TPM News

Boehner Op-Ed: Rush Limbaugh Controversy Is A Dem Distraction In a new op-ed piece for the Washington Post, John Boehner denounces the Rush Limbaugh flare-up as a diversionary tactic by the Democrats: "And in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over."

Obama's Day Ahead: Discussing Health Reform President Obama will be speaking at 1 p.m. ET at the White House Forum on Health Reform, at which he will be hosting representatives from labor, business, health providers, insurers and activist groups, plus members of Congress and members of the administration. At 2:30 p.m. ET he will be meeting with Tim Geithner, then at 4 p.m. he will be holding further discussions with the health forum members.

Biden In Miami, Speaking To Labor And Promoting Stimulus Vice President Biden will be speaking at 11 a.m. to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, in Miami Beach. At 1:45 p.m. ET, he will be joining Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz at the construction site of the Miami Intermodal Center, a transportation hub, to promote the stimulus program.

Napolitano, Donovan And Fugate Touring Gulf Coast The White House has announced that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan will be touring the Gulf Coast today to assess rebuilding efforts. The two of them will be joined by FEMA Director-designate Craig Fugate for a 1 p.m. ET press conference in New Orleans.

Carville: I'm Not Promoting Rush As Head Of GOP -- Rush Is In an interview on CNN yesterday, James Carville denied reports that he was behind any Democratic plan to promote Rush Limbaugh as head of the Republican Party. "I think that honestly I don't want to take credit away from the great Rush Limbaugh who did it on January 16 when he said he wanted the president's policies to fail, and that's what started the whole thing," Carville said. "So don't give Paul and I, or Rahm credit. Credit is due to the great Rush Limbaugh. So my hat's off to you, Rush."

Bill Clinton Wades Into Florida Senate Primary, Supporting Meek Bill Clinton will be holding a fundraiser tomorrow in Florida for Congressman Kendrick Meek's Senate campaign. Meek was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary season, and by the St. Petersburg Times' count is only the third primary candidate that Bill has supported in a down-ticket race -- the other two were Rahm Emanuel for the House in 2002, and Terry McAuliffe for governor of Virginia this year.

AIG Retains Mark Penn's Firm For PR It turns out that AIG, the insurance giant that is now depending on continuous government rescue, has hired Burson-Marsteller to handle its public relations. An AIG spokesman told PRWeek a while ago that the firm was being retained because of the company's expertise, and not due to its high-profile CEO: Mark Penn, the former chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

U.S. lawmakers suffered a minor setback Wednesday in their ongoing effort to close offshore tax havens. Mark Branson, an executive at the powerful Swiss bank UBS, apologized to a Senate subcommittee for helping Americans dodge taxes but he refused to disclose the names of the estimated remaining 33,000 U.S. clients accused of evading taxes with the help of UBS. Branson argued that he could not cooperate because full disclosure would violate Swiss criminal law, and told lawmakers, "the IRS is attempting to resolve this diplomatic dispute in a courtroom, which is neither productive, nor proper." (Associated Press)

The Treasury Department Inspector General reported on Wednesday that bank regulators knew in 2002 about financial instability at several banks owned by First National Banking Holding Co. but failed to act before it was too late. Those banks - in Arizona, California and Nevada - crashed last year because their management favored "growth and profits over appropriate risk management," according to the audit report. This follows the IG's criticism last month of the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision for their insufficient oversight of IndyMac bank. In each of these cases, the IG's actions indicate the potential for increased government regulation of financial institutions. (Financial Week)

Franklin D. Raines, a prominent Democratic businessman, took advantage of a special program reserved for friends of a former Countrywide Financial CEO, claims Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa released documents Wednesday which indicate that Raines, the former CEO of Fannie Mae, received discounts including a 4.125 percent rate on his mortgage compared to the 5.1 percent prevailing rate for comparable loans. Raines also did not have to pay application or processing fees common for Countrywide's ordinary clients, according to Issa's documents. (Washington Post)

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David Iglesias has responded to the news of a deal to secure Karl Rove and Harriet Miers' testimony about the firings of Iglesias and seven other US Attorneys.

In a statement to TPMmuckraker, Iglesias, whose firing as US Attorney for the district of New Mexico was deemed the "most troubling" by a Justice Department report released last year, said:

Today's agreement represents true progress in this matter which has been on-going for over two years. I trust that the initial private testimony of Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers will become public at the soonest possible date.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Judiciary chair Pat Leahy just released separate statements on the agreement to secure Karl Rove's testimony.

Pelosi:

The agreement for Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to testify upholds a fundamental principle: no one is above the law and Congressional subpoenas must be complied with.

As public officials, we take an oath of office to uphold the Constitution. It is the institutional duty of Congress -- as an independent branch -- to ensure against abuse of power through meaningful oversight over the Executive Branch. When there are credible allegations about the politicization of law enforcement, the need for Congressional oversight is at its greatest.

In upholding our oaths of office, the House of Representatives was determined to preserve checks and balances -- the separation of powers that protects the rule of law. It brought action in court to enforce the Judiciary Committee's subpoenas, and won a major ruling by U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissing the extreme position of absolute immunity from Congressional oversight advocated by the Bush Administration for former Administration officials. Under this agreement, the precedent established by Judge Bates' historic ruling rejecting this extreme Bush Administration doctrine will be preserved.

Today's agreement is a great victory for the Constitution, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. I appreciate the strong leadership of Chairman John Conyers and the assistance of the Obama Administration.

Congress now has the opportunity to uncover the truth and determine whether improper criteria were used by the Bush Administration to dismiss and retain U.S. Attorneys.


Leahy:
I hope today's agreement will help to finally uncover the truth about the firings of U.S. Attorneys and the Bush White House cover up designed to shield from public view the inappropriate and illegal actions of the last administration.

It should not have taken until now to obtain testimony and documents from Bush administration officials connected to the investigation into the firings. Today's agreement leaves in place the court ruling that rejected the Bush administration's unprecedented and unfounded blanket claims of executive privilege and immunity. I rejected those claims as excessive and wrong in my ruling on President Bush's position over a year ago, and a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately found Karl Rove and former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in criminal contempt.

I commend Chairman Conyers for the agreement reached today. I hope Congress, and the American people, will now finally hear long overdue answers to serious questions about political interference by the Bush White House in our nation's top law enforcement agency.

The House Judiciary committee's announcement this afternoon of an agreement on Karl Rove and Hariet Miers' testimony about the US Attorney firings leaves a few key questions still unanswered:

1) The committee says: "It was agreed that invocations of official privileges would be significantly limited." Limited how? Exactly when can Rove and Miers invoke the privilege? The devil could very well be in that detail.

2) Did the committee agree to steer clear of any specific subjects?

3) Why won't Rove and Miers be under oath? It's true that they'll still be under penalty of perjury, and, when you're talking about a congressional investigation, that penalty is no different whether the subject is under oath or not. But in that case, why not just put them under oath to avoid any confusion? Presumably, because the Bush administration objected. And if it objected, then the oath question is meaningful. (Lawyers with relevant experience, feel free to weigh in here!)

We've called the Judiciary committee to put these questions to them, and will keep you posted.

The Franken legal team made an interesting move this afternoon, in an obvious attempt to cut off Norm Coleman's suggestion that the election can be thrown out because of various instances of clerical errors by officials -- they have quite openly established in court that mistakes are made, and that a perfect election is impossible.

Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton has been examining Joe Mansky, the elections director for Ramsey County (St. Paul), about all the procedures used to recruit and train election workers, and the mechanics of absentee voting itself.

Hamilton then bluntly asked if there is any way to completely eliminate mistakes from this human process. "It's impossible," Mansky said, explaining that his responsibility as an election manager is to understand that mistakes are made, to plan for how they happen, and to minimize them.

"There's really no way to run a perfect election, with no mistakes?" Hamilton said.

Manksy responded: "I'm afraid that's right."

So why ask Mansky about this? It might not be a coincidence that Team Coleman started planting the seeds for this latest rationale when they were first questioning Mansky all the way back during the second week of the trial, when one of the Coleman lawyers asked him if there's a point at which the margin of error in an election can be higher than the difference in a close election, such that we can't tell who really won.

At the time, it was Hamilton who objected to Mansky answering. But now Hamilton has revisited the errors issue with Mansky, using it to illustrate that Coleman is asking the court to hold the election to an impossible standard.

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The House Judiciary committee just announced an agreement that it says will secure Karl Rove's testimony about the US Attorney firings.

The committee says in a press release that it has forged a deal with the Bush White House which will see Rove and Harriet Miers conduct transcribed interviews before the committee, under penalty of perjury, on the subject of what they know the about the White House's role in the firings. If the committee wants to follow up by with public testimony by requiring public testimony, it has reserved the right to do so.

By the terms of the agreement, Rove and Miers' ability to invoke executive privilege -- a privilege that President Bush has been claiming exists in perpetuity even after a president leaves office -- will be "significantly limited", though the announcement does not indicate the nature of those limitations.

The interviews won't technically be under oath. But since the criminal penalties for lying to Congressional investigators are the same whether or not the interview is conducted under oath, that's not seen as a major hurdle in getting to the truth.

In addition:

The Committee will also receive Bush White House documents relevant to this inquiry. Under the agreement, the landmark ruling by Judge John Bates rejecting key Bush White House claims of executive immunity and privilege will be preserved. If the agreement is breached, the Committee can resume the litigation.


And:
[I] the Committee uncovers information necessitating his testimony, the Committee will also have the right to depose William Kelley, a former White House lawyer who played a role in the U.S. Attorney firings.


Committee chair John Conyers called the agreement a victory:
I have long said that I would see this matter through to the end and am encouraged that we have finally broken through the Bush Administration's claims of absolute immunity. This is a victory for the separation of powers and congressional oversight. It is also a vindication of the search for truth. I am determined to have it known whether U.S. Attorneys in the Department of Justice were fired for political reasons, and if so, by whom.


Today was the deadline a court had set for the Obama administration to file a brief in the Miers-Bolten case, indicating whether or not it supports the Bush White House's claim of executive privilege. White House counsel Greg Craig has reportedly been working with the Judiciary committee and with former Bush White House officials to forge a deal.

Late Update: It's worth noting that TPMDC's Matt Cooper pointed to something like this outcome in a post from January...

We told you yesterday about Sen. Robert Menendez's (D-NJ) frustration over provisions in the $410 billion 2009 spending bill that would loosen the trade embargo against Cuba. But while we're talking about Menendez's vote on that bill, we shouldn't forget that he is also holding up the confirmation of John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco, two nominees to become senior science advisers in the Obama administration.

And he's not alone. It seems that multiple anonymous senators are now holding up Holdren and Lubchenco's nominations, as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) told CQ:

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As you've probably heard, Rush Limbaugh today launched a challenge to President Obama, daring Obama to come on his show and debate him on economic policy. What should we make of this?

Rush's challenge is sure interesting, such as the part where he attacks Rahm Emanuel for his "effeminate nature and his ballerina past," but this section really stands out:

I want to thank you guys for elevating me beyond the stature I already earned and achieved, because now more and more Americans have the opportunity to learn who you really are, what your ideas will really accomplish, and what damage and harm I think your policies will bring for a very, very long time to them and to this country. So I want to thank you for the opportunity. Obviously, it's a threat targeting me. I've extended the invitation. I'm looking forward to hearing back from whoever in your cabal one way or the other on accepting my offer.


Here's the real takeaway: Rush is really enjoying this. It's hard to tell who is taking more pleasure from Rush being crowned as the leader of the Republican Party -- the Democrats who are launching the attacks, or Rush himself.

Michael Steele just can't stop.

We're previously reported that Steele has gone back and forth on the question of whether the Republican Party would support primary challenges or decline to help out pro-stimulus Republicans. Now, in an appearance on right-wing talk radio, he's reiterated that this is a possibility.

Steele was pressed today by Laura Ingraham, who very much wants the party to cut off any wobblers, about whether the party would refuse to raise money or give money to GOPers who back the stimulus and earmark spending:



Said Ingraham: "Will you make good on that pledge that the RNC will not raise money and give money to Republicans who continue to put a stick in the eye of fiscal conservatism?"

"As I said, that is something that is absolutely on the table for me," Steele replied. "I'm not backing down from that. I'm not backing down from that."

Steele did add that this is ultimately up the state parties, citing his own past experience as a state GOP chairman. So if those state chairs want to revolt against an incumbent -- say, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania -- it looks like they'll have a friend in Chairman Steele.

Here's a question: If earmarks alone are a cause for withdrawing support, is Mitch McConnell next?

(Via Think Progress.)

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