TPM News

Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central reports on the return of former U.S. Attorney and Karl Rove aide Tim Griffin to oppo research.

As I wrote on the main blog, TPM, especially TPMmuckraker, has a long history with Griffin. His return to doing oppo research for the RNC brings his story full circle.

For newer readers, here's our Tim Griffin reporting over the last 18 months or so. For you regulars, it's a trip down muck memory lane.

An unnamed FBI agent has come forth to report the exhaustive interrogation tactics used against Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib at Guantanamo Bay. The agent told investigators Habib was probed in two 15-hour sessions with little reprieve in between. Besides vomiting repeatedly from the stress of the tactics, Habib has claimed a female interrogator splashed him with what he believed was menstrual blood. (The Age)

After the Washington Post's four-part series on illegal immigrant detainees and the medical care they receive in Gitmo-like U.S. prisons, members of Congress are demanding answers from Dept. of Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Michael Chertoff, regarding the sub-standard care being provided. Top Senate leaders will question Chertoff and others today on the reports of negligence and detainee deaths while in the prisons. (Washington Post)

An investigation team led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is seeking answers to how a federal database that records Medicaid spending by the government was changed through improper channels. The main concern is whether the matter, which could include tens of billions of dollars, was a significant processing error or evidence of a larger payout impropriety to states and drug companies. (Politico)

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The Washington Post digs deeper into that Justice Department Inspector General's report on the FBI role in detainee interrogations, specifically the contentious high-level Administration disputes over torture:

Two major policy splits are highlighted in the report's account of the long to-and-fro over the tactics. One reflected a clash of cultures between the experienced interrogators at the FBI who were looking to prosecute terrorism crimes, and military and CIA officials who were seeking rapid information about al-Qaeda and were willing to push legal boundaries to do it. The report shows that FBI agents appeared more concerned about the long view, while others wanted detainees to break immediately in the panicked days after Sept. 11, 2001.


The IG report reveals that the FBI was so concerned about the techniques being used that agents began collecting allegations of abuse and placing them in a "war crimes file." Although, as we've previously noted, the FBI ultimately took a hands-off approach to torture, and the file was soon closed with no action taken.

The usual characters -- Addington, Yoo, Ashcroft -- played a role, but the report reveals some new players, mid-level officials who opposed the torture regimen:

Bruce C. Swartz, a criminal division deputy in charge of international issues, repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of harsh interrogation tactics at White House meetings of a special group formed to decide detainee matters, with representatives present from the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA. ...

Besides Swartz, the others depicted as raising sustained objections are then-FBI assistant general counsel Marion "Spike" Bowman, who documented his concerns in written reports, and Pasquale D'Amuro, then the bureau's assistant director for counterterrorism. Michael Chertoff, who was then assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, raised concerns in November 2002 about the effectiveness of the military's methods, although he said later he did not recall hearing assertions that they were illegal.


But with the pressure for harsh interrogation tactics coming from the very highest levels of government, the objections of mid-level officials were barely speed bumps on the road to torture as official U.S. policy.

From the AP:

A Senate panel voted narrowly Wednesday to overturn EPA's decision blocking California and more than a dozen other states from limiting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The bill by California Democrat Barbara Boxer passed the Environment and Public Works committee 10 to 9, sending it to the full Senate.

One committee Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, broke with others on his side of the aisle and voted "no." A Republican, John Warner of Virginia, voted "yes," allowing the bill to pass.

In December, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson turned down California's request for a Clean Air Act waiver that would have allowed the state to require automakers to cut global warming emissions by 30% in new cars and light trucks by 2016.

Boxer's bill would deem the waiver approved.

The focus of the news coverage of the report released yesterday by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine has been on what involvement the FBI had, if any, in the "enhanced interrogations" undertaken by the Bush Administration -- and to a lesser extent how the FBI's concerns were ignored at the highest levels of government.

Here's the Wall Street Journal's lede:

A Justice Department inquiry lauded Federal Bureau of Investigation agents for refraining from harsh interrogations of terror suspects but found fault with how senior officials handled agents' concerns about alleged abuses.


But as you dig down into the 370-page report (.pdf), it's most revealing for what it shows the U.S. government was actually doing to detainees. Because of the limited jurisdiction of the DOJ inspector general, the report was focused on the FBI. But in establishing the environment in which the FBI was operating, the report paints a picture of ghastly treatment of detainees by the United States on a consistent long-term basis.

In the course of his investigation, the IG interviewed 450 FBI agents who were detailed to Gitmo at one time or another. Nearly half reported witnessing or hearing about "rough or aggressive treatment of detainees, primarily by military investigators."

The report contains a chart of the conduct FBI agents reported at Gitmo and the manner in which the agents learned of the conduct. You can click on the image for a larger view:

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House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has reacted angrily to Chairman Howard Waxman's gaveling down of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) yesterday during a hearing with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

Here's the statement from Boehner:

"Chairman Waxman's behavior in the Oversight & Government Reform Committee yesterday was appalling and beneath the dignity of the House. His abuse of power is further proof that House Democrats have broken their promise to run the most open and honest Congress in history. Moreover, his outrageous threats and intimidation against a fellow Committee colleague were not only unbecoming for a Member of Congress, but frankly, unbecoming for anyone who hopes to be treated as a professional. Chairman Waxman owes an apology to Mr. Issa, his Committee colleagues, and anyone who witnessed his shameful behavior. But more importantly, he owes the American people an apology because these types of heavy-handed threats have no place in the people's House."

The mass exodus of lobbyists from Sen. John McCain's campaign staff continues, as Randy Scheunemann of Orion Strategies jumped ship after records showed he represented the countries of Macedonia, Georgia and Taiwan from 2003 to March 1, 2008. Scheunemann was McCain's top foreign policy adviser, and stayed on-staff even after the campaign couldn't pay him late last year. (USA Today)

Ever since he took over as defense secretary for Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates has voiced his desire to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. But Tuesday in front of a Senate hearing, Gates said closing the legally-ambiguous prison won't happen anytime soon since the government is "stuck in several ways." One of the main concerns of the U.S. government is that around 70 prisoners have been cleared to go home, yet either their home government won't take them back, or the U.S. is afraid their home government would "let them loose once we return them home," Gates said. (Reuters)

A new indictment was handed down against the CIA's former No. 3 official, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, in a spinoff of the scandal involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). In addition to the original corruption charges, Foggo was indicted on allegations of accepting "sexual companionship" bribes in exchange for helping Brent Wilkes land cherry government contracts. (Associated Press)

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In a showdown between irresistible force and immovable object, the immovable object won.

Under withering questioning this afternoon from exasperated House government oversight committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson held his ground, repeating the same non-responsive answers until the usually unflappable Waxman finally lost his temper.

Waxman was asking Johnson whether he had ever discussed two ozone rulings with the President. Johnson has previously testified that he had discussed California's emissions waiver, but now refused to say whether he had discussed the ozone rulings. The White House's involvement in overruling science-based recommendations from EPA staff in favor of more politically expedient alternatives is now the focus of Waxman's investigation.

As Waxman continued to press this line of questioning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the highest ranking Republican present at the hearing, protested that Waxman was asking questions out of turn, prompting Waxman to threaten to have Issa removed from the hearing room.



This sort of song and dance from Johnson is now routine. He's managed to skate through multiple Senate and House hearings now, confirming his critics' impressions that he's a deceptive political hack, but avoiding actually answering the questions.

Given our love affair with Hans A. Von Spakovsky, I can't let his op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal go unnoted. Titled "Anatomy of a Beltway Smear Campaign," it is his embittered reaction to being forced, finally, to withdraw his nomination to the FEC last week:

During the past two years, while my nomination to the Federal Election Commission was pending - and before I withdrew last week - friends would call whenever the latest newspaper story or blog post attacking me was planted by political operatives and left-wing advocacy organizations.

They always asked the same question: Why was I putting up with the character assassination that has become the norm in Senate confirmation battles whenever a conservative is nominated for public office? ...

My own hard feelings will pass. But the political system has been damaged once more by the poisonous tactics of the left, and there is no reason to think that the whole sorry spectacle will not be repeated again and again and again. So long as such tactics are accepted and even encouraged by politicians and the media, it will become harder and harder to find ordinary citizens willing to submit to the character assassination that now passes for our confirmation process.


It was a little disappointing not to see TPM mentioned by name, but I couldn't help but think Hans was giving us a nod when he complained about being called a "vote suppressor."

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