TPM News

From the Sun-Sentinel:

In a significant departure from federal sentencing guidelines and prosecutors wishes, Jose Padilla, the man government officials once accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb on U.S. soil, will spend 17 years and 4 months in a maximum security prison for his role in a South Florida terror support cell, a Miami federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Padilla's recruiter Adham Hassoun was given 15 years and 8 months and co-defendant Kifah Jayyousi received 12 years, 8 months. The three men faced possible life sentences.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke announced her decisions after taking the long weekend to consider legal arguments and emotional testimony from friends and relatives of the men.

Referring to Padilla, the judge said: "He was held in hard conditions. The government argued that I could not take that into consideration…I disagree."

We've gotten reports from two TPM readers in South Carolina that they received a negative robo call this morning about Hillary Clinton. Here's TPM reader RB's description:

I am listening to a robocall smear against Hillary Clinton repeating all kinds of rumors from the Bill Clinton years, like an FBI agent said on inauguration day that Hillary Clinton was in a fury--screaming and ranting because she couldn’t have Al Gore’s office, “when Bill dropped his pants” with Monica Lewisky and his “harem in the White House,” she had “affairs with Vince Foster,” etc. The call repeats “Can you trust her?” over and over. Says things like Hillary treats women like they are “invisible.”

Caller ID said the number was “unavailable,” but at the end of the call, the voice says, “Robert Morrow on behalf of everybody who has been violated by Hillary and Bill…Hillary sure says a lot of things, but can you trust her…”

TPM Reader SB also got a call from a Robert Morrow this morning, which he described this way: "This morning we got a robocall -- recorded message -- about Hillary Clinton. It talked about Vincent Foster and about cats." The caller ID said "out of area," he says.

So who is Robert Morrow? And how many calls should South Carolinians expect from him?

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The Washington Post gives a thorough rundown here.

A shorter rundown would go something like this: the Clinton administration, after getting into trouble over losing some White House emails, had a perfectly good system in place by the end of its term. But the Bushies threw that out the window for no apparent reason when they came in and didn't put anything in its place. Whether deviousness or incompetence is to blame is unclear.

Ouch. Federal probation officers have taken a look at Brent Wilkes' case and decided that he deserves a 60 year sentence. And that's not even the prosecutors' recommendation. It's hard to believe they could ask for more. It would be far and away the most severe sentence to be handed down in the recent spate of bribery prosecutions. Come to think of it, can any readers think of a more severe sentence ever handed down for government corruption?

Wilkes' lawyer Mark Geragos knows this is bad news, and so has asked for extra time to prepare a counter-argument. Among the things he objects to: the recommendation was based on the assumption that all $90 million of Wilkes' federal contracts were the result of bribing Duke Cunningham. Not so, says he (even though the jury convicted him on all thirteen counts). At least some of that he got fair and square. We look forward to him fighting that out.

Last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates toured the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Charleston, S.C. where the military is producing 1,200 “Mine Resistant Ambush Protected” (MRAP) trucks every month and boasted that the military has not suffered a single casualty with the trucks during 12 roadside attacks. But just yesterday, the military suffered a fatality and three injuries when a MRAP truck ran over a roadside bomb. Though the crew compartment remained intact, hopes for the new vehicle have been questioned. (UPI, New York Times)

Though President Bush is under pressure from fiscal conservatives in Congress and budget watchdog groups, it is unlikely that he will challenge Congress’ billions of dollars in earmarks. Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO) has suggested that any challenges to Congress’ pork business could jeopardize Bush’s relationship with Congress. The 2008 spending bills signed by Bush contain at least 11,700 earmarks worth $16.9 billion. These figures mark a decline since Republican control of Congress. (New York Times)

The ethics committees of the House and Senate disagree on how to interpret new rules covering tickets to events sponsored by charities. Previously, lobbyists were allowed to request event sponsors to invite (and provide free tickets to) elected officials who would then be seated at the lobbyists' tables. The House ethics committee has interpreted the new rules to allow lobbyists to continue the practice, while the Senate committee argues that it is now prohibited. (The Hill)

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As Rudy's improvised lose - every - early - primary - but - then - somehow - win - Florida strategy unravels to its thrilling conclusion, it's worth stepping back and pondering what could have been. A Giuliani White House. An administration that would have made the Bush Administration seem a marvel of technocracy and moderation by comparison.

The New York Times, with perhaps a touch of nostalgia, gives a taste this morning by looking back on Rudy's years as mayor.

The irrefutable thesis of the short history is that Rudy led an administration that would go to any means to punish any critic for any transgression no matter how petty. Loyalty was the watchword and pretty much the only thing that mattered. It certainly didn't matter that certain tactics might stretch the law; the Times reports that "New York City spent at least $7 million in settling civil rights lawsuits and paying retaliatory damages during the Giuliani years."

You can pick your own favorite example from the piece (maybe the guy who blew the whistle on an NYPD traffic trap to the New York Daily News, and then was subsequently arrested by the NYPD on a 13 year-old traffic charge and falsely branded a convicted sodomite by the NYPD spokeswoman?). There are certainly plenty to choose from. For my money, though, I've got to go with this one:

Mr. Giuliani’s war with the nonprofit group Housing Works was more operatic. Housing Works runs nationally respected programs for the homeless, the mentally ill and people who are infected with H.I.V. But it weds that service to a 1960s straight-from-the-rice-paddies guerrilla ethos.

The group’s members marched on City Hall, staged sit-ins, and delighted in singling out city officials for opprobrium. Mr. Giuliani, who considered doing away with the Division of AIDS Services, became their favorite mayor in effigy.

Mr. Giuliani responded in kind. His police commanders stationed snipers atop City Hall and sent helicopters whirling overhead when 100 or so unarmed Housing Works protesters marched nearby in 1998. A year earlier, his officials systematically killed $6 million worth of contracts with the group, saying it had mismanaged funds.

Housing Works sued the city and discovered that officials had rescored a federal evaluation form to ensure that the group lost a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Martin Oesterreich, the city’s homeless commissioner, denied wrongdoing but acknowledged that his job might have been forfeited if Housing Works had obtained that contract.

“That possibility could have happened,” Mr. Oesterreich told a federal judge.

The mayor’s fingerprints could not be found on every decision. But his enemies were widely known.

“The culture of retaliation was really quite remarkable,” said Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, the lawyer who represented Housing Works. “Up and down the food chain, everyone knew what this guy demanded.”

In the culture of retaliation, even humor had its price:

“There were constant loyalty tests: ‘Will you shoot your brother?’ ” said Marilyn Gelber, who served as environmental commissioner under Mr. Giuliani. “People were marked for destruction for disloyal jokes.”

But a Giuliani Administration is not to be. Oh, well. This muckraker's loss is the country's gain.

From The New York Times:

Lawyers for Majid Khan, a detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have challenged the Central Intelligence Agency’s assertion that videotaping of interrogations stopped in 2002, saying that Mr. Khan’s interrogations after that time were recorded on videotape.

This isn't the first time there's been a hint of this. As we noted here, another detainee has claimed to have seen cameras in the interrogation rooms, and prosecutors have indicated in a filing that there are two currently existing videotapes of interrogations.

Also, here's our rundown of Khan's case.

Just part of the Bush administration economic stimulus plan: big business for companies insuring federal workers. From The New York Times:

When Al Qaeda attacked the United States in 2001, Wright & Company was insuring about 17,000 federal employees against the legal hazards of their work. Today, that total has nearly doubled to 32,000, Wright executives say, spurred in part by a spate of lawsuits, investigations and criminal prosecutions related to mistreatment of detainees from Iraq to Guantánamo Bay, an immigration crackdown and other aftershocks of 9/11. The insurance is popular with F.B.I. agents, Secret Service officers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement workers as well as C.I.A. officers.

“The things that help us are any negative events related to the federal government, and there have been plenty,” said Bryan B. Lewis, Wright’s president and chief executive, who holds a security clearance that allows him to discuss his clients’ secret business.

Yes, times are good.

One of the latest to draw on his policy is Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who ordered the destruction of the torture tapes. He's used it to pay for heavy-hitter Bob Bennett, the Times reports, though how long that's going to last him, nobody knows (Bennett charges up to $900 per hour). He's covered for up to $200,000 in fees to represent him against Congress' probe, and $100,000 in fees for the criminal probe.

We know what President Bush thinks of the National Intelligence Estimate which inconveniently concluded "with high confidence" that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. As he put it, the intelligence community sometimes comes to conclusions "separate from what I may or may not want."

But John Bolton has a way of striking to the heart of the issue. From The Jerusalem Post:

The 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate, as well as the skewed reporting around it, is a sign of the "illegitimate politicization" of the American intelligence establishment, according to former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton....

"I know the people who wrote this intelligence estimate," Bolton continued. "They are not from our intelligence community. They're from our State Department. It was a highly politicized document written by people who had a very clear policy objective."

Hypocritical as it might seem for a former Bush administration official to decry "politicization" of the government, Bolton is actually quite canny in his phrasing here. His problem is with "illegitimate" politicization, not politicization in general. That's because, as he explains, "in our system, constitutional legitimacy flows from the president, who was elected, through his officials."

It's official! The EPA-California greenhouse gas affair has matured into the promised knock-down-drag-out fight it showed promise to become. That's right, barely a month into it, and we've already got an assertion of executive privilege.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, we know, is no shrinking violet. He has chutzpah in deep reserve. He showed that by denying California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks over the reportedly universal objection of his staff and with sure knowledge that his move would ultimately be reversed in court. His explanation? The Bush administration already has a comprehensive policy. So California's meddling is not welcome.

Immediately after his decision, Johnson was set upon by two Californians with subpoena power: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Senate environmental committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who chairs the House oversight committee. They demanded documents -- documents that will reportedly show EPA staff advising Johnson he had to grant the waiver. But those documents have been a long time coming.

On Friday, Boxer's committee got their first batch. But... many of the pages were completely blank. The AP reports that "everything except the titles was omitted from 16 pages of a 43-page Power Point presentation" included in the documents (one of the slides reportedly reads "EPA likely to lose suit" -- I'm guessing that's one of the whited-out ones).

The reason, EPA associate administrator Christopher P. Bliley wrote, was that the "EPA has identified an important Executive Branch confidentiality interest in a number of these documents" -- code for executive privilege. Or executive privilege of a sort. Boxer and her staff could visit the EPA and see the complete unredacted documents, but they couldn't keep copies of them.

Bliley gave three reasons for invoking that privilege (you can read his letter in full here). The first is a familiar one: a supposed "chilling effect" that would result from disclosing internal deliberations "in a broad setting." But the second reason is one I haven't seen before. It deserves to be quoted in full:

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