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What did the FBI search in the tiny Alaska town of Girdwood last summer? The mystery continues.

A spokesman for Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-AK) told me today it wasn’t his boss’ home or office -- two favored guesses.

Stevens has been tightlipped in the FBI’s broad probe into oil company Veco Corp.’s dealings with Alaska state and federal lawmakers. But today his office opened up slightly. Stevens’ spokesman Aaron Saunders denied a raid of Stevens' home or office and sent me a copy of this local television story with the following portions underlined:

The FBI will not comment on whether Sen. Stevens is being investigated. But when the agency served search warrants on lawmaker's office last August, one search warrant was served in Girdwood.

Agents said it wasn't at the senator's home or office, but they won't say where.

There’s not much else in Girdwood. Any guesses?

From IraqSlogger:

In the months following September 2005, complaints began coming in to the US State Department that all was not well with its most ambitious project ever: a sprawling new embassy project on the banks of the ancient Tigris River. The largest, most heavily-fortified embassy in the world with over 20 buildings, it spans 104 acres-- comparable in size to the Vatican.

Soon after the State Department awarded $592-million building contract to First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting in July 2005, thousands of low-paid migrant workers recruited from South Asia, the Philippines and other nations poured into Baghdad, beginning work to build the gargantuan complex within two years time. But sources involved in the embassy project tell Slogger that during First Kuwaiti’s rush to the finish the project by this summer on schedule, American managers and specialists involved with the project began protesting about the living and working conditions of lower-paid workers sequestered and largely unseen behind security walls bordering the embassy project inside the US-controlled Green Zone....

“Every US labor law was broken,” says an American labor foreman, John Owens, who adds that he never witnessed a safety meeting. Once an Egyptian worker fell and broke his back and was sent home. No one ever heard from him again. “The accident might not have happened if there was a safety program and he had known how to use a safety harness,” charges Owen, who left the embassy project last June.

And that's not even the worst part. The piece is well worth reading.

IraqSlogger also reports that the Justice Department is investigating First Kuwaiti for possible labor trafficking.

Update: You can see plans for the embassy here.

The case for Republican voter fraud complaints being at the root of yet another U.S. attorney firing just got a lot stronger.

The U.S. attorney here is Todd Graves, the U.S. attorney for Kansas City who was fired in January of last year. And Murray Waas, reporting for National Journal, reports that Mark "Thor" Hearne, the GOP operative behind the American Center for Voting Rights -- the conservative organization that served to spread allegations of widespread voter fraud and push voter ID laws as the cure -- had complained to the White House and senior officials in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division about Graves' lack of commitment to the cause:

In the case involving ACORN, Hearne had urged the Justice Department long before the election to investigate the activist organization and similar groups that registered Democrats. When Hearne came to believe that the U.S. attorney for western Missouri, Todd Graves, was not taking seriously allegations that ACORN workers were registering people who did not qualify to vote, he took his complaints to senior officials in Justice’s Civil Rights Division and to the White House, according to a former Justice official and a private attorney who worked with Hearne. The private attorney said in an interview that Hearne boasted to him about having discussions with administration officials who wanted Graves replaced. The White House declined to comment on any of its discussions with Hearne.

Waas notes that there's no direct evidence that Hearne's complaints led to Graves' dismissal. But Graves' case is starting to look a lot like two others that have drawn plenty of suspicion: David Iglesias of New Mexico and John McKay of Washington. In both those cases, state Republicans' brought their complaints to the White House and the leadership at the Justice Department. In Iglesias' case, both the president and Karl Rove himself echoed those complaints to the Justice Department.

And a complaint from Hearne would have gotten special attention. Hearne is reportedly close to Rove, and served as national election counsel for the 2004 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign.

There's an additional fact which makes this case even more suspicious. Graves was replaced by Bradley Schlozman, a former senior political appointee at the Civil Rights Division who oversaw the voting rights section. According to Waas, Hearne brought his complaints about Graves to "senior officials in Justice’s Civil Rights Division." These were complaints about voting cases, which means the complaints most likely went to Schlozman himself -- or his right hand Hans Von Spakovsky. After Schlozman was installed in Graves' place, he brought an indictment against four ACORN workers days before the election in 2006. So it looks a lot like Hearne got his wish.

Schlozman, remember, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee this coming Tuesday. That hearing promises to be very interesting.

Update: Rick Hasen has more over at the Election Law blog.

Via War and Piece: The ACLU has accused a subsidiary of Boeing of facilitating torture by providing services to the CIA for secret overseas flight. (Associated Press)

The LA Times connects former US Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger’s record to his appearance on Kyle Sampson’s firing list. The verdict? Heffelfinger was concerned with protecting the voting rights of Native Americans.

Tim Griffin is set to resign Friday as interim U.S. Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, according to local congressional staffers. (Arkansas Times)

The Hill is reporting that House conservatives intend to block the Senate immigration bill based on a constitutional rule that revenue-related bills to originate in the House. According to an unnamed aide, “a number of people in the House are dying to be fingered as the person who killed [the Senate bill].”

Read More →

The gang's all here.

The Los Angeles Times looks into why Thomas Heffelfinger, the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, was targeted for removal and finds circumstantial evidence that Heffelfinger might have made himself a marked man by raising objection to the implementation of a voter ID law in the state. Some familiar characters crop up -- namely Bradley Schlozman and Hans Von Spakovsky, the two Republican lawyers who reigned over the Civil Rights Division's voting rights section.

Here's the tale, according to The Times: in the fall of 2004, Minnesota's Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer issued a directive that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Native Americans living off reservations. On October 19, 2004, an assistant U.S. attorney in Heffelinger's office wrote Joe Rich, the then-chief of the voting rights section in the Civil Rights Division, to raise the alarm about Kiffmeyer's move. The directive might disproportionately affect Native Americans' ability to vote, the AUSA wrote, and was a matter of "deep concern" to Heffelfinger.

Rich, a near 40-year veteran of the Civil Rights Division, who retired in 2005 and has been fiercely critical of the division's political leadership, recommended opening an investigation. The division, after all, is charged with protecting minorities against possible discrimination. But things went downhill from there:

In response, he said, Bradley Schlozman, a political appointee in the department, told Rich "not to do anything without his approval" because of the "special sensitivity of this matter."

Rich responded by suggesting that more information be gathered from voting officials in the Twin Cities area, which includes Minnesota's two most populous counties.

A message came back from another Republican official in the department, Hans von Spakovsky, saying Rich should not contact the county officials but should instead deal only with the secretary of state's office.

Von Spakovsky indicated, Rich said, that working with Kiffmeyer's office reduced the likelihood of a leak to the news media.

The orders from Schlozman and Von Spakovsky, who wielded unusual power in the civil rights division, effectively ended any department inquiry, Rich said.

So Schlozman and Von Spakovsky, in their own typically creative way, spiked the investigation. (A suit by the ACLU eventually blocked Kiffmeyer's directive from being implemented.)

Now, this was in October of 2004. And Heffelfinger, along with twelve other U.S. attorneys, appeared on Kyle Sampson's first list of U.S. attorneys in February of 2005 -- that's the one where "strong" U.S.A.s were ones who had "exhibited loyalty" to the president. Heffelfinger appeared again on a January, 2006 list and stepped down the next month. He's said he was not asked to step down.

Heffelfinger's lack of enthusiasm for Kiffmeyer's voter ID measure has long been floated as the real reason for his being placed on the list -- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) even asked Monica Goodling about it during her hearing last week. Goodling denied knowing anything about that, instead saying she remembered hearing something about how Heffelfinger spent too much time on Native American issues -- Heffelfinger was the chairman of the subcommittee of U.S. attorneys that deals with American Indian issues. Her response didn't seem to convince Rep. Ellison.

The question here is whether, or how, Heffelfinger's disloyalty was communicated to the leadership in the Justice Department or the White House. Voter fraud, we know, is an issue close to Karl Rove's heart. Did Schlozman or Van Spakovsky complain to Rove's shop or someone else? Fortunately, both Schlozman and Von Spakovsky will be put under oath in the near future -- Schlozman this coming Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee (as part of the U.S. attorney firings investigation) and Von Spakovsky before the Senate Rules Committee (a confirmation hearing for his spot as a commissioner at the FEC) on June 13th. Let's hope they get some questions about this.

The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin spells out how a memo Patrick Fitzgerald sent to the judge preparing to sentence Scooter Libby connects Libby’s obstruction crimes to Dick Cheney.

In the sentencing memo, Fitzgerald urges U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton to send Libby to prison for 2 and a half to 3 years. You can read the memo here.

In Friday's eminently readable court filing, Fitzgerald quotes the Libby defense calling his prosecution "unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics." In responding to that charge, the special counsel evidently felt obliged to put Libby's crime in context. And that context is Dick Cheney.
At trial, it became clear that Libby learned about former CIA agent Valerie Plame from Cheney. But the details that would clarify who orchestrated the press leak were covered up, Fitzgerald says, by Libby’s acts of obstruction.

Froomkin grabs key points from Fitzgerald’s memo saying:
The investigation, Fitzgerald writes, "was necessary to determine whether there was concerted action by any combination of the officials known to have disclosed the information about Ms. Plame to the media as anonymous sources, and also whether any of those who were involved acted at the direction of others. This was particularly important in light of Mr. Libby's statement to the FBI that he may have discussed Ms. Wilson's employment with reporters at the specific direction of the Vice President." (My italics.)

We’ll find out Libby’s fate next week, when he is expected to be sentenced.

From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

At their annual convention here, members of the statewide organization of moderate and center-right Republicans clapped enthusiastically when McKay, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, declared that the "enormous power" vested in federal prosecutors "cannot be associated with partisan politics."...

He said he and at least five of the other fired U.S. attorneys compared notes and concluded that "if we did remain silent, we were part of the lie, so that is why I spoke out."

Since then, McKay added, "senior officials at the Department of Justice have compounded early misstatements with lies and with cover-ups."...

McKay said he has no intention of running for political office, as some have speculated, and is troubled by the furor over the firings because "I felt this responsibility as a Republican (that) I did not want to be in the public arena handing spears to the Democrats to throw at the White House."

Nevertheless, McKay, the reluctant warrior, did hand a number of spears to Democrats. And in his speech, McKay singled out state Republicans who tried to get him fired for not bringing indictments in the wake of the 2004 gubernatorial election:

He referred dismissively to "cybercowards," apparently meaning conservative bloggers who have criticized the lack of prosecution, and scorned the purported evidence of election fraud alleged by Tom McCabe, the aggressive, conservative executive vice president of the Building Association of Washington and a Rossi supporter....

McKay said the evidence McCabe presented was "a joke from an evidentiary standpoint that a crime had been committed. ... Every FBI agent who looked at the evidence and every federal prosecutor who looked at the evidence that the BIAW sent in concluded that it was completely, utterly insufficient to move forward in an investigation."

Thanks to TPM Reader SD.

Yesterday we talked about how Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R-AK) home improvement project has piqued the interest of federal investigators.

A local oil company’s involvement in hiring one of the contractors who built the new level to Stevens’ single-story home -- underneath the existing ground floor – seems to be the questionable part.

The Associated Press followed up today on the story by adding that two sources close to the investigation said “Stevens was not considered a target of the investigation.”

That won't comfort Sen. Stevens.

The carefully-crafted language "I'm not a target" has been peddled by other politicians tied to investigations, like former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA).

The phrase makes the politician sound practically exhonerated, when really, prosecutors tend to wait to send out a “target” letter until shortly before an indictment is issued. (Feel like pleading guilty? Now's your chance.) Former number two at the Interior Department J. Steven Griles was named a target in the Abramoff scandal in January; he pled guilty to lying to Congress in March.

It’s not clear how entwined Stevens is in the investigation, which has already led to the indictment of four current and former state officials. Two top executives from the oil company at the heart of the controversy, Veco Corp., pled guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges this month.

But, both the AP and the Anchorage Daily News mentioned a search in the ski-resort town of Girdwood, where Stevens’ newly doubled home sits.

From The Anchorage Daily News:

The wide-ranging federal inquiry surfaced in August when agents raided six legislative offices, including those of then-Senate President Ben Stevens, one of Ted Stevens' sons. The FBI said at the time that it also had executed a search warrant in Girdwood, among other places, although the location of that search has never been officially disclosed.

The FBI hasn’t said what it searched, but the list of possibilities isn’t very long. Take a look at a map of Girdwood, population 2,000:

In a letter today, the Justice Department's Inspector General and head counsel for the Office of Professional Responsibility notified the Senate Judiciary Committee that their joint probe into the U.S. attorney firings had expanded to include a broad array of allegations "regarding improper political or other considerations in hiring decisions within the Department of Justice."

The expansion was first reported last week in the wake of Monica Goodling's testimony, but it was unclear just how wide a net investigators had cast. The letter reads:

"Among the issues that we intend to investigate are allegations regarding Monica Goodling's and others' actions in the DoJ hiring and personnel decisions; allegations concerning hiring for the DoJ Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program; and allegations concerning hiring practices in the DoJ Civil Rights Division."

Goodling admitted last week to improperly taking political considerations into account in the hiring of assistant U.S. attorneys, immigration judges and appointments to the Board of Immigration Appeals. But the IG and OPR's investigation appears to go far beyond Goodling.

Allegations concerning political hiring for the Honors Program -- the Department's historically rigorous program for hiring entry-level lawyers -- have centered on Michael Elston, the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general. A group of anonymous Justice Department employees raised alarms with Congress last month, complaining that Elston rejected hundreds of potential applicants to the program last year seemingly based on their political backgrounds.

And Goodling also hasn't been implicated in allegedly political hiring practices in the Department's Civil Rights Division. Those allegations have centered on Bradley Schlozman, the former #2 at the division, who has been accused of recruiting Republicans for career spots and then asking them to scrub mentions of their GOP bona fides from their resumes. Schlozman subsequently was appointed as an interim U.S. attorney in Kansas City -- and returned to main Justice to work in the Executive Office of United States Attorneys after he was replaced by a Senate-confirmed U.S. attorney. He's scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this coming Tuesday.

So it appears that the DoJ's internal investigation has a lot of ground to cover. The report will be made public upon its completion.