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You know that Bob Schaffer thinks he's getting a bum rap. The Colorado Republican Senate candidate says he's never met Jack Abramoff, but more than anything, he says his comments that launched the controversy were taken out of context.

Speaking to a talk radio host earlier this week, Schaffer said that he hadn't said that "I endorse everything that goes on in the [Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands]" -- meaning forced abortions, and other human rights abuses. He'd meant "a very narrow aspect of the CNMI's, of the commonwealth's, immigration process, and that was a pre-process of qualifying foreign labor in their home country before they're given entry visas to set foot on American soil."

And that's true, sort of. In his original comments to The Denver Post, Schaffer had been asked about guest-worker programs. And as a successful model for the U.S., he'd pointed to the Marianas, saying "prequalifying foreign workers in their home country under private- sector management" works "very well" there.

It was a comment that mirrored those of ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Jack Abramoff's staunchest ally in Congress, ten years before. From The Houston Chronicle in 1998:

Rather than impose more regulation on the [Marianas], DeLay said, the United States ought to adopt the islands' business and labor practices by creating a guestworker program of its own 'where particular companies can bring Mexican workers in' to fill jobs that Americans won't take. DeLay said the workers could be paid at 'whatever wage the market will bear.'

DeLay had just returned from a tour of the Marianas, where he'd rung in the New Year. Abramoff, of course, had organized the trip, and his clients, the Marianas government and garment manufacturers there, had paid for it. In an interview with the Chronicle, "Delay said he saw nothing wrong with accepting the trip, and said Abramoff, who went on the trip as well, was just 'doing his job (as a lobbyist).'" DeLay remains under federal investigation for his ties to Abramoff.

Beyond the free trips, the Marianas' reliance on private sector management had a clear philosophical appeal to conservatives which Abramoff was keen to exploit. But doing so meant ignoring a host of evidence and findings that the Marianas' guest worker system was at the heart of the abuses there.

A report by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1997, for instance, did not find that the system was working "very well" there.

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While House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) presides over negotiations on the new surveillance bill, House Republicans have continued to push the Senate's version, which contains retroactive immunity for the telecoms, every which way they can.

Earlier this week, they tried to convince moderate Dems that it really was in their best interest (sub. req.):

"This is an opportunity for the 21 Blue Dog Democrats who signed a letter supporting the bipartisan, Senate-passed FISA bill to prove that they are serious about America's national security," said Michael Steel, House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) spokesman. "Will they choose to protect their constituents or will they back the Democratic leadership in kowtowing to trial lawyers and liberal special interests?"

Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) (yes, that Jerry Lewis) will try to tack on the Senate's bill to the war supplemental spending bill. As The Politico notes, the Dems on the appropriations committee will likely vote that down, but "at the very least, he would put members of the majority on the record rejecting the Senate bill, something Republicans have done repeatedly."

So far the moderate Dems have held strong to the Dem leadership's position that retroactive immunity is off the table. Hoyer has said that he hopes that negotiations will result in a new bill by late May. Regardless, the next showdown is likely to take place before August, when the wiretaps authorized under the Protect America Act will actually begin to lapse. So we'll see what happens then.

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The U.S. government claims they are doing all they can to prop up Iraqi security forces for an eventual hand off ... one of these days. Yet the transitional path may be rockier than expected, according to an audit by the Pentagon that reveals many dead or inactive troops are on the Iraqi government payroll in an effort to support their families. (Associated Press)

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is hearing calls for his swift impeachment, by fellow Democrats no less, for allegedly promising a job to a state finance official in exchange for campaign contributions. The official, Ali Ata, pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, implicated the governor in the wrongdoing and is now expected to testify against Blagojevich ally Tony Rezko for accepting kickbacks from state businesses. (Chicago Sun-Times)

A faculty-led panel at the University of West Virginia is investigating the retroactive master's degree given to the daughter of the state's Gov. Joe Manchin in 2007. The panel issued a report saying there was no proof the recipient, Heather Bresch, earned the 1998 master's degree of business administration. Bresch has said she completed the degree program fairly, yet her faculty advisor at the time says otherwise. (Associated Press)

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Ooh, that must sting. For ringing up his state's U.S. attorney at bedtime to interrogate him about whether that high-profile corruption case against a prominent state Democrat will result in an indictment before the election, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) has been branded with the dreaded QA: that's right, qualified admonition.

The Senate ethics committee says it left no stone unturned in coming to this conclusion, including interviewing "current and former executive branch officials and attorneys," but that the "Committee finds no substantial evidence to determine that [Domenici] attempted to improperly influence an ongoing investigation." The key word there being "substantial."

The U.S. attorney, David Iglesias, who was of course fired a little more than a month after Domenici's call, testified that the call made him sick. And so the committee says that Domenici "should have known" better -- that such a call would create an "appearance of impropriety." But appearance of impropriety aside, maybe the good senator was just looking for an update. You know, just ringing up the local prosecutor at home to see how things are going.

The modesty of the punishment matches the modesty of the investigation. It wasn't the committee's job to investigate the U.S. attorney firings in general: "We do emphasize, however, that the Committee confined its inquiry to your October 2006 call to Mr. Iglesias, its context and consequences and related actions by you or your office."

Nevertheless, as Domenici serves out his last year in the Senate, it's worth reminding ourselves of the broader context.

Such as the fact that when the story first broke that two lawmakers had called Iglesias shortly before the 2006 election, the lawmakers were not identified, resulting in a media scramble to identify them. When all other members of the New Mexico delegation responded that they'd never done such a thing, Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) went to ground and refused to comment. Finally, cornered by an AP reporter, Domenici said "I don't have any comment. I have no idea what he's talking about."

But when it became apparent that Iglesias would be testifying to Congress about the call, Domenici eventually developed an idea and fessed up. He apologized, but said "I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way." In their letter yesterday, the committee thanked Domenici for the "candor" of that statement.

Neither Domenici nor Wilson have admitted that it was Iglesias' failure to speedily dispatch with a couple high-profile corruption investigations into state Democrats that led to their dissatisfaction. Rather, they both hewed to the coded criticism that Iglesias had been slow to move cases -- when it's evident that they were really only talking about a few cases in particular.

We know that Domenici was also instrumental in Iglesias' firing, making calls not only to the Justice Department, but also to the White House. Of course, Iglesias had plenty of enemies, so it's certainly possible that other Republicans got him canned for, say, not jumping on the voter fraud bandwagon, and that's always been Domenici's best alibi.

But if you're looking to find out more about the context of Iglesias' firing, the Justice Department's forthcoming inspector general report will be much more informative.

Don't worry, America! Rep. Don Young (R-AK) will ensure that the blessed integrity of our nation's Constitution is upheld.

Last week, the Senate voted to require the Justice Department to open an investigation into how the language of Young's Coconut Road earmark was modified after it cleared both houses of Congress, but before it was signed by the President. Young, of course, welcomes scrutiny of any and all of his beloved earmarks. But it's the law of the thing that's got him upset:

"What the Senate did was unconstitutional," the Alaska Republican said Wednesday. "No other body can request an investigation on another body."

Now, while there are a host of touchy Constitutional issues surrounding the Senate's measure, this, to my understanding, isn't one of them. Democrats objected to Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) measure to create a bicameral committee because it would have involved one chamber investigating another (that measure failed). And there are legitimate concerns that any DoJ investigation would clash with Congress' Speech or Debate Clause protections. But no one else has put it quite the way Young has put it -- that the Senate's request for an investigation by the DoJ was unconstitutional.

Of course, just to underscore the circularity of all this, the Justice Department is already investigating Young's Coconut Road earmark, along with his ties to Veco and who knows what else. So if the Senate's possibly unconstitutional measure to force the DoJ to investigate Young's unconstitutional earmark fails, the DoJ will investigate it anyway.

Somehow I think that the Constitution will survive all this. As for Don Young...

Georgetown students will no longer have the benefit of Douglas Feith's insights into international law, his talent for seeing connections where others do not, or his ability to pack a PowerPoint presentation with punch. That's because his time there is up:

Asked about Feith's status, Robert Gallucci, dean of Georgetown's foreign service school, told us that when Feith was hired -- something that caused an uproar among the faculty -- it was understood he "was on a two-year appointment." Any decision not to renew should not be seen as "a judgment on his performance," Gallucci said, noting that Feith's students' "course evaluations were really good."

Feith, author of a bestseller about his Pentagon days called "War and Decision," said he hadn't decided what to do next. "I'm intensely occupied with book stuff," and there are "several things I'm thinking about," he said.

Word is that keeping Feith on beyond the two-year term again would have infuriated a number of faculty members.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller made it as clear as he could what the FBI's reaction to the CIA's use of waterboarding and other forms of torture in 2002 had been: keep FBI agents out of trouble.

But when House Democrats pressed as to why the FBI hadn't investigated the abuses, Mueller said his hands were tied. The CIA and the Defense Department had the green light. "There has to be a legal basis for us to investigate, and generally that legal basis is given to us by the Department of Justice." Thanks to John Yoo and others in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, the CIA had its "golden shield."

He also testified that in 2002, he'd "reached out" to the Pentagon and the Department of Justice "in terms of activity that we were concerned might not be appropriate -- let me put it that way." Mueller said he couldn't testify as to what the reply was, since it might be classified. Given the fact that a group of senior administration officials had agreed on the use of the techniques, you can guess what the answer was. Here's video:

It's certainly not the first time that the FBI has separated itself from the conduct of CIA and military interrogators. FBI agents involved in the Abu Zubaydah's case have been publicly critical of brutal interrogation techniques that reaped "crap." Newsweek reported that one FBI agent "was so offended [by Zubaydah's treatment] he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators." Of course, such an arrest could not happen without the Justice Department's say-so -- and it was on the DoJ's authority that the interrogation was taking place.

Back in October, The Los Angeles Times reported that Mueller was suspicious of the legal memos that had authorized the torture and thought they might be overturned. Yoo's memos authorizing torture were ultimately overturned -- but Attorney General Michael Mukasey has made clear that doesn't mean the interrogators who relied on them have anything to worry about. From the Times:

By mid-2002, several former agents and senior bureau officials said, they had begun complaining that the CIA-run interrogation program amounted to torture and was going to create significant problems down the road -- particularly if the Bush administration was ever forced to allow the Al Qaeda suspects to face their accusers in court.

Some went to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, according to the former bureau officials. They said Mueller pulled many of the agents back from playing even a supporting role in the interrogations to avoid exposing them to legal jeopardy, in the belief that White House and Justice Department opinions authorizing the coercive techniques might be overturned.

"Those guys were using techniques that we didn't even want to be in the room for," one senior federal law enforcement official said. "The CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved."

The full transcript of Mueller's exchanges on this with Reps. Steven Cohen (D-TN) and Robert Wexler (D-FL) are below.

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Nearly two years after the administration rolled out its big bust of the so-called "Liberty City Seven" (though they'll always be the Seas of David crew to us), the government has decided that the group of paintballers , whose leader used to roam the streets of Miami in a bathrobe, is such a continued threat that the government, after two trials ended in a hung jury, will be going for the hat trick:

Federal prosecutors announced plans Wednesday to retry six Florida men on terrorism charges despite two consecutive mistrials in a case once trumpeted as a success in the government's war on terrorism.

"We've worked very hard this past week, reviewing everything in this case and considering it very, very seriously," prosecutor Richard Gregorie said in Miami federal court. "The United States has decided it's necessary to proceed . . . one more time."...

The two trials have cost several million dollars, including fees for court-appointed defense lawyers and prosecutors' salaries. Providing security for the two trials has cost more than $1 million, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.

"Enough is enough," said defense lawyer David O. Markus. "The feds are always saying that they don't have enough resources, so why are they clinging to this money-draining case?"

Many families of soldiers killed in Iraq, like Lt. Col. Billy Hall, have given permission for the media to cover the burial of the deceased to show the realities of war. But the Pentagon has done its best to block such coverage, quelling sound and video allowed for recordings and obstructing reporters and photographers. (Washington Post)

The senator who added "wide stance" to the American lexicon now faces further hardship. Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), arrested last June by an undercover cop in an airport restroom, has used funds from this campaign committee to pay his lawyers. But the Senate ethics panel ordered him to pay out of his own bank account. (Washington Post)

Chalk up another victim to the scam artist Christopher Ward, former treasurer to several GOP campaigns and subject of an FBI investigation into alleged embezzlement charges. Rep. James Walsh (R-NY) is the latest (of the now six-member club) to reveal that he was a victim. (Washington Post)

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