TPM News

Valerie Plame lost an appeal when the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected her request for a civil suit against the Bush administration.

From the AP:

A federal judge dismissed the case last year on largely procedural grounds. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld that ruling Tuesday.


The lawsuit accused Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, among others, as naming Plame to reporters as a CIA operative in 2003.

Today private military contractors supporting the U.S. occupation in Iraq far outnumber U.S. troops inside the country.

All together, these non-uniformed workers have cost nearly $100 billion, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the total U.S. budget for the five-year war.

That's according to the most comprehensive study to date (.pdf) of private contractors in Iraq, released today by the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO estimates that more than 190,000 contractors were working on U.S.-funded contracts in the Iraq theater as of early 2008. This is somewhat higher than past estimates and far outnumbers the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops inside the country.

The report provides the first reliable breakdown of who these contractors are and where they come from.

Only about 20 percent are U.S. citizens, who work jobs such as armed security or logistical services for firms such as Blackwater or KBR.

Under 40 percent of contractors are citizens of the country where they work, mainly Iraq, some Kuwait and Jordan. (Surrounding countries such as Kuwait and others are considered part of the "Iraq theater" where logistical services essential to the occupation are provided.)

And the report for the first time estimates that about half are from other countries, mostly poor, unskilled workers from places like India or the Philippines These migrant workers are paid far less than Americans yet are critical to the day-to-day operations of the occupation.

The full cost -- in both money and lives -- related to these contractors has gone largely unreported. There are no reliable estimates on non-Americans who have been injured or died working for the U.S. military.

Working as bodyguards, engineers, translators, drivers, construction workers cooks, janitors and laundry operators, these workers have helped the Pentagon hold down the number of military personnel sent to Iraq and avoid public discussion of a draft.

The CBO study notes that U.S. dependence on contractors is radically higher than during prior conflicts. Contractors in Iraq are proportionally about 5 times higher than in Vietnam.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey dove right into the sensitive topic of the politicization of the Justice Department in his speech to the American Bar Association this morning in New York.

"I would like to talk to you today about a topic that I'm sure is of mutual interest," Mukasey began. "[N]amely, professionalism at the United States Department of Justice."

Calling the findings of the two recent reports by the DOJ Inspector General on politicization in the Justice Department "disturbing," Mukasey bemoaned the system for failing to stop the "active wrong-doing."

I want to stress that last point because there is no denying it: the system failed. The active wrong-doing detailed in the two joint reports was not systemic in that only a few people were directly implicated in it. But the failure was systemic in that the system - the institution - failed to check the behavior of those who did wrong. There was a failure of supervision by senior officials in the Department. And there was a failure on the part of some employees to cry foul when they were aware, or should have been aware, of problems.


Mukasey went on to describe the changes to the Justice Department and responded to critics complaints that those named in the OIG reports have suffered no consequences.

"Far from it," Mukasey said. "The officials most directly implicated in the misconduct left the Department to the accompaniment of substantial negative publicity. Their misconduct has now been laid bare by the Justice Department for all to see. . .To put it in concrete terms, I doubt that anyone in this room would want to trade places with any of those people."

Previously, there have been legislative requests to dismiss those hired at the DOJ during this politicized period -- an idea Mukasey called "unfair" today:

Other critics have suggested that we should summarily fire or reassign all those people who were hired through the flawed processes described in the joint reports. But there is a principle of equity that we all learned in the schoolyard, and that remains as true today as when we first heard it: two wrongs do not make a right. As the Inspector General himself recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee, the people hired in an improper way did not, themselves, do anything wrong. It therefore would be unfair - and quite possibly illegal given their civil service protections - to fire them or to reassign them without individual cause.


The full text of the attorney general's speech after the jump.

Read More →

Embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D) goes to court today accused of violating the terms of his bond a second time. The mayor is facing charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying under oath about an affair with his chief of staff, as well as a separate set of charges of assaulting a sheriff's deputy. Kilpatrick spent last Thursday night in jail for a bond violation. (Associated Press)

The increased attention on the anthrax investigation, sparked by the recent death of accused anthrax killer Bruce Ivins, has moved lawmakers to investigate security at bio-defense labs. Ivins was allowed to work at a federal lab for years after the FBI listed him as a suspect in the 2001 attacks. (Los Angeles Times)

Prosecutors in the case against Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) filed a motion Monday requesting the trial remain in Washington. Stevens' lawyers want the trial heard in Stevens' home state of Alaska, citing the sitting senator's campaign schedule. The prosecution argued that moving the trial to Alaska could taint the jury pool. (Anchorage Daily News)

Read More →

It's hard to believe it's been a month since Alaska State Senator John Cowdery (R) was indicted on charges of bribery and corruption.

He proclaimed his innocence at the time, and now, after getting his arraignment postponed, he's finally made his plea official.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

An Anchorage state senator with ties to disgraced oil field services company Veco Corp. pleaded not guilty to federal counts of bribery and conspiracy. John Cowdery, 78, was arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court. His trial was set for Oct. 6.

He was arraigned on charges of conspiring to bribe a fellow state senator with $25,000 in Veco money.


If the name VECO sounds familiar, it should. It's the same oil field services company behind the recent indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

VECO's a gravy train that a number of Alaskan politicians rode straight to jail.

After pundits have commented about the muted reaction to author Ron Suskind's explosive allegations last week, the House Judiciary Committee said today it will "review" the reports of White House and CIA misconduct.

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) didn't mention anything about hearings or subpoenas in his press release this afternoon. But the committee chairman did say he instructed his staff to look into the report that former CIA Director George Tenet in late 2003 ordered agents to concoct a letter showing false evidence linking Saddam to 9/11.

"Mr. Suskind reports that the Bush Administration, in its pursuit of war, created and promoted forged documents about Iraq," Conyers said in the press release. "I am particularly troubled that the decision to disseminate this fabricated intelligence is alleged to have come from the highest reaches of the administration."

After Suskind's new book was released last week, the White House promptly denied the accusation and two of Suskind's key CIA sources criticized the report, claiming Suskind misrepresented their remarks. Suskind responded by releasing a partial transcript of one taped interview with a key CIA source.

While that allegedly forged letter got all the press attention last week, Conyers indicated he would review several other questions raised in the book, "The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism."

A number of issues raised in Mr. Suskind's book to be reviewed include:

· The origin of the allegedly forged document that formed the basis for Bush's 2003 State of the Union assertion that Iraq sought yellowcake uranium from Niger;

· The role of this document in creating the false impression that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had a working relationship with Iraq;

· The relationship between this document and other reported examples of the Bush Administration considering other deceptive schemes to justify or provoke war with Iraq, such as the reported consideration of painting a U.S. aircraft with UN colors in order to provoke Iraq into military confrontation;

· Allegations that the Bush Administration deliberately ignored information from Iraq's chief intelligence officer that Iraq possessed no WMDs;

· The payment of $5 million to Iraq's chief intelligence officer and his secret settlement in Jordan, beyond the reach of investigators;

· The September 2007 detainment and interrogation of Mr. Suskind's research assistant, Greg Jackson, by federal agents in Manhattan. Jackson's notes were also confiscated.

In deciding where to build a $451 million national laboratory to study bioterrorism and bio and agro-defense, the Department of Homeland Security asked a committee of experts to rate potential candidates on a strict set of criteria -- but then disregarded the committee's findings.

Beginning in January 2006, the DHS outlined a schedule to review 29 different locations throughout the country, then narrowed that list to 18, visiting each of the sites. Finally, the carefully selected committee of experts reviewed each possibility and ranked the sites according to the agreed-upon criteria.

The long process ended with the report handed off to DHS Undersecretary Jay Cohen, who weighed the findings of the committee and named six locations to a "short list" to be considered for the site.

According to an article published earlier today which cites "internal" DHS documents, the six shortlist candidates included a site in Flora, Miss. -- which was ranked just 14 out of the 17 candidates for the lab.

From the AP article:

It is the inclusion of Flora on that list that one official for a rival bid, Irwin Goldman of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, called "very suspicious."

Mississippi's lawmakers include Rep. Bennie Thompson (D), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which oversees DHS, and Sen. Thad Cochran, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that oversees DHS money. Each said he was not aware of the department's deliberations about the lab location.


This all seemed a little odd to us, so we called the DHS.

Amy Kudwa, press secretary from the Department of Homeland Security, cited Mississippi's "unique contributions" rather than its "existing resources" as the reason Cohen dismissed the higher-ranked candidates.

"The farther we get in the process, the more we use a qualitative judgment process," Kudwa explained in response to questions as to why the assessments based on a set group of criteria and a panel of experts had not been used.

But according to Margaret McPhillips the press secretary for Sen. Cochran, who released a statement in 2007 when Flora was first named to the National Bio Agro-defense Facility shortlist, Mississippi's selection was all about the great resources it has now.

"Sen. Cochran feels confident in the proposal Mississippi put forward," McPhillips told TPMmuckraker. "We're sure that when people look at the strengths of the Mississippi research facilities they will be convinced that we are the number one choice."

The Gulf-States Bio and Agro-Defense Consortium, which led the proposal to bring the lab to Mississippi echoed those thoughts.

"It is no secret that Mississippi's entire Congressional delegation is supporting this project," Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority said. "Mississippi ought not to be criticized for having one of the most unified, bipartisan and supportive Congressional delegations in the nation. Some are trying to use the media to damage Mississippi's application. The fact is, Mississippi and our Consortium partners represent the best proposal."

But according to representatives of some of the failed proposals, DHS' choice in Flora doesn't make much sense.

"We're a five state, twelve institution consortium," said Stephen Schimpff who led the proposal to bring the lab to Beltsville, Md. "We had easy places to train staff and a pool of trained individuals ready to work in that kind of facility. We thought we had a very strong proposal."

Indeed, the first two criteria listed on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facilities website is "a comprehensive research community that has existing research programs" and is "within proximity to skilled research and technical staff with expertise . . . and within proximity to training programs to develop skilled research and technical staff." The Maryland facility had both, in spades.

Stranger still, was that their proficiency in these two areas seemed to count against them.

"In the end, the critique we got back was the high density of skilled personnel would create a lot of competition," Schimpff told TPMmuckraker. "So it'll be harder to find good people in Maryland than anywhere else."

"That didn't make a lot of sense to us."

It's been more than a year since we learned that the FBI was abusing its authority granted under the Patriot Act to issue so-called national security letters.

The FBI sent thousands of those letters -- in some cases illegally -- to telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks and other businesses seeking detailed records and personal information without a judge's approval.

We know that some FBI officials are under criminal investigation for the way those letters were used. And the Department of Justice Inspector General's office is also conducting a further investigation. But the details of the program, halted just last year, are still hazy.

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is still trying to figure out precisely how the FBI was using those letters. The topic was back in the spotlight after reports that the FBI wrongly obtained phone records for reporters from the New York Times and the Washington Post bureaus in Indonesia during a 2004 terrorism investigation.

The committee sent a letter today today to FBI Directer Robert Mueller III asking the FBI to brief the lawmakers on the details of how those records were requested and how these abuses occurred.

These reports of misconduct "create a troubling impression of deliberate wrongdoing or serious negligence at the FBI," according to the letter, signed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the committee, and its ranking member, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA).

The lawmakers said they are considering a new law that would provide greater protection for reporters or other Americans.

Read more for the full text of the letter.

Read More →

Scientists are stepping up among those most skeptical of the FBI's evidence implicating military microbiologist Bruce Ivins in the 2001 Anthrax attacks.

In yesterday's New York Times, microbiologist Gerry Andrews wrote an op-ed describing himself as "both disheartened and perplexed by the lack of physical evidence" against Ivins. Andrews worked with Ivins for 16 years and served as the chief of the bacteriology division at the military lab at Ft. Detrick in Maryland.

While the FBI last week released extensive documents with circumstantial evidence against Ivins, they provided almost no details of the scientific testing that underpinned the investigation.

While questions about scientific aspects of the case have been aired, they are often relegated to the bottom of news stories behind other aspects of the investigation, such as Ivins' emails around the time of the attacks or his mental problems.

Today Dr. Meryl Nass, a bioweapons expert, rattled off a long list of concerns about the case on her blog.

Editors at Science Blogs built on their initial skepticism by publishing an additional piece titled "Anthrax Case: Reasonable Doubt on the Science."

The American Society of Microbiologists, the primary professional association for the field, has not issued any public statements on the case, but is prepared to provide experts for testimony on Capitol Hill if asked, spokeswoman Barbara Hyde told TPMmuckraker.

Meanwhile, virtually nobody with a science background in microbiology has stepped forward in support of the FBI's conclusion that Ivins was likely the one and only person involved in the 2001 attacks, said Gigi Gronvall, a senior associate with the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"[Federal officials] came out and said they'd made the case, but they didn't actually present that science. So it really can't be evaluated," Gronvall said in an interview. "They talked about the genetic signature but they didn't elaborate on what that was. We want to know how they were able to determine that that one flask contained the parent train of what was sent out."

Take a look at the latest fundraising pitch from Deborah Travis Honeycutt, a little-known Republican running for Congress in a Democratic stronghold down in Georgia.

Or, we could say, the latest pitch letter drawn up by her Washington-based direct mail fundraising firm, BMW Direct.

That's the company we told you about earlier this summer that mounts massive nationwide fundraising efforts targeting self-styled conservatives on behalf of long-shot GOP candidates.

They're very successful at raking in money. But the catch is that not much of that cash ever gets to the candidates' campaigns because almost all of it -- sometimes upwards of 90 percent -- is eaten up in costs related to the direct mail campaign itself. That helps BMW Direct pay the rent on its downtown Washington office, but doesn't help candidates mount much of a ground campaign in home districts.

A TPM reader out in Iowa sent us this copy of the letter he received recently, where Honeycutt clearly underscores her race.

"I am the Democratic Party's worst nightmare," Honeycutt writes in her eight-page letter on small-sized campaign stationary. "Because I am a black Republican woman and I'm running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives."

"Self-appointed black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have used their influence with black people in the Democratic Party to gain great personal influence. They've sold us out for 30 pieces of silver, and I intend to say so!"

That echoes a line from one of BMW Direct's former clients, Ada Fisher from North Carolina, who also cited Jackson and Sharpton in one of her letters.

The TPM reader who sent us Honeycutt's mailer said he's convinced, based on the way the mailing address was written out, that his household's contact information was originally provided by the Weekly Standard magazine, to which his wife subscribes.

So far, BMW Direct has helped Honeycutt raise about $2.6 million so far this election cycle, putting her among the nation's top fundraisers.

TPMLivewire