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From Newsweek:

The Bush administration has been rebuffed in its efforts to find a high-profile candidate to fill the top White House counterterrorism post.

The failure to find a successor to Frances Fragos Townsend, who resigned last January as assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, has frustrated White House aides, given the significance the Bush administration has attached to the job....

Among those who have turned down the job—or made clear they weren't interested in replacing Townsend—are retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former chief of U.S. Central Command, and retired Adm. James Loy, former Coast Guard commandant and deputy homeland security secretary, according to three sources knowledgeable about the issue who, like others quoted in this article, asked for anonymity when discussing White House personnel moves. (Neither Abizaid nor Loy responded to requests for comment.) The sources said most of the top candidates the White House contacted expressed little interest in signing on so close to the end of President Bush's second term. "It's a friggin' embarrassment," said one source who is involved in the recruitment process. The source noted that Townsend announced her resignation last November but didn't leave the post until January—in part to give the president plenty of time to find a replacement.

From Justin at ABC:

The White House has three days to explain why it shouldn't be required to copy its computer hard drives to ensure no further e-mails are lost, a federal judge ordered Tuesday....

The order, issued Tuesday morning by a federal magistrate judge in Washington, D.C., comes in a case brought against the Bush administration by the National Security Archive, a nonpartisan group affiliated with George Washington University....

Judge Facciola rejected as "draconian" a proposal by the Archive that would have forced the White House to quarantine every computer workstation it had. Instead, Facciola proposed the White House make a "forensic copy" of all preservable data on every computer that could have been used by an employee between 2003 and 2005, the period in question....

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the White House "fully intends to comply" with the order, which is currently being reviewed.

Yesterday on TPM, Josh noted a report (sub. req.) in The Recorder, a California legal news publication, that the U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles, Thomas O'Brien, had disbanded the office's public integrity unit.

The 17 attorneys in that section of the office "will be redistributed among the major fraud and organized crime sections, which now will have a mandate to battle corruption," the Recorder reported. The office's spokesman tried to put as bright a face on it as possible, saying "Our view is that it's a significant enhancement of the public corruption unit. We now have over 70 lawyers who essentially will be able to step up to the plate."

That's clearly some weak spin. But I asked a former prosecutor from the office's public integrity unit to give me a sense of what this means.

That former prosecutor didn't think the move was "politically motivated," instead attributing the move to a desire to improve the office's statistics. U.S. attorneys frequently experience pressure to increase the number of prosecutions as evidence of performance. Remember that Justice Department officials used former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam's lower immigration case numbers as justification for her firing (ignoring her office's concentration on busting illegal immigration rings). "Public corruption cases are very difficult and very time consuming," the former prosecutor explained. "A lot of that doesn't result in a statistic."

Of course, that doesn't mean that the cases don't have a disproportionate impact. "The fact of an investigation into the earmark process [i.e. the Duke Cunningham scandal and by extension the investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)]," really had a huge impact in opening up debate of how that process has been corrupted by money. That doesn't happen if you're not looking at it every day.

"My concern is the message that it sends," the lawyer continued. "The existence of the section, the fact that talented, smart, aggressive prosecutors are looking at cases, sends a message to public officials that they need to be careful." Now another message has been sent.

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The Justice Department's review of the nation's terrorist watch list reveals that the list is incomplete, not up to date, and inaccurate. Many of the agencies that contribute information to the list, which is managed by the Terrorist Screening Center, lacked standard rules for sharing relevant data, and FBI field agents submitted names to the list without proper vetting. (LA Times)

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is now investigating alleged conflicts of interest within the scientific panels that help shape policy at the Environmental Protection Agency. Of most immediate concern is the "case of eight scientists who were consultants or members of EPA science advisory panels assessing the human health effects of toxic chemicals while getting research support from the chemical industry on the same chemicals they were examining." Meanwhile, Deborah Rice, a prominent toxicologist, was removed from an EPA panel when the The American Chemistry Council questioned her objectivity. (AP)

The U.S. government is now in the business of censoring artwork by Guantanamo Bay detainees. Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameramen for the Al-Jazeera TV network, commemorated his 431st day on hunger strike by drawing a picture that reflects the "nightmares of what I must look like, with my head double-strapped down, a tube in my nose, a black mask over my mouth, with no eyes and only giant cheek bones," but the government will not release it. Lawyers for al-Haj have hired a political cartoonist to create drawings based on al-Haj's descriptions. (USA Today)

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The administration threw everything it had at the Democrats. Statement after statement after statement on the White House lawn. TV ads, web ads. Letters from the attorney general and director of national intelligence raising the alarm about the danger the country is in. Even a TV appearance by the DNI himself to highlight the "increased danger."

And what did it get them? At the end of last week, nearly a month after the Protect America Act lapsed, the House passed a bill that does not contain retroactive immunity -- the bill even contains a provision that dispenses with the administration's main legal argument for blocking the lawsuits, the state secrets privilege.

So what now? No one on the Democratic side of the aisle seems to have bought the administration's line that the lapse of the Protect America Act is cause for concern. Wiretaps authorized by that law can go until August of this year. Wiretaps of new targets would have to be authorized under the old FISA law. But the authorities granted by the PAA are so broad (it authorizes wiretaps of entire terrorist groups) that as of two weeks after the law's lapse, no warrants of wiretaps for new targets had yet been required. That makes the administration's claim that such warrant requests will create a mountain of paperwork look pretty silly.

There seems to be a definite lack of urgency (despite the Republicans' terrifying web ad). And as the Politico reports, that lack of urgency on top of the considerable differences between the House and Senate surveillance bills -- most evidently on the issue of retroactive immunity -- means that the prospects for passing any bill through both houses appear dubious:

“I don’t know if there is a dire need to get it done tomorrow,” said one Senate Democratic aide. “Obviously we would like to see a resolution on this, but that is really hard to do when the House is voting on legislation that won’t pass the Senate and Republicans won’t even come to the table.”


Both houses are in recess for the next two weeks. And when the Senate gets back, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has planned a push on economic issues. How surveillance will fit into that agenda when the Senate likely doesn't have the 60 votes to even begin debate on the House's bill is not at all clear. And even if the Senate did pass something eventually, the distance between the House leadership and key Senate Democrats like Senate intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on the issue of immunity makes the fate of such a bill unsure.

One thing that is sure is that conservatives think they have a winner of an issue here. So either from billionaire-funded attack groups or the Republican Party committees, the ads targeting House Democrats on the issue will keep coming. So far, however, such ads have had zero impact.

If no bill does pass in the next couple months, the next flashpoint seems likely to be July, shortly before the wiretaps authorized under the Protect America Act will actually begin to lapse.* You can be sure that the administration will mount another offensive. We'll see if that one is any more successful.

*Update: This post originally said that the authorizations under the Protect America Act will lapse in August. The authorizations are good for one year, meaning that authorizations from August of 2007 will lapse that month, but later authorizations will not lapse until a full year after their initiation. Thanks to TPM Reader CR for the fix.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is not the type to back down without a fight. Or even without an unnerving display of belligerence. Remember his threat to bite another lawmaker "very much like the mink in my state that kill their own."



It seems recently that the whole world is against him. During this past weekend's state Republican convention, Young was blindsided when Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell announced that he would be running in the Republican primary. Parnell is an ally of the popular and pregnant Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who's defined herself in opposition to the old guard of Alaskan politics, namely Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the Bridge to Nowhere team.

Young was already an unhappy lawmaker before that surprise. But he's clearly determined to make his case to voters on his merits: namely, on his remarkable earmarking abilities. In his speech this past weekend (during which the above picture was taken), Young defended bringing pork home to the state, proclaiming that "there hasn't been a state community that hasn't come to me and Sen. Stevens to ask for an earmark," and: "If you don't want earmarks, then don't ask me for them."

What Young's campaign is not based on is disclosure and transparency. That was made abundantly clear during his press conference last month, during which he testily rebuffed question after question. (Strike "change," too, a word he uttered with disgust.) You can see the highlights here:



Young has refused to comment at all on why he's spent more than $850,000 on defense lawyers. Is he under investigation for his ties to Veco? to Jack Abramoff? Other areas of interest? Not telling. How many jurisdictions are you being defended in? "I have no idea." (You can see the whole session here.) A taste:

Young said his constituents have not asked him about the legal fees. It's just the media, he said.

A television reporter objected that, as an Alaskan and a voter, he was a constituent.

"Did you vote for me last time?" Young asked him.

"No sir," the reporter replied.


Young was no more forthcoming on questions about his infamous Coconut Road earmark: whether he managed to change the text of a bill after it was passed by Congress in order to benefit a major campaign contributor.

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Preparations begin for the end of the Bush administration.

From the AP:

The CIA announced Monday that it will now pay the full cost of legal liability insurance for about two-thirds of the agency workforce....

One shift is already looming: A change in administrations could make it more likely lawsuits will be filed against CIA interrogators for a controversial program approved by the Bush White House — the use of harsh interrogation techniques and the secret movement of prisoners, known as extraordinary rendition.

The insurance comes from private companies to cover legal expenses that arise out of actions undertaken in the course of a CIA officer's official duties. It is meant to cover potential litigation expenses including damages. It covers legal expenses associated only with those activities undertaken after liability insurance is taken. The reimbursement program began in 2000.

Agency Director Michael Hayden on Monday announced that he had expanded the pool of those eligible to be reimbursed for insurance to include all employees involved in covert activities, not just those involved in counterterrorism and counterproliferation.


As the president of one of the companies that provides the insurance to CIA agents and other government officials put it, "The things that help us are any negative events related to the federal government, and there have been plenty.”

Late last week, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) sat down with The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times for 90 minutes each to answer questions about all things Tony Rezko.

As a result, the Tribune's editorial board pronounced themselves satisfied:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.

The most remarkable facet of Obama's 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the three dozen Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did.


The outcome of the more combative Sun-Times interview seemed similar, so that near the end, there was this exchange:

Q: Comparing the benign-ness of the fact pattern and the trouble it's caused you, do you think you've mishandled this at all?

A: I think that running for president is a series of gauntlets you have to run. And I think that we could have - setting aside the initial mistake which I deserve some blame for, I have acknowledged publicly - I think that understanding that there would be heightened interest in me, that Rezko had been finally indicted and arrested, that there was gonna be a need for us to do this again, I think was, it probably would have been good for us to do earlier. There's no doubt about it.


The main revelation of the two interviews was that Rezko had raised about $100,000 more for Obama than the campaign had disclosed before, making it a total of approximately $250,000. The reason for the discrepancy, Obama explained, was that it was impossible to discover just what contributions Rezko had been responsible for in his state senate and run for the House in 2000. Obama estimated that Rezko helped raise between $50,000 to $60,000 in his run for the House and the remainder for his three state senate campaigns.

And about that house deal. Obama was much clearer about the timeline of how Rezko came to be involved in the deal. Remember that Rezko purchased the side yard of Obama house, raising suspicions that Rezko had helped out as a favor to Obama.

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President Bush is in no rush to make good on his 2005 promise to expedite a massive backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests. In fact, he has appointed a person to manage already low expectations and inform citizens just how long their request may take to be reviewed. The National Security Archive, a private research group at The George Washington University, says that because unanswered requests only declined from 217,000 to 212,000 over two years, "many of the same old scofflaw agencies are still shirking their responsibilities to the public." (AP)

Questions about Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson's role in his alleged efforts to punish a housing authority director for not helping a friend, remain unanswered even after a round of Senate testimony last week. Jackson refused to answer most questions about an e-mail exchange in which Jackson's assistants discussed how they could make life "less happy" for the Philadelphia Housing Authority director Carl Greene by stripping his agency of federal funds. Jackson claimed that a judge's gag order prevented him from discussing the matter but Senator Specter (R-PA) discovered that this order did not apply to congressional testimony. (Washington Post)

President Bush is the "decider," except when Stephen Johnson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is the "decider." Johnson has vehemently rejected allegations that the EPA weakened its new smog reduction standards because of orders from Bush. Though records show that Bush became personally involved, Johnson declared, "I made the decision." (AP)

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Beyond the decision to invade in the first place, it was no doubt the most disastrous decision of the war. In May of 2003, the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi Army, rendering more than 200,000 armed Iraqis angry and unemployed. This morning, The New York Times provides the most detailed account yet of how the decision went down. It's not pretty.

The original plan, concocted by the seasoned and competent Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, was to not disband the army. Only the Republican Guard would be disbanded. The reason was clear, according to a March, 2003 PowerPoint presentation given at a National Security Council meeting. Said one slide of the presentation: “Cannot immediately demobilize 250K-300K personnel and put on the street.”

Exactly whose idea it was to disband the army, no one can say. No, Paul Bremer won't take the credit for it. But Bremer and his deputy did champion the idea. And in late May, he told the president and his aides that he was going to disband the Iraqi Army the next day. The president signed off on it. But it's pretty remarkable who did not:

Colin L. Powell, the secretary of state and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was never asked for advice, and was in Paris when the May 22 meeting was held.

Mr. Powell, who views the decree as a major blunder, later asked Condoleezza Rice, who was serving as Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, for an explanation.

“I talked to Rice and said, ‘Condi, what happened?’ ” he recalled. “And her reaction was: ‘I was surprised too, but it is a decision that has been made and the president is standing behind Jerry’s decision. Jerry is the guy on the ground.’ And there was no further debate about it.”


And then there's the question of whether Bremer consulted the military command in Iraq about the decision. Funny story, that. The senior commander there at the time, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, had clearly opposed the idea of disbanding the army. And when the time came to see if he would sign off on the plan to disband the army, Bremer assigned a retired officer on his staff, Col. Greg Gardner, to check in on McKiernan. For some reason, the two sides can't seem to agree on whether McKiernan signed off:

Mr. Bremer’s headquarters was in the Green Zone in central Baghdad, while General McKiernan’s was at a base near the Baghdad airport several miles away. Colonel Gardner said that there were problems with telephone communications but that he finally reached a member of General McKiernan’s staff who told him that the general accepted the decree.

“I got the impression that Lieutenant General McKiernan was not all that keen about the course of action,” Colonel Gardner said, “but was clearly told that he did endorse the draft.” Colonel Gardner added that he could not recall the name of the staff officer he spoke with.

General McKiernan, however, asserted that he neither reviewed nor backed the decree. “I never saw that order and never concurred,” he said. “That is absolutely false.”

Lt. Gen. J. D. Thurman, who serves as the Army’s chief operations officer and was the top operations officer for General McKiernan at the time, had a similar recollection. “We did not get a chance to make a comment,” he said in an e-mail message. “Not sure they wanted to hear what we had to say.”


Bremer did apparently notify Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before the decree and says that Rumsfeld approved in a phone conversation. If that is the case, Rumsfeld doesn't seem to have thought much about it. And if you sense a pattern here, it's that those who might have thought much about it weren't consulted:

“Anyone who is experienced in the ways of Washington knows the difference between an open, transparent policy process and slamming something through the system,” said Franklin C. Miller, the senior director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, who played an important role on the National Security Council in overseeing plans for the postwar phase. “The most portentous decision of the occupation was carried out stealthily and without giving the president’s principal advisers an opportunity to consider it and give the president their views.”

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