TPM News

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons’ run-ins with the FBI, a cocktail waitress, the Wall Street Journal and most recently his state’s legislature, have gotten the new governor’s tenure off to a “rocky start” The New York Times reports.

It looks like the Republican governor’s involvement in myriad scandals might be catching up with him. A recent Mason-Dixon poll cited by the Times showed Gibbons, who was sworn into office 12 seconds after midnight on New Year’s Eve (because of security concerns related to the execution of Saddam Hussein…), garners support from only 28% of voters.

Lately, Gibbons, under investigation for allegedly taking bribes while a member of the House, has taken heat for causing a state government shutdown. Gibbons threatened to veto the state’s $7 billion budget after the legislature denied his request for half a million dollars for an anti-terrorism hub in Carson City that would duplicate work already being done in Reno and Las Vegas.

In another unpopular move, Gibbons backed a tax program meant to encourage green buildings, but turned out to be so generous that companies could actually turn a profit. He later ended the program (except for four companies), just before telling the local editorial board he could not pronounce the name of his "Indian" energy adviser (she is Turkish).

Besides outlining Gibbons’ ongoing saga of scandal The New York Times also revisited how he defeated State Senator Dina Titus and got into office in the first place:

He took few strong policy positions in that campaign, and instead continually derided Ms. Titus — already an object of suspicion thanks to her Southern accent and tough-edged persona — as tax happy.

Among the more memorable campaign remarks made by Mr. Gibbons, a former combat pilot and veteran of both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, was his suggestion that “liberal, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, hippie, tie-dyed liberals” ought to be used as human shields in Iraq. It all played well with Mr. Gibbons’s base of voters in rural and Northern Nevada.

Similar tactics worked well for another fighter pilot turned politician, Duke Cunningham. And Cunningham, like Gibbons, enjoyed cozy relationships with defense contractors who he rewarded millions of dollars in classified contracts. You can bet Gibbons hopes the similiarities end here.

Last week, Monica Goodling revealed that she'd routinely placed Republicans in civil service spots, including immigration judge positions. As she was eventually forced to concede under hard questioning, doing that was against the law.

But it also became apparent that the practice was nothing new -- and that it dated at least back to 2004, before Goodling got involved. That's how people like Garry Malphrus, a former Brooks Brother rioter with no immigration experience, became a judge.

Today The Legal Times fills in the blanks. And as Jason McLure and Emma Schwartz plainly put it, "As with the replacement of U.S. attorneys, political appointees at the Justice Department appear to have trod upon department norms — and may have even broken federal law — to reward their own people with plum assignments."

The slide began during John Ashcroft's tenure, they report, when Ashcroft's aides got the idea. They went to the Office of Legal Counsel, the Department's internal legal advisor, for the go-ahead. And they got it.

That process of consultation, however, seems to have been oddly casual for such a shift in policy. According to a statement by Monica Goodling's lawyer, Kyle Sampson got an oral opinion from the then-head of the OLC that it was legal.

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When a presidential directive appeared on the White House’s Web site on May 9, seemingly expanding the president's powers after a catastrophic attack, readers began emailing us asking why there had been no uproar in the media or amongst civil liberties groups.

The consensus amongst experts seems to be that the directive, aimed at establishing "continuity of government" after a major disaster, is not new nor does the policy seem to expand executive power.

In fact, Mike German, the policy counsel to the ACLU’s Washington office told me that an executive continuity plan actually might “not be that bad of an idea.”

Executive power expert, NYU law professor David Golove, also sent me an email saying the directive didn’t appear to be a power grab.

National Security Presidential Directive 51 or Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 is posted here. Have a look.

Presidential directives outlining how the executive branch will remain intact in the event of an emergency have been around since the Cold War. The directive posted this month is the first to be made public, to the best of German’s recollection. (A description of Clinton’s continuity directive is available here.) German called the release a positive sign, but said he urges the release of all previous directives so we can get a real sense of what has changed.

The concept of continuity of government applies to all branches of government. Christopher Kelleye, a presidency expert and political science professor at Miami University Ohio told me in an email that he didn’t see any new powers listed in the directive, but wondered why Congress hasn’t done the same thing.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) jacked his house off the ground, inserted a new first story and placed the old first floor on top, thanks to the help of a top executive at local oil company Veco Corp. who hired at least one key contractor to complete the feat of a job.

Veco is entwined in a broad federal investigation that has led to the indictment of four current and former Alaska politicians and ensnared former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens, son of Ted Stevens. Local press concluded that Stevens was state "Senator B," listed in the charging documents of two former Veco Corp. executives who pled guilty to federal bribery and conspiracy charges, saying they gave the younger Stevens $242,000 in illegitimate consulting fees.

Neither Stevens has been charged with a crime.

It’s unclear how the senior Stevens’ home doubling is connected to the broader investigation, but the Feds are now eyeing the construction job according to the Anchorage Daily News , which noticed a line in the Veco executives’ plea bargains that could link the senator to the probe:

The sentence, preceded by a listing of a dozen Veco-related enterprises around the world, said: "Veco was not in the business of residential construction or remodeling."

Maybe they dabbled.

Congressional Democrats have been wary of dropping the “s” word so far in the simmering Justice Department probe.

Despite indications of possible criminal wrongdoing, Democrats have not called for a special prosecutor (necessary, given the inherent conflict of interest at the Justice Department). It looks like the majority party is holding out for the smoking gun.

That gun will probably lead to peripheral charges, Roll Call reports today:

“Obstruction, perjury, false statements —that’s always how these things get started,” said ethics attorney and former House counsel Stan Brand.

Brand pointed to the Watergate defendants, many of whom were charged with similar crimes.

“There were not many substantial offenses charged in most cases. That was a cover-up,” he said.

The strongest aroma has wafted off the Monica Goodling and Paul McNulty standoff. McNulty has reportedly told Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that, in preparation briefings for his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Goodling withheld information about the White House's roles in the firings from him. And Goodling claimed last week in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that McNulty knew more about the U.S. Attorneys firings than he claimed during his testimony. McNulty flatly denies Goodlings accusation.

Three of the fired U.S. attorneys have also testified that they received calls from Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, with the implicit threat to stay quiet about the firings or risk the reasons for their dismissals being made public.

Prosecutor-turned-politician Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) described the possible criminal violations that have surfaced so far saying:
“It is surprising how often a whiff of obstruction of justice has reared its head in the course of this investigation.”

Let’s see how long just a “whiff” lasts.

When asked about a presentation by Rove aide Scott Jennings, GSA administrator Lurita Doan claimed she could not remember the meeting because she was on her Blackberry the whole time. Not likely, says the Office of Special Counsel, who found that Doan received only nine emails during the entire day, the last arriving twenty minutes before the event. (Think Progress)

The search for emails continues, this time with Karl Rove’s personal mail. Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Specter (R-PA) asked Rove’s attorney on Friday for copies of emails given to Patrick Fitzgerald during the 2004 investigation of Scooter Libby. Rove’s lawyer sees no reason to comply, as conversations about replacing US Attorneys occurred after the emails in question. The senators aren’t convinced. (WSJ’s Washington Wire)

Wolfowitz explains the facts that led to his resigning from the World Bank: "I think it tells us more about the media than about the bank and I'll leave it at that." We are flattered. (USA TODAY)

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Of all the half-truths and distortions coming from the White House, President Bush's tendency to cite public support for his Iraq policy is among the most pernicious. And the Associated Press calls him on it in a lengthy piece this morning. For example:

[In a press conference last week], Bush said: "I recognize there are a handful there, or some, who just say, `Get out, you know, it's just not worth it. Let's just leave.' I strongly disagree with that attitude. Most Americans do as well."

In fact, polls show Americans do not disagree, and that leaving — not winning — is their main goal.

There are numerable other examples, such as Bush's line during the standoff with Congress over the Iraq funding bill that the Democrats' "failure to fund our troops... is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people." Polls, of course, showed popular support for the Democrats' plan. (Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has sounded a similar line.)

But there's an explanation, the AP reports, for this clash between Bush's assertions and polling results:

Bush aides say poll questions are asked so many ways, and often so imprecisely, that it is impossible to conclude that most Americans really want to get out. Failure, Bush says, is not what the public wants — they just don't fully understand that that is just what they will get if troops are pulled out before the Iraqi government is capable of keeping the country stable on its own.

To which a polling expert replies:

Independent pollster Andrew Kohut said of the White House view: "I don't see what they're talking about."

"They want to know when American troops are going to leave," Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, said of the public. "They certainly want to win. But their hopes have been dashed."

Kohut has found it notable that there's such a consensus in poll findings.

"When the public hasn't made up its mind or hasn't thought about things, there's a lot of variation in the polls," he said. "But there's a fair amount of agreement now."

But there are times when even the administration admits that the public support is not there -- for instance, the president's consistently and irrefutably abysmal approval rating. And at such times, Bush and others have backpedaled to a stance of aloofness, the president posing as a rock of judgment that won't be swayed by public whim: "If you make decisions based upon the latest opinion poll, you won't be thinking long-term strategy on behalf of the American people."

Or, as White House spokesman Tony Fratto put it in the case of Alberto Gonzales:

"It's important for any public official to have as much confidence as he can garner. And that's going to ebb and flow, but it will not ebb and flow with this President and this Attorney General."

So, in conclusion, the White House's attitude toward public opinion: claim public support for policies that do not have it; when challenged, explain that the public isn't really saying what it's saying; and when confronted with inarguable evidence of public disapproval, claim indifference. It's quite a dance.

(Ed. Note: We come across a number of local stories each week that just cry out for our attention, but since we confine our muckraking to the national level, we're forced to take a pass. No longer. Each weekend we'll be shining a bright light on the muckiest local muck of the week. Got an entry we should consider? Let us know. - PK)

A tight primary race, indictments of voter fraud and a squealing babysitter.

In the 27th State District of Virginia, Mike Tate (R) was indicted Monday on two counts of voter fraud and nine counts of perjury concerning previous campaign finance reports. Meanwhile, with the primary election only 18 days away, Tate's lawyer, Edward MacMahon Jr., is crying foul. "I find it outrageous that charges like this would be brought in the middle of a primary campaign, which has the effect of subverting the democratic process."

MacMahon is pointing fingers at Tate's Republican opponent Jill Holtzman Vogel, a former chief counsel for the RNC with strong ties to the Virginia Conservative Action PAC. After all, reason Tate supporters, the woman who brought the complaint to the attention of the Virginia State Board of Elections is a campaign volunteer for Vogel; the local Leesburg Today even reports that the whistleblower occasionally babysat Vogel's children. And the local prosecutor who initially handled the complaint supported Vogel last year, although the prosecutor recused himself from the investigation in February.

The coincidences don't stop there. Remember Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights? He shares an office with Jill Holtzman Vogel at the boutique Republican law firm Holztman Vogel. So the woman accused of trumping up cases of voter fraud works with a man whose think tank worked to spread misinformation about voter fraud. Coincidence? Maybe.

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Although Goodling hired career employees based on political preferences, officials within the Justice Department say she was following the example set early by the Bush administration. (Washington Post) The LA Times profiles some of those immigration judges with no background in immigration law but plenty in politics.

Newsweek offers the fullest account so far of Alberto Gonzales' and Andrew Card's now infamous hospital visit. Nearly 30 top DOJ officials were set to resign when the Justice Department's legal opinion on the surveillance program was ignored.

Slate points out that Monica Goodling played to the stereotype of the helpless little girl in her testimony, and it worked. Smashingly.

Bill and Hillary have been flying around the world courtesy of a longtime benefactor Vinod Gupta. A suit being filed by infoUSA claims that the $900,000 spent by Gupta jetting the Clintons around is a “serial misuse of corporate assets and resources.” Gupta also secured $3 million in contracts for former President Clinton to consult for his company. (Associated Press)

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On this Memorial Day, The New York Times spends time with some Army soldiers in Baghdad.

What the men of the Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division -- some of whom are on their third deployment of the war -- have to say is sadly predictable. But the resoluteness of the turn in their opinions of the war surprises.

In 2003 and 2004, they tell the Times, they felt confident in the mission. As one staff sergeant puts it, "In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place.... There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome.”

But the soldiers have found it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good guys and bad guys. On one occasion, the soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb only to find that he was a sergeant in the Iraqi Army. On another occasion, a firefight with the Mahdi Army ended with finding two Iraqi Army soldiers among the dead insurgents. And the soldiers have noticed a disturbing pattern of IEDs showing up suspiciously close to Iraqi Army checkpoints. Staff Sgt. David Safstrom (who walked into a recrutiment office one week after 9/11) maintains a clear view of the situation:

“If we stayed here for 5, even 10 more years, the day we leave here these guys will go crazy.... It would go straight into a civil war. That’s how it feels, like we’re putting a Band-Aid on this country until we leave here.”

And another:

“In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sgt. First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

And then, of course, there are the casualties. They continue to climb, representing a sacrifice that becomes less endurable the less hope there is in the war. For the first time, U.S. forces have suffered more than 100 fatalities for two months in a row. And to listen to the president speak, many more months lie ahead. Says another soldier:

As for his views on the war, Sergeant O’Flarity said, “I don’t believe we should be here in the middle of a civil war.”

“We’ve all lost friends over here,” he said. “Most of us don’t know what we’re fighting for anymore. We’re serving our country and friends, but the only reason we go out every day is for each other.”

“I don’t want any more of my guys to get hurt or die,” he continued. “If it was something I felt righteous about, maybe. But for this country and this conflict, no, it’s not worth it.”