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Oe of our favorite wide-ranging probes, the one into corruption in Alaska state government, grinds relentlessly on.

The Justice Department just announced that Beverly Masek, a former member of the state House of Representatives, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit bribery, in connection with cash payments she received from oil-services contractor Bil Allen, in exchange for using her position to take actions that benefited Allen's company.

Masek faces a maximum of five years in prison, and is due to be sentenced in May.

The wide-ranging probe, of course, has already netted Ted Stevens -- the Republican former U.S. senator, who was convicted last fall of making false statement on his Senate disclosure forms in connection to gifts he received from Allen. -- as well as several Alaska state lawmakers in addition to Masek.

In an interview with TPM just now, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was sharply critical of Michael Steele comments in the GQ interview, elaborating on his statement today that Steele had assured him earlier this week that he would uphold the party platform.

"Well, I mean he said as party chairman he would be upholding the party platform. The interview he did with GQ was done from the chairman's office," said Perkins. "And if in fact his personal views are subordinate to the party platform, the evidence is pretty thin that that's the case. In every interview I've seen, I've heard him talk about his personal views, and have yet to hear him talk about the party platform."

I asked Perkins if he felt misled -- that Steele had told him he would uphold the party platform, when in fact Steele had done an interview two weeks earlier that had yet to be published, in which he made apparently pro-choice statements. "I understand the time difference here," said Perkins. "But I don't think the time difference is important."

I asked Perkins if he'd seen Ken Blackwell's statement that Steele should "get to work -- or get out of the way." Perkins had indeed seen it, but declined to say if he agreed that Steele should shape up or resign. "That's a party function, that's up to members of the Republican Party to have to decide. My only interest is, those are policy issues that we work on at the Family Research Council," Perkins explained. "What the Republican Party does is their interest, but you have mixed signals sent because the party has said this is where we stand on the issues, and you have a leader of the party saying something different."

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If you were looking for watchdogs to ensure that the $790 billion economic stimulus law is put to work for the taxpayers, who would you choose? Earl Devaney, the former inspector general who's now the presidential stimulus watchdog? Elizabeth Warren, the much-praised monitor of the financial bailout?

How about the same GOPers who fought the stimulus tooth and nail?

Hmmm, might it be a bit counter-productive to put the stimulus' leading partisan critics in charge of its implementation? Not to the Republicans. At a press conference today, they announced their intentions to become guardians of the economic recovery effort.

The House and Senate GOP plan to hold hearings "of our own" and talk with state officials to make sure the stimulus is on the right track, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) told reporters:

So while most of us did not support spending the $1 trillion of taxpayer money because we didn't think it was targeted, timely, and temporary as Speaker Pelosi said stimulus bills should be, we absolutely intend to spend our time over the next two years to make sure it's spent as wisely as possible to help the American taxpayer.

This effort would seem to pose a potential conflict with the official stimulus monitoring being performed by the Obama administration.

Not to mention the logical question that it raises: If we take Republicans at their word, assuming they opposed the stimulus because they didn't think the spending would work ... why are they now forming an organized panel to ensure that it works?

Here's the full text of Bernad Madoff's statement made in court this morning, in which he admitted his crimes and described them in detail.

Madoff pleaded guilty to all 11 counts on which he was charged, in connection to a multi-billion dollar financial fraud.

Senate Democrats are facing a stark choice on climate change and energy this year, as I reported on Monday. The House looks poised to move ahead with one piece of legislation that strengthens clean-energy standards while tackling climate change, both issues under the jurisdiction of Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) Energy and Commerce Committee.

The question facing the Senate, then, is whether they follow suit and shoot the moon with one bill, not two, on energy and climate change. Could trying to solve two problems at once help sway some of the swing votes on both issues?

One of those swing votes, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), made her feelings known today -- and she things the one-bill approach is a bad idea. Here's how Stabenow put it to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during today's Budget Committee hearing:

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Franken attorney David Lillehaug just announced in court that Team Franken is done with its witnesses, and subject to some pending submissions of evidence from the Coleman side, "I am honored to say that contestee Al Franken rests his case."

The Franken legal team took only a week and a half to makes its case, after having also covered a lot of ground during Coleman's five weeks at bat.

The Franken legal team brought in a few more rejected absentee voters today, to testify about their circumstances. They also lodged objections to attempts by Team Coleman to introduce new evidence relating to voters they want to advocate for in the rebuttal phase, with the Franken lawyers saying that Coleman can only rebut Franken's arguments -- he cannot reopen his own case and fill in the remaining gaps. Judgments from the court are still pending on these objections.

They also questioned Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson about a precinct where nine ballots were randomly removed on Election Night after they had a surplus compared to the number of people on the roster. (Professor David Schultz of Hamline University tells me this practice is not inconsistent with state law, and is commonly used in this situation.) There were another five ballots also missing during the recount -- apparently all of them for Franken -- with a net loss of seven votes for Franken in a precinct that Norm Coleman had won to begin with.

Also, further progress was made in the separate petition from 61 Franken voters to have their ballots counted. Attorney Charlie Nauen, who has already obtained permission for 35 previously-rejected absentee ballots to be counted in motions for summary judgment, brought in a handful of witnesses who still had outstanding disputes of fact.

Earlier this week, we had some fun with the Republican National Committee's recent Request-For-Proposal for a redesign of its website. The two-page RFP was so sketchy and vague that it generated blogospheric ridicule -- and even prompted one prominent conservative blogger to suggest that it might mean that embattled chair Michael Steele had already given a favored designer the inside track for the project.

The committee later sent out a second try, which was a bit more detailed. But if you want to see what a real RFP for a project like this looks like, Tech President has dug one up from 2002, that the RNC, then under different leadership, sent out for an earlier web redesign.

As Tech President notes:

The document makes for an interesting contrast to the RFPs the RNC is currently circulating, with the 14-page document detailing everything from the audiences the site should target ("party loyalists," "persuadable voters") to how the backend database should be designed to how user accounts should function.

You can check it out over at Tech President...

It really must be hard to be governor of California right now.

A new Rasmussen poll tests Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) against two Republicans for her 2010 re-election campaign: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO and McCain campaign surrogate. Fiorina had some had some memorable gaffes during the campaign, the most notable one being when she said Sarah Palin wasn't prepared to run a company like HP, for which she was taken off TV for a little while.

Boxer is way ahead in this Democratic state, leading Schwarzenegger 50%-34%. But it's actually a bit narrower against Fiorina, with Boxer at 47% to Fiorina's 38%.

That's right, Arnold: Carly Fiorina is polling better than you are.

I mentioned earlier today that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has an almost refreshing tendency to own up to his wackier attempts at antagonizing the environmental community. And here's a perfect case in point ...

Inhofe has teamed up with the Commerce Department's inspector general on a mission to unmask the source who gave the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) a draft of the Bush administration's regulatory attempt to unravel key portions of the Endangered Species Act.

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The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into whether Merrill Lynch misled it when the firm told the committee, in a letter sent last November, that no decisions had been made on bonuses.

As we noted earlier today, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is probing the bonuses, included the letter, dated November 24, in court filings made yesterday. Cuomo also included testimony from a Merrill director, saying that the firm decided November 11th to award bonuses that December. Cuomo, who is trying to persuade a judge to compel Bank of America to disclose information on the bonuses, suggested that the testimony implies Merrill's letter was designed to mislead the committee, which was conducting its own invesitgation of the bonuses, and was chaired at the time by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA).

Congress rarely takes kindly to being misled, and this appears to be no exception. The committee's current chair, Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), today issued a statement asserting that the Cuomo filings "raise the disturbing possibility that Merrill Lynch executives may have obstructed this Committee's investigation," and adding that Towns had directed committee lawyers to begin a "detailed investigation of this allegation."

Lying to a Congressional investigation, even in a letter, could potentially lead to perjury charges. There's an important difference between misleading and lying, however, and neither Cuomo nor Towns have accused Merrill of the latter.

Still, things are getting interesting...

The full statement from Towns follows after the jump ...

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