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From Charlie Savage at The Boston Globe:

President Bush's plan to forge a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could commit the US military to defending Iraq's security would be the first time such a sweeping mutual defense compact has been enacted without congressional approval, according to legal specialists.


Read the whole thing. This is bound to be the big inter-branch brawl of the summer.

Freedom's Watch, the billionaire-fueled and highly-connected conservative attack machine, has begun its promised push to recruit membership -- to become "a conservative answer to MoveOn." But they're doing it in a funny way.

In a mailing that the group has sent to an unknown number of people, a four-page fundraising pitch (which is addressed, "Dear Fellow Patriot") is packaged with a two-page "Citizens Census." The "CONFIDENTIAL CENSUS DOCUMENT," as it's described in the letter, is actually a list of questions about core conservative issues, such as "Should we give our troops everything they need to fight our enemies?" with "Yes," "No," or "Undecided" as the offered responses. The questions are under the heading "FREEDOM'S WATCH CITIZENS CENSUS QUESTIONS."



When I asked Freedom's Watch spokesman Jake Suski whether the mailing was misleading, he strongly disagreed. "It doesn't even have the qualities of an official document," he argued, adding that the survey itself has multiple references to Freedom's Watch (true), that the fundraising pitch is written on Freedom's Watch letterhead (also true), and that the envelope itself says "Freedom's Watch" on it (true, on the back - see above for the front). "There's just no confusion about it. I think it's all in your head."

Well, here's the letter and "census" and here's the envelope it came in. Decide for yourself. It certainly reminds me of another fundraising pitch with an official aura: the "voter audit" letter from the Republican National Committee we reported on last August.

Suski, who was until last summer John McCain's Western finance director, wouldn't disclose how many such letters the group sent out or to whom it had been targeted. He would only say that "the response has been tremendous."

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From The Hill:

The Department of Justice has subpoenaed six current and former House aides to testify in next month’s trial of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who faces a wide array of public corruption and bribery charges, according to a knowledgeable source.

Congratulations to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) lawyers! They've surpassed $1 million in legal fees from the lawmaker.

Lewis, long-time TPMmers will remember, has been under federal investigation since the spring of 2006 for his ties to defense contractor and convicted criminal Brent Wilkes and lobbyist buddy Bill Lowery.

Since June of 2006, Lewis has paid just over $1 million in campaign funds to some heavy-hitters at the law firm Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher, according to campaign disclosures. A $62,000 payment on December 12th last year put him over the top.

The Lewis probe has reportedly slowed in the last year, and his fees reflect that -- Lewis spent $900,000 in 2006 and only about $100,000 this year. Maybe with the Wilkes conviction, things will heat up again?

Boy, times are bad for Rudy's crew. Just as Giuliani is hunkering down for his electoral Alamo in Florida, Bernie Kerik got knocked down yesterday before even getting a chance to get his gloves on.

The judge disqualified his lawyer from the case because he'd been present when Kerik had given several false statements to his lawyers, which were then transmitted to the Bronx district attorney's office. This was a "severe" conflict of interest, the judge ruled.

So now Kerik has to get himself a new lawyer. The only good news for him is that, with Giuliani's candidacy annihilated, there's sure to be less media scrutiny when he does finally go to trial.

From the AP:

A federal judge said Thursday that CIA interrogation videotapes may have been relevant to his court case, and he gave the Bush administration three weeks to explain why they were destroyed in 2005 and say whether other evidence was destroyed.

Several judges are considering wading into the dispute over the videos, but U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts was the first to order the administration to provide a written report on the matter. The decision is a legal setback for the Bush administration, which has urged courts not to get involved.


The AP also has a helpful rundown on where things stand with the other courts that have looked into the matter:

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Rather than wait for litigation to reach its preordained conclusion, Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would overrule EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and instruct him to grant California's waiver.

Right out of the gate, it's got bipartisan support. Cosponsors include Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Joseph Lieberman (ID, CT), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Christopher Dodd (D-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Nelson (D-FL.) Barack Obama (D, IL), and Roberts Menendez (D-NJ). We'll keep you updated.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) reacting to yesterday's goings-on:

"The conduct of Senate Republicans yesterday was shameless. After weeks of insisting that it is absolutely critical to finish the FISA legislation by February 1, even going so far as to object to a one-month extension of the Protect America Act, they obstructed all efforts to actually work on the bill. Now they want to simply ram the deeply flawed Intelligence Committee bill through the Senate.

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Today's New York Times editorial page puts some nails in the coffin of Giuliani's campaign by introducing readers to the "real Mr. Giuliani" - "a narrow, obsessively secretive, vindictive man who saw no need to limit police power." The paper asserts that Giuliani, "whom many New Yorkers" have already come "to know and mistrust," should be known for his "breathtaking" "arrogance and bad judgment" and the manner in which he "shamelessly turned the horror of 9/11 into a lucrative business, with a secret client list, then exploited his city’s and the country’s nightmare to promote his presidential campaign." Just yesterday, one of the paper's blogs ("City Room") ran a scathing indictment of Rudy's improper use of public office, as documented by 25 former prosecutors from the N.Y. region. (New York Times)

Presidential hopeful John McCain has a Rick Davis problem. McCain's top political aide, who has worked on and off with the Senator since 1999, was once part of a lobbying firm that provided political advice to anti-democratic, pro-oligarch candidates in the Ukraine. Davis, who some McCain advisers have concerns about, even arranged a meeting between McCain and the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripsaka, whose alleged ties to organized crime and anti-democracy movements are so serious that the U.S. has revoked his visa. (Washington Post)

The Bush administration, which believes in third chances, has appointed Paul Wolfowitz, the disgraced former president of the World Bank and Under Secretary of Defense, as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board, a high-level advisory panel on arms control that reports to the secretary of state. Wolfowitz will, once again, be providing the government with his wisdom on disarmament, WMD, and nonproliferation. (New York Times)

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The squeeze is on.

You remember how it went last time: with time running out before the end of the congressional summer recess, the administration, with the help of some key Democrats, managed to push through a far-reaching surveillance bill.

And once again, five months later, some of the same conditions have been created. The administration's bill, the Protect America Act, is set to expire February 1st. Republicans and the administration have consistently opposed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's attempts to push that deadline back.

And yesterday they managed to vote down the Senate Judiciary Committee's surveillance bill (which does not have retroactive telecom immunity) and block votes on any amendments to the intelligence committee's version, which does contain such immunity. As the Republicans have demonstrated, the Senate's rules make it easy for the minority to make trouble.

The table is set for Monday, when the Senate will vote on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) attempt to end debate on the intel committee's bill. That motion to invoke cloture will need 60 votes to pass. If it does pass, then the Senate would immediately vote on the bill, which civil libertarians dislike for a number of reasons beyond its measure granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms.

The major papers took a look at what happened on the floor yesterday -- particularly the defeat of the SJC bill -- and declare that it was a great day for the telecoms.

Yes, the SJC bill, which contained no retroactive immunity, did get voted down 60-36 with the help of twelve Dems. But it's far from clear that those same twelve Dems would vote to invoke cloture and prevent votes on the various other amendments. One of those Dems, for instance, is Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) who is co-sponsoring an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would throw the immunity question to the secret FISA court. Will he vote to prevent a vote on his own amendment? That seems unlikely. The Republicans need all twelve of those votes in order to invoke cloture.

So it will become a question of who's getting squeezed. Monday's vote is sure to be in the spotlight. It will be right before the President's State of the Union speech, making it likely the presidential candidates will show. And if that vote for cloture fails (my timid prediction), Sen. Reid has signaled that he'll try to shift the emphasis to the Republicans' obstructionism. Yesterday on the floor he declared: "It appears that the minority, the President, and the Republicans want failure. They don't want a bill. So that's why they're jamming this forward." (You can read a longer transcript of his remarks here.) Whether a media narrative of Republican obstructionism can take hold -- something that certainly hasn't happened so far -- is another question.

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