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Maybe the corruption trial of former state legislator Rep. Vic Kohring (R-AK) is really a call for healthcare reform. Kohring learned the age-old HMO lesson (never, ever go out of network) the hard way and ended up begging Veco executives for cash when faced with collection agency calls.

Kohring says a spinal surgery in 2002 at the Mayo Clinic, which wasn't on his health plan's preferred provider list, set him back thousands of dollars. One credit card still had a $17,000 balance in March 2006. With collection agencies harassing him and his house, worth about $100,000, not selling, he approached Veco executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith with an idea. He would lobby other state lawmakers to support a piece of pipeline legislation in exchange for some cash. He never received the $17,000.

Kohring's lawyer has argued prosecutor's nabbed his small fish client when they should have been pursuing the big fish: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and former state Senate President Ben Stevens. The lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, wrote in a letter to federal prosecutors: "You dun got the wrong man." Father and son Stevens, who are both under investigation for their connection to Veco, have not been officially accused of wrongdoing (yet), but Kohring is charged with accepting $2,600 in cash and lining up a Veco summer internship for his nephew worth $3,000.

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It took two different questioners -- and a reversal of her initial position -- but Condoleezza Rice finally acknowledged that State should have acted earlier to rein in Blackwater. "I certainly regret that there was not the oversight that there should have been," she said. Was that so difficult?

Condoleezza Rice knows deep down that she wants the State Department to cooperate with the House oversight committee's investigation of Iraqi corruption issues. She just wants to make sure that sources and methods are protected, and that the committee stays discreet, she said during today's hearing.

Unfortunately, obscure bureaucrats like State's Joel Starr have told the committee that it can't publicly discuss things like "Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons."



"I didn't make this directive," Rice said when Rep. Pat Lynch (D-MA) read it to her. "Consider it rescinded." Whether that'll make a difference is unclear: Rice still wants to discuss most aspects of corruption in closed session.

Waxman asked the bottom line question: is corruption cash from the Iraqi government funding attacks on the U.S.? No more retreating behind requests for a closed session or pleas to request sources and methods.

Rice: "There are militias being funded by multiple sources, including people who are able to use the Iraqi system to bring funding to their militias, yes, especially in the south." She said, however, that it would get worse if Iran could fund Shiite militias unimpeded in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal.

How well are the State Department's anti-corruption efforts in Iraq managed? Don't ask Condoleezza Rice.

Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) laid it all out. Not only are there duplicative U.S. offices in Baghdad to oversee anti-corruption efforts -- the Anti-corruption Working Group and the Office of Accountability and Transparency, to name two -- but coordination is so bad that the OAT for months boycotted the meetings of the AWG. Rice said she was "not aware" of that.



Another point she wasn't aware of: OAT has had, according to Rep. Tierney, four acting or permanent directors in the past ten months alone. The most recent one isn't a diplomat or a trained anti-corruption official at all, but rather a "paralegal" who works at the U.S. embassy. "I should get back to you with a sense of how we manage these programs," she replied.

From ABC's The Blotter:

Even as she accepted the resignation of State's security chief Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quietly promoted two senior staffers who directly oversaw controversial Blackwater security operations, sources tell ABC News....

Current and former officials were outraged.

"It is ironic; on the day the assistant secretary for DSS resigns, the two people with oversight responsibility for the program get promoted," said one current State Department official who asked not to be named....

"They both got promoted in the face of all this mismanagement and controversy -- talk about government B.S.," said another. "What does it say when State promotes the two people into DS' most senior positions, when if they had properly managed the programs under the responsibility, we wouldn't be in this mess?"

So much for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ending State's recent stonewalling of the House oversight committee. Rice is testifying this morning about corruption in Iraq, a subject that the committee has been digging into for months. She's just not saying much:



Is Rice aware of ex-corruption Judge Rahdi Hamza al-Radhi's statement that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued "secret orders" to stop his investigations? "The questions you're asking get into areas where there are concerns about exposure of sources." She said that while "no one is more concerned" about corruption than the State Department, she isn't "personally following every investigation."

Well, asked Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), did Maliki obstruct a corruption investigation of Maliki's cousin, the ex-transportation minister, as Radhi testified? It turns out she "can't comment." While Rice said she would review the case -- even though Waxman personally gave documents on Radhi's charge to one of Rice's subordinates -- "nothing is to be gained by speaking prematurely."

According to transcripts released by the US Court of Appeals, Abdallah Higazy confessed to a crime he did not commit because the FBI threatened his family with torture in Egypt. According to Andrew Sullivan, “the Court tried to keep this part of the judgment classified, yanking it from the official site after mistakenly posting it - but not till the interrogation details were exposed. Higazy's false confession - that he was using a radio transmitter in his hotel room to converse with terrorists in airplanes - was rendered moot by the owner of the transmitter, an airline pilot who had also stayed in the room, subsequently claiming it from the hotel as his own. But that didn't stop the threat of torture. And that didn't stop the conviction.” (Atlantic, “The Daily Dish”)

The U.S. State Department believes in second chances when it deals with problematic private contractors. First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., the firm attempting to complete the massive U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad, is part of team that recently won a $122 million State Department contract to build a U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia. Never mind the massive construction defects, allegations of criminal misconduct, forced labor, and cost overruns in the Baghdad project, the Kuwaiti company is run by a Lebanese businessman who is an ally of Syria and the Iranian-backed Islamic militant group Hezbollah. (McClatchy)

Secretary Rice admitted yesterday that the U.S. government was a poor host to a Canadian citizen (Maher Arar) whom it sent to Syria where he was allegedly tortured. Rice clarified the U.S. position in this case of mistaken extraordinary rendition by stating, “we do absolutely not wish to transfer anyone to any place in which they might be tortured.” (New York Times)

The U.S. government has spent $38 million dollars on a computerized accounting system to help the Iraqi government move beyond Saddam Hussein's bookkeeping methods but now the project is on hold because the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad prefers paper. Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, stated that “nobody noticed” when the information system was inoperable for an entire month because nobody uses it to produce reports. (Washington Post, New York Times)

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If Blackwater seems to have a bunker mentality, there are some ready explanations. First, the company has a lot to answer for. Second, it's got a relentless inquisitor on its heels. And not to be forgotten: in Iraq, at least, its employees (sorry, "independent contractors") actually live in a bunker.

Paul von Zielbauer and James Glanz of The New York Times provide a fascinating glimpse into the maze of stacked trailers that comprise Blackwater's Green-Zone compound. It says a lot that the compound is surrounded by 25-foot high concrete barriers topped with razor wire inside the safest place in Iraq: denizens liken it to a minimum security prison. Outside is the enemy. Not merely insurgents, infuriated Iraqis, and disdainful Iraqi government officials, but frustrated U.S. troops, unreliable diplomats and FBI inquisitors delving into the company's mistakes in last month's Nisour Square shootings.

The bunker mentality, however, may be dissipating. Some Blackwater officials were openly critical of the company's actions to the Times reporters:

“Some guys are thinking that it was not a good shoot, that it was not warranted,” said one Blackwater contractor, using military jargon for an episode that results in a wrongful death. “I don’t think there was criminal intent involved. I just think it was the application of the use of deadly force gone horribly wrong.”

He added, “To mitigate one threat, 17 people had to die?”

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Blackwater is continuing its aggressive public-relations push. And it needs your help.

Earlier today, the company sent out an e-mail to supporters urging them to contact their Congressional representatives (who are otherwise misinformed by "negative propaganda") and get the word out about Blackwater's value to U.S. national security. The email is posted in full below.

Via ThinkProgress.

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