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Last time we checked in on Hans von Spakovsky, the vote suppression guru was doggedly making the case for voter ID laws.

Now Angelenos have a chance to sample his wisdom. On April 2nd, Spakovsky will be speaking to the Los Angeles chapter of the Federalist Society. The title of the lecture is "Litigating Elections: the Campaign Process in 2008" -- characteristic of a man who's shown a genius for using the law to affect elections.

While Spakovsky is spreading the gospel, the White House and Republicans have still refused to back down from his nomination to the Federal Election Commission. The Dems, meanwhile, refuse to allow him to be slipped through with the other FEC nominees. Which is why the FEC remains unable to act.

Thanks to TPM Reader KA for the tip.

There's been a bit of a shuffle lately at Freedom's Watch, the billionaire backed conservative attack group.

Early this month, Bradley Blakeman, a former Bush White House official who'd been the group's president, left the group under something of a cloud. Unnamed conservatives grumbled that the group had not "figured out its role in the conservative/Republican universe," and there were whispers that some had been unhappy with his leadership.

But today the group announced that Carl Forti will serve as the groups' Executive Vice President and "will lead the group’s 2008 issue advocacy campaign." That means, presumably, that Forti will have some say of where that $200-250 million goes.

Forti comes off of a stint as Mitt Romney's political director -- and before that, the National Republican Campaign Committee's spokesman. Forti left the NRCC, where he was for more than seven years, after the 2006 election -- of which he confidently said earlier that year, "Incumbents don't get beat because there's a bad national environment" (d'oh).

When asked whether the group had found a replacement for Blakeman, Freedom's Watch spokesman Jake Suski said that was an "ongoing transition process." So in other words, no.

From The Boston Globe:

When the American team arrived in Iraq in the summer of 2003 to repair the Qarmat Ali water injection plant, supervisors told them the orange, sand-like substance strewn around the looted facility was just a "mild irritant," workers recall....

But the chemical turned out to be sodium dichromate, a substance so dangerous that even limited exposure greatly increases the risk of cancer. Soon, many of the 22 Americans and 100-plus Iraqis began to complain of nosebleeds, ulcers, and shortness of breath....

Now, nine Americans are accusing KBR, then a subsidiary of the oil conglomerate Halliburton, of knowingly exposing them to the deadly substance and failing to provide them with the protective equipment needed to keep them safe.

But the workers, like all employees injured in Iraq, face an uphill struggle in their quest for damages. Under a World War II-era federal workers compensation law, employers are generally protected from employee lawsuits, except in rare cases in which it can be proven that the company intentionally harmed its employees or committed outright fraud.

KBR is citing the law, called the Defense Base Act, as grounds to reject the workers' request for damages.

But the company's own actions have undermined its case: To avoid payroll taxes for its American employees, KBR hired the workers through two subsidiaries registered in the Cayman Islands, part of a strategy that has allowed KBR to dodge hundreds of millions of dollars in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

That gives the workers' lawyer, Mike Doyle of Houston, a chance to argue to an arbitration board that KBR is not an employer protected by federal law, but a third-party that can be sued.


The whole horrid story is worth a read.

We knew that the House's lawsuit against White House officials would take awhile. And it turns out that it'll be June, at the earliest, before a judge makes his first decision in the House's suit against Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten.

That relatively rapid pace (for the courts, at least) is the result of the House pushing for quicker resolution of some of the White House's more expansive claims of executive privilege. The court will decide first whether administration lawyers are right when they say that Miers didn't even need to show up in response to the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena and that both Bolten and Miers didn't even need to indicate what sort of documents the White House were claiming privilege for. Thornier issues (e.g. whether certain conversations that do not involve the president are covered by executive privilege, etc.) would be dealt with later. The House has sought this speedier resolution with the hope that it would mean they'd actually get to hear from Miers and see some documents from Bolten before the close of the Bush administration.

Last Friday, the judge set a schedule for both sides to submit motions and set a hearing for June 23rd when the House's general counsel and Justice Department lawyers will argue before the judge. But whichever way the judge eventually rules, the decision would likely be appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, meaning that regardless of the House's desire for a speedy resolution, the case is bound to spend a long time in the courts before Congressional investigators see any of its fruits.

Five years into Mr. Bush's war and long after the declaration of "mission accomplished," the U.S. death toll in Iraq has reached 4,000. More than 97 percent of these losses occurred after that declaration. Though the administration continues to ban images of coffins coming home, The New York Times and Huffington Post provide us with the faces of the dead. (Think Progress, New York Times, Huffington Post)

"Curveball," the Iraqi defector whose stories - many of which turned out to be false - were used by the U.S. to make the case for invading Iraq, told Der Spiegel recently that "he is not to blame for the war and that he never said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction." Curveball's accounts of Iraq's weapons program were used by then Secretary of State Collin Powell in his speech to the United Nations in February 2003. (ABC)

The recent revelations that employees of private companies with government contracts improperly accessed the passport files of both Barack Obama and John McCain is adding to concerns that the federal government is relying too much on private contractors to carry out its work. The questions follow recent controversies over the use of private military contractors, such as Blackwater, in Iraq. (AP)

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When Gen. David Petraeus made his big trip to Congress last September, he came armed with a full deck of slides. But none of them captured the U.S. strategy in Iraq quite like this one:



In it, you can see a neat illustration of how we’re going to eventually get out of Iraq. By July, as you can see above, the U.S. force level will return to the approximate size it was preceding the surge. After that, well... the question marks begin.

According to the chart, the date for the subsequent drawdown was to be determined this month (the "decision point"). But it won't be, The Washington Post and New York Times report this morning.

When Petraeus returns to Congress in a couple weeks for his next big briefing, he will give a good idea of how many U.S. troops will remain in Iraq as of July. But beyond that, nothing. From the Times:

During the briefing to the president, General Petraeus laid out a number of potential options, the officials said, but avoided using the term “pause.” That word has gained traction here in Washington over recent weeks to describe the plateau in troop levels that is widely expected to last through the fall elections and perhaps beyond.

Instead, he described the weeks after the departure of the extra brigades ordered to Iraq in January 2007 as a period of “consolidation and evaluation,” a phrase first used publicly by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during a visit to Iraq in February.

The officials said that Mr. Bush and General Petraeus, recognizing public and Congressional wariness about the toll of the war, would publicly hold out the possibly of withdrawing more troops, but only if conditions allowed it. Mr. Bush, in particular, is eager to end his presidency with the appearance that things are getting better in Iraq.


The Times concludes that "it now appears likely that any decision on major reductions in American troops from Iraq will be left to the next president." A state of affairs that should surprise no one, as the administration has ably kicked the can down the road with promises of dramatic improvement just six months away. Perhaps the only happy development from all this is that the administration has decided to chuck the farcical six month reviews and instead concentrate on a smaller review every month by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s Central Command, where, away from the distraction of noisy public debate, the military can privately ascertain whether it's safe to draw down troops in the last months of Bush's presidency.

4,000 dead U.S. soldiers and five years later, Frontline takes stock in a two part, four and half hour series. The first part airs tonight, so check it out.

Well, the short answer seems to be no. But there's still plenty curious about Roger Stone's cameo role in Eliot Spitzer's downfall.

The Miami Herald reported on Friday that Stone, a veteran Republican operative with a deep bag of tricks, had sent a letter via his lawyer to the FBI in November of last year informing them that he'd learned that Spitzer frequented prostitutes. The letter stated:

"The governor has paid literally tens of thousands of dollars for these services. It is Mr. Stone's understanding that the governor paid not with credit cards or cash but through some pre-arranged transfer... It is also my client's understanding from the same source that Gov. Spitzer did not remove his mid-calf length black socks during the sex act."


Speaking to the Herald, Stone was a bit more clear about how he came to learn this: "a high-end call girl at an adult-themed club called Miami Velvet told him she was disappointed to have missed a call to entertain Spitzer." Why was Stone -- no stranger to sex scandals -- at the Miami Velvet Swingers Club (the full name, according to the website)? Well, conducting opposition research, presumably.

But back to the letter. As our timeline makes clear, the feds began their investigation into the Emperor Club's ring in October of last year, approximately a month before Stone sent his letter to the FBI.

So was the FBI asking Stone for information about Spitzer? That's not clear. According to Stone's lawyer Robert Buschel, the FBI had sought to speak to Stone, but "did not specify why they wanted to interview Mr. Stone or the subject matter." Stone's lawyers, understandably, advised Stone against speaking to the FBI on such ambiguous terms. But he apparently did reply by letter with that unsolicited tip about Spitzer's activities.

In sum, it's unclear at this juncture whether the FBI's request had anything to do the Spitzer investigation. It's also unclear whether the FBI received Stone's letter or passed it on to the agents investigating Spitzer and the Emperor's Club. But given the facts reported about how the investigation developed, it's at least clear that Stone's tip came after the investigation was well under way.

This election is sure to see its share of attack groups like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But while most of the attention will be on the billionaire-backed attack organizations, there are also sure to be a number of smaller groups operating under the radar.

A group called the Republican Majority Campaign is a good example. Since January, the group has disclosed spending a total of $350,000 on phone calls against both of the Democratic presidential nominees. The FEC filings show a number of expenditures in equal amounts on the same day against both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama throughout February and March. It's an oddly unfocused strategy and one that the group declines to describe publicly in any detail.

But that's not all that's curious about the group. It's operations resemble those of groups formerly run by Linda Chavez and Christopher Gersten, although those associated with the group deny any connection with Chavez and Gersten.

Chavez, a former Reagan administration official and President Bush's one-time nominee for Secretary of Labor (derailed by the revelation she'd housed an illegal immigrant), and Gersten, a former Bush administration official, ran a stable of conservative political action committees together for many years. But that stopped not long after a front-page Washington Post story, under the headline "In Fundraising's Murky Corners," exposed a troubling trend in those groups. Only about one percent of the funds were used for actual political activities such as contributions to politicians or independent political activity. The rest was cycled back into fundraising costs, "a modest but steady source of income for Chavez and four family members," and various expenses for the family associated with the groups. "I guess you could call it the family business," as Chavez put it.

Because of individual contribution limits, PACs rely on a large number of contributors for support. In the case of the Chavez groups, which raised funds largely through telemarketing, the Post reported that some donors, who'd given funds without knowing anything more about the groups beyond their names and stated goals, felt like they'd been taken.

When I contacted Republican Majority Campaign's chairman Gary Kreep about the group, he could tell me little about its activities. Kreep, a Californian, runs the United States Justice Foundation, a conservative non-for-profit. His bio on that organization's website says he also runs a PAC associated with the United States Justice Foundation, another PAC called the California Justice Political Action Committee, and a not-for-profit called the Family Values Coalition. None of those groups appear to be active, according to FEC, IRS, and California state records. Kreep and the United State Justice Foundation are behind a recent Hillary attack website called HillCAP, the Hillary Clinton Accountability Project, a site dedicated to educating "the public about the largest federal election campaign fraud ever reported," the case of former Clinton contributor Peter Paul.

The Republic Majority Campaign had first begun with a campaign against Hillary Clinton in late January, he said, but then started going after Obama, too. And the campaign had been limited to phone calls, but would soon include mailings as well.

But when I asked about the details of that campaign (how many calls, in what states, what did the calls say), he didn't have answers.

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