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With a vote expected today in the House on the Restore Act -- the Democratic surveillance bill that scales back August's Protect America Act (PAA) -- a split has emerged among civil libertarian groups that unanimously strongly opposed that bill. The ACLU continues to oppose the Democratic bill, but two other prominent civil libertarian organizations, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Center for National Security Studies are urging passage.

Both organizations consider Restore to be an imperfect bill. In particular, neither is fond of the so-called "basket" orders for surveillance authorized by Restore that allow the NSA to collect communications without individualized suspicion. But Kate Martin of CNSS sees the issue much as the Justice Department's Ken Wainstein does: the FISA Court has a front-end oversight role over foreign calls that might be to U.S. persons. It's just Wainstein finds that unacceptable, and Martin doesn't.

"Our view is that as written, the Restore Act would allow the Court to authorize surveillance without a warrant when we think the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant. Yes, that's problematic," Martin says. "But the circumstances under which the court is authorized to do so are much narrower than the circumstances under the Protect America Act, and it's going to be revisited by Congress in a way that's crucial, with oversight and a sunset provision."

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White House documents about the warrantless surveillance program, long sought by the Senate Judiciary Committee, are now in the hands of the Senate intelligence committee.

Why? The intelligence panel, which never issued the subpoenas that judiciary did, had a different piece of leverage: the possibility of passing retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with warrantless surveillance demands, a Bush administration priority.

Tomorrow the Senate intelligence committee is expected to mark up its version of a surveillance bill abridging some of the expanded eavesdropping authorities given to the administration in August. Its House companion, the Restore Act, doesn't include any retroactive legal immunity for the telecos, largely because the Democrats wouldn't bless immunity without knowing what exactly the companies did. (The administration ignored an offer by Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Democratic majority leader in the House, to condition retroactive immunity on the release of the surveillance documents.) Arlen Specter, the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, who voted to subpoena the documents, joined in that chorus yesterday, calling retroactive immunity a "pig in a poke" absent administration disclosure: "I think it’s unreasonable to ask us to give them immunity for things we don’t know what they did."

With an immunity-free markup looming in the Senate intelligence committee tomorrow, the administration appears to have relented. According to Tim Starks at Congressional Quarterly (not available online):

Senate Intelligence Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said his staff Tuesday reviewed legal opinions and other documents the panel had sought related to the NSA program. He said his staff was allowed to take notes, but he hadn't been briefed on their contents yet and intended to view them for himself.

Although Rockefeller's panel had been tentatively scheduled to mark up its own FISA legislation Thursday, "There wasn't going to be a markup unless we got that stuff," he said.

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The Justice Department under Bush has had new priorities. Between 2000 and 2006, the number of defendants in environmental cases is down twelve percent, organized crime prosecutions are down thirty-eight percent, bankruptcy and fraud prosecutions are down forty-six percent, and white-collar crime prosecutions have slumped ten percent. Instead, Justice says it is focused on immigration and terrorism-related investigations. But last year, the department brought only 46 international terror cases, down from 355 in 2002. (Washington Post, New York Times)

The boat that no one loves sits in Seattle. But the Seattle Times, in an ongoing investigation of defense earmarks, is paying it attention. The boat was built by the Navy (who had no intention o f using it), funded by $4.5 million in earmarks (that the government never requested) and then donated to the University of Washington (which has no use for it). It seems the only people who benefited from it are the shipbuilders (who've received over $17 million in earmarks over their career). (Seattle Times)

Attywood recalls all the reasons why the Democrats should have been wary to put Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) in a high profile position. Beyond his talent for writing press releases for high-dollar donors, Murtha is closely tied to CTC, the firm that hired Charles Riechers (without giving him any work) before Reichers' recent tragedy. (Attywood)

Spying is expensive. The cable company Comcast reportedly charges the government $1,000 nearly every time the government wants to monitor or review the activities of a customer, plus an additional $750 a month in maintenance fees. We here at TPM cringe at the the thought of what would happen if the government had to deal with Time Warner. (ABC's The Blotter)

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It took a catastrophe that some say may ultimately prove "worse than Abu Ghraib," but finally the administration is thinking long and hard about oversight of security contractors in war zones. Bob Gates has a simple plan: put them under Defense Department control.

The New York Times reports this morning that the defense secretary, who shortly after the Nisour Square shootings pronounced himself dissatisfied with the apparent impunity exercised by private-security firms, wants a single, unified authority overseeing all security companies in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's not clear if the military would exercise command authority over security contractors -- something some ex-contractors support -- under Gates' nascent plan. But the State Department isn't so hot on relinquishing control over the contractors, like Blackwater, that guard its diplomats:

That idea is facing resistance from the State Department, which relies heavily for protection in Iraq on some 2,500 private guards, including more than 800 Blackwater contractors, to provide security for American diplomats in Baghdad. The State Department has said it should retain control over those guards, despite Blackwater’s role in a September shooting in Baghdad that exposed problems in the current oversight arrangements.

In practical terms, placing the private security guards who now work for the military, the State Department and other government agencies under a single authority would mean that those armed civilians would no longer have different bosses and different rules. Pentagon advisers say it would also allow better coordination between the security contractors and American military commanders, who have long complained that the contractors often operate independently.

Gates is still making up his mind over how changes in contractor oversight should work. One as-yet-unresolved issue is whether additional legal clarification is needed to ensure that contractors don't operate in legal black holes:

Some military commanders in Iraq favor using the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a system they know well and trust. Other Defense Department officials support the model being considered by Congress, which would make clear that the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act would extend federal law to civilians supporting military operations.

The Times reports that Gates and Rice haven't spoken about the issue yet, as Rice is traveling in the Middle East. But apparently Gates is prepared to make a strong push for total DOD control over contractors: the paper says he's willing to go to President Bush directly for a decision.

Marketplace radio's Steve Henn has a new angle to the Veco-Stevens scandal: the two men quietly paired up in 2002 to support the campaign of seven other Republican senators. Politicians often use their political action committees to purchase influence with members of their caucus, but Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) appears to have gone one step further. Veco CEO Bill Allen served in his proxy, echoing Stevens' leadership PAC contributions, buying the senior Republican senator clout on Veco's dime.

Here at TPMmuckraker we've painted the Alaska tale as a series of various cash-for-political favors incidents. But Henn describes a more complicated -- and telling -- relationship between Allen and Stevens. He noticed that in the summer of 2002, Veco executives poured $70,000 into seven Republican Senate challengers' campaign funds. The donations "closely mirrored cash gifts" from Steven's PAC.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) are two good examples.

Working in concert, Ted Stevens, Bill Allen and VECO executives used half a dozen political committees to raise about $25,000 for Coleman's 2002 campaign, and $50,000 for Sununu's. Both Coleman and Sununu are running for reelection this year.

Here's a breakdown of the Veco-Stevens donations to Sununu, including a $25,000 donation from Veco to Stevens' PAC, which then made its way straight into the Sununua Victory Fund.

Stevens brought Sununu and Coleman even closer into his sphere of influence by inviting them up to Alaska for his annual salmon-habitat fundraiser and influence-swapping event, the Kenai River Classic, co-hosted by Bob Penney.

As the ACLU worries that Senate Democrats in the intelligence committee will give retroactive immunity to telephone companies for collaborating with the administration's warrantless surveillance program, the two senior members of the judiciary committee say they won't entertain that without knowing what the telecoms did.

Here's Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) speaking earlier today on CNN:


I certainly would not give them immunity retroactively on programs that we don’t know what they are…. I think it’s unreasonable to ask us to give them immunity for things we don’t know what they did. If there was a need for it at the time, and if the telephone companies were good citizens and if they supplied information which was important, then I’d be prepared to look at it. But I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke, and commit to retroactive immunity when I don’t know what went on. They’ve kept that from us. That’s a big problem, Wolf.

Looks like David Satterfield was too late. The House of Representatives, upset with the State Department's reluctance to publicly address corruption in the Iraqi government, voted 395-21 to rebuke Foggy Bottom, despite Satterfield's admission yesterday that "corruption is a reality in Iraq."

"The Bush administration is hiding the truth while seeking hundreds of billions of dollars and placing our troops in danger. And we cannot allow this to happen," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Waxman sponsored the nonbinding resolution, which states that the administration abused its power by classifying U.S. assessments on corruption inside Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. The House agreed to the measure, 395-21.

"Five years ago abuse of the classification system got us into this war. It's time for this abuse to end," Waxman said.

It's a nonbinding resolution, so all the State Department has to do is take note that the House thinks it's been naughty. But maybe next time State officials will think twice before they reclassify publicly available documents.

It's hard to keep track of all the different Blackwater probes. But the government of Nouri al-Maliki says that its own investigation of the September 16 Nisour Square shootings has concluded, and it found that Blackwater committed "unprovoked and random killings," CNN reports. Its stance on Blackwater, which the State Department is apparently no longer challenging, is that the private-security firm has to leave Iraq

Adviser Sami al-Askari told CNN al-Maliki has asked the U.S. State Department to "pull Blackwater out of Iraq."

Al-Askari said the United States is still waiting for the findings of the American investigation, but the Iraqi leader and most Iraqi officials are "completely satisfied" with the findings of their probe and are "insisting" that Blackwater leave the country.

It was Askari who said over the weekend that the State Department is no longer "insisting on Blackwater staying" in Iraq -- not a U.S. official. We'll see if it actually happens. The Iraqi probe's recommendations include the departure of Blackwater within six months.

Reporter-blogger Eric Black dug up some more news on the Office of Special Counsel investigation into US attorney for Minnesota Rachel Paulose, whose management style triggered four of her office's top attorneys to resign their top spots and take rank-and-file positions.

One accusation investigators are looking into is whether Paulose used racial slurs in describing one of her employees. Black reports that two witnesses have given statements to investigators about Paulose's possible racist talk:

The first told the investigators that she heard the remark. The second — Paulose’s personal secretary — either corroborated the remark itself or told the investigators that she has heard Paulose make similar remarks. Paulose has not publicly confirmed or denied that she made the comment.

The alleged slur or slurs involve the words “fat,” “black,” “lazy” and “ass.” The staff member involved told Black she has filed an official complaint.

Recently, House lawmakers filed their third quarter campaign disclosure reports -- and you know what that means! It's time for another round-up of how much lawmakers have dropped on lawyers to defend themselves from investigation.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), with nearly $1 million in total fees dating back to last year, remains the undisputed House champion, but Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is charging hard.

Here's our list of legal spending habits for the past three months, as well as an estimate of how much each lawmaker has spent in campaign funds to date and to which firms:

Rep. Don Young (R-AK): $183,785 So far, Young has spent $447,000 on the law firms Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Tobin O'Connor Ewing & Richard (the vast majority of which is spent on Akin Gump). He's under investigation for his relationship with Bill Allen, former CEO of oil-services firm.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ): $111,042 Renzi has paid around $148,000 to law firms Patton Boggs LLP and Steptoe & Johnson LLP (primarily on Patton Boggs). Renzi remains under investigation by the FBI for pushing legislation that would advantage political supporters and former business partners. His house was raided by the FBI this past April. Renzi has announced that he will not seek another term.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV): $55,000 Mollohan has spent $78,000 on the law firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. He has been under federal scrutiny since last May for earmarking funds for organizations connected to him.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA): $26,982 Lewis has spent over $987,000 on the law firms Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Williams & Jensen. He is being investigated for earmarks that he provided to campaign contributors, as well as his role in the Duke Cunningham scandal.

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