TPM News

The White House has begun to float a short list for the attorney general spot privately among members of Congress. Roll Call (sub. req.) has a rundown on the six names currently being bandied about, but the big surprise is that the early front runner Michael Chertoff is not being seriously considered for the position. (Roll Call)

The GAO isn't making any friends these days. In addition to releasing a report saying that Iraq has met only three of eighteen benchmarks, the independent watchdog agency yesterday criticized the Department of Homeland Security for failing to meet over half of its performance expectations; in other words, DHS is only half protecting us from terrorists. And, in case they hadn't annoyed enough bureaucrats for one day, the GAO chided the federal government for not doing a good job of acknowledging and addressing the effects of global warming. By the way, in all three cases the government has blamed the GAO for writing inaccurate reports. (NY Times, Washington Post)

Vanity Fair undergoes an exhaustive search to trace the path of $9 billion in cash lost in Iraq. Their search takes them all over the world, but make sure you read through page 5, when it takes them to a Bahamas P.O. Box that represents NorthStar, the organized face of public accounting for Iraq contractors. Bonus question: who has more accountants on staff, the company charged with overseeing billions in federal reconstruction money, or the burgeoning TPM empire? (Vanity Fair)

This is fun. Last week, Democratic presidential candidates scrambled to return the donations of a star fundraiser Norman Hsu after it came to light that Hsu was facing an arrest warrant. Hsu didn't show up for his original hearing, but he's finally seen the light (15 years later) and turned himself in. Then yesterday, in what might be the best in-your-face moment since Vince Carter jumped a Frenchman, Hsu skipped out on his court date again! (ABC's The Blotter)

Read More →

Until now, real estate developer Bob Penney looked like maybe he just enjoys helping out Alaska politicians. (Like giving Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) half off on a prime piece of land.) But in today's edition of The Hill, it's starting to look more likely that at least his relationship with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) fetched him more in return than he's admitted. And Stevens' help neatly coincided with his involvement in a highly profitable land deal orchestrated by Penney.

Reporter Manu Raju trolled through public documents and spoke with Alaska officials to confirm that Stevens quietly slipped Penney's group, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, $4.5 million in earmarks between fiscal 2004 and 2006 to research salmon populations in the famed river and a connected stream.

The spending laws do not specifically say the money was targeted for the group, but the funds were given to it after Stevens’s office instructed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to do so, according to officials there.

Penney has long fought for sport fishermen to get increased access to the Kenai, much to the chagrin of commercial fishing industry groups, which are fierce competitors with sport fishermen over salmon allocations. Officials from the commercial fishing industry say that the group shut them out of determining how to spend the earmarked dollars, alleging the sporting group is using the funding to lay the groundwork to help them at the commercial sector’s expense.


All of the fish-money funneling took place right around the time Penney brought Stevens in on a Utah land deal that turned a $15,000 investment into $125,000 in just one year. Penney told the Anchorage Daily News at the time (2004) that he and his fellow investors invited Stevens in "appreciation for all he's done for Alaska and the country. We respect him very, very much."

Read More →

Alberto Gonzales may be on his way out, but plenty of questions remain. One in particular concerns the prosecution of Wisconsin state bureaucrat Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was abruptly overturned when the court of appeals reviewed the case, finding the evidence against Thompson "beyond thin."

The case, because of its tenuous ties to the Democratic governor, became an election year hobby horse for Republicans. It's since become better known as a worrying indication of politicization of prosecutorial decisions, leading to Congressional scrutiny of Milwaukee's U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic and the decision to pursue the case.

Well, the House Judiciary Committee today released the first correspondence it's obtained in its investigation of the Thompson case. And as Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) characterizes it, the brief email exchange "demonstrates that even Justice Department insiders thought the Thompson case was seriously flawed."

In the exchange, Craig Donsanto, the Election Crimes Branch Director and a well-respected veteran of the Department, responds to an email from Raymond Hulser, Deputy Chief of the Department's Public Integrity Section, who forwarded to Donsanto the appeals court's opinion overturning Thompson's conviction.

Donsanto's reaction was simple: "Bad facts make bad law. How in the heck did this case get brought?"

That, of course, is precisely the question that Democrats are trying to answer. "This only underscores the need for further investigation into the Administration's alleged role in politicizing prosecutions," says Conyers.

It's official: Ayad Allawi is no longer represented by Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the White House-connected lobbying firm he retained to sell the U.S. government on his "parliamentary coup" to become Iraq's next prime minister. Well, sort of.

Allawi doesn't want to disclose who's paying BGR's $300,000 fee. But since Allawi admitted on CNN that he's not paying the bill himself, BGR has to either disclose to the Justice Department which "agent of a foreign principal" it receives money from or violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Disclosure, however, is for amateurs.

Yesterday, BGR took an anticipated third option: changing its filing with DoJ so that BGR no longer represents Allawi, but rather his political party, the Iraqi National Accord. Christina Davidson reports for IraqSlogger (sub. req.) that since political parties aren't required to disclose their sources of funding under FARA, "BGR has managed to pull an easy sidestep in order to maintain the anonymity of Allawi's backer."

Not every aspect of the GAO study on the Iraq benchmarks contradicts the administration line. Indeed, on one unfulfilled benchmark -- the persecution of Sunni military commanders -- the White House and the GAO see eye to eye. But the response amounts to the same thing. Instead of insisting that the benchmark is met and the strategy is working, the White House admits that it's not, but curiously insists that it doesn't need to do anything differently. We just need to stay the course.

The benchmark measures sectarian interference with security operations. According to the GAO, Shiite politicians have pursued groundless accusations of wrongdoing against Sunni officers that the U.S. considers trustworthy. In some cases, "questionable judicial warrants" against officers are issued by "the Office of Commander in Chief" -- otherwise known as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The persecution means that the Iraqi security forces' "formal command structure is compromised by influential sectarian leaders linked to the security ministries."

Funny thing: the White House doesn't disagree.

Read More →

Where do you find a job after lobbying for a (potentially) corrupt failure of a subprime mortgage company? You go work for Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-NV) as commissioner of the state's Mortgage Lending Division, of course!

Gibbons just tapped Joe Waltuch, who served as legislative counsel to New Century Financial, which filed for bankruptcy protection in April (after predicting it wouldn't cover its weekly payroll) and is now under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in California and the Securities Exchange Commission.

Not surprisingly, some officials are pretty shocked by the choice, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports:

"I'm in total disbelief that the governor would appoint a former executive for a company that's under federal criminal inquiry, bankrupt and caused countless people to lose their homes," said Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas. "This company is a poster child for what not to do in mortgage lending. And now the appointee is supposed to watch out for consumers? Unbelievable."


We've noted Gibbons' decision-making skills here before, but he'd been laying low for awhile. The move is particularly surprising as both the House and the Senate are starting to probe the subprime mortgage industry now that an estimated 1.2 million people may lose their homes.

The Alaska-Veco scandal just got sexier -- sort of. Now all it needs is rock and roll.

According to court documents, the FBI recorded former Alaska House Speaker Pete Kott and former Veco CEO Bill Allen talking about sleeping and sexual enhancement pills Allen gave Kott. Unfortunately for Kott, he seemed to get the pharmaceuticals confused:

"Man, I've been having a hard time sleeping," Kott complained to Allen.

"So that worked pretty good," Allen said, laughing.

"Which ones are which?" said Kott.

"Goddamn it, I told you now, just use the white ones ... to sleep," Allen reminded him. "And the the goddamn, ah, brown or whatever they are, that's for (explicit language for sex), and the other one is for sleeping."

"Yeah, I thought I was taking the sleeping pill. Took the wrong one. Still got the white one," Kott said.

"You're something else," Allen said, laughing. "You're something else, Pete."


Kott wants the evidence kept from the jury.

If you're bidding for a spot at the Bush Justice Department, you better come ready to field a barrage of questions. And not the variety you might expect. If you're not prepared, you might just leave feeling like you ran into a buzz saw.

Jack Goldsmith, in his new book The Terror Presidency, provides a first hand account of his interview at the White House to be the chief of the Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2003. The OLC position is among the most important at the Department, since its legal opinions bear directly on government policy. As Goldsmith explains, the OLC has the power to essentially offer "advance pardons" for dubious administration conduct.

So Goldsmith expected to spend the interview talking about his views on the law and the Constitution. Instead, he writes, this is how it began:

Sitting in chairs around [Deputy White House Counsel David] Leitch's desk as I entered the room were [then-White House Counsel Alberto] Gonzales and [Dick Cheney's counsel] David Addington. I had met both men briefly before, but I had never had an extended conversation with either. I shook everyone's hand and was settling in on the couch at the opposite end of the room when Leitch kicked off the interview.

"Who's Henry Perritt?" he asked in a slightly accusatory tone.

Read More →

The Iraqi government fully met only three out of 18 benchmarks, according to the GAO. Among them: the parliament has rules in place to protect the rights of ethnic and religious minority members. Sure, it's not the sexiest benchmark -- it's no militia demobilization or constitutional reform -- but in a multiethnic country without a democratic tradition, it's important.

Only one problem: the GAO felt compelled to point out -- over the objections of the State Department -- that minority protections don't exist outside the parliament hall.

According to the United Nations, attacks against religious and ethnic minorities continued unabated in most areas of Iraq, prompting these communities to seek ways to leave the country. The conflicts reportedly bear the mark of sectarian polarization and "cleansing" in neighborhoods formerly comprised of different religions.


Now, that's not part of the benchmark, which just looks at minority protections within the government. Why include general information about the plight of Iraq's minorities here?

[W]e believe it is important to provide some context of minority rights in Iraq. Iraqi legislators we interviewed insisted that the situation in their communities has a direct bearing on their work in the legislature, their freedom of movement to and from the legislature, and their ability to engage fully in Iraq [sic] political life.


That sounds a lot like GAO is saying the benchmark is a hollow one.

One question: how is it that GAO can judge sectarianism in attacks on ethnic and religious minorities but not against either Sunnis or Shiites?

Sometimes the Pentagon presents misleading Iraq data. Other times, it minimizes its own findings, as it does on one of the most controversial aspects of the Iraqi training effort: endemic corruption and sectarianism in the Ministry of the Interior.

Interior, which controls the police, is the sharpest weapon of Shiite power in Iraq. Here's the Government Accountability Office's report:

[M]ilitia influence affects every component of the Ministry of the Interior, especially in Baghdad and in other key cities, according to DOD. This influence, along with corruption and illegal activity, constrains progress in the development of Ministry of Interior forces.


Notice that attribution: "according to DOD." But look at the relevant section of the June 2007 Pentagon quarterly report on Iraq (pdf), beginning at page 31. The top line is what GAO describes, on both the question of militia infiltration and corruption. But then the Defense Department explains it away:

The [Ministry of the Interior] still struggles with internal corruption, and the ministry made continued efforts this quarter to address this problem. Key to these efforts is effective investigations when allegations appear to have credibility.


In support of that statement, the report lists over 1900 internal corruption investigations which have resulted in the firing of nearly 900 ministry employees. But, according to a memo from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, those investigations don't exactly go anywhere.

Read More →

TPMLivewire