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Just a day after Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) challenged the Washington Post to produce the letters he'd allegedly written on official stationary seeking cash for the academic center bearing his name, the newspaper has come through -- posting four such missives on their website.

Rangel uses his congressional letterhead and says he wants to "schedule a meeting" to talk about the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service. The letters don't explicitly state that he is seeking money.

They include:

* March 2007 letter requesting a meeting with David Rockefeller; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund donated $50,000 to CCNY

* March 2007 letter requesting meeting with Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg, chairman of C.V. Starr Foundation; the foundation donated $5 million to CCNY

* March 2007 letter requesting a meeting with Donald Trump; Trump has not donated to the project

* June 2005 letter to about 100 foundation leaders seeking "a dialogue with you on the funding of the Rangel Center concept in the coming weeks and months." The letter helped generate contributions totaling more than $1.6 million from four foundations.

As we've reported , former Attorney General John Ashcroft was on the Hill yesterday, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

Ashcroft's testimony called into question the timeline of the CIA interrogations and suggested that perhaps torture began before it was authorized by the DOJ. But it also shed some light on the DOJ's thought process about the authorization of the interrogations to begin with.

It was during Ashcroft's years as attorney general that the infamous "torture" memos were written. The memos approved the use of waterboarding and other forms of interrogation as long as they did not "cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure."

While Ashcroft approved the memos initially, he later withdrew them out of concern that they overstepped the bounds of executive authority, a decision that he described this way:

It wasn't a hard decision for me to - when they came to me, and I came to the conclusion that these were genuine concerns - get about the business of correcting it.

Just one week ago the committee was host to the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

And just like Mukasey, Ashcroft was ever the artful dodger, citing a lack of memory, executive privilege or the classified nature of the information as reasons why he could not answer lawmakers' questions.

When asked asked repeatedly about waterboarding, Ashcroft described it as "very valuable," "not torture," and claimed that it "has happened three times."

"I have been aware of waterboarding," he stated in answer to questions on how he learned that the interrogation technique was being used. "I'm not sure how I am aware."

The former attorney general conceded his lack of recall as to the events in question during his opening remarks.

"It's been difficult . . . to distinguish between what I in fact recall as a matter of my own experience, and what I remember from the accounts of others," he said.

And indeed throughout the hearing, Ashcroft informed the committee that he couldn't remember. . . and that even if he could remember, he wouldn't tell them because of executive privilege.

One particularly rapid-fire stonewalling occurred during Rep. Linda Sanchez's (D-CA) five minutes of interrogation. It really can't be summed into words, so we have the clip here. Enjoy.

Yesterday we told you how Stephen Payne -- the guy caught on video by the Times of London apparently selling access to the White House -- seemed strangely absent from the Justice Department's database for registering foreign agents.

His company, Worldwide Strategic Partners, has a brochure claiming to do lobbying work for numerous countries. But the firm shows up nowhere in the DOJ database maintained under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Payne claims that he spoke with a DOJ official who assured him that his contracts did not need to be registered.

We called DOJ to ask about that. They looked through their records and told us this:

"A preliminary search of our records indicates that the Justice Department's FARA Unit has issued no written, legal opinion to Worldwide Strategic Partners or to Mr. Payne concerning the activities of Worldwide Strategic Partners . . . We continue to search our records to determine whether or not there have ever been any verbal communications between the FARA Unit and Mr. Payne or Worldwide Strategic Partners specifically relating to the activities of Worldwide Strategic Partners."

Payne obviously has a lot of connections in Washington. But so far, if he's got a friend over at DOJ, that friend has not come forward to back him up.

Did the CIA start using torture before the DOJ authorized it in the infamous torture memos?

That's what it sounded like according to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was on the Hill yesterday testifying on interrogation techniques before the House Judiciary Committee.

It was during Ashcroft's years as attorney general that the infamous "torture" memos were written. The memos approved the use of waterboarding and other forms of interrogation as long as they did not "cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure." The first memo-- often called the Bybee memo -- was dated August 1, 2002 and was written by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, who also testified before the Judiciary Committee in an earlier hearing in the series on torture.

But at least four months prior to the publication of that memo, the CIA captured al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah on March 28, 2002. Zubaydah's detention and interrogation has garnered much publicity, as it was thought to be especially brutal and involved waterboarding.

The CIA has long denied employing harsh interrogation techniques before it received authorization via the legal memos provided by the DOJ, but Ashcroft's testimony yesterday called that timeline into question, and raised the possibility that "the CIA started torturing at least one detainee before any of the memos were even written."

From Salon's War Room:

But during questioning, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., pointed out that the abuse of Zubaydah had reportedly begun weeks, if not months, earlier. "Did you offer legal approval of interrogation methods used at that time ... prior to August 2002?"

"I have no recollection of doing that at all," Ashcroft responded. He added that he did not remember anyone else at the Justice Department doing so either. He said later in the hearing that Zubaydah's interrogation "was done without the opinion that was issued on the first of August."

Video of the exchange below:

Newly revealed internal Army documents show that more deaths and injuries have been caused due to faulty electrical wiring in Iraq than previously thought. The documents show that the contractor responsible for the wiring, KBR, found a "systemic problem" in their work, contrary to the contractor's previous statements. (New York Times)

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) asked the Pentagon Thursday to release documents about the death of Pat Tillman. Waxman argued that the public and the Tillman family should be able to see documents relating to his friendly fire death. (AP)

Congress eased rules Wednesday over public disclosure of contributions and parties paid for by lobbyists. The new rules free lobbyists from filing disclosure statements by the end of the month. (Wall Street Journal)

Read More →

From the AP:

The second-in-command at the government's top whistle-blower office has quit in a dispute with his boss, whom he accused of putting "political agendas and personal vendettas" ahead of the agency's mission and independence.

James Byrne's resignation as deputy to U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch is effective Saturday. Bloch is under federal investigation, accused of destroying evidence potentially showing he retaliated against his own staff.

"Upon my departure, I am obligated to note that the mission, independence and very existence of the Office of Special Counsel are--and shall remain--at risk unless and until this agency is afforded a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed leader who is capable of putting OSC's mission and OSC's people ahead of political agendas and personal vendettas," Byrne, the deputy special counsel, wrote in a July 10 letter to Bloch that was obtained by The Associated Press.

"This agency, and the people whom we serve, deserve no less."

First Bob Schaffer says he didn't know.

Now he says he did.

Last year Colorado senate hopeful and former Representative Bob Schaffer (R) helped broker an oil deal between Aspect Energy, where he serves as vice president, and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq -- a deal the US State Department says undermines Iraqi security and US interests.

The U.S. government didn't want people like Schaffer and Aspect Energy and others going into Iraq and cutting deals directly with the Kurds because it would undermine the federal government in Baghdad, which was still debating how to share the country's oil reserves. President Bush for years has pushed Iraqis to pass a national law permitting foreign oil companies to invest in Iraq and providing a system for distributing those revenues.

Back on July 9, Schaffer insisted that he was completely unaware that his firm's deal was at odds with U.S. foreign policy. "We didn't experience any discouragement," Schaffer said at the time.

But reporters in Colorado have been kicking the tires on Schaffer's story and last Sunday, Schaffer's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, started to back away from what Schaffer said.

Wadhams, however, refused to answer questions about whether Schaffer knew or should have known that State Department officials wanted the Iraqi government to work out a national oil policy before any contracts were awarded.

Now, as these oil deals are starting to get attention on Capitol Hill, Schaffer is changing his tune too.

He's now conceding that he did know about State Department opposition but is still insisting (correctly it seems) that Iraqi law didn't specifically forbid such deal.

The Pueblo Chieftain reports:
He acknowledged that U.S. officials in Baghdad did not want U.S. oil companies doing business directly with the Kurds, but said that under the country's new federal system, such a working relationship was allowed.

So why did Schaffer change his story now?

That might have something to do with this report from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. The reporter started asking questions about Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) and found out that last year the senator asked the State Department about oil deals with the Iraqi Kurds in reference to Aspect Energy.

And on May 25th, 2007 the State Department responded to Allard in no uncertain terms ...
In that regard, we have conveyed to all parties, the Kurdish Regional Government, the central Iraqi Government, and international oil companies that signing deals before such a law is passed will complicate efforts of the parties to pass a good law. We strongly believe that having competing oil and gas investment laws will be both bad for companies and for Iraq.
Though the Allard story was published the day after Schaffer floated his new version of events, it seems likely that he may have gotten word that the story was coming.

We called Allard's office to ask whether he relayed the State Department's message to Schaffer last year. His spokesman was unsure.

"The senator communicates with former Congressman Schaffer [and others from the delegation] so much, I'm not sure of what he conversations he might have had at what time. So I don't want to be inaccurate and say he spoke with Mr. Schaffer about it at this time because I don't know," said Allard spokesman Steve Wymer.

Wymer said he'd get back to us if he hears anything else.

That answer's not surprising. Allard is retiring and, as a fellow Republican, presumably wants to see Schaffer win his seat in the Senate. If he does remember passing on the word to Schaffer, he probably isn't eager for that fact to come out.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) held a press conference today and blasted the Washington Post for their recent "foundless" article which alleged that Rangel had used official stationary to solicit funds for an academic center bearing his name from individuals with business before his committee.

Rangel denies that the recipients had business before his committee and challenged the Post "to show one line in any of the letters" that he sent "where there's a solicitation for funds."

He also demanded, and welcomed, a probe by the House ethics committee into the Post's allegations:

So to that extent. . . another potential headline is, "Rangel Insists That the Ethics Committee Investigate the Unfounded Charges," because, first of all, nobody that can read is going to bring any charges against me, including The Washington Post, which, of course, I encourage them to do it, because then they have to follow their own foundless story, and at least that gets some coverage on this in The Washington Post.

Rangel's demand for an investigation by the ethics committee follows a similar request from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington yesterday. According to Melanie Sloane, executive director for CREW, Rangel might have something to worry about.

"It's not a close call," she said to the Post. "He's clearly violated the rule against using the letterhead.

Lisa Graham Keegan, one of Sen. John McCain's top education advisers, is a forceful proponent of school vouchers and other market-based education policies.

But when it comes to managing money herself, she doesn't have a great track record.

Keegan was among four education advisers the McCain camp trotted out yesterday in a conference call with reporters to explain McCain's new education policy.

Nobody on the call asked her about her stint as CEO of the Education Leaders Council, a conservative non-profit, school-reform group that she led from 2001 to 2004.

With Keegan at the helm, the group began to prosper with money from Bush's No Child Left Behind law. The ELC raked in about $23.4 million in federal money, part of which it was later accused of mismanaging. An audit report(pdf) from the Department of Education's Inspector General ultimately recommended that the group give back about $500,000 in taxpayer dollars.

A large chunk of the earmarks and federal grants the group received were for a program to help schools with technological upgrades and getting curriculum in line with Bush's No Child Left Behind law.

Money management under Keegan became a source of tension when an internal audit in 2003 found Keegan was being paid a $235,000-a-year consulting fee and one of her aides from Arizona was paid $200,000 under a similar contract, according to an April 4, 2004 report in the Arizona Republic.

At least four board members out of 18 resigned shortly after the internal audit, according to the newspaper.

The Department of Education eventually got involved and concluded that the groups books were a mess with "weak or non-existent internal controls" that led to money spent on things not legally covered by the grant.

According to the audit (pdf):

Also, included in the questioned amounts were costs for alcoholic beverages, advertising, fundraising, and interest that are specifically unallowable under applicable cost principles.

A spokesman for McCain did not respond to a request for comment.

If this doesn't set the tone for former Attorney General John Ashcroft's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on interrogation methods at Guantanamo, I don't know what does.

In his opening statement, Ashcroft admitted that he had "limited recollection" of the events pertinent to the committee's inquiry. Specifically, "it's been difficult . . . to distinguish between what I in fact recall as a matter of my own experience, and what I remember from the accounts of others."

Before these hearings commenced, I had but a limited recollection of many of the events pertinent to your inquiry. In attempting to prepare for this hearing, I have reviewed testimony from prior hearings, I've read portions of publications recounting some of the timely events, and I must admit, it's been difficult for me sometimes to distinguish between what I in fact recall as a matter of my own experience, and what I remember from the accounts of others. As a result, what I hope, what I say will be of value to the committee. Reliance on my statements and observations aught to be tempered by these awarenesses.

For smart guys, there sure seems to be an awful lot of lack of recall in the Bush administration.