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One question left unanswered by the officials summoned to Capitol Hill yesterday to talk about arms dealer AEY was this: Why did U.S. taxpayers end up spending $300 million for Cold War-era ammunition rounds which it easily could have gotten it for free?

Eastern Europe is full of old Soviet-era ammunition. And many countries have been offering to give it away for years. Countries like Bosnia, Bulgaria and Hungary.

In fact, the Albanian Defense Minister himself offered to give the U.S. virtually the same ammo that AEY ended up providing under contract.

The House oversight committee report said:

The Committee has been informed that on December 23, 2007, the Albanian President and Defense Minister traveled to Iraq to meet with General David Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. According to Major Larry Harrison, the Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation, he personally accompanied the Albanian officials on this trip and attended the meeting. Major Harrison informed Committee staff that the Albanian officials offered to donate the country's surplus ammunition to Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Major Harrison, General Petraeus rejected this offer because Albania was known to possess large quantities of Chinese munitions, which cannot be received under United States law.

That's the same Albanian defense minister, Fatmir Mediu, who a few months later reportedly called a late night meeting with U.S. Ambassador John Withers in Tirana and talked about how to conceal the Chinese origins of an AEY shipment. The ammunition was purchased by AEY to supply the Afghan Army.

Mediu had made his offer of free ammo very publicly.

Incidentally, Mediu resigned from his post a few months ago after a massive explosion at a weapons depot in Albania killed 26 people. It was a major disaster for such a small country, and underscored Albania's massive weapons stockpiles. AFP reported:

The Socialist-led opposition accused the government of corruption in dealing with the disposal of obsolete weapons, and called on Prime Minister Berisha to resign.

The Pentagon is dismissing reports that Army Maj. Larry Harrison was removed from his post as a military attache at the U.S. embassy in Albania after he started talking to the House oversight committee.

In a statement just released by the Army's European Command, spokesperson Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner, says that Harrison remains in his post in Tirana, but was already scheduled to be transferred this summer:

MAJ Harrison sent his memo for record to the J-5 desk officer for Albania on April 18, 2008. The desk officer forwarded the memo to the European Command Judge Advocate's office for consideration. Before further action could be taken, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Staff contacted MAJ Harrison by phone and conducted a preliminary interview.

During the interview, MAJ Harrison referred to the memo, and later provided it upon request of the Committee staff. Following the interview call, the US European Command Washington Liaison Office contacted OSD Legislative Affairs. Subsequently, OSD Legislative Affairs contacted MAJ Harrison to notify him the Committee had formally requested an opportunity to interview him.

MAJ Harrison began a transcribed interview with members of the Committee staff. During the interview, MAJ Harrison requested an opportunity to consult with legal counsel, terminating the interview. At MAJ Harrison's request, personal counsel was assigned by the Army Judge Advocate Corps.

MAJ Harrison is still assigned as Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation in Albania. However, he has served in that position for his scheduled 2 years, and is due for an assignment during this Summer's move cycle.

EUCOM has not coordinated with the Department of State about this issue.
Harrison sent an April 18 memo to his commanders about alleged misconduct by State Department officials at the Albania embassy.

Esther McDonald is no John McCain when it comes to the Internet.

According to the DOJ OIG report released yesterday, the former counsel to Associate Attorney General and member of Honors Program Screening Committee, gathered information to determine the politics and ideologies of their applicants, looking at blogs, MySpace pages, school newspapers, and old articles. Those searches were then used to weed out applicants with liberal leaning affiliations:

[Micahel] Elston, [chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General] and [David] Fridman, [a former Screening Committee member] both remembered McDonald circling items on candidates' applications and writing remarks about those items, including employment or affiliations with organizations, judges, law school professors, and legislators who could be considered liberal.

In examining the hiring decisions of McDonald and the Screening Committee, many DOJ divisions looked into why their recommended applicants had been disqualified.

One candidate, a Harvard Law graduate, with an A- average, had interned in a U.S. Attorney's office and came highly recommended, but was declined by the Screening Committee. The Civil Rights Division appealed the decision:

Rena Comisac, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, told us that after the appeal was submitted, Elston informed her that the Screening Committee had found an article on the Internet in which the candidate was quoted as expressing regret that he had not participated in the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle.

According to Comisac, Elston said that if the candidate wanted to participate in the Seattle WTO protests, which in Elston's opinion were close to a riot, then the candidate would not hesitate to chain himself to the front steps of the Department if he did not like the way something was being done. Comisac told us that it was clear to her that "any additional appeals would not be productive" and that she decided not to pursue the matter further.

Other candidates were deslected due to their past affiliations:

[Daniel] Fridman, [a member of the Screening Committee] recalled that one candidate was at the top of his class at Harvard Law School and was fluent in Arabic. McDonald's written notations indicated that she had concerns about the candidate because he was a member of the Council on American Islamic Relations and that she had placed the application in the questionable pile.

In his testimony, Elston largely denied a candidate's politics or ideology as a role in deselection -- or in failing to grant appeals of deselected candidates -- but he did recall other patterns in his process:

We asked Elston about another deselected Honors Program candidate who was enrolled in a joint degree program for law and urban planning at Harvard, served as an articles editor on a law journal, graduated in the top 5 percent of his undergraduate class at Harvard, and had worked on a congressional campaign for a Democrat. Elston said he remembered the applicant because he had "chuckled" at the following portion of his essay:
In high school I thought that I wanted to captain a Green Peace skiff in the North Atlantic. I figured that was what serious environmentalists did, and I wanted to be a serious environmentalist. I decided later that potential martyrdom on the high seas was not for me, and rather than operate at the margins, I would prefer a job in which I could have a less antagonistic and more direct impact.
When asked how he voted on this candidate, Elston said, "A lot of times when I chuckled, I said no."

Today is U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch's big morale-boosting "retreat" over at a swanky hotel across the river in Alexandria, VA.

As we noted last week, there was something a bit preposterous about the day's schedule -- Bloch hosting a training session about how to obtain email evidence when he himself is under FBI investigation for deleting emails.

It looks like the Department of Justice agreed. A DOJ official that was scheduled to lead the "E-Discovery Training" seminar (Scott Bain from the Civil Division) backed out at the last minute, leaving a 90-minute hole in the "retreat" that Bloch had set up to boost morale.

"It's a case of scheduling and we're trying to reschedule it," Charles Miller, a spokesman for DOJ, told TPMmuckraker this morning.

A report by the Government Accountability Office says that more than $2 billion given to Pakistan by the U.S. government to fund counterterrorism efforts may not have been used for its intended purpose. U.S.-funded army roads and bunkers may never have even been built, with the millions of U.S. dollars going to unknown uses. (Washington Post)

A U.S. Army officer, Maj. John Cockerham, and his wife, Melissa Cockerham, pleaded guilty to a money laundering scheme involving contracts in Iraq. Maj. Cockerham, who was responsible for awarding contracts worth millions of dollars, admitted to taking or being promised over 9 million dollars in bribes for contracts while in Kuwait. (Associated Press)

The Attorney General's office in Illinois is planning to file a civil suit Wednesday against mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp and its chief executive Angelo Mozilo after an investigation which began last fall. The Attorney General's office claims that Countrywide engaged in "unfair and deceptive practices" in the sale of their mortgage loans to homeowners. (Wall Street Journal)

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The Bush Administration's newest tactic for policymaking is to ignore emails.

The New York Times reports today that White House officials simply refused to open an email from the EPA last year because they knew it contained a policy recommendation they didn't like -- part of the Administration's on-going battle with scientists at the EPA over global warming issues.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.'s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

Instead of officially acknowledging the email and responding to it in a normal bureaucratic manner, the White House instead launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to pressure the EPA to drop the recommendation's essential conclusions.

Both documents, as prepared by the E.P.A., "showed that the Clean Air Act can work for certain sectors of the economy, to reduce greenhouse gases," one of the senior E.P.A. officials said. "That's not what the administration wants to show. They want to show that the Clean Air Act can't work."

The White House lost its battle in the Supreme Court. It's stonewalling efforts by lawmakers on Capitol Hill to investigate the policy-making process. And now there's evidence that it is not only rejecting but even ignoring efforts by the EPA to adhere to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

At least one EPA official quit over the email incident.

White House pressure to ignore or edit the E.P.A.'s climate-change findings led to the resignation of one agency official earlier this month: Jason Burnett, the associate deputy administrator. Mr. Burnett, a political appointee with broad authority over climate-change regulations, said in an interview that he had resigned because "no more constructive work could be done" on the agency's response to the Supreme Court.

He added, "The next administration will have to face what this one did not."

Before he left for Washington for the first time, former President Harry Truman got a piece of memorable advice: "Work hard, keep your mouth shut, and answer your mail."

Maybe President Bush never got that same advice.

We were as surprised as anyone to hear last week that the FBI had searched the congressional office of former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) shortly after he lost his reelection bid in 2006.

The Albany Times Union reported that the FBI "took computers, cellphones, various electronic devices, equipment and records from his aides, two sources familiar with the matter said."

That sounded like a pretty big deal to have gone unreported for 18 months, especially since in the meantime Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) successfully challenged the constitutionality of an FBI search of his Capitol Hill office.

So we started calling around to see what more we could find out about the Sweeney raid. The people we talked whom you would think would know about such a raid expressed the same surprise we did.

"There haven't been any other searches that I'm aware of," said Amy Berman Jackson, one of Jefferson's attorneys who helped appeal the search. During the time period between the Jefferson raid in May 2006 and the final court decision in the case in August 2007, the FBI was "really hamstrung" regarding investigations of congressional offices, she said.

Kerri Hanley, the deputy Sergeant at Arms for the House, said she'd heard nothing about it. And a spokesperson for Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was unfamiliar with any raid on Sweeney's office.

Nevertheless, a person with knowledge of the investigation tells TPMmuckraker that the FBI did take the unusual step of asking Sweeney to preserve his computer records for further investigation after he left office. He did so voluntarily, which made any search mostly unnecessary, according to this source.

We repeatedly called Sweeney's attorney, E. Stewart Jones in Troy, NY, and got no response.

A grand jury in Washington is scheduled to convene on Friday to hear evidence in the investigation of Sweeney and his wife. And we're still curious whether the name Jack Abramoff will come up during that proceeding.

We already knew that Michael Elston, chief of staff to the Deputy Attorney General and former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, weren't best buds. Their acrimonious phone calls over her December 2006 firing as U.S. attorney for San Diego are well known, but according to the DOJ Inspector General's report issued today, the two butted heads as early as October 2006, over the "deselection" of a young attorney for the Justice Department Honor's Program.

On October 11, 2006, Lam sent an email to Elston inquiring as to why a candidate, an honors graduate from Stanford Law School who had held a Federal clerkship, was unqualified. Lam told the OIG that she suspected the candidate was deselected because of a previous article she had written on gender discrimination in the military, and because the judge she clerked for was a Clinton appointee.

From the report (pdf):

Elston replied by e-mail that most deselections were for poor grades. He acknowledged, however, that poor grades did not appear to be the issue with this candidate, and he offered to check into the application and let Lam know whether an appeal would be successful.

Elston replied later that day: "I have reviewed her application materials, Carol. I do not think an appeal will be successful. If it helps, she was not selected by the other components to which she applied."

Lam responded: "Thanks Mike. Just curious, though - I don't see anything unacceptable in her online application that was made available to us. Do the other components see something that I don't?"

Elston replied: "Not that I know of, Carol."

Elston was found by the report to be in violation of federal law for hiring candidates on "political and ideological" grounds.

Before leaping to the conclusion that Lam's firing, which has yet to be fully explained, was prompted by the honors program dispute, keep in mind that Lam's name appeared on a preliminary list of U.S. attorneys to be fired as early as January 2006. She was then fired in December of that year, one of eight U.S. attorneys asked to resign by the Justice Department, but one of the only ones (at least initially) to put up a fight. At the time she was asked to leave, Lam was in the midst of securing indictments on CIA operative Dusty Foggo and defense contractor Brent Wilkes.

While the U.S. Ambassador to Albania denied allegations of wrongdoing today from his office in Tirana, back in Washington the State Department's Inspector General has opened an investigation.

"We've opened an investigation into this matter at the request of the department and we are coordinating with other agencies," Tom Burgess, a spokesman for the State Department IG, said in a phone interview with TPMmuckraker.

State Department officials have known for months about the allegations that arms dealer AEY and its 22-year-old president may have tried to pass off cartons of illegal Chinese-made ammunition to fulfill a $300 million U.S. government contract supplying the Afghan Army.

But yesterday's disclosure that the the U.S. Ambassador in Tirana, John Withers, may have known about it and then concealed that knowledge from lawmakers on Capitol Hill apparently came as a surprise to the State Department.

According to the AP:

In Washington on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the allegation would be investigated, but that he knew of no evidence to support it.

Speaking to reporters, Casey said the State Department has asked its inspector general "to go and look at these charges and conduct a thorough, fair and transparent investigation of these allegations."

He said, "These are very serious allegations."

But Casey also said, "We certainly don't have any information that would support or substantiate these allegations which are being made against a career Foreign Service officer" with 24 years of distinguished experience.

Hell must be freezing over.

David Addington, the Vice President's Chief of Staff and executive privilege aficionado is set to testify with John Yoo, former Justice Department Official and spinner of words, on interrogation practices in Guantanamo this Thursday, June 26 in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

As we've reported before, this has been a long time coming. We're taking bets to see who pulls a Feith.