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I just spoke with Republican political strategist Roger Stone, and he predicted that Michael Steele's latest foul-up over abortion and gays could cost him dearly.

"Well, it's just one more nail in the coffin," said Stone, after I read the relevant quotes to him. "He just doesn't seem to understand his role as party chairman, which is not to criticize any wing of the party. I mean, three weeks ago he was offending moderates, now he's offending conservatives. He shouldn't be offending Rush Limbaugh or Arlen Specter."

"I'm not sure why the chairman has to opine on abortion at all," Stone added. "I mean, we have a platform, just refer to it."

Stone has also told me that the anti-Steele feelings among Republicans would have been there no matter what -- but Steele has badly mismanaged it: "The reason he has a problem, and the reason this hasn't been squelched, is that his maiden voyage hasn't been successful. He keeps putting his foot in his mouth."

Stone has heard the name of Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan GOP chairman who also ran in the RNC race, circulating as a possible new chairman. "I've monitored this pretty closely. I think Saul is on the move as well," said Stone. "It wouldn't be surprising if all the guys who had run had their knives out."

In an e-mail to TPM, Anuzis strongly denied that he is in any way not supportive of Steele, or that he would be a candidate in any new election. "A few folks are trying to spin some trouble," said Anuzis. "We're moving ahead."

Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and ex-rival of Michael Steele for the chairmanship of the RNC, just made this statement to, positively lambasting Steele's comments in the GQ interview:

"Chairman Steele, as the leader of America's Pro-Life conservative party, needs to re-read the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the 2008 GOP Platform. He then needs to get to work -- or get out of the way.

You might recall that Blackwell's endorsement of Steele, when Blackwell had dropped out after four ballots, helped put Steele over the top.

Now he's telling Steele to read his Bible or get out of the way. Ouch.

A new Siena poll suggests that Democrats are catching up in the March 31 special election for Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat in upstate New York.

Republican candidate Jim Tedisco, who started out with much higher name recognition as the state Assembly minority leader, now leads Democratic businessman Scott Murphy by 45%-41%, with a ±3.7% margin of error. Two weeks ago, Tedisco had a much stronger lead of 46%-34%.

At first glance, it might look like Democratic-leaning undecideds are quickly breaking into the Dem column as the candidates become better known. But the internals actually paint a much more complex picture.

Two weeks ago, Tedisco led 45%-31% among independents. But Murphy has turned that around, and now leads among indies by 43%-37%. What this suggests is that the Dem attacks against Tedisco -- mainly targeting his refusal to take a firm position on the stimulus bill -- could be having their intended effect.

The office of Washington DC's chief technology officer has been raided by FBI agents, reports the Politico.

But this isn't just a local story. Vivek Kundra, who served in the position until February 4, was last week appointed the first ever Federal Chief Information Officer by the Obama administration.

An FBI spokeswoman told Politico that the search was part of an "ongoing investigation." And a separate source told the site that the FBI had sent all staffers at the office, aside from senior executives, home for the day.

The White House declined to comment to Politico.

We'll keep you posted on this.

Late Update: It looks like Kundra may not be the focus of the probe after all. The Washington Post reports that an employee in the office, Yusuf Acar, who serves as the information systems security officer for the city, has been arrested as part of a federal bribery sting.

A spokesman for the US Attorneys office said the case is "is under seal."

It looks like Andrew Cuomo has escalated things in the Merrill Lynch bonus probe.

Cuomo is now accusing the firm of misleading Congress on the matter. In a court filing made yesterday, according to the Wall Street Journal, Cuomo included a November 24th letter, sent by Merrill to a House oversight committee, assuring lawmakers that no decisions on yearly bonuses had yet been made. Cuomo also filed testimony from a Merrill director, saying that on November 11th, the firm's compensation committee had decided that Merrill would pay bonuses in December, rather than January, when bonuses were usually paid (and when the firm would be under the control of Bank of America.)

Cuomo is trying to convince a judge to force Bank of America to disclose information about who got the bonuses -- which the company has so far been refusing to do.

The House Oversight committee, chaired at the time by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), had asked Merrill for information on the bonuses, as part of an effort to ensure that the firm wasn't using bailout money for compensation.

There's another interesting nugget in the Journal's report:

Mr. Cuomo also disclosed that John Thain, Merrill's chairman and chief executive, was told that he would lose any chance of succeeding Kenneth Lewis as CEO of Bank of America if Mr. Thain kept pressing Merrill directors last fall for a 2008 bonus of as much as $40 million.

"He was told very strongly that you should not do that; that you would damage yourself with the Bank of America board if you do that, and if you ever wanted a chance to be in the running for my job, then that would eliminate it," Mr. Lewis said in his testimony last month, according to the filing.

Thain soon lost his chance to succeed Lewis anyway, as he was ousted in mid January amid anger over the bonuses and Merrill's massive fourth quarter losses.

Michael Steele has sharply walked back a statement in his GQ interview that seemed to indicate he agreed abortion is an individual choice. "I am pro-life, always have been, always will be," Steele said in a new statement.

As we've also found out, the statements about abortion to GQ were made over two weeks ago. Family Research Council head Tony Perkins has responded to the newly-published interview, and he's not happy: "I expressed my concerns to the chairman earlier this week about previous statements that were very similar in nature. He assured me as chairman his views did not matter and that he would be upholding and promoting the Party platform, which is very clear on these issues. It is very difficult to reconcile the GQ interview with the chairman's pledge."

Note that Perkins said he spoke to Steele about the issue earlier this week, and Steele assured him that he would promote the party's platform. So Steele told Perkins that he would publicly uphold the party's official policies, about two weeks after he'd done a yet-to-be-published interview to the contrary.

So let's compare Steele's stated positions from now versus then.

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The moment that many of Bernard Madoff's victims have been waiting for has arrived: He has publicly described his crimes.

At the court proceeding this morning at which he pleaded guilty, Madoff declared: "I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done."

CNBC describes the scene:

As the proceeding began, Madoff asked if he could have some water.

Judge Denny Chin swore Madoff in and asked him for his plea. After Madoff said he was pleading guilty, Chin explained that he would ask a series of questions before deciding whether to accept the plea.

"Mr. Madoff, you can be seated; pour yourself some water," Chin told him.

Chin went on to ask Madoff, "Do you understand parole has been abolished?" Madoff said, "Yes." Chin is due to sentence Madoff at a later date.

In his plea, Madoff made these statements:

"Your honor for many years ... I operated a ponzi scheme."

"I am grateful for this opportunity to speak" and explain that "I am deeply sorry and ashamed."

"I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for what I have done."

Madoff went on to say, "The victims of my schemes included individuals, charities, pension funds and hedge funds."

Madoff made a distinction between his investment business which was the fraud and the other businesses which he said were legit. "The other businesses were legitimate, profitable all respects and those businesses were run by my brother and my sons," said Madoff.

We first flagged this for you last week, but Democrats are facing a perilous choice on climate change this year: whether to tackle carbon emissions under "budget reconciliation" rules, which would shield the legislation from an all-but-assured GOP filibuster.

As the WSJ notes this morning, however, the argument for using reconciliation on climate change is as much due to opposition from Democrats as it is from Republicans. Senators from red-state centrist Max Baucus (D-MT) to rust-belt liberal Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are on record as unconvinced of the merits of cap-and-trade, so setting a 50-vote rather than 60-vote margin for passage is likely to make the difference between passing a bill and doing nothing.

The Senate environment committee's chairman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA), told TPMDC earlier this week that she's considering the reconciliation route, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told the WSJ that a final decision was "weeks" away.

But prominent GOP supporters of action on climate change, including John McCain (AZ) and Olympia Snowe (ME), have said that using reconciliation on the issue could torpedo climate change's prospects outright. Are Democrats damned if they do and damned if they don't? Stay tuned ...

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has a news article this morning that is a blistering attack on the Coleman camp's latest foul-up: "As recently as late January, databases of thousands of Coleman's donors and assorted contacts sat on a public portion of the campaign's Web site. They were not password-protected, so a Minneapolis consultant was able to find them by essentially surfing the Web."

The Coleman campaign's position is that they did not believe any data was downloaded in January, and that the site might have been hacked at a later date, probably by partisan enemies. But the Pioneer Press -- which endorsed Coleman for re-election last year, by the way -- doesn't appear to be buying it.

Coleman-supporter Kelly McShane, who donated $100 online and whose job is to secure data for the banking industry, had this to say: "I'm in IT security for a bank, and I can tell you that this is so ... irresponsible that I can't believe it."

Eric Schultze, chief technology officer for a Minnesota-based computer-security company (not to be confused with DSCC spokesman and former Franken spokesman Eric Schultz) explained to the Pioneer Press that no Web site should be set up to store credit-card data on the same server as the rest of the site -- let alone in an unencrypted form. "Anybody worth their salt would not set up a Web site that way," said Schultze.

Investigating whether Arizona policemen discriminate against Latinos while enforcing immigration laws, the House Judiciary Committee will call Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to testify. Arpaio has become a hero of the anti-immigration movement for leading for a three-year crackdown on illegals in Arizona, which has included controversial tactics like occasional crime sweeps in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods. Arpaio claims that the hearings, chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) are politically motivated. "They want to keep putting the pressure on me, hoping that I go away," he said. "And that is not going to happen." (Arizona Republic)

Speaking before a House appropriations subcommittee Wednesday, SEC head Mary Schapiro warned that the SEC might be forced to make significant operations cuts if Congress didn't increase its funding The SEC was embarrassed this year by multiple failures to prevent several major alleged frauds. "I do not believe it would be wise for the SEC to retrench during such perilous times in our markets," she said. Schapiro asked the committee to make available $17 million from previous budgets that went unspent. (Washington Post)

Howard Richman, a former executive at the medical pharmaceutical company Biopure, pleaded guilty Wednesday to pretending to have cancer to dodge investigations into an alleged fraud. He even admitted to impersonating a doctor in a call to investigators to dodge the trial. Richman faked the illness to avoid an SEC investigation into whether Biopure executives lied to investors about the status of a blood substitute called Hemopure. After clinical trials, the FDA rejected the drug due to safety concerns, but Biopure told investors that the deal had been approved.(Associated Press)

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