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House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) on today's story:

I am deeply troubled by reports of FBI agents contacting former jurors who failed to convict Dr. Wecht. Whether reckless or intended, it is simply common sense that such contacts can have a chilling effect on future juries in this and other cases. When added to the troubling conduct of this prosecution, there is the appearance of a win at all costs mentality. The committee continues to investigate this matter.

It would be quite a party.

Earlier this week, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) invited John Yoo to testify before the committee on May 6th about the infamous legal memos on torture that he issued while with the Department of Justice. If Yoo did not want to appear, Conyers wrote, then the panel would subpoena him.

Now Conyers, following up on the reports in the last couple of weeks about the role of top administration officials in authorizing the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques including waterboarding, has invited a slew of current and former officials to testify at the hearing. Among those invited are former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former CIA Director George Tenet, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Chief of Staff to the Vice President David Addington, and former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, who headed up the Office of Legal Counsel for a brief time.

Says Conyers: “New and troubling allegations suggest that the decisions on torture came from the highest levels of government. These reports, if true, represent a stain on our democracy. The American people deserve to hear directly from those involved.”

Of course, you can be sure that this White House, the most ardent defender of executive privilege in our lifetime, would never, ever allow Addington, the great prophet of executive privilege, to testify under any circumstances. And it also seems unlikely that any members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee (Tenet and Ashcroft) will testify about content of those meetings. But it's worth a shot.

John Yoo is a professor of law at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law. He's never been a particularly popular faculty member there, but the recent release of his March, 2003 Justice Department memo, in which he advised that military interrogators could torture detainees as long as their only motivation wasn't sadism, has made him considerably less popular. Earlier this week, the National Lawyers Guild called for Berkeley to fire Yoo.

In a statement posted on the school's website today, the school's dean Christopher Edley, Jr. offers a statement "as dean, but speaking only for myself" for why he does not think that Yoo should be fired.

His argument largely comes down to this:

As critical as I am of his analyses, no argument about what he did or didn't facilitate, or about his special obligations as an attorney, makes his conduct morally equivalent to that of his nominal clients, Secretary Rumsfeld, et al., or comparable to the conduct of interrogators distant in time, rank and place. Yes, it does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders.

Because of "the complex, ineffable boundary between policymaking and law-declaring," Edley writes, too many questions remain to pass judgment on Yoo beyond finding his legal reasoning flawed:

I believe the crucial questions in view of our university mission are these: Was there clear professional misconduct—that is, some breach of the professional ethics applicable to a government attorney—material to Professor Yoo’s academic position? Did the writing of the memoranda, and his related conduct, violate a criminal or comparable statute?

Absent very substantial evidence on these questions, no university worthy of distinction should even contemplate dismissing a faculty member. That standard has not been met.

The latest from Pittsburgh, where the U.S. attorneys' office continues to drop jaws with its handling of the case. From The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Two jurors said Thursday they were unnerved by FBI requests for home visits to explain why they deadlocked in the federal public corruption trial of former Allegheny County coroner Cyril H. Wecht.

Experts said the practice of using FBI agents to contact and interview jurors in their homes after mistrials was unusual, but the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh characterized it as "commonplace."

"I thought it was kind of intimidating," the jury foreman said about the FBI phone call.

Said another juror, "I found it kind of unusual."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's Office in Pittsburgh tells the paper that prosecutors just wanted to chat about the case with the jurors, a "commonplace" practice. The FBI agents were simply setting up the appointments. It is true that it's commonplace for lawyers from both sides to speak to jurors after a trial to get feedback. But there are two important distinctions here.

First, prosecutors didn't seek to poll or speak to jurors before making their determination as to whether to retry the case. If they had, the jurors would have said that most of them were ready to vote to acquit. "That seemed to us to be vindictive," Dick Thornburgh, the former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush and a lawyer for Wecht, told me. "It's how [the prosecutors] have behaved the whole case." The jury foreman has even said that the prosecution seemed "politically driven." (See our rundowns of the case here and here.)

And second, using the FBI to contact jurors is far from commonplace (Jerry McDevitt, another of Wecht's attorneys, told me that the agent who'd contacted the jurors was not even the agent who had worked on the Wecht case). Thornburgh told me that it was "unprecedented" in his experience. A former federal prosecutor told the Tribune-Review that it was unusual. And a veteran defense attorney from the Pittsburgh area told the paper that he'd never heard of such a thing. And there's a reason:

"If I'm a prospective juror in the second trial, and I'm hearing stories that if I don't agree with the government that I might get calls from the FBI, that could have a very, very deleterious impact," [the attorney] said. "I would think that's very bothersome to have that happen."

Last month, the judge handling the House's suit against Harriet Miers and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten set a schedule that will culminate in a June hearing, when both sides will get to argue. Up until then, both sides will be submitting written arguments pleading their side of the case.

First up were lawyers for the House, who wrote, "Not since the days of Watergate have the Congress and the federal courts been confronted with such an expansive view of executive privilege as the one asserted by the current presidential administration and the individual Defendants in this case." You can read the entire 45-page motion here.

House lawyers, following through on the contempt citations from the House Judiciary Committee, are trying to convince the judge to rule with them on certain narrower questions of executive privilege in an attempt to actually get hear from Harriet Miers and see some White House documents relevant to the U.S. attorney firings sometime this year.

Yesterday we detailed Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer's ties to the Northern Mariana Islands, Jack Abramoff's prize client, and particularly the islands' governor, Benigno Fitial.

The Denver Post followed up and put the question to Schaffer as to why he'd been so loyal to a little island territory thousands of miles away. The answer? Quit asking. From the Post:

Schaffer campaign manager Dick Wadhams declined Thursday to discuss his candidate's role in island politics. "The Denver Post continues its character assassination of Bob Schaffer," he said.

When Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud Qosi, a Sudanese detainee at Guantanamo Bay, was arraigned Thursday he refused to accept legal representation and informed the military court that he would boycott future proceedings. In a "rambling statement" he told the judge, "I leave in your hands the camel and its load for you to do whatever you wish." (LA Times)

An advisory panel of scientists has slammed the Environmental Protection Agency's Administrator Stephen Johnson for ignoring its advice and implementing air quality standards that fail to protect public health. When Johnson lowered the allowable ozone levels that are considered healthy (from 80 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion) 345 counties nationwide were deemed to be in "violation of the federal air quality standards for ozone, commonly known as smog." (AP)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates apologized to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) after Gates told Levin he must be confused for believing that the Pentagon was still involved in the physical reconstruction business in Iraq. Levin had received a letter from the Pentagon discussing an allocation of $600 million in reconstruction aid, yet Gates mistakenly told Levin that the money must have been for something else. After receiving a note from an aide that confirmed Levin's understanding, Gates admitted that “[T]here are actually things that go on that I don’t know about." (Politico's "The Crypt")

And in the same line of questioning with Sen. Levin and the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates said he doesn't hold out hope for getting troop levels in Iraq down to 100,000 by 2009, despite the past prospects he's had on the subject. (ThinkProgress)

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Thanks to ABC News and the AP's follow-up yesterday, we now have a very good idea of how the U.S. began to torture detainees in early 2002, even before the Justice Department had officially blessed the techniques by way of the infamous August, 2002 memo by John Yoo.

ABC reported earlier this week that certain brutal interrogation techniques were approved by the National Security Council's Principals Committee following Abu Zubaydah's capture in March, 2002. Among the members of that council were Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and it was chaired by Condoleezza Rice, then the National Security Advisor.

The question was what CIA interrogators could do to Zubaydah and by extension other high value detainees. (It's worth recalling what FBI agents say about what information Zubaydah ultimately provided.) The obvious background to all this is that the CIA interrogators did not want to later find themselves prosecuted for using torture. So everything got this high-level sign off, down to the smallest detail, according to the AP:

At times, CIA officers would demonstrate some of the tactics, or at least detail how they worked, to make sure the small group of "principals" fully understood what the al-Qaida detainees would undergo.

At the same time, John Yoo and colleagues at the Justice Department were busy working on a clear legal authorization for all of this.

He described the pressure of the situation last week to Esquire:

Yoo: The interrogation question came up, I think, in March, when Abu Zubaydah was captured. That’s what provoked that question....

Esquire: You weren’t under extraordinary time pressure?

Yoo: We were under time pressure.

Esquire: Days, weeks?

Yoo: The final version we didn’t get done till August. But we would show drafts before.

Esquire: They were taking action?

Yoo: They needed to have a sense before it was finalized what the basic outlines are.

Esquire: How long did it take to give an answer, go ahead do it?

Yoo: I don’t remember.

Esquire: Weeks, months?

Yoo: Probably weeks.

Esquire: So that’s a fair amount of time pressure, Zubaydah’s in custody.

Yoo: If you had the luxury of time, you’d spend years on this, without a doubt.

Esquire: What concerns came up, back and forth with the White House?

Yoo: There wasn’t a lot of back and forth -- people would say this is wrong, you need to delete this. I think that there was no pressure from any other agency from within the department that the opinion was going too far -- or that it wasn’t going far enough. It was very much hands off. That doesn’t surprise me considering how sensitive the issue was, people wanted the office I think to take the full responsibility.

The memo that emerged, the so-called Bybee memo, after the then-chief of the Office of Legal Counsel who signed off on it (even though Yoo, the deputy, actually authored it ), was just what the doctor ordered, the "Golden Shield," as it was called, for the CIA's interrogations. The Office of Legal Counsel, remember, has the power to effectively issue "advance pardons" for activity of dubious legality.

ABC quotes a source as saying that Ashcroft at one point asked aloud after one Principals meeting, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly." Nevertheless, Ashcroft did sign off on Yoo's "Golden Shield," a memo that was later withdrawn by Jack Goldsmith after he took over at OLC. Goldsmith has called that memo "slapdash" and deeply flawed.

But the "Golden Shield" did not end the Principals meetings. ABC reports that the CIA was still nervous and still returned again and again for approval from the Principals Committee for the OK for certain "enhanced interrogation" techniques even after Goldsmith had withdrawn the Bybee memo:

But the CIA had captured a new al Qaeda suspect in Asia. Sources said CIA officials that summer returned to the Principals Committee for approval to continue using certain "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Then-National Security Advisor Rice, sources said, was decisive. Despite growing policy concerns -- shared by Powell -- that the program was harming the image of the United States abroad, sources say she did not back down, telling the CIA: "This is your baby. Go do it."

When Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer freely offered earlier this week that the Northern Mariana Islands, notorious for human rights abuses and sweatshops, were a great model for a nationwide guest worker program, it seemed to be coming out of the blue. But a look at Schaffer's time in the House (where he represented Colorado's 4th District from 1997 through 2003) shows that he was one of the most reliable allies for the islands, which were represented for most of that time by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Denver Post reported today on a trip Schaffer took to the islands in August of 1999. The trip was nominally funded by the Traditional Values Coalition, though like all the other junkets to the islands, it was really organized by Abramoff.

Schaffer's spokesman Dick Wadhams told the paper that Schaffer has never met Abramoff or spoken to Abramoff. But Schaffer was a remarkable ally for the islands nonetheless, especially for a lawmaker from Colorado. My call to the Schaffer campaign this afternoon was not returned.

In October of 1999, for instance, Schaffer wrote a letter to Ben Fitial praising him and endorsing him for election into the commonwealth's legislature. The letter, written on Congressional letterhead, was published in the islands' newspaper The Saipan Tribune alongside two other endorsements from Reps. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Don Young (R-AK) four days before the election. You can see those here. Doolittle is under investigation for his ties to Abramoff, and one of Young's former aides on the House transportation committee has pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Abramoff.

As has been reported, Fitial's election was crucial for Abramoff, who had recently lost the lobbying contract for the islands. After Fitial was elected, Abramoff sent two associates of then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) to the islands in order to make sure that Fitial was elected Speaker. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2005 that Delay aide Michael Scanlon (who's since pleaded guilty as part of the Abramoff investigation) and former Delay aide-turned-lobbyist Ed Buckham (who remains under investigation for his ties to Abramoff) were able to convince two legislators to switch their votes to Fitial with promises of federal appropriations. Fitial subsequently led the effort to reinstate the contract with Abramoff.

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Whoops. Just days after Republican Senate candidate Bob Schaffer touted the Northern Mariana Islands as a model for a national guest worker program, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass a massive omnibus bill that included a provision to overhaul the Marianas' immigration laws. The bill passed on a 91-4 vote.

The bill will extend U.S. immigration laws to the islands and establish a federally administered guest worker program there -- quite the opposite of what Schaffer said he thought ought to happen: "I think members of Congress ought to be looking at that model and be considering it as a possible basis for a nationwide program."

The reason for the overwhelming vote, of course, is because the islands are notorious for human rights abuses, particularly the exploitation of guest workers in slave labor conditions. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, with the help of key House Republicans like ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), was able to squelch similar legislation for years, even despite bipartisan support in the Senate.

Of course one of his main tools for persuading lawmakers was sponsoring trips over to the islands. As The Denver Post detailed today, Schaffer, then a congressman, traveled there in 1999 in an Abramoff-planned trip and declared himself unconcerned with what he found: "The workers were smiling; they were happy." That's a picture from his visit above.

Update: Ouch. In a statement just out from Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who has been seeking to pass such legislation for literally a decade, he applauds passage of the bill and notes that with Abramoff and DeLay gone, "[v]ery few people would defend the status quo in the CNMI, which has done such damage to workers and their families over the years." Except Bob Schaffer.

Miller's full statement is below.

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