TPM News

You remember the awful luck of WHNT, that CBS affiliate in North Alabama; on the night of the broadcast of 60 Minutes' story on Don Siegelman, just during the Siegelman segment, the station's feed went black. After initially blaming CBS for the error, WHNT revised its story and said that it had in fact been a technological problem at the station.

As questions mounted, the station ran the segment again that night (during the Oscars) and then again at 6 o'clock the following day as penance. But for some reason, a number of people seem disinclined to take them at their word. From Reuters:

A U.S. Federal Communications Commission official is seeking an inquiry into the blacking out of a politically charged segment of the CBS News magazine "60 Minutes" by a local television station in Alabama.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said he had asked the chairman of the FCC to open an inquiry into the Feb. 24 incident at WHNT, a CBS affiliate in Huntsville, Alabama, in which civil rights footage from the 1960s was blacked out.

"The FCC now needs to find out if something analogous is going on here," Copps said at a luncheon with media watchdog groups. "Was this an attempt to suppress information on the public airwaves, or was it really just a technical problem?"

Copps is one of two Democratic appointees on the five-member FCC. The chairman of the agency, Kevin Martin, is a Republican.

Martin responded by saying he would look into the matter but has not indicated yet whether he would issue a letter of inquiry to the station, a source close to the commission said.

A high profile trial for two former high-ranking Shiite government officials accused of kidnapping and killing "scores of Sunnis" has ended abruptly, despite intense preparation for the trial and extensive evidence, because prosecutors dropped the case. A U.S. legal adviser believes that this stunning collapse "shows that the judicial system in Iraq is horribly broken" and "sends a terrible signal: If you are Shia, then no worries; you can do whatever you want and nothing is going to happen to you." (Washington Post)

When Edgar Domenech, the 23-year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (he was second-in-command for four years), told the Justice Department about mismanagement at ATF, Justice first ignored him but then demoted him, denied him a bonus, and attempted to give him a poor job review. Domenech, who yesterday filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, realizes that "In retrospect, I was naive to believe that the department would welcome my honesty." (Washington Post)

The White House issued an executive order on Friday that takes some of the powers given to the Intelligence Oversight Board and shifts them to the Director of National Intelligence. The administration says the change is designed to strengthen the office of the National Intelligence Director, while critics argue that it will weaken oversight and "dilute the independent board's investigatory powers in favor of a member of the president's administration." (AP)

Read More →

Bush has been beating the drum for weeks (danger! terrorists! attack!). And finally the Dems seem to be marching in time.

As we noted yesterday, there are clear signs that whatever surveillance bill emerges from the House-Senate negotiations, it will more than likely contain immunity for the telecoms for their participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. But Bush is not a man to settle. He wants more. Here he is speaking yesterday before a gathering of the state's attorneys general:

Now the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that may have helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service; should those who stepped forward to say we're going to help defend America have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the President say thank you for doing your patriotic duty? I believe we ought to say thank you.

Now, as The Washington Post reports this morning, the bill negotiations are ongoing. So it's not entirely clear what will emerge. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the Post reports, has been polling the Dem caucus on the immunity issue, with "the liberal camp" content with doing nothing (keeping the old FISA law) and "the moderate wing" pushing for retroactive immunity.

But it's not clear if Hoyer has yet gauged support for this new telecom thanking provision. Perhaps it would come as a completely separate bill (the Thanks for Protecting America Act?), or perhaps all the lawmakers could just go down onto the steps of the Capitol and blow kisses. You never know what novel arrangement could emerge from the bill negotiations.

From The Hill:

National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Cole declined to call publicly for Rep. Rick Renzi’s (R-Ariz.) resignation on Monday, saying his friend is innocent until proven guilty....

“I think he’s got every right to do what he thinks,” Cole said. “I guess I believe in the American legal system. You’re allowed to go argue your case. I don’t tell people that they ought to resign, and I wouldn’t share that kind of discussion, honestly, in a public venue anyway.

“At the end of the day, Rick says he’s innocent. Rick’s going to argue that case. He has the right to do that,” Cole said.

If Renzi were to bow out before May 4th, it would force a special election, but if he sticks it out past then and then resigns, the seat would remain vacant until November. In any case, Renzi himself is in no hurry to leave, and his case is unlikely to go to trial for many, many months.

The connection has dogged Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) ever since it was first reported in November of 2006. With Tony Rezko's trial finally beginning this week, and with the trial expected to last for months, it will keep dogging him.

You know the general outline. In June of 2005, Obama bought a home in Chicago's South Side. On the same day, Tony Rezko bought an adjoining lot, the house's side yard. It was not an isolated association between the two. Rezko was a big-time fundraiser and supporter of Obama, who raised more than $150,000 for Obama's state and federal campaigns over the span of nine years ($20,000 of that was from Rezko himself). Over the past 16 months, Obama has donated almost $160,000 of those Rezko-linked contributions to charity.

Rezko, a big-time real estate developer and mucky-muck in Illinois politics, was indicted in October of 2006 on fraud and extortion charges.

Although Obama's longterm relationship with Rezko has gained plenty of scrutiny, the house purchase has understandably gotten the most. Given Rezko's central role in Illinois' influence-buying and cronyism scandal, suspicion is natural. Obama himself has called his subsequent purchase of a strip of the adjoining lot from Rezko "bone-headed." It's hard not to agree.

There is no sure evidence that the house deal was worse than bone-headed. Not that the question has been put to rest. A number of unanswered questions remain.

For instance, it's unclear whether Rezko was actually doing a favor for Obama: whether Obama could not have bought the house otherwise or whether Obama derived a financial benefit from Rezko's involvement in the deal. The main suspicion has been that Rezko's purchase of the side yard at the seller's asking price allowed Obama's purchase of the house to go through since the seller insisted on closing both properties on the same day. But both Obama and Rezko have said that someone else had bid on the side yard, raising the bidding to the asking price. If that's the case, then Obama could have bought the house without Rezko's involvement. And Obama has said that his family has stayed off the side yard and never used it for family activities.

Obama has acknowleged, however, that Rezko's likely motivation for buying the lot was to curry favor with him. Rezko reportedly admitted as much to his business associates. And as The New York Times reports today, Rezko was so heavily in debt at the time he purchased the lot that he did it under his wife's name in order to protect it from creditors.

And then there's the other big question, whether Obama ever did anything for Rezko in return for his purchase of the side yard or all those contributions. Obama has said that Rezko "never asked me for anything" and "I’ve never done any favors for him.” No substantial evidence has surfaced to contradict that claim. (The Chicago Sun-Times did dig up letters from Obama in 1998, some seven years before the house sale, urging Illinois and Chicago officials to provide funding for a Rezko company to build apartments for senior citizens, but both Obama and Rezko denied that Rezko had asked Obama to write the letters, and there's no evidence to the contrary.)

As Rezko's trial nears, you're sure to hear the two names raised together again and again. And you'll be hearing about that house purchase. So we're laying it all out here. We've compiled the main details in our timeline of Rezko and Obama's relationship here.

Recently, NBC News got a good aerial view of the Obama's home and side lot, which is now owned by Michael Sreenan, a former business attorney of Rezko's:

Back in 2004, the home's owner put both parcels on the market. There was no fence between the two properties, since the undeveloped land served as the house's side yard, but the properties were listed separately.

Read More →

Manfred Nowak, the torture investigator for the U.N., said yesterday that he has heard "credible" allegations that in 2002 and 2003 the U.S. detained terrorist suspects on the island of Diego Garcia, a British territory housing a joint U.S. and UK military base. Britain has revealed that the U.S. has used the island in the past as a refueling stop for secret renditions, but says that the U.S. has "denied using the island as a detention center." (AP)

Given President Bush's remarks to newspaper editors that "I don't want you reading my personal stuff," it is not surprising that the White House has been so negligent in archiving its e-mails. Recent Congressional testimony and court filings reveal that the CEO president disregards "fundamental principles that well-run private companies adhere to routinely." Despite two federal laws that require preservation of White House e-mail, approximately 1,000 days of e-mail are missing from the White House. (AP)

On the eve of the Pentagon's first death penalty trial, the American Bar Association has told President Bush that inadequate resources available to the Chief Pentagon Defense Counsel and the fundamental lack of due process in the Guantanamo Bay tribunal system undermine American standards of justice. The ABA's president emphasized that Guantanamo detainees "cannot challenge their detention by habeas corpus," "the standards for admissibility of evidence could allow for convictions based on rank hearsay," and "statements secured through coercion could be introduced against a defendant.'' (Miami Herald)

Read More →

Two weeks ago, the Protect America Act lapsed. And ever since then, Republicans and the administration have shown impressive stamina in continually hyping the "increased danger" -- and insisting on retroactive immunity for the telecoms' participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

For two weeks, the Democratic leadership did not budge. But now there are signs that the administration may finally be getting what it wants.

And why has President Bush been pushing so hard for immunity? The Washington Post walked through the issue this weekend. Though the Republican talking point has been that trial lawyers have been licking their chops over "billion dollar" lawsuits, there is a much more compelling reason for the administration to want the lawsuits quashed: it is the only legal avenue likely to be successful in forcing disclosures about the warrantless wiretapping program. In other words, while the administration has consistently sought to focus the issue as one about the telecoms; the administration itself arguably has much more to fear from the suits.

There were a couple different indications this weekend that the Dems were getting close to a compromise that would result in retroactive immunity.

Appearing on CNN this weekend, House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) sounded like a man inclined towards supporting "blanket immunity," as he called it, and just dotting his i's and crossing his t's. Reyes had earlier refused to declare his position on retroactive immunity, saying that he needed more time to study the issue. The administration finally turned over documents from the program last month. And Reyes said yesterday that "we are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because, if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we're giving immunity for." When Wolf Blitzer asked him whether he's "open" to such immunity, he answered "absolutely." He said that he and the other House and Senate Dems working on hammering out a compromise would probably be finished "probably within the next week."

Update: Here's the vid:

The Los Angeles Times gave a glimpse of what a final vote on that compromise bill might look like in the House. The House leadership might divide its final vote on a compromise bill into two parts, the second vote being solely on the issue of retroactive immunity:

"The objective would be to pass something that is less controversial," yet still allow Democrats to register their objections to the immunity provision, said one senior Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and other party leaders have yet to reach a decision on the matter.

The clear expectation is that more than enough Dems would cross over to vote for retroactive immunity to have it pass. How many Dems would "register their objection" -- whether it would be more in the House than in the Senate, where the vote on immunity was surprisingly lopsided -- well, only a vote would tell. In any case, the long, mighty struggle seems to be winding down to a whimper of an ending.

Facing the very real possibilities of removal from office, conviction of perjury, disbarment and imprisonment, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick remains confident that he’s “the best person for the job.”

In 2001, then-state Democratic House floor leader Kwame Kilpatrick told an interviewer that he was on a mission from God. The MetroTimes reported that Kilpatrick believed “the Almighty intends for him to become mayor of Detroit, where he hopes to lead the city into the promised land of prosperity.”

He became mayor of Detroit. But the mission now seems FUBAR. As all the world now knows, Kilpatrick lied under oath in order to cover up an extra-marital affair (and that's only the half of it).

At their meeting next Tuesday, the Detroit City Council will consider calling for Kilpatrick’s resignation. Their independent attorney, Bill Goodman, is studying the law to determine whether the council may evict the mayor if he hasn’t been convicted as a felon.

But the governor may remove any elected official accused in a sworn statement of official misconduct or willful neglect of duty. Last Thursday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm urged the council to resolve the scandal as quickly as possible.

“None of this is good for the city or for the state," she said. "There is no way you can spin any of this to be positive."

Read More →

No surprise here. From The Washington Post:

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey refused yesterday to refer two new House contempt citations to a federal grand jury, saying the White House aides involved in the case cannot be prosecuted because they were following legal advice from the Justice Department.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Mukasey said the refusal by White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former presidential counsel Harriet E. Miers to comply with congressional subpoenas "did not constitute a crime."

So now it's on to court, where we'll have the novel situation of the House Judiciary Committee suing the White House.

Yeah, maybe that wasn't such a good idea after all.

From The New York Times:

A federal judge on Friday withdrew his earlier order disabling a Web site that allows the anonymous posting of documents to discourage unethical behavior in governments and corporations....

In reversing himself at a hearing here on Friday, Judge White acknowledged that the bank’s request posed serious First Amendment questions and might constitute unjustified prior restraint. He also appeared visibly frustrated that technology might have outrun the law and that, as a result, the court might not be able to rein in information once it had been disclosed online.

“We live in an age,” Judge White said, “when people can do some good things and people can do some terrible things without accountability necessarily in a court of law.”

And voila, lives again. (Not that WikiLeaks, with a number of mirror sites, was ever really dead.) Apparently WikiLeaks never did get counsel, but the ACLU, EFF, and a variety of journalistic organizations stepped into the breach.

The Times piece gives the distinct impression that the judge had no idea what he was getting into when he granted Julius Baer's request to block access to