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If you're a staffer at the Environmental Protection Agency, you might have found yourself wondering what the point is. As EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson likes to put it, the final decision is his to make. And he has a history of disregarding the recommendations of EPA staff when he makes them.

Which makes this not very surprising:

Unionized EPA workers are withdrawing from a cooperation agreement with the political appointees who supervise them over controversies including the agency's refusal to let California regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Nineteen union local presidents representing more than 10,000 Environmental Protection Agency employees signed a letter to Administrator Stephen L. Johnson last Friday accusing him of "abuses of our good nature and trust."...

The union locals involved represent the vast majority of EPA workers around the country. Signers included William Evans, president of the EPA headquarters chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union.

Evans said that the purpose of the Clinton-era National Labor-Management Partnership Council was for senior agency officials and workers to deal with workplace and other issues before the decision stage.

Instead, "what we found is decisions are being made and they're being presented to us," said Evans.

You can read the letter from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility here.

As you can see, the union senses a pattern in Johnson's leadership. Scientific standards get junked they say, "whenever political direction from other federal entities or private sector interests so direct." Johnson's denial of a waiver for California's greenhouse gas rules, of course, being a prime example.

We'll have a little bit more on Johnson in a bit.

This month, President Bush is expected to veto a Senate bill that would restrict the CIA to using interrogation techniques approved by the Army Field Manual. That would unequivocally outlaw waterboarding, the inducement of hypothermia, sensory deprivation, and other "enhanced interrogation" techniques that have been in the CIA's arsenal.

The veto is likely to survive an attempt by Senate to override because ever since 9/11, the administration and Republicans (including Sen. John McCain) have preferred to keep legal restraints on CIA interrogators loose.

But the FBI, which, unlike the CIA had ample experience with interrogation, took a different tack. During today's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked FBI Director Robert Mueller why:

LEAHY: And you have a policy, as does the military, the military handbooks, not to use coercive techniques like waterboarding. Why do you have that policy?

MUELLER: There are a number of reasons that probably contributed to the development of that policy years ago. Generally, our questioning has been, in the past, done in the United States, and the results of our questioning often end up in a court. Whereas, you and other who have been prosecutors know the question of voluntariness is at issue for the admissibility of information you have.

And, consequentially, the policy was established, I would imagine, given our particular unique mission here and the operation under the Constitution, the applicable statutes and the attorney general guidelines.

It also is a result, I believe, of the analysis of our Behavioral Science Unit as to effective use of particular techniques where we believe that the rapport-building technique is particularly effective.

Mueller also acknowledged that the "rapport-building" approach apparently was quite successful with Saddam Hussein.

Remember that down in Guantanamo Bay, FBI and military interrogators (the "Clean Team") had to re-examine detainees because the techniques used by CIA interrogators meant that the testimony would not hold up in court. Not that the director of national intelligence has any doubt that "enhanced interrogation" techniques produce reliable information ("we can tell in minutes if they are lying"). I guess it's just a different way of doing things.

The Politico gets the temperature of the current negotiations on the surveillance bill and stresses the "unknowns." So while the signs tend towards the final bill somehow containing retroactive immunity for the telecoms against those vicious lawsuits, it's still not a sure thing.

But there was this choice section, where Senate intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) expresses befuddlement that Republicans have boycotted talks on a compromise bill. The president and leading GOPers have said that it's the Senate bill or nothing so there's no use negotiating. From The Politico:

Rockefeller supports the immunity provision the administration wants, but he said he was perplexed by the fact that the White House has skipped the meetings the Democrats have tried to hold. “I don’t understand why the White House hasn’t been more active in pushing the solution they want,” he said.

“It’s very strange.”

Of course, the Republicans and the administration have been pushing with all their might (I guess Rockefeller missed this ad... and Bush's every public appearance for the past month). They just see no reason to go to the table, figuring that if they push enough, they'll get what they want.

Did CBS Alabama affiliate WHNT just have really rotten luck with its equipment during 60 Minutes' segment on ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D), or did the station actually try to censor the story on Republicans' alleged attempts to use the Justice Department to take out a political opponent?

Michael Copps, a Dem appointee on the Federal Communications Commission, has already begun pushing for an investigation. Chairman Kevin Martin has been noncommittal.

But Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, wants Martin to know that he'll be keeping an eye on things. In a letter to Martin today, he asks that Martin share whatever findings emerge from an investigation, and adds "I will be monitoring this situation closely."

The full letter is below.

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Lawyers for Omar Khadr, a Canadian who will be tried by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay on "charges that include murder, related to a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan that left a U.S. soldier dead," are investigating whether a video of Khadr that appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes last fall was leaked by Vice-President Dick Cheney's office. According to Khadr's lawyer, former Guantanamo chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis "thinks it's possible or likely this tape came from the vice-president's office." If the allegations are true, he says, it would be a "clear violation of the protective orders that are in place" in the case. (CTV)

The towns of Brattleboro and Marlboro, Vermont have passed articles of indictment against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for their violations of the U.S. Constitution. Though one supporter of the articles remarked that he hoped the two were impeached before they were arrested in Vermont, the latter is unlikely because Vermont is the only state in that President Bush has never visited. (USA Today)

When FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies at the Senate today he will face questions about alleged civil rights violations during terror and spy investigations, including the use of national security letters. Last year the Justice Department's inspector general reported that the FBI, between 2003 to 2005, collected personal data on citizens without authorization and in non-emergency situations. (AP)

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While there's a lot of attention on picking a new president, you might not want to take your eye off the current one.

The idea, once scandalous, that Bush would just be handing the Iraq mess off to his successor is now an accepted reality. But he won't be doing it in an informal way, either.

Since last year, the administration has been working towards a long-term security agreement with Iraq, an "enduring relationship," as they had it. The basic outlines were clear: a long-term American troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for a guarantee of security for the Iraqis.

To give you an idea of the outline, the Iraqis said that it would be silly to expect that Iraq would be able to defend itself alone until at least 2018. Forever seems a fair conservative estimate.

But there was a problem. There was a strong case to be made that for the administration to strike such a deal without the consent of the Senate was unconstitutional. Democrats were set to fight such a move.

You know what Bush and Cheney think about asking Congress for anything. So, abruptly, the administration's position changed. The administration would be striking a long-term pact along the same lines, but there would be no security guarantee. None at all. According to the letter of the agreement, if Iraq were attacked, we'd just let it burn.

For some reason, some cynics think this is just a workaround. Without the actual security guarantee, the administration can hammer out the treaty without any hassle from Congress.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) is such a cynic. And yesterday Ackerman had the opportunity to press David Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, about the deal. The exchange, printed today in The Washington Post, had that taint of absurdity so common to Congressional testimony from administration officials:

Update: Here's video of Ackerman's questioning.

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Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington, writing today in The Los Angeles Times:

The recent decisions of Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey to block any prosecution of Bush administration officials for contempt and to block any criminal investigation of torture led to a chorus of criticism. Many view the decisions as raw examples of political manipulation of the legal process and overt cronyism. I must confess that I was one of those crying foul until I suddenly realized that there was something profound, even beautiful, in Mukasey's action.

In his twisting of legal principles, the attorney general has succeeded in creating a perfect paradox. Under Mukasey's Paradox, lawyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president -- and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers....

When reduced to its purest form, Mukasey's Paradox is that government officials cannot violate the law -- but that because executive privilege is also a law, it's sometimes necessary to violate the law in order to uphold the law.

From the AP:

Rep. Rick Renzi pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all charges in a federal indictment accusing him of abusing his office for financial gain and for raising campaign funds by embezzling insurance premiums collected by his family's firm....

Renzi, a Republican who announced last year that he would not be seeking a fourth term, spoke briefly with reporters after his court appearance.

"I have a lot of faith in my attorneys," Renzi said. "I'll be OK."...

Defense lawyer Reid Weingarten cautioned against a rush to judgment and said Renzi will stay in office. Trial is set for April 29, and Weingarten said the defense was "not going to drag our feet."

An April trial would be a remarkably quick turnaround for such a complicated and weighty case -- especially considering that the other pending indictment against a sitting lawmaker, which came down last June against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), has been tied up for months in appeals involving Constitutional issues.

What's best for the telecoms is best for the nation's security, the administration has argued. And what's best for the telecoms is for all those lawsuits against them for cooperating with the warrantless wiretapping program to go away. After all, "these people are responsible for shareholders."

But while administration officials like the director of national intelligence and attorney general have asserted that the telecoms face the "continued risk of billion-dollar class action suits," it's worth putting that claim in context.

I asked Kurt Opsahl, who represents the Electronic Freedom Foundation in its class action suit against AT&T, to walk me through.

EFF's suit features evidence provided by former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who disclosed two years ago how the company had allowed the NSA to use a small room in San Francisco to capture untold millions of phone and e-mail communications. EFF’s complaint charges that the program violated the First and Fourth Amendments and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other federal statutes.

Above all, Opsahl said, it's important to realize that for the plaintiffs in the suit to collect damages of billions, "they need to have spied on a lot of people. If they say that the interceptions and surveillance is limited to only people in communication with Al Qaeda, that suggests it's a very small number and therefore a very small amount in damages. For it to be billions, they need to have spied on millions of people."

There are 37 suits against the telecommunications companies alleged to have participated in the program, i.e. AT&T, BellSouth, Sprint and MCI/Verizon; suits that have all been transferred to federal court California's Northern District. Six of those suits are on behalf of state officials in Missouri, Maine, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont to investigate the program.

Should damages be awarded, however, they would be awarded based on how many people the government, via the telecoms, surveilled illegally, not the number of suits, Opsahl said. EFF's complaint excludes "foreign powers," "agents of foreign powers" and "anyone who knowingly engages in sabotage or international terrorism" from the class.

When I asked Opsahl what he thought likely damages against AT&T might be -- if the suit was successful on all of its claims, a very big "if" (see below) -- he said $13,000 per customer who was a victim of illegal surveillance.

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As David noted over at TPM last night, James Clark, the former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Frank Murkowski (father of current senator, Lisa Murkowski) will plead guilty today to a conspiracy charge related to the sprawling Veco investigation.

The main thrust is this: in the 2006 election, Murkowski was Veco's man. That's because he supported the construction of a trans-Alaska gas pipeline that would be a major boon to Veco, an oilfield contractor. Never ungrateful, Veco set up a deal with Clark to pay $68,550 for two polls and a political consultant. The arrangement was kept secret, breaking campaign finance laws and raising the question of whether the money amounted to a bribe.

One of the pollsters involved has been identified: Anchorage pollster David Dittman confirmed to The Anchorage Daily News that he's "polling company A" in the plea documents. The others involved, a pollster and consultant who are both based outside Alaska, have not been identified yet. And it's quite possible that this was not a one-time deal, since funding polls was something of a habit for Veco.

Clark's plea deal makes it clear that he will be at prosecutors' beck and call for the next several months -- wherever they want him to testify, whoever they want him to testify against, he'll be there and required to tell them everything.

But who, exactly, he might implicate is unclear. Will it be Clark's former boss Frank Murkowski? Clark, in a statement released to the press, indicates that it will not -- well, at least for the Veco-funded polls. He apologized to Murkowski for breaking the law under his nose and regretted that "some people will unfairly attribute what I have done to him."

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