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If the special-rate Countrywide loan that led to Jim Johnson's resignation from Barack Obama's VP screening team was shady, then there's a few other Washington insiders who may have some explaining to do.

A new article from Portfolio rattles off a list of top Washington officials, current and former, who also received discounted loans because they were personally approved by Countywide Financial's top exec Angelo Mozilo.

Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide's "V.I.P." program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.

Other participants in the V.I.P. program included former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and former U.N. ambassador and assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Jackson was deputy H.U.D. secretary in the Bush administration when he received the loans in 2003. Shalala, who received two loans in 2002, had by then left the Clinton administration for her current position as president of the University of Miami. She is scheduled to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 19.

The loans translate into money saved. For example, in Dodd's case, Portfolio calculates that "the lower rates save the senator about $58,000 on his Washington residence over the life of the loan, and $17,000 on the Connecticut home."

In the case of Conrad, he saved about $10,700 on a loan he took out for his $1.07 million home in Bethany Beach, Del. He also took out a loan on an investment property when he refinanced an eight-unit building he owns with his brothers in Bismarck, ND. That violated Countrywide's normal rules about only providing those loans for buildings of four units or fewer. However, "in an April 23, 2004, email, Mozilo encouraged an employee to 'make an exception due to the fact that the borrower is a senator.'"

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The other day we told you about the Russian not-for-profit group that was giving undisclosed payments to the wife of former Rep. Curt Weldon's chief of staff.

Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who lost his reelection bid in 2006, had sought federal grants for International Exchange Group, which was run by a Russian with ties to the Kremlin. IEG was involved in "promoting U.S.-Russia business exchange, including nonproliferation issues."

IEG popped up again this week. Over at Wired Sharon Weinberger, who recently co-wrote a book about nuclear weapons, pointed out another connection the group had to the U.S. government.

IEG signed a deal with the U.S. military's Missile Defense Agency back in 2004 promising to provide "Russian radar data" for use with the U.S. missile defense's early warning system.

From Wired:

But the entire structure of IEG was suspect, and smacked of conflict of interest: why should the U.S. government have to pay an openly Kremlin-linked nonprofit in order to ensure government cooperation?

It didn't pass the smell test with upper-level decision makers at the Pentagon, who halted the 2004 deal at the last minute.

Weldon's connection here is unclear. But he has promoted the Russian group and he's also a longtime supporter for the Defense Missile Agency.

Weldon has been under federal investigation for a couple of years concerning his actions on behalf of a natural-gas company, Itera International Energy LLC, which has longstanding connections to alleged Russian organized-crime figures. Weldon just dumped his last $80,000 in campaign money into his legal defense fund.

And the Wall Street Journal reported this week, the probe of Weldon may be "a broader U.S. Justice Department probe into what officials suspect are efforts by Russian-backed firms to gain influence or gather information in Washington."

Now it's official. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted this morning to formalize the draft report that detailed convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence peddling at the White House.

From the AP:

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay have rights under the Constitution to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

The justices handed the Bush administration its third setback at the high court since 2004 over its treatment of prisoners who are being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The vote was 5-4, with the court's liberal justices in the majority.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times."

Late Update: The court did not say that the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay should be released.

It did, however, say that they can take their individual cases -- or petitions of habeas corpus -- into federal court.

Plain, old federal court. So you can expect to see a sudden, steady stream of accused terrorists in orange jumpsuits appearing alongside drug dealers and kiddie-porn downloaders.

The ruling could resurrect many detainee lawsuits that federal judges put on hold pending the outcome of the high court case. The decision sent judges, law clerks and court administrators scrambling to read Kennedy's 70-page opinion and figure out how to proceed. Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth said he would call a special meeting of federal judges to address how to handle the cases.

Is this the end of secret prisons?

In another case of the CIA plucking a citizen from a foreign country based on suspicion, officials from Italy, Germany, Spain and Switzerland all cooperated in the effort to kidnap Egyptian cleric and terrorism suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in 2003. Nasr was released from an Egyptian prison in 2007, claiming he was tortured while there. (Associated Press)

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have introduced legislation that would tighten laws on lobbyists that work for foreign-owned companies, requiring lobbying operations to disclose more aspects of those relationships than current law demands. The proposed review of foreign influence on American lobbying comes during an election season in which Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has come under scrutiny for employing several individuals on his campaign staff that have track records of foreign lobbying. (New York Times)

A senior British intelligence agent left top secret documents containing information on al Qaeda on a train, officials said Wednesday. The file was retrieved and given to the BBC. This comes after the loss of a laptop containing data on 600,000 recruits by Britain's Ministry of Defence, prompting critics to hurl charges of lax security at Prime Minister Gordon Brown. (Reuters)

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Does liking porn disqualify a judge from hearing a porn case?

Maybe so, in the case of Judge Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Kozinski -- who is just one rung below the U.S. Supreme Court -- yesterday delayed the obscenity trial he was presiding over of Hollywood adult filmmaker Ira Isaacs, whose work includes scenes of bestiality and defecation. (Although Kozinski is an appeals court judge, he was sitting as the trial judge in this case.)

The Los Angles Times found the judge had a Web site with some pretty freakish scenes of his own, which he was sharing with friends and family.

Among the images on the site were a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. He defended some of the adult content as "funny" but conceded that other postings were inappropriate.

Kozinski, 57, said that he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public, although he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends.

When a reporter from the Times asked the judge about the images, "the judge said he didn't think any of the material on his site would qualify as obscene."

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he said. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

He has since taken the site down.

Kozinski, appointed by President Regean in 1985, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. He is considered a judicial conservative on most issues.

When it comes to matters of porn and computer privacy, Kozinski is no hypocrite.

In September 2001, Kozinski was a fierce opponent of any effort by Washington bureaucrats to monitor his computer, prompting Leonidas Ralph Mecham, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, to remark to the New York Times that "Kozinski had shown 'great interest in keeping pornography available to judges,' especially of what Mr. Mecham called 'the more homosexual and exotic varieties.'"

Judge Kozinski said Mr. Mecham's comment about ''homosexual'' Web sites appeared to refer to an incident in 1998 when one of his law clerks downloaded a Web site for a San Francisco gay bookstore and the Administrative Office complained. ''I don't think we need bureaucrats in Washington looking over our shoulders for this kind of thing,'' Judge Kozinski said.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco has a long tradition of being the country's most liberal. It's backed medical marijuana and struck the words "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

So the feds are not only looking into former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), but also his ex-wife?

That's sure how it looks, since they subpoenaed files about Sweeney and the fundraising firm run by his wife, Gayle Ford Sweeney - who was married to the upstate New York Republican until shortly after he left office in 2006.

As speculation mounts that John Sweeney is the latest target in Jack Abramoff's lobbying ring, the New York Times noted that Abramoff investigators have found a pattern of money funneled to Congressional spouses.

Take Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). The FBI raided his house last year and he's opting not to run for reelection. Doolittle's wife, Julie, was running a one-person company that got large payments from campaign funds and PACs run by Doolittle. In addition, Abramoff's firm paid Doolittle's wife, Julie, $67,600 to plan an event that was ultimately canceled.

Or look at Tom Delay, the former Rep. from Texas. His wife was running a group called the Delay Foundation for Kids. It's donors? Well, whaddya know. They were a diverse set of special interest who appeared to be seeking favors from Tom Delay.

Sweeney's wife was campaign and fundraising consultant who got a cut of the money raised for her husband.

She was also taking a salary from Sweeney's friend and lobbyist Bill Powers's firm. And she left Sweeney just a few months after voters kicked him out of office.

We'll be interested in hear what the feds find in all that paperwork.

The Jack Abramoff investigation is a gift that keeps on giving.

Nearly three years after the feds flipped the corrupt Washington lobbyist, we've learned just today that former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) may be the next lawmaker in the cross hairs of the feds' ongoing investigation.

Sweeney's ties to Abramoff over the years may have been overshadowed by Sweeney's more colorful scandals that repeatedly involved booze and women half his age.

In 2001, Sweeney was among a handful of lawmakers who took a trip to the Northern Marianas -- Abramoff's infamous client -- and failed to disclose that the trip was privately funded. While there he parroted Abramoff's favorite line -- that reports of sweatshops there were overblown.

In March 2006, DOJ investigators pulled some of Sweeney's financial records from the House clerk and reviewed them along with a handful of others linked to Abramoff.

Back then, when records showed Sweeney had taken $2,000 from Abramoff's firm, he gave that money away to a local hospital to publicly cleanse himself of ties to the convicted felon.

With the latest news that the feds have raided the firm of Sweeney's political mentor, Bill Powers, has the Abramoff investigation zeroed in on Sweeney? The New York Times suggested as much today, but it cited no source for that proposition. So it's not immediately clear what the connection is between Sweeney and Powers and Abramoff. Powers was a chairman of the state GOP throughout the 1990s, and Sweeney was one of his executive directors before being elected to Congress. The New York papers are reporting Sweeney may have steered big federal grants to Powers' clients while Sweeney was still in Congress.

By the way, Sweeney's then wife (now ex-wife) went to work for Powers' firm a few years after he was elected to Congress, and left the firm shortly after he lost his reelection bid. More on that shortly.

Success in Iraq is critical to U.S. national interests, which is why we've insisted on sending our best and brightest civilians there: loyal Republicans, young GOP political operatives, and in the case of Owen Cargol, a man who fancies himself "a rub-your-belly, grab-your-balls, give-you-a-hug, slap-your-back, pull-your-dick, squeeze-your-hand, cheek-your-face, and pat-your-thigh kind of guy."

As Inside Higher Ed reports today, Cargol resigned back in April as the first chancellor of the American University in Iraq, apparently for health reasons, but he'd been forced out of a previous position as president of Northern Arizona University after just four months for allegedly sexually harassing a NAU employee:

Cargol's 2001 resignation stemmed from allegations made by a Northern Arizona employee who alleged that Cargol, while naked in a locker room, grabbed the employee's genitals, the Arizona Republic reported. In a subsequent e-mail to the employee, Cargol described himself as "a rub-your-belly, grab-your-balls, give-you-a-hug, slap-your-back, pull-your-dick, squeeze-your-hand, cheek-your-face, and pat-your-thigh kind of guy."

The American University in Iraq, located in Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish-controlled north, was heralded as a progressive step towards democratization. It selected Cargol as its first chancellor in 2007, though why is unclear since, as Inside Higher Ed notes, his "checkered past. . . could have been revealed to university organizers in a simple Google search."

AU-I is a private, non-profit institution, but it was started with $10.5 million from the U.S. government and its board --which hired Cargol -- is stacked with prominent names:

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is chairman of the Board of Regents; and Barham Salih, Iraq's deputy prime minister, is president of the Board of Trustees. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a counselor to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, sits on the board. So too does Fouad Ajami, head of Middle Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Agresto, the new interim chancellor, brings his own bona fides. As detailed in Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Agresto has close connections to Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, with whom Agresto served during a stint at the National Endowment for the Humanities. A self-described neoconservative who was "mugged by reality" in Iraq, Agresto "knew next to nothing about Iraq's educational system" when he arrived with orders to rebuild it, The Washington Post reported.

How Agresto and his colleagues came to select Cargol to head AU-Iraq is unclear, but Cargol's decision to reinvent himself as an administrator in the Middle East preceded his work in Iraq. Before he took the chancellor's post, Cargol was provost of Abu Dhabi University, a private institution in the United Arab Emirates.

We've enjoyed cataloging the dubious record of former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY).

Maybe he's best known for helping to instigate the "Brooks Brothers Riot" with other Republicans during the Florida recount in December 2000.

Yet at home in upstate New York, he has also been accused of beating his wife, getting conspicuously drunk with college kids, drunk driving and taking free trips from Jack Abramoff.

Now he may be getting roped directly into the Jack Abramoff investigation, as the feds are looking into whether he steered a series of grants to his longtime friend and lobbyist Bill Powers, an elder statesmen of the New York State GOP.

The New York Times reports:

Federal law enforcement agents have raided the offices of an influential lobbying firm in Albany as part of the latest investigation connected to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal in Washington.

The Times provides no source for the Abramoff link. Other reports do not explicity tie in the raid with Abramoff, but note the DOJ investigation is run from Washington rather than Albany.

From the Albany Times Union
A federal criminal investigation is focusing on the relationship of lobbyist William D. Powers and former U.S. Rep. John E. Sweeney in connection with a series of federal grants that were steered to Powers' clients, according to several people familiar with the probe. ...

Several people familiar with the case said it is centered on a period when Powers' clients received the earmarks while Sweeney's then-wife, Gayle, was working for Powers' Albany-based lobbying firm.

The FBI swarmed the Albany office of the lobbying firm run by Powers, a former head of the New York Republican Party and longtime patron to both Sweeney and former New York Gov. George Pataki.

Double-parking their cars, about 15 agents descended on the State Street suite of the former party official, William Powers, and herded the employees into a room while the agents searched for files.

Sweeney appears to be getting most of the investigators' attention. The New York Daily News reports:

The agents issued grand jury subpoenas for records about the firm; ex-Republican Rep. John Sweeney; Sweeney's campaign committee and leadership PAC; Sweeney's ex-wife, Gayle, who worked for Powers; and Gayle Sweeney's former fund-raising firm, Creative Consulting. The Daily News obtained copies of the subpoenas and the FBI confirmed being at the offices.

Abramoff is set for sentencing in September. Does this suggest that three-year-old investigation still has legs?