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The McCain-Palin campaign, with an eye on the possible release today of the Alaska legislature's report on Trooper-Gate, last night unveiled its own "report" into the matter. And guess what? It clears Sarah Palin of any wrongdoing!

Campaign officials wrote:

The following document will prove Walt Monegan's dismissal was a result of his insubordination and budgetary clashes with Governor Palin and her administration. Trooper Wooten is a separate issue.


The use of the word "dismissal" is noteworthy. Lately, the campaign had seemed to settle on the story that Monegan was not dismissed, but rather was asked to take a new assignment, and quit instead of doing so. Todd Palin told the same thing in written answers to Steve Branchflower, the legislature's investigator, according to news reports yesterday.

The campaign's report blames Andrew Halcro, a blogger and political rival of Governor Palin, for conspiring with Jim Wooten -- the trooper whose ongoing dispute with the Palin family is at the center of the affair -- to make it appear that Palin fired public safety commissioner Walt Monegan because Monegan refused to fire Wooten.

Seventeen Guantanamo detainees remain trapped in a precedent-setting legal battle over war powers -- imprisoned by mistake and ordered released, but not yet free to go. The Bush administration appealed this week's ruling that it cannot hold the men any longer, and while the lawyers work out the details, the men will languish in prison a little longer. The men, Uighur Muslims from a restive region in the far west of China, were captured -- or possibly sold -- in Afghanistan in 2001. A judge cleared them for release in 2004, but the U.S., with its eye for irony, kept them in prison because of fears that China might torture them. (China gave assurances yesterday that it has no such intentions.) (ProPublica/AP)

It doesn't look good for the lawyers attempting to pin money laundering on two associates of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. On Wednesday, they lost a bid to replace the trial's judge. The judge had indicated in August that he thought the prosecution had no case, reasoning that, like a corner store, the money laundering law accepted only cash, not checks. (Austin-American Statesman)

The stakes are high in this election, and a Washington watchdog group wants to know how good a gambler McCain is. McCain hasn't reported his winnings on federal disclosure forms, which the organization, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility, claims merits a Senate ethics inquiry. The McCain campaign says no dice. (Politico)

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Here at TPMmuckraker, we've been closely following Sarah Palin's various personnel decisions from her time as governor of Alaska for quite a while, but we had no idea how tough those decisions had been until we heard it from Sarah herself.

In an interview with Greta van Susteren, Palin called personnel decisions her most "agonizing" work as governor and quipped: "Sometimes it gets personal, sometimes it gets political."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.



Transcript after the jump.

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Sen. Ted Stevens' motion-to-dismiss prone attorneys kicked off their defense today calling Hawaiian Sen. Dan Inouye to the stand.

Inouye testified as a character witness, telling the jury that he's "never heard of [Stevens] lying under oath."

Inouye, a senator for 45 years, has been a longtime friend of Stevens. He is apparently known as "Uncle Dan" to Stevens' children and called a "brother" by Stevens, the AP reports.

Whether or not Stevens will take the stand remains to be seen. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to testify tomorrow.



Is Gordon Smith, Oregon's Republican senator who's in a tight reelection race, using push polls to turn voters against his Democratic opponent?

Kay Phillips, of Cottage Grove, Oregon told TPMmuckraker that last night she received a call about the race. After responding to some standard polling questions, including how she intended to vote in the Senate race and the presidential race, Phillips says she was then asked whether her opinion of Jeff Merkley, Smith's Democratic opponent, would change if she knew about tax increases he had supported. The caller then read six instances of tax increases, asking after each one whether she would change her opinion. The call lasted about 5-6 minutes, Phillips said.

At the start of the conversation, Phillips said, the caller told her she was calling with Western Wats. When, at the end of the call, Phillips the caller to repeat her affiliation, the caller spelled out the name, according to Phillips.

It's worth noting that political campaigns sometimes make similar calls to test negative messages, rather than to deceptively sway the opinions of large numbers of voters. Message testing calls are typically -- though not necessarily -- longer than 5-6 minutes, and conducted on a far smaller scale than push polls, since they seek only to target a representative sample of the electorate.

A spokesman for Western Wats, a Utah-based market research firm, confirmed to TPMmuckraker that his firm was conducting calls on the Oregon Senate race, and named NMB Research as the client, would not give additional information, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Western Wats may ring a bell for TPM readers. Last fall, the New Hampshire Attorney General launched an investigation after voters in that state and Iowa reported receiving calls from the firm, informing them of Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, and praising John McCain's military record. As of August, the investigation was still ongoing.

NMB Research did not immediately return a call for comment. According to campaign disclosure records, the Virginia-based firm was paid $13,000 by the National Republican Campaign Committee to conduct "generic survey" in January.

Calls by TPMmuckraker to Smith's campaign, and to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which also conducts polling on Senate races, were not immediately returned.

On Monday, the Social Security Administration sent out a curious press release asking six states -- four of which, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada and North Carolina, are swing states -- to review their voter registration verification procedure.

When TPMmuckraker called to see what was behind the out-of-character notification, Mark Lassiter, the SSA's press officer told us that those states had been requesting an inordinately high number of checks for voter's registrations from the SSA. For instance, the relatively large state of California only requested 410,000 verifications of voter's registrations based on social security numbers, while the significantly less populous Georgia requested almost 2 million.

The discrepancies seem to be a result of different states interpretation of a new federal law: the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002. HAVA says that states must exhaust checks in their own identification databases -- like drivers licenses and ID cards -- before turning to the often unreliable federal database with the Social Security Administration. Instead, states like those mentioned above have been improperly relying on the SSA to verify voter registrations.

The apparent violations of HAVA aren't necessarily nefarious. Nevada's uptick in SSA checks was apparently due to county clerks entering social security numbers and driver's license number in the wrong fields, state officials told the New York Times , whose inquiries into federal voter registration verification numbers directly preceded the SSA's press release.

The Times investigation also mentioned two more swing states where voters are being affected due to the bending of federal law.

In Michigan and Colorado, they have purged eligible voters from rolls within 90 days of the election -- which is only allowed if voters die, move out of the state or are declared unfit to vote.

According to the voter purge estimates, 37,000 voters were removed from Colorado's voter registration database in just three weeks this summer -- a number that seems inexplicable give only 2,400 deaths and 5,100 out of state moves in that time period. Similar questions have been raised in Michigan, where 33,00 voters re removed in August, though there had only been 7,100 deaths and 4,400 out of state moves.

The misapplication of federal law could lead to massive problems on Election Day and disproportionally affect Democrats, who have been registering in higher numbers this year. The thought of widespread confusion and disenfranchisement on Nov. 4 has spurred many to action and put the spotlight on the storied battle between Democrats and the GOP over the existence of voter fraud.

In Ohio, the Secretary of State (a Democrat) and the Ohio GOP are battling in federal court over the release of a list of voter registrations verified by the SSA, according to the Times. The GOP seeks to force voters who don't resolve discrepancies in their registration to vote via provisional ballot -- which are notorious for not being counted because they need extra verification.

The Alaska Supreme Court has rejected the effort by Republican legislators to quash the Trooper-Gate investigation, affirming the decision of a lower court last week.

Details from the ruling to follow...

Update: The court wrote: "The order of the superior court issued on October 2, 2008 granting the Motion to Dismiss is AFFIRMED. An opinion will follow."

The ruling was provided to TPMmuckraker by Peter Maassen, the attorney for the legislators overseeing the investigation, who are named as defendants in the case.

Independent investigator Steve Branchflower is scheduled to release his report -- which centers on the firing by Governor Palin of former public safety commissioner Walt Monegan -- at a legislative hearing tomorrow.

It looks like the effort by the McCain campaign and the Republican party to make an issue out of ACORN's voter registration activities has gone national.

We've seen reports from several states in recent days that the group, which works to register low-income and minority voters, has submitted flawed or fraudulent voter registration forms -- though it's by no means clear how widespread the problem is.

But that's not stopping the McCain team. At a town-hall meeting in Wisconsin today, when supporters began to chant the group's name in derision, the Arizona senator seized the moment to go on the attack.

"You've seen the allegations, the multiple registrations under the same name, the more registered voters than the population, these are serious allegations, my friends, and they must be investigated, and they must be investigated immediately and they must be stopped before November the fourth, so Americans will not -- will not -- be deprived of a fair process in this election.
The Republican National Committee is also flogging the story. Under the headline "You Can't Make This Stuff Up", its website lists various cases of potential voter fraud, and links to a GOP press release noting that ACORN employees are under investigation in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

And this morning, Fox News interviewed a Domino's Pizza employee in Ohio, who said that he had been asked by an ACORN canvasser to fill out multiple registration forms. The story appeared on the front page of the New York Post this morning.

The Republican effort to raise the specter of voter fraud, with ACORN at the center, is being carried out on the local level as well. After Nevada investigators raided ACORN's Las Vegas office Tuesday, Nevada's Republican senator, John Ensign immediately called on the Bush administration to close a loophole through which the group, which works to register low-income and minority voters, is eligible to receive federal housing funds through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

No one has been charged in the raid, which was part of an investigation apparently being led by Democratic secretary of state, Ross Miller. But there are suggestions that it was prompted in part by GOP complaints. Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for Ensign, quickly ended a call without responding, after being asked by TPMmuckraker whether Ensign's office had complained to state authorities about potential voter fraud by ACORN in advance of the raid. And as we reported this morning, the head of the state Republican party told TPMmuckraker that the state party had indeed expressed concerns about the issue to Miller's office over the summer. Miller's office has said that the raid was prompted by evidence that ACORN has submitted fraudulent voter registration forms.

Meanwhile, Missouri Republicans, led by former senator Jack Danforth, yesterday accused ACORN of filing thousands of false forms with election officials in the Show Me state. Danforth, who garnered a reputation as a bipartisan statesman during his tenure the Senate, is helping to lead a nationwide effort by the McCain campaign to raise concerns about voter fraud. On a September conference call with reporters, Danforth highlighted reports of faulty registration forms in Michigan, Colorado, and other states, and tried to link ACORN to Barack Obama, pointing out that the group's political action committee affiliated had endorsed the Demcrat.

And in New Mexico -- where David Iglesias was fired as U.S. attorney in 2006 in large part for failing to respond with sufficient alacrity to complaints about voter fraud lodged by GOP elected officials -- the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into 1400 potentially fraudulent registration forms filed at a county election office in Albuquerque. ACORN is active in the area. A Republican state legislator told the Wall Street Journal that even if fraud is rare, "every fraudulent vote cast cancels out a legitimate one."

ACORN may have been lax, at best, in its procedures for gathering registration forms. But aside from the GOP's continuing inability to pinpoint the scale of the problem, it's also worth noting that, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, "a fake registration doesn't necessarily mean an ineligible vote is tallied. Officials say canvassers sometimes make up registered names to impress bosses or earn bonuses, but that doesn't result in anyone ineligible casting a vote."

But by shrieking about voter fraud, the McCain camp hopes to make voting officials more willing to place restrictions in the path of voters on election day, potentially causing delays and confusion at the polls, and reducing overall turnout. And it seeks to discredit any Obama victory by raising the suggestion that it was aided by the votes of ineligible voters.

The Nevada Republican Party raised concerns with the Secretary of State's office about potential voter fraud in ACORN's voter registration efforts before Tuesday's raid by state authorities on ACORN's Las Vegas office, according to the party's executive director.

Zachary Moyle told TPMmuckraker that the state party has long seen ACORN's voter registration work as a "red flag," and that the contact with the office of Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller, which took the lead in ordering the raid, occurred over the summer. Moyle stressed that it's far from unusual for the GOP to raise concerns over voter fraud, and said that it has also been working closely with the Clark County registrar of voters on the issue.

The Secretary of State's office has said in an affidavit that the raid was triggered by evidence that ACORN has filed fraudulent registration forms, though it has not yet said how widespread the problem is.

Looks like the government has another chance to redeem its bungled prosecution of Sen. Ted Stevens.

Judge Emmet Sullivan announced this morning that the prosecution will be able to call one more witness, Dave Anderson, a former VECO employee who worked on Stevens home renovations, the AP reports. The allowance should offset the judge's ruling yesterday that excluded a portion of VECO's records that reference Anderson work on Stevens' home. The judge also ruled he would be instructing the jury that the government knowingly used false evidence in its case.

The decision delays the defense's case, which was set to begin today. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye are expected to testify for the defense.

Late update: Anderson has been a character around Alaska scandal for a while.

According to Anchorage Daily News' coverage of his testimony, Anderson was working "10 hours a day, six days a week," on Stevens' renovations -- and so was contractor Robert Williams. Anderson's testimony compensates for the excluded evidence of VECO records.

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