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David Kay, the man who headed the Iraq Survey Group and the Bush administration charged with finding WMD in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, believes that the U.S. intelligence efforts were the biggest “fiasco of my lifetime.” In an interview, Kay asserts that the CIA never spoke to “Curveball” (the Iraqi source who told the Germans that the Iraqis were constructing mobile weapon labs) and the Germans never provided the Americans with “Curveball’s” real name. (Speigel Online International and War & Peace)

Roger Stone, the political operative who has been involved in dirty tricks since the Nixon administration and who was fired from Bob Dole’s campaign when The National Enquirer reported that Stone and his wife were advertising for threesomes (Stone denied it), sent a letter to the FBI four months ago alleging that Eliot Spitzer “used the services of high-priced call girls'' in Florida. Stone, who told the FBI - through his lawyer - that “Gov. Spitzer did not remove his mid-calf length black socks during the sex act,” made these claims several months after he was accused of leaving a “threatening phone message at the office of Bernard Spitzer, the ex-governor's father, regarding ''phony'' campaign loans involving his son's unsuccessful 1994 bid for attorney general.” We are not sure where this sordid set of alleged facts fits in our Spitzer timeline. (Miami Herald)

Chile’s ambassador to the U.N. alleges in his new book, A Solitary War: A Diplomat's Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons, that the Bush administration’s efforts to corral support for the Iraq war engendered enduring “bitterness” and “deep mistrust” among allies in Europe and Latin America. Bush allegedly threatened economic retaliation against nations that withheld support, “spied on allies, and pressed for the recall of U.N. envoys that resisted U.S pressure to endorse the war.” (Washington Post)

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"We don't have any Thomas Jeffersons here."

That's a Marine captain in The Washington Post's front page story this morning on the state of affairs in Fallujah. You're not likely to ever read a more sobering narrative about Iraq -- or a more quotable one. The focus of the piece is the city's police chief, Col. Faisal Ismail al-Zobaie, a former member of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, turned insurgent turned police chief. Zobaie, and the people around him, have a talent for putting things succinctly.

The Post's Sudarsan Raghavan writes that "American ideals that were among the justifications for the 2003 invasion, such as promoting democracy and human rights, are giving way to values drawn from Iraq's traditions and tribal culture, such as respect, fear and brutality." Or, as Zobaie puts it:

"I have realized that Americans love the strong guy."

And here's Zobaie's defense of his police force's treatment of prisoners -- a statement apparently made without irony:

"We never tortured anybody," he said. "Sometimes we beat them during the first hours of capture."

U.S. Army Maj. Mike Cava, a military judge advocate, on the deplorable standards in the jail run by Zobaie, where inmates are not given meals and sit in cells without air conditioning (last summer, six detainees died of heatstroke):

"It's a typical Iraqi jail. Their standards are different than ours. They just do things the Iraqi way."

Capt. Mohammed Yousef from Zobaie's police force:

"Since Saddam Hussein until now, Iraq obeys only the force," Yousef said. "We are practicing the same old procedures."

Sheik Abu Abdul Salman, an imam who calls Zobaie's control of Fallujah "worse than Saddam Hussein":

Salman, the imam, said Zobaie controls the city with "a fire fist."

"But to be honest, security is restored under this guy," he said. "We have a saying in Iraq: 'Fever is better than death.' We were dead. Life stopped at 2 p.m. Everybody was afraid of themselves, including me. If he didn't use the force, the security wouldn't be restored. We don't like the weak man."

And back to Zobaie:

"If you go through the history of Iraq, you will see that only the tough guy can control the country," he said. He rattled off the names of every leader since Iraq's monarchy ended in 1958 with a bloody coup. Hussein, he said, had lasted the longest in power....

What Zobaie wants is for the U.S. military to hand over full control of Fallujah. He believes Iraq's current leaders are not strong enough. Asked whether democracy could ever bloom here, he replied: "No democracy in Iraq. Ever."

"When the Americans leave the city," he said, "I'll be tougher with the people."

Called to a special session last Thursday, the General Assembly of North Carolina took little more than an hour to expel eight-term Democratic Rep. Thomas Wright from the state legislature. With all but five members in attendance, a stunning majority of the House agreed 109-5 that the allegations of ethical misconduct— hiding or mishandling $340,000 in loans and campaign funds— warranted the first removal of a member since 1880. Despite speculation that the Legislative Black Caucus, which includes 20 Democrats, would back their former chairman, the vote to expel handily exceeded the required two-thirds majority of 80. As soon as the vote was concluded, the House sergeants-at-arms wasted no time in escorting Wright out the door.

The chairman of the ethics committee, Rep. Rick Glazier (D), told the assembled lawmakers that in the past eight years Wright had filed 22 erroneous campaign finance reports that he never bothered to correct.

“Forty percent of the dollars Representative Wright received for seven years was not reported," Glazier said. "In the end, there is nary a substantive [campaign reporting law] in the statutes that was not violated repeatedly by Representative Wright.”

According to the AP, the bipartisan ethics committee found that “Wright failed to properly disclose $180,000 in campaign contributions, deposited $8,900 of charitable donations into his personal bank account, and persuaded a state official to write a bogus letter about a state grant that, according to testimony, Wright used to take out a bank loan for a foundation he led.”

Wright could be re-elected and reclaim his seat so long as he’s not convicted of a felony in his criminal trial, which begins on March 31. Wright decided not to counter the charges made against him by the House ethics committee in order not to compromise his defense in court, where he plans to contest not only the charges of fraud and obstruction of justice, but also his expulsion.

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A statement from Sen. Barack Obama's (D-IL) Senate office:

"This afternoon, State Department officials briefed staffers from the offices of Senators Obama, Biden, Clinton, and McCain for approximately 90 minutes. There are still many unanswered questions, including why these passport files were accessed and for what purpose. Senator Obama believes a thorough investigation of these privacy breaches is necessary and expects one that is prompt and thorough."

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has an open mind. Way open. From The Legal Times' blog:

"We need to stay engaged here because the stakes are tremendous," Mukasey said. "We're willing and happy to work with Congress on a workable bill. The Senate passed a workable, bipartisan bill that contains some compromises. The House passed a bill that was neither bipartisan nor workable."

While Mukasey offered no hint that a compromise is in the works, he said the House proposal does not offer guarantees to the communications industry.

"The people we work with need to know that they can be secure in working with us," he said. "That would introduce the same level of uncertainty that would be introduced by having litigation go on in public...If you tell somebody that you've received assurances, but the propriety of your conduct is now up for grabs, that's not exactly reassuring."

Just a refresher that John McCain's tangle with the FEC has yet to be resolved:

Sen. John McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system, reports filed last night show.

McCain has now spent $58.4 million on his primary effort. Those who have committed to public financing can spend no more than $54 million on their primary bid.

So has McCain broken the law? The answer is far from simple.

Remember that the FEC chairman has written McCain's campaign to tell them that McCain has not withdrawn from the public funding system, because the FEC hasn't approved his request to withdraw -- and can't approve it until there are four commissioners. To which McCain's lawyers have replied, nuh uh.

For now, the McCain campaign will continue to spend away. Whether this will come back to haunt him somewhere down the line (assuming the FEC is functioning again someday)... well, who knows.

From NBC News:

Two of the government contractors who allegedly took a peek at Sen. Barack Obama's passport records worked for a Virginia-based firm called Stanley, Inc., according to U.S. government officials with knowledge of the State Department passport controversy.

Stanley, Inc., is headquartered in Arlington, Va. and is employee-owned. The State Department awarded it a contract for $164 million in 2006. The contract calls for Stanley to print and mail millions of new U.S. passports.

NBC News contacted a Stanley, Inc., spokeswoman this afternoon, and informed her that two sources had confirmed that employees at her firm were involved with the scandal. The spokeswoman would only comment: "We've been directed by the State Department to direct all media calls to them."

The government officials tell NBC News that Stanley Inc. fired the two workers. A worker at a second contracting company, not related to Stanley, Inc., also allegedly took a look at the Obama files and those belonging to Sen. John McCain. That person has been disciplined but not yet been fired, State Department officials say.

One Stanley, Inc., contractor allegedly looked at Obama's passport records on January 9, and then a second Stanley employee allegedly took a peek at similar Obama records on February 21, the officials said. Stanley, Inc., fired both workers after the alleged security breaches were discovered, the officials added.

We've posted a couple of times this week on the move by U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles Thomas O'Brien's decision to disband the public corruption unit in that office. On Monday, we quoted a former prosecutor in the unit on his view that the move "sends a message" to politicians that they don't need to be so careful. And yesterday, we relayed The Los Angeles Times' reporting on the move, which anonymously quoted a number of the prosecutors in the office who said that O'Brien had threatened them with retaliation if they publicly disputed the move.

But TPM Reader M thinks that O'Brien is getting a bum rap:

I recently left the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles for private practice, and I've followed the recent events in the office closely and talked to several folks who were at the meeting in question. I'm no loyal Bushie, and I've been outraged by what this administration has done to the U.S. Attorney's Office as an institution and experienced firsthand how hard it is to be a prosecutor in this administration. But Tom O'Brien is no Rachel Paulose. He's a career prosecutor and one of the best trial attorneys the office has seen in years. Yes, he's a Republican, but he was backed strongly by both Democratic senators Boxer and Feinstein for a job that most people figured was too radioactive to get Senate approval for anyone in the wake of the U.S. Attorney's scandal. O'Brien also done more to fix the budget problems, to boost morale, and enforce accountability in the office than any U.S. Attorney in LA in recent memory.

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Something about HUD chief Alphonso Jackson's reputation as the most cronyfied Bush administration official of all makes Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Patty Murray (D-WA) think he might not be the best man for the job.

In a letter to President Bush today (which you can read in full below), the two, who chair on the two key oversight committees for HUD, say it's time for Bush to pull the rug out from under his most loyal cabinet member.

Federal investigators are currently probing the limits of Jackson's cronyism and whether he lied to congressional and HUD investigators when he proclaimed that he doesn't touch contracts. Besides that, a suit by Philadelphia's public housing director has exposed some of the embarrassing goings-on under Jackson. In testimony before Congress, Jackson has refused to comment on any of this, saying that he won't comment on an ongoing investigation. The senators write that Jackson has "effectively reject[ed] our oversight role."

The letter:

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