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On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias celebrated the imminent closing arguments tomorrow. "This is truly not only a historic recount and election contest in its size and the long period of time that it's gone on, but also in its thoroughness," said Elias. "And the people of Minnesota and all the people of the United States can take a great deal of confidence and pride in the process that has gone on for the last nearly five months."

I asked about the intriguing possibility raised to me by Professor David Schultz of Hamline University -- that the Franken camp could potentially use the loser-pays provision of the election-contest law to stop any appeal from Coleman, by forcing his campaign committee to come up with millions of dollars to be placed in escrow to cover Franken's attorney's fees before any appeals continue.

"You know I've gotten a number of questions over the course of the last five weeks about the cost-shifting provision of the law," said Elias. "And in honesty I'll give you the same answer now I've given before, which is I have not spent really any time looking at it. I will now have a chance, now that the evidence is closed, to now look to the next step in this, which would be what happens post-decision by the court. But I will take a look at that and probably be in a better position to answer that in the next few days."

It seems that the mystery of the holds on two of President Obama's senior science advisers has been solved.

All attempts to delay John Holdren, nominated to lead the White House science and technology office, and Jane Lubchenco, nominated to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, were lifted this afternoon after a closed-door meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee, according to Greenwire.

Why the Commerce panel needed to vote on Holdren and Lubchenco again after affirming them once last month remains unknown, as do the identities of the holders whom we've been working to unmask.

Greenwire reports that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), the senior GOPer on Commerce, pointed a finger at Democrats for slowing the nominees to win concessions on other issues. Hutchison told me earlier this week that she was unaware of any objections -- we'll let you know more as soon as we know.

Late Update: Here's why the committee had to meet again this afternoon ... CQ's original report that stated Holdren & Lubchenco were "approved" last month was incorrect. The nominees were actually "discharged," which in Senate parlance means that they were quickly cleared without the panel voting.

That seems to have made the duo a magnet for senatorial objections -- the source of which remains murky, even to folks in the Senate. Now that the committee has met again to give the official stamp of approval to Holdren & Lubchenco, however, they can be moved towards unanimous approval without further shenanigans.

Tomorrow is going to be a big day in the Minnesota trial: Closing arguments, which will then bring this whole phase of the court proceedings to an end, pending a ruling and subsequent appeals. And what happens next could be very long -- or not.

Lead attorney Joe Friedberg will do the closer for the former Republican Senator, and Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton will be delivering closing arguments for his side.

So what happens next? Hamline University professor David Schultz tells TPM that he now expects the court to probably rule at some point in the first week of April, with a declaration that Al Franken is the winner. From there, this goes into an appeals process at the state Supreme Court that could take perhaps two months -- and then there are the federal courts. So this could take from anywhere between early April, assuming no appeals, to all the way through Labor Day, with June as the ballpark middle figure.

"The lakes'll be fully melted before we have a U.S. Senator -- which is the opposite of when Hell freezes over," said Schultz. "Maybe when Hell thaws out, something like that."

On the other hand, Schultz poses a very interesting scenario, one that could bring the entire appeals process to a crashing halt and force the granting of a certificate of election.

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This doesn't look good....

The New York Times reports that last September, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) set up a meeting with Treasury Department bank regulators for several minority-owned banks, including OneUnited, one of the nation's largest black-owned banks. At the meeting, OneUnited's CEO, Kevin Cohee, bluntly asked the officials for $50 million in bailout money.

But what Waters didn't disclose was that her husband, Stanley Williams, had served on the bank's board of directors until early 2008, and has owned at least $250,000 in stock in the bank. Treasury learned that fact only later.

One official told the Times:

"It angers me. You got to know you have to be careful when you are dealing with people who you have personal relations with.


In the end, OneUnited didn't get that $50 million, but it did get $12 million in TARP funds, becoming the first minority owned bank to cash in through the program.

This is hardly the first allegation against OneUnited. Adds the Times:
[I]t had been harshly criticized by regulators in 2007 for failing to give a sufficient number of loans to lower income residents in Miami, while favoring wealthier customers there.


And:
[T]he F.D.I.C. sanctioned the institution in October 2008 for "unsafe or unsound banking practices," including excessive compensation for Mr. Cohee. The bank had provided him with a 2008 Porsche SUV and maintained his $6.4 million beachfront compound in Santa Monica. Calif., with views of the Pacific and a spa and pool.


For his part, Cohee suggested to the Times that race is at the heart of the issue. "This is where the race issue comes in," he said.

The Wall Street Journal detailed some of the ties between Waters, who sits on the House Financial Services committee, and OneUnited, in a report (sub. req.) published earlier today.

Oe of our favorite wide-ranging probes, the one into corruption in Alaska state government, grinds relentlessly on.

The Justice Department just announced that Beverly Masek, a former member of the state House of Representatives, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit bribery, in connection with cash payments she received from oil-services contractor Bil Allen, in exchange for using her position to take actions that benefited Allen's company.

Masek faces a maximum of five years in prison, and is due to be sentenced in May.

The wide-ranging probe, of course, has already netted Ted Stevens -- the Republican former U.S. senator, who was convicted last fall of making false statement on his Senate disclosure forms in connection to gifts he received from Allen. -- as well as several Alaska state lawmakers in addition to Masek.

In an interview with TPM just now, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was sharply critical of Michael Steele comments in the GQ interview, elaborating on his statement today that Steele had assured him earlier this week that he would uphold the party platform.

"Well, I mean he said as party chairman he would be upholding the party platform. The interview he did with GQ was done from the chairman's office," said Perkins. "And if in fact his personal views are subordinate to the party platform, the evidence is pretty thin that that's the case. In every interview I've seen, I've heard him talk about his personal views, and have yet to hear him talk about the party platform."

I asked Perkins if he felt misled -- that Steele had told him he would uphold the party platform, when in fact Steele had done an interview two weeks earlier that had yet to be published, in which he made apparently pro-choice statements. "I understand the time difference here," said Perkins. "But I don't think the time difference is important."

I asked Perkins if he'd seen Ken Blackwell's statement that Steele should "get to work -- or get out of the way." Perkins had indeed seen it, but declined to say if he agreed that Steele should shape up or resign. "That's a party function, that's up to members of the Republican Party to have to decide. My only interest is, those are policy issues that we work on at the Family Research Council," Perkins explained. "What the Republican Party does is their interest, but you have mixed signals sent because the party has said this is where we stand on the issues, and you have a leader of the party saying something different."

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If you were looking for watchdogs to ensure that the $790 billion economic stimulus law is put to work for the taxpayers, who would you choose? Earl Devaney, the former inspector general who's now the presidential stimulus watchdog? Elizabeth Warren, the much-praised monitor of the financial bailout?

How about the same GOPers who fought the stimulus tooth and nail?

Hmmm, might it be a bit counter-productive to put the stimulus' leading partisan critics in charge of its implementation? Not to the Republicans. At a press conference today, they announced their intentions to become guardians of the economic recovery effort.

The House and Senate GOP plan to hold hearings "of our own" and talk with state officials to make sure the stimulus is on the right track, Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN) told reporters:

So while most of us did not support spending the $1 trillion of taxpayer money because we didn't think it was targeted, timely, and temporary as Speaker Pelosi said stimulus bills should be, we absolutely intend to spend our time over the next two years to make sure it's spent as wisely as possible to help the American taxpayer.


This effort would seem to pose a potential conflict with the official stimulus monitoring being performed by the Obama administration.

Not to mention the logical question that it raises: If we take Republicans at their word, assuming they opposed the stimulus because they didn't think the spending would work ... why are they now forming an organized panel to ensure that it works?

Here's the full text of Bernad Madoff's statement made in court this morning, in which he admitted his crimes and described them in detail.

Madoff pleaded guilty to all 11 counts on which he was charged, in connection to a multi-billion dollar financial fraud.

Senate Democrats are facing a stark choice on climate change and energy this year, as I reported on Monday. The House looks poised to move ahead with one piece of legislation that strengthens clean-energy standards while tackling climate change, both issues under the jurisdiction of Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) Energy and Commerce Committee.

The question facing the Senate, then, is whether they follow suit and shoot the moon with one bill, not two, on energy and climate change. Could trying to solve two problems at once help sway some of the swing votes on both issues?

One of those swing votes, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), made her feelings known today -- and she things the one-bill approach is a bad idea. Here's how Stabenow put it to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during today's Budget Committee hearing:

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Franken attorney David Lillehaug just announced in court that Team Franken is done with its witnesses, and subject to some pending submissions of evidence from the Coleman side, "I am honored to say that contestee Al Franken rests his case."

The Franken legal team took only a week and a half to makes its case, after having also covered a lot of ground during Coleman's five weeks at bat.

The Franken legal team brought in a few more rejected absentee voters today, to testify about their circumstances. They also lodged objections to attempts by Team Coleman to introduce new evidence relating to voters they want to advocate for in the rebuttal phase, with the Franken lawyers saying that Coleman can only rebut Franken's arguments -- he cannot reopen his own case and fill in the remaining gaps. Judgments from the court are still pending on these objections.

They also questioned Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson about a precinct where nine ballots were randomly removed on Election Night after they had a surplus compared to the number of people on the roster. (Professor David Schultz of Hamline University tells me this practice is not inconsistent with state law, and is commonly used in this situation.) There were another five ballots also missing during the recount -- apparently all of them for Franken -- with a net loss of seven votes for Franken in a precinct that Norm Coleman had won to begin with.

Also, further progress was made in the separate petition from 61 Franken voters to have their ballots counted. Attorney Charlie Nauen, who has already obtained permission for 35 previously-rejected absentee ballots to be counted in motions for summary judgment, brought in a handful of witnesses who still had outstanding disputes of fact.

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