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The drumbeat against Iran from the administration has been constant this year -- reaching its highest pitch in February, when anonymous military briefers laid out the case to reporters. The Quds force, an elite military brigade, the administration line went, was channeling EFPs (explosively formed penetrators, a particularly dangerous type of IED) into Iraq to be used against U.S. soldiers.

The complications of the case were brushed aside, but despite an organized media offensive by the administration, it was not a wholly successful campaign. But lately the case has been revived. And now McClatchy reports that Dick Cheney has been pushing for strikes against Iranian forces in Iraq. But don't worry -- Cheney says that the administration ought to wait for "hard new evidence":

Behind the scenes, however, the president's top aides have been engaged in an intensive internal debate over how to respond to Iran's support for Shiite Muslim groups in Iraq and its nuclear program. Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iraq run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy....

Cheney, who's long been skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, argued for military action if hard new evidence emerges of Iran's complicity in supporting anti-American forces in Iraq; for example, catching a truckload of fighters or weapons crossing into Iraq from Iran, one official said.

There is the expected divide within the administration on the question -- with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the other side. But a Cheney spokeswoman tells McClatchy "'the vice president is right where the president is' on Iran policy."

Note: The Los Angeles Times has an interesting companion to McClatchy's piece this morning, reporting on Bush's continued attempts to convince Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that Iran is "not a force for good." From Maliki's perspective -- and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's -- things are obviously a lot more complicated.

Good luck with this one. Yesterday, the ACLU filed a motion (pdf) to declassify recent rulings of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court that administration officials cited in order to press legislators to massively overhaul FISA.

In particular, the civil-liberties watchdog wants the January 10, 2007 FISA Court ruling that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cited as "innovative" enough to merit moving the Terrorist Surveillance Program under FISA; as well as the mysterious spring ruling that FISA applied to foreign-to-foreign communications routed through the United States.

Members of Congress referenced and characterized certain of the sealed materials in explaining support for the amendments (to FISA). Over the next six months, Congress will consider whether these amendments should be made permanent. Publication of the sealed materials will permit members of the public to participate meaningfully in this debate, evaluate the decisions of their elected leaders, and determine for themselves whether the proposed permanent expansion of the executive's surveillance powers is appropriate.

And if the public-interest argument the ACLU makes doesn't work, it adds another: Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) already revealed the outline of the ruling anyway.

The Anchorage Daily News made it out to Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) pig roast fund-raiser last night, where a boisterous crowd of 70 to 80 protesters shouted from the street.

Outside Don Young’s annual pig roast fundraiser on Wednesday night, a raucous crowd of all ages and political persuasions taunted the guests with shouts of “oink, oink,” waved signs against corruption and big money in politics, and generally protested anything Young was for.

Protesters also voiced their opposition to special guests Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who made an appearance.

It might seem from a national perspective that an assembly of 70 to 80 people is a low turnout, but the Daily News calls it "remarkable." When I spoke with protest-organizer John Farleigh yesterday he said he hoped a dozen people would join him, and if 15 showed up he'd consider it a success.

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They say that earmarking is a rigged system, a system of organized bribery (the "favor factory" as Jack Abramoff called it). But rarely has there been such startling evidence of a quid pro quo as Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) $10 million earmark for a highway interchange in Florida (the state farthest from Alaska). The earmark came only days after a real estate mogul raised $40,000 for Young at an event in Florida.

But it gets worse. It turns out that Young had to bend, if not break, Congressional rules to do it.

The Naples Daily News reports that he probably changed key language in the bill after it had been passed in the House and Senate. The language left zero ambiguity about where exactly all that cash was supposed to go:

The words "Coconut Road interchange" were not in the federal transportation bill approved by Congress in 2005.

Those words were attached to a $10 million earmark sometime after the House and Senate votes but before the president signed the bill into law.

Within that time, someone with access to the bill deleted the earmark’s original language that would have given $10 million more for widening and improvements to Interstate 75 and attached the phrase "Coconut Rd. interchange I-75/Lee County," according to a study by a former federal official who lives on Sanibel Island.

The wording must have changed during a process called "bill enrollment" when grammatical and technical -- not substantive -- changes are allowed to be made. As Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense tells the paper, "I’ve seen little gimmicks and little tricks used to make sure somebody’s friend or contributor is taken care of but this is by far one of the more underhanded, surreptitious examples I’ve seen — ever."

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Free Thomas Kontogiannis! Well, he hasn't been sentenced yet after pleading guilty to a count of money laundering in the Duke Cunningham case, so he can't be "freed." But freeing the transcripts of his plea agreement would be a welcome start for anyone interested in understanding more about the most mysterious aspect of a bribery scandal that brought down a congressman.

Nearly everything about Kontogiannis' guilty plea has been shrouded in secrecy. It wasn't until June that Judge Larry A. Burns even unsealed the plea, made by Kontogiannis in February. And that secrecy has come at the behest of the prosecution, which has sought to keep the proceedings under wraps -- even going so far as to make the novel argument that it can classify judicial records. The U.S. attorney's office further argued that it couldn't publicly disclose the reasons why such secrecy is necessary.

But now, after pressure from the San Diego Union Tribune to open the proceedings up, the prosecution is backing down -- somewhat.

Federal prosecutors said yesterday they would agree to release portions from some sealed transcripts concerning the guilty plea of a key figure in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Forge said the portion of a hearing in February where New York developer Thomas Kontogiannis pleaded guilty could be made public.

Forge also said prosecutors do not object to the release of 85 percent of the material in transcripts from four hearings regarding the plea that were conducted in February and April. All those transcripts are under seal and were the subject of a federal appellate court hearing Monday.

It's still unclear what substantive information from the pleading will emerge. But this is the first indication in months that some aspect of Kontogiannis' very unusual plea arrangements will become public.

So much for unity in times of crisis. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) has accused Minnesota of exploiting the federal government's generosity in responding to the recent bridge collapse. He claimed that they accepted $250 million dollars in bridge repair "to screw us", because the state realized that "they were going to get all the money from the federal government and they were taking all they could get." Via Think Progress. (Times Leader)

Stop being hypersensitive. That’s effectively what officials are saying to employees at the Interior Department (which oversees the country's natural resources) who are suffering from nausea and headaches due to continuing renovations on the department’s DC headquarters. General Services Administration officials overseeing the 12-year renovation say they publish regular air quality reports and have installed a fan to “blow out bad air.” (WaPo)

While on the subject of Guantanamo, the British government did in fact request the return of five citizens that are currently being held as detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In true diplomatic form, the U.S. offered an even better deal: Britain can take all the detainees that we don't want anymore. Britain has thus far suggested that it is not interested in the U.S.'s "generosity." (Financial Times)

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Here's a painful Guantanamo Bay irony: What to do with detainees slated for repatriation who fear abuse back home?

That's a serious obstacle confronting the Bush administration as it considers shuttering the facility. The U.S. has legal restrictions barring it from sending people to countries where they're likely to be tortured. As much as human rights groups object to the indefinite detentions and harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, they also don't want to see further abuses occur in the name of closing the camp down, a problem the New York Times spotlights today.

Case in point: Ahmed Belchaba, an Algerian whom the Department of Defense no longer considers a danger to America. He's contesting his repatriation in a case set to be heard by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Lawyers for Mr. Belbacha have said he is at risk of torture or death by Islamist radicals because he once served in the Algerian army, and by the government, which is likely to view him as a terrorist because of his tenure at Guantánamo.

In a filing on Wednesday, the Justice Department opposed any order barring a transfer of Mr. Belbacha, saying that “as the United States has explained, it is in no one’s interest to detain enemy combatants longer than is necessary.”

That case could open courthouse doors to dozens of similar claims by detainees who do not want to be sent home.

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It's been a stormy day for Pervez Musharraf. First he blows off a joint Afghan-Pakistan anti-terrorism conference. Now Pakistani TV is reporting that Musharraf may declare a state of emergency.

An aide to the president, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Musharraf was due to meet with Cabinet ministers, the attorney-general and leaders from the ruling party on Thursday to discuss whether an emergency should be declared.

He did not expect a declaration of an emergency in the early hours of Thursday.

"I cannot say that it will be tonight, tomorrow or later. We hope that it does not happen," [Information Minister Tariq] Azim said. "But we are going through difficult circumstances so the possibility of an emergency cannot be ruled out."

This could turn out to be nothing, of course. But if it happens, it would represent quite the kiss-off to Washington.

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Alas, it looks like my invitation to the annual pig roast held in honor of Rep. Don Young (R-AK) got lost in the mail. The pork gala, which is just a few hours away, is usually hosted by former Veco CEO Bill Allen, but he's bowed out since pleading guilty to federal bribery charges and agreeing to cooperate in the federal criminal investigation of Young and other lawmakers.

But no worry -- the pork, and the fundraising, go on. Former Alaska Gov. Bill Sheffield will play host instead, with special guests Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) making appearances.

The event itself, which sent out colorful invitations in years past, has caught the eye of federal investigators, who are looking into Young's dealings with Allen and Veco. In the last ten years, Young has received at least $157,000 from VECO employees and its political-action committee. Guests at this year's pig party have been asked to contribute $250 to $1,000 (and $500-$5,000 if you're a PAC).

Even though I got the cold shoulder from Young's party planner, an email did show up today in my in-box about a protest planned for outside the roast.

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Saying that he's waited long enough for the White House to comply, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) set a new deadline for documents related to the administration's warrantless wiretapping program today. August 20th is the date, and Leahy expects to receive documents concerning the legal basis for the program (in its variety of forms dating back to 2001), in addition to authorization documents.

Leahy had, at the request of White House counsel Fred Fielding, delayed a prior deadline. But now that an informal date suggested by the White House has come and gone, Leahy writes to Fielding that he's running out of patience:

Despite my patience and flexibility, you have rejected every proposal, produced none of the responsive documents, provided no basis for any claim of privilege and no accompanying log of withheld documents. I had been requesting this information for an extended time before issuing the subpoenas.

Included in that request are documents surrounding then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey's refusal to reauthorize the surveillance program. That refusal led to the March 10, 2004 showdown between Comey and Alberto Gonzales at John Ashcroft's hospital bed.

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