TPM News

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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Embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D) goes to court today accused of violating the terms of his bond a second time. The mayor is facing charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying under oath about an affair with his chief of staff, as well as a separate set of charges of assaulting a sheriff's deputy. Kilpatrick spent last Thursday night in jail for a bond violation. (Associated Press)

The increased attention on the anthrax investigation, sparked by the recent death of accused anthrax killer Bruce Ivins, has moved lawmakers to investigate security at bio-defense labs. Ivins was allowed to work at a federal lab for years after the FBI listed him as a suspect in the 2001 attacks. (Los Angeles Times)

Prosecutors in the case against Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) filed a motion Monday requesting the trial remain in Washington. Stevens' lawyers want the trial heard in Stevens' home state of Alaska, citing the sitting senator's campaign schedule. The prosecution argued that moving the trial to Alaska could taint the jury pool. (Anchorage Daily News)

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It's hard to believe it's been a month since Alaska State Senator John Cowdery (R) was indicted on charges of bribery and corruption.

He proclaimed his innocence at the time, and now, after getting his arraignment postponed, he's finally made his plea official.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

An Anchorage state senator with ties to disgraced oil field services company Veco Corp. pleaded not guilty to federal counts of bribery and conspiracy. John Cowdery, 78, was arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court. His trial was set for Oct. 6.

He was arraigned on charges of conspiring to bribe a fellow state senator with $25,000 in Veco money.

If the name VECO sounds familiar, it should. It's the same oil field services company behind the recent indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

VECO's a gravy train that a number of Alaskan politicians rode straight to jail.

After pundits have commented about the muted reaction to author Ron Suskind's explosive allegations last week, the House Judiciary Committee said today it will "review" the reports of White House and CIA misconduct.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) didn't mention anything about hearings or subpoenas in his press release this afternoon. But the committee chairman did say he instructed his staff to look into the report that former CIA Director George Tenet in late 2003 ordered agents to concoct a letter showing false evidence linking Saddam to 9/11.

"Mr. Suskind reports that the Bush Administration, in its pursuit of war, created and promoted forged documents about Iraq," Conyers said in the press release. "I am particularly troubled that the decision to disseminate this fabricated intelligence is alleged to have come from the highest reaches of the administration."

After Suskind's new book was released last week, the White House promptly denied the accusation and two of Suskind's key CIA sources criticized the report, claiming Suskind misrepresented their remarks. Suskind responded by releasing a partial transcript of one taped interview with a key CIA source.

While that allegedly forged letter got all the press attention last week, Conyers indicated he would review several other questions raised in the book, "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism."

A number of issues raised in Mr. Suskind's book to be reviewed include:

· The origin of the allegedly forged document that formed the basis for Bush's 2003 State of the Union assertion that Iraq sought yellowcake uranium from Niger;

· The role of this document in creating the false impression that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had a working relationship with Iraq;

· The relationship between this document and other reported examples of the Bush Administration considering other deceptive schemes to justify or provoke war with Iraq, such as the reported consideration of painting a U.S. aircraft with UN colors in order to provoke Iraq into military confrontation;

· Allegations that the Bush Administration deliberately ignored information from Iraq's chief intelligence officer that Iraq possessed no WMDs;

· The payment of $5 million to Iraq's chief intelligence officer and his secret settlement in Jordan, beyond the reach of investigators;

· The September 2007 detainment and interrogation of Mr. Suskind's research assistant, Greg Jackson, by federal agents in Manhattan. Jackson's notes were also confiscated.

In deciding where to build a $451 million national laboratory to study bioterrorism and bio and agro-defense, the Department of Homeland Security asked a committee of experts to rate potential candidates on a strict set of criteria -- but then disregarded the committee's findings.

Beginning in January 2006, the DHS outlined a schedule to review 29 different locations throughout the country, then narrowed that list to 18, visiting each of the sites. Finally, the carefully selected committee of experts reviewed each possibility and ranked the sites according to the agreed-upon criteria.

The long process ended with the report handed off to DHS Undersecretary Jay Cohen, who weighed the findings of the committee and named six locations to a "short list" to be considered for the site.

According to an article published earlier today which cites "internal" DHS documents, the six shortlist candidates included a site in Flora, Miss. -- which was ranked just 14 out of the 17 candidates for the lab.

From the AP article:

It is the inclusion of Flora on that list that one official for a rival bid, Irwin Goldman of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, called "very suspicious."

Mississippi's lawmakers include Rep. Bennie Thompson (D), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees DHS, and Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that oversees DHS money. Each said he was not aware of the department's deliberations about the lab location.

This all seemed a little odd to us, so we called the DHS.

Amy Kudwa, press secretary from the Department of Homeland Security, cited Mississippi's "unique contributions" rather than its "existing resources" as the reason Cohen dismissed the higher-ranked candidates.

"The farther we get in the process, the more we use a qualitative judgment process," Kudwa explained in response to questions as to why the assessments based on a set group of criteria and a panel of experts had not been used.

But according to Margaret McPhillips the press secretary for Sen. Cochran, who released a statement in 2007 when Flora was first named to the National Bio Agro-defense Facility shortlist, Mississippi's selection was all about the great resources it has now.

"Sen. Cochran feels confident in the proposal Mississippi put forward," McPhillips told TPMmuckraker. "We're sure that when people look at the strengths of the Mississippi research facilities they will be convinced that we are the number one choice."

The Gulf-States Bio and Agro-Defense Consortium, which led the proposal to bring the lab to Mississippi echoed those thoughts.

"It is no secret that Mississippi's entire Congressional delegation is supporting this project," Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority said. "Mississippi ought not to be criticized for having one of the most unified, bipartisan and supportive Congressional delegations in the nation. Some are trying to use the media to damage Mississippi's application. The fact is, Mississippi and our Consortium partners represent the best proposal."

But according to representatives of some of the failed proposals, DHS' choice in Flora doesn't make much sense.

"We're a five state, twelve institution consortium," said Stephen Schimpff who led the proposal to bring the lab to Beltsville, Md. "We had easy places to train staff and a pool of trained individuals ready to work in that kind of facility. We thought we had a very strong proposal."

Indeed, the first two criteria listed on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facilities website is "a comprehensive research community that has existing research programs" and is "within proximity to skilled research and technical staff with expertise . . . and within proximity to training programs to develop skilled research and technical staff." The Maryland facility had both, in spades.

Stranger still, was that their proficiency in these two areas seemed to count against them.

"In the end, the critique we got back was the high density of skilled personnel would create a lot of competition," Schimpff told TPMmuckraker. "So it'll be harder to find good people in Maryland than anywhere else."

"That didn't make a lot of sense to us."