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General Petraeus brought out his data today, saying that two U.S. intelligence agencies back his methodology. He did not explain -- yet -- what that methodology is, but said that it has remained consistent over at least a year, which would predate Petraeus' arrival in Iraq.



Petraeus' information appears to measure attacks week by week. He didn't give comparisons to overall attacks in 2006, but opted instead to measure from discrete points in 2006: December for measures of overall violence; June 2006 for IED violence; October 2006 for attacks in Anbar province.

We'll have Petraeus' slides for you to see shortly.

Update: You can see the slides here.

Update: You can read Petraeus' opening remarks here.

The parents of former Alaska Rep. Vic Kohring, indicted for allegedly selling his vote on an oil pipeline proposal to Veco executives, have asked at least seven lobbyists for contributions to their son's legal defense fund, KTUU reports, appearances be damned:

"I think if Rep. Kohring really wants to try and say he honestly wasn't influenced illegally by this money, then I would find a different way to raise money than to ask lobbyists for it," [House Speaker John Harris] said.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) officially filed the paperwork to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing he only signed off on the deal because he was panicked after having just defended himself against accusations from The Idaho Statesman that he is gay.

The documents (available here) include an affidavit from Craig where he offers details on how he recalls the bathroom sting, including harmlessly reaching for a piece of paper with his right hand. He also mentions that he "spread his legs," though no note of an exceptionally wide stance.

One thing to watch for during General Petraeus' testimony today and tomorrow: Will he continue to insist on keeping classified his command's methodology for determining which civilian attacks count as sectarian violence?

Petraeus has made numerous assertions that sectarian violence has fallen dramatically, but so far, he hasn't explained how he's derived the basis for the claim. But on Friday, the head of the Government Accountability Office, David Walker, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Petraeus' methodology isn't something agencies throughout the government have confidence in.

Much to the chagrin of the Pentagon, the report released by Walker's GAO last week found that average daily attacks against civilians had remained flat during the lifetime of the surge. Which of those attacks qualified as sectarian violence? GAO found it wasn't clear that, contra Petraeus, sectarian attacks were on the decline, since it -- and other agencies within the government -- found the methodology for such a calculation dubious. According to the Washington Post, shooting someone in the back of the head is a sign of sectarian violence to Petraeus, but a frontal shot isn't.

I asked Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I), Petraeus' command, how it calculated sectarian violence last week, and I still haven't gotten a response. But here's what Walker told Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) (the classified annex of the GAO report contains much more about Petraeus' methodology):

First, [Petraeus'] data will show that sectarian violence is going down in recent months. He will show that. Secondly, we have -- we cannot get comfortable with the methodology that's used to determine of total violence, which is sectarian and which is nonsectarian related. It's extremely difficult to do that. I mean, you know, people don't necessarily leave calling cards, you know, when certain things happen. And even if there is, you know, some type of attempt to leave information -- you don't know the accuracy or reliability of it. And so we've said that his data will show it's gone down. We're not comfortable with the methodology. And please read the classified report, because it's not just our view.

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It took some time and effort, but, with the aid of TPM readers, we've obtained two complete lists of monthly Iraqi civilian casualties from January 2006 forward. Taking these numbers on their own terms, they do not bear out the claims made by the Bush administration and U.S. military that the surge has reduced Iraqi civilian casualties. Comparing each month's death toll in 2007 to the death toll from that same month in 2006, the numbers show that surge has not made Iraq safer for the civilian population. By some measurements, Iraqis are in greater danger than a year ago.

It's a sign of how skewed the debate over the Iraq War is that these numbers are not readily available. Different Iraqi government agencies present different casualty figures. The U.S. military's own casualty total is said to rely on the Iraqis, but it's unclear which Iraqi agency it uses or what adjustments are made to the Iraqi figures. Even as today's testimony from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is considered a possible make-or-break moment for U.S. policy on Iraq, with the Bush Administration and the Pentagon touting the success of the surge in reducing civilian casualties, there is no general agreement on what civilian casualties have been or on what the most accurate methodology for tallying casualties is.

The two lists presented here rely on statistics gathered by the Associated Press and by Iraq Body Count, a reputable British organization that has done Herculean work in compiling civilian-casualty data. It's important to note that these lists aren't comprehensive. Tallying Iraqi civilian casualties is an incomplete and arduous task, made extremely difficult by the situation on the ground. Both surveys readily acknowledge that their figures are undercounts of the true Iraqi civilian casualty rate. But the significance of these two charts is that each study employs its own internally consistent methodology for determining Iraqi casualties and has done so over a significant period of time, allowing an independent assessment -- albeit imprecise -- to measure against what we'll hear from Petraeus and Crocker.



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Ted Olson is "leading the pack" as the administration's likely next attorney general, Roll Call reports (pdf).

Olson would be a tough sell. After all, most Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) opposed Olson when he came up for confirmation for solicitor general in 2001 (he passed 51-47). The memory of Olson's role as a lawyer for Bush in the 2000 recount imbroglio was fresh. And Olson's history as a member of The American Spectator's board of directors during the so-called "Arkansas Project" in the 90's, when the magazine, backed by millions from millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, set to ending Clinton's presidency by scandal, also became a major issue. As Leahy put it, his concern was that Olson's "sharp partisanship over the last several years might not be something that he could leave behind." Given Democrats' expressed desire for a less partisan nominee to succeed Gonzales, it's hard to see how Leahy wouldn't have similar concerns today.

Roll Call reports on how Olson might play this time around:

At press time GOP and Democratic aides said it was unclear how receptive Democratic lawmakers will be to an Olson nomination. The Conference appears to be split between longtime Washington insiders who view Olson as a reliable member of their ranks and relative newcomers who see him as the principal architect of Bush’s successful legal campaign in the messy aftermath of the 2000 presidential race. While those familiar with Olson likely would confirm him, the Conference’s other faction seems to be in no mood to back him.

The senior Democratic aide said that while positions will become clearer once a formal nomination has been made, at this point it is impossible to tell whether Olson could make it through the Senate. A veteran GOP aide agreed, saying, “I can’t get a good read” from Democrats.


Note: Olson has spent the last several years as a partner at his old firm, Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, where he continues to represent Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who's under federal investigation for appropriations funny business.

Today The New York Times gives a rundown of the controversy surrounding ex-Gov. Don Siegelman's (D-AL) prosecution, with the Republican lawyer at the center of the controversy set to trek to Washington to meet with a House Judiciary panel Friday.

The Op-Ed draws a comparison between Siegelman's prosecution and the case against Georgia Thompson, a civil servant in Wisconsin whose corruption case was thrown out on appeal because the court found the evidence against her to be "beyond thin."

The Bush administration insists that the United States attorney scandal is a non-scandal. But the Siegelman and Thompson cases are a reminder that when the power of the state to imprison people is put in the wrong hands, lives can be ruined and democracy can be threatened. Since the Justice Department refuses to appoint an independent prosecutor to examine whether these and other cases were politicized, Congress must provide the scrutiny.

General Petraeus will go before Congress this afternoon to argue that the surge is working -- that sectarian killings and attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces are substantially down. The military's secret numbers will serve as support for those conclusions, even as numbers from within the government (e.g. those collected by the Defense Intelligence Agency) dispute them.

We'll have more on the numbers game a little later. But from Petraeus' perspective, the question appears closed. We're making progress -- just how much is a secondary question. As he wrote in a recent letter to U.S. forces, we're "a long way from the goal line, but we do have the ball and we are driving down the field." We have the ball!

Accordingly, Petraeus' counsel to the president, The New York Times reports this morning, is to make March the new September. As a concession to those who worry about military preparedness and are calling for a draw down, one Army brigade, a unit that was in place before the surge, would depart in December. The full force minus that reduction of 4,000 would stay in place through March of next year. Then, and only then, would Petraeus make a decision about bringing the number to pre-surge levels -- possibly by next summer. Anything sooner, a military official tells the Times, would be "premature."

But there are no guarantees:

Even as American commanders plan to reduce the overall force, they have stressed that the troop reductions could be adjusted or delayed if violence increases. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, has said one important factor being weighed is whether attacks increase during the approaching Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as has happened in the past.

“Ramadan is big,” General Odierno said last week. “So far in the 30 days before Ramadan, violence has been going down.”

“If we can continue to do what we are doing, we’ll get to such a level where we think we can do it with less troops,” he added.


Presumably next Ramadan will be the true test of whether the strategy is working?

Did anyone ever think the surge was going to work? The Washington Post walks through the history of the surge, from the fallacy of the "Anbar miracle," the false assurances of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the reluctance of the Maliki government. Most striking is the raging dissension between Petraeus and his commanding officer, who is responsible for the greater Middle East region (Afghanistan, anyone? Horn of Africa?). With Petraeus on the Hill this week, it is easy to get lost in the minutiae; take a few minutes to refresh yourself on how far the policy has strayed. (Washington Post)

The bombs are dropping in six minutes! Well, not quite that dramatic, but getting close from CIA Director Michael Hayden, who claimed Friday that the waning public and political support for new "aggressive" CIA methods was creating a world that felt an awful lot like September 10th. (LA Times)

Remember back in the day when you had to be on the government's A-list to get one of those coveted National Security Letters? It turns out they weren't as exclusive as we thought. The FBI, until recently, had been obtaining information (without the use of warrants) about targeted suspects and their "community of interest"- aka anyone with whom they are in contact. (NY Times)

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) slept on the couch of his former chief of staff Neil Volz. Take a second to let that one sink in, then check out information released in Volz's recent court letters. Apparently Ney wasn't exactly an ideal roommate. (The Plain Dealer)

Want to hear more from David Petraeus? You're going to have to tune in to his one-hour EXCLUSIVE interview on Fox News. As in, no other networks get a shot. Not even TPM! (Think Progress)

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To an outsider, New Jersey politics often seems like a den of corruption. The latest series of arrests doesn’t do much to change that reputation.

This week, eleven local politicians and one co-conspirator were arrested as part of a statewide bribery scandal. The crowd runs the gamut of the political scene: mayors, assembly members, staffers and local council members have all been charged. The list is dominated by ten Democrats, although one Republican makes it a bipartisan affair.

The story is slowly unfolding, as the FBI has only disclosed enough information to provide probable cause for the arrests. But it is clear that the operation began in the town of Pleasantville, where FBI agents posed as representatives from an insurance company and a roofing agency. Agents met individually with members of the town’s education council, setting up deals throughout the past year to pay cash bribes in exchange for contracts.

It would have made for a quick story of small town corruption, but the Pleasantville school board members recommended that their new FBI friends look for more "business" upstate. From there, the FBI’s insurance company bounced from willing politician to willing politician, taking them to the cities of Newark, Orange, Passaic and Patterson. As in all prime cases of local corruption, underhanded deals were carried out in parked cars and restaurants.

The two highest ranked officials are Alfred Steele, a state assemblyman, and Mims Hackett, Jr., also an assemblyman as well as the mayor of Orange. It was on Steele’s recommendation that investigators were introduced to Hackett; both men promised to help the would-be insurers obtain state contracts in exchange for cash.

Christopher Christie, the U.S. Attorney leading the investigation, took a play out of the Giuliani textbook. He organized a series of public arrests complete with handcuffs and leg shackles for the twelve, who were released on bail Thursday and left to shirk the herd of reporters on their own. (Steele resorted to running away from the press, which resulted in a rush-hour traffic jam.) Still, the Democratic leadership have been quick to challenge claims that Christie is playing partisan politics. Senate President Richard Codey addressed local Democrats on Friday saying, "these questions about whether the U.S. Attorney is too political, that's not the question. He didn't put a gun to anyone's head and force them to put their hand in the cookie jar."

As of now, both Steele and Hackett look set to resign their positions on Monday. We'll see if the immediate response of outrage by local Democrats helps to ameliorate the reputation that New Jersey is still the home of Tony Soprano and dirty politicians.

TPMLivewire