Speaking to reporters today, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) said that he would again filibuster any bill that a provision in it granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms -- or as he put it, "use every tool at my disposal as a Senator" to stop it. So if you were wondering whether anything has changed since Dodd dropped out of the presidential race, nothing has.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sent a letter to President Bush today to ask that he support an extension to the existing surveillance bill -- which seems very unlikely to happen. That letter's below.
Update: Sure enough, Cheney said at the Heritage Foundation today that "We're reminding Congress that they must act now."
Congress is busy with some pretty weighty issues these days: the faltering economy, Iraq and government surveillance just to name a few. And it seems that no one's got the time to respond when the administration tells Congress to stick their subpoenas where the sun don't shine.
Last summer, former White House counsel Harriet Miers didn't even show up in response to a House Judiciary Committee subpoena for testimony related to the U.S. attorney firings. They got an empty chair (see above). The same went for Karl Rove in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both argued that executive privilege protected them from even appearing to invoke that privilege. The two committees also subpoenaed White House chief of staff Josh Bolten for documents and got nothing in return.
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) promptly got a contempt citation passed in his committee for both Miers and Bolten in late July, shortly before the summer recess. But it's not official until passed by the full House. When Congress returned, though, nothing happened. Then a vote was supposedly imminent in November -- Conyers even issued a final warning to the White House. But then the vote didn't come (Iraq and FISA got in the way, top Dems said). Then it was supposed to come shortly after the winter recess. Now, well, you know:
Senior Democrats have decided that holding a controversial vote on the contempt citations, which have already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, would âstep on their messageâ of bipartisan unity in the midst of the stimulus package talks....
âRight now, weâre focused on working in a bipartisan fashion on [the] stimulus,â said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), indicating that the contempt vote is not expected for weeks, depending on how quickly the stimulus package moves....
âWhen we have the votes, weâll go ahead with this. Right now, the votes are just not there,â said one top House Democratic insider, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
As a preview of Attorney General Michael Mukasey's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, all ten Democrats on the committee signed a letter to him today from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asking whether he can finally tell them whether he thinks waterboarding is torture or not.
During his confirmation hearing, Mukasey made his infamous "massive hedge" about whether the technique was torture. He promised to institute a review and has apparently followed through. "It has been over two months since then, ample time for you to study this issue and reach a conclusion," the Dems write.
They want answers to two different questions:
1. Is the use of waterboading as an interrogation technique illegal under U.S. law, including treaty obligations?
2. Based on your review of other coercive interrogation techniques and the legal analysis authorizing their use, what is your assessment of whether such techniques comply with the law?
With Republicans blocking any attempts for an extension to the administration's surveillance bill, the pressure is on (last time that didn't go so well).
The Senate will have two choices when debate begins this Thursday: the Senate intelligence committee's version, which would grant retroactive immunity for the telecoms that participated in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, or the Senate Judiciary Committee's version, which would not. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) himself opposes retroactive immunity, he struck a deal with the two committee chairmen to hold a vote first on the intelligence committee's version, and then have a vote on Leahy's version as an amendment. Civil liberty advocates say that move slants the debate in favor of a bill with immunity.
âIn the end, I think something like the Intelligence Committee bill would pass â with the immunity,â said a senior Democratic official who opposes the immunity plan and insisted on anonymity. âI donât know that itâs possible to get anything through the Senate that doesnât grant the telecom companies immunity.â
Meanwhile, the White House seems primed to force the issue. And what PR push would be complete without a Dick Cheney speech at the Heritage Foundation? He's scheduled to give one today.
Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) ties with indicted Chicago developer Antoin Rezko are back in the news after Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) brought them up in last Monday's Democratic presidential debate. Obama has "been accused of no wrongdoing" in the case against Rezko - who is scheduled to begin trial next month - but his relationship with the businessman dates back to before the beginning of his political career in the early 1990s. (Chicago Tribune)
Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R-MO) announced yesterday that he will not be seeking re-election. In a statement Blunt, whose administration has been caught up in scandal, said that he was retiring "with the knowledge that we have achieved virtually everything I set out to accomplish." (Kansas City Star)
Representative William Jefferson (D-LA) recently appeared in court papers of a diamond executive in Botswana because he accepted four funded trips there beginning in 2001. Jefferson violated House ethics rules because he failed to report three of the trips which were designed convince Jefferson to oppose bans on "blood diamonds." In 2001, Jefferson had co-sponsored the "Clean Diamonds Act" but he withdrew his support just before taking his first trip to Botswana. (The Hill)
Somebody had to do it. And hooray to the Center for Public Integrity and Fund for Independence in Journalism for doing it.
The groups counted and documented every Bush administration false statement made in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Every one. It was a bit like counting snowflakes, to be sure, but here's what they came up with:
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.
On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration's case for war.
Or there's this, if you'd like a visualization:
You can relive every moment of the war hype on the site by watching videos, going over every false statement, and more. Remember Dick Cheney's "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."? And President Bush's "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories."? The project even comes replete with a search function.
(Unfortunately, CPI's site seems to be groaning under the pressure of interest in the project, so you'll have to be patient. It's been loading slowly this morning.)
And the White House's response to the study was as expected:
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel did not comment on the merits of the study Tuesday night but reiterated the administration's position that the world community viewed Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, as a threat.
"The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgment of intelligence agencies around the world," Stanzel said.
So much for that 30-day extension. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) shot that down for the second time just now, setting the stage for what's sure to be an engaged debate later this week -- which Sen. Reid said will occur "maybe Thursday."
In March of last year, the Justice Department launched an internal probe of the U.S. attorney firings to be led by its inspector general, the widely-respected Glenn Fine, and the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Ever since then, things have been pretty quiet, except when Fine would confirm to Congress that he'd widened his probe to include the general politicization of the Justice Department, whether Alberto Gonzales tried to coach his former aide Monica Goodling on her testimony to Congress, and other outgrowths of the scandal. He's still not done. And given the scope of his probe that's understandable. The report could serve as a comprehensive indictment of Gonzales' Justice Department. Fine has the option of referring his findings for a criminal investigation or investigations.
The Hillreported this morning that all indications are that the investigators have been following through, interviewing all nine of the fired U.S. attorneys and "scores of staffers." And although Fine has never said when the probe will wrap-up, the Hill cites "one source close to the investigation" who "expects the offices to issue a scathing report within the next three months." We'll see.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has a busy week ahead of him. And near the top of the list is somehow getting a surveillance bill through the Senate in the next week. On February 1st, the administration's Protect America Act expires.
When he tried to get a thirty-day extension to that date last month, Republicans blocked it. So this morning he said on the Senate floor that he'd try again. The time pressures are real, he said, and suggested that even if the Senate were to somehow pass a bill, it would be mighty difficult to get it through the House and to the president's desk before February 1st. The Senate itself will be a high hurdle, with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) filibustering over a retroactive immunity provision on the one hand and Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) saying that the authority for warrantless wiretapping stems from the Constitution on the other.
"Failure to extend the present law for one month could lead to the laws no longer being something that guides what happens in this country," Reid said, adding "some may want that."
More about those calls. I spoke to Robert Morrow by phone just now, and he confirmed to me that he'd been making automated phone calls into South Carolina. "Absolutely," he said. But when I asked how many South Carolinians he'd called, he wouldn't say.
He also said that he himself was responsible for the calls, not any group that he'd formed. "I'm a grassroots activist. My efforts come from Robert Morrow." He also wouldn't tell me how much the calls had cost or who had done them for him, because he didn't "want the opposition to know." When I asked if he could do them from home, he only said "you can if you want to."
I also asked if he planned to make more calls in South Carolina or other states, and he said he "might."
He helpfully forwarded the call script, which he read on the calls himself, and I've pasted it below. "It's very important to understand that everything I say and email you I back up with facts," he told me.
So far, we've been contacted by four TPM readers who received the calls, and a commenter to my last post, "Jerry," also got one. We'll be posting the audio of the call sent in by TPM Reader RW momentarily.