TPM News

Former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL) won't have to pay $118,000 in restitution on charges of which he was acquitted, the judge overseeing his case decided.

Originally, Siegelman had been ordered to pay the money to reimburse the state for losses based on a warehouse scandal. A jury acquitted Siegelman of charges relating to that scandal, but the prosecution pressed for punishment during the sentencing portion of the trial. The judge changed his mind yesterday, siding with Siegelman's lawyers.

The prosecution's decision to push for a harsher sentence based on the warehouse scandal and a variety of other charges of which Siegelman was acquitted sparked outrage from the defense lawyers. Siegelman's supporters pointed to the decision as more evidence of a political vendetta behind the initial investigation.

Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) has sent a letter to the head of the House Judiciary Committee asking that the case be looked into as part of the broader investigation into the politicization of the Justice Department.

Following up on today's Washington Post bombshell that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew about abuses of FBI counterterrorism powers years before a Justice Department inspector general's report earlier this year, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said the misdirection went beyond Alberto Gonzales' spoken testimony before Congress in 2005 and then again in April of this year. The Justice Department had misled Congress in written responses to questions for the record as well, which were provided to Congress just last week. For instance, a response, signed by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling, read:

"Prior to the release of the Inspector General's report on March 9, 2007, the Inspector General provided drafts of the report for classification and factual review. Upon learning of the findings contained in the report, the Attorney General was concerned, promptly ordered a detailed review of the report's findings and recommendations, and directed senior Department officials, including officials at the FBI, to address the shortcomings identified in the Inspector General's report."

Unless "prior" means "two years before," the DOJ's reply to the committee neglects to mention that Gonzales received numerous alerts as to FBI abuses of the sort the inspector general found.

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A press release just out from Kim Dower, Larry Flynt's spokesperson:

Larry Flynt's ongoing investigation into the dirty secrets of prominent elected officials has exposed another hypocrite. Monday's confession of marital infidelity by GOP right-wing marriage-protection advocate Senator David Vitter of Louisiana was the result of a multi-pronged investigation launched and run by Larry Flynt, publisher of HUSTLER Magazine.

Within hours of a phone call from the offices of HUSTLER Magazine asking Vitter to comment on an article HUSTLER reporters were working on, Vitter ran to the Associated Press in an attempt to get ahead of the story.

As of 2 p.m. West Coast time on Monday, only Larry Flynt and the HUSTLER investigative team knew that Vitter¹s phone number appeared on the phone records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam. Within hours of obtaining the phone records, Flynt¹s team found what ABC News has so far been unable to ferret out. Flynt's team is currently continuing its investigation into improprieties by other high-ranking elected officials.

Senator Vitter, a churchgoing Catholic who is married and has four children, is seen as a hard-line right-winger. A staunch supporter of President Bush, Vitter has built his reputation on family-values platforms such as marriage protection and abstinence-only programs.

In opposition to same-sex marriage, Vitter recently stated, "Marriage is a core institution of societies throughout the world and throughout history. It's something that has provided permanence and stability for our very social structure."

Sen. Vitter announced his support for Rudy Giuliani in March and was tapped by the presidential nomination candidate to serve as his Southern Regional Chair.

Update: Here's more on this from Justin over at the Blotter.

Update: So maybe Vitter doesn't have such a blind faith in the Fourth Estate. Oh well.

It wasn't immediately apparent from the stories yesterday, but Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) showed great faith in the Fourth Estate yesterday, admitting to being a customer of the D.C. madam as a sort of preemptive measure. The madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, released her business' phone records to the press last week and uploaded the records to her website (currently down) yesterday. Apparently Vitter thought it was just a matter of time before some muckraker found him out.

Update: Actually, Hustler Magazine says it was behind Vitter's sudden statement.

Vitter's statement only admits obliquely that Vitter's number was on one of Palfrey's old lists. The AP's New Orleans' bureau apparently received the statement yesterday, and then spent some time trying to confirm its authenticity. "Vitter's spokesman, Joel Digrado, confirmed the statement Monday evening in an e-mail to The Associated Press," according to an early version of the wire story.

No one seems to know when (or how often) Vitter used the service; all his statement says is that it was "prior to his running for the U.S. Senate" in 2004. He'd been a congressman since 1999, and Palfrey's records date back to 1996. The AP still hadn't seen the records as of last night, since reporters were "unable to connect to Palfrey's website."

The records contain thousands upon thousands of numbers without names. Most of the recent records, dating from 2002 to 2006, were released to ABC News back in March; a team of researchers set to matching the numbers to names. Jeff Schneider, a spokesman for ABC News, said that they had not found Vitter's number in those records. "With the release of a full ten years of records, it seems clear that his number came up in one of the records we did not have access to," he told me.

As for now, the race is on for who can pile up the most vividly hypocritical quote from the family values (or as he put it, "Louisiana values") conservative. In the running: Sen. Vitter maligning the "Hollywood left" for violating the "sanctity of marriage," and Vitter arguing that President Clinton should step down for his extramarital affair (Vitter, by the by, replaced Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) after the speaker was forced to step down because of an affair). There are, you can be sure, many more. Glenn Greenwald has a rundown here.

Update: The prevailing quote of the day seems to be this one:

In 2000, Vitter was included in a Newhouse News Service story about the strain of congressional careers on families.

His wife, Wendy, was asked by the Newhouse reporter: If her husband were as unfaithful as Livingston or former President Bill Clinton, would she be as forgiving as Hillary Rodham Clinton?

“I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” Wendy Vitter told Newhouse News. “If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.”

“I think fear is a very good motivating factor in a marriage,” she added. “Don’t put fear down.”

The federal government has been very good to two of Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) business partners, Leonard Hyde and Jonathan Rubini, reports (sub. req.) John Stanton of Roll Call.

In 2004, Stevens slipped them a $3.5 million earmark for an empty plot of land in Anchorage that was to be used by the National Archives and Records Administration. The deal meant $2 million profit for Hyde and Rubini.

What's happened since the initial windfall for Stevens' business partners? Not much:

Since the land deal was finished, federal funding has slowed significantly for the project. Despite a price tag of at least $29 million in construction costs, Stevens appears to have taken only modest interest in securing funding for the project since the land transfer. Stevens set aside $3 million in 2005 for site preparation, while the archives earmark diminished to just $1.9 million last year.

However, according to a May 11, 2007, Anchorage Daily News story, $290,000 tagged for the construction has been reprogrammed for a new speed-skating-rink project being planned next to the NARA land. Stevens also secured a $940,000 earmark specifically for the skating rink in 2004, according to the story.

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Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), come on down! Vitter is the most recent name to appear in the phone records of the notorious D.C. Madam. (Associated Press)

Here is a short Q&A to help explain the concept of contempt of Congress. (Associated Press)

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is joining Senator Specter (R-PA) on a bill meant to challenge President Bush’s habit of using signing statements to selectively enforce legislation. (Boston Globe)

Rep David Scott (D-GA) is facing charges from a former aide that the lawmaker made his staff work for his campaign during their time on his congressional payroll. (The Politico)

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Alberto Gonzales lied, the FBI spied.

In March, and again last month, the Justice Department's inspector general and internal FBI reviews found that the bureau repeatedly misused its Patriot-Act power to subpoena e-mail or financial records without court orders. But years before the reviews were completed -- and word of them became public -- Attorney General Gonzales knew that the abuses surrounding so-called National Security Letters existed. And yet this is what he told Congress on April 27, 2005: "There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse."

Reports the Washington Post:

The acts recounted in the FBI reports included unauthorized surveillance, an illegal property search and a case in which an Internet firm improperly turned over a compact disc with data that the FBI was not entitled to collect, the documents show. Gonzales was copied on each report that said administrative rules or laws protecting civil liberties and privacy had been violated.

The reports also alerted Gonzales in 2005 to problems with the FBI's use of an anti-terrorism tool known as a national security letter (NSL), well before the Justice Department's inspector general brought widespread abuse of the letters in 2004 and 2005 to light in a stinging report this past March.

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Earlier today, the White House made it official and asserted executive privilege with regard to former White House aides testifying before Congress about the U.S. attorney firings. What happens next?

Enter the experts.

I asked Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School and Marty Lederman of Georgetown Law to walk me through.

First, although the president has "directed" Sara Taylor, Karl Rove's former aide, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, not to testify, the decision is still up to them, both said. Although the traditional expectation is that aides will comply with determinations of executive privilege by the president, both could still refuse. It would be a "career ending move" to be sure, Turley added, but there is no legal impediment.

Taylor is still scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, and Chariman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said yesterday that he expects her to show. You might call that an optimistic stance. Taylor's lawyer Neil Eggleston has not said outright that she won't testify. But he sent Leahy a letter on Sunday saying that the president would be asserting his privilege and that "absent the direction from the White House, Ms. Taylor would testify without hesitation before the Senate Judiciary Committee." In other words, it sounds like Taylor will accede to the president's assertion.

Even if Taylor decided to defy the president's direction and testify, the White House would surely seek to bar her testimony in court through a restraining order, an injunction, or some other means, both experts agreed.

But if Taylor refuses to testify, then the ball's in Congress' court.

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Here are the witnesses who are scheduled to testify this Wednesday for the House Judiciary Committee's hearing on Bush's commutation of Libby's sentence:

Ambassador Joseph Wilson

Roger Adams, US Department of Justice Pardon Attorney

Douglas A. Berman, William B. Saxbe Designated Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

Tom Cochran, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Middle District of North Carolina (Attorney for Vincent Rita, Rita v. US)

David Rifkin, partner, Baker & Hostetler LLP, former Justice Department official during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations

Says Conyers:
"Congress must now look into presidential authority to grant clemency, and how such power may be abused. Taken to its extreme, and possibly in the case of the Libby clemency, the use of such authority could completely circumvent the law enforcement process and prevent credible efforts to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch."

All parties agreed today that Scooter Libby should, in fact, serve two years of probation, most likely paving the way for the judge to conclude the same.

Judge Reggie Walton had asked Libby's lawyer and Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to weigh in on the special predicament created by the president's commutation of Libby's sentence last week: Bush had eliminated the jail time, but left in place the two-year period of supervised release that was to follow incarceration.

In his motion today, Fitzgerald argued that Libby's probation should have started July 2nd, the date of the commutation. Fitzgerald also pointed out in passing that Libby's sentence, which Bush judged "excessive," had been on the "the low-end of the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range." In addition to Libby's 30 months in prison and two years of probation, Libby was hit with a $250,000 fine, which he paid last week.

Libby's lawyers echoed the White House line, made official in a letter from counsel Fred Fielding earlier today, that the president's commutation should rule over any discrepancies with the sentencing statute.

You can read Fitzgerald's argument here. It's not clear when Judge Walton will make his final decision.