TPM News

Here's another nugget from Eric Lichtblau's new book.

It's well known that The New York Times held the story about the warrantless wiretapping program for more than a year. A concerted lobbying campaign by the administration at first convinced editors at the Times not to run the story in late 2004. But Lichtblau adds a new detail about how one of the few Democrats who had been briefed on the program seemed to take the administration's side of things.

The administration's main contention (beyond lying about there being no dissent about the legality of the program) was that reporting the existence of the program would compromise it and tip off the terrorists. In his book, Lichtblau tells how a few months after the story was held, he happened to be covering a House hearing where he heard Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) argue passionately for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Lichtblau saw this as an opportunity to question Harman about the warrantless wiretapping program, since Harman, as a member of the "gang of eight," was one of the four Democrats who'd been briefed on it. He writes:

Read More →

In his re-election battle with Al Franken, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) can use all the help he can get. And Democrats are saying that it looks like the White House is working behind the scenes to do what they can.

Remember that one of the key revelations last summer of Karl Rove's machinations in the White House Office of Political Affairs was his use of cabinet members to create free publicity for endangered Republicans. Agency heads or officials who traveled only a handful of times on off years suddenly found themselves whipped into service in an election year. Republicans facing tough challenges could count on a constant stream of photo-ops with administration officials announcing good things for his or her constituents. Rove called the operation his "asset deployment" team.

It looks like the White House may still be at it. From The Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was in Minnesota on Tuesday to announce a proposed pilot project for the federal No Child Left Behind law that would give 10 states more flexibility in addressing struggling schools' specific needs....

However, Minnesota doesn't yet have enough of those schools to participate in the pilot project, prompting some to question why Spellings made the announcement here and whether it was an effort to help Sen. Norm Coleman in his reelection campaign.

Spellings appeared at the state Department of Revenue and the State Capitol alongside Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Coleman.

"It certainly smells that no Democrats were invited to this event, when we already know that this administration has politicized Cabinet agencies," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It looks like a stunt to help Norm Coleman's campaign."


So -- Spellings announced a pilot program in Minnesota that won't even be taking place in Minnesota and none of Minnesota's Democratic lawmakers were invited to the event. The Department of Ed explained to the Star-Tribune that Coleman was invited "because he's sponsoring legislation related to No Child Left Behind." And I guess Pawlenty was there just to be there.

Spellings is currently on a 17-state tour. It'll be interesting to see if any Democrats make it to the dais.

From the AP:

President Bush has chosen veteran prosecutor Ken Wainstein to be his new White House-based homeland security adviser, The Associated Press has learned....

He currently heads the Justice Department's anti-terror efforts. He has also been the top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, and the top lawyer at the FBI.


Funny that the appointment should come one day after Newsweek publishes a story on the White House's "friggin' embarrassing" inability to fill the post.

In March of 2004, virtually every member of the Justice Department's leadership was prepared to resign over the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Thanks to former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony, that much is well known. But even as Congress has debated giving the telecoms immunity from civil suits for participation in that program, it's still not understood precisely what was going on that caused such a revolt.

In his new book on the Justice Department under George Bush, New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, who, along with James Risen, broke the warrantless wiretapping story, sheds more light on this episode (while leaving plenty unexplained). But putting Lichtblau's telling together with recently reported details about the National Security Agency's data driftnet, it's possible to come to a fuller understanding of what was going on.

Shortly after 9/11, the administration began a much more aggressive surveillance program, a program that had two main components: an aggressive data mining program led by the National Security Agency and wiretapping done without a warrant that stemmed from leads generated by the data mining.

While that program was ongoing, the FISA court was still approving warrants submitted by the Justice Department like normal. But sometimes the two processes crossed. Sometimes the Justice Department would want a wiretap for someone who had already been wiretapped without a warrant. Lichtblau reports that "some 10 to 20 percent of all court warrants fell into this area of 'double coverage.'" Department lawyers had a clear reason for wanting to go through the court if possible: they could not build a legal case against a suspect if the surveillance was illegal.

In that case, the Department, with the consent of the chief judge of the FISA court, set up a system where only the chief judge would handle such applications -- since none of the other judges were privy to the program. It was a dicey process. James Baker, the Justice Department official in charge of intelligence issues, set up a process where any Department lawyers working under him could "opt out," if he or she didn't feel comfortable forwarding such a wiretap application to the court, Lichtblau reports. "Several lawyers" took him up on that offer.

But about that data mining. The NSA's driftnet spat out leads that FBI agents found largely useless. Lichtblau explains:

Read More →

From The New York Times:

A sheaf of documents that a federal court forced the Treasury Department to release indicate there have been repeated complaints from American consumers who have been falsely linked to terrorism or drug trafficking during routine credit checks, the organization that sought the documents in a lawsuit said Tuesday.

The more than 100 pages of documents released Monday to the organization, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, include a variety of complaints about the list maintained by the Office of Foreign Asset Control in the Treasury Department, said Philip Hwang, a lawyer for the group....

The documents include e-mail messages from a Navy veteran who had been unable to use the Internet service PayPal, and an 18-year-old who wrote to say that he was not a Libyan minister who was apparently on the list.

A client of a Maryland Toyota dealer reported being checked by a salesperson for tattoos because of a Treasury list match.

A Treasury Department official was baffled by the last claim, saying information on the list did not include physical characteristics....

Another official said the department did not have numbers on how many people might have been falsely identified, since institutions can check their clients’ identity against the list and ignore it if something like the date of birth obviously does not match the person in front of them.


Remember that, according to The Wall Street Journal, the Treasury Department feeds transaction information to the National Security Agency for their vast data driftnet. So it's possible that a mistake on that watchlist could have led to much more than an inconvenience during a credit check.

If you're curious, the Treasury Department posts its watch list here (pdf).

The Detroit City Council made clear their wish to oust Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick with a 7-1 no confidence vote on Tuesday. Kilpatrick is under fire after text messages revealed that he lied in court testimony about an affair with his former chief of staff. In response to the vote, Kilpatrick said he would not quit. He is, after all, on a mission from God. (Detroit Free-Press)

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore -- currently running for the U.S. Senate -- was the chairman of a Bear Stearns subsidiary tied to some the highest-risk securities associated with the mortgage industry crisis. (Associated Press)

Five years ago, President Bush commenced the United States with a war in Iraq. The anniversary is this week, after an expensive (long term cost at $4 trillion) half-decade of violence and inner turmoil. Original cost-calculations by the Bush Administration to liberate the Iraqi people and build an entirely new government: $50 to $60 billion.(New York Times)

(This post was written by John Amick --- ed)

Read More →

I think everyone can agree that if you go to the trouble of organizing an Iraqi political reconciliation conference, it's generally a bad sign if a number of key players don't even show up.

The idea behind the conference pushed by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was to have a national "dialogue."

The largest Sunni bloc, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party, and a prominent minority party of Shiites and Sunnis all boycotted the conference. No representatives of the insurgency (either Baathist or militia members) were there. Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr walked out of the conference, as did a prominent Sunni tribal leader who's been key to the so-called "Anbar Awakening."

Typical of Iraq, the boycotters don't even concur on their reason for boycotting. The New York Times focuses on pique by some blocs that they didn't get a proper invitation (Maliki's people say everybody got an official invitation). The AP reports that one Sunni bloc "said they would not participate in the conference until Shiite lawmakers address their political demands" -- so they won't talk reconciliation until their grievances are reconciled. And then there's a more direct explanation from that Anbar tribal leader, who's quoted in The Los Angeles Times (under the headline "A no-reconciliation conference"):

The organizer noted that Sunni tribes, which have revolted against Al Qaeda in Iraq, attended the conference. But one of their main leaders, Sheik Sulaiman, decided to lead his delegation out of the conference.

"I didn't stay any longer than it took me to smoke my cigarette. It was a total failure, because the Iraqi politicians are a failure," Sulaiman said.


This is why even Gen. David Petraeus says that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation."

Happy 5th Anniversary, everybody.

Last time we checked in with Steven Bradbury, the guy who tells the administration how far they can legally go (the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel), he was explaining to Congress that the waterboarding technique used by the CIA on detainees was nothing at all like the "water cure" technique used by the Spanish Inquisition (it's actually similar to the Khmer Rouge). He also explained in detail his reasoning for why waterboarding was not in violation of the criminal statute barring torture.

This is the guy currently with the power to issue "advance pardons" for administration lawbreaking.

He is clearly not a man who shrinks from airing his views. And in a rare interview (sub. req.) with Legal Times, Bradbury proclaims that he's enjoying the healthy, vigorous debate occasioned by the administration's interrogation and surveillance policies.

Of course, Democrats might have a different way of seeing things. Bradbury has effectively run the office since 2004, even though his nomination has been blocked by Democrats. He has been nominated five times. Dems have even charged that the administration is breaking the law by keeping Bradbury atop the Office of Legal Counsel. The Vacancies Reform Act bars non-Senate-confirmed appointees for holding their jobs for longer than 210 days. But the Justice Department has responded that Bradbury is not breaking the law because he is not the official acting head of the office; he's officially the deputy who's carrying out the duties of the chief because the position is vacant. So voila! no problem.

In his interview, Bradbury proclaims that he "very much respects" the role of the Senate in confirming nominees:

Read More →

From Newsweek:

The Bush administration has been rebuffed in its efforts to find a high-profile candidate to fill the top White House counterterrorism post.

The failure to find a successor to Frances Fragos Townsend, who resigned last January as assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, has frustrated White House aides, given the significance the Bush administration has attached to the job....

Among those who have turned down the job—or made clear they weren't interested in replacing Townsend—are retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former chief of U.S. Central Command, and retired Adm. James Loy, former Coast Guard commandant and deputy homeland security secretary, according to three sources knowledgeable about the issue who, like others quoted in this article, asked for anonymity when discussing White House personnel moves. (Neither Abizaid nor Loy responded to requests for comment.) The sources said most of the top candidates the White House contacted expressed little interest in signing on so close to the end of President Bush's second term. "It's a friggin' embarrassment," said one source who is involved in the recruitment process. The source noted that Townsend announced her resignation last November but didn't leave the post until January—in part to give the president plenty of time to find a replacement.

From Justin at ABC:

The White House has three days to explain why it shouldn't be required to copy its computer hard drives to ensure no further e-mails are lost, a federal judge ordered Tuesday....

The order, issued Tuesday morning by a federal magistrate judge in Washington, D.C., comes in a case brought against the Bush administration by the National Security Archive, a nonpartisan group affiliated with George Washington University....

Judge Facciola rejected as "draconian" a proposal by the Archive that would have forced the White House to quarantine every computer workstation it had. Instead, Facciola proposed the White House make a "forensic copy" of all preservable data on every computer that could have been used by an employee between 2003 and 2005, the period in question....

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the White House "fully intends to comply" with the order, which is currently being reviewed.

TPMLivewire