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Thomas Kontogiannis: thrice-convicted felon. Identity thief. Admitted money launderer to extremely crooked Congressman. And, in his own telling, counterterrorist.

Thanks to Judge Larry Burns, who earlier this week ordered four days of court transcripts in the murky Kontogiannis case unsealed, we have our first peek into the motivations of the shady Long Island businessman. Not avarice nor profit guided his actions, Kontogiannis told the court: he linked up with Duke Cunningham out of a post-9/11 sense of patriotism.

“My interest is (the) United States, basically. And (Cunningham) was in a position that I could reach and tell (the government) information that I was gathering from all over the world.”


Cunningham and Kontogiannis have a relationship stretching back years before 9/11. With his frequent travel abroad -- including on a strange trip with Cunningham to Saudi Arabia in December 2004 -- Kontogiannis told the court that he was in a position to help the government learn to fight terrorism, based on his network of contacts. Laundering money for Cunningham's boat and home purchases was merely, to Kontogiannis, a cost of doing business to keep the ear of a Congressman who served on crucial defense and intelligence committees. Asked if he was buying Cunningham's influence, Tommy K replied, "definitely."

Kontogiannis, in his own mind at least, isn't some ordinary shyster. He's Jack Bauer.

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"Anticorruption cases concerning the Ministry of Education have been particularly ineffective….[T]he Ministry of Water Resources…is effectively out of the anticorruption fight with little to no apparent effort in trying to combat fraud…."

That's not the assessment of some goo-goo liberal watchdog. It's the judgment of a team of officials in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, surveying what it considers endemic corruption throughout the Iraqi government. The Nation's David Corn obtained a copy of the team's 70-plus page report, which finds that militias and criminal gangs have turned government ministries into private sectarian fiefdoms.

The report, which was drafted by a team of U.S. embassy officials, surveys the various Iraqi ministries. "The Ministry of Interior is seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement infrastructure of Iraq," it says. "Corruption investigations in Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual." The study reports that the Ministry of Trade is "widely recognized as a troubled ministry" and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person convicted.

The Ministry of Health, according to the report, "is a sore point; corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and threatens the support of the government." Investigations involving the Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the "CPI and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-equipped to handle oil theft cases." There is no accurate accounting of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil "for the benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign buyers."


Some of the biggest offenders are, unsurprisingly, in the ministries controlling the Iraqi security forces. The Ministry of Interior, in charge of the Iraqi police, "has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the 'legal enterprise' to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc." At the Ministry of Defense, there's "a shocking lack of concern" over disappearance of over $850 million from the Iraqi Army's procurement budget in an apparent theft. (That about rivals the alleged theft by Ayad Allawi's defense minister, Hazem Shaalan.)

Corn writes that "you can practically see the authors pulling out their hair" over the damage documented in the report. Visitors to Baghdad familiar with the U.S.'s diplomatic attempts to stanch the official illegality won't be surprised. In March, I attended a briefing in Baghdad with Boots Poliquin, the U.S. embassy's deadly-earnest top anti-corruption official, who explained with evident disappointment that an Iraqi public law called Article 136B allows any ministry to "essentially stop" a corruption investigation. The report Corn obtained is most likely authored by Poliquin's shop, the Office of Accountability and Transparency, and it promises to cast a long shadow over any upbeat assessment given by Ambassador Ryan Crocker next month about the ability of the Iraqi government to actually, well, govern.

"The country is not a one-size-fits-all, a one-description-fits-all. It's much more a mosaic," the U.S. official in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Lieutenant General James Dubik, told military analysts today on a conference call. And he's got a point. So maybe it's fitting that the Pentagon's last two quarterly reports show all sorts of unexplained shifts -- even on the exact same pieces of data.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, told reporters at a National Security Network briefing today that the Pentagon reports can't keep their stories straight when it comes to the incidences of sectarian attacks and murders. Take two most recent reports, from March (pdf) and June (pdf).

On page 17 of both reports is a graph entitled "Sectarian Murders and Incidents" that tallies sectarian attacks by month. The March report lists that, for instance, December 2006 hosted over 900 sectarian "incidents" resulting in just under 1300 murders. But in the June report, the numbers shade up: December 2006 hosted over 1000 incidents yielding over 1600 murders.

Similarly, the March report listed a decline of about 150 sectarian murders from September to October 2006. But the June report changes that to an increase of nearly 400 murders during that same time period. Speaking generally, the June report makes 2006 look like a more deadly, sectarian year than did its March predecessor, but there are exceptions: April 2006 had 700 sectarian murders in the March report, but somehow, that figure drops to under 400 murders in the June report.

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Hot on the heels of the GAO report today suggesting the Bush administration is playing fast and loose with the Iraq benchmarks comes a letter to Congress urging scrutiny over how the administration is quantifying allegedly-improving security in Iraq. The liberal National Security Network writes today that "US officials have recently claimed that violence is down and specifically civilian deaths in Iraq have decreased. No evidence has been provided to the public that supports this claim."

The letter -- signed by former Clinton Defense Secretary Bill Perry, Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Clinton and Bush 43 counterterrorism aide Rand Beers, and six other security wonks -- urges disclosure of statistics underlying the claim. "Not only is accurate reporting the key to sound policy, it is also the responsibility of government to those who have lost loved ones to this horrific conflict."

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Earlier this week, Judge Larry Burns ruled that four days' worth of sealed proceedings surrounding Thomas Kontogiannis' guilty plea in the Duke Cunningham case should be made public. The prosecution in the case, for unspecified reasons, has argued for months that the case proceed in secret. Earlier this month, prosecutors agreed to release portions of certain transcripts -- but still want others to stay under wraps. Burns order just pertains to those portions that prosecutors have agreed to release.

It's unclear when the transcripts will be released. But they'll represent the first disclosures in the case since the court released the fact of his plea in June. And maybe we'll learn the "security reasons" why Kontogiannis wasn't fingerprinted for months.

No wonder Ayad Allawi thinks he can get the Bush administration to propel him back to power in Iraq. The two men see eye to eye on the public's right to see into their operations.

Asked by Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek to disclose who's funding his $300,000-over-six-month lobbying effort by GOP firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, Allawi said:

“Of course not. They may be killed by the Iranians, they may be killed by the sectarian people … These are details I am not interested in answering.”


Shades of Mike McConnell's statement that "some Americans are going to die" because of the public Congressional debate over revising FISA!

Only Allawi's not alone. After Allawi's comment on CNN Sunday that he's getting funded by unnamed "supporters," Justice Department officials told BGR that it needed to be more forthcoming about who's paying Allawi's legal bills. BGR tells the magazine that it intends to fully comply with its legal obligations, but that may not mean much for actual disclosure. The firm has the option of changing its listed client from Allawi to his political party, the Iraqi National Accord: "Under the law, lobbying firms are usually permitted to list foreign political parties as their clients without identifying the financial sponsors of those parties."

The busiest employee of the Department of Justice by far must be the inspector general, Glenn Fine.

A couple of weeks ago, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked Fine to investigate whether outgoing-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had misled the Congress and press on a number of occasions. Fine, in a letter sent today (you can read it here), has responded that he's already looking into it.

That's because Fine is already juggling a number of investigations. And those investigations will necessarily touch on Gonzales' public statements. Writes Fine:

"The OIG has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the Attorney General's testimony that you identified. In particular, the OIG is conducting a review relating to the terrorist surveillance program, as well as a follow-up review of the use of national security letters. In addition, the OIG is conducting a joint investigation with the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility into allegations regarding the removal of certain United States Attomeys and improper hiring practices.

We believe that through those investigations and other OIG reviews we will be able to assess most of the issues that you raise in your letter."


Leahy responded in a statement (in full below) that he's "pleased" that Fine is examining Gonzales' statements.

In June, Fine also confirmed to Leahy that he was investigating whether Gonzales had obstructed Congress' investigation of the U.S. attorney firings by having a conversation with Department aide Monica Goodling about his recollections.

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Can they all just get along?

From The New York Times:

White House officials said Wednesday that the search for a successor to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales would probably last at least several days. The officials said they were trying to strike a conciliatory tone with Senate Democratic leaders who will control the confirmation.

The officials said a nominee might not be announced until after President Bush had returned on Sept. 9 from Australia....

In hopes of smoothing the nominee’s way, senior White House officials have contacted Congressional leaders to sound them out about candidates.

The contacts are routine for all cabinet nominations, although Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was struck by the cooperative tone he had heard in a conversation about nominees with the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, who is overseeing the search.

“In the past,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview, “the White House has talked about consultation, but they were the most wooden conversations I ever had. This was the first time there was a real back and forth.”

Alberto Gonzales's resignation was just the latest in the steady flow of departures by senior Justice Department officials involved in the U.S. attorney firings. But Brian Roehrkasse, the Department spokesman who served as the leadership's attack dog as the firings scandal intensified, is staying where he is. In fact, Roehrkasse, formerly the deputy director of public affairs, was actually promoted to the top spot in the office earlier this month.

Just about every story in the major papers on the scandal this spring and summer featured Roehrkasse's rebuttals. That, of course, is his job. But just as a number of statements from Department officials to Congress have proven false, so have a number of Roehrkasse's public statements. And Roehrekasse surprised many with his personal attacks on the fired U.S. attorneys, most famously calling them "former disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress." The former prosecutors, of course, had been subpoenaed to appear.

Roehrkasse replaced the former director, Tasia Scolinos, after she retired from the Department. Scolinos is perhaps best known for her brainstorming on how to handle the U.S. attorney firings, for instance suggesting in an email that the "one common link" among the fired prosecutors was that "three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts." Scolinos' suggestion, of course, was duly employed.

Burt Brandenburg, who served as the Justice Department's director of public affairs during the Clinton administration, said being the DoJ's spokesperson is a tough job, dealing with complex issues in a highly politically charged atmosphere. "Every day's a Super Bowl," he said. But "there's a tradition of attorney generals of both parties that you have to be the grown-up, that you have to have some of the thickest skin in Washington and can't be as political as your critics.... You're held to a higher standard."

Roehrkasse has fallen well short of that standard, making a string of public statements about the firings that were dubious at best (e.g. that they were performance-related and part of a "routine process") and downright false at worst (like some of Gonzales'). Below is our brief round-up of the worst of the worst.

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