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Given our coverage of the unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice under President Bush, we thought this passage from Barack Obama's prepared remarks this morning -- at which he announced Eric Holder as his pick for Attorney General, among other selections -- was worth noting:

Eric also has the combination of toughness and independence that we need at the Justice Department. Let me be clear: the Attorney General serves the American people. And I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.


In other words, Obama is sending a message that Holder won't see his role as being the president's personal lawyer -- which was how Alberto Gonzales, who had been Bush's lawyer both in the White House and in Texas, seemed to view the job.

Could we see more members of Congress charged in connection with the investigation into the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal?

Lawyers for Mitchell Wade, the former defense contractor who pleaded guilty in 2006 to bribing his friend Cunningham, filed a "sentencing memo" last week claiming that Wade had helped prosecutors' efforts to look into "at least five other members of Congress" who were under investigation for "corruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham."

The Washington Post adds:

Although none of those members is named, two are under investigation, according to the memorandum, and "three others have come under scrutiny for their receipt of straw contributions" from former Wade employees and one for the possible receipt of undisclosed gifts.


The existence of the memo -- which argued for a more lenient sentence for Wade -- was first reported on the blog of the investigative reporter Seth Hettena, who has published a book on the Cunningham scandal.

Hettena writes that former GOP Florida congresswoman Katherine Harris (yes, that Katherine Harris), and Virginia Republican Rep. Virgil Goode -- who has apparently lost his Virginia seat -- are likely on that list of five. (We told you about Harris' and Goode's connections to the scandal back in 2006).

Hettena adds: "Wade wanted to open facilities in their districts and made $78,000 in "straw" contributions to grease the wheels. Neither Harris nor Goode has been charged with wrongdoing."

A member of the recently-ousted North Carolina senator's staff tells a reader that she didn't put a hold on the nomination of Neil Barofsky as inspector general for the bailout.

We've already all but ruled out four other GOP senators: Coburn and Inhofe from Oklahoma, and Sessions and Shelby from Alabama.

An hour ago, we asked readers to call their GOP senators and ask whether they put a hold on the nomination of Neil Barofsky to a key post overseeing the Treasury Department's use of bailout money.

We've already heard back from readers on four senators...

Sen. Tom Coburn (OK) -- A reader reports that Coburn's office "was absolutely categorical. They publicize all their holds and they have not placed one on Barofsky."

Sen. James Inhofe (OK) -- "His staff said that they 'didn't believe' that the Senator had placed such a hold.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL) -- Sessions' legislative director told a reader: "Not to my knowledge."

Sen. Richard Shelby (AL) -- A staffer told our reader: "I don't think so. If he had, I would have heard about it." (Shelby is the ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee, which cleared Barofsky's nomination two weeks ago.)

Keep letting us know what you hear...

Here's one possible suspect in the mystery of which Republican senator put a hold on the nomination of federal prosecutor Neil Barofsky for the key post of special inspector general for the bailout.

During Barofsky's appearance before the Senate banking committee November 19, Kentucky GOP senator Jim Bunning -- who from the beginning has been a staunch opponent of the bailout as a whole -- made clear that he opposed the nomination. Bunning expressed concern about the Treasury's decision last month to change its plan for how to use the bailout money, and about Barofsky's apparent reluctance, at a previous hearing, to question that decision by Treasury.

From the hearing:

Bunning: The bailout law also allows $50 million for your office, and so you will have a very ample amount of resources.

But I have serious concerns with your nomination. The nominee may be a dedicated public servant. He appears to be a skilled prosecutor and a man of integrity. But I wonder why taxpayers should have to pay $50 million to a watchdog who will have nothing to watch. How willing (sic) the IG performs (sic) his statutory role when the secretary has rewritten the law already, less than two months after it was enacted.

...

In his testimony earlier this week, Mr. Barofsky did not question Secretary Paulson's unlikely interpretation of the bailout law. Now, that's the money that is spent; if he does not question it, he will have little to do but watch the preferred stock positions mature.

...

Ultimately, I believe Mr. Barofsky, with his impressive legal skills, can serve the public far better in the Southern District of New York, where he can continue to prosecute mortgage fraud.


To be clear: Bunning, or any other senator, has a perfect right to oppose Barofsky's nomination for the reasons he suggests above. But anonymously preventing a free vote on the issue, especially at a time of such urgency, hardly offers a model of the kind of openness and transparency that Congress is calling for from the Treasury Department.

We've put in a call to Bunning's office, and will let you know what we hear.

Last week we noticed that at least one unnamed Republican senator has put a hold on the nomination of Neil Barofsky as the Treasury's Department's special inspector general for the bailout.

This is a crucial post for ensuring that the department spends its $700 billion wisely and without favor -- all the more so because Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and the man running the bailout, Neel Kashkari, are both former executives at Goldman Sachs, which has already received $10 billion from Treasury. And no one has seriously questioned Barofsky's personal fitness for the job.

Senators have the right to anonymously put a hold on any nomination to a federal post for any reason whatsoever. But given what's at stake here, it's worth trying to find out who's responsible for the hold, and why. We've put in a call to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell's office. But we could use your help too.

So if you live in a state with at least one Republican senator, we're asking you to call their office, tell them you're a constituent, and politely ask whether they put a hold on Barofsky's nomination, and if so, why. Then email us and let us know what you find out -- even if it's a 'no' or an inconclusive answer. If nothing else, your information can help us narrow down the list.

And in case it helps, here's the statement put out by Sen. Chris Dodd, the chair of the banking committee, that first mentioned the hold.

One final point: in Friday's post, we noted a jurisdictional dispute between the Senate banking and finance committees, mentioned in a Washington Post story before the hold was put on, as a possible explanation for the move. But a Hill staffer in a position to know tells us that the issue has been resolved. So you can scratch that idea.

We'll be watching for your emails...

Former President Bill Clinton will disclose the names of over 200,000 donors to the William J. Clinton Foundation, which supports efforts to combat poverty, disease, and global warming, according to Democratic sources. Clinton has agreed to publicly reveal the names so that his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, will be able to serve as Secretary of State. President-Elect Barack Obama insisted on this disclosure to avoid charges of conflict of interest due to foreign donations to the foundation. (New York Times)

Despite Barack Obama's vows to avoid ties between his White House and the lobbying industry, Tom Daschle, his expected pick for Health and Human Services secretary, serves as a policy adviser for the lobbying firm, Alston & Bird, which represents interests in the health industry. Daschle has advised clients for the firm on health care issues, as the New York Times has also reported. The Obama team said Daschle's prior work would not present a conflict of interest. (Politico)

Christine Beatty, who had been accused of having an affair with Detroit's ex-mayor, pleaded guilty Monday to obstruction of justice during the investigation of their sex scandal. Beatty, who had served as chief of staff to Kwame Kilpatrick, now in jail, made a deal with prosecutors and will receive four months in prison. (AP)

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Earlier today we noted that the Treasury Department had hired staff with the specific attributes needed to carry out its original plan for the bailout -- buying banks' bad assets -- only to then decide that it would change its approach by directly injecting capital. That news raised questions as to whether the department has the right people in place for what's an extremely complex and crucial task.

And a report in today's Wall Street Journal sheds a bit more light on the hiring issues that have plagued Treasury's response to the crisis. It reveals that the department is struggling to bring on enough people to handle the glut of applications for assistance that are flooding in from troubled financial institutions.

Neel Kashkari, the man running the TARP program, said at a recent at a luncheon before a housing organization that the department's Office of Financial Stability is operating at half-staff, with about 40 full-time employees. Kashkari said he hopes to double that number by the time the Obama administration takes over on January 20th.

(And by the way, granted Kashkari needs to keep the pubic informed on what he's doing, but doesn't he have more pressing matters to attend to right now than attending luncheons?)

The Journal adds, not exactly reassuringly:

In the past month, the Treasury has been scrambling to make major policy decisions while at the same time conducting the nuts-and-bolts tasks of finding a permanent staff. Decisions have largely been left up to interim staff members, many from other federal banking regulators, who are temporarily at Treasury but are expected to eventually return to their previous positions.


Part of the manpower problem here may be caused by the impending transition. According to Wayne Abernathy, an executive at the American Bankers Association, many Treasury staffers may be headed for the door in advance of the changeover, making it especially hard to keep the department fully-staffed.

Abernathy also suggests, intriguingly, that it may have been in part because of this very problem that Treasury switched from the asset-buying approach to the capital-injection approach. "I don't think that was a small part of why Treasury in the end abandoned the asset-purchase program," he told the paper. "It's very people-intensive."

But it doesn't appear that the switch has entirely solved the problem. And if, in addition to having too few people, Treasury also has the wrong people, as was suggested by that earlier report we noted, that would hardly help the situation.

This may have more to do with a desperate and extraordinary situation than with any deliberate malevolence or even incompetence, but given the stakes, the Treasury's personnel problems are worth keeping an eye on nonetheless.

TPMLivewire