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From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Sen. Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) legal team filed a brief Tuesday in the Minnesota Court of Appeals seeking to overturn a lower court’s ruling preventing him from withdrawing his guilty plea.

The brief argues that the Hennepin County district court “abused its discretion” by refusing to allow Craig to withdraw his guilty plea in a ruling on Oct. 4. Craig filed a notice of appeal on Oct. 15 and briefs were due on Jan. 8.

The state now has 45 days to respond.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Alarmed at the increasingly populist tone of the 2008 political campaign, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is set to issue a fiery promise to spend millions of dollars to defeat candidates deemed to be anti-business.

"We plan to build a grass-roots business organization so strong that when it bites you in the butt, you bleed," chamber President Tom Donohue said....

Although Donohue shied away from precise figures, he indicated that his organization would spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it spent in the last presidential cycle. That approaches the spending levels planned by the largest labor unions....

"I'm concerned about anti-corporate and populist rhetoric from candidates for the presidency, members of Congress and the media," he said. "It suggests to us that we have to demonstrate who it is in this society that creates jobs, wealth and benefits -- and who it is that eats them."

Here's President Bush today when he was asked about Sunday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz, where, according to U.S. officials, a small group of Iranian speedboats issued threats to American ships and then fled just as the Americans were about to open fire:



I'm not sure what happened to the talking points on this one, because all Bush could bring himself to say was that it was "a provocative act," and (after several more seconds of silence) "they should not have done it." Hardly what you'd expect given the show they put on last year.

Back in November, The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage reported on how the Bush administration had stacked the U.S. Civil Rights Commission with Republicans -- two GOP commissioners had switched their registration to independents after being appointed, clearing the way for the administration to appoint two more Republicans. The scheme was entirely legal, the administration said, and the Justice Department, in a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel, had said so. But now a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has found the OLC memo "problematic" and says that if someone were to challenge the arrangement in court, the administration would probably lose.

You can read the report, which was prepared at the request of counsels on the Senate Judiciary Committee staff, here.

The commission was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and is supposed to serve as a watchdog for discrimination. But there hasn't been much of that during this administration. Savage reported that the coup shifted "the commission's emphasis from investigating claims of civil rights violations to questioning programs designed to offset the historic effects of discrimination."

Here's how the scheme works. The commission has eight members. By law, no more than four of them can be from any one party -- usually meaning that there are four Dems and four GOPers. But since two of the commissioners changed their party affiliation to independents after they were appointed, the commission now has only two Dems, two "independents," and four Republicans.

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You might say there's an art, a finesse to earmarking. And Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) $2 million earmark in 2001 to the Voyager literacy program was bad art.

The Washington Post laid it all out in a big piece late last year: four days after getting a heap of campaign contributions from Voyager executives and relatives, Landrieu delivered the earmark, which provided the money to city school officials in Washington, D.C. on the condition that it be used on Voyager.

Now the D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington says the feds should investigate whether Landrieu was bribed. The group filed complaints today with the Justice Department, two U.S. attorneys offices, and the Senate Ethics Committee based on the earmark.

The basic facts aren't pretty. Voyager's founder Randy Best is a Texan and Bush supporter (he signed up to be a Bush Pioneer in 2000, but apparently didn't raise enough money to qualify). He only approached Landrieu in 2001 after striking out on the Republican side of the aisle; when he hired a second lobbyist for help, they approached Landrieu. After an apparently positive meeting between Best and Landrieu, someone from her office approached Best to see if he would host a fundraiser for her. Voyager executives and relatives delivered $30,000 in contributions for Landrieu, and "most had never before given to a Democrat running for Congress." Four days later, Landrieu followed through for Voyager. Over the years, Voyager execs and relatives gave her almost $80,000.

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Pretty uninspiring stuff. Here's what Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) staffer has for pushback of yesterday's report that he won't be seeking reelection. From the AP:

On Monday Doolittle indicated he would soon disclose his plans.

"I am writing to invite you to a Team Doolittle Briefing. Please join with our key supporters for news about our plans for 2008," Doolittle wrote in an e-mail to supporters that was posted on a political blog in his district....

Separately, Doolittle organized a staff meeting for Wednesday and invited some former aides, according to one of the people invited. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the event was not public.

Doolittle's chief of staff, Ron Rogers, said that Doolittle met quarterly with supporters and the events were nothing unusual.

"His current plans are to seek re-election," Rogers said.

"I'm not going to speculate about what's going to happen in the future," he said.


Update: Here's video of a testy Doolittle shot back in 2006, just before he narrowly won reelection in his heavily Republican district:

In recent months Congress has had its turn in scrutinizing Secretary of State Rice’s poor performance in supervising private security contractors and the construction of the U.S. embassy in Iraq. Now, the U.S. Foreign Service is weighing in Rice’s leadership – via the American Foreign Service Association survey - and forty-four percent of respondents have rated Rice’s performance as “poor” or “very poor” and asserted that "developments of the last few years" leave them less inclined to complete their careers in the Foreign Service. (Washington Post)

A federal judge in the trial of Jose Padilla denied the request of lawyers for one of Padilla's co-defendants for access to classified information that might be relevant to the case, ruling that the government had already met its requirement to turn over evidence. Defense lawyers for Adham Hassoun, Padilla's recruiter, had argued that the CIA's destruction of videotapes of interrogations called into question their client's conviction. (New York Times, Miami Herald)

Recent scrutiny of U.S. immigration policy and efforts to standardize immigration laws have led the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to re-examine Violence Against Women Act visas (sub. req.). The program has protected more than 30,670 immigrants married to abusive U.S. spouses since 1994, but many of those visas are now in limbo or jeopardy and some of the abused women may face deportation. (Sacramento Bee)

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It's been nearly a year since the Bush Administration mounted a public relations campaign accusing Iran of arming insurgents in Iraq. If that was a campaign to generate enough public support to go on the offensive against Iran, it failed. But relations between the two haven't exactly warmed since -- nor, it's safe to say, has the administration's trigger finger gotten any less itchy.

Which makes this worrying:

We're coming at you, the Iranian radio transmission warned. Your ships will explode in a couple of minutes.

The United States and Iran reached the verge of a military confrontation early Sunday after five Iranian patrol boats sped toward the USS Port Royal and two accompanying ships as they crossed the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. The Iranian vessels, manned by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, broke into two groups and "maneuvered aggressively" on both sides of the U.S. ships, coming as close as 500 yards, recounted Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

After the radio transmission, two of the Iranian boats dropped "white box-like objects" into the water, Cosgriff said. The U.S. ships responded with evasive maneuvers, radioed warnings to the Iranians and sounded ships' whistles, while ordering increased readiness of their own vessels. After their messages were not heeded, the U.S. ships prepared to fire in self-defense, but the Iranians abruptly turned and sped north toward their territorial waters.


As the U.S. officials tell it, this was either an aborted attack (the little white boxes were mines) or a sort of mock attack (the boxes were just little boxes) meant to test how U.S. vessels react.

Meanwhile, the Iranians say that there were no aggressive maneuvers, no boxes, no threatening radio transmissions.

Perhaps most intriguing about the episode is that Pentagon officials say that the five speedboats belong to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Last year, the administration focused on the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force as the ones responsible for arming Iraqi insurgents -- and made quite an effort to argue that the Quds Force was necessarily acting with the authorization of the Iranian government. In October, the Bush administration imposed sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force. So maybe this is just another chapter in that back and forth. Or maybe it's something more.

Right after last night's Republican Fox News debate, Frank Luntz appeared to demonstrate that, based on his focus group of New Hampshire Republicans, Mitt Romney was the big winner.

But as Josh pointed out, the group's unanimity of opinion and blind insistence on Romney's rout had a suspicious air to it.

Along those lines, a number of bloggers have pointed out that one man in the focus group actually appeared in a prior Luntz Fox News focus group four months prior. Both were gatherings in New Hampshire (at the same Manchester, New Hampshire restaurant, it appears) of approximately 30 New Hampshire voters -- according to the lead-in last night, Luntz's group were registered Republican undecideds. Although Luntz doesn't identify the man by name in both segments, he's easily identifiable through his appearance and voice -- either that, or he's got an identical twin.

While this isn't necessarily evidence that Luntz has used actors or plants in his segments, it "says there's something sloppy at best about his recruitment process, Mark Blumenthal, a veteran of the polling business and founder of Pollster.com, told me. "If you see a respondent show up twice, it's a sign of professional respondents leaking through."

But when I spoke to Luntz today, he said that he uses repeat participants by design. In a segment to air on Fox News tonight, he said, there should be a "bunch of people" who had been in prior focus groups, some of them participating as early as May of last year. "It allows me to see how people's opinion have changed over time," he explained. "I'm trying to isolate that moment that made the difference."

When asked about the charge that he'd used actors or plants, his already rapid speech accelerated: "That's ridiculous.... I'm sure that the person who said that doesn't have a PhD, probably doesn't have a masters, and doesn't know what they're talking about."

He's conducting a "study of human behavior" with his dial tests (a mechanism that registers viewers' moment by moment reaction) he said, not a traditional focus group. And if you "want to understand how people change their points of view, you have to ask them over time and multiple times. This is how social biologists do it. This is anthropology.... If you're goal is to study how opinions change over time, of course you've got to call them back."

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Say it ain't so, John!

The California Majority Report reports that Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), one of the long-time subjects of the Jack Abramoff investigation, "will announce that he will not seek re-election." That could come as soon as this week, reports John Bresnahan of The Politico. Back in September, Doolittle proclaimed "I am running again. Period."

Ever since Doolittle refused to plead guilty, the Justice Department has evidently been building a bribery case against him. Doolittle, meanwhile, has made quite a pastime of demanding that the DoJ fish or cut bait. All that tough talk hasn't helped his fundraising, and his campaign has increasingly been drained by payments to his wife for her purported fundraising work. Things just aren't like they used to be during the glory days before Abramoff's downfall.

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