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In a press conference this afternoon, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) conceded that someone inside her administration pressured the state's Department of Public Safety to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, Palin's former brother-in-law, who is now embroiled in a bitter custody battle with Palin's sister.

Palin's statement is the latest in what has come to be known around Alaska as "Wooten-gate." The scandal began on July 11, when Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was fired from his post with little explanation, a move that quickly raised questions in Alaska.

A few days later, Monegan came forward, stating that he had been pressured by those around Palin to fire Wooten -- but had refused to do so -- a choice that he believes led to his sudden dismissal. Palin denied Monegan's accusations, and a Legislative Council has appointed a special commission to probe the matter.

In today's conference, Palin said that state troopers had taped a phone call from Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions whom she appointed last August, in which Bailey inquired about having Wooten fired.

At the press conference today, Palin distanced herself from Bailey's actions claiming that he acted alone, but the recordings suggest that he was acting at her instigation.

"The Palins can't figure out why nothing's going on," Bailey said in the recorded phone call. "So Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads saying 'Why is this guy representing the department, he's a horrible recruiting tool.' You know? So from their perspective everybody's protecting him. . . Audi probably disagrees with me, Walt [Monegan] does and I understand it's really touchy, but I just want you to understand that cops that use excessive force or go out of the lines, they just have no tolerance, because they've seen the facts personally."

Bailey has yet to comment. Calls to his phone went directly to voice mail.

Late update: Audio of Frank Bailey's recorded phone conversation has been released on the governor's state website, you can listen to it here.

Yesterday Attorney General Michael Mukasey made it clear he has no plans to prosecute any of the DOJ officials who clearly violated the law by using political criteria to select career judicial officials.

Apparently, that's not what Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) wanted to hear. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said there's good reason to think somebody broke the law -- not just for screening out Democrats from key positions, but also failing to fully cooperate with the DOJ Inspector General's investigation.

In a statement today, Conyers said:

I am distressed that Attorney General Mukasey has been so quick to determine that no criminal offense has been committed in connection with the illegal hiring practices at the Department of Justice. ... It is not enough for Mr. Mukasey to assert that things are different under his watch. The Department of Justice cannot reestablish its credibility so long as it persists in a strategy designed to avoid revealing all the facts that have so compromised the integrity of the Department of Justice and to prevent real accountability for misconduct by former DOJ officials.

It's been a couple weeks since the Pentagon defied a Congressional subpoena and refused to let the military's chief sexual assault expert testify at a hearing about sexual assault in the military.

Lawmakers on the House oversight committee were definitely not happy about it at the time.

Now the committee is stepping up its pressure on the Department of Defense to let Dr. Kaye Whitley, the director of the department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, speak on Capitol Hill.

Yesteday, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging the department to comply with the Congressional subpoena issued for Whitley.

"We believe the Department's actions are completely without justification. The Department has provided no valid legal basis for its decision to prevent a witness from complying with a duly authorized congressional subpoena. The President has not asserted executive privilege over the testimony of Dr. Whitley. During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Tierney asked Mr. Dominguez whether there had been any assertion of executive privilege, and he testified that there had not been.
In addition, the committee also wants to know precisely why officials didn't want Whitley to testify. The letter to Gates also asked for all emails and other internal communications relating to the request for Whitley's testimony.

If the Pentagon does not comply, the committee threated to subpoena three high-ranking Pentagon officials to a hearing on Sept. 12 to testify about the Defense Department's legal rational for not allowing Whitley to testify.

Late Update: Gates has agreed to let Whitley testify

Randy Scheunemann earned about $70,000 serving as Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser between the January 2007 and May 15, 2008. During the same period, the government of Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees.

Today's Washington Post reports a stark illustration of the conflict of interest that Scheunemann faced while advising McCain on foreign policy matters related to the former Soviet Republic and also working for the Georgia embassy.

On April 17, McCain got on the phone with Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili about Russian efforts to gain leverage over two of Georgia's troubled provinces. That same day, McCain issued a public statement condemning Russia and expressing strong support for the Georgian position.

And also on that same day, Georgia signed a new, $200,000 lobbying contract with Scheunemann's firm, Orion Strategies, according to the Post.

[McCain Campaign spokesman Brian] Rogers said Orion's representation of Georgia had no bearing on McCain's decision to speak with Saakashvili in April. "The Embassy of Georgia requested the call because of Georgian concerns over recent Russian actions dealing with South Ossetia and Abkhazia," he said.
The McCain campaign said Scheunemann has not received any payments from his lobbying firm since May 15 -- a few weeks after the Georgia contract was signed -- when the campaign imposed strict new restrictions on lobbying by campaign staffers. And the campaign notes that Scheunemann de-registered as a lobbyist for Georgia in March.

But Scheunemann remains owner of the firm, according to the Wall Street Journal. It's not a big firm -- essentially including only one other person, Scheunemann's partner, Mike Mitchell.

The firm has lobbied McCain's senate office a lot over the past few years. Orion reports making at least 71 phone calls to McCain and his staffers since 2004 to lobby on behalf of foreign clients, including Georgia.

The Mayor of Detroit will not return to jail after a judge Tuesday ruled that he did not violate the terms of his bond. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was jailed last week when he traveled to Canada without notifying the court. This time the judge declined to jail him for allegations that he met with a witness from his pending case, where he is charged with assaulting a sheriff's deputy. (Detroit Free Press)

About two thirds of U.S. corporations paid no federal taxes between 1998 and 2005, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who was among the Democratic lawmakers who requested the study, said it proves that many corporations are using "tax trickery" to send profits overseas and avoid paying U.S. taxes. (New York Times)

The West Virginia governor reportedly consulted with the DuPont company before filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging a judge to overturn a $382 million judgment against the powerful chemical company. Although Gov. Joe Manchin III presented the court document as being in the public interest, records show he had actually asked DuPont officials to provide a draft of the brief. (New York Times)

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John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has for years been an essential conduit for the relationship between the United States and Georgia, the former Soviet republic that has been pounded by the Russian military for the past week.

He was Georgia's top lobbyist in Washington until earlier this year. He has taken leave from his lobbying firm, Orion Strategies, but he is still listed as president of in the firm, which has received nearly $900,000 from the Embassy of Georgia since 2004.

Scheunemann is tight with the Bush administration and many neoconservatives in Washington's foreign policy establishment. A former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), Scheunemann also has easy access to lawmakers like McCain, whose office Scheunemann has lobbied directly in recent years.

For the Georgia government back in Tbilisi, having Scheunemann on the payroll in Washington has been empowering.

"Randy Scheunemann is at a vital nexus...and it made Tbilisi feel as if it was wedged into the back pocket of Dick Cheney," Steve Clemons, head of the foreign policy program at the New America Foundation in Washington, told TPMmuckraker today.

Scheunemann's primary mission on behalf of Georgia was getting the Russian border state on track for NATO membership, according to Scheunemann's filings with the Department of Justice database maintained under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

NATO membership would include a mutual defense pact that could legally draw the U.S. and the rest of Europe into a conflict between Georgia and its neighbor to the north.

Of course, Russia loathes that idea and even some Americans think it's unnecessarily risky and provocative. But pushing NATO further eastward and ultimately up to the Russian border has long been a key mission for hawkish Republicans and neoconservatives.

The Bush administration has been a big proponent of Georgia's NATO bid, despite resistance in Europe. Bush visited Georgia in 2005 and has been especially chummy with Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, the young Georgetown-educated pro-American leader.

It sure made for great rhetoric -- casting Georgia as a beacon of spreading democracy and freedom.

But now, since violent clashes have erupted between Georgia and Russia, the Bush administration is taking some blame for not reigning in its small and militarily weak ally.

After all, it was the Georgians who catalyzed this week's bloodshed when its military mounted an incursion into South Ossetia and confronted the Russian troops there (prompting many to ask: what were they thinking?).

"I would say Georgia has a very good PR team. The U.S. and the Georgian government built a very close relationship and it was too close for the good of either party. . . The U.S. allowed Saakashvili to get too puffed up and think he could fly too close to the sun," Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Georgetown University, said in an interview today.

Few on this side of the Atlantic doubt that Russia's response was brutish and heavy handed. But the Bush Administration is taking a lot of criticism for possibly sending mixed signals to the Georgian government about our level of commitment and support for the tiny nation. (Those critiques are, for example, spelled out here, here and here.)

Georgia was until this week the third-largest contributor of troops to Iraq after the U.S. and Great Britain, where its roughly 2,000 troops were welcomed by the Bush administration.

State Department officials insist they were clear that Georgia should not expect U.S. military support in case of a clash with Russia.

Sure, that was the official line. But we can't help but wonder, what did Scheunemann tell the Georgians? While they were paying his firm hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to help build a strong relationship with Washington, how did he characterize the level of support Georgia might expect?

Scheunemann's influence, either spoken or unspoken, emboldened Saakashvili, Clemons said.

"Saakashvili overplayed his hand. He believed he had the world's best lobbyist helping him not only with Cheney-land. . . but that he also had this wedge into the nerve cell of John McCain, who he may have believed would be the ultimate victor over Barack Obama."

After serving 17-months of a 30-month federal sentence for accepting bribes from disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney (R), is set to be released on Saturday.

Time was taken off Ney's sentence upon completion of an alcohol rehabilitation program while at a minimum security prison, where he was first assigned before being sent to a half-way house in February of this year.

So what is a disgraced former U.S. represenative to do after nearly a year and half in the federal pen.?

Radio commentary of course!

From The Wheeling News-Register:

As a condition of his stay in the halfway house, Ney was required to work at a job. He was hired by his friend, Ellen Ratner, bureau chief for the Talk Radio News Service, who confirmed in March to a Capitol Hill newspaper that Ney was doing research for the news network.

But Ney was prohibited by federal regulations from being on-air until his release. Ratner indicated she planned to use him as a political contributor after he was placed on probation.


Interestingly, Talk Radio News is a media company with a liberal bent, quite the change for the former Republican congressman.

Valerie Plame lost an appeal when the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected her request for a civil suit against the Bush administration.

From the AP:

A federal judge dismissed the case last year on largely procedural grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld that ruling Tuesday.


The lawsuit accused Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, among others, as naming Plame to reporters as a CIA operative in 2003.

Today private military contractors supporting the U.S. occupation in Iraq far outnumber U.S. troops inside the country.

All together, these non-uniformed workers have cost nearly $100 billion, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the total U.S. budget for the five-year war.

That's according to the most comprehensive study to date (.pdf) of private contractors in Iraq, released today by the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO estimates that more than 190,000 contractors were working on U.S.-funded contracts in the Iraq theater as of early 2008. This is somewhat higher than past estimates and far outnumbers the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops inside the country.

The report provides the first reliable breakdown of who these contractors are and where they come from.

Only about 20 percent are U.S. citizens, who work jobs such as armed security or logistical services for firms such as Blackwater or KBR.

Under 40 percent of contractors are citizens of the country where they work, mainly Iraq, some Kuwait and Jordan. (Surrounding countries such as Kuwait and others are considered part of the "Iraq theater" where logistical services essential to the occupation are provided.)

And the report for the first time estimates that about half are from other countries, mostly poor, unskilled workers from places like India or the Philippines These migrant workers are paid far less than Americans yet are critical to the day-to-day operations of the occupation.

The full cost -- in both money and lives -- related to these contractors has gone largely unreported. There are no reliable estimates on non-Americans who have been injured or died working for the U.S. military.

Working as bodyguards, engineers, translators, drivers, construction workers cooks, janitors and laundry operators, these workers have helped the Pentagon hold down the number of military personnel sent to Iraq and avoid public discussion of a draft.

The CBO study notes that U.S. dependence on contractors is radically higher than during prior conflicts. Contractors in Iraq are proportionally about 5 times higher than in Vietnam.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey dove right into the sensitive topic of the politicization of the Justice Department in his speech to the American Bar Association this morning in New York.

"I would like to talk to you today about a topic that I'm sure is of mutual interest," Mukasey began. "[N]amely, professionalism at the United States Department of Justice."

Calling the findings of the two recent reports by the DOJ Inspector General on politicization in the Justice Department "disturbing," Mukasey bemoaned the system for failing to stop the "active wrong-doing."

I want to stress that last point because there is no denying it: the system failed. The active wrong-doing detailed in the two joint reports was not systemic in that only a few people were directly implicated in it. But the failure was systemic in that the system - the institution - failed to check the behavior of those who did wrong. There was a failure of supervision by senior officials in the Department. And there was a failure on the part of some employees to cry foul when they were aware, or should have been aware, of problems.


Mukasey went on to describe the changes to the Justice Department and responded to critics complaints that those named in the OIG reports have suffered no consequences.

"Far from it," Mukasey said. "The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the Department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity. Their misconduct has now been laid bare by the Justice Department for all to see. . .To put it in concrete terms, I doubt that anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people."

Previously, there have been legislative requests to dismiss those hired at the DOJ during this politicized period -- an idea Mukasey called "unfair" today:

Other critics have suggested that we should summarily fire or reassign all those people who were hired through the flawed processes described in the joint reports. But there is a principle of equity that we all learned in the schoolyard, and that remains as true today as when we first heard it: two wrongs do not make a right. As the Inspector General himself recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee, the people hired in an improper way did not, themselves, do anything wrong. It therefore would be unfair - and quite possibly illegal given their civil service protections - to fire them or to reassign them without individual cause.


The full text of the attorney general's speech after the jump.

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