TPM News

The Brent Wilkes quest for vindication continues!

A judge refused Monday to grant a new trial for an ex-Poway defense contractor convicted of bribing disgraced ex-Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham in order to land more than $80 million in government contracts.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns told the attorney for Brent Wilkes that even though someone from the prosecution team leaked a grand jury indictment to reporters two weeks before it was issued, there was no prejudice to the defendant during his trial....

Burns told defense attorney Mark Geragos that only four of the 15 sworn jurors had read anything about the case, and all of it was after Wilkes was indicted....

"You've been bamboozled. I've been bamboozled. Mr. Wilkes has been bamboozled," Geragos told the judge.

The bamboozling is far from over. Wilkes will appeal, he says, and will face trial in the new year for allegedy bribing his buddy Dusty Foggo, the former #3 at the CIA.

Senator and presidential contender Chris Dodd's (D-CT) threat to filibuster a bill giving immunity to telecom companies that helped the government surveil Americans prevailed Monday, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to postpone the vote on the measure until after the winter recess. The bill would have freed telecoms like AT&T and Verizon from 40-odd lawsuits pending against them in federal court. (Washington Post)

Mike Huckabee, author of the 1988 book Kids Who Kill: Confronting Our Culture of Violence, is facing new scrutiny over allegations that one of his sons was “involved in the hanging of a stray dog at a Boy Scout camp in 1998.” At the time, many people called for an investigation of the incident but the director of Arkansas's state police told Newsweek that then Governor Huckabee's chief of staff and personal lawyer pressured him to write a letter officially denying the local prosecutor's request. (Newsweek)

During his leadership of Bain Capital, Mitt Romney helped investors utilize shell companies in two offshore tax havens to avoid paying their share of U.S. taxes. While the candidate received no personal tax benefits, his tax scheme, which included opening a company in Bermuda that had no office or staff, helped attract billions more investment dollars and increased his personal profits. (LA Times)

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Abu Zubaydah was:

A) A high-ranking Al Qaeda operative who largely confounded U.S. interrogators with his literary and tactical genius until they submitted him to waterboarding and other forms of torture. After that, he provided key information that likely preempted future attacks.

B) A low-ranking and mentally ill Al Qaeda operative who provided valuable information under gentle questioning, but whose confessions made under torture were useless. Much of the threat information he provided was "crap."

A is the CIA's version (and the President's). B is the FBI's. And in today's Washington Post, Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus walk through the competing profiles. Zubaydah, remember, was one of the two detainees whose interrogations appeared on the destroyed CIA tapes.

It's clear off the bat that the version of events provided by John Kiriakou, the former CIA agent who launched something like a PR blitz last week, is not quite right. In his telling, Zubaydah held out until waterboarded; after only 35 seconds of that, he gave in and "from that day on, he answered every question."

By contrast, both CIA and FBI agents tell the Post that he provided valuable information before he was waterboarded. And there wasn't just one session: "Instead, [other former and current officials] said, harsh tactics used on him at a secret detention facility in Thailand went on for weeks or, depending on the account, even months."

And then you get to the real discrepancies.

A CIA agent says that Zubaydah was a "wily adversary" under questioning who seemed "very selective in what he protected and what he gave up."

Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman, "who led an examination of documents after Abu Zubaida's capture in early 2002 and worked on the case," responded that Zubaydah was talking before he was waterboarded, but the CIA agents couldn't believe that he knew so little.

Coleman, in fact, emerges as an effective foil to Kiriakou (who, incidentally, participated in the capture of Zubaydah but wasn't present during the torture) in the piece. Coleman says that Zubaydah was a "safehouse keeper" for Al Qaeda who had suffered a serious head injury years earlier.

Zubaydah's mental instability was manifest in his diary, Coleman says, which was "written in three distinct personalities -- one younger, one older and one the same age as Abu Zubaida. The book was full of flowery and philosophical meanderings, and made little mention of terrorism or al-Qaeda."

Former CIA Director George Tenet, by contrast, writes in his book that Zubaydah used a "sophisticated literary device to express himself" in the diary.

And you get the impression that Tenet's reading is typical of the way the CIA agents tended to see Zubaydah:

Coleman said reports of Abu Zubaida's statements during his early, traditional interrogation were "consistent with who he was and what he would possibly know." He and other officials said that materials seized from Abu Zubaida's house and other locations, including names, telephone numbers and computer laptops, provided crucial information about al-Qaeda and its network.

But, Coleman and other law enforcement officials said, CIA officials concluded to the contrary that Abu Zubaida was a major player, and they saw any lack of information as evidence that he was resisting interrogation. Much of the threat information provided by Abu Zubaida, Coleman said, "was crap."

"There's an agency mind-set that there was always some sort of golden apple out there, but there just isn't, especially with guys like him," Coleman said.

Note: This tidbit reported by Newsweek last week seems worth noting here:

[The interrogation of Zubaydah] sparked an internal battle within the U.S. intelligence community after FBI agents angrily protested the aggressive methods that were used. In addition to waterboarding, Zubaydah was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.

Update: Here's Ron Suskind, the author of The One Percent Doctrine and who first reported what FBI agents were saying about Zubaydah, talking to Salon last year.

The White House may have lost a battle, but they have not lost the war.

For nearly two years, D.C. watchdogs Judicial Watch and Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington have been battling in court for Secret Service records of visits to the Bush White House and the Vice President's Office. The first request was for Jack Abramoff's visits, but they also set out to discover how often his associates and various conservative religious leaders had visited. Did they know what they were in for?

Over time, the White House has tried various legal theories to block the release. There was the imposing "mosaic theory," whereby seemingly innocuous information, such as visits to the White House, could prove a national security threat when combined with other seemingly innocuous information. And there was the Vice President's secret agreement with the Secret Service that even though the Secret Service makes and keeps the visitor records, they're not really Secret Service records (even though they'd been treated that way in the past), they're White House records, and thus not subject to FOIA. Oh, and there was the Vice President's order to destroy the records. And on and on.

Today, CREW had a good day in court, with a federal judge deciding that the secret agreement was bunk and that the Secret Service records really were public records. And there was also a partial victory. The judge denied CREW's motion to declare that the Secret Service could not destroy its White House visitor records once it had transferred copies to the White House; but because the judge said the records are public records, the White House now cannot destroy them without the say-so of the National Archives and Records Administration. And when you want to destroy documents, you really don't want any red tape, do you?

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Who'll be the lucky Justice Department official?

Today House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey to request that a Department official show up for a hearing he's scheduled this Thursday on the interrogation of detainees. You see, he doesn't think too much of the Department's decision to rebuff all Congressional investigation of the CIA's destruction of the torture tapes. "Parallel congressional and executive investigations occur frequently, and therefore should not be used as a shield against proper and necessary oversight," is the way he puts it.

And he wants "a high level official to testify on this subject matter, specifically including the Department’s attempts to forestall legislative or judicial inquiry."

So which DoJ official will get to explain to dozens of lawmakers why Congressional probes should shut down until the DoJ reaches its conclusion? Probably whoever has bad luck with Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Conyers' letter is below.

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When news broke that the CIA had kept videotapes showing torture of detainees secret and then secretly destroyed them, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) was fast out of the gate: the scandal "leads right into the White House," he said, and the need for a special prosecutor was clear.

But that was about it. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) was quick to dismiss the need for one, saying that Congressional inquiries were enough. And the hard-charging investigation led by the House intelligence committee seemed to indicate that might be true. When Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House intelligence committee, wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey to formally request the appointment of a special prosecutor, expectations were low.

As expected, Mukasey said no. Or as he put it in a letter to Congress Friday, "I am aware of no facts at present to suggest that Department attorneys cannot conduct this inquiry in an impartial manner."

But with the Department rebuffing Congressional inquiries, Rockefeller's rationale has been turned on its head. The momentum seems to have shifted.

On Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) said in a statement that Mukasey's "disturbing" refusal to answer Congressional questions about the tapes' destruction "calls into question whether the Department of Justice is best able to investigate these matters.”

And the same day, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) echoed Sen. Biden's comments from the week before.

Put all that together and you now have the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and two prominent members of the Senate Judiciary Committee leaning towards a special prosecutor. Whether that momentum builds any more depends largely on how successful the House intelligence committee is in defying the Justice Department's attempt to stifle its investigation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said that he would call for a special prosecutor if the committee's don't get cooperation.

Last week, Jose Rodriguez, the CIA's ex-operations director who ordered the interrogation tapes destroyed in late 2005, lawyered up in a big way, landing D.C. legal superstar Bob Bennett. Now Bennett's out there earning his salt, saying that Rodriguez will invoke the Fifth if it seems like he's been picked as the fall guy:

Bennett told NEWSWEEK that his client had been "a dedicated and loy­al public servant for 31 years" and "has done nothing wrong." But he warned that Rodriguez may refuse to cooperate with investigators if he concludes that the probes are a "witch hunt." "I don't want him to become a scapegoat."

What's Bennett angling for? Well, the line's in the water.

Today's the big day: the Senate debates a permanent overhaul of surveillance law to replace the administration's sweeping Protect America Act, which expires February 1. (Didja see Sen. Feingold's TPMCafe post on all this?)

One milestone on the road to today's debate was a White House agreement to let the Senate intelligence committee and the leaders of the judiciary committee see the legal justifications for its constellation of warrantless surveillance programs. Now Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Democratic leader, wants the full Senate to be able to review the closely-held documents. He wrote to intelligence czar Michael McConnell yesterday:

We appreciate that you have provided access to the documents necessary for evaluation of this issue to the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, as each has in turn considered it. As the debate now moves to the full Senate, I believe it is of critical importance that all Senators who will be called upon to vote on this important question have an opportunity to review these key documents themselves so that they may draw their own conclusions. In my view, each sitting Senator has a constitutional right of access to these documents before voting on this matter.

I strongly urge you to make the documents previously provided to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committee regarding retroactive immunity available in a secure location to any Senator who wishes to review them during the floor debate

One Senator who read those documents, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), has already said in a recent speech that the legal basis for the program spelled out in the documents made him "increasingly dismayed and amazed." They amount, in Whitehouse's view, to a legal doctrine for presidential lawbreaking. Maybe Reid, who's said he opposes retroactive immunity, is pushing a gambit to kill the telecom immunity provisions of the surveillance bill through the disinfecting power of sunlight.

Add another name to the wall of fame. Newsweek reports that John Negroponte -- Mike McConnell's predecessor as director of national intelligence -- told then-CIA Director Porter Goss not to destroy the torture tapes. That instruction, apparently documented, is going to be crucial: advocates for Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who destroyed the tapes in 2005, have said that they did not receive clear instructions from their superiors firmly telling them to preserve the recordings.

In the summer of 2005, then CIA director Porter Goss met with then national intelligence director John Negroponte to discuss a highly sensitive matter: what to do about the existence of videotapes documenting the use of controversial interrogation methods, apparently includ­ing waterboarding, on two key Al Qaeda suspects. The tapes were eventually de­stroyed, and congressional investigators are now trying to piece together an extensive paper trail documenting how and why it happened.

One crucial document they'll surely want to examine: a memo written after the meeting between Goss and Negroponte, which records that Negroponte strongly advised against destroying the tapes, according to two people close to the investigation, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive matter. The memo is so far the only known documentation that a senior intel official warned that the tapes should not be destroyed. Spokespeople for the CIA and the intel czar's office declined to comment, citing ongoing investigations.

Tally it up. Advising against destruction were: Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) with Nancy Pelosi "concurring," Goss as both a congressman and CIA director, Harriet Miers, anonymous DOJ officials, and Negroponte. Those with an appetite for destruction were, of course, Rodriguez and, reportedly, lawyers within the CIA's operations directorate.

As Paul noted in the Must Read, the leaders of the House intelligence committee aren't exactly impressed by the Justice Department's attempt to halt their investigation of the destruction of the CIA's torture tapes. Reading the letter that Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson sent to the committee, it's not hard to see why.

We've added the Wainstein-Helgerson letter to our document collection, and you can read it in its entirety here.

On Friday, Wainstein and Helgerson asked the House to shut down its probe. Their rationale? Avoiding needless duplication that would complicate the Justice/CIA IG "preliminary" inquiry into the tape destruction:

Based upon our review of the Committee's requests to date, we believe our inquiry will encompass the same documents and witnesses. Our ability to obtain the most reliable and complete information would likely be jeopardized if the CIA undertakes the steps necessary to respond to your requests in a comprehensive fashion at this time. This includes requests for interviews with [Inspector General's office employees], which the DOJ has determined to be problematic because they are potential witnesses in the matter under our inquiry.

What's missing from that explanation? Oh yeah -- an explanation of how the House inquiry would actually jeopardize the DOJ/CIA IG probe.