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Nine months ago, Eliot Spitzer was a shining star in the Democratic Party with a sterling career as a Wall Street-busting Attorney General, a landslide gubernatorial victory and a promise to bring ethics back to New York politics. That was then.

Now, a plan by his senior staffers to smear a top State Republican has backfired after findings from an investigation by the state’s Attorney General -- Democrat Andrew Cuomo -- were published this week. (You can get the report here [pdf]). Spitzer's office supplied false information to reporters, obtained with the help of the Police Superintendent, under the auspices of a Freedom of Information Letter (FOIL) request. The information was used in a July 1st article in the Times Union of Albany attacking State Senator Joseph Bruno’s (R) use of government planes to attend political events. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, is Spitzer's chief political adversary. (The published report clears Bruno of all charges of ethics violations.)

After the Times Union article was published, Spitzer's communications director Daren Dopp maintained that Bruno’s travel records were provided in response to a FOIL request from the paper. However, according to the Attorney General’s report, a FOIL request was submitted only three days before the article was submitted, with a second request--asking for information that was already contained in the article--coming on July 10th.

The report says that in January the Governor changed the procedure through which senior politicians could request use of state aircraft, requiring applicants to personally verify what purpose the travel served. By May, Spitzer’s staff was looking to use this new policy to embarrass Sen. Bruno, and then began gathering information on his travels. Spitzer’s police liaison, William Howard, placed several calls to the acting State Police Superintendent Preston Felton.

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The wages of obscuring a wide-ranging surveillance program are severe, and they force White House spokesmen to enter into absurdity.

Yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified that former Deputy Attorney General James Comey had legal objections to the "much discussed" NSA program known, as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) pointed out, as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Mueller's admission contradicted the sworn testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who has now staked his reputation -- and the results of a possible perjury investigation -- on the proposition that Comey objected to "other intelligence activities." You might say this is a bit of a problem for Gonzales.

Not so, says Tony Snow. During Snow's press briefing today, Snow employed the restricted definition of TSP-post-Comey ("that acknowledged program -- the program that the president disclosed to the American people") in order to say that, as Gonzales testified, "that program was not something that was legally controversial." But didn't Mueller's disclosure refute that argument, by conceding that Comey objected to the TSP? Nah, says Snow, because Mueller said "National Security Agency programs" instead of "TSP":

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Not to worry, America. The continued menace of voter fraud will remain a focus of your Justice Department.

It went overlooked amid the other problems with Alberto Gonzales' testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned the attorney general about changes recently made to the Justice Department's election crimes manual. The new version (pdf), which replaced the 1995 manual, lowers the bar in terms of voter fraud prosecutions -- no longer cautioning against pursuing isolated, individual cases of fraud and softening language that had all but prohibited pursuing such cases before an election. "Two and possibly three of the fired U.S. attorneys were fired because they didn't bring those small cases that might affect an election," she observed. "Something's rotten in Denmark."

Feinstein, was referring, of course, to former U.S. attorneys David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Seattle -- both of whom investigated alleged Democratic instances of voter fraud and chose not to prosecute. Todd Graves of Kansas City, who was replaced by Bradley Schlozman, would be the possible third addition.

You can watch the clip below (a transcript is appended). Gonzales, characteristically, didn't know anything about the change.



There are a couple things to be said about this.

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Only in the Bush administration.

President Bush's nominee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was the subject of "at least one complaint of employee abuse," as McClatchy reported Monday. The nominee, David Palmer, was the subject of the complaint when he was (again, prepare yourself for the irony) the chief of the employment litigation section in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Palmer was a career lawyer at the Department, but according to a letter from eight veterans of the section, he became indistinguishable from the political appointees in the way that he led the section:

The Section has failed in its core mission to secure the rights of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, and other protected groups, as the number of cases has declined precipitously. On the other hand, the Section filed two reverse discrimination pattern or practice lawsuits under Mr. Palmer’s tenure. In addition, it immersed itself in defending the rights of employers to discriminate based on religion.


You can read the letter here. It was sent Monday to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) who chairs the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which will handle Palmer's nomination.

In a sign that the heat may be building against Palmer's nomination, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) wrote Kennedy and ranking member Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) yesterday to express his "serious concerns" about Palmer's nomination. The letter is posted below.

The reasons for opposing Palmer's nomination, as outlined in the former Department employees' letter, are not limited to his enforcement of discrimination laws. The letter describes a mediocre, plodding lawyer who was arbitrarily promoted over his colleagues to a senior position, and who, once in power, was just plain mean.

Marian Thompson, formerly a statistician in the section, put it plainly to me. Palmer, she said, was just interested in the "trappings of power" and had "no interest, no knowledge, and no interest in knowing of anything of substance in the section."

It's unclear when the committee will hear Palmer's nomination.

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Let's say -- just, you know, as a hypothetical -- that the U.S. has a difficult time restoring electricity for residents of Baghdad. As Tony Snow famously observed, it's getting up to 130 degrees in the Iraqi capitol right now, and there's not more than an hour or two of power available a day for, say, a refrigerator or an air conditioner. Knowing that's the sort of thing that doesn't incline an Iraqi very well to either the U.S. presence or the Iraqi government, how does the State Department react? According to the Los Angeles Times, the first thing to do is to stop updating Congress about how bad the problem is:

(T)he department now reports on the electricity generated nationwide, a measurement that does not indicate how much power Iraqis in Baghdad or elsewhere actually receive.

The change, a State Department spokesman said, reflects a technical decision by reconstruction officials in Baghdad who are scaling back efforts to estimate electricity consumption as they wind down U.S. involvement in rebuilding Iraq's power grid.

Department officials said the new approach was more accurate than the previous estimates, which they said had been very rough and had failed to reflect wide variations across Baghdad and the country.

"Nothing is being hidden. There is no ulterior motive," said David Foley, the department's Middle East spokesman. "We are continuing to provide detailed information and have been completely transparent."

The State Department's new method shows that the national electricity supply is 4% lower than a year ago, according to the July 11 report.


Add "Baghdad electricity" to the Great List of disappeared information over the last six and a half years. Last one out, please turn on the lights.

Via ex-Justice Department lawyer Marty Lederman, Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse released a statement yesterday to reconcile the obvious inconsistencies between Alberto Gonzales's testimony and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's on warrantless surveillance. Roehrkasse blames Gonzales's woes on the difficulty of publicly discussing classified programs. In other words, no one should expect Gonzales to be candid, but we should nevertheless trust him that Comey wasn't dissenting from the surveillance program that everyone understands as the "Terrorist Surveillance Program."

We humbly recommend that you read our post from last night laying out the probable source of all this "confusion," as Roehrkasse puts it (Democrats would call it dishonesty). In any case, watch Roehrkasse walk the line:

Confusion is inevitable when complicated classified activities are discussed in a public forum, where the greatest care must be used not to compromise sensitive intelligence operations. The Administration first used the term “Terrorist Surveillance Program” in early 2006 to refer publicly to a particular intelligence activity that the President publicly acknowledged and described in December 2005 -- that is, the NSA’s targeting for interception international communications coming into or going out of the United States where the NSA has reasonable grounds to believe that a party to the communication is an agent or member of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization. That is the only intelligence activity that the Attorney General meant when he used the phrase “Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

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Former employees of the contractor hired to build the American embassy in Iraq testified to observing abuse of foreign employees in construction of the enormous project. The individuals told lawmakers that construction workers were crammed into trailers, paid pittances for their labor, made to work without safety equipment and denied the right to time off for prayers. (McClatchy Newspapers)

The Law Council of Australia, the country's bar association, has released a scathing review of the trial of David Hicks, concluding in their report that, "The 'trial' of David Hicks, which took place in March 2007, was a charade." (Harper's)

We know it's tough keeping track of all of the outstanding investigations against members of Congress; we have a tough time staying on top of all of them as well. Here's a handy list of investigated lawmakers from coast to coast. (NY Times)

The White House has likely come to expect dissent from Sen. Specter (R-PA) when it comes to the capabilities of the Attorney General. But apparently Specter didn't mind rehashing his thoughts on Gonzales to members of the press corps, even if they were on Air Force One. While waiting for the President to ride, the senator (who was hitching a ride back to Washington) broke the unwritten rules of the Presidential plane by criticizing a member of the President's cabinet to onboard reporters. (NY Times)

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Was Pat Tillman murdered?

Stunning as it is to contemplate, the Associated Press obtained Pentagon documents through the Freedom of Information Act showing that investigators looked into whether the athlete-turned-soldier might have been deliberately killed in 2004 by members of his Special Forces unit in Afghanistan. Nothing the AP obtained is definitive, and ultimately the friendly-fire ruling withstood a criminal investigation.

But, according to the AP, medical examiners questioned the close proximity of three bullet holes in Tillman's forehead, fired from ten yards away. There are questions -- which will be difficult to hear, considering Tillman's heroism -- that Tillman was not well-liked within his unit. Other elements of the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death appear difficult to reconcile with the friendly-fire ruling -- which came after the Army announced that Tillman died in combat:

In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

_ Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

_ The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions.

_ No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene _ no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.


Almost every aspect of Tillman's death has been surrounded by official obfuscation. The head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, General William Wallace, is in charge of issuing reprisals to Tillman's commanders. His recommendations, according to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, are for administrative punishments and not criminal ones. The general who told investigators 70 times of his faulty memory, now-retired Lieutenant General Philip R. Kensinger Jr., will be stripped of one of his stars and lose approximately $900 a month from his retirement package.

On Wednesday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) will hold a hearing about what and when the Pentagon leadership knew about Tillman's death. Kensinger has been invited to testify, as has former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Command chief General John Abizaid, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. They're not likely to appear, but the AP's revelations will surely figure prominently in the committee's exploration of what exactly happened to a national hero.

Sure enough, the revelation that FBI Director Bob Mueller kept notes on the March 2004 clash in John Ashcroft's hospital room has made House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) very interested in seeing what those notes reveal. Just out from Conyers:

The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigation

935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20535

Dear Director Mueller:

During today’s Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, you testified in response to questions from Rep. Artur Davis that you had taken or made notes regarding conversations that you had with former Deputy Attorney General James Comey (who at the time was Acting Attorney General) and former Attorney General John Ashcroft (who at the time had transferred his Attorney General duties to Mr. Comey) regarding a March 10, 2004, hospital visit involving former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and former Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card. You also testified that you still were in possession of those notes, which from your testimony appear to memorialize facts regarding the issues discussed during and after the important events of March 10, 2004.

During the hearing, Representative Davis requested that you provide the Committee with copies of those notes. I write now to formalize that request, and ask that you provide the Committee with copies of the notes to which you referred in your testimony. To the extent that the notes may contain classified information, we are fully prepared to accommodate any such concerns by controlling or limiting storage of, access to, or publication of information contained in the notes.

I would appreciate receiving the notes from you by the close of business on Wednesday, August 1. Your response should be directed to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515 (tel: 202-225-3951; fax: 202-225-7680). Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.



Sincerely,







John Conyers, Jr.

Chairman

cc: The Honorable Lamar S. Smith

The Honorable Artur Davis


Interesting fact: If Mueller delivers his notes by August 1 as Conyers asks, the committee will have them just as Alberto Gonzales runs into Sen. Pat Leahy's deadline for the attorney general to revise his much-disputed Tuesday Senate testimony. What a coincidence!

Alberto Gonzales' testimony that there was "no serious disagreement" within the Bush Administration about the NSA warrantless surveillance program has left senators sputtering and fulminating about the attorney general's apparent prevarications. But a closer examination of Gonzales' testimony and other public statements from the Administration suggest that there may be a method to the madness.

There's a lot of evidence to suggest that Gonzales's careful, repeated phrasing to the Senate that he will only discuss the program that "the president described" was deliberate, part of a concerted administration-wide strategy to conceal from the public the very broad scope of that initial program. When, for the first time, Program X (as we'll call it, for convenience's sake) became known to senior Justice Department officials who were not its original architects, those officials -- James Comey and Jack Goldsmith, principally -- balked at its continuation. They did not back down until the program had undergone as-yet-unspecified but apparently significant revisions. But when President Bush announced what he would call the "Terrorist Surveillance Program' in December 2005, he left the clear impression that the program had always functioned the same way since its 2001 inception.

The administration's consistent refusal to discuss any aspect of the program -- current or former -- aside from what President Bush disclosed in December 2005 appears to be intended, specifically, to gloss over Comey and Goldsmith's objections. If that's the case, it could mean that the public has been presented with an inaccurate picture of the origins and scope of Program X. The Bush administration is currently contesting a Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena for documentation establishing Program X's history -- in essence, trying to ensure that the public never learns more about the program and the internal deliberations over it than what President Bush chooses to reveal.

Alberto Gonzales, on this theory, has found himself enmeshed in the administration's attempt to distinguish the less-troublesome Terrorism Surveillance Program from Program X. And it may mean he perjured himself in doing so. Today, Senate Democrats responded to Gonzales's dubious testimony on Tuesday by calling for a perjury investigation. At issue is whether Gonzales' assertions that there was "no serious disagreement" within the government about the TSP was so misleading as to amount to perjury, or whether his distinction between TSP and Program X was merely a careful parsing -- perhaps misleading but not, to use Sen. Arlen Specter's word, actionable.

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