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Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke out in reaction to the news this morning that the White House endorsed controversial CIA interrogation techniques in memos requested by then CIA director, George Tenet.

"The Senate Intelligence Committee is in the midst of an investigation of the CIA's interrogation program, including the Department of Justice's determination that the use of waterboarding on prisoners is lawful," Rockefeller said in a statement.

"If White House documents exist that set the policy for the use of coercive techniques such as waterboarding, those documents have been kept from the Committee. That is unacceptable, and represents the latest example of the Bush Administration withholding critical information from Congress and the American people in an attempt to limit our oversight of sensitive intelligence collection activities."

Sometimes there's justice in the world.

Earlier this month, Montana Republicans decided to challenge thousands of voters in predominantly Democratic areas, based on discrepancies in their addresses.

The GOP hastily withdrew the challenge after it sparked an outcry.

But now, the party's executive director has resigned, just three weeks before the election.

No one's saying on the record that Adam Eaton's departure is a result of the challenge fiasco. But the Missoulian reports: "Last week, rumors were running rampant in political circles that Eaton would be pushed out because of the much-criticized effort to challenge voter registrations."

The challenges appeared to win the party no friends in the state. After it was revealed that among the challenged voters was a member of the Army Reserve about to deploy to Kuwait, and an 86-year old Second World War hero, even some local Republicans denounced the gambit.

Democrats in the state had gone to court to block the challenges. The Republicans withdrew them before a ruling was made, but not before the judge issued an order charging: "The timing of these challenges is so transparent that it defies common sense to believe the purpose is anything but political chicanery."

Eaton told the paper he's going to work for an equity consulting form based in Madison, Wisconsin.

He'll be replaced by former state representative Larry Grinde of Lewiston.

After lots of fun testimony, the House Oversight has released a draft report finding that the White House "enlisted agency heads across government in a coordinated effort to elect Republican candidates to Congress," directing them ""to make hundreds of trips -- most at taxpayer expense -- for the purpose of increasing the electability of Republicans" in the 2006 elections.

If you'll remember, this whole ordeal involved infamous Karl Rove aide Scott Jennings and Lurita "Private Sass" Doan, former head of the General Services Administration.

After a tactful presentation by Jennings, Doan had the good sense to ask the assembled officials "how 'we' could help 'our candidates' in the next election."

Two memos sent by the White House authorizing the use of torture in CIA interrogations firmly tie the Bush administration to the controversial techniques used on detainees and investigated by the Justice Department, the Washington Post reports.

The White House's written approval of the CIA interrogation methods were provided at the request of then CIA Director George Tenet, who was seeking "top cover," should the administration try to distance itself from the decisions later.

One memo, provided in 2003 approved the methods later used in prisons like Abu Ghraib. When the scandal over that prison erupted, Tenet requested a second letter from the White House which was provided in July 2004.

The memos are the latest in recent admissions from the Bush administration on their role in authorizing and shaping CIA interrogation techniques -- charges they denied for years. In late September, Condoleezza Rice admitted White House officials discussed using torture against detainees.

From the Washington Post:

Tenet first pressed the White House for written approval in June 2003, during a meeting with members of the National Security Council, including Rice, the officials said. Days later, he got what he wanted: a brief memo conveying the administration's approval for the CIA's interrogation methods, the officials said.

Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their contents in detail because they remain classified. The sources all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the events.

The second request from Tenet, in June 2004, reflected growing worries among agency officials who had just witnessed the public outcry over the Abu Ghraib scandal. Officials who held senior posts at the time also spoke of deteriorating relations between the CIA and the White House over the war in Iraq -- a rift that prompted some to believe that the agency needed even more explicit proof of the administration's support.

Rep. Tim Mahoney is not having a good week.

The AP is reporting that Mahoney was having an affair with another woman, a local county official, while simultaneously lobbying the federal government for FEMA aid for the county.

From the AP:

On Tuesday night, a person close to the Mahoney campaign told the AP that Mahoney also was having a relationship with a high-ranking official in Martin County in his Florida district around the same time of the purported affair with Allen.

. . .The person said Mahoney was having the relationship with the official in 2007 while he also was lobbying the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a $3.4 million reimbursement for Martin County for damage caused by hurricanes in 2004. FEMA approved the money late last year.

Mahoney's congressional staff declined to comment on this alleged tryst, but noted Mahoney lobbies for FEMA funding throughout his district, and that Martin County has received $43 million from FEMA since 2004. Mahoney didn't take office until 2006.

Former VECO CEO Bill Allen would often show up uninvited for impromptu sleepovers at Sen. Ted Stevens' Girdwood chalet, Stevens' daughter testified yesterday, forcing her to sleep on the couch. Allen was a key witness for the prosecution because of his involvement in the renovations to Stevens' home, which are at the center of the charges against the seven-term senator. (Anchorage Daily News)

Stevens trial appears to be nearing its end. Judge Emmet Smith announced yesterday, that closing arguments may come as soon as next Monday, with the defense resting either today or tomorrow with the likely testimony of both Catherine and Ted Stevens. (Anchorage Daily News)

It looks like it's not just prostitution that's recession proof. Under the bank-rescue plan run by the U.S. government, executive pay packages will be restricted, but could still stretch into the tens of millions of dollars with stock increases and grants. (Bloomberg)

Read More →

The FBI has begun preliminary investigations into allegations that Rep. Tom Mahoney paid $121,000 in "hush money" to his former mistress and staffer, ABCNews.com reports. What charges might result from such an investigation are unclear.

This sure makes a House Ethics Committee Investigation look like a tea party.

From ABCNews.com:

FBI agents have reportedly contacted members of Mahoney's staff and Tuesday sought legal files surrounding the secret settlement, according to current and former Mahoney Congressional and campaign staff workers.

A spokesperson for the FBI said she had been instructed to say "no comment" to press inquiries.

It would be unusual but not unprecedented for the FBI to open an investigation into a member of Congress three weeks before the election.

Little is known about the woman at the center of the scandal currently embroiling Rep. Tim Mahoney. Patricia Allen, who was named by ABCNews.com as Mahoney's former mistress, is also a former campaign and congressional staffer with Mahoney's offices in Florida. According to FEC filings and documents examined by TPMmuckraker, Allen was on Mahoney's campaign and congressional books starting in late 2006 until Feburary of this year, making over $40,000.

Allen first appears on Mahoney's FEC filings for expense reimbursements filed on October 25, 2006, almost two weeks before Mahoney narrowly won the seat of former Rep. Mark Foley (R) -- who had resigned due to his own sex scandal, involving male teenage House pages.

Allen's name appears again for two payments of $750 on December 15 and 18, 2006 for "Consulting Research Services." Combined with her expenses, Allen's payments from the Mahoney campaign in 2006 totaled $1,883.40.

In January 2007 Allen was hired by Mahoney's home office in Florida as a "Constituent Liason," making her an official Congressional staffer. She remained in that position for roughly five months, ending on June 2 of the same year and paying her $12,500 in taxpayer dollars.

Less than two weeks later, Allen was hired again by Mahoney -- this time back at his campaign. Allen appears on the campaign payroll on June 15, again performing "Consulting Research Services."

On January 20 of this year, Mahoney fired Allen in a heated phone call. Roughly two weeks later, Allen, who is often billed by her nickname "Trish," left the campaign. She appears on the payroll until February 2, with a request for mileage reimbursement filed on February 4. Her total in pay and reimbursement for her second stint at the congressman's campaign was $26,230 dollars.

Another day, another effort by the McCain camp to seize the political advantage over the bogus issue of ACORN and voter fraud.

This morning, the campaign trotted out former Missouri Republican senator John Danforth -- playing on his reputation for bipartisanship -- to call on Barack Obama to "rein in ACORN."

Said Danforth:

We think that this is really serious, and it goes beyond who ends up winning this election, it goes to the whole integrity of the election, and it goes to confidence in the election, and it goes to whether the American people will have sufficient confidence to be willing to put the election behind us and move forward as one country once the election is over. We are concerned about it.
(Here's Obama's response from later in the day.)



Of course, as TPM has been making clear, the allegations of vote fraud are essentially a crock.

That's not because ACORN hasn't submitted hundreds or even thousands of fraudulent registration forms in several crucial swing states. They have -- though it's worth noting again that in many states, they're required by law to submit any forms their canvassers collect.

But to reiterate the main point: according to experts, fraudulent registration forms almost never lead to lead to fraudulent voting. If ACORN submits a form with the name Mickey Mouse, Mickey is unlikely to show up to vote on election day.

In other words, there's a crucial distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud -- and there's essentially no evidence whatsoever of the latter.

But the Republican bamboozlement is crucially abetted by the fact that a lot of the reporting on this story -- much of it prompted by the GOP's strenuous effort to tout the issue -- utterly fails to make this key distinction, and often implies the opposite. And (leaving Fox aside, of course) CNN has been the worst offender.

Consider this CNN report from yesterday, gleefully sent out by the RNC. After reporter Drew Griffin lays out the details on fraudulent forms submitted by ACORN in one (heavily minority) in Indiana county, anchor Kieran Chetry and Griffin have the following exchange:
CHETRY: You know what, not only is it not funny, but it's such a waste of time. If you look at what we went through in previous elections, from hanging chads to voter irregularities, I mean we're talking about our country right now, dealing with an economic crisis, a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan. You know, for people to do this, it's just a shame. It just wastes more time and you wonder if the process, if your vote will count.

GRIFFIN: Certainly, the credibility has dropped in this system, no matter which way Lake County votes. Lake County, heavily Democratic by the way, which way it votes, either side, they're going to have ammunition to say -- oh there's probably voter fraud.


Which is exactly why the GOP is pursuing this tactic. But it would have less "ammunition" to allege vote fraud in the event of a loss if the news media would report the story properly.

Lou Dobbs has also fastened onto the issue, breathlessly reporting Sunday night:
New evidence tonight that the so-called community left-wing activist group, ACORN, is involved in widespread voter registration fraud. And point of fact, ACORN is a left-wing special interest group that's been under investigation for literally years in various parts of the country for voter fraud and embezzlement.


Later, Dobbs asked Griffin:
We're seeing it from Vegas to Ohio, to Pennsylvania, and to Indiana, all over the country, and these investigations are opening up. How can there be any doubt about what's at work here?
Never did Dobbs explain to viewers the crucial difference between voter fraud and voter registration fraud.

The media's failure to grasp this crucial distinction -- exemplified by CNN -- has encouraged the GOP and the McCain campaign to believe that they can gain a political advantage by continuing to hammer on this bogus story.

In one sense, it's easy to understand the Republicans' motivation, as sleazy as the tactic might be: they're trying to win an election, or at least lay the groundwork to make a post-hoc argument that their loss was unfair.

But media outlets like CNN have no such excuse.

As we just noted, Murray Waas is reporting that William Timmons, the head of John McCain's transition team, was involved in a lobbying effort on behalf of Saddam Hussein's government in the early 1990s.

At TPMmuckraker, we've acquired a copy of the court documents from the 2006 trial of Tongsun Park, one of the lobbyists involved, on which Waas' report was in part based.

And they shed some crucial light on a key point about Timmons' involvement in the scheme.

As Waas notes:

Timmons previously told investigators that he did not know that either Vincent or Park were acting as unregistered agents of Iraq. He also insisted that he did not fully understand just how closely the two men were tied to Saddam's regime while they collaborated.

But testimony and records made public during Park's criminal trial, as well as other information uncovered during a United Nations investigation, suggest just the opposite.
For instance, court records examined by TPMmuckraker show that Samir Vincent, the other lobbyist involved in the scheme, testified at Park's trial about a trip he took to Iraq during which he met with Saddam personally, and listened as the Iraqi dictator expressed his desire to have sanctions lifted and normal relations with the U.S. restored.

The prosecutor then asked Vincent: "When you returned to the U.S., did you tell anyone about your visit with Saddam Hussein?"

Vincent replied: "I told Bill Timmons and Tongsun Park."

Prosecutor: "Why did you tell Bill Timmons about your visit with Saddam?"

Vincent: "To let him know that we were talking to the leader of Iraq, and in essence we have access, and assure him that any messages we were relaying between Iraqi (sic) and Tariq Aziz [a top Saddam aide] and anyone else, it was being transmitted to the president, Saddam Hussein, in Iraq."

Late Update: As we should have noted, this exchange appears in Waas' report.

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