TPM News

The Franken legal team has been busy this afternoon laying out their argument against Norm Coleman: You don't get to pull a 180.

Franken attorney David Lillehaug has been cross-examining Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who oversaw a great deal of the recount and was originally called by the Coleman side in order to probe into the fallibility that exists within the system. Lillehaug has used the cross-examination as a vehicle to explore a wrinkle in Coleman's new arguments about making sure every absentee vote is properly counted: Coleman originally opposed all similar efforts from the Franken camp during the recount.

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In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, 60 House Democrats urged her to release emergency funds to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to help rebuild the the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of its war with Israel. The letter focuses on the need to rebuild Gaza's demolished infrastructure and remedy the shortage of medical supplies that has sparked a "humanitarian emergency."

Full text is after the jump, with the names of the Democrats who signed on.

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From Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) press briefing on the stimulus, going on right now:

Hoover was very interventionist. He raised taxes, increased spending, and tried very much to [intervene in] the economy.

"A lot of us would not like to have the level of government involvement" that the stimulus involves, Ensign added.

My friends at Politico, Jim VandeHei and Eamon Javers, have a piece this morning about those who advocate doing nothing in the face of our economic crisis. No stimulus, nada, these folks argue.

I think there's an argument for doing nothing but it's so outside the conventional mainstream, far to the right of the House Republicans, that it seems to me incumbent upon Politico, for whom I've written and which I admire, to have noted that some of the experts quoted in their piece have what we might call exotic histories.

The piece quotes Andrew Schiff, as "an investment consultant at Euro-Pacific Capital and a card-carrying member of the stand-tall-against-the-stimulus lobby." He tells Politico: "All this stimulus money is geared toward getting consumers spending and borrowing again. But spending and borrowing were the problem in the first place." This quote and identification make him sound like some typical money guy expressing the kind of fiscal prudence you expect from Hal Holbrooke in Wall Street.

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Great news from the House floor, where members are debating the $825 billion stimulus bill. An amendment from Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Keith Ellison (D-MN) -- restoring $3 billion in mass transit funding to an initial $10 billion pot that looked distressingly low to many urban-planning folks -- just passed by voice vote.

This brings the infrastructure portion of the stimulus a large step closer to the level of investment that has a genuine chance of expanding the nation's green transportation options. Amtrak, Metro, and subway riders, rejoice.

Late Victory Lap Update: Nadler just noted that hundreds of millions of dollars of this newly approved cash would go to often under-funded priorities in the crowded urban areas of New York and California. From his statement:

This amendment is crucial for fair distribution of transportation spending between urban and non-urban parts of the county. ... Investment in transit is a major step toward putting Americans to work right away in green jobs, reducing emissions and improving our transit systems.

The Washington Times reported today that Attorney General nominee Eric Holder has privately assured Sen. Kit Bond (MO) and other Republicans that the Obama DoJ will not prosecute intelligence officials who engaged in harsh interrogations.

A Bond aide told the Times that the senator "strongly considered blocking the nomination based on questions arising from some of Mr. Holder's public statements," but that Bond now planned to support the nomination after "having received assurances that [Holder] was not intent on going after intelligence officials who acted in good faith."

The implication of the piece is fairly clear: Holder promised Bond to eschew prosecutions, and Bond promised not to block his nomination. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- which approved Holder today -- strongly denied that such an exchange could have occurred.

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Change may be coming to one of the departments of the federal government that was most damaged under the Bush administration.

Ken Salazar, the new Interior Secretary, said at a White House briefing this afternoon that he would undertake a top-to-bottom review of ethical misconduct at his agency, reports the Associated Press.

Salazar cited several of the department's lowest moments during the Bush years, and said that probes closed by the Bush administration could be reopened.

As we've noted at TPMmuckraker, Interior employees were found to have partied and had sex with employes from oil and gas companies they were supposed to be regulating. And Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles pleaded guilty to corruption in connection with the Jack Abramoff case.

This doesn't seem like the best way to win hearts and minds...

ABC News reports:

The CIA's station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.

Officials say the 41-year old CIA officer, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September.

The discovery of more than a dozen videotapes showing the CIA officer engaged in sex acts with other women has led the Justice Department to broaden its investigation to include at least one other Arab country, Egypt, where the CIA officer had been posted earlier in his career, according to law enforcement officials.

The details of the alleged rapes:
One of the alleged victims reportedly said she met the CIA officer at a bar in the U.S. embassy and then was taken to his official station chief residence where she said the sexual assault took place.

The second alleged victim reportedly told U.S. prosecutors that, in a separate incident, she also was drugged at the American's official residence before being sexually assaulted.

Investigators searched the station chief's residence and found videotapes of him engaged in sex acts, including with a woman "in a semi-conscious state."

The two women have both given sworn statements to federal prosecutors working on a possible criminal case against the agent.

This station chief appears to have a crucial intel task:
The officer in charge of the CIA station in Algiers plays an important role in working with the Algerian intelligence services to combat an active al Qaeda wing responsible for a wave of bombings in Algeria.

And the case may suggest a serious failure by CIA brass. Bob Baer, a prominent former agency operative, told ABC News that the alleged rapes could open the station chief up to blackmail charges, potentially compromising his mission.

"That's something the CIA should have picked up on," said Baer. "This is indicative of personnel problems of all sorts that run through the agency."

Late Update: ABC News updates its report, naming the suspect:
"[T]he suspect in the case is identified as Andrew Warren in an affidavit for a search warrant filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. by an investigator for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.

Now this is odd. At a briefing with reporters just now, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said that the Coleman case is not about complicated legal language or doctrines, but is instead about voters like Gerald Anderson and Wesley Briest, who were brought in yesterday to talk about how their ballots are still not counted.

Gerald Anderson sure seems compelling. He's a septuagenarian who says his signature on the ballot envelope didn't look right because he is now too blind to fill things out perfectly. But Briest is one of the two clear problem witnesses they brought in yesterday.

Briest's testimony went as thus: He initially said that he voted at the polls, and not by absentee. Then a Coleman lawyer showed Briest his absentee ballot envelope, and reminded him that he did not go to the polls, too. Upon cross-examination by Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton, Briest admitted that his wife didn't fully complete the witness section of the absentee ballot, regardless of the confusion over whether he showed up at the polls or not.

It could have been worse. Ginsberg could have mentioned Douglas Thompson, the friendly Coleman witness who wants his ballot to be counted even though he obtained it through his girlfriend forging his signature.

(Special thanks to The Uptake for carrying the presser.)

As Josh just observed, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is still under investigation for his role in alleged trading of congressional earmarks. A major figure in that inquiry, which you can read more about here, is GOP congressman-turned-lobbyist Bill Lowery.

Lowery's lawyer during the initial days of the Lewis probe, and during the height of the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal, was former Clinton administration counsel Lanny Breuer -- who was recently nominated by President Obama to lead the Justice Department's criminal division.

Breuer was also a registered lobbyist as recently as last year, representing Yahoo on "law enforcement demands for user information," according to the Senate disclosure database.

Does that mean Breuer will have to seek a waiver from the Obama administration's ethics order on prior lobbying, as Pentagon No. 2 nominee Bill Lynn recently did? Perhaps, though his was a far narrower involvement than that of Lynn or former Goldman Sachs lobbyist Mark Patterson, the new Treasury Department chief of staff.

Either way, it's worth noting that private sector employment isn't an automatic black mark for those re-entering government service.