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The Coleman legal team is continuing to lay out their case that they want the question of rejected absentee ballots to be opened again -- and in some cases, to literally open the ballots to investigate.

Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg has been questioning Washington County (Stillwater) elections official Kevin Corbid, and has been asking him about what have come to be known as "3A" ballots -- a category where a newly-registered absentee voter included their registration card inside the internal secrecy envelope containing the ballot, rather than immediately inside the outer envelope as it was supposed to be done.

Election officials now believe that 3A ballots should be considered to have been legally cast. The problem here is how one identifies a 3A ballot.

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Could the federal investigation of possible pay-to-play in New Mexico be turning its focus to a crucial Democratic political organization?

The probe, which derailed Bill Richardson's bid to be Commerce Secretary, has largely focused on one investment firm, CDR Financial Products. That company won a contract from Governor Richardson's administration to help manage the state's bonds, around the same time that it contributed to two Richardson political committees, as well as to the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), of which Richardson was vice chair at the time. (He would become chair in 2005).

And now the Albuquerque Journal reports that three other firms that won contracts to manage the state's bonds also contributed to the DGA, giving almost $500,000 around the time the transportation financing plan was being developed and finalized. Those firms are J.P. Morgan Securities, UBS Bank and RBC Dain Rauscher.

The paper adds:

Some of the donations were in cash, others were "in kind" services, such as catering.

The DGA describes itself on its website as a "political organization organized to support the candidacies of Democratic gubernatorial nominees and incumbents across the nation" and as "the united voice for America's Democratic governors." It has been a key stepping-stone to national prominence for some Dems, and its current chair, Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana, is seen as a rising star in the party.

Bloomberg recently reported that federal investigators, in addition to subpoenaing aides to Richardson and a banker with JP Morgan Chase, also asked for DGA correspondence records in connection with the probe.

The bond contract program, known as GRIP, appears to have quarterbacked by David Harris, the led the state's financing authority at the time and had previously served as Richardson's deputy chief of staff.

Reports the paper:
Harris organized the team of GRIP bond underwriters and advisers after the Legislature approved GRIP at a special session in November 2003, according to NMFA board meeting minutes.

Harris also helped plan the financing for GRIP and shepherded the transportation package through the Legislature.

Harris, who left the NMFA after the GRIP financing details were approved to become a University of New Mexico vice president, has declined comment. His lawyer says his client denies any wrongdoing.

Something tells us we haven't heard the last of this.

Americans United For Change, the labor-backed political group that recently launched radio ads linking anti-stimulus Republicans to Rush Limbaugh, has just announced that they're expanding the Limbaugh ads to target GOP Sens. Jim Bunning (KY), Richard Burr (NC) and Mel Martinez (FL).

"Now the Obama plan goes to the Senate," the announcer says, "and the question is: Will our Senator, Richard Burr, side with Rush Limbaugh too" --interrupted by Limbaugh's "I hope he fails!" interjection -- "or will he reject the partisanship and failed economic policies of the past, and stand up for the people of North Carolina?"

Chances are, Burr will stick with Limbaugh.

According to audits by the Inspector General for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to private contractors in Afghanistan that frequently failed to deliver results. Of six different audits conducted in the last year, only one found a rebuilding program producing the desired results. (USA Today)

The federal judge presiding over the bankruptcy case of Lehman Brothers was arrested on domestic violence charges Saturday. James Peck was charged with one count of third-degree attempted assault and one count of second-degree harassment after allegedly striking his wife during an argument at their home. (New York Times)

Financial firms that received bailout funds reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on charitable gifts for members of Congress. Eight firms spent $366,000 in the last six months of 2008. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the largest spenders, contributing more than $330,000, according to a review of congressional lobbying records. (The Hill)

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Obama Announcing Gregg Appointment This Morning President Obama is holding a series of closed meetings with advisers this morning, and then at 11 a.m. ET he will make an announcement about his appointment for Secretary of Commerce. The president is expected to appoint Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Biden Meeting With Hillary, Swearing In Holder At DOJ Vice President Biden is having breakfast this morning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then at 10 a.m. he will go to the Justice Department to swear in Eric Holder as Attorney General. Then he is headed to the White House to join the president for the announcement about the Commerce Secretary.

Report: GOPer Bonnie Newman Will Be NH Senate Appointee CNN reports that former Judd Gregg chief of staff Bonnie Newman will be the appointee to Judd Gregg's Senate seat. Gregg made the appointment of a Republican to his seat a condition for accepting the cabinet appointment, rather than having the Democratic governor pick another Dem who would give the party a filibuster-proof margin.

Senate Taking Up Stimulus Amendments The Senate will begin voting today on amendments to the stimulus bill, as Senators sort through the changes they would like to make to the version that passed in the House. The range of opinions varies from Democrats who would like to shift the spending priorities around, to Republicans who want to cut back the spending itself.

Strib: Minnesota Senate Contest Affecting Stimulus Margins The Star Tribune reports that the protracted Minnesota Senate dispute, and the resulting absence of a Democratic Senator, appears to be making the passage of a stimulus bill more difficult. "Our burden would be a little lighter," said Chuck Schumer, while Congressman Keith Ellison was even more blunt: "Sometimes being one or two away is like being 100 members away. We need that Franken vote, and it's critical that we get it fast."

Lawmakers' Portfolios Plummet In Recession The Hill reports that the stock market's problems might be making a very important impact Capitol Hill -- lawmakers are seeing their own portfolios fall precipitously. The members of Congress who did speak to the paper about this, including Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) all said they've been too busy dealing with the economy to worry about their own stocks, and they are unaware of any recent transactions.

Palin Backs Perry In Texas Gubernatorial Race Sarah Palin has now gotten herself involved in the politics of another state, endorsing Texas Governor Rick Perry for re-election. Perry is facing a likely primary challenge by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, so the Perry campaign has sent out a letter from Palin that is specifically addressed to Republican women.

Gregg Was For Abolishing Commerce Dept. Before He Was For Running It CQ points out that Judd Gregg voted in 1995 for a non-binding budget resolution that called for abolishing the Department of Commerce in the wake of the 1994 Republican victories, and that as a committee chairman he was for cutting the Commerce budget. Now Gregg is poised to head up that very department -- so really, a lot of things can change in 14 years.

Karl Rove will cooperate with a federal criminal inquiry underway into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys and has already spoken to investigators in a separate, internal DOJ investigation into the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, his attorney said in an interview.

Rove previously refused to cooperate with an earlier Justice Department inquiry into the firings. The Justice Department's Inspector General and its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) said in a report released last September detailing their earlier probe of the firings of the U.S. attorneys that their investigation was severely "hindered" by the refusal by Rove and other senior Bush administration officials to cooperate with the probe.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Rove, however, will cooperate with a federal criminal probe of the firings being led by Nora Dannehy, the Acting U.S. Attorney for Connecticut who was selected by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to lead the investigation. Dannehy has recently empaneled a federal grand jury to hear evidence in the matter.

Luskin told me that Rove had earlier not cooperated with the Inspector General and OPR probe into the firings because "it was not his [Karl's] call... it was not up to us decide." Luskin said that Rove was directed by the Bush White House counsel's office not to cooperate with the Inspector General and OPR.

Regarding the more recent probe by Dannehy, Luskin said: "I can say that he would cooperate with the Dannehy investigation if asked."

In recent days, according to legal sources, two former Bush White House officials, including one former aide to Rove, have been contacted by investigators working for Dannehy and asked for interviews. One of the two has agreed to be interviewed.

Regarding the decision to cooperate with Dannehy, Luskin said that Rove "has not and will not assert any personal privileges." He also said that in regard to the earlier probe, Rove had not done so, but had rather only "followed the guidance of the White House."

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Senate Democrats just emerged from an hour-long meeting to discuss the tax filing errors that have thrown Tom Daschle's nomination as health secretary into disarray. That Daschle's former colleagues are vociferously supporting him is to be expected, but Democrats were surprisingly confident that the former Senate leader would ascend to President Obama's Cabinet.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, gave Daschle his vote of confidence, followed by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Kent Conrad (D-ND). Daschle will have his confirmation hearing before Finance next week.

Other Democratic senators provided silent support in the background, with Republicans apparently sneaking out of the meeting in order to avoid the press.

The pro-Daschle appearance, staged in a corridor outside the Finance Committee's marble-walled hearing room, boasted only one mea culpa -- that of the nominee himself. The Democratic senators were more than happy to point fingers at Leo Hindery, the telecom mogul who paid for Daschle's private car and driver, for not sending the nominee a 1099 form indicating that Daschle would need to declare the "gift from a good friend" (Daschle's phrasing) on his taxes.

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Said Pat Leahy, the chair of the Senate Judicary committe:

[O]f the last four Attorneys General, Eric Holder has the largest 'aye' vote of any of them. I think it is a good sign for the country. It is a good sign for the Department of Justice.

At the center of the issues that have complicated Tom Daschle's nomination to run the Department of Health and Human Services is his relationship with Leo Hindery, the politically connected founder of the private equity firm InterMedia.

Taxes aside, we still don't know much about what Hindery got for the $1 million-a-year consulting fee he paid Daschle. Hindery and his colleagues at InterMedia aren't speaking, and the New York Times reports only that, according to a Daschle spokeswoman, "[i]n addition to lending the prestige of his name, Mr. Daschle traveled to help raise money from investors for Mr. Hindery's new venture".

But whatever Daschle did for his very healthy pay check, his association with Hindery should raise some eyebrows.

Hindery, a media entrepreneur who in 2001 founded the YES Network as the TV home of the New York Yankees, was briefly the CEO of Global Crossing, the upstart fiber-optic carrier whose collapse in late 2001, amid claims that executives had made fraudulent claims about the state of the company's finances, rocked the financial world.

To be clear, Hindery had left by the time of the meltdown, and most accounts place the largest share of the blame for the company's crackup on its founder Gary Winick. But when Hindery left, in October 2000 -- not long after predicting, inaccurately, that the company would be cash-flow positive by early 2002 -- he was definitely in the money. He had negotiated the sale of one of the company's divisions to Exodus Communications, in a deal which netted Hindery himself nearly $250 million.

How? BusinessWeek explained at the time:

Based on his contract with Global Crossing, he'll own 5.5% of the company if there's a change of control -- something that Hindery himself manufactured over the past two months by brokering the deal to Exodus. With a strike price of $54.37 a share, Hindery's stake stands to make him nearly $250 million when Exodus completes its "definitive" deal to buy GlobalCenter.

Not bad work if you can get it. Though when, just over a year later, Global Crossing filed for the seventh-largest bankruptcy in American history, its investors and employees -- who in 2004 received a $325 million settlement stemming from the loss of their pensions and 401ks -- might have been less impressed.

But Hindery wasn't done there. In October 2002, he went to court to force Global Crossing to fork over another $708,000 in back pay and more than $100,000 in rent for an apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria Towers on Park Avenue. Hindery had had the foresight to write into his original Global Crossing contract the stipulation that the firm would keep footing the bill for the rent on his Park Avenue pad through Oct. 3, 2002, and would keep paying him a $1-million-a-year consulting fee through September of that year. A lawyer for Global Crossing's many creditors called the effort "laughable", telling the Wall Street Journal Hindery "can line up with all the other general unsecured creditors."

Change we can believe in!

The Coleman legal team just went through another round of calling aggrieved voters to the witness stand, pleading that their absentee ballots were improperly rejected. And again, they've run into some problems.

The Coleman campaign called Elissa Jackson, a sympathetic mother of a five-month old. During direct examination, Coleman lawyer James Langdon tried to be open about the fact that she found out about her uncounted vote because of a phone call from the Republican Party.

Then came the cross-examination by Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton, who confirmed that, as with a prior case, the Coleman/GOP people who called her up also asked her who she voted for, and made sure she voted for Coleman. "They didn't send you that affidavit before they got the answer to the question of who you voted for in the Senate race, did they?" asked Hamilton.

"No, they didn't," Jackson replied.

Now remember: During last week's proceedings, the Coleman camp was saying repeatedly that they were not cherry-picking voters, that they didn't know whom the people they're advocating for actually supported, and for all they knew they were helping out Franken-voters. Apparently that wasn't quite 100% true.

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