TPM News

It's not just Henry Waxman anymore. The Democratic chairmen of the House armed services, international relations and appropriations committees have joined the oversight committee chair in demanding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stop suppressing internal State Department assessments of corruption in Iraq.

Iraq's former top anti-corruption judge testified to Waxman's committee last week that corruption had "stopped" reconstruction outright, and claimed that political figures close to the Maliki government (including the PM's own brother) are robbing the country blind. In response, the State Department sent a representative to the committee to say . . . he couldn't talk about it in open session.

That's not good enough for Waxman or his new allies, Ike Skelton (D-MO), Tom Lantos (D-CA) and David Obey (D-WI). Keeping corruption information classified, they write in a letter today to Rice, "will undermine our ability to work together to find solutions to this significant problem."

Full text after the jump.

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Ever since 9/11, the biggest epithet an outsider can hurl at the CIA is that it's "risk-averse." Nothing, but nothing, rankles agency officials and operatives more than hearing that they're not willing to do whatever it takes to defend the country. So when agency officials start throwing knives at one another, it's the charge that someone has contributed to risk-aversion, real or perceived, that cuts the deepest. Looking back, that's exactly what Mike Hayden did when he released Inspector General John Helgerson's report into the CIA and 9/11 in August.

Helgerson found compounding layers of incompetence and fault among senior agency officials, especially then-Director George Tenet, in a Congressionally-mandated review he completed in 2005. The report was only released to the public after Congress placed a provision mandating disclosure in this year's bill compelling the implementation of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. In releasing the report, Hayden blasted Helgerson for unfairly maligning the agency, and suggested that excessive criticism like Helgerson's would have a "chilling effect" on energetic CIA action against terrorism:

I thought the release of this report would distract officers serving their country on the frontlines of a global conflict. It will, at a minimum, consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well plowed. I also remain deeply concerned about the chilling effect that may follow publication of the previously classified work, findings, and recommendations of the Office of Inspector General.

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In June of 2005, John Tanner, the chief of the voting rights section, wrote Columbus, Ohio's election officials to publicly assure them that the Justice Department had found no evidence of intentional African-American voter disenfranchisement in the 2004 election.

Not only was that an unprecedented move, former Department lawyers say, but the letter is another, and particularly galling, example of Tanner using the force of the Department to further Republican aims -- in this case, to hamper future lawsuits or investigations concerning the problems in Columbus.

"It really looked like the Civil Rights Division was used to run interference for Republican election officials in Ohio," former voting rights section deputy chief Bob Kengle told me.

At issue was the experience of thousands of voters in Franklin County, Ohio, in the 2004 election. Voters in mostly African-American precincts were forced to wait hours in long lines to vote. An investigation by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) found that voters often waited as many as four to five hours, some as many as seven, deep into the night. The Washington Post reported that "bipartisan estimates say that 5,000 to 15,000 frustrated voters turned away without casting ballots." The culprit, of course, was a scarcity of voting machines in those districts, one that seemed to follow a suspicious trend: "27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush" and "six of the seven wards with the fewest machines delivered large margins for Kerry."

But Tanner, who's due to appear in a Congressional hearing, launched an investigation (more on that below) and found that "Franklin County assigned voting machines in a non-discriminatory manner," as he wrote in a detailed 4-page letter to a local official. But if the distribution of the machines was non-discriminatory, why then were polling places in predominantly African-American areas forced to remain open for hours after the normal 7:30 PM closing time in order to accommodate the long lines?

Tanner explained that African-Americans simply vote later in the day:

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In a motion filed this week, Rep. William "Cold Cash" Jefferson (D-LA) wants the bulk of his bribery charges thrown out, saying it was unconstitutional for the FBI to speak with his aides about legislative matters, the Crypt reports.

In August, a DC Circuit court called the FBI's raid of his Congressional office a violation of the Speech and Debate Clause. The day should have sparked a celebration for corrupt politicians, one watchdog said at the time.

No doubt Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) lawyers are watching this case closely, since news broke that the FBI listened in on phone calls between the senator and Veco CEO Bill Allen. Some legal experts say the earlier Jefferson decision might be interpreted to mean it is illegal to tap Congressional phones. Stay tuned.

The environmental community is riding high on global concern for energy policy, with no less than a Nobel Peace Prize for Al Gore to keep alive the conversation. No doubt they are well aware of the pro-energy lobbying power of Bracewell & Patterson, a firm that has played a big part in this administration's anti-environment energy policy. It turns out, Bracwell has also provided Rudy Giuliani with powerful professional, political and economic ties to the oil-rich Texas community. (The Nation)

American troops have weighed in on the Blackwater shooting incident, and the story continues to get worse. According to soldiers on the scene, there was no evidence that Iraqis fired their weapons. Worse, these soldiers have reported that Blackwater personnel continued to fire on Iraqi vehicles, even after those vehicles had turned around and were fleeing the scene. (Washington Post)

There was a time when it looked like Jerry Lewis was going to escape from the Duke Cunningham scandal unscathed. But these days, it looks like he's back in the sights of investigators; yesterday, another of his aides was subpoenaed. (AP)

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Since taking over as director of national intelligence in February, Mike McConnell has prided himself on being more open to the public than most intelligence chiefs. His release in July of thousands of documents of controversial; Cold War-era CIA activities, known as the "Family Jewels" was the biggest declassification in the agency's history.

But no dice getting his reaction to a more recent scandal: CIA Director Michael Hayden's investigation of his agency's own inspector general, John Helgerson. McConnell spokesman Ross Feinstein simply said the director had "no comment" and referred any press inquiries to the CIA. Given the internal agency dispute, it might be helpful to know whether Hayden's boss considers the move appropriate or necessary, but it appears that for now McConnell is keeping his opinion private.

That's one way to placate the National Clandestine Service. CIA Director Michael Hayden is going after the agency's independent watchdog, Inspector General John Helgerson. Hayden wonders if Helgerson -- who is not appointed by the CIA director -- hasn't gone too far in investigating how the agency conducts detentions and interrogations.

Helgerson has for years been perceived as overly aggressive in reviewing CIA techniques in the war on terrorism. In 2004, he produced an internal report that seemed to say that Department of Justice-approved interrogation techniques employed by the CIA amounted to torture. That report was part of a series of internal administration moves contributing to uncertainty among interrogators and senior officials about what was legally permissible. Some in the NCS -- the agency's undercover operatives -- have purchased legal insurance to guard against the possibility that they will one day face criminal charges for putting administration-approved practices into place. In short, many in the CIA think Helgerson is out to get them.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the investigation has grown out of an effort by Hayden months ago to explore a "friction" that had emerged between Helgerson's office and that of the CIA general counsel, which also has lent its legal imprimatur to CIA interrogations and detentions, after the general counsel's office believed Helgerson was improperly second-guessing its advice. But the investigation, headed by Hayden confidante Robert L. Deitz, is now a full-fledged exploration of how Helgerson conducts his work. It comes as Helgerson is "nearing completion" on several reports into interrogations, renditions, and detentions, reports The New York Times.

In investigating Helgerson, Hayden is probably taking steps to assuage what by all accounts is an NCS plagued with legal confusion. Both the LAT and the NYT describe the investigation as "unusual" if not "unprecedented." Hayden's spokesman told both papers that the director is simply out to "help this office, like any office at the agency, do its vital work even better."

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The ACLU watched in horror and impotence this summer as the Protect America Act vastly expanded the NSA's warrantless surveillance authority. With House Democrats pushing a PAA fix that still gives civil libertarians shpilkis, the ACLU is determined not to watch history repeat itself, especially as the Senate prepares a companion bill that worries the organization even more. So the ACLU is taking an aggressive approach: passing on what it freely concedes are rumors concerning what's in the bill in order to pressure Senators against violating civil-libertarian red-lines. What follows is an example.

Early this morning, ACLU spokeswoman Liz Rose heard from Senate sources that an unreleased draft of the bill contains provisions granting amnesty to telecommunications companies that turned over communications of subscribers to the NSA without warrants between 2001 and 2007. The Bush administration badly wants retroactive immunity for telecoms to become law, and was frustrated when this matter of "basic fairness" (in the words of Assistant Attorney General Ken Wainstein to reporters yesterday) wasn't part of either the PAA or the House Democratic RESTORE Act. Rose feared that the Senate Democrats were preparing to cave: after all, even civil-libertarian bete noire Steny Hoyer (D-MD) conditioned retroactive immunity on thorough administration disclosure over what the telecoms had done to require it.

So she sent out an email to a list of concerned bloggers warning them of what she heard. She gave permission to one of them, Christy Hardin Smith of Fire Dog Lake, to publish a version of her email. Hardin Smith wrote a post earlier today quoting Rose's email as follows:

…the Senate bill (Committee draft) does contain immunity/amnesty for the telecom companies…Including retroactive immunity for anything they’ve done wrong in cooperating in illegal domestic spying for the past six years.

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Fresh off his candid appearance at a California panel on minority voter disenfranchisement last week, Voting Rights Section chief John Tanner will get to air his views to Congress.

After initially rebuffing a request for Tanner to appear, the Justice Department has agreed to send him along for a hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. A date for the hearing hasn't yet been set.

There will be plenty to ask Tanner about, and not only his view that voter ID laws don't significantly hurt minorities because "they die first." The focus of the hearing is likely to be his role in forcing through an approval of a controversial, and ultimately halted, Georgia ID law in 2005 over the objections of the career lawyers and analysts on his staff.

“I’m pleased that the administration has finally reversed course and agreed to allow Mr. Tanner to testify,” said the subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). “I hope that he will be as willing to provide lawmakers with the same candid views he has been providing at various public venues.... This hearing will also offer lawmakers the ability to address the serious concerns about the many controversial positions the Voting Rights Section has taken in the last few years.”

Families of Nisour Square victims, along with one survivor, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit this morning against Blackwater in federal district court. The suit represents one of the first times any Iraqi has taken legal action against a private military company working under contract from a U.S. government agency.

It's unclear whether Judge Reggie Walton (yup, the Scooter Libby judge) will allow the lawsuit to proceed. Families of U.S. troops who died in a 2004 Blackwater plane crash in Afghanistan filed a negligence suit. But it's rare for Iraqis to sue private-military companies in U.S. courts. One of the only precedents is a lawsuit filed by the same lawyers in the Blackwater case: a suit against contractors CACI and Titan for their role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. And that case, filed in 2004, is still snarled up in legal challenges over whether the Iraqi victims have standing to sue.

Attorneys with the Philadelphia firm Burke O'Neill and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It claims Blackwater is responsible for "the extrajudicial killing of Oday Ismail Ibraheem, Himoud Saed Atban, and Usama Fadhil Abbas," and for mental and physical damages suffered by Talib Mutlaq Deewan, who survived the shooting. Deewan and the families are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but no monetary amount is specified in the suit. The case has "great implications for the application of the rule of law and the rebuilding of the U.S.'s reputation abroad," says Vincent Warren, CCR's executive director and an attorney on the case. Contacts of CCR and Burke O'Neill on the ground in Iraq from the Abu Ghraib lawsuit reached out to the September 16 victims' families to offer legal assistance.

The plaintiffs rely on the Alien Tort Statute for their suit, part of a 1789 law passed to give foreigners standing to sue U.S. persons or organizations if they can't seek legal action in their own country. Thanks to a Coalition Provisional Authority edict known as Order 17, Blackwater is effectively outside Iraqi law.

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