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We just told you about the probes underway of Charlie Millard, the obscure Bush-appointed former director of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which provides a form of limited bankruptcy insurance to the retirement funds of 44 million Americans. Millard's aggressive plan to sell off most of the PBGC's bonds and plow the majority of its funds into stocks and real estate has been a pension world controversy since he started at the agency in May 2007, at the beginning of the credit crunch. Even by the highly imperfect standards of conventional Wall Street wisdom, the former Lehman Brothers executive's investment strategy appeared almost gratuitously risky.

But it wasn't until the Office of the Inspector General began sniffing around the agency that Millard's short-lived stint in the federal government began to take on a more sinister light. We've boiled down the draft report of their audit, released yesterday by Congress, to a few key figures, adding a few of our own for perspective.

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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now getting in on the same fundraising act as their Senate-side counterparts at the DSCC: Offering small donors a chance to win a paid trip to Washington and get their picture taken with President Obama.

The DCCC has sent out its own fundraising e-mail, much like the DSCC's e-mail from yesterday, telling donors of only $5 or more that they can be entered into a drawing to attend the Democratic Party's big fundraising dinner in Washington on June 18, and get their picture taken with Obama. The lucky winner will have his or her hotel and airfare paid for, including a guest.

Both committees are essentially making a wager: That this raffle will bring in enough money to generate a profit over the costs of the airfare and hotel. In the modern age of Internet fundraising, this doesn't seem like an unreasonable guess.

Full DCCC e-mail after the jump.

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In a blow to national Democrats in their effort to reach 60 seats in the U.S. Senate, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has announced that he will not challenge GOP Sen. Richard Burr in 2010.

"While I am honored by the encouragement I've received, I don't want to go to Washington and serve as a U.S. Senator at this time," Cooper said in a statement. "I am committed to public service and I want to serve here in North Carolina rather than in Washington."

Polls had shown that Cooper could beat Burr, who for his own part has very weak approval ratings. That said, Democrats could still potentially find a good candidate. The state is trending Democratic and voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008, and few people would have ever guessed at this point in the 2007/2008 campaign cycle that GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole would have lost re-election by nine points against Democrat Kay Hagan.

A new Rasmussen poll finds that only 37% of Republican voters think the party has no clear leader, a definite improvement from a 68% figure two months ago. But there's a catch: There's no agreement on who the party's clear leader actually is.

John McCain comes in first place among possible leaders at 18%, followed by Michael Steele with 14%, Sarah Palin on 10%, Mitt Romney at 8%, Rush Limbaugh with 6%, and Dick Cheney at 4%.

The polling memo reiterates a recent point by Scott Rasmussen: "To be relevant in politics, you need either formal power or a lot of people willing to follow your lead. The governing Republicans in the nation's capital have lost both on their continuing path to irrelevance."

Even later update -- Earlier posts read as though Millard's investment plan had been entirely implemented, which we don't believe to be the case. A Congressional staffer said the PGBC had refused to say how much of the fund had already been reallocated under Millard's guidelines. But a PGBC spokesman told BusinessWeek none of it had and that the agency would "work with our board to decide whether these contracts should be terminated and whether strategic partnerships fit into the board's investment approach going forward."

The original version of this post was also somewhat unclear on the specifics of the various investigations into Millard. Both houses of Congress are investigating Millard and a group of senators requested a criminal investigation as well.

Remember Charles Millard? He's the former Bush-appointed director of the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation, and we expect to be seeing a lot more of him as congressional investigations into his brief but significant tenure at the agency gathers steam, starting with a scheduled appearance next Wednesday.

Some background: the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation insures a portion of the retirement funds of 44 million Americans to protect their savings accounts from the capriciousness of market conditions. Somehow, by the perverse illogic that defined the financial services industry of the past few years it came to pass that this fund would be run by a former Lehman Brothers executive who would devise a plan to plow the majority of its investment portfolio into the volatile stock market and the massively overheated real estate market under the pricey guidance of financial advisers at Wall Street's most prestigious investment banks, such that some such that billions of dollars would vanish in the course of months. An honest mistake, or was unethical behavior involved?

The Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit of Millard, who spearheaded this effort, and found no evidence he'd committed any actual crimes -- but enough "clear violations" of agency ethics rules to alarm Congress, which released the OIG's draft report yesterday and announced an investigation of Millard and said it had requested a criminal probe of him as well.

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There's another part of Lawrence Wilkerson's widely circulated blog post from yesterday that hasn't been given the attention it deserves.

Wilkerson, the former US Army colonel who was Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department, wrote:

My investigations have revealed to me--vividly and clearly--that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering "the Cheney methods of interrogation", simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.

What I am saying is that no torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama's having shut down the "Cheney interrogation methods" will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?

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In the latest development in the 2010 Florida Senate race, where moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is facing a more conservative opponent in the GOP primary, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, both candidates have signed the anti-tax pledge of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform.

In a possible move by Crist to appeal to right-wing voters and activists -- a demographic that might oppose him because of his support for the stimulus bill -- his campaign announced yesterday that he was the first candidate to sign the pledge. Rubio then signed up hours later.

The pledge binds candidates to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses ... and oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar-for-dollar by further reducing taxes."

For several weeks--while torture revelations have dominated headlines and with the scandal still very much alive--Dawn Johnsen has been waiting. She's Obama's pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel--the same Justice Department shop that famously blessed Bush-era interrogation policies--and her strong stance on that issue has united Republicans against her. But that's not her biggest problem. Her biggest problem is that Harry Reid has not been able to muster enough Democrats to overcome a filibuster threat.

Here are the numbers as they stand right now:

Votes Against Johnsen: 37 Republicans

Votes for Johnsen: 57 Democrats plus Indiana Republican Richard Lugar

Undecideds: Republicans Olypmia Snowe and Susan Collins and Democrats Arlen Specter and Ben Nelson

Reid frames the issue by saying he needs a couple Republicans to cross the line before he has the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. But as the numbers show, it's just as much an issue of Reid not being able to muster the entire Democratic caucus in support of Johnsen.

The nomination isn't dead yet, but with Reid trying to put the onus on the White House to shore up support for the beleaguered nominee and the White House staying mum about what it role in all this is, or should be, Johnsen's nomination isnt going anywhere fast.

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Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA mislead her in torture briefings has received support from a new source: Larry Wilkerson, the retired US Army colonel who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell.

Wilkerson told TPMmuckraker that he's been present for similar CIA briefings, and that the agency briefs only "very limitedly," and "very selectively."

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  • Republicans are lining up to defend the CIA from Nancy Pelosi's charge that the agency lied to her about torture. We all know the CIA never lies. (AP)
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