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The Coleman campaign has just filed a very interesting motion in the election trial, changing their position for the fourth or fifth time on whether to count rejected absentee ballots -- and demanding that votes they've already stipulated as legal should be thrown out.

A review of the back-story is necessary. You might remember that the campaigns agreed during a statewide review of rejected absentee ballots that a group of 933 ballots were in fact legal and should be counted. Those ballots were counted on January 3, and they gave Al Franken a net gain of 176 votes. The Coleman campaign then started crying foul that some of these votes were really illegal and had to be thrown out.

When those votes were counted, numbers were affixed to the ballot envelopes and the ballots themselves, a just-in-case measure for if they would have to be thrown out again later on. Coleman later dropped this claim, and the election court's order to formalize this also commanded the Secretary of State's office to redact those numbers, in order to protect the secret ballot.

But now Coleman wants an order to stop the redactions, and to declare that some of these votes must be identified and thrown out. (ed. note: It is now too late to completely do this. See late update below.)

So Coleman was originally against counting them, then for it, then against it, then for it, and now against it, in that order.

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Earlier this morning, we caught the office of GOP congressman Pete Sessions falsely telling a reporter that Sessions didn't know Allen Stanford personally. (Check out this pic for the evidence he did.)

And here's another interesting example of Sessions and Stanford crossing paths.

A 2004 press release (via Nexis), put out by the Stanford-linked Inter-American Economic Council, touts a meeting the IAEC organized with Caribbean officials and members of Congress, including Sessions. It declares:

Mr. Allen Stanford spoke about the need for additional assistance to the nations devastated by the hurricanes. He also addressed the need to streamline regulatory regimes that make it difficult for investors to take advantage of all of the opportunities that exist in the region.


In other words, Sessions was at a meeting at at which Stanford pressed lawmakers to leave open the loopholes that benefit off-shore corporations.

A few months later, Sessions and colleagues would fly to Antigua on the IAEC's dime to talk further about the issue.

It's also worth noting that Sessions and Texas GOP senator John Cornyn, unlike a slew of other lawmakers, have declined to return Stanford's money.

We reported yesterday on the three Democratic lawmakers who visited the Gaza Strip yesterday, becoming the first government representatives to touch down in the area in more than three years.

Two of the three, Reps. Brian Baird (WA) and Keith Ellison (MN), have released a longer statement on what they saw in Gaza. They make a powerful plea for greater U.S. recognition of the human toll exacted by last month's outbreak of violence between Gaza and Israel. From Baird and Ellison's release:

If this had happened in our own country, there would be national outrage and an appeal for urgent assistance. We are glad that the Obama administration acted quickly to send much needed funding for this effort but the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food and repair essentials is unacceptable and indefensible. People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in.


The two Democrats will head to the Israeli side of the border today.

Here's a fun one...

With lawmakers scrambling to distance themselves from Allen Stanford, Bloomberg reports:

Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, got $41,375 [from Stanford's firm]. Spokeswoman Emily Davis said Sessions didn't know Stanford personally.


But check out this picture we posted the other day. It's from that 2005 junket that a group of lawmakers took to Antigua (paid for by the Stanford-linked Inter-American Economic Council) and it shows Sessions, now the NRCC chair, happily chatting with the cricket-loving billionaire.



And in 2006, Sessions' chief of staff told Bloomberg that the two men did know each other -- indeed, that Stanford asked Sessions to become a member of the Caribbean Caucus.

We're guessing that Davis' claim won't remain operative too long. We've contacted her and will let you know what we hear.

Thanks to reader T.D. for the tip.

Late Update: Davis responded via email: "No comment."

As we begin the noble quest to fill out the Hypocrimap of GOP stimulus-lovers, I must point out an important caveat.

The economic recovery law includes a "waiver" to ensure that states receive their share of the measure's $54 billion in federal money for education. But when you see Republicans clamoring for their state to get that waiver authority, it's not a simple case of GOPers hypocritically scrambling for cash they voted against -- despite a report from Politico suggesting as much.

The stimulus restricts access to the $54 billion pot to those states that have maintained education budgets at or above 2006 levels. The "waiver" provision was added at the urging of states that wanted to get help from Washington while keeping their education budgets stunningly low. In several cases, as Dana Goldstein observes, the states in question could have boosted their schools budgets through targeted tax hikes, but chose not to.

In order to secure the "waiver" for stimulus cash, state lawmakers -- both Republican and Democratic -- have to request it from the Obama administration. So when you see Florida GOPers joining the push for a state waiver, it's merely pragmatic support for maintaining low schools budgets during lean years. The other states aiming for education waivers are Nevada and California.

A report by the Associated Press reveals that jobless workers have to pay fees on the benefits they collect. 30 states have made deals with large banks, many of which are taking bailout funds, like Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and US Bancorp that require the unemployed to pay bank fees just to get access to their money. In some cases, those collecting benefits have no choice but to use bank issued debit cards, which run the risk of incurring overdraft fees. "It's a racket. It's a scam," said one unemployed woman. (Associated Press)

An Orthodox Jewish Army engineer accused of spying for Israel is now suing the Departments of Defense and Justice, claiming that investigations into his actions damaged his career. The lawsuit also claims that David Tenenbaum was falsely accused of spying solely because of his Jewish heritage. An inspector general's report from the Pentagon supports these claims, finding that Tenenbaum faced unusual and unwelcome scrutiny because of his background. The lawsuit is the second filed by Tenenbaum, the first having been dismissed on a state secrets claim by a federal appeals court. (Associated Press)

Binyam Mohamed, a one-time resident of the United Kingdom, will be transferred home early next week, sources familiar with the matter said. The release may come as early as next Monday, the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to arrive at the facility as part of a review. A second former British resident is also rumored to be on the edge of release, although U.S. officials have said that he is still regarded as "dangerous" and unlikely to be relocated. Mohamed would be the first detainee to be released under the Obama administration, sources tell the Washington Post.

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Biden: Bush Policies Gave Al Qaeda A Recruitment Tool Speaking yesterday at CIA Headquarters, Joe Biden told the assembled employees that the new administration will "reverse the policies that in my view and the view of many in this agency caused America to fall short of its founding principles and which gave Al Qaeda a powerful recruiting tool."

Today: Obama And Biden Talking Up Stimulus To Mayors President Obama and Vice President Biden will be speaking today at the White House to a group of mayors from across the country, to discuss the implementation of the stimulus bill. Mayors who will be in attendance include San Francisco's Gavin Newsom, New Orleans' Ray Nagin, Dallas' Tom Leppert (a Republican) and others.

Hillary On Global Listening Tour The Washington Post reports that Clinton's first overseas trip has essentially become a global listening tour, in an effort to repair America's image abroad. "My trip here today is to hear your views, because I believe strongly that we learn from listening to one another," she told students at Tokyo University earlier this week. "And that is, for me, part of what this first trip of mine as secretary of state is about."

New York Post Apologizes For Chimp Cartoon The New York Post has now apologized for the controversial "chimp" cartoon, but they're still, um, sticking to their guns. "It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period," the paper says. But they do acknowledge that some have seen it as a racist depiction: "This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize."

Appointed Senators Hitting The Trail -- Except Burris Three of the four appointed Senators are spending the Congressional recess touring their states and discussing the economy, mostly in preparation for re-election -- and even Delaware's Ted Kaufman, who is serving as a caretaker, is meeting with constituents to discuss the issues. The one exception seems to be the embattled Roland Burris, who has canceled his public events and is holding private meetings to figure out his next move.

Report: Cornyn Approaches Pataki For New York Senate Race The Associated Press reports that NRSC chairman John Cornyn has approached former New York Governor George Pataki to run in the special Senate election in 2010. Pataki served three terms as governor of a Democratic state, so he could be a strong candidate if he runs, though his popularity did go down in the home stretch of his administration.

GOP Candidate In Gillibrand's Seat Won't Say How He Would Have Voted On Stimulus Bill The stimulus bill is quickly becoming a big issue in the special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat -- namely, a refusal by Republican candidate Jim Tedisco to say how he would have voted had he been in the House. Tedisco has criticized the bill, but has responded to queries about his bottom-line vote by saying it's a "hypothetical question."

A funny thing has happened in the Minnesota election trial today -- they're actually making real progress!

After the judges handed down key rulings over the past week that finally established real rules -- they had heard enough from prior witnesses to rule what kinds of ballots would be admitted, and what standards to apply for any new pleas -- the campaigns are very quickly going through the motions with the election officials who do come through.

So far today they have fully examined -- that is, the witness is sworn in, direct-examined, cross-examined, re-direct-examined and excused -- election officials from several different counties, plus four municipalities in Hennepin County (Minneapolis) where the cities run elections. They also finished up an interview of another county official, which had begun yesterday afternoon.

Judge Denise Reilly even thanked and congratulated the parties for getting through "nine and a half" officials.

Who knows, at the rate they're now going they might actually be done by 2012.

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I'm not sure I agree with my boss's assessment of Washington.

You could argue that the entrenched interests stopped the Reagan and Bush administrations from doing what they would have liked, too.

I tend to think the town is more wired for inertia than anything, an entropy that stymies the ambitious goals of every president from Reagan to Obama. But I'm less despairing about it changing, too because crisis provokes change.

One sign of the crack is the Chamber of Commerce. They supported the stimulus plan and the morning after Obama's address to Congress next week, they'll be holding a panel discussion on how the money will be dispensed. Of course, the Chamber will fight Obama on the Employee Free Choice Act and any number of other issues but it's telling that they're not battling him on this.

On another matter I hear the Hilda Solis vote in the Senate could come as soon as Tuesday or at least an effort to invoke cloture and get it moving. It'd be nice to get the cabinet done by March.

Did the SEC fall down on the job by not paying closer attention to Allen Stanford, the billionaire Texas banker accused of orchestrating an $8 billion fraud? One former long-time enforcement director for the agency thinks it may well have.

Robert Fusfeld, who spent 31 years as an SEC enforcement lawyer, and for 15 managed the trial unit in the commission's Denver office before retiring in 2006, told TPMmuckraker that there was plenty of reason for the SEC to aggressively scrutinize Stanford's operation.

"A registered broker dealer and registered investment adviser is selling offshore Caribbean CDs in mammoth volumes, and nobody's looking at the bonafides of the bank," he said.

The New York Times reported today that the Stanford Group paid several fines over the last few years after regulators found that it did not have enough capital to meet the requirements of being a broker-dealer and used misleading sales literature. "There were numerous very significant red flags that included a history of violations," said Fusfeld.

The case, he said, contained the "same kind of red flags as Madoff" -- like consistently high returns -- but with the added red flag of the Antiguan CDs. "It's not Germany, France, or England," he continued, noting the history of "flagrant offshore CD frauds" over the last 10-15 years.

Because Stanford was a registered broker dealer and investment adviser, the SEC had full access to its operation, Fusfeld added. "They can walk right in."

The SEC was publicly flogged earlier this month for its failure to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Since then, its appears to have been making a special effort to show it's capable of acting aggressively -- a concern which may have affected the timing of the Stanford complaint filed Tuesday.

It would certainly be ironic if, in this case too, it was found to have fallen down on the job.

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