TPM News

Things aren't looking good for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

The Anchorage Daily News reports that the FBI found a thank-you note Stevens hand-wrote to former US Attorney Wev Shea after the White House hosted a dinner in the Republican senator's honor in May. In the June 7th note, Stevens makes it sound like he got a good deal on the 2000 remodeling of his home:

"This is a sad portion of my life -- it will take time to explain," Stevens said in the two-page note. "Catherine and I personally paid over $130,000 for the improvements to our chalet in Girdwood. Someone -- or more than one -- keeps telling the FBI that's not so. Takes time to go back over five years to prove they are wrong."

Stevens has claimed before that there was nothing nefarious about the job, despite oil services Veco Corp. acting as general contractor while Stevens was in Washington.

But the Daily News' story raises pretty clear doubts about how Stevens could have managed to get all the work done for that amount of money:

If $130,000 is an accurate total, it would raise questions about how such a major renovation could have been accomplished within such a tight budget. The carpentry contractor alone said he was paid more than $100,000 by Stevens. Another contractor, who raised up the house to make room for the new first floor and built part of the foundation, said he too was paid by Stevens, though he didn't recall the amount. The earth-moving contractor who prepared the ground for the job also said he was paid by Stevens.

That would leave little if any left over for a range of other work that was done, everything from design to plumbing and electric to a new roof. As recently as this week, Stevens declined to answer questions about how the project was billed and financed.

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Support the troops (but not their education)! The administration is fighting efforts by Democrats to provide 100% free schooling to Iraq war veterans. The bill, which resembles the original G.I. Bill, would cover all expenses, including tuition, boarding and books. Current legislations covers approximately 75% of the veteran's tuition. Support the troops. (ABC's The Blotter)

The troubles just keep coming for Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). Doolittle is being sued by one of his constituents for spamming her email account. The woman claims that she received about 8,000 emails from Doolittle over six weeks. Via Dump Doolittle. (Sacramento News 10)

You know the scandal is official when someone makes a bio of the key players. Check out this one-stop shop for your background on your favorite corrupt Alaskan politicians. (Anchorage Daily News)

A Justice Department program that has ex-officers follow up complaints of lewd Internet content (read: a program where ex-cops surf pornography) has so far produced not a single prosecution, despite the fact that the program has received over 67,000 referred complaints. (NY Times)

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The drumbeat against Iran from the administration has been constant this year -- reaching its highest pitch in February, when anonymous military briefers laid out the case to reporters. The Quds force, an elite military brigade, the administration line went, was channeling EFPs (explosively formed penetrators, a particularly dangerous type of IED) into Iraq to be used against U.S. soldiers.

The complications of the case were brushed aside, but despite an organized media offensive by the administration, it was not a wholly successful campaign. But lately the case has been revived. And now McClatchy reports that Dick Cheney has been pushing for strikes against Iranian forces in Iraq. But don't worry -- Cheney says that the administration ought to wait for "hard new evidence":

Behind the scenes, however, the president's top aides have been engaged in an intensive internal debate over how to respond to Iran's support for Shiite Muslim groups in Iraq and its nuclear program. Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iraq run by the Quds force, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in Iran policy....

Cheney, who's long been skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, argued for military action if hard new evidence emerges of Iran's complicity in supporting anti-American forces in Iraq; for example, catching a truckload of fighters or weapons crossing into Iraq from Iran, one official said.

There is the expected divide within the administration on the question -- with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the other side. But a Cheney spokeswoman tells McClatchy "'the vice president is right where the president is' on Iran policy."

Note: The Los Angeles Times has an interesting companion to McClatchy's piece this morning, reporting on Bush's continued attempts to convince Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that Iran is "not a force for good." From Maliki's perspective -- and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's -- things are obviously a lot more complicated.

Good luck with this one. Yesterday, the ACLU filed a motion (pdf) to declassify recent rulings of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court that administration officials cited in order to press legislators to massively overhaul FISA.

In particular, the civil-liberties watchdog wants the January 10, 2007 FISA Court ruling that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cited as "innovative" enough to merit moving the Terrorist Surveillance Program under FISA; as well as the mysterious spring ruling that FISA applied to foreign-to-foreign communications routed through the United States.

Members of Congress referenced and characterized certain of the sealed materials in explaining support for the amendments (to FISA). Over the next six months, Congress will consider whether these amendments should be made permanent. Publication of the sealed materials will permit members of the public to participate meaningfully in this debate, evaluate the decisions of their elected leaders, and determine for themselves whether the proposed permanent expansion of the executive's surveillance powers is appropriate.

And if the public-interest argument the ACLU makes doesn't work, it adds another: Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) already revealed the outline of the ruling anyway.

The Anchorage Daily News made it out to Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) pig roast fund-raiser last night, where a boisterous crowd of 70 to 80 protesters shouted from the street.

Outside Don Young’s annual pig roast fundraiser on Wednesday night, a raucous crowd of all ages and political persuasions taunted the guests with shouts of “oink, oink,” waved signs against corruption and big money in politics, and generally protested anything Young was for.

Protesters also voiced their opposition to special guests Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who made an appearance.

It might seem from a national perspective that an assembly of 70 to 80 people is a low turnout, but the Daily News calls it "remarkable." When I spoke with protest-organizer John Farleigh yesterday he said he hoped a dozen people would join him, and if 15 showed up he'd consider it a success.

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They say that earmarking is a rigged system, a system of organized bribery (the "favor factory" as Jack Abramoff called it). But rarely has there been such startling evidence of a quid pro quo as Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) $10 million earmark for a highway interchange in Florida (the state farthest from Alaska). The earmark came only days after a real estate mogul raised $40,000 for Young at an event in Florida.

But it gets worse. It turns out that Young had to bend, if not break, Congressional rules to do it.

The Naples Daily News reports that he probably changed key language in the bill after it had been passed in the House and Senate. The language left zero ambiguity about where exactly all that cash was supposed to go:

The words "Coconut Road interchange" were not in the federal transportation bill approved by Congress in 2005.

Those words were attached to a $10 million earmark sometime after the House and Senate votes but before the president signed the bill into law.

Within that time, someone with access to the bill deleted the earmark’s original language that would have given $10 million more for widening and improvements to Interstate 75 and attached the phrase "Coconut Rd. interchange I-75/Lee County," according to a study by a former federal official who lives on Sanibel Island.

The wording must have changed during a process called "bill enrollment" when grammatical and technical -- not substantive -- changes are allowed to be made. As Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense tells the paper, "I’ve seen little gimmicks and little tricks used to make sure somebody’s friend or contributor is taken care of but this is by far one of the more underhanded, surreptitious examples I’ve seen — ever."

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Free Thomas Kontogiannis! Well, he hasn't been sentenced yet after pleading guilty to a count of money laundering in the Duke Cunningham case, so he can't be "freed." But freeing the transcripts of his plea agreement would be a welcome start for anyone interested in understanding more about the most mysterious aspect of a bribery scandal that brought down a congressman.

Nearly everything about Kontogiannis' guilty plea has been shrouded in secrecy. It wasn't until June that Judge Larry A. Burns even unsealed the plea, made by Kontogiannis in February. And that secrecy has come at the behest of the prosecution, which has sought to keep the proceedings under wraps -- even going so far as to make the novel argument that it can classify judicial records. The U.S. attorney's office further argued that it couldn't publicly disclose the reasons why such secrecy is necessary.

But now, after pressure from the San Diego Union Tribune to open the proceedings up, the prosecution is backing down -- somewhat.

Federal prosecutors said yesterday they would agree to release portions from some sealed transcripts concerning the guilty plea of a key figure in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Forge said the portion of a hearing in February where New York developer Thomas Kontogiannis pleaded guilty could be made public.

Forge also said prosecutors do not object to the release of 85 percent of the material in transcripts from four hearings regarding the plea that were conducted in February and April. All those transcripts are under seal and were the subject of a federal appellate court hearing Monday.

It's still unclear what substantive information from the pleading will emerge. But this is the first indication in months that some aspect of Kontogiannis' very unusual plea arrangements will become public.

So much for unity in times of crisis. Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) has accused Minnesota of exploiting the federal government's generosity in responding to the recent bridge collapse. He claimed that they accepted $250 million dollars in bridge repair "to screw us", because the state realized that "they were going to get all the money from the federal government and they were taking all they could get." Via Think Progress. (Times Leader)

Stop being hypersensitive. That’s effectively what officials are saying to employees at the Interior Department (which oversees the country's natural resources) who are suffering from nausea and headaches due to continuing renovations on the department’s DC headquarters. General Services Administration officials overseeing the 12-year renovation say they publish regular air quality reports and have installed a fan to “blow out bad air.” (WaPo)

While on the subject of Guantanamo, the British government did in fact request the return of five citizens that are currently being held as detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In true diplomatic form, the U.S. offered an even better deal: Britain can take all the detainees that we don't want anymore. Britain has thus far suggested that it is not interested in the U.S.'s "generosity." (Financial Times)

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Here's a painful Guantanamo Bay irony: What to do with detainees slated for repatriation who fear abuse back home?

That's a serious obstacle confronting the Bush administration as it considers shuttering the facility. The U.S. has legal restrictions barring it from sending people to countries where they're likely to be tortured. As much as human rights groups object to the indefinite detentions and harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, they also don't want to see further abuses occur in the name of closing the camp down, a problem the New York Times spotlights today.

Case in point: Ahmed Belchaba, an Algerian whom the Department of Defense no longer considers a danger to America. He's contesting his repatriation in a case set to be heard by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Lawyers for Mr. Belbacha have said he is at risk of torture or death by Islamist radicals because he once served in the Algerian army, and by the government, which is likely to view him as a terrorist because of his tenure at Guantánamo.

In a filing on Wednesday, the Justice Department opposed any order barring a transfer of Mr. Belbacha, saying that “as the United States has explained, it is in no one’s interest to detain enemy combatants longer than is necessary.”

That case could open courthouse doors to dozens of similar claims by detainees who do not want to be sent home.

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It's been a stormy day for Pervez Musharraf. First he blows off a joint Afghan-Pakistan anti-terrorism conference. Now Pakistani TV is reporting that Musharraf may declare a state of emergency.

An aide to the president, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Musharraf was due to meet with Cabinet ministers, the attorney-general and leaders from the ruling party on Thursday to discuss whether an emergency should be declared.

He did not expect a declaration of an emergency in the early hours of Thursday.

"I cannot say that it will be tonight, tomorrow or later. We hope that it does not happen," [Information Minister Tariq] Azim said. "But we are going through difficult circumstances so the possibility of an emergency cannot be ruled out."

This could turn out to be nothing, of course. But if it happens, it would represent quite the kiss-off to Washington.

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