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A federal judge in Texas is facing new charges related to a second alleged incident of sexual abuse.

District Judge Samuel Kent pleaded not guilty in Houston today to federal charges that he sexually abused a female employee and lied to investigators about it, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Kent is accused of forcing an unnamed female employee, in the words of the Chronicle, sourcing the indictment, "to repeatedly 'engage in a sexual act,' including oral sex and using his hands to 'penetrate or attempt to penetrate' her", during 2004.

There's also an alleged coverup. The paper reports that, according to the indictment, Kent falsely told a special investigative committee that "the extent of his unwanted sexual contact with Person B was one kiss and that when told by Person B his advances were unwelcome no further contact occurred."

Kent is already the first ever federal judge to be charged with a federal sex crime. He faces a trial this month on charges that he allegedly abused his former case manager -- a relationship that the married justice's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, has described as "enthusiastically consensual."

According to the Chronicle, that woman...

...alleged that the judge physically touched her under her clothing twice and often made obscene suggestions during the six years she worked for him. He is charged with abusing McBroom in 2003 and 2007 by fondling her breast and other body parts and by trying to force her head toward his groin.

Kent was the only federal judge in Galveston, Texas, when all the incidents are alleged to have occurred. He has since been transferred to Houston, where he remains on the federal bench.

Another interesting note: DeGuerin, Kemp's lawyer, is a heavy hitter in Texas legal circles who has also represented Tom DeLay -- the former Majority Leader who was indicted in 2005 on charges that he conspired to break Texas election laws -- and Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh.

The bad blood between Senate Judiciary chair Pat Leahy, and ranking Republican Arlen Specter, over Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, shows no signs of abating.

Yesterday, Specter pointedly questioned Holder's record of independence, even comparing Holder to Alberto Gonzales -- a low blow by any measure.

Leahy, who supports Holder's confirmation, seems to have taken exception. His office today released the following statement in his name -- which tries to turn the Gonzo precedent back on Specter:

We need the new Attorney General to be a person of experience and independence. Eric Holder's long record of public service has earned him strong support from law enforcement organizations, civil rights groups, victims' rights advocates, former Reagan and Bush administration officials, and others. Any effort to question his character is unfounded. Every Republican voted for Alberto Gonzales, and felt his character merited confirmation. Certainly Eric Holder greatly exceeds that test.

Oh snap.

For weeks, Leahy and Specter have been bickering over the nomination. Specter prevailed on his opposite number to delay the confirmation hearings, citing a need to look more closely at Holder's record, in particular his role in the pardon of Marc Rich

Former senator Ted Stevens (yes, now actually former) is keeping up the fight against his guilty verdict -- and now Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid has lent him a hand.

Reid told Politico that he believes Stevens shouldn't serve jail time.

My personal feeling, you guys, I don't know what good that [would do]... He was a real war hero too, you know. He's been punished enough.

Reid said he thinks Stevens was simply behind the curve of modern ethics standards in not disclosing the $250,000 in gifts he received from VECO CEO Bill Allen, saying of the famously internet-unsavvy Uncle Ted that "it's a different world we live in, and Stevens did not understand that."

Sentencing for Stevens had tentatively been scheduled for next month, but it's unlikely that he'll be sentenced any time soon. Last month, lawyers for Stevens asked for a new trial, claiming that the prosecution had presented false evidence and withheld information that could have helped the defense.

Last week, we looked at the process by which the New York Federal Reserve selected four investment firms to manage its program to purchase $500 billion of mortgage-backed securities, in order to bolster the housing market.

Or at least, we tried to.

A fact sheet on the website of the New York Fed, announcing the details of the program stated that "a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process was employed" to select the four firms -- Blackrock Inc., Goldman Sachs, Wellington Management, and PIMCO. A Fed spokesman declined last week to give TPMmuckraker any information about the value of the contracts or the nature of the firms' successful bids. But he did tell us that he expected to be able to provide us with a copy of the RFP, after it had been inspected by Fed lawyers.

But now things seem to have changed. The spokesman hasn't responded to our followup calls, placed this week, about the RFP. In other words, not only will the Fed not tell us how much its paying the firms to manage our money, it won't even release the document it used to solicit bids for the contract.

As for the firms themselves, they've been just as tight-lipped. As we noted at the time, the first three referred us to the Fed, and PIMCO didn't return our calls at all.

To be clear, there's no evidence that these firms were improperly selected -- though the fact that PIMCO's founder was, as we've reported, loudly calling back in September for the government to launch just such an MBS purchase program does create some interesting optics, at the least.

But don't taxpayers have a right to know some basic details about the process by which these private investment firms -- at least one already the recipient of massive government largesse -- were hired to manage our money? We think so...

Defense lawyers for former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick asked the Wayne County Prosecutor to destroy thousands of text messages between himself and an aide, with whom he was having an affair, from the case that had not yet been released to the public, according to prosecutor Kym Worthy. This revelation comes a day after the former aide to Kilpatrick was sentenced to 120 days in jail for obstruction of justice. Christine Beatty and Kilpatrick lied under oath about their relationship during a 2007 civil suit. Beatty will also pay a $100,000 fine and will not be able to attend law school during her five year probation. (Detroit Free Press, Associated Press)

A report by the New York Times finds that a coal ash dump which ruptured in Tennessee in December is only one of 1,300 such dumps in the nation that are not subject to any regulation. Meanwhile, an engineer working with a federal regulator claims that the Tennessee Valley Authority ignored two leaks at the site of last month's spill, warning signs that could have provided years of notice. Coal ash dumps are well known to contain high levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury. (New York Times, Associated Press)

The Bush administration has passed new midnight regulations to weaken environmental protections. The most recent rules allow industries not listed under the Clean Air Act to ignore "fugitive emissions," usually counted towards emissions totals; greater use of an off-label antibiotic in animals that could diminish the drug's efficacy in humans; and remove the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. (ProPublica)

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Bloomberg advances the ball a bit on the progress of the federal investigation in New Mexico into CDR Financial Products, which derailed Bill Richardson's bid to be Commerce Secretary.

It sounds like the probe is focusing on Richardson's former top aide. Reports Bloomberg:

A witness who testified before a federal grand jury in Albuquerque last month said he was asked if David Contarino, the former chief of staff, ordered New Mexico Finance Authority officials to hire Beverly Hills, California-based CDR Financial Products Inc. Another person familiar with the investigation said Contarino, 47, is a subject of the inquiry and that prosecutors are looking at whether he solicited contributions from firms that worked on finance authority bond deals.

Contarino, who managed Richardson's presidential run last year, released the following statement:
As chief of staff and co-chairman of the Governor's Finance Council, it was my job to be involved in GRIP and many of the administration's economic and financial initiatives," Contarino said in an e-mail statement. "In all of my actions, I acted appropriately and I am confident that the investigation will bear out that fact.

Bloomberg also raises preliminary questions about another Richardson aide:
Michael Stratton, a senior political adviser to Richardson, lobbied the authority on CDR's behalf, [Finance Authority CEO Bill] Sisneros said.

Stratton was also paid $269,000 by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 2003 and 2004 to help win public finance business in New Mexico, according to Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board records. JPMorgan served as lead underwriter on about $1 billion of transportation bond deals for Richardson's transportation program.

And Bloomberg adds additional detail about how CDR got one of the contracts under issue in the first place. In a nutshell, after CDR's 2003 bid received the second top score, the then-chief financial officer of the finance agency recommended splitting the job between the top two candidates.
Six companies answered the request, which contained two questions out of 39 items related to experience with interest- rate swaps and guaranteed investment contracts. A joint venture of the New York companies Salomon Smith Barney Inc., a unit of Citigroup Inc., and Ryan Labs Inc. received the top score of 99 percent. CDR had the second-highest score of 97 percent, authority records show.

Rather than select the Smith Barney/Ryan Labs team as both investment and swap adviser, the authority's then-Chief Financial Officer, Keith Mellor, recommended splitting the job. The agency gave the swap adviser assignment to CDR, which received the same score as the Smith Barney/Ryan Labs team on the swap section of the proposals, authority records show.

Brent Wilkes, the former defense contractor who's serving a jail sentence for bribing former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, is expected to leave prison today, reports the San Diego-area North County Times .

Says the paper:

On Monday, a federal judge signed the order allowing Wilkes to leave prison on bail while he appeals his conviction for the bribery of the ex-North County Republican lawmaker. As of this morning, however, the 54-year-old remained behind bars at Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in Los Angeles County.

This has been in the works for a while. Back in March, an appeals court ruled, in the words of the North County Times, "that his appeal raises such a substantial question of law or fact that it could lead the appeals court to overturn his conviction, force a new trial or order a punishment that would include no jail time."

As a result, the court ruled that Wilkes could leave jail while conducting his appeal -- as long as he could make bail.

For a while, he couldn't. Wilkes' properties depreciated in value thanks to the housing slump, which hit southern California hard. But on Monday, a judge ruled that properties' value was enough to ensure that he would show up for future hearings, and that he doesn't pose a flight risk.

His lawyer said in an email to the paper that she hopes Wilkes will be home with his family by tonight.

Wilkes is currently serving 12 years in federal prison for bribery, conspiracy, fraud, and wiretapping. Prosecutors argued he bribed Cunningham with prostitutes and lavish vacations, among other items of value.

It doesn't get harsher than that.

In a floor speech today, Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary committee, suggested that Eric Holder, Barack Obama's nominee for Attorney General, might follow in the footsteps of ... Alberto Gonzales!

The Washington Independent reports that Specter cited several of the attacks that we've heard from GOPers since Holder's nomination was announced -- including the Al Gore "campaign finance violations" of 1996, the Elian Gonzalez case, and the last-minute pardon of Marc Rich.

Then Specter really hit below the belt, declaring:

After our recent experience with Attorney General Gonzales, it is imperative that the Attorney General undertake and effectuate that responsibility of independence. Mr. Gonzales left office accused of politicizing the Justice Department, failing to restrain Executive overreaching, and being less than forthcoming with Congress ... I am convinced that many of Attorney General Gonzales' missteps were caused by his eagerness to please the White House. Similarly, when Mr. Holder was serving as DAG to President Clinton, some of his actions raised concerns about his ability to maintain his independence from the president.

Specter concluded:
I am prepared to give Mr. Holder a full opportunity to explain his past actions and convince the Committee and the Senate that his record warrants confirmation.

As we noted last month, Specter has already tried to throw a hitch into the Holder nomination, ultimately prevailing on Judiciary chair Pat Leahy to postpone Holder's confirmation hearings, citing the need to scrutinize Holder's record -- particularly on the Rich pardon -- more closely.

But comparing Holder to Gonzales surely goes too far.

Brian Hudson, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency was not contacted by anyone in the office of governor Ed Rendell in regard to the 2003 no-bid contract awarded by the agency to CDR Financial Products, Hudson told TPMmuckraker moments ago.

Hudson said that at that time, only two firms had the technical expertise to do the bond-swap advisory work the agency sought, and that CDR Financial was selected over a rival, Swap Advisors, simply because its appeared to "bring more to the table."

Hudson added he had been pleased with the company's work, saying that CDR had saved the PHFA $2-3 million, and that the agency had renewed its contract with the firm each year, and continues to employ it.

But he allowed that he was troubled by the allegations against CDR, and would reconsider the agency's ongoing relationship with the firm when its contract came up for renewal in March.

Hudson added that he had never heard of Alan Kessler, the Rendell fundraiser who records show, has lobbied for CDR.

As we noted earlier, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell has received at least $35,000 in contributions from CDR founder David Rubin. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who also received money from Rubin, this weekend withdrew his nomination to be Commerce Secretary citing a federal probe into the company's contracts with his state.

Earlier today we noted Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell's ties to CDR Financial Products, the firm that derailed Bill Richardson's bid to be Commerce Secretary. Now we've found another Rendell-CDR link.

State lobbying disclosure records from 2006 show that CDR was represented by Alan Kessler of the Philadelphia law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen. Kessler is also the chair of the USPS board of governors.

Philadelphia magazine describes Kessler as a "big fundraiser" for Rendell. And his Wolf Block bio shows he's held a string of prime patronage posts in government and Democratic politics.

From the bio:

Kessler was appointed by Governor Rendell as Finance Chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

Kessler also served, according to the site, as co-chair of Rendell's two transitions, the first after Rendell was elected mayor of Philadelphia in 1992, and the second after he was elected Pennsylvania governor in 2002.

And Kessler is said to have served as finance vice chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which Rendell chaired from 1999 to 2001.

Kessler did not immediately respond to a phone call and email from TPMmuckraker requesting comment.

As we noted earlier, CDR obtained a no-bid financial contract from a state agency, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), in 2003. And its founder David Rubin has contributed $35,000 to Rendell.

Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Rendell told TPMmuckraker: "The governor took no action on behalf of CDR."

Ardo added that the 2003 contract was given by PHFA, and that the governor had no role in selecting CDR -- the same thing he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review which first reported the existence of the contract this morning.

Brian Hudson, the PHFA's executive director, told the Tribune-Review that he made the decision to select CDR, and that he wasn't contacted by anyone from the governor's office.

Hudson did not immediately respond to a phone call from TPMmuckraker.