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South Carolina already had the reputation as a key forum for dirty campaign tricks before 2000. It was, after all, the home of Lee Atwater. But 2000, with its variety of smears distributed by push polls, faxes, fliers, and emails, cemented it.

But you got South Carolina all wrong, Tucker Eskew, George W. Bush's campaign spokesman in 2000, wants you to know. In this interview shot for the forthcoming documentary on Atwater, Boogie Man, Eskew, an Atwater protege, objects to the idea that racist smears work there:

It's "an insult" and "unfair to suggest that a state like South Carolina is a bunch of rubes because of our past," he says. So why would the Bush campaign have gotten involved in something like that? The McCain illegitimate black baby smear was "just some crazy rumor that some one person may have spread." And as for the impact, maybe "a few hundred people" may have been affected -- a "few rubes." Certainly not the payoff that a campaign genius like Karl Rove (another Atwater protege) would waste time with.

From the necessarily spotty reporting on what really happened in 2000, however, it's apparent that the rubes were out in force that year, distributing fliers about McCain's "Negro child" and running phone banks to push that and other rumors. So far, this election seems very tame by comparison.

On the one hand, Mike Huckabee really is in a bind.

Common Sense Issues is calling millions of voters and telling them that John McCain wants to allow experiments on unborn babies and that Fred Thompson supports partial-birth abortion. He can't do anything to stop it. And in a deft bit of spin, he says the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is at fault -- so it's John McCain's fault that Huckabee can't stop the group from smearing McCain.

He's criticized the calls, said he "wished they would stop," and now has gone so far as to tell NPR, "I personally wish all of this were outlawed." (He didn't mention that the calls actually are illegal under state law in South Carolina.)

On the other hand, from what the group has disclosed, it's apparent that most, if not all, of its major donors also support Huckabee.

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"You can take me out of the system, but that's like taking a bucket of water out of the ocean." Here's Allen Raymond, the New Hampshire phone jammer, talking about How to Rig An Election with Jon Stewart last night:

For those who missed it, here's my vote for the most memorable excerpt from the book.

Raymond has also been blogging over at TPMCafe this week.

From The Washington Post:

Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La.) testified yesterday that an FBI agent cursed at him and told him that "this is going to be the worst day of your life," just before agents searched his Louisiana home as part of the investigation that led to corruption charges against him.

At one point during the tense interview at his house in August 2005, Jefferson said, an FBI agent followed him to the bathroom. "I told him, 'Are you going to the bathroom with me?' " Jefferson said in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. "He said, 'Yes.' "

Minutes later, another agent informed Jefferson that $100,000 he had accepted from a government informant -- allegedly used to bribe the vice president of Nigeria -- had been supplied by the FBI. Leaning forward, the agent yelled, "Where is my [expletive] money?" Jefferson testified.

(The Hill helpfully fills in the expletive.) Jefferson didn't reply, "in the freezer." Instead, he says, he refused to answer any more questions at that point.

The Secret Service is in court responding to a lawsuit from Steven Howards, a man accused of assaulting Dick Cheney in June 2006. Howards' suit against five agents alleges that they violated his freedom of speech and civil rights after he touched Cheney on the shoulder and denounced the Iraq war. Meanwhile, the agents have accused one another of unethical and illegal conduct in their handling of Howards’ arrest. (New York Times)

Immediately before and after Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bought 145,000 trailers through no-bid contracts. Later, when the trailers became problematic, FEMA sold the trailers for 40 cents on the dollar. Now, FEMA has offered to buy them back at the original purchase price because the trailers may be a health risk as a result of high levels of formaldehyde. Meanwhile, a UN official who recently toured the Gulf coast says that many of the poor displaced by Katrina resemble poor people every where else in the world who have been displaced by natural disasters. (Washington Post, AP)

Just yesterday, Bhutto’s Pakistan’s People Party called for the United Nations to conduct an inquiry into Bhutto’s assassination. Today, the CIA, in its most “definitive public assessment” to date, asserts that Bhutto was murdered by al Qaeda and allies of the tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud. (Financial Times)

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Sometimes it's just too easy.

For months, the White House has battling the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in court. The accusation is pretty straightforward: for more than a year between 2003 and 2005, the White House failed to archive emails, and the group had learned that as many as five million emails were lost as a result. The White House is required by law to retain them. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino responded that there had been a tech glitch: you know, we were transferring from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook and... oops:

Again, I wouldn't rule out that there were a potential 5 million emails lost, but we'll see if we can get to you. If it was 5 million, I think that, again, out of 1,700 people using email every day, again, there was no intent to have lost them.

As the months have worn on, the White House has mounted a much more belligerent response in court. But the decisions -- and the headlines -- have repeatedly gone against them to the point now where it's apparent that not only did they lose the emails, but they copied over the backup tapes as well.

Nevertheless, White House spokesman Tony Fratto sees no reason for contrition. He's a flack in the proud Bush tradition of Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow, and if there's a single tenet to that order, it's that you do not have to admit anything that is the result of deduction. Sure, common sense dictates that if emails have not been archived, and the backup tapes that would have recorded them have been recycled, then those emails are gone forever. But show me the missing emails, Fratto says:

Q Tony, on the subject, could you address the missing White House emails and the law suit? It is a subject of reports this morning. Are there in fact the emails missing? What's the likelihood of their recovery versus the --

MR. FRATTO: I think our review of this, and you saw the court filing on this, and our declaration in response to the judge's questions -- I think to the best of what all the analysis we've been able to do, we have absolutely no reason to believe that any emails are missing; there's no evidence of that....

Q So where are they?

MR. FRATTO: Where are what?

Q Where are part of --

MR. FRATTO: Which email? Look, no one will tell you categorically about any system -- any system, whether it's your system at Bloomberg or our system here at the White House, past and present, categorically that data cannot be missing.... We have no reason to believe that there's any data missing at all -- and we've certainly found no evidence of any data missing.

Of course, now House sleuth Henry Waxman is getting into the act and plans to hold a hearing . So things are going to get worse for the White House before they get better. But nobody can deny their tenacity.

Anticipating the 2008 election, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced a bill to ban "vote caging," the term for a time-tested GOP vote suppression technique.

To "cage" voters, operatives send out a mass mailing with "do not forward" labels. Those names attached to addresses that bounce back are put on a challenge list, which is then used to challenge those voters when they come to the polls. GOPers in states all over the country have used the technique for decades, especially targeting mostly African-American areas. Timothy Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove who replaced one of the fired prosecutors in Arkansas, was forced to defend his role in an alleged 2004 caging scheme when he worked for the Republican National Committee.

A number of powerful senators are backing a similar bill in the Senate, including Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

You can read the text of Conyers' bill here. A bullet point summary provided by his office is below.

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There are good days in court, and there are bad days in court. From The New York Times:

A federal judge said Thursday that he was “disappointed” about how investigators from the Central Intelligence Agency handled videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of Al Qaeda detainees, and that he was considering questioning agency officials who watched the tapes about why they made no record of them in their files.

The judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said from the bench that he was stunned that the C.I.A. investigators had not kept records about the tapes, which were destroyed in 2005, even though the tapes were an important part of an internal C.I.A. review into interrogation methods.

“I’m asked to believe that actual motion pictures, videotapes, of the relationship between interrogators and prisoners were of so little value” that was no record of them was kept in C.I.A. investigative files, Judge Hellerstein said during a hearing over a freedom of information request involving the tapes.

“I just can’t accept it. If it came up in an ordinary case, it would not be credible,” the judge said, adding, “It boggles the mind.”

Actually things could have gone worse. The judge denied the ACLU's request to hold the CIA in contempt. But apparently he's not content to let the matter drop.

Yesterday, we quoted South Carolina's attorney general Henry McMaster as saying that since the Common Sense Issues robo calls seem to be against the law, they "should get some legal advice."

When I asked the group's executive director about this, he referred me to a two-page memo by the push polling firm they're paying to do the calls, ccAdvertising. You can read it here.

The bottom line is this: the group says that the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which governs robo calls, had an explicit exemption for non-commercial calls. So far so good. But the law also allowed states to make laws that would close that loophole and forbid robo calls of all kinds, including political calls. Even so, the memo says, "states are responsible for defending their restrictions under the First Amendment." Their stance is that " the [law] and the First Amendment permit ccAdvertising to place prerecorded calls for a political purpose, without regard to state laws that purport to prohibit such calls." In other words: you're going to have to sue to stop us.

As I've pointed out, two states have sued the company -- and both won. The company doesn't seem to have suffered much, though. Maybe a $1 billion "hurting" would change that.

Not only did operations chief Jose Rodriguez order the CIA's torture tapes destroyed without authority from top CIA officials, but he then kept it quiet from Congress. That, at least, is the story that CIA's acting general counsel John Rizzo told the House intelligence committee yesterday, according to the AP.

Most of Rizzo's account doesn't really contradict what we know from prior media reports. From 2003 through 2005, White House and Justice Department lawyers (with a couple key exceptions) and top CIA officials all advised that the tapes should not be destroyed. But nobody gave an order to that effect. So when the issue arose again in November, 2005 after The Washington Post broke the CIA black sites story, Rodriguez asked again. Two CIA lawyers found that the agency had no obligation to preserve them.

But Rizzo, who's been acting general counsel since 2004, says that even after that, he advised against destroying them. And he told the committee that then-CIA Director Porter Goss "also recommended" the same. Rodriguez went ahead and ordered the tapes destroyed anyway.

Here's how "a congressional official," who's seen the some 300 pages of documentation that the CIA has so far turned over, described it to the AP:

"If you look at the documents, you get very close to a direct order (not to destroy the tapes) without it being, 'Jose, you're not going to do this,'" the official said....

The...official said the committee will try to determine whether any CIA officials suggested "with a wink and a nod" that the tapes should be destroyed, and whether Rodriguez was being forced to take the blame.

And remember that The Washington Post reported yesterday that "Rodriguez was neither penalized nor reprimanded, publicly or privately" after he ordered the tapes destroyed. Update: Now Rodriguez's lawyer is reiterating this -- and saying that Goss never objected before he ordered the tapes, either.

That's not all that Rizzo pinned on Rodriguez.

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