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The Pentagon announced charges against Binyam Mohammed for allegedly conspiring to use dirty bombs to target buildings in the U.S. Defense lawyers for Mohammed are claiming political motives are behind the Pentagon's efforts to expedite the trial. Mohammed was also denied repatriation rights to be tried in his native Britain. (LA Times)

On March 11, the Office of Congressional Ethics was created, but had to wait 120 days (July 9) to officially begin operations. Yet the office still lacks in staff, board members and office space, rendering a start on July 9 unlikely. Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders offered explanations. (Roll Call sub. req.)

Audits of state and local police officers find that the failure to notify federal authorities about contact with possible terrorist suspects is rampant. Police are asked to report matches to suspects on watch lists, but an estimated 8 to 10 matches go unreported everyday. (USA Today)

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In a speech yesterday to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington, Condoleezza Rice did a little saber-rattling on Iran, in a tone the New York Times described as "unusually sharp":

"We would be willing to meet with them but not while they continue to inch toward nuclear weapons under the cover of talks," she told the group, a pro-Israel lobby known by its acronym, Aipac. "The real question isn't why won't the Bush administration talk to Iran. The real question is why won't Iran talk to us."

How much do Rice's comments reflect President Bush's views? It's long been known that few senior officials have the ear of the President like his secretary of state and former national security adviser. But former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan put a finer point on it in little noticed but exceptional criticisms of Rice in his new memoir, What Happened, published this week:

My later experiences with Condi led me to believe she was more interested in figuring out where the president stood and just carrying out his wishes while expending only cursory effort in helping him understand all the considerations and potential consequences.

McClellan marveled at her ability to remain at the center of the Iraq-policy decision makers since the administration's earliest days, yet rarely receive much criticism about the handling of the war.

Over time, however, I was stuck by how deft she is at protecting her reputation. No matter what went wrong, she was somehow able to keep her hands clean, even when the problems related to matters under her direct purview, including the WMD rationale for war in Iraq, the decision to invade Iraq, the sixteen words in the State of the Union address, and postwar planning and implementation of the strategy in Iraq.

Although she had been the presidents top foreign policy advisor and coordinator of his national security team, she has largely allowed responsibility for all these matters to fall on people like former CIA Director George Tenant, Paul Bremer and Don Rumsfeld.

But it was her relationship with the President that was the controlling influence on her own decision-making, McClellan asserts:

In private she complimented and reinforced Bush's instincts rather than challenging and questioning them. As far as I could tell from internal meeting and discussions, Condi invariably fell in line with the president's thinking.

As a result, McClellan suggests historians may not be kind to Rice.

If, as president Bush likes to say, results really do matter, then history will likely judge her harshly as the person responsible for overseeing a number of the defining -- and, at least in the short term, ill-fated -- policies of the Bush administration.

A lot of eyebrows were raised by the Pentagon's decision last week to remove a judge presiding over a key war crimes tribunal at Guantanamo Bay.

Defense attorneys say the military judge was removed because he'd made several rulings in favor of the defendant, a Canadian national named Omar Khadr who was detained at the age of 15 in Afghanistan in 2002.

The military may also be pushing to convene Guantanamo's first terrorism trial -- sure to be a cable TV news event -- at the height of the presidential election season this fall, defense attorneys say.

Now the military brass is getting defensive about the judge's removal.

The Miama Herald reports:

Chief judge Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann said he was making the rare public statement because last week's dismissal of Col. Peter Brownback raised questions about the independence of military officers presiding over tribunals at the Guantanamo Bay Navy base in Cuba.

"Any suggestion that my detailing of another military judge was driven by or prompted by any decisions or rulings made by Colonel Brownback is incorrect," Kohlmann said in the statement e-mailed to reporters.

Kohlmann said the Army decided by February to let Brownback's active-duty service orders expire.

But that struck many observers as odd, since Brownback had offered to remain on the case as long as needed and had received three annual extensions during the past few years.

Kohlmann said the Army made its decision "based on a number of manpower management considerations" unrelated to the tribunals.

The Herald also notes the rising tension between the judge and the military prosecutors in the case.

At a May 8 hearing, Brownback said that he had "badgered, beaten and bruised" by prosecutors to set a trial date. But he refused to do so before they satisfied defense requests for access to potential evidence, even threatening to suspend the proceedings unless the detention center provided records of Khadr's confinement.

The judge's removal and the taint of political interference has sparked a lot of controversy in Canada, where there is growing pressure for the government to demand Khadr's repatriation if the case is not soon resolved.

Editorial writers at the Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based national newspaper, appeared skeptical of the Army's explanation.

Given what is at stake for the United States in this trial that is to test the new military-commissions process, given the request from the chief judge that Col. Brownback stay on, and given the strange timing after years of extensions, this explanation is not enough to allay the impression of political interference.

The [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper government insists it wants to let the process work, but as the judge's removal suggests, this is a questionable process.

We're still at it trying to figure out which lawmaker was behind that $3.6 million earmark that led to last week's conviction of a Denver businessman on charges of criminal fraud.

As we told you last week, we think it might have been Colorado Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer.

Schaffer was in Congress when the earmark was awarded to the little-known not-for-profit founded by Bill Orr, who was convicted last week. And when Schaffer left Congress, he went on to become a director for Orr's group, the National Alternative Fuels Foundation, where his political buddy Scott Shires was treasurer. Shires pleaded guilty and testified against Orr.

Today we called Thomas Vanek, a former staffer for the House Science Committee's subcommittee on energy and environment, who testified at Orr's trial. He oversaw the authorization of the $3.6 million earmark back in October 2000.

I asked Vanek whether Orr received any help from members of Congress in securing the earmark.

"He may have gotten a member of Congress or two involved to get a thumbs up. I don't recall," said Vanek, who is now a senior policy advisor at the Department of Energy in Washington.

More specifically, I asked, do you think Bob Schaffer could have been involved in the earmark?

"He may well have been involved. Typically there would be a member involved. I'd say it's certainly possible. Likely? Who knows," Vanek said.

There's not much documentation tagged to earmarks, especially back then. Often influence is excercized verbally rather than on paper. With almost eight years distance, determining precisely who was involved back then is tough.

Usually, lawmakers are eager to take credit for bringing millions of dollars back home. But that's not the case here. We've contacted all eight members of the Colorado Congressional delegation from 2000, including the two we couldn't track down last week: former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and former Rep. Joel Hefley, both Republicans.

None of the lawmakers recalled any involvement with the National Alternative Fuels Foundation or its $3.6 million earmark.

So that leaves Schaffer. We've been calling everyday for a week now, but nobody from his campaign has gotten back to us.

Why doesn't Bob Schaffer want to talk about that earmark?

Former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK) says he was "as surprised and as shocked as anyone" to learn that his former chief of staff pleaded guilty yesterday in Jack Abramoff's lobbying ring.

The Washington Post reports:

"I have not seen the charges and I have no information about them," said Istook, who left the House to launch an unsuccessful bid for governor of Oklahoma in 2006. He is now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "I have met with the FBI. They did not share any details about the case, but they told me I am not a target of their investigation. I will continue to cooperate with them fully."

That's interesting, since prosecutors say Istook, the former chairman of the appropriations subcommitee for transportation, got on the phone with Jack Abramoff and, according to Abramoff, "basically asked what we want in the transportation bill."

A preliminary analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense found at least six of Abramoff's firm's clients received earmarks from the 2004 transportation appropriations bill, which was written by Istook's subcommittee.

It's been several years since President Bush, Cheney and others sat down with investigators to talk about who leaked the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

And Congress is still trying to find out what they said.

In the wake of former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's book published this week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is reiterating his request for access to documents related to those interviews.

Waxman writes a letter today to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey:

New revelations by fonner White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan raise additional questions about the actions of the President and the Vice President. Mr. McClellan has stated that "[t]he President and Vice President directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby." He has also asserted that "the top White House officials who knew the truthincluding Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney - allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie." It would be a major breach of trust if the Vice President personally directed Mr. McClellan to mislead the public. ... The Committee is conducting an important investigation to answer questions that Mr. Fitzgerald's criminal inquiry did not address. As I explained at the Committee's hearing last year, the purpose of the Committee's investigation is to examine:

(1) How did such a serious violation of our national security occur? (2) Did the White House take appropriate investigative and disciplinary steps after the breach occurred? And (3) what changes in White House security procedures are necessary to prevent future violations of our national security from occurring?

Read more for the complete text of the letter.

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The United States has used as many as 17 ships, or "floating prisons," to interrogate prisoners, a British rights group alleges. The Pentagon denies the claims, yet an official said it was possible U.S. Navy ships had temporarily held combatants during moves to more permanent locations. (AFP)

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) continues its report of two mothers' frustrating search for answers regarding the deaths of their sons, both former guards for private defense company Blackwater, while working in Iraq. Read part one of the account here. (The Plain Dealer)

Lawyers for Gitmo-detainee Omar Khadr are claiming the judge presiding over Khadr's case, Judge Army Col. Peter Brownback, will be replaced due to favorable rulings the judge made for the defense. But Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, chief judge in the U.S. war crimes court at Guantanamo, the removal happened for reasons unrelated to the Khadr case. Khadr is suspected of killing an American soldier during a firefight in Afghanistan. (Reuters)

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Remember that young Bush campaign worker who landed a job in the NASA public affairs office, where he was accused of blocking the country's top scientists from talking publicly about global warming?

His name was George C. Deutsch and he was one of several officials accused a couple years ago of manipulating the public disclosure of scientific research about climate change.

Well, NASA's own inspector general looked into the matter and -- whaddya know -- the Bush administration's critics were right.

A 48-page report from the agency's own watchdog, released yesterday, concluded that political appointees in the NASA press office were downplaying scientific conclusions about global warming by withholding certain press releases and limiting reporters' access to top scientists who might veer off message.

"Our investigation," the report said, "found that during the fall of 2004 through early 2006, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public."

The report said most evidence supported contentions that politics was "inextricably interwoven" into operations at the public affairs office in that period and that the pattern was inconsistent with the statutory responsibility to communicate findings widely, "especially on a topic that has worldwide scientific interest."

The NASA press office came under scrutiny a couple years ago after the agency's leading climate scientist, James E. Hansen, and other agency employees, publicly complained about restrictions imposed on their public comments and distortions of their scientific conclusions.

What today's story leaves out are some great details about the characters involved in shielding the public from the taxpayer-funded science.

Deutsch, who got his job at age 23 and once told a Web designer to add the word "theory" at every mention of the Big Bang, resigned after revelations the he had lied on his resume and did not, in fact, graduate from Texas A&M University.

How'd he get such a prominent position? According to the Times:

Mr. Deutsch, 24, was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee, according to his résumé.

Another political appointee, Dean Acosta, who was NASA's deputy assistant administrator for public affairs and now works in the private sector of the aerospace industry, criticized the IG's report about his former office.

"My entire career has been dedicated to open and honest communications," Mr. Acosta, who now is director of communications for the Boeing space-exploration business, wrote in an e-mail message. "The inspector general's assertions are patently false. The report itself does nothing but raise questions about a three-year investigation that has yielded nothing but flimsy allegations aimed at hard-working public servants."

In the federal court papers, he's known only as "Lobbyist C."

But prosecutors description of the man who funneled illegal favors to John Albaugh, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep Ernest Istook (R-OK), sounds pretty familiar.

After checking our records, we'd say that lobbyist is most likely Kevin Ring, the former Abramoff underling who took the Fifth Amendment before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2005 rather than answer a series of questions from lawmakers. (The AP agrees.)

Ring worked for Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) from 1993 to 1998 and later worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, then the Conservative Action Team (co-founded by Doolittle), before he joined Jack Abramoff at Greenberg, Traurig LLP in 2001.

Ring quit is lobbying post the same day the FBI raided Doolittle's home in April 2007.

After years of rumors of philandering with a neighbor and an alleged sexual assault of a 32-year-old woman in a parking garage, news of Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) divorce from his wife of 22 years does not come as a great surprise. But after the governor's attempt to evict the First Lady from the Governor's mansion and a lot of name-calling, estranged wife Dawn Gibbons is now making not-so-veiled threats to implicate the governor in one or more scandals.

So what incriminating information might she have? Quite a lot it turns out. Because Dawn Gibbons was closely involved in at least two of the scandals which have been dogging Gibbons for almost two years.

A few examples after the jump ...

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