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Here's a little more evidence that the McCain-Palin campaign is playing the hardest of hardball on Trooper-Gate -- especially in regard to press relations.

Jason Moore, a reporter with Anchorage-based KTUU-TV, just confirmed to TPMmuckraker that Megan Stapleton, a spokeswoman for the McCain-Palin campaign in Alaska, called his home to complain about one of Moore's news reports, and accused Moore of calling Stapleton and another McCain staffer liars.

Moore's report looked at the McCain-Palin campaign's "Truth Squad," an aggressive Alaska-based public relations campaign that's being led by Stapleton and former federal prosecutor Ed O'Callaghan and is designed to help thwart the Trooper-Gate investigation.

Moore reported that the Truth Squad was not always entirely truthful itself. He noted that Stapleton had said in a Friday press conference that it was Hollis French, the Democrat overseeing the investigation, who had pulled one name, that of former Palin chief of staff Mike Tibbles, off the list of witnesses to receive subpoenas. Stapleton had pointed to this as an inappropriate political maneuver by French.

But in fact, Moore reported, it was GOP Rep. Jay Ramras, a McCain supporter, who took Tibbles' name off the list. Moore quoted Ramras saying so.

Stapleton and O'Callaghan have another "Truth Squad" press conference scheduled for 7pm EST tonight.

Moore told TPMmuckraker that he and Stapleton -- who was a press aide to Palin before eventually moving over to the McCain campaign -- used to work together as co-anchors on KTUU. "We're friends," he said.

When Stapleton called his home, said Moore, she reached Moore's wife, and immediately told her: "Your husband just called two Hoyas liars." Stapleton, O'Callaghan, and Moore's wife all attended Georgetown University, whose mascot is the Hoyas.

Moore added that Stapleton had also called the news director of KTUU to complain.

Asked whether he and Stapleton really remained friends, Moore allowed: "It hasn't been too friendly this week."

It looks like Congress has stepped into the fray of the Wall Street crisis.

In letters to Lehman Brothers and AIG sent today, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the House Oversight Committee, requested the communications from the last 180 days of the CEOs and board of directors at the two companies. He also requested information about how the CEOS and board members would be compensated following the bankruptcy and government bailout of the two firms.

Additionally, a tipline has been set up to assist Congress with their "investigation into the collapse of Lehman Brothers and AIG."

The no-holds-barred effort by the McCain campaign and its Alaska Republican allies to bury the Trooper-Gate investigation at all costs may be bearing fruit.

Republicans have in recent days been calling on Democratic senator Kim Elton to reconvene the bipartisan legislative council with ultimate responsibility for the probe. And yesterday Elton told the Associated Press that he may do so, allowing for a vote on whether to delay the investigation or replace Democratic senator Hollis French as its manager.

The council, which contains 10 Republicans and four Democrats, had voted unanimously in July to launch the investigation. But many observers believe that, now that the probe could play a role in the presidential race, the committee's GOP members will vote to shut it down if given a chance.

Other recent developments confirm that the GOP is pulling out all the stops.

  • Talis Colberg -- the Palin-appointed Attorney General who was directly involved in efforts to pressure the former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan over Trooper Mike Wooten -- said Tuesday that ten state employees would not honor subpoenas to testify in the case. Palin, of course, had originally pledged her office's full cooperation in the probe.

  • A group of five GOP legislators filed suit -- with the help of a right-wing Texas-based legal foundation -- to stop the investigation in its tracks.

  • The McCain campaign officially took charge of the effort, trotting out a hard-charging former federal prosecutor, Ed O'Callaghan, as its point-man on the issue.

  • And the ADN reported today that Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, is no longer being paid for by the state of Alaska, but could not say whether the McCain camp was helping to pay his bills.

But the GOP's hardball tactics could end up doing more harm than good, by adding to the suspicion that Palin has something to hide.

In an editorial published this morning, the ADN accused Palin and McCain of "trying to ignite a partisan firestorm that wipes out the Troopergate investigation until after the election."

And the liberal journalist David Corn observed last night on MSNBC: "In the last few days the Republicans are treating this like its another Watergate and they better shut it down right way."

So: Where do things go from here?

Van Flein told the ADN that he'd likely decide today whether Todd Palin, who also been subponaed but is not a state employee, will testify, which would occur at a session of the Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the band of lawmakers struggling to maintain control of the investigation -- French, Elton, and their supporters in the legislature -- certainly aren't backing down.

Despite saying he might agree to GOP calls to reconvene the legislative council, Elton sent a letter yesterday to Colberg, the Attorney General, accusing him of going back on an agreement to allow the ten state employees testify. "Bluntly, I feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy moved the football," Elton wrote to Colberg.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat and French ally, told TPMmuckraker: "Hollis French has no intention of buckling under," and said that the same holds true of Elton.

The operation, Wielechowski continued, is "clearly politically driven by the McCain campaign."

"I've never seen an effort like this in this state to kill something," he added. "I don't think this is gonna end quietly."

Two former officials at the Department of Justice appear to be tied up in the indictment of Jack Abramoff connected lobbyist Kevin Ring. Former Solicitor General Paul Clement and chief of staff to former Attorney General John Ashcroft both have had correspondence with Ring that prosecutors Wednesday said they intend to turn over to the court. Ring was indicted on conspiracy, obstruction of justice, bribery, and fraud charges earlier this month. (AP)

Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) said during FBI Director Robert Mueller's testimony Wednesday that he does not believe that suspect Bruce Ivins acted alone in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Leahy, who was one of the targets in the attacks, added that he was not convinced that Ivins was involved at all. Mueller noted that the National Academy of Sciences will conduct an independent review of the scientific evidence in the case. (AP)

A law enforcement investigation into Alaska State Sen. Lesil McGuire (R) over a disturbance on a recent Alaska Airlines flight has ended without charges. According to witnesses, State Sen. McGuire refused to turn off her BlackBerry during the flight and acted out when she was denied alcohol. The incident was revealed in an official report released Tuesday. (Anchorage Daily News)

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Earlier today, we learned that Talis Colberg, Alaska's Attorney General, is the latest figure to lend support to the GOP effort to stymie the Trooper-Gate investigation. Colberg sent a letter to Sen. Hollis French, who's overseeing the investigation, asserting that the state employees who have been subpoenaed to testify in the probe won't honor those subpoenas.

So it's worth stressing a point that might be getting lost in the flurry of moves and counter-moves: Colberg is no independent player in this case. In fact, he's a Palin appointee, who was personally involved in the effort to pressure Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to terminate Trooper Mike Wooten, and who has already led an investigation into the matter at Palin's behest.

When the legislature announced that it would hire an independent investigator, Stephen Branchflower, to look into charges that the governor had wrongfully terminated Monegan, Palin revealed that she had already requested that Colberg conduct his own parallel investigation. Colberg had begun gathering documents and evidence in late July, weeks before Branchflower had even begun his probe.

At the time, legislators raised questions about Colberg's involvement and the possibility of witness tampering.

"I think it is harmful to the credibility of the administration, harmful to the process and harmful to all the parties involved," Rep. Jay Ramras, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee told the Anchorage Daily News. "It's just the worst possible thing to be doing."

As a result of new information uncovered by Colberg's investigation, Palin held a press-conference in mid-August and admitted that one of her staffers, Frank Bailey, had been tape recorded making a call to a state trooper's office, requesting the removal of Wooten.

And crucially, she also admitted that Colberg himself -- as well as Todd Palin -- had called Monegan and talked to him about Wooten. Thanks to these calls, Palin acknowledged, Monegan might have felt pressure to fire Wooten. Palin had previously denied that either she or her staffers had ever pressured officials to fire Wooten.

For a time, it appeared that Colberg had distanced himself from the investigation as a result of this conflict of interest. When Palin hired Thomas Van Flein to represent her in the case, Van Flein cited Colberg's call to Monegan as a reason why Colberg himself could not represent Palin. "The Department of Law had a potential conflict of interest, because Mr. Colberg, Attorney General Colberg, made contact with Mr. Monegan about Trooper Wooten," Van Flein said at the time. "That would make him a potential witness, and thus there's a potential conflict."

Last week, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Barnhill -- not Colberg -- authored a letter threatening to quash subpoenas if they were issued by the state legislature. Bloomberg even reported that Colberg had recused himself from the investigation.

But in the light of Colberg's letter to French announced this morning, that no longer appears operative.

So in other words, Palin and her lawyer have admitted that Colberg, a Palin appointee, called Monegan and pressured him to fire Wooten, and that he has a clear conflict of interest in the case. And yet Colberg is still working to quash subpoenas issued in a bipartisan vote by the state legislature.

The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to a call from TPMmuckraker seeking to clear up the confusion.

Colberg's background doesn't suggest he's a figure with much independent clout Before he was appointed attorney general by Palin, he was a little known assemblyman from the Matanuska Valley, in which Palin's hometown of Wasilla sits.

In an article Sunday in the New York Times, a family friend of Colberg described a conversation with him on his move from a one-room law office in rural Alaska to one of the highest offices in the state, supervising over 500 people: "I called him and asked, 'Do you know how to supervise people?'," Kathy Wells told the Times. "He said, 'No, but I think I'll get some help.'"

There's nothing that inspires confidence like the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee -- the body that writes our tax laws -- submitting a financial disclosure form in which the value for one piece of property varies by as much as 10 times from one page to another. But that's the case with embattled New York Democrat Charlie Rangel.

We learned yesterday that, with crucial support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rangel will defy GOP calls for his resignation and stay on as chair of the powerhouse committee. So given that Rangel's going to be around for at least a while longer, we thought it was worth running down the allegations against the Harlem Congressman.

The trouble started for Rangel in July, when an investigation by the New York Times found that Rangel rents four rent-stabilized apartments -- one of which he uses as a campaign office -- in the same Harlem building, at well below market rates. City and state regulations prevent the use of rent-controlled apartments for purposes other than as a primary residence.

The more serious charge, first reported by the New York Post at the end of August, is that Rangel failed to disclose -- either on his tax returns or on Congressional disclosure forms -- over $75,000 in income from a rental villa he owns in the Dominican Republic. Rangel has called the disclosure failures an oversight, and has admitted that he owes around $10,000 in back taxes and penalties.

The Ways and Means Committee, which Rangel chairs, is in charge of writing federal tax laws, making the news particularly embarrassing for Rangel.

A few days after the Post's report, Bloomberg News reported that Rangel received an interest-free loan from the developers of the villa, when he bought it in 1990. But, according to the director of the complex that contains the villa, several other non-Dominican investors received similar breaks at the time, because the project wasn't producing sufficient income.

Rangel has asked the House Ethics Committee to look into both the rent-stabilized apartments issue and the Dominican villa issue, as well as a third matter -- that he used his Congressional office letterhead to solicit donors for an educational center named for himself, and run by the City College of New York. In addition, Rangel directed a forensic accounting expert to pore over his tax returns and financial disclosure statements to Congress, and to submit a report to the Ethics Committee.

On Monday, it was announced that the accountant had found additional discrepancies.

As summarized by the Associated Press:

-Rangel's papers over the past 10 years show no reference to the sale of a home he once owned on Colorado Avenue in Washington. -The details of a property bought in Sunny Isles, Fla., are bewildering at best. The stated value changes significantly from year to year, and even page to page, from $50,000 to $100,000 all the way up to $500,000. -Some of the entries for investment funds fluctuate strangely, suggesting that the person either didn't have accurate information or didn't fill out the paperwork correctly.

In a statement put out alongisde the announcement of the discrepencies, Rangel said:
"While over the years I delegated to my staff the completion of my annual House financial disclosure statements, I had the ultimate responsibility. I owed my colleagues and the public adherence to a higher standard of care not only as a member of Congress but even more as the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee," he said.

And it was reported today that Rangel has asked the Ethics Committe to allow him to use campaign contributions to pay for the forensic audit of his tax returns and disclosure forms -- which could end up costing more than $100,000.

Right now, the jury is still out on what this all adds up to. At best, Rangel has been irresponsibly lax in the management of his financial affairs. And he may have been deliberately mendacious. But as things currently stand, there's little evidence of a quo for the quid.

On the issue of the Harlem apartments, Rangel did have a 2005 meeting with a lobbyist for the Olnick Association, the company that owns the building in question, when Olnick was seeking government approval for two building projects in the Bronx and Harlem. But both Olnick and Rangel say the Congressman took no action on the company's behalf, and neither project advanced.

And as for the Dominican vila, there's no evidence whatsoever that Rangel took steps to help the company that owned the complex, or that his failure to pay taxes on the villa income, or make proper disclosures to Congress, was abetted by anyone seeking favors from him.

Still, at the very least, Rangel's inability to personally comply with the tax laws doesn't inspire much confidence that he's the best person to be writing those laws.

Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel will not step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Tuesday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports Rangel's decision to keep the position. Rangel has been taking increasing fire over items not reported on his financial disclosure forms. (New York Times)

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the new proposed rules for FBI national security investigations would help protect Americans from terrorists. Many of the Democrats on the committee were dubious of the new guidelines, saying that they do not trust the FBI or the Department of Justice to protect civil liberties and privacy rights. Mueller returns to Congress today, this time to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP)

A scientist who had assisted in the government's investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday, that he made an "honest mistake" in classifying the anthrax he examined as weaponized. Peter Jahrling's statement came shortly after FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a hearing yesterday (see above) that the National Academy of Sciences would be overseeing the review of the FBI's findings that another scientist, Bruce Ivins was behind the anthrax attacks. (Los Angeles Times)

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Indicted Sen. Ted Steven's (R-AK) most recent attempt to have his case thrown out, on the grounds that it violated the constitutional separations that prohibit members of Congress from being prosecuted for legislative actions, has been rejected by a U.S. District Judge.

From McClatchy:

[U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan] turned down Stevens' lawyers' request to throw out the seven-count indictment against the senator and said Tuesday in a hearing that if evidence arises at trial that looks as though it violates what's known as the speech-or-debate clause of the Constitution, he will consider barring it.

. . . Sullivan reviewed grand jury transcripts to determine whether witnesses were asked questions that would've violated the speech-or-debate clause, which limits what sort of evidence executive branch investigators can use when they probe acts by members of Congress. He said he saw a handful but that they were "in no way pervasive."

Stevens, in the midst of a re-election bid, didn't attend the court hearing Tuesday. However, he was in Washington at the Capitol.

Less than a week after the Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas in the investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin, those state employees who were ordered to testify won't be honoring the subpoenas, the Alaska attorney general said yesterday.

In a letter to Sen. Hollis French (D), who is overseeing the investigation, Attorney General Talis Colberg requested the subpoenas be withdrawn and spoke for the employees, stating their refusal to testify unless compelled by the full state Senate or the entire legislature.

From the AP:

Colberg, who was appointed by Palin, said the employees are caught between their respect for the Legislature and their loyalty to the governor, who initially agreed to cooperate with the inquiry but has increasingly opposed it since McCain chose her as his running mate.

"This is an untenable position for our clients because the governor has so strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity," Colberg wrote.

The legal action surrounding the investigation into Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, known as Trooper-Gate, has markedly increased since Palin was named the Republican vice-presidential nominee. When the investigation began just two months ago, Palin pledged the full-cooperation of herself and her staff.

The GOP campaign to thwart the Trooper-Gate investigation cranked into even higher gear early this morning, with an emailed announcement by Anchorage attorney Kevin Clarkson that, on behalf of five Republican members, he is suing to halt the investigation. Clarkson argued in the email that Democratic senators Hollis French and Kim Elton, and independent investigator Steve Branchflower have inappropriately politicized the probe "in an attempt to unlawfully smear Gov. Palin." The Republican legislators behind the move are Representatives Wes Keller, Mike Kelly, and Bob Lynn, and Senators Fred Dyson and Sen. Tom Wagoner.

In addition, the GOP Speaker of the House, Rep. John Harris, released a letter today in which he asserted that what "started as a bipartisan and impartial effort is becoming overshadowed by public comments from individuals at both ends of the political spectrum."

And McCain staffers were all over the airwaves making a similar claim, and arguing that, as a result, the matter should be turned over to the state personnel board -- a request made originally by Palin's lawyer.

There's evidence of additional involvement by national Republicans in the effort to stymie the probe. Clarkson told the Associated Press he's working with the Liberty Legal Institute (LLI) a Texas nonprofit legal firm that's donating its time. The LLI is the legal arm of the Free Market Foundation, a conservative activist group that describes itself on its website as "the statewide public policy council associated with Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family." Dobson, of course, is a key religious right leader and GOP power-broker.

As for Clarkson himself, one veteran Anchorage attorney described him, in an email to TPMmuckraker, as "a religious conservative who is known for taking on politically charged cases that get his name in the paper," but added that he "is not a heavy hitter".

By all accounts, this particular effort to get the courts to stop the probe is unlikely to succeed, as few courts would be likely to want to intervene in the management of an internal legislative matter. But the move may be designed as much to create political pressure on French and his allies to back down or soft pedal the investigation.