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In a ruling handed down today, a Florida judge denied access to voting machines' source code by experts for Democrat Christine Jennings and others.

Jennings, along with the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, People for the American Way Foundation and others, had asked the court to allow them access to the source code on voting machines used in Sarasota County, where they allege 18,000 votes were not counted.

Judge William L. Gary called their request "nothing more than conjecture and not supported by credible evidence," and said that making the secret code available for scrutiny "would result in destroying or at least gutting the protections afforded those who own the trade secrets."

A senior attorney on Jennings' side of the suit called Gary's ruling "an order without any legal basis whatsoever."

The judge "denied the voters of Sarasota County the ability to look inside the ballot boxes, essentially, that they're using to cast their ballot," David Becker, attorney for the People for the American Way Foundation, told me. "We're going to use every available avenue to see that this order is overturned."

Update: Here's the ruling.

Florida Democrat Christine Jennings said today she won't try to block Republican Vern Buchanan from being sworn in to represent the state's 13th District, despite her efforts to have that election declared unconstitutional.

In November's elections, Buchanan beat out Jennings by fewer than 400 votes to win the seat, but Jennings has contested the election both in Florida courts and before Congress.

"Christine is not conceding," her deputy campaign manager Robert Kellar explained to me by phone. After consulting with constituents, her staff and Democratic leadership, she "decided it would be best for the district to allow [Buchanan] to be seated temporarily," until the election disputes are sorted out.

Kellar said Jennings had the option of filing an official challenge to seating Buchanan in the 110th Congress, but opted not to. "If a constituent has a problem with Social Security or something, they need someone to go to," Kellar explained. She has, however, "contested" the election with Congress, which is a different process.

Kellar said that staffers for the House Administration Committee have received Jennings' formal contest and are currently investigating the matter. More on that soon.

Update: An earlier version of this post reported that election results showed Buchanan beat Jennings by 18,000 votes. That was incorrect; results showed Buchanan won by 369 votes. At issue in the dispute are an estimated 18,000 votes that may not have been properly registered.

Testimony from Iraq warblogger Benjamin Runkle, together with other photographs posted by Michelle Malkin, bolster the argument that the photo of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) eating amid empty chairs posted on several right-wing Web sites

is authentic. That likely won't quell the torrent of opinions on both sides, though. Hoping to answer the question conclusively, I've called Kerry's offices in D.C. and Boston. No one answers, thought I left a message at the Boston office. We'll see if someone calls back.

The issue of interpretation lingers, however. Can one reasonably conclude on the basis of the photograph (and accompanying testimony) that troops snubbed Kerry during his Iraq visit? Here's another picture of Kerry eating, this from Malkin's Web site:

Perhaps snubbing, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Update: A Kerry staffer now says that Kerry was giving a media interview in the picture, hence the empty chairs surrounding him.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) is set to announce he will back a challenge to the FL-13 election lodged by Democratic candidate Christine Jennings.

According to a press release from Holt's office, the congressman will announce at noon today that "he intends to take steps to put the House on record that no action taken on January 4, 2007 regarding the disputed election in Florida will prejudice the legal case or any investigation of the House Administration Committee."

Jennings, who is contesting her November loss to Republican Vern Buchanan, has already won the support of Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has so far remained silent on the issue, other than to say she is "monitoring" the situation.

Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden is still at large -- but that's not a failure of White House policy, says Frances Fragos Townsend. As she explained to CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry last night:

HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.

(Thanks to Reader RT for the tip.)

After I wrote yesterday about questions surrounding a photo making the rounds on right-wing blogs, the originator of the picture has written to say it's for real.

North Dakota radio host Scott Hannen, Michelle Malkin, the Powerline blog and other online conservatives featured the picture, which alleged to portray Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) eating breakfast alone at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Shortly after I posted on the topic, Reader BL wrote me with a suggestion.

"The Kerry photo originated from the following blog by Ben Of Mesopotamia," BL wrote. "Maybe someone should drop him a line about the photo." "Ben" is CPT Benjamin G. Runkle, former speechwriter to president Bush and staff assistant to Defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, according to the 2004 Plum Book of presidential appointments.

So I dropped Runkle a line, and last night he wrote back. The photo is authentic, he said. "Although I did not personally take the pictures, I saw the person who did immediately after they took them and asked for a copy."

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FEC Imposed Record $6.2 Million In Fines — Over Half Against One Company "The Federal Election Commission more than doubled its civil penalties in 2006, imposing $6.2 million in fines for campaign-law violations.

"More than half — $3.8 million — came from penalties against Freddie Mac, the federal mortgage corporation accused of making illegal contributions to political committees, according to year-end numbers released Thursday. Even without the record Freddie Mac fine, the FEC issued 12 penalties of more than $100,000, or almost a quarter of all six-figure fines in the agency's 31-year history." (AP)

Read More →

Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) lost his re-election bid this November -- but he won't leave Congress empty-handed.

Back in April, Paul broke the story of the strange house deal between Ryun and the DeLay/Abramoff-connected sham charity, U.S. Family Network.

In 2000, Ryun bought the Capitol Hill property from USFN for $100,000 below market -- odd, because the D.C. housing market was booming then, and houses were selling for above-market prices. The good deal has gotten even better, according to the house has recently been assessed at $920,870, up 125% from when he bought it in 2000.

Update: A belated but heartfelt tip of the hat to Reader GY, who alerted me to this.

Over at the National Review's blog, The Corner, Cliff May apologizes for posting a year-old anonyous forwarded email as news. May, let's note, was an adviser to the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group.

In his defense, May says it was shared with him by another adviser to the ISG, a U.S. ambassador. All the ISG experts, May explains, "[are] on a list-serve where we circulate what we view as significant articles and argue over them." May says the ambassador had forwarded the year-old anonymous e-mail to the list.

That's right. An expert advising the ISG shared a year-old anonymous chain e-mail with the group. And the group apparently argued over it.

Anyone feel like forwarding the conversation thread that followed that one? Might be instructive.

If wishes were e-mails, the Iraq war would be won. And John Kerry would be friendless.

Yesterday we learned via the National Review Online that, at least according to year-old spam, ground troops think the United States is winning the war in Iraq.

Now, Michelle Malkin, Powerline and a guy named Scott Hennen, host of "HotTalk" on North Dakota's AM 970, bring us news that troops in Iraq recently shunned Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), making him eat alone at an inexplicably festive breakfast at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, as some kind of petulant junior-high form of retaliation for his botched "joke" that dumb kids get sent to war.

"A friend of mine serving in Iraq sent me this photo and note," is the dubious introduction that Hennen gives the picture on his blog. (Hennen appears to have been first to post the picture.) "Priceless story it tells...."

"This is a true story," Hennen quotes the email as saying. "Check out this photo from our mess hall at the US Embassy yesterday morning. Sen. Kerry found himself all alone while he was over here. He cancelled his press conference because no one came, he worked out alone in the gym w/o any soldiers even going up to say hi or ask for an autograph (I was one of those who was in the gym at the same time), and he found himself eating breakfast with only a couple of folks who are obviously not troops."

Ah, but with such an unquestioning post, can trouble be far behind? No.

At Hennen's site, commenter "Anthony" noted that the picture's embedded data, just a right-click away, shows the picture was taken on January 9, 2006 -- several months before Kerry botched his joke:

News accounts at the time put Kerry in England around that time -- which might explain the giant Union Jack hanging on the far wall.

At PowerLine, another problem surfaced: As commenter "Angus" noted, the flag hanging to the right of the Union Jack belongs to Portugal, which withdrew its mighty 120-man coalition force from Iraq nearly two years ago.

Update: There may be reason to question the image data. In addition to giving the date of Jan. 9th for the picture, it says it was taken by a Vivitar Vivicam 8400 camera. According to this article dated Feb. 27, that model was not yet released. Can anyone verify this?