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From the AP:

The White House says an aide to President Bush has resigned because of the alleged misuse of grant money from U.S. Agency for International Development.

Presidential spokesman Scott Stanzel says the former aide, Felipe Sixto, had been a special assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs. Stanzel said Sixto was promoted to that position on March 1 and that he came forward on March 20 to tell his superiors about the alleged wrongdoing.

Stanzel said it involved improprieties involving the use of grant money and Sixto's former employer, the Center for a Free Cuba. Stanzel says the matter has been turned over to the Justice Department.


Update: Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for A Free Cuba, told me that the center "became aware of the allegations weeks ago, and we informed USAID immediately." He said that the USAID inspector general had been investigating Sixto's possible misuse of the funds. He said he had "no idea" how much money was missing, but that "we're anxious to cooperate in any way shape or form to get to the very bottom of it. We expect that all funds in question will be returned to the American taxpayer."

Sixto has worked at the Center for approximately three years, he said. Sixto joined the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House in July of last year.

The Center for a Free Cuba describes itself as "an independent, non-partisan institution dedicated to promoting human rights and a transition to democracy and the rule of law on the island."

Update: Here's how Stanzel puts the allegations, according to the AP:

"Mr. Sixto allegedly had a conflict of interest with the use of U.S. AID funds by his former employer," Stanzel said. He said he did not know how much money was involved or the particulars of the allegations.

In the wake of yesterday's ruling, Siegelman's out and about. From the AP:

Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman was released on bond from a federal prison Friday, saying he remains upbeat despite serving nine months for corruption.

Leaving the prison in a black sport utility vehicle, he stopped on a road outside the lockup to comment. He wore a ragged shirt that appeared to be prison clothing.

"I may have lost my freedom for awhile, but I never lost faith," Siegelman, 62, told reporters.

From The New York Times:

When officers from the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting harsh interrogations in 2005, they may have believed they were freeing the government and themselves from potentially serious legal trouble.

But nearly four months after the disclosure that the tapes were destroyed, the list of legal entanglements for the C.I.A., the Defense Department and other agencies is only growing longer. In addition to criminal and Congressional investigations of the tapes’ destruction, the government is fighting off challenges in several major terrorism cases and a raft of prisoners’ legal claims that it may have destroyed evidence.

“They thought they were saving themselves from legal scrutiny, as well as possible danger from Al Qaeda if the tapes became public,” said Frederick P. Hitz, a former C.I.A. officer and the agency’s inspector general from 1990 to 1998, speaking of agency officials who favored eliminating the tapes. “Unknowingly, perhaps, they may have created even more problems for themselves.”...

Despite all the legal complications, those in the C.I.A. who got rid of the videotapes may have achieved one of their presumed goals: preventing a torture prosecution, said Deborah Colson, a senior associate at Human Rights First.

“It may be impossible to reconstruct any criminal conduct that was caught on the tapes,” Ms. Colson said.


You win some, you lose some.

Oh, man. Not cool. Not only has the Army suspended any further contracts for AEY (the shady contractor run by 22 year-old Efraim Diveroli), but the U.S. attorney in Miami along with Department of Justice prosecutors in Washington have picked up the case, The Miami Herald reports.

The probe launched as a result of an audit by the Army's Procurement Fraud Branch (it's unclear whether the probe launched as a result of The New York Times' inquiries), where officials determined that Diveroli appeared to have lied when he claimed that the ammunition he was providing came from Hungary when it in fact was made in China -- which he would have done because the Army prohibits using Chinese ammo.

If Diveroli did lie to the government, that would be a crime. You can read the Army's audit letter, in addition to the letter to Diveroli suspending his ability to win any further contracts, here.

The Herald also uncovered a second arrest for Diveroli: one for drunk driving earlier this month. That's the mugshot above. The earlier one, as the Times reported in the initial story, was for beating up a parking valet and getting busted with a fake ID (ironically just after his 21st birthday). The mugshot for that one is to the right. I guess sometimes the pressures of being a big time defense contractor are just too much.

Update: A number of stories have featured Diveroli's sadly out of date MySpace page. How a multi-million dollar contractor only has one friend I cannot understand.

For the curious, Radar was also able to get in touch with AEY's 25 year-old masseur VP (or someone claiming to be him, at least) through his MySpace page.

A federal judge has ruled that the Department of Justice is allowed to exempt 68 pages of e-mails sent between White House and Department of Justice officials from a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Democratic National Committee - despite the fact that the e-mails were sent using accounts controlled by the Republican National Committee - because the RNC accounts were used for both official and political business. The DNC had argued that because the accounts were controlled by the RNC, the e-mails could not be exempted from a Freedom of Information request. (The Politico)

As Americans in the Green Zone were told to remain in fortified structures and the Iraqi government prepared for an emergency session, President Bush announced that "normalcy is returning back to Iraq" despite the fact that "some ... seem unwilling to acknowledge that progress is taking place." (Reuters, McClatchy)

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Osama bin Laden's former driver, alleges that the Bush administration is attempting to turn his client's trial into a political show trial by orchestrating war-crimes convictions. Mizer has accused Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, who serves as the legal advisor to the White House official overseeing the military tribunals -- of exercising "unlawful command influence" and being "so closely aligned" "with the prosecutorial function that he cannot continue to provide the requisite impartial advice to the convening authority." (LA Times)

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It's official: no Bush Administration official, current or former, can hold a candle to EPA chief Stephen Johnson when it comes to chutzpah.

Alberto Gonzales, to be sure, would normally be stiff competition. But for all his lies, half-truths, and careful distortions, Alberto Gonzales somehow lacked something in the way of chutzpah. Maybe it was the way he sometimes stuttered out his answers, his un-recollections, and apologies. Johnson, by stark contrast, does the job with bureaucratic sangfroid.

Last April, the Supreme Court found in a landmark ruling that the EPA could no longer avoid regulating greenhouse gases. It had to make a decision. Even then, it was apparent to all observers what the EPA's finding must be. The EPA's scientists, wonks and lawyers went to work on it. And they found, not surprisingly, that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, which means they must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Johnson himself reviewed that work, disputed part of it, but agreed with the overall thrust of the finding. The EPA then, having dotted the i's and crossed the t's, sent the finding to the White House in December. And there things stopped.

So the finding is finished. It is sitting on the shelf at the White House. Also sitting on a shelf is the EPA's 300-page draft of a rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. But such regulation can go nowhere until the endangerment finding is made official.

We reported earlier this month that Johnson was transparently stonewalling. His stated rationale then was that the energy bill which the president signed into law last December had complicated things, a transparently bogus argument, since the only law at issue is the Clean Air Act.

But as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted in a statement last night, the Heritage Foundation has been floating an alternative strategy for stonewalling: the EPA should call for public comment on the rule. Such a move would delay any endangerment finding for months. And, The Los Angeles Times reports, "during an economic downturn, seeking comprehensive public comment and a 'go-slow' approach would be far better," the think tankers reasoned (presumably they're all for environmental regulation during boom times). At the very least, the move would push the issue into the next administration, which is really all pro-business conservatives can hope for.

And yesterday, that's exactly what Johnson did. As he proudly proclaimed in his letter (pdf) announcing the move:

"This approach gives the appropriate care and attention this complex issue demands. Rather than rushing to judgment on a single issue, this approach allows us to examine all the potential effects of a decision with the benefit of the public's insight. In short, this process will best serve the American public."


His spokesman was similarly proud:

"No matter what is shouted or screamed from the rooftops, this is truly a historic moment. No administration has taken this step to evaluate this new pollutant."


And that's what I call chutzpah.

Keep in mind that Johnson has also -- against the unanimous recommendation of his staff -- blocked California's attempt to pass stiff greenhouse gas limits. After all, what good would it be for him to stonewall instituting limits at the EPA if California and 16 other states went ahead with their proposed limits? No good at all.

So what will EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson be doing for two weeks in April in Australia -- besides not testifying before Congress, that is? EPA Deputy Press Secretary Tim Lyons finally got back to us:

"The Administrator is set to discuss shared environmental goals and challenges with our global partners, while learning about their innovative approaches to carbon sequestration, water treatment and management, methane capture, pesticide risk reduction, and resource sustainability."

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson will not be rushed, no sir. We gave you the rundown earlier this month of how Johnson had managed to ignore a landmark Supreme Court ruling. The EPA could no longer avoid taking a stance on whether greenhouse gases were covered by the Clean Air Act. And it's become crystal clear from statements that Johnson has made where the agency will come down on the issue.

But of course Johnson has avoided just that. And now he says that, a year after the ruling came down, he needs a couple more months to think on it. From the AP:

The government made clear on Thursday it will not be rushed into deciding whether to regulate emissions linked to global warming, as the Supreme Court directed nearly a year ago.

Such action "could affect many (emission) sources beyond just cars and trucks" and needs to be examined broadly as to other impacts, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency wrote lawmakers.

Stephen Johnson said he has decided to begin the process by seeking public comment on the implications of regulating carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, on other agency rules that cover everything from power plants and factories to schools and small businesses.

That process could take months and led some of his critics to suggest he was shunting the sensitive issue to the next administration.


The man continues to impress with his chutzpah.

From The Birmingham News:

Former Gov. Don Siegelman will be released from prison, after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted him an appeal bond, the lead prosecutor in the case said.

Acting U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin said he received a courtesy call from the court today. "He's going to be released," Franklin said.

He said he was disappointed but said, "The 11th Circuit has the discretion to do that and I respect that."


Update: I just got off the phone with Hiram Eastland, one of Siegelman's lawyers, who said that today the appeals court had issued a "straightforward" four-page order simply finding that there were, indeed, "substantial questions" raised by Siegelman's appeal. The ruling overruled the controversial finding by the district judge in the case, which had sent Siegelman immediately to prison after his conviction. Eastland said that Siegelman could be released as early as tonight or tomorrow morning at the latest. "We're obviously very gratified that the court gave it that thoughtful consideration," he said. "The governor is coming home!"

Siegelman's release means, obviously, that the House Judiciary Committee won't have to go through the trouble of getting Siegelman released for him to testify.

From CQ:

Embattled Rep. Rick Renzi , R-Ariz., has asked a federal judge in Arizona to delay his scheduled April 29 trial on conspiracy, fraud, extortion and money laundering charges stemming from a land-swap deal.

Prosecutors will not oppose the Arizona lawmaker’s bid to have his trial deemed a “complex case,” which would allow more time to sort out motions, discovery and other pre-trial issues.

Renzi’s lawyers also said that because he is a sitting congressman who faces allegations related to his legislative activities, they would raise the issue of legislative privilege afforded by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause.

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