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In a conference call with reporters this afternoon, Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, raised "serious concerns" about numerous provisions contained within the new FISA bill, which the House judiciary and intelligence committees approved today.

But let me focus on the question I brought up this morning: Although the new bill authorizes surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications, how does the intelligence community know ahead of time whether a surveillance target abroad calls into the United States?

After a FISA Court ruling in the spring that foreign-to-foreign communications passing through U.S. switches or email servers were subject to FISA, both Democrats and Republicans agreed the law needed to be fixed. The Protect America Act signed into law in August did just that. Surveillance targeted at a person reasonably believed to be overseas and in possession of foreign intelligence information would be outside the purview of the FISA Court.

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It's official: the confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general will begin next Wednesday, October 17. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) set the date today.

Leahy laid out the questions he'll have for Mukasey in a letter last week, in which he also indicated that Mukasey's confirmation will be considered separate from the administration's refusal so far to turn over documents concerning its warrantless surveillance program. When Mukasey's name was first announced by the president, Leahy said that his focus was on "securing the relevant information we need so we can proceed to schedule fair and thorough hearings." Now those hearings will apparently go forward without that information. Or as Leahy put it last week to Mukasey, "they have left you to answer the unanswered questions." We'll see how that goes.

You never can be too careful, particularly when you're being investigated for lying to Congress. From Newsweek:

No sooner did Alberto Gonzales resign as attorney general last month than he retained a high-powered Washington criminal-defense lawyer to represent him in continuing inquiries by Congress and the Justice Department.

Gonzales’s choice of counsel, George Terwilliger—a partner at White & Case—is ironic if not surprising. A former deputy attorney general under the first President Bush, who later helped oversee GOP lawyers in the epic Florida recount battle of 2000, Terwilliger had been a White House finalist to replace Gonzales—only to be aced out at the last minute by retired federal judge Michael Mukasey.

The top concern for Gonzales, and now Terwilliger, is the expanding investigation by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s fiercely independent inspector general, according to three legal sources familiar with the matter who declined to speak publicly about ongoing investigations.

Fine is not only investigating whether Gonzales made false statements to Congress (see the top six here), but also whether Gonzales might have improperly coached his aide Monica Goodling on her recollection of the U.S. attorney firings. That's in addition, of course, to Fine's sprawling investigation of the politicization of the Department under Gonzales' leadership. But apparently Gonzales is most worried that his statements to Congress are the most likely to lead to a criminal investigation.

Dana Jill Simpson wasn't just worried about Rove's involvement in Gov. Don Siegelman's (D-AL) case. She also testified that she heard about a behind-the-scenes arrangement to ensure which judge would get the case -- a judge sure to "hang" Siegelman.

Simpson said that Gov. Bob Riley's (R) son, Rob Riley, told her in a 2005 conversation -- one where Riley also said that Rove was pushing to have the Justice Department investigate Siegelman -- that Judge Mark Fuller would get the case because Fuller, an active Republican, had a beef with Siegelman over an audit.

We've posted the portion of the interview where Simpson discusses Fuller here.

Q And did he talk to you about Mark Fuller's politics or political work?

[Simpson] He did.

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In an interview she gave under oath to House investigators, Republican lawyer Dana Jill Simpson expanded on her previous statement about Karl Rove's role in the prosecution of Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL), implicating Rove in using the Justice Deparment to stymie Siegelman's campaigns in 2002 and again in 2005.

In the interview, first obtained by Time and released today by the committee, Simpson explains the context in which she knew what Alabama Republican operative William Canary meant on a campaign conference call in 2002 when he said "Karl" had gotten the Justice Department on Siegelman. Simpson told House investigators that the son of Gov. Bob Riley (R), Rob Riley, had told her about the conversations between Rove and Canary. From the transcript:

But I knew from conversations that I had had with Rob that Bill Canary was very connected to Karl Rove. Additionally, there was some talk -- and that's not in my affidavit -- about Karl had -- about Washington; that Karl had it taken care of in Washington.

Simpson also told investigators that three years later, during Bob Riley's 2005 campaign, Rob Riley told her that Rove had intervened again, this time going directly to the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice. The intervention came after the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama "messed up" a case against Siegelman to keep him from running, Simpson told investigators. According to the interview transcript, Simpson said Rove made sure all the bases were covered to properly prosecute Siegelman:

Q: Okay. And did Rob give you the name of the person at -- I'm just going to call it Public Integrity -- that he thought he understood Karl Rove had spoken to?

[Simpson]: No, he said it was the head guy there and he said that that guy had agreed to allocate whatever resources, so evidently the guy had the power to allocate resources, you know.

Q: To the Siegelman prosecution?

[Simpson] Yes. And that he'd allocate all resources necessary.

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At the mark-up of today's RESTORE bill, House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) defended the surveillance measure, which he's co-sponsoring, against criticism from both left and right:

To those who would claim that this bill is weak on terrorism, I would say that protecting the civil rights and liberties of Americans does not show our weakness, but our strength. What the terrorists fear most is our constitution and our values, and that is what this bill protects.

To those who say that the bill is too weak on civil liberties, I say that if you trust an independent court and have faith in congressional oversight, those liberties will not be jeopardized. That is the premise our democracy was founded on, and that is exactly what this bill does.

Admiral McConnell isn't the only administration figure lukewarm on the Democrats' RESTORE bill. President Bush just issued his first statement on the bill -- sort of.

Unlike McConnell, though, Bush didn't actually mention anything about RESTORE. Instead, he repeatedly praised the Protect America Act, August's FISA revision that RESTORE somewhat scales back. The PAA "strengthened our ability to collect intelligence on terrorists overseas" and "closed a dangerous gap in our intelligence," Bush said. "Keeping this authority is essential to keeping America safe." While he didn't actually criticize RESTORE, the strong implication is that the bill is too restrictive for him, even though its provisions for authorizing surveillance on foreign targets are remarkably similar to those within the PAA.

Could, maybe, politics have something to do with the tepid response the bill is getting from the administration? Here's how a GOP aide outlined the party's strategy to the Baltimore Sun's Siobhan Gorman:

The GOP strategy is to "run out the clock," he said, adding that Republican Senate leaders and the White House are "100 percent on board" with that plan.

Republicans, the aide said, "don't mind having this fight." He added, "this is Democrat-on-Democrat violence. The [American Civil Liberties Union] hates it. Most of the members hate it, but they also realize that if they don't do it, they can be blamed in the future" for a terrorist attack.

The ACLU has its differences, you might say, with Admiral Mike McConnell. Its website, for instance, features a page with the sub-headline, "McConnell Tries to Scare America in to [sic] Giving Up Fourth Amendment." But they do share one thing in common: neither much likes the Democratic RESTORE Act.

To be clear, the ACLU's opposition is intense, and centered around the so-called "umbrella warrants," whereby the director of national intelligence and the attorney general submit an annual explanation to the FISA Court outlining why their surveillance methods target non-U.S. persons "reasonably believed to be outside the United States... for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information." McConnell's concerns, it's safe to say, don't center around whether umbrella authorizations violate the Fourth Amendment. Rather, he's concerned about the bill not providing retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who cooperated with warrantless surveillance requests from 2001 to 2007. He's also more tentative than the ACLU, leaving himself room to negotiate with Congressional Democrats.

From McConnell spokesman Ross Feinstein:

"Our intelligence professionals will need to review the actual text of the bill. However, clearly on a couple of the points, this legislation fails to meet some of the requirements the DNI has stated he must have in any FISA Modernization Legislation. One important point is the retroactive liability protection for the private sector, which is missing from this bill."

Yesterday, as Paul wrote, chief RESTORE advocate Steny Hoyer (D-MD) conditioned retroactive liability on the administration disclosing what exactly telecommunications did when asked to allow the NSA to eavesdrop on domestic-to-foreign communications.

We're still waiting to hear what the other points of contention are from McConnell's perspective. But so far, it doesn't sound like the bill has McConnell's support. Finally: common ground between McConnell and the ACLU.

The bill (pdf) introduced by House Democrats yesterday to scale back the Protect America Act represents an effort to reconcile the surveillance powers that Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell has told Democrats he needs with civil liberties protections for U.S. citizens and residents. But to some degree, the bill is also an attempt to legislate in the dark. That's because a lot still remains unknown about the extent of surveillance between people inside the U.S. and people overseas.

Most obviously, the administration has refused to turn over documentation of what eavesdropping within the U.S. has occurred outside of the boundaries of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and based on what legal reasoning. Before August's overhaul of FISA, critics contended that understanding the need for a revision was the only responsible basis for new legislation. That clearly failed. As a result, the Protect America Act changed the definition of electronic surveillance, allowing for largely warrant-free interception of communications simply where intelligence officials had reason to believe that one party to the conversation was outside the U.S. and possessed foreign-intelligence information.

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The Texas-based private security firm, U.S. Protections and Investigations (USPI) is under investigation itself. USPI, which receives millions of dollars to secure U.S.-funded road projects in Afghanistan and train Iraqi security forces, has had its files, safe, and computers seized from its Kabul office because of alleged fraud. (ABC’s The Blotter)

Giuliani claims that the U.S. has disrupted 23 domestic terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001. President Bush has taken credit for foiling only about a dozen attacks and a check of homeland security experts reveled their consternation about “23.” Maybe Rudy was thinking of the 29 hours that he spent at “ground zero” between September 17 and December 16, 2001. (National Journal’s The Hotline)

MotherJones published a Blackwater timeline that brings more clarity to the murky operations of the private military contractor. September 24, 2006: "Blackwater convoy driving down the wrong side of the road ('counter flowing') in al-Hillah strikes an oncoming car, propelling it into a telephone pole. The Iraqi car bursts into flames. Blackwater contractors leave the scene without offering help to the victim, who dies in the fire." (Mother Jones)

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