisers an opportunity to consider it and give the president their views.”

No one can say that Texas Republican staffer Todd Gallaher didn't give 110 percent. Unfortunately for Gallaher, however, his efforts weren’t appreciated.

Last Monday he was forced to resign from his post on the staff of state Sen. Bob Deuell (R-TX) because of the uproar caused by his scheming. And on Friday the Texas attorney general’s office confirmed that Aransas County Sheriff Mark Gilliam filed a complaint claiming that Gallaher was behind the smear campaign against him in the March 4 Republican primary.

Gilliam, the incumbent, was running against County Constable Bill Mills. The sheriff says he received e-mails before the election threatening him to “back off” or be publicly humiliated.

Subsequently, the voters of Aransas County received pictures of Gilliam carousing shirtless at a party, mooning the guests and pretending to kiss a man.

The pictures were authentic, if 18 years old, but the sender’s e-mail address,, was clearly deceptive. The voters assumed it belonged to Democratic state Rep. Juan Garcia, whose district includes Aransas County. When Garcia learned of the e-mails from callers who had received them, his IT staff tracked them down from the Capitol to Sen. Deuell’s office to Gallaher’s state computer. (Gilliam also traced the e-mails he received to Deuell’s office.)

But Gallaher denies the charge that he posed as Garcia. He was using an identity he created long ago, a “super hero-like caricature” he named “Republican Jaun Garcia” [sic], he says. Though Gallaher has produced sketches of the cartoon character from the 90s, showing that the name is “Jaun” and not “Juan,” the name was spelled correctly in the e-mail address.

And it appears that Gallaher was not working pro bono. An examination of campaign finance records revealed that Mills, Gilliam’s successful opponent, paid between $17,000 and $11,000 (accounts vary) to a political consultant in Austin whose address is Gallaher’s post office box.

Gilliam isn’t contesting his loss in the primary, but he’s charging Gallaher with using state property with the intent of “harming or defrauding another,” a criminal offense under the Texas Penal Code. “This is an allegation of blackmail and of serious criminal acts,” he said.

Gallaher’s troubles don’t end there.

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It never did look very good for Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, the well-known plantiffs attorney, Dem fundraiser, and brother-in-law to ex-Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS). If you got associates rattling on about knowing where the bodies are buried on a wiretapped conversation, then it's generally safe to say that you've got problems.

And so Scruggs, who was indicted last November, has gone down easy for his "boneheaded bribery scam" to bribe a judge. From the AP:

Scruggs, 61, and co-defendant Sidney Backstrom both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. Scruggs' law partner and son, Zach, also is charged in the case but did not enter a plea and is expected to go to trial.

Prosecutors said they would recommend five years in prison for Scruggs and 2 1/2 for Backstrom, penalties significantly lower than what they could have faced.

There is nothing in the plea agreement to indicate that Scruggs will be cooperating with prosecutors in return for a lower sentence. So indications for now are that he was the big fish here.

Just out from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV):

“I am very encouraged by House passage of a new FISA bill. The new House version adopts the basic structure of the Senate-passed bill, but contains added privacy protections. Now is the time for Republicans to come to the negotiating table so we can resolve the last few issues. The President should stop giving high-handed speeches in the Rose Garden and start working with Congress to finalize this important national security bill.”

The House Dem leadership's surveillance bill just cleared the House by a vote of 213-197 with 1 vote of present. 12 Dems crossed the aisle to vote against it.

The bill has stricter privacy safeguards than the Senate's version -- and of course does not contain a provision granting retroactive immunity for the telecoms' participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

As for what's next, it's over to the Senate where it's sure to undergo some modifications. In a statement earlier this week, Senate intelligence committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said that "considerable work remains" on reconciling the House's latest version and the Senate version. Rockefeller said he's willing to adopt a number of the House's provisions, including a much shorter sunset (2 years) on the law, but notably omitted the topic of immunity. Rockefeller supports blanket immunity for the telecoms.

The Senate is certainly a different place. Today, 12 House Dems voted against a bill that does not contain retroactive immunity (and some of those were from liberals like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)). Last month in the Senate, 18 Dems voted against an attempt to strip retroactive immunity from the Senate bill.

Update: Here's the roll call.

OK, so Hans von Spakovsky's nomination to the Federal Election Commission has left the Senate hopelessly gridlocked, and the FEC crippled. And he packed his bags and left the building months ago. But the man is still keeping busy.

The vote suppression expert has just released his latest call-to-arms on the voter ID front at the Heritage Foundation. It's called "Stolen Identities, Stolen Votes: A Case Study in Voter Impersonation."

In it, Spakovsky takes on those liberal critics who claim that there's no voter fraud (like, say, The New York Times) by unearthing a 1984 grand jury investigation in Brooklyn, NY during which, he says, numerous episodes of voter fraud dating back to 1968 were uncovered.

Just because the case was 24 years ago and no indictments were issued shouldn't give us pause. The point is that it's evidence that fraud does occur. And therefore there's a strong case for requiring ID at the polls. And if the law disproportionately disenfranchises minority voters, I guess that's just collateral damage. The Supreme Court is expected to decide by late June whether Indiana's voter ID law is unconstitutional.

So you can see that Spakovsky is still on the case, though thankfully not still at the Justice Department, where he took a number of steps that had the effect of making it more difficult for minorities to vote. Bush put Spakovsky on the FEC by a recess appointment in December, 2005.

As voting law expert Rick Hasen points out, the piece is a brazen move for a guy who's been accused of being too partisan. Apparently Spakovsky is not holding out for winning Democrats over.

A recent report (pdf) by the Election Assistance Commission's inspector general served as a reminder for why Spakovsky is so controversial. In it, former Commissioner Paul DeGregorio, a Republican who frequently clashed with Spakovsky when he was at the Justice Department, is quoted as saying that "too many of [von Spakovsky's] decisions are clouded by his partisan thinking" and that Spakovsky thought that DeGregorio should use his position to advance the Republican Party's agenda.