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Last week, we noted the announcement by the Montana Republican party that it's challenging the voter registrations of over 6000 voters, mostly in Democratic-leaning counties.

The GOP has presented the move as an effort to combat fraud. For all the challenged voters, says the party, there were discrepancies between the address under which they registered to vote, and a U.S. postal service address database.

But two registered Montana voters, along with the state Democratic party, this morning filed suit with a federal court to stop the challenges, calling the GOP move "a transparent and very likely unsuccessful attempt" to discourage voters from turning out.

It's already clear that the list of challenged voters includes a good number of people who are hardly prime suspects for voter fraud.

In an opinion piece published yesterday in the Montana Standard, the state's GOP lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger, noted that one voter who's being challenged is Frank St. Pierre, a World War II veteran who helped save thousands of Allied troops in Dunkirk, and happened to move across town recently*. Bohlinger called the effort to challenge St. Pierre "an utter disgrace."

And as we told you earlier today, the list also includes Kevin Furey, a former Democratic state representative who's an army reserve officer about to deploy to Kuwait. (The GOP has since backed down on that one.)

Also appearing on the list are Matt Gouras of the Associated Press, who has been covering the presidential race in Montana, and Alden Downing, a former reporter for the local NBC affiliate who's now serving as communications director for GOP gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown. That's according to Matt Singer, who heads Forward Montana, a progressive activist group based in Missoula that obtained a copy of challenged voters in Missoula county -- and appears on it himself. (This afternoon, the group unveiled a website that allows users to search the lists of challenged voters from Missoula and Lewis and Clark counties. Additional counties will be added as the information becomes available, said Singer.)

On Saturday, John Brueggeman, a Republican state legislator, spoke out against the challenges, telling the Great Falls Tribune: "I can't think we'll do anything but irreparable harm to our party" with independent voters who may be targeted.

But that same day, the state GOP chair informed a local paper that the voter-challenge party is just getting started. "These counties are the beginning, not the end," Jake Eaton told the Billings Gazette. "We're looking at this across the state."

* This sentence has been corrected from an earlier version.

Monday did not bring good news for the House Judiciary Committee. A federal appeals court has delayed the testimony of Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten, in the latest ruling (pdf) in the epic back and forth between the executive and legislative branches. The decision pushes the issue into the next administration.

From the AP:

Time will run out on this year's congressional session before the battle between two branches of government can be resolved, according to the ruling by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The ruling essentially pushes any resolution on the politically charged case until next year. "The present dispute is of potentially great significance for the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches," wrote the panel of judges, two of whom were appointed by Republicans.

Still, the judges wrote, "Even if expedited, this controversy will not be fully and finally resolved by the judicial branch ... before the 110th Congress ends on January 3, 2009. At that time, the 110th House of Representatives will cease to exist as a legal entity, and the subpoenas it has issued will expire."

HJC Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has already indicated that the committee will appeal, but did not give a timeline.

"While the delay caused by this incorrect decision is unfortunate, at the end of the day, I believe Judge Bates' decision will be affirmed and that Harriet Miers and other key witness will appear before the House Judiciary Committee, and that we will get to the bottom of the Bush administration's disgraceful politicization of the Justice Department," said Conyers in a statement.

Despite recent snafus, Sen. Ted Stevens' trial continues today, with tapes of phone conversations between Stevens and former VECO CEO Bill Allen being played for the jury.

"I think they're probably listening to this conversation right now," Stevens presciently says in one of the recordings.

"We might have to pay a fine and spend a little time in jail," he continues in the recordings from the fall of 2006, the AP reports. "I hope it doesn't come to that."

The friendship between Stevens and the former VECO CEO was laid out in Allen's testimony against the seven-term senator from Alaska last week. Allen himself pleaded guilty to three counts of bribery and conspiracy in 2007.

"Ted, I love you, you know," Allen said in one of the tapes, illustrating how close the two once were.

"Let's get through this and get back to our boot camps again," Stevens said, referring to trips the friends would take together, The Hill recounts from the trial today.

While seeming to contradict the 84-year-old senator's defense -- that he was unaware that he was not being billed for over $250,000 in gifts and home renovations -- many of the recordings are tinged with pathos given Allen's testimony against Stevens.

"Let's stick this thing out together, OK?" Stevens says during one conversation mentioned by the AP.

"I don't think we've done anything wrong," Stevens told Allen in another recorded conversation where he tried to cheer up his longtime friend and encourage him to have a positive attitude and to get some exercise, according to McClatchy. "I can't think of a thing of anything we've done that's wrong."

Late update: More highlights from the Stevens' audio bonanza, include multiple F-Bombs from the geriatric incumbent senator; a rundown of his sleep schedule and the lessons learned from Martha Stewart.

But don't take our word for it! Listen for yourself:

Ted Stevens Talks with Bill Allen, Fall 2006 Audio Exhibit 1 Audio Exhibit 2 Audio Exhibit 3

New audio uncovered by the Wisconsin news site, reveals that during a speech at the Republican National Convention, Wisconsin's attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen promised action on voter fraud.

At the time of the statement, Van Hollen hadn't filed suit against the Government Accountability Board -- which oversees state elections -- demanding that they verify all of the voter registrations filed since January 2006. As a result, his statement at the RNC stands in sharp contrast to his claims that the suit is not politically motivated.

"There was no discussion with anybody involved in leadership with the Republican Party (or the McCain campaign) about this lawsuit before it was brought," Van Hollen said earlier last month.

"We're out there fighting to make sure that within the context of 'little-L,' liberal voter registration law that we have in the state of Wisconsin, that even though in the context of that law we can't prevent everybody from voting who isn't entitled to vote and preserve the right for everybody who is entitled to vote, to vote, but we are going to do our best, as the lawyers for the state of Wisconsin, as the defenders and protectors of the law of the state of Wisconsin, of the people who are there to defend your right to have your vote matter," Van Hollen said on September 4th at the RNC.

"We are out there front and center everyday and you'll be hearing much more from the Department of Justice in the coming months about doing what we can to make sure that those people who have illegally and illegitimately registered to vote, don't have the opportunity on election day to show up and take away your vote by casting one that is not legal," he continued.

Joe Wineke, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was distressed at the audio of Van Hollen's statements.

"If JB Van Hollen is claiming this lawsuit isn't political, then why did he discuss it with the RPW Chair at a partisan political convention and then send signals to fellow Republicans that he was mobilizing the Department of Justice to take action?," said Wineke in a press release.

Listen to a portion of the audio of Van Hollen's speech here.

Indiana is one of the key red states that Barack Obama has unexpectedly put in play this year. So it's not surprising that the GOP is pulling out all the stops to keep it in their column -- including, predictably, launching an effort to make it much harder for African-Americans to vote.

In a nutshell, here's what's happened so far. The details get a little intricate, but stay with us here:

To win Indiana, Obama would likely need a big turnout from three low-income, heavily African-American cities, in the northern part of Lake County, near Chicago. Those three cities -- Gary, Hammond, and East Chicago -- together comprise more than 40 percent of the county's population. But under Indiana law, early voting can take place only in the county clerk's main office, which for Lake County is in Crown Point, more than an hour's drive from those cities.

As a result, on September 23, the county board of elections, on a 3-2 party-line vote, approved the opening of satellite early-voting centers in the the three cities. (State law specifically gives elections boards the authority to approve satellite voting centers, and early voting occurred at the centers in advance of the Democratic primary in May.)

But Republicans argue that the decision is unfair to voters in other parts of the state, many of whom would still need to travel to their county seat to vote early. Last week, the county GOP challenged the move, arguing that the centers can only be approved through a unanimous vote of the election board, and asking for a restraining order on early voting. Superior Court Judge Calvin Hawkins -- a recent appointee of the state's GOP governor, Mitch Daniels -- issued the order Friday.

Within hours, a federal judge had vacated that decision, and announced a hearing this Thursday to resolve the issue.

Democrats had hoped to open the satellite voting stations today, but have agreed to hold off until the issue is resolved. They have said that if the restraining order is not upheld on Thursday, they plan to open the centers the following day. But whatever happens, almost a week of easier access to the polls for many of the county's low-income residents has been lost.

Lake County has been in the news already this year in the context of voting. On primary night, the mayor of Gary, an Obama supporter, said publicly that his city had "delivered" for Obama, and did not release vote totals until unusually late in the night, leading to suspicions that the results were deliberately delayed to deny Hillary Clinton the chance to claim victory that night.

But it's worth pointing out that this may not be the only tactic in the Indiana Republicans' bag of vote-suppression tricks. The party chair in Marion County -- which contains Indianapolis, the state's other Democratic stronghold -- last week refused to rule out using foreclosure records as a basis for challenging voters. A GOP official in Michigan last month was quoted by an online news site saying that similar plans were in the works for one key county in that state, though he later back-tracked amid the ensuing furor, and is now suing the site for libel.

Of course, in recent weeks we've seen a range of other possible Republican vote-suppression tactics. Among other examples, in Montana, the state GOP last week used discrepancies in listed addresses to challenge the eligibility of more than 6000 voters, mostly in Democratic-leaning areas -- including at least one member of the military who's about to deploy to Kuwait. The party has now said it plans to issue more challenges.

And a flyer circulating in African-American neighborhoods of Philadelphia last week, whose authorship is unknown, falsely asserted that voters with outstanding warrants or unpaid parking tickets could be arrested at the polls.

The Alaska Supreme Court will hear the case brought by Republican legislators and the state attorney general against the legislature's inquiry into Sarah Palin's firing of Walt Monegan, the former state police chief. The suit, dismissed by the Superior Court last week, argues that the Trooper-Gate investigation has become overly politicized. The legislature's investigation, launched in July in a unanimous, bipartisan vote, is scheduled to release its report at the end of this week. (Bloomburg)

Attorney General Michael Mukasey released new rules to regulate FBI investigations, drawing fire from a civil liberties group that says that the changes will allow racial profiling to become part of policy. Under the new regulations, preliminary investigations can begin with far less evidence up front, and include a person's race or ethnicity as part of the considerations. The original standards are a legacy of the 1970s, when the government spied on figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (Press Release)

The French case known as "Angolagate" begins today, with 42 people facing charges of $790 million in arms trafficking during Angola's civil war. Among the accused are the son of former president Francois Mitterand and a former interior minister. Half a million people died in Angola's domestic conflict. (AFP)

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If the headline seems familiar, it should. Just last week, Sen. Ted Stevens' attorneys lost a motion for a mistrial. By our count, this is the fourth attempt by the defense to toss out the case against the seven-term senator, but we could have missed a few along the way.

From the AP:

"Until today, defense counsel have refrained from alleging intentional misconduct by the government," [Stevens'] lawyers wrote in court papers. "We can no longer do so in good conscience."

. . .The latest mid-trial motion to end the trial says the newly disclosed documents show Allen originally told investigators that he believed Stevens would have paid for work on a mountain cabin if billed -- proof, the defense says, that the senator never intended to hide anything.

Rather than turn over the first statement to the defense as required by rules of evidence, the government "intentionally procured from Allen a contradictory statement" and then "concealed its actions" from the court, the defense papers say.

Late update: It's important to note that the prosecution is stepping up to make sure their "human error" that led to last week's defense attempt for a mistrial, is being properly investigated. The government requested an internal probe with the Justice Deparment's internal investigators (Office of Professional Responsibility) to look into their delay in turning over FBI reports to opposing counsel.

Late late update: Judge Emmet Sullivan said the trial would go on today as planned, with the jury hearing recorded phone calls between Stevens and Allen. Sullivan ordered the prosecution to file a formal response by the end of the day in response to the defense's motion, the AP reports.

On the heels of the dismissal of the Alaska attorney general's suit to quash subpoenas issued in the legislature's Trooper-Gate investigation, seven subpoenaed state employees who had previously said they would not cooperate with the probe have now agreed to testify.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

"Despite my initial concerns about the subpoenas, we respect the court's decision to defer to the Legislature," [Alaska Attorney General Talis] Colberg said. "We are working with Senator Hollis French to arrange for the testimony of the seven state employee plaintiffs."

French has said they still expect the investigation's report to be completed by this Friday.

Democrats are already expressing concern about the independence of the prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to look into whether DOJ or White House officials broke the law in firing a group of U.S. attorneys in 2006.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) said that the fact that the prosecutor -- Nora Dannehy, the acting U.S. attorney in Connecticut -- is a DOJ employee, could allow the department to interfere with her probe.

Sanchez was speaking at a hearing where DOJ's Inspector General, Glenn Fine testified. It was Fine's report into the firings, released Monday, that prompted Mukasey to appoint Dannehy.

Fine did not offer a ringing endorsement of Dannehy's independence. When Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) asked Fine whether the attorney general could over-rule her, Fine replied: "I will have to leave that for another day."

Sanchez also expressed the fear that Dannehy's findings could remain secret, since she is not formally required to issue a public report.

In addition, lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee, which has been conducting its own investigation into the matter, yesterday wrote to Mukasey and White House counsel Fred Fielding, asking whether they would cooperate with Dannehy's investigation. The Inspector General's report made clear that it was prevented from drawing firmer conclusions by a lack of cooperation from the White House, and, to a lesser extent, the Justice Department.

Matt Davis, the attorney for the plaintiff in the defamation suit filed against the Michigan Messenger was quite talkative about the particulars of the suit when TPMmuckraker called him this morning, but declined to say who was paying his legal fees.

"I don't comment on my clients," Davis said in answer to inquiries about who was employing him, but directed us to the spokesman for the Michigan Republican party for further questions.

Davis said his client's suit claims both negligent and malicious defamation and criticized the Messenger for possibly violating their non-profit status by engaging in political speech.

"They call themselves a non-profit," Davis said, citing a letter he received from an attorney who at the time, claimed to represent the Messenger and its parent company the Center for Independent Media.

"You can't go out and engage in political speech as a non-profit," Davis continued. "They risk heavily their 501c3 status. . . I'm in the midst of asking them for their 1033 1090 and also their certification letter from the IRS."

A call to the GOP spokesman for Michigan was not immediately returned.