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Is the Department of Justice going back on its word about a report on its investigation into whether crimes were committed in the U.S. Attorney firings scandal?

When prosecutor Nora Dannehy was appointed to run the probe, in the wake of another investigation by the department's Inspector General, it was reported that Dannehy was expected to provide Attorney General Michael Mukasey with a status report on her findings within around 60 days.

That timeline was confirmed by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine in testimony before Congress at the time:

REP. NADLER: Mr. Fine, it's been reported that Ms. Dannehy was appointed to special counsel, will make a preliminary report to the attorney general within the next two months. Do you know when this report will be made public?

MR. FINE: I think what it is is the status of the investigation at that point to the deputy attorney general or the attorney general to see where she is in the process.


I don't think it's sort of a formal report; I think it's more of a status report.

And it was reiterated a few weeks later in a letter from Mukasey to House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. Mukasey wrote:
As the Inspector General testified, Ms. Dannehy is expected to report on the status of the investigation to the Attorney General approximately 60 days after her appointment.

Now that 60-day deadline has come and gone. And DOJ won't confirm that any such report has been provided, instead referring us to a spokesman for Dannehy who wouldn't comment on the issue.

In other words, at first DOJ had been clear that it wanted a report submitted within 60 days. But now it won't even confirm that such a report has been submitted, or give any further information.

So is the department now going back on its requirement that Dannehy submit a report within 60 days? Is it exerting pressure to reduce the likelihood that details about Dannehy's progress -- like the fact that she's contacted Gonzales -- will slip out? What's going on?

A staffer for the House judiciary committee told TPMmuckraker that they haven't been able to get anythign out of DOJ either on whether Dannehy has submitted a report. A call to the Senate judiciary committee was not immediately returned.

We'll keep you posted as we learn more...

Politico reports:

The anonymous hold on Neil Barofsky, the Bush administration's TARP special IG, was lifted late Wednesday, according to Chuck Schumer. That clears the way for (sic) quick voice vote on his nomination.

The government watchdog group POGO had also written on their website this morning that the hold had been lifted.

Still no confirmation on whether Kentucky GOPer Jim Bunning was behind it. But we've posted his photograph anyway.

On Monday we noted a court filing made recently by defense lawyers for Mitchell Wade, the Duke Cunningham crony who's about to be sentenced in connection with his role in bribery scandal that felled the GOP congressman.

In arguing for a lenient sentence, Wade's lawyers claimed that their client had helped prosecutors' probe "at least five other members of Congress" who were under investigation for "corruption similar to that of Mr. Cunningham."

The blogger and Cunningham expert Seth Hettena named Katherine Harris, the former Florida congresswoman, and Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode as two of those members.

And now Hettena says he's identified the other three: Sen. Dan Inouye (D-HI), Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA).

Hettena told Marcus Stern, the former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter who broke much of the Duke Cunningham story and now writes for Pro Publica, that those identifications are based on "information I developed and confirmed with two sources with knowledge of the investigation."

But what does all this amount to? According to Stern, perhaps not much. He writes:

No charges have been filed against any of the five lawmakers, and there is no evidence of any current criminal investigations against any of them. Lewis, Goode, Mollohan and Harris have all come up in the case before and have all denied wrongdoing. As for Inouye, we have called his office for comment. (We'll update the post as soon as we hear back.)

Stern also give us a rundown on what we already know about the alleged involvement of all of these lawmakers:
Lewis, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had been under investigation beginning in 2006 by the Office of the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. That case, which focused on Lewis' role in helping lobbyist Bill Lowery get earmarks for his clients (including Cunningham co-conspirator Brent Wilkes), is cold without any charges being filed.

Goode and Harris both were beneficiaries of a combined $78,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Wade and helped Wade in his efforts to get multimillion-dollar military intelligence contracts through earmarks.

But prosecutors have repeatedly said there was no evidence the two lawmakers knew the contributions were illegal and they are not the targets of any current investigations. Harris left the House to pursue a quixotic and failed bid in 2006 to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. Goode is awaiting a recount in his 2008 House race, with the initial tally showing he narrowly lost.

Mollohan received $23,000 in campaign contributions and gifts to a family foundation from Wade's company, MZM Inc., and another firm that did business with MZM, Hettena wrote in his blog on Monday, adding that in October 2002, MZM gave $20,000 to Mollohan's Summit PAC. The legality of those contributions has never been challenged.

The link to Inouye, set to take over the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is less clear but appears to involve the activities of one of Wade's co-conspirators, defense contractor Brent Wilkes, according to Hettena. There are no known allegations of misconduct against Inouye in connection with the Cunningham scandal.

But don't despair, fellow scandal junkies. Stern notes that a memo filed by prosecutors in the Wade case said that Wade had provided information for a "large an important corruption investigation" unrelated to the Cunningham matter.

Worth keeping an eye on...

The Texas Ethics Commission will hold a public hearing today to review the case of state Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht. Hecht, a Republican, is accused of receiving discounted rates in 2006 from the law firm Jackson Walker when he used the company to defend him before the Commission on Judicial Conduct for promoting the Harriet Miers nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas judges are forbidden from making public political endorsements. (Houston Chronicle)

Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, a Republican, was charged Wednesday with mismanaging a college savings fund when he was state treasurer." Krolicki, who has said he will challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2010, says the indictment is politically motivated. (USAToday)

Sixteen Indiana National Guardsmen sued defense contractor KBR Inc., a former Halliburton subsidiary, Wednesday for knowingly exposing its employees to toxic chemicals. Some of the plaintiffs now have health problems related to the exposure. This is not the first time the Houston-based company's treatment of employees has come to public attention. McClatchy reported Wednesday that a KBR subcontractor appears to be violating U.S. guidelines on human trafficking, living conditions, and pay in its treatment of 1000 Asian men it employs in Iraq. (AP)

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We've told you about the Bush administration's last-ditch efforts to help political appointees burrow into career posts in the bureaucracy -- where they can quietly affect government policy for years to come.

Well it looks like we've found another example.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development told TPMmuckraker today that Darlene Williams, who was appointed by President Bush in 2005 to the post of Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, will return to a career post under the new administration.

Williams had joined the department in 2003 as General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research, before shifting over in 2005 to become General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration. Both of these are career posts. Later that year, she was appointed by Bush to the higher-ranking political job she now holds.

That's slightly different from the usual burrowing dynamic, in which presidential appointees are new to the department. But it would appear to be burrowing all the same.

This is hardly the first sign of muck at HUD under Bush. Former HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson was found in a 2006 inspector general's report to have urged staff members to favor friends of President Bush when awarding contracts. When Jackson resigned earlier this year, federal authorities were investigating whether he used his position to enrich himself and his friends.

As for Williams, she's drawn criticism from HUD workers and their union for leading a controversial office move, which is transferring members of the Policy Development and Research team into temporary cubicles while part of the office is renovated.

The Associated Press reports:

Former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Rachel K. Paulose retaliated against a top prosecutor in her office who reported her for careless handling of classified homeland security reports, a watchdog agency said Wednesday.

In announcing a whistleblower settlement between Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti and the Justice Department, the Office of Special Counsel said its investigation found that Paulose retaliated by taking steps to remove Marti as her first assistant. Marti accepted a demotion and returned to being an assistant U.S. attorney.

In a news release, OSC said: "Based on considerable evidence of intent, animus, and motive, OSC concluded that Ms. Paulose constructively demoted Mr. Marti."

Paulose had earlier been the subject of an Office of Special Counsel investigation into whether she'd discriminated against office employees, including allegedly using the words "fat," "black," "lazy" and "ass" in remarks to one employee.

Before that, Marti and three other top lawyers in Paulose's office had voluntarily demoted themselves to protest her Christian-influenced managerial style.

Since last year, Paulose has been an adviser to Attorney General Michael Mukasey at main DOJ.

Looks like we may not have heard the last of Uncle Ted.

Politico reports:

Lawyers for convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) told a federal judge today that they will soon file a motion seeking a new trial.

Stevens, who was defeated in a bid for a seventh full term, will ask Judge Emmet Sullivan to overturn his conviction on seven federal corruption counts for failing to disclose more than $250,000 in improper gifts.

Stevens' defense team raised numerous objections to the Justice Department's handling of his corruption trial, arguing that the government deliberately withheld potentially exculpatory information and witnesses during the proceedings.

A hearing is scheduled for next month in regard to claims by a witness that he was unofficially promised immunity by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, and lied about it on the stand.

Several of Stevens' Senate colleagues have recently raised the possibility of asking President Bush to pardon the octogenerian lawmaker.

Looks like our old friends at Defense Solutions are back in the news.

You remember them. They're the Pennsylvania-based defense company that retained former GOP congressman Curt Weldon -- who's currently under investigation for corruption in regard to his ties to his daughter's lobbying firm -- as a strategic advisor.

Weldon recently pushed deals on behalf of Defense Solutions between Russian and Ukrainian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments. Brokering such deals is legally murky, according to Wired magazine, because Libya and the Russian arms export agency are on U.S. blacklists.

And Defense Solutions' CEO, Tim Ringgold was accused by a Ukrainian government official of forging his name on a signed letter officiating that deal.

So we were interested to see the company make a special appearance this weekend in the long New York Times story on Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey's myriad conflicts of interest.

McCaffrey, the Times reports, was hired by Defense Solutions on June 15, 2007 to advocate for a similar arms deal. But he didn't mention that affiliation, says the Times, when he wrote a letter to General David Petraeus "strongly recommending Defense Solutions and its offer to supply Iraq with 5,000 armored vehicles from Eastern Europe. 'No other proposal is quicker, less costly, or more certain to succeed,' he said."

The paper continues:

Nor did he disclose it when he went on CNBC that same week and praised the commander Defense Solutions was now counting on for help -- "He's got the heart of a lion" -- or when he told Congress the next month that it should immediately supply Iraq with large numbers of armored vehicles and other equipment.

McCaffrey has had no luck so far getting the deal through for Defense Solutions, but they haven't given up hope yet - the Times reports that he is currently back advocating in Iraq on a trip sponsored by the Pentagon.

This morning, as we noted, the Washington Post reported that the prosecutor Nora Dannehy has met with defense lawyers and issued subpoenas, through a grand jury, in her investigation into criminal wrongdoing in connection with the US Attorney firings.

And it looks like Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney General on whose watch the firings occurred, is among the people she's contacted.

In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Bob Bork Jr., who serves as a spokesman for the ex-AG, initially said that although Gonzales' lawyer, George Terwilliger III, had reached out to Dannehy at the start of her investigation, he didn't believe that Dannehy had formally contacted Gonzales or Terwilliger in connection with the probe.

But Bork Jr. called back an hour later to say that he had been mistaken about that. "We won't be able to talk about any interactions with DOJ," he now said.

In other words, it would appear, Dannehy has contacted Gonzo and/or his lawyer.

Since DOJ released a report in July into politicized hiring at the department, there has been intense speculation that Gonzales could face perjury charges in connection to his 2007 testimony to Congress.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for Dannehy declined to comment on the progress of the investigation.

We told you last month about the under-reported role of the credit ratings agencies in helping to cause the financial crisis. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the major ratings agencies -- Moody's, Standard & Poor's, and Fitch -- are paid by the insurers (often investment banks) who are issuing the bonds. That gives the agencies a clear incentive to produce favorable ratings, or risk seeing the banks hire a different ratings agency that's willing to offer a better rating.

So it's worth noting that the Securities and Exchange Commission today adopted new rules designed to protect against that conflict of interest.

The Associated Press has the rundown on the new rules:

Among other things, the conflict-of-interest rules ban the rating agencies from advising investment banks on how to package securities to secure favorable ratings. Gifts over $25 from clients also will be prohibited.

Rating agencies will be banned from making ratings in cases where the agency made recommendations to the company issuing securities or the investment bank underwriting them concerning the corporate structure, assets or activities of the issuing company.

In addition, rating agencies will be required to disclose statistics on all their upgrades and downgrades for each asset type. They also will have to disclose how much verification they performed on the quality of complex securities, such as those underpinned by mortgages, student loans or auto loans, in determining ratings for them.

Investors will receive detailed information on the ratings process for complex securities, thereby exposing potential conflicts of interest for the agencies, SEC officials said.

The SEC commissioners also voted to propose and open to public comment other rules that would require rating agencies to disclose in interactive electronic format the ratings history information for all of their assessments that companies issuing the securities pay them to do.

But the AP adds that the rules don't go far enough for some critics of the agencies, who want "new requirements to govern how the rating agencies are paid and to provide for the suspension of their licenses if they engage in unfair practices."

The Senate investigations committee has launched a probe of the ratings agencies. And we're going to be doing our own digging, so you'll hear more on this...