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It's been a long, difficult few years for Dr. Cyril Wecht, The former coroner of Allegheny County, celebrity forensic pathologist and prominent Democrat, who has been at the center of a so-called political prosecution, but at least he picked up some friends along the way.

After serving on the jury for Wecht's federal trial that ended in a mistrial earlier this year, five of the former-jurors who had voted for acquittal sought out the good doctor, and his legal team to voice their support. It wasn't long before the group was organizing outings-- most recently to a Pirate's baseball game complete with tailgating.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A message on PNC Park's electronic scoreboard welcoming a special group to a recent baseball game went unnoticed by those it was intended to honor.

That's because Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, along with five jurors who voted to acquit the former Allegheny County coroner at his federal public corruption trial, still were tailgating in the parking lot.

The group get-togethers have been going on since the trial ended in April, ranging from lunch at the food court in downtown Pittsburgh to a 60th anniversary celebration.

"A group of them five of them reached out to us, and told us they'd like to meet with us and talk to us because of how they felt about what had happened," Wecht's attorney Jerry McDevitt told TPMmuckraker.

"They started telling us how strongly they were against the retrial. So, not only did they not convict him, they thought he was a decent guy. . . The whole thing hasn't exactly renewed my faith in the government, but it's certainly renewed my faith in the jury system."

Dr. Ada Fisher doesn't have much good to say about BMW Direct, the Washington political firm that raised money on behalf of her 2006 bid for a North Carolina House seat.

"They sort of -- what shall I say? -- screwed me," Fisher said in a recent interview. BMW Direct raised more than $400,000 for Fisher during the last election cycle, but only about $30,000 made it back to her to use in her campaign against U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC). Sound familiar?

Fisher complained that she never understood where the money raised on her behalf was going. She did not know that many key vendors used by BMW Direct were owned or operated by BMW staffers.

"They make it seem like each of these people is a private entity. But as you listen more and more and you get smarter, you realize they all work together," Fisher said.

BMW Direct and its staff operate a handful of companies out of a downtown Washington office building -- data processors, donor-list rentals, mail services, etc.

Fisher said BMW Direct urged her to "hire" its FEC compliance officer, Scott Mackenzie in Washington, to serve as her campaign treasurer, as he has done on other long-shot campaigns. But she refused, she said, and had a friend serve as treasurer.

So BMW Direct raised the money on her behalf, processed it and then doled out information and cash at its own pace.

Just a day or two before FEC filing deadlines, the firm would send Fisher large files of fundraising data for her to copy and submit under her name.

"We'd fill out the FEC forms based on the information they gave us. They would just tell us: This is how much money you raised," Fisher said.

Fisher's biggest complaint was that the fraction of money she did actually receive came too late. The firm never told her how much money to expect and was unable to plan for the fall campaign.

In late September 2006, she received her first check from BMW Direct for $5,000 and several similar checks followed in October.

"By that time, it was too late," she said.

But according to BMW Direct, Fisher's case was a unique.

Jordan Gehrke, BMW Direct's director of development, agreed that the fundraising efforts for Fisher were not as successful as those of other clients.

That's because she contacted the firm later than most candidates, after the election cycle was underway, Gehrke explained. That shortened the window of time for fundraising, which is critical for direct-mail efforts.

"In Fisher's case, we started eleven months before the election. She was an attractive candidate, and we believed her appeal would enable her to outperform the usual time window," Gehrke said in a written response to questions from TPMmuckraker.

"We firmly believed in her candidacy, and we think we would have been very successful if we had had another six months. For all kinds of reasons, fortune had its say, and things did not work out as we hoped."

The fees -- which in Fisher's case took up more than 90 percent of the total money raised -- are clearly explained to all clients from the outset, Gehrke said.

"We have a very clear contract. We take a lot of time going through this stuff with our clients yo make sure they understand the process....Nothing gets paid without the clients' approval," he said in an interview.

Even if a candidate loses a race, Gehrke said, the direct mail effort is still a valuable way to build a candidates name recognition and shape perceptions about the Republican Party.

"Is it worth it? Yes. If she doesn't win this year, maybe she ends up turning it into a state senate seat a few years later and then runs for congress again," Gehrke said. "Going into a district where Republicans have not traditionally competed and having a black doctor on the ballot is a way of saying this is not your father's Republican Party. This is what building a party is about. This is what expanding your coalition is about. The point is, it has value."

After the news that a class action suit had been filed against former Justice Department officials Esther Slater McDonald and Michael Elston, we've been waiting for the other shoe shoe to drop: bar complaints.

Sure enough, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed complaints in the wake of the Inspector Generals report that found both McDonald and Elston in violation of federal law for taking "political and ideological" affiliations into account when hiring for the U.S. Attorney's Honors Program:

The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty and conduct that "seriously interferes with the administration of justice." By illegally taking political and ideological affiliations into account in screening applicants for career DOJ position, Mr. Elston and Ms. McDonald may have violated bar rules could be subject to discipline.

CREW's executive director Melanie Sloane told TPMmuckraker that due to the findings of the independent OIG report, the complaint should be taken fairly seriously. "The only question left for the bar is whether their violations of the law rise to level of professional responsibility," Sloane said. "And I bet that they do."

The complaint was filed, with the OIG report attached, against McDonald in the District of Columbia and Elston in Virginia. Copies of the complaint were sent to all other jurisdictions where they were bar members.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and his staff were quick to issue a denial last month of anything more than "friendly" ties between the Alaskan Representative and the group of nine federal lobbyists who, according to the "Intern Survival Guide," were given preferential treatment when calling the office. But now his fiscal relationship to the "A Team," as they were called, has become less tenuous.

Mike Anderson, Young's Chief of Staff, solicited campaign donations in June 2007 from 27 individuals -- 23 of whom were lobbyists -- and which included all of the "A Team," the Anchorage Daily News reported. Raising the specter of a Young defeat, Anderson wrote: "[Y]ou and your clients will be impacted by these elections."

The group, dubbed the "AK Wolfpack" by Anderson in the email, includes Rick Alcalde of the Coconut Road earmark and Randy Delay, brother of former House majority leader Tom Delay.

The email, who's subject is "How Can I Help?," was sent on June 8, 2007 from Anderson's personal Yahoo address. Citing the case of defeated Rep. Richard Pombo, a close Republican ally of Young's in the House, Anderson outlined the Democratic threat as a "call to action". . . check-writing action:

For those of you who volunteered and served and watched November's elections, many of you observed or even worked former Congressman Richard Pombo's race. While each of you may have different opinions as to what may have contributed to to the election results, at the strategic level, we will all agree it is a textbook case in how Outsiders can reach into a district with money, volunteers, and a well coordinated attack defeat an incumbent not necessarily on his/her record, but on innuendo and perception.

If you think that Young's article in the NY Times being released the same day as Steven's article in the Wash Post was a coincidence, then I have a beluga whale in the Potomac to show you. If you think that the DNC or DCCC is not interested in turning Alaska blue, then you must have an unlisted phone number to your telephone booth.

You must believe that these forces, when combined, will have a major play and impact on Senator Ted Stevens or Congressman Don Young's election! And if that is the case, then much, much closer to home --- you probably understand that you and your clients will be impacted by these elections.

To some, this may be a scary proposition -- an opportunity to wring our hands and speculate. To others, it becomes a call to action -- to develop and execute a plan. I know into which of these two groups I fall into -- and where you AK Wolfpack members fall into, too.

Since the email was sent, over $90,000 has been contributed to Young's campaign either from the individuals on the list, their firms, or their firm's clients.

Besides those previously known to have ties to Young, through the "A Team," the remaining members of the "Wolfpack" are comprised of many former staffers for Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). For all those named to the "AK Wolfack," see the ADN.

It was a spectacular 2nd quarter for Deborah Travis Honeycutt and her campaign's direct-mail firm, BMW Direct.

We told you last week about how the conservative Washington firm was raising big bucks for the Georgia Republican but eating up almost all of that money in fees. Interestingly, Honeycutt doesn't complain about the firm's tab.

Now Reader BK points out new FEC disclosures filed Saturday showing the firm raised almost $1 million on Honeycutt's behalf during the second three months of 2008, but spent at least $736,000 of that on fees related to a massive nationwide direct-mail campaign.

That brings Honeycutt's total raised so far this election cycle to almost $2.6 million, according to the FEC report (even though she has no challenger for next week's primary election). That puts her among the biggest fundraisers nationwide in this election cycle.

Yet despite the astounding sum of cash, her campaign in suburban Atlanta remains oddly low profile.

While she raised almost $1 million during the second quarter, she spent less than $50,000 in her home state -- including a $4,962 filing fee, $6,000 on "mobile truck advertising," $3,400 in canvassing fees, $2,250 on a local public relations consultant, office rent of $167 per month and a handful of travel expenses. She also gave $5,850 to her campaign manager and husband, Andrew Honeycutt, for expenses listed as "consulting -- campaign strategy."

Honeycutt now has about $290,000 cash on hand and about $175,000 in unpaid debts for direct-mail services.

She's facing Rep. David Scott, a three-term incumbent from an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

In 2006, she lost to Scott by 38 points. Maybe she'll do better this year.

Former and embattled congressman Curt Weldon, Republican from Pennsylvania, is helping to arrange deals between Russian and Ukrainian weapons suppliers and the governments of Iraq and Libya. This move, despite being profitable, is legally ambiguous. Weldon, now part of the defense consulting firm Defense Solutions, is being investigated by the FBI over corruption allegations. (Wired)

A group of lawyers representing victims of Hurricane Katrina think they may have found a loophole in the wide-ranging immunity for the Army Corps of Engineers. The lawyers plan to sue for billions of dollars in damages in a federal trial set for January. They hope that the case will force compensation of the hurricane's victims. (Chicago Tribune)

A representative from Houston is calling for an investigation into Harris County's legal system. The county, which sends more people to death row than any other county in the country, has been the victim of corruption in the Houston Police Department DNA. Its district attorney resigned earlier this year facing scandal over explicit emails. (AP)

Read More →

For those hoping investigations by the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility might shine some light on the scurrilous activities at the Bush Justice Department, today's Los Angeles Times piece doesn't offer much solace.

The OPR, a watchdog of the Justice Department's lawyers and activities, has ceased to issue regular public reports of its investigations, some of which have resulted in the exoneration of attorneys accused of professional misconduct.

From the U.S. Attorney firing scandal; to selective prosecution of Democratic political figures; to unlawful detainment of terrorist suspects, the OPR is facing increasingly weighty caseloads, and meeting their investigations with decreasing transparency.

As the Times reports, the changes in disclosure have come with a new administration:

After President Bush took office in 2001, the Justice Department reversed a decade-old policy of publicly disclosing detailed summaries of OPR investigations of department lawyers found to have committed professional misconduct. Janet Reno, attorney general since 1993, had believed that publicizing the information would bolster confidence in the department; and during her tenure she had authorized the release of two dozen public summaries of misconduct cases -- including one against then-FBI Director William S. Sessions.

The OPR also has been far behind in producing required annual public reports summarizing its activities. Last month, it released its report covering fiscal year 2005. That means many investigations undertaken during the tenure of former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales remain under wraps.

Two weeks ago the OPR issued a report, along with the Office of the Inspector General, that found that the two attorneys in the Justice Department broke federal law when they hired new lawyers for the DOJ's Honors Program based on "political and ideological" factors.

But besides the report with the Inspector General, the OPR has failed to disclose the results of its investigations of misconduct relating to the war on terrorism.

According the documents obtained by the Times, the OPR has exonerated lawyers involved in two high-profile terrorism investigations:

According to a redacted copy of a confidential OPR report obtained by The Times, the office found that department lawyers had not engaged in misconduct in connection with the controversial practice of using special warrants to round up and incarcerate men after Sept. 11 who were considered witnesses to crimes. Human rights groups said the technique was a way to illegally detain, sometimes for months, dozens of Muslims whom the government suspected but could not prove were engaged in criminal activity.

The report, issued more than a year ago, concluded: "Department of Justice attorneys involved did not misuse the material witness statute, and thus did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment."

There's nothing sinister going on in the lack of reports, insists Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis. He says that the decision was merely made to conserve resources and protect the privacy of accused attorneys:

"My goal is to get fair and speedy dispositions of allegations against our attorneys," he said, "and, to the extent possible, let the public know what we did and why we did it without unnecessarily or gratuitously . . . publicly humiliating our line attorneys as individuals."

From the Miami Herald:

A 22-year-old Miami Beach entrepreneur is scheduled to enter a plea to charges of defrauding the U.S. government by allegedly falsifying the origins and age of ammunition intended for Afghanistan.

Efraim Diveroli's company had a contract to supply the U.S. military with ammunition for forces in Afghanistan. He has been charged along with three others with providing prohibited Chinese-made ammunition and saying it came from Albania.

He is scheduled to be in court Monday.

Diveroli's company, AEY Inc., was paid more than $10 million for 35 shipments of ammunition that prosecutors say was manufactured in China. Prosecutors contend his company removed markings from containers to hide the fact they were manufactured in China.

Late Update: Efraim Diveroli's attorney, Howard Srebnick, said in an email this morning that Diveroli will plead not guilty to the charges, and the court appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, not today.

This week, we learned that the White House knew about last year's deal between Texas-based Hunt Oil and the Kurdish Regional Government.

Apparently the threat it posed to the fragile negotiations in Baghdad didn't concern the president as much as he suggested in public.

The Kurds have made a lot of friends in Washington during the past few years -- especially among Republicans.

It's a relationship that's bolstered by aggressive lobbying by the Kurds. The Kurdish Regional Government has 11 active contracts with U.S. lawyers and lobbyists, according to the State Department's database maintained under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The Kurds have been shelling out far more money on K Street than any other group or government in Iraq.

A key ally for the Kurds is the firm Barbour Griffith Rogers, the lobbying shop founded by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, formerly head of the Republican National Committee. BGR receives $700,000 a year from the Kurdish Regional Government. Their agreement says the firm will "arrange meetings" with U.S. media and government officials.

The firm has a separate agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party for a $262,500 annual fee, according to the FARA database.

The Kurdish Regional Government also has a deal with the Republican-linked firm Russo, March and Rogers for running a "media campaign" and a "public relations campaign."

The Washington Post last year also noted the Kurds efforts to reach out to evangelical Christians.

In the past year, the Kurds have spent more than $3 million to retain lobbyists and set up a diplomatic office in Washington. They are cultivating grass-roots advocates among supporters of President Bush's war policy and evangelicals who believe that many key figures in the Bible lived in Kurdistan. And they are seeking to build an emotional bond with ordinary Americans, like those forged by Israel and Taiwan, by running commercials on national cable news channels to assert that even as Iraq teeters toward a full-blown civil war, one corner of the country, at least, has fulfilled the Bush administration's ambition of a peaceful, democratic, pro-Western beachhead in the Middle East.
The Kurds are probably watching this year's campaign very closely.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has been fighting corruption charges for awhile. He even tried a legal defense fund to help him through hard times, but now it looks like he's started to pay his own million-dollar legal tab from his campaign funds, but also that of Steven Dougherty, his campaign manager who is under FBI scrutiny.

According to the AP:

Young has spent more than $1 million in campaign contributions on legal fees. He is represented by the Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld. His campaign finance reports also show $35,020 in fees to John W. Wolfe, a prominent Seattle white-collar defense attorney who represents Dougherty as well as Stevens' son, Ben. The campaign has also paid about $196,000 since October to Tobin, O'Connor and Ewing, a Washington law firm, though it's unclear whom the firm represents.