TPM News

The Washington Post reports that KBR, one of the largest U.S. contractors in Iraq, is being sued, along with a subcontractor, for engaging in human trafficking in Iraq. According to a lawyer for the Washington firm bringing the suit:

13 Nepali men, between the ages of 18 and 27, were recruited in Nepal to work as kitchen staff in hotels and restaurants in Amman, Jordan. But once the men arrived in Jordan, their passports were seized and they were told they were being sent to a military facility in Iraq, Fryszman said.

As the men were driven in cars to Iraq, they were stopped by insurgents. Twelve were kidnapped and later executed, Fryszman said. The thirteenth man survived and worked in a warehouse in Iraq for 15 months before returning to Nepal.


The suit alleges that the scheme was set up by KBR (formerly known as Kellogg Brown and Root) and its Jordanian subcontractor, Daoud and Partners. This spring, Daoud was ordered by a Department of Labor judge to pay $1 million to the families of 11 of the victims.

KBR said in a statement that it "in no way condones or tolerates unethical or illegal behavior."

Given KBR's prominence role in working with the U.S. military in Iraq and elsewhere, this deserves keeping an eye on.

Could the White House be getting desperate in its dramatic legal battle with the House Judiciary Committee? It certainly looks that way, as they scramble to delay Harriet Miers' congressional testimony after the court's recent denial of their request for a stay.

Yesterday, HJC Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) set Miers testimony for September 11, but the administration isn't going down without a fight.

From the AP:

The Bush administration had already indicated it would appeal but Justice Department lawyers said Wednesday that they will ask the court to step in quickly and temporarily put Miers' appearance on hold while the appeal plays out. It's a risky move for an administration that has spent years trying to strengthen the power of the presidency.


Yesterday, TPM's David Kurtz caught up with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at the Democratic National Convention and got his take on the new developments in the Miers case unfolding at the HJC.

Leahy made it clear that this battle wasn't just going to end in the event of an Obama presidency. "I remind them," he said, "I'll still be chairman next year."

We'll have to wait until next Thursday for a final decision, but in filings made yesterday, it appears that the Justice Department is seeking a pretty light sentence for the infamous former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

From the Washington Post:

Since his conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has spent more than 3,000 hours helping more than 100 law enforcement agents in an ongoing federal corruption probe that has implicated "scores of other persons not yet charged," attorneys said in court filings today.

. . . If a federal judge in Washington accepts the recommendation from the Justice Department, Abramoff would serve no more than another three years and three months in prison, not accounting for credit for good behavior awarded by the Bureau of Prisons. Abramoff's attorneys are seeking even more leniency that could have him released from prison by 2010.

Yesterday, a District Court judge denied the White House's request for a stay on the Congressional testimony of Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten in the US attorney case.

Emboldened by that ruling, House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers (D-MI) announced in a press release this afternoon that his office has sent a letter to the White House setting a deadline of September 4 to comply with the judge's order to produce documents relating to the case. The letter also says that the date for Miers to appear at a hearing has been postponed until September 11.

The quest to find out the extent of the White House's role in the scandal continues...

As Joe Biden gets set for his big moment in Denver tonight, there's renewed scrutiny on the activities of his lobbyist son.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Hunter Biden -- along with Joe Biden's brother, James -- is being accused in one lawsuit of defrauding a former business partner, and in a separate lawsuit of defrauding an investor in a hedge fund deal. The facts of the cases remain unclear, but the plaintiff in one of the suits, Anthony Lotito Jr., alleges that he entered into a deal with Hunter and James to create a hedge-fund group, Paradigm Companies LLC, before the Bidens crafted another deal to create a "secret company" designed to buy out Lotito's shares. The suit also claims that Hunter entered into the original deal as a way to get out of the lobbying business, thanks to concerns about the impact of his lobbying activities on his father's expected presidential run. The Bidens allege in response that Lotito defrauded them, according to the Post, by "misrepresenting his experience in the hedge fund industry and recommending that they hire a lawyer with felony convictions."

That same day, the New York Times had its own angle on Hunter's lobbying activities. It reported that, while Sen. Biden, a longtime ally of the credit-card industry, was working in support of the 2005 bankruptcy bill, which made it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcy, Hunter had a consulting agreement -- which may have been worth $100,000 a year -- with financial-services giant MBNA, one of the bill's biggest backers.

The Times adds this interesting detail:

Campaign officials acknowledged that the connection between the Bidens and MBNA, the enormous financial services company then based in their home state of Delaware, was one of the most sensitive issues they examined while vetting the senator for a spot on the ticket.


And now today, the Post uncovers a link between Hunter Biden and Obama himself, reporting that the Illinois senator "sought more than $3.4 million in congressional earmarks for clients of the lobbyist son of his Democratic running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, records show." The Obama campaign said that Hunter Biden never met directly with Obama, and noted: "It's hardly surprising that a Senator from Illinois would fight for investments in Mercy Hospital, Thorek Hospital and St. Xavier University right in Illinois, or that he'd be joined in that effort by a Republican colleague, Representative Judy Biggert."

Whether this stream of reports will create a lasting problem for the Democratic ticket -- particularly given Sen. Biden's own record of close ties to Washington lobbyists, particularly for the banking industry -- or whether they'll get lost in the ever-churning mill of campaign news, remains to be seen. But they certainly bear keeping an eye on.

Freshly released from prison, former Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney is ripping into the administration, leveling charges that they were behind his prosecution.

Ney, who has taken to the airwaves as a radio commentator, recently appeared on the Thom Hartmann show to talk about the Bush administration's role in his prosecution and his past life as a felon.

"I made the bullets, I gave them the bullets," Ney says of his prosecution for bribery, but goes on to suggest that his willingness to challenge the administration's head-in-the sand approach to Iran made him a target.

From the transcript:

[Thom]: You were prosecuted by the Bush Administration for what Ellen [Ellen Ratner of Talk Radio News] has characterized to me as, you know, one possibly serious crime, one largely irrelevant crime. But mostly something that probably, a number of things that probably many members of congress could be gone after, and she seems to be of the opinion that your prosecution was a political prosecution because you were pushing back on Iran. You want to, can you speak to that, please?

[Ney]: But at the end of the day, you know, I brought a lot of things on myself. . . And I did some things that were wrong. But I also believe that part of this was fueled in the sense of the Iran issue. It's been no secret that when I went to prison I gave permission for a secret meeting I'd had with Mr. Guldimann [Tim Guldimann, then Swiss Ambassador in Tehran] who came from Switzerland. He presented a document that was absolutely incredible, where Iran would have recognized Israel and a whole host of other things, would have let our inspectors on their ground; and I sent that to the White House.

I'll stand by that today; the White House denies it, but Colin Powell's former assistant admits that that came over to the State Department and the White House wanted no part of it. And I believe that every step of the way, and I think it came more from Cheney's people, but every step of the way that I attempted to deal with Iran, it got pretty harsh back. And so I think part of this, I made the bullets, I gave them the bullets, but I think some of the force was also involved with, you know, Iran and people that would rather see those countries not communicate, no matter who is head of Iran.


Later, Ney amps up his critique, saying that the administration has "taken bloodsport to a new level":

[Thom]: It so sounds like the Don Siegelman story and the Paul Minor story, and if you're not familiar with those two stories, I encourage you to do a little Googling. I think that we have political prisoners in the United States now.

[Ney]: Well, I know that the harshness of the administration, and again, I take culpability, I did some wrong things, but when you get in their path, I think they've taken bloodsport to a new level in this administration.


Full transcript after the jump.

Read More →

Details about Dick Cheney's interview under oath with Patrick Fitzgerald about the vice president's role in the outing of Valerie Plame may soon become public, thanks to a lawsuit filed by a non-profit watchdog group. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is suing the Department of Justice for failing to release records related to their investigation of the Plame leak. The House Judiciary Committee has sought access to these records for more than a year. (CREW)

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) appears likely to win the Republican nomination for re-election to Congress despite ongoing allegations of corruption, and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) has won the Republican party's nomination for re-election to the Senate despite a criminal indictment. Both congressmen have gotten into hot water for failing to report gifts from the the VECO corporation. (New York Times)

The fate of Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick could be in the hands of Michigan's Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm. Granholm has scheduled a hearing to determine whether Kilpatrick should be removed from office. Kilpatrick currently faces 10 felony charges, including bribery and misconduct in office. The hearing will begin September 3. (AP)

Read More →

Remember that New York Times story from February that didn't quite deliver the goods about John McCain's entanglement with the lobbyist Vicki Iseman? Well, there was one strand to the Times' reporting that was lost amid the unproven allegations of a sexual relationship. But the Times' own earlier reporting from 2000, as well as what TPMmuckraker has learned, suggests it deserves some attention.

Towards the end of the February story, the Times wrote about McCain's assistance to Iseman's client, Lowell Paxson, who ran the media company Paxson Communications:

In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain's staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson, now Ion Media Networks, on another matter. Mr. Paxson was impatient for F.C.C. approval of a television deal, and Ms. Iseman acknowledged in an e-mail message to The Times that she had sent to Mr. McCain's staff information for drafting a letter urging a swift decision.

Mr. McCain complied. He sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman.


But it turns out that the Times had covered this before. Back in January 2000, Stephen Labaton, one of the four Times scribes on the Iseman story from this February, had reported on McCain's help for Paxson. Paxson, Labaton wrote, had lent McCain his corporate jet four times in the last year, and had scheduled a Florida fundraiser for McCain (which was subsequently cancelled); and McCain had received more than $20,000 in contributions from Paxson Communications executives.

And Labaton added something even more interesting:
The commissioners who approved the transfer were two Republicans and a Democrat, Susan Ness, who was been known for some time as the swing vote and whose nomination for a second term is now before the Senate Commerce Committee. Ms. Ness said in an interview today that the rules prohibited her from talking about her deliberations in the Pittsburgh case and that as a matter of policy, she has declined to discuss her pending confirmation.

"I always vote in my decisions based on the law and the facts before us and anyone who knows my record knows that," she said.


According to a former F.C.C. staffer, Ness rarely broke with her Democratic colleagues, as she did on this vote. The former staffer added that being appointed to a second term as an F.C.C. commissioner was unusual at the time -- most commissioners served only one term -- and that Ness was actively campaigning for her re-appointment. The Atlantic's Joshua Green, who wrote about this in March, judged that "Ness's vote is widely thought to have been a bid to win her reappointment to the FCC."

So, did the Times miss the real story in their recent reporting on Iseman: McCain leveraging his position as committee* chair to help convince Ness to vote in favor of Iseman's client's TV deal? Could be...

*Corrected from an earlier version.

A district court judge denied Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten's request for a stay on their Congressional testimony pending the appeal of the recent decision in HJC v. Harriet Miers et al. The decision means that Miers will have to appear in response to the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena for testimony.

From the ruling:

Accordingly, the Court will deny the Executive's request for a stay. Hence, the Executive should respond to the document aspect of the subpoenas by producing non-privileged material and identifying more specifically the materials it is withholding on a claim of executive privilege.

But it is on Ms. Miers's appearance that the dispute principally focuses. This decision should not, however, foreclose the parties' continuing attempts to reach a negotiated solution. Both sides indicated that discussions regarding an accommodation have resumed.


The judge, the Honorable John Bates, has mentioned before that he would really appreciate it if these two parties tried to keep every little squabble out of the court room, and that seemed to be the gist of his ruling:

Had the litigants indicated that a negotiated solution was foreseeable in the near future, the Court may have stayed its hand in the hope that further intervention in this dispute by the Article III branch would not be necessary.

As it stands, however, the Court must decide the questions presented to it. But there is still ample time for the parties to reach an accommodation. The Court's July 31, 2008 Order does not compel Ms. Miers to appear at any particular date.


Technically, this leaves open the possibility of continued negotiations, but considering this administration's history of fighting subpoenas, we're not holding our breath for an out-of-court resolution.

Late update: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has responded to the ruling:

"Today's ruling clearly rejects the White House's efforts to run out the clock on the Committee's investigation of DOJ politicization this Congress. I am heartened that Judge Bates recognized that the public interest in this matter is best served by the furtherance of the Committee's investigation," Conyers said. "The Committee intends to promptly schedule a hearing with Ms. Miers and stands ready as always to consider any reasonable offer of accommodation with the White House."

The FBI is finally coughing up more details on their illegal phone records demands, following FBI Dir. Robert Mueller's apology two-weeks ago to the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The Washington Times has an interview with FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni, who says there was a "miscommunication" when an "exigent letter" -- which allows FBI agents to gather information without regular judicial oversight -- was sent to obtain Times and Post reporters' phone calls.

From the Washington Times:

Ms. Caproni said the case agent e-mailed an agent in the terrorism-investigating Communications Analysis Unit (CAU) to suggest seeking Justice Department permission and a grand jury subpoena to obtain the reporters' phone records.

Ms. Caproni said the case agent did not say it was an emergency, but the agent in CAU sent an "exigent letter" anyway.

While it is not known why the agent in CAU sent the letter, Ms. Caproni suggested the agent in CAU may have been trying to be helpful. She also noted CAU is on the front lines of the fight against terrorism and that the unit was busy at the time.

Mike German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, said he didn't buy Ms. Caproni's argument. "It's clear the FBI wants to minimize this as a mistake and not abuse," he said. "The facts are, there was a ridiculous amount of misuse and abuse."

TPMLivewire