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If there's one thing that the Abramoff scandal has taught us, it's that it pays to snitch.

From the AP:

An environmental advocate who provided Jack Abramoff's entree into the Interior Department was sentenced Friday to two months in a halfway house and four years probation.

Italia Federici, who pleaded guilty in June to tax evasion and obstructing a Senate investigation, was spared prison only because she has become a key witness in the Justice Department's ongoing corruption investigation.


(I would be remiss if I didn't amusedly note the AP's description of Federici as an "environmental advocate." She did indeed head a group called Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA), so the word "environmental" was in her group's title. But her advocacy was definitely against the environmental movement, not with it.)

Federici was key in helping the feds bag Steven Griles, formerly the deputy secretary of the Interior Department (and formerly her boyfriend). Griles was sentenced to 10 months in prison back in June. And for that, she's been rewarded.

The scheme went this way: Jack Abramoff's tribal clients gave CREA at least $500,000 in contributions, providing practically the entire operating budget for the group. In return, Federici used her close connections to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton (for whom she used to work) and the #2 Steven Griles (whom she was dating) to make sure that Abramoff's concerns were addressed. Here's the whole rundown.

Today, John Tanner resigned from his position effective immediately as chief of the Civil Rights Division's voting section. His resignation email, with the subject line "Moving On" was sent out at approximately 11 AM to voting section staff. He said that he will be moving on to the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices. The email is reproduced below in full.

With Tanner, it had seemed like a matter of not if, but when. As we reported late last month, his travel habits had angered attorneys in the voting section, leading to an investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility.

And that was after his comments about the tendency of minorities to "die first" led Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and others to call for his removal. When he went before the House Judiciary Committee in October, he was lambasted for his tendency of "basing your conclusions on stereotypes" (like, say, claiming that African-Americans have IDs more than whites because they're always going to cash-checking businesses).

But most of all, Tanner's reign is notable for his collusion with the political appointees who oversaw the section, an ongoing effort to reverse the Civil Rights Division's traditional role in protecting minority voters, particularly African-Americans, into one of aiding thinly disguised vote suppression measures (most infamously Georgia's voter ID law). It was an effort that some career DoJ attorneys later described as "institutional sabotage."

Who'll be taking over? We've got a question into DoJ to see.

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Blink and you'll miss it in today's New York Times piece on the House's torture ban. But Jose Rodriguez, the CIA's ex-operations director who ordered the interrogation tapes destroyed in late 2005, has hired one of Washington's most prominent criminal attorneys:

Mr. Rodriguez has hired Robert S. Bennett, a well-known Washington lawyer, to represent him in Congressional and Justice Department inquiries into his handling of the tapes.

Mr. Bennett has represented a number of high-profile clients — among them former President Bill Clinton, Caspar W. Weinberger, the former defense secretary, and Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary and World Bank president.

“Mr. Rodriguez has been a loyal public servant for 31 years and has always acted in the best interest of the country,” Mr. Bennett said. “He’s done nothing wrong.”


How in the world does a retiring CIA official have the cash to hire Robert Bennett?

Update: An answer, from a knowledgeable source. Rodriguez, like many CIA officers, bought a very generous insurance policy in anticipation of getting into some kind of legal jeopardy of one sort or another.

Let it be known: House Democrats oppose waterboarding -- the process of drowning a detainee that's so severe even those who think it "works" don't think we should do it -- and House Republicans support it. The House yesterday voted to restrict CIA interrogation methods to the Geneva Conventions-compliant provisions outlined in the Army's field manual on interrogation. The bill passed on a nearly party-line vote. President Bush, a self-described Christian, promises a veto.

A House panel has begun looking into a former Halliburton/KBR employee’s allegations of rape and forced detention. In a “hearing next Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony relating to allegations made by Jamie Leigh Jones that in 2005, a group of Halliburton/KBR employees in Baghdad drugged her and gang-raped her less than a week into her time in the country.” Meanwhile, the head of KBR, Bill Utt, has sent a memo to employees stating that press reports have mischaracterized the sexual assault and his company’s response. Utt will certainly have time to defend his company in front of Congress or in federal court, as Congress has also begun “asking questions about another ex-employee of government contracting firm KBR who claims she was raped in Iraq.” (ABC’s, “The Blotter”)

Newsweek (via Think Progress) reports that the interrogation techniques used on Abu Zubaydah “sparked an internal battle within the U.S. intelligence community” to such an extent that one agent, so offended by the methods, “threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators.” (Newsweek)

Salon has new testimony from witnesses and victims of Blackwater's September 16th shootings that “provides the most in-depth, harrowing account to date of the U.S. security firm's deadly rampage in Iraq.” One man describes how he “identified his son from what was left of his shoes. His forehead and brains were missing and his skin completely burned. He identified his wife of 20 years by a dental bridge.” (Salon)

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And here you thought Stuart Bowen was a paragon of integrity.

Bowen is the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). Despite being an old buddy of George W. Bush's back in the Texas days, Bowen has earned a reputation as a tireless investigator of waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq contracting.

The quarterly reports issued by SIGIR have not hesitated to name names of both crooked contractors and crooked contracting officials. Bowen's appearances on Capitol Hill have been remarkably candid and free of euphemism. When I was in Baghdad in March, military public-affairs officers jumped at the chance to show me how they interface with SIGIR and boasted of the enormous respect they have for an office that's all up in their business.

But now, reports The Washington Post, the worm has turned. SIGIR faces four separate investigations -- including one by a federal grand jury -- looking into everything from its own profligacy to its alleged abundance of ego:

Current and former employees have complained about overtime policies that allowed 10 staff members to earn more than $250,000 each last year. They have questioned the oversight of a $3.5 million book project about Iraq's reconstruction modeled after the 9/11 Commission report. And they have alleged that Bowen and his deputy have improperly snooped into their staff's e-mail messages.

The employee allegations have prompted four government probes into the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), including an investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors into the agency's financial practices and claims of e-mail monitoring, according to law enforcement sources and SIGIR staff members. Federal prosecutors have presented evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a grand jury in Virginia, which has subpoenaed SIGIR for thousands of pages of financial documents, contracts, personnel records and correspondence, several sources familiar with the probe said.


Bowen, with no evident irony, dismisses many of the charges as the result of "disgruntled" employees. Yet some of the overtime that certain SIGIR officials have racked up is downright gaudy (1400 hours?).

One SIGIR official spoke anonymously of a climate of fear that pervades the office. SIGIR's chiefs are "gripped by paranoia. It's almost a siege mentality." Such alleged paranoia, according to federal prosecutors, has led top officials to illegally snoop on their employees. One of them, Ginger Cruz, Bowen's deputy, allegedly used, um, witchcraft to intimidate subordinates:

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The Miami "Seas of David" terror bust was such an important blow in the War on Terror that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales himself gave a press conference in July of 2006. Federal agents had stopped a plot to blow up the Sears Tower, he said. The group had planned to "accomplish attacks against America," the FBI's deputy director said at Gonzales side. "We pre-empted their plot."

But, as we wrote at the time, "the more we learn, the less this crew looks like they could have toppled a tree house, let alone the Sears Tower." The clique, adherents of a sect "that mixes Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism," met in a windowless warehouse they called the "Temple." The leader of the group, Narseal Batiste, was described as a "'Moses-like figure' who would roam the streets in a cape or bathrobe, toting a crooked wooden cane and looking for young men to join his group." And when the group met in their Temple, the men "took turns standing guard outside the door, dressed up in makeshift military uniforms and combat boots. Sometimes they covered their faces with ski masks." Nobody ever charged them with being subtle.

And it was unclear whether the group really had any plans themselves, or whether they got all their ideas from the FBI informant. When the FBI raided the Temple, FBI agents found only one knife and a blackjack. The group trained by shooting paintball guns in the woods.

Sure enough, the government's case ended today with one exoneration and six mistrials. "The government wants to try them again next year," the BBC reports.

Remember that fateful day? March 17, 2005? When House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) held his hearing into steroids in baseball, and Mark McGuire disgraced himself for all time? When Jose Canseco named names? And Sammy Sosa pretended not to speak English?

Well, there may not be do-overs in baseball, but it's time for a rematch of sorts. Davis, now the committee's ranking member, and Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman, announced today that they'll ask steroids investigator George Mitchell, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and players' union chief Don Fehr to testify next week. Unfortunately, none of the implicated players -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, the whole gang -- will be "invited" to speak. However, reliable sources tell us the official soundtrack for the hearing will be Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days."

Full statement after the jump.

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The military commissions at Guantanamo Bay have plenty of critics. But here are two in particular worth mentioning.

Earlier this week, the former chief prosecutor at the tribunals, Col. Morris Davis blasted the system in an op-ed, calling the system "deeply politicized" (that same day, the administration arbitrarily barred him from testifying to Congress).

And today The New York Times has this:

Back in 2002, a master’s degree candidate at the Naval War College wrote a paper on the Bush administration’s plan to use military commissions to try Guantánamo suspects, concluding that “even a good military tribunal is a bad idea.”

It drew little notice at the time, but the paper has gained a second life because of its author’s big promotion: Col. Ralph H. Kohlmann of the Marines is now the chief judge of the military commissions at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The system, Judge Kohlmann wrote in 2002, would face criticism for the “apparent lack of independence” of military judges and would have “credibility problems,” the very argument made by Guantánamo’s critics.

He said it would be better to try terrorism suspects in federal courts in the United States. “Unnecessary use of military tribunals in the face of reasonable international criticism,” he wrote, “is an ill-advised move.”...

Prior terrorism and organized crime cases, he wrote, showed that “the existing United States criminal justice system does not have to be put aside simply because the potential defendants have scary friends.”


Kohlmann appears to have taken the attitude that it's better to work to fix the system from the inside than criticize it from outside. He hasn't disavowed the paper, the Times reports, though he's changed his original opinion that "President Bush’s original order establishing military commissions 'essentially states' that fundamental fairness would not be a part of commission trials." Comforting.

Last August, we united with Porkbusters.org and GOP Progress to unmask the senator who was holding up a bill introduced by Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) to create a public, searchable database of all federal grants and contracts.

For days, we worked the phones and gathered responses that hundreds of TPMm readers had received from senators' offices, eventually eliminating 98 senators as being behind the hold. And indeed, there turned out to be not one, but two pork-happy senators behind the hold: Sens. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Robert Byrd (D-WV). (The two didn't seem to appreciate the irony of holding up a government transparency bill in a singularly nontransparent way.) After being unmasked, the senators lifted their holds and the bill sailed through to passage.

Well, this morning, FedSpending.gov finally launched.

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