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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-PA) crossed the aisle once again to issue a renewed demand for documents on detainee interrogation policies from the White House today.

The letter (pdf) to White House Counsel Fred Fielding gives an August 29 deadline to turn over requested documentation, though it does not go so far as to say what the action the Committee will take if its requests are not met.

"I have been stonewalled even in my repeated request for something as simple as an index of OLC opinions," writes Chairman Leahy in the letter co-signed by Specter. "Examining the role of this Justice Department office in authorizing controversial activities is squarely within the oversight responsibilities of this Committee; in carrying out that responsibility we are entitled, at the very least, to know the subjects on which OLC has provided final legal advice. That after more than five years this Committee has been refused even this simple request is unacceptable."

We already knew that the Republic of Georgia has some high-placed American contacts. Orion Strategies, the DC lobbying firm run by Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, has been representing the country since 2001, focusing primarily on boosting Georgia's effort to gain admittance to NATO (Scheunemann is currently on leave from Orion while working for McCain). Indeed, Orion signed its latest contract with Georgia on April 17, the same day that McCain announced support for Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, saying they'd just talked by the phone.

So it stands to reason that Georgia's prime antagonist of late, Russia, would be playing the Beltway influence game just as hard. And The Washington Post reports today that since 2006, Russia has employed Ketchum, one of the world's largest public-relations firms "to facilitate communication between Russian government officials and international journalists on key issues affecting Russia." And according to PR Week, since the start of the recent crisis with Georgia, Ketchum has been leading an "international consortium" of agencies, including the Brussels-based PR giant GPlus, to promote Russian interests.

And it looks like it isn't just the media that Ketchum has been working on Vladimir Putin's behalf. According to lobbying disclosure forms, Russia has, since February of this year, employed the firm Integrated Solutions Group* (ISG) to "support Washington-based government relations initiatives with Members of Congress and staff"--in other words, lobbying. ISG, notes the form, "is compensated ... through an arrangement with The Washington Group." The Washington Group is a DC lobbying firm owned by Ketchum. Indeed, the ISG lobbyist listed on the form, John O'Hanlon, is The Washington Group's managing director, and therefore a Ketchum employee.

It's worth mentioning there's no evidence of anything improper here. Indeed, representing Putin's government would seem to be business as usual for Ketchum, which employs 1100 people across 21 worldwide offices, and has worked with BP, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb, Dow Chemical, the Clorox Company, and the Bush administration, among other upstanding corporate and government citizens.

Ketchum is known for playing hardball. In 2005, it was revealed that, as part of a $1.3 million contract between Ketchum and the US Department of Education, the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams was being paid to promote the No Child Left Behind Act in op-ed columns and on his nationally syndicated TV show--without revealing the payments.

And two years earlier, Ketchum did similar work on behalf of the Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services including hiring a fake reporter, Karen Ryan, to produce news "stories" touting the Medicare drug benefit that were sent to local news stations and wound up on air. The Bush administration was later found to have broken two federal laws in its work with Ketchum.

We're looking into ISG and Ketchum's (aka The Washington Group's) lobbying work on behalf of Russia. Which members of Congress did they speak to, and what were the results? Have these efforts influenced the US response to the Russia-Georgia crisis? We'll let you know what we find out.

*Corrected from an earlier version.

F. Chase Hutto III, a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney with a long history of promoting anti-environmental regulation policy, is a top choice for a post at the Energy Department, the Washington Post reports today.

Hutto, who is being considered for the position of assistant secretary for policy and international affairs, has been a contact within the administration for the oil and gas industry on energy and environmental issues.

The administration's controversial decision to delay action on regulating greenhouse gas emissions was shaped in part by Hutto.

From a July 11 article in the Washington Post:

Hutto, a former Cato Institute intern and Bush campaign volunteer during the Florida vote recount in 2000, whose grandfather patented at least seven piston inventions for the Ford Motor Company, has "an anti-regulatory philosophy and concern about what regulation means for the American way of life. He would talk, for example, about not wanting greenhouse gas controls to do away with the large American automobile," said the meeting participant.

A Wayne County circuit judge in Michigan ruled that embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick cannot be removed from office by the city council. Rather, Kilpatrick can only be removed from office by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). A removal hearing has been scheduled by Granholm for September 3. (Detroit Free Press)

The FBI laid out more scientific evidence to members of the press yesterday linking scientist Bruce Ivins to the 2001 anthrax attacks. The briefing, which focused on microbial forensics, was in part a response to widespread skepticism over the largely circumstantial evidence of the case. (New York Times)

The ranking senators of the Senate Judiciary Committee urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey yesterday to delay the expansion of FBI investigative powers. Both Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) said the move would "employ more expansive investigative practices with limited oversight." (Senate Judiciary Committee)

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Harriet Miers, former White House counsel, one-time Supreme Court nominee and current partner at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, can now add lobbyist for the Pakistan People's Party and the Embassy of Pakistan to her resume, according to documents filed with the DOJ earlier this month.

In May of this year, Locke Lord Strategies signed a one-year $900,000 agreement to lobby for the Embassy of Pakistan. On her foreign agent registration short form, Miers listed the "Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Asif Ali Zardari, Co-Chairperson of PPP and his children" as clients. The group's ongoing work lobbying for the PPP continues on a pro bono basis.

In case you're wondering if this has anything to do with the current events in Pakistan, The Blog of Legal Times has your answer:

What does President Pervez Musharraf's resignation mean for Locke Lord? Probably not much. The firm has represented Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party and an opponent of Musharraf, since March, when the firm was retained to promote democracy and pressure Pakistan's government to investigate former PPP head Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Former VECO CEO Bill Allen, the oil executive who orchestrated Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) home renovations and whose testimony led to the indictment and conviction of a number of state legislators, has had a relatively soft fall from grace. Since testifying, little has been seen of Allen, whose sentencing on his May 2007 guilty plea has been continuously delayed as he remains free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

As those connected to him fall to federal indictments, Allen is enjoying the windfall from the sale of steeped-in-corruption-VECO, for $146 million. Thanks to a carefully negotiated plea deal, two-thirds of that profit went to Allen and his three children. Oh, and did we mention he has no passport or travel restrictions?

According to the Anchorage Daily News, just seven months after his plea deal, Allen and two of his children bought a small jet, with an estimated value of $2 million. The plane has been flying all over the west, notably landing at airports near New Mexico racetracks, where all of the Allen children own licensed racehorses. And though he still owns his half-million dollar Anchorage home, Allen is reportedly spending the majority of his time in New Mexico:

Dick Cappellucci, a New Mexico licensed horse trainer from El Paso, Tex., who used to work for Allen's son, Mark Allen, and once owned a race horse with Mark, said Bill Allen is living on his son's Double Eagle Ranch. The county lists the ranch as a 46-acre property.

Mark Allen himself "is building a fancy, fancy place over there," Cappellucci said.

. . . Recently, the Allens have been showing up big at horse sales, Cappellucci said. "They've spent a lot of money in the horse business."


"A lot of money in the horse business," might be an understatement. According to the ADN, Mark Allen spent $726,000 for eight horses shortly before the sale of VECO.

But all is not as rosy as it might seem for Allen and Co. and their soft money bed at the race track. According to Bob Bundy, Allen's defense lawyer, Allen is "just kind of marking time. . . waiting for the axe to fall. . . it's not a very happy situation."

This weekend, Sen. John McCain brushed aside all criticism of his chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, and the lobbying work Scheunemann has done for the government of Georgia.

In an interview with USA Today, McCain expressed no concern about the fact Scheunemann last year was simultaneously working for McCain's campaign and lobbying the senator on behalf of a foreign government.

"I'm proud to have supported them," McCain said of Georgia in an interview on the campaign plane. "And I'm so proud that so many of my friends have done so, who also believe in freedom and democracy."


McCain dismissed criticisms from the Barack Obama campaign as beside the point.

Yet "rather than worry about the people of Georgia," McCain said, his Democratic rival "worried about whether someone on my staff had supported Georgia or not."


Last year, Scheunemann's firm, Orion Strategies, signed a $200,000 lobbying contract with Georgia on the same day McCain spoke on the phone with the country's president and issued a public statement in support of the government.

A military barracks for wounded soldiers in Oklahoma that was set up last year in response to the poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is infested with mold. Soldiers at the barracks, Fort Still, were ordered not to speak about the conditions there after the situation was ignored for months. (USA Today)

The FBI investigation of American business man Morris Talansky, who is connected to the corruption probe of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, did not come as a suprise to Israeli police officials. Olmert is accused of accepting illicit funds from Talansk for years. Israeli officials said Sunday that the FBI typically becomes involved with Israeli cases that are conducted within the U.S. (Haaretz)

A former Marine sergeant who has been charged with war crimes in the killing innocent people in Fallujah claimed Saturday that his prosecution sends a bad message to marines in Iraq. The former sergeant, Jose Luis Nazario Jr., said that his trial will cause troops to fear that they too may be prosecuted if they follow what he maintains was basic training. (AP)

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Remember when the FBI told us that military microbiologist Bruce Ivins gave investigators a bogus sample of the anthrax from his lab in 2002 -- suggesting an effort to mislead and cover up his own connection to the 2001 anthrax attacks?

Well, that might not be true, according to the New York Times. Ivins did give investigators a sample of his own anthrax -- which allegedly matched the strain used in the attacks -- but the FBI botched the testing process.

But F.B.I. officials acknowledged at the closed-door briefing, according to people who were there, that the sample Dr. Ivins gave them in 2002 did in fact come from the same strain used in the attacks, but, because of limitations in the bureau's testing methods and Dr. Ivins's failure to provide the sample in the format requested, the F.B.I. did not realize that it was a correct match until three years later.


That closed-door briefing came as the FBI has agreed to begin providing more details about the science underpinning its case against Ivins.

The bureau is coming forward with more information at least partly in response to the experts who have publicly expressed skepticism about the FBI's case, which concluded that Ivins was the one and only person involved in the attacks.

Last week the Department of Justice gave a private briefing to Congress and this week the DOJ plans to make the new details public, the Times reports.

According to those who attended last week's briefing, the FBI appears to be backpeddling on some initial components of its case against Ivins.

In addition to the new version regarding the anthrax sample Ivins provided in 2002, investigators now say the envelopes used in the mail attacks were more widely available than initially suggested.

Investigators said two weeks ago that the envelopes were unique and easily traced back to the Maryland post office near Ivins' home. But reports from the close-door session say that is not the case.

Many scientists are looking forward to hearing details of the investigation, but do not expect the science to persuade all the skeptics.

"I expect people to be dazzled by the science. I am worried that people will confuse solid science (and I expect the science to be very good) with a solid case," Gigi Gonvall, a senior associate at the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told TPMmuckraker this morning.

"The science will only take you so far."

The Justice Department appears one step closer to prosecution of Blackwater security guards involved in the Nisoor square shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, after reportedly sending six employees target letters earlier this summer. The high likelihood of indictment of a few "bad apple" Blackwater security guards, rather than the company itself, has been expected since early May.

From the Washington Post:

Anne E. Tyrell, a spokeswoman for North Carolina-based Blackwater, said that the company believes the guards fired their weapons "in response to a hostile threat" and is monitoring the investigation closely.

"If it is determined that an individual acted improperly, Blackwater would support holding that person accountable," Tyrell said in a statement. "But at this stage, without being able to review evidence collected in an ongoing investigation, we will not prejudge the actions of any individual. The company is cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and believes that accountability is important."


Blackwater has maintained that its men acted in self-defense, though an Iraqi investigation found that the guards had been unprovoked.

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