TPM News

You're used to the usual humdrum charges that the Justice Department's voting rights section has been turned to the aim of voter suppression, rather than voter protection. So count this as a new variety of alleged corruption.

As reported by Al Kamen in The Washington Post today, "the acting deputy director of the section, Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, has been accused of collecting a $64 per diem, including on weekends and the Fourth of July, while spending half of June and most of July and August with her husband and kids at their beach house on Cape Cod."

You can read the referenced complaint here, which is addressed to the Justice Department's inspector general. The most sensational accusation, to be sure, is not that Lorenzo-Giguere managed to get paid while staying at her beach house, but that the Department "files lawsuits not because of the merits of the underlying claims but because the venue of the targeted defendant allows Ms. Lorenzo-Giguere to compel taxpayer funding of her annual summer retreat to Cape Cod."

The author of the complaint (redacted in the version TPMmuckraker obtained) notes that certain motions by Lorenzo-Giguere raised arguments "the United States had never raised in similar circumstances in any other litigation." Both lawsuits referenced in the complaint dealt with alleged discrimination against Spanish-speaking voters; the section has pursued a large number of such cases, while virtually abandoning the section's traditional emphasis on protecting African-American voters.

A Department spokesman told Kamen, "The Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the allegations, and upon conclusion of the investigation the Department will take appropriate action."

Only 38 days after the Nisour Square shootings and a myriad of sub-scandals and related controversy, and someone at the State Department has finally lost his job. ABC News reports that Richard Griffin, the top diplomatic security official at Foggy Bottom, has agreed to resign after Amb. Patrick Kennedy's recommendations on overhauling State's relationship with its security contractors amounted to a tacit rebuke of his tenure.

The AP, reporting on an internal e-mail announcing the resignation, adds:

"He read his letter of resignation at the weekly Diplomatic Security staff meeting," said the e-mail, which was read to The Associated Press by one its recipients. "There was no detailed reason provided and no effective date identified at this time."

When testifying to the House oversight committee earlier this month about contractor operations, Griffin copped an attitude. As Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) pressed him on why the State Department helped Blackwater evacuate a contractor who'd drunkenly killed an Iraqi vice president's bodyguard, Griffin all but told Waxman that he wouldn't answer questions about it:

Here's video from yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing on selective prosecutions, where ex-Gov. Don Siegelman's (D-AL) was the marquee case:

As we reported yesterday, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) made a hard run at Jill Simpson, the Republican lawyer who's testified that Alabama Republicans often chattered about how the Justice Department and local U.S. attorneys would take Siegelman down. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) rose to her defense, and Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney himself and lawyer for Siegelman, testified that the case took on a new life in 2005 after officials in Washington got involved.

You can see video of former attorney general Dick Thornburgh's testimony here.

Update: This post originally mistakenly identified Davis as a Republican.

The trial of Brent Wilkes is on temporary hiatus due to the wildfires, but we've got your Duke Cunningham fix anyway.

Unfortunately, it seems a sure thing now that Cunningham himself won't testify at the trial. As a kind of substitute, here's (mp3) audio of the phone conversation that ended his Congressional career. It's available through the website for The Wrong Stuff, the book on Cunningham by the Copley News team that broke the story.

In early June of 2005, Copley reporter Marcus Stern came across records for Cunningham's now-infamous way-above-market house sale to defense contractor Mitch Wade (Wade himself sold the house months later for a loss of $700,000). And during that phone call, Stern got the other half of the quid pro quo he was looking for: Cunningham's admission that he'd written letters to help Wade's company MZM score contracts (that's at about the five minute mark). Four days later, Stern's story came out; five months later, Cunningham pleaded guilty.

It's a little bit of journalistic history and a lesson (if you needed one) that just because someone keeps his cool, it doesn't mean he's not lying. Take a listen.

The metaphorical statue of L. Paul Bremer III has come crashing down. Today the Iraqi government formally revoked one of the Coalition Provisional Authority's enduring vestiges -- a decree of immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for U.S. security contractors.

The Iraqi government announced on Wednesday that it has decided to formally revoke the immunity from prosecution granted to private security companies operating in the war-ravaged country.

"The cabinet held a meeting yesterday and decided to scrap the article pertaining to security companies operating in Iraq that was issued by the CPA (Coalition Provision Authority) in 2004," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

"It has decided to present a new law regarding this issue which will be taken in the next cabinet meeting."

Expect a massive controversy to follow. What will the State Department do if Iraqi judges issue arrest warrants for American contractors? Will heavily-armed contractors submit to Iraqi warrants, or will they openly defy the law of an allegedly sovereign country? More to come.

Looks like the impasse between the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the State Department over Iraq corruption might be breaking. The Crypt reports that Rice might go before the panel tomorrow:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to appear before the House Oversight and Goverment Reform Committee Thursday to answer questions about corruption within the Iraqi government, the possibility of political reconciliation in that war-ravaged country and the department's controversial security contract with Blackwater USA, according to a release from the committee.

Oversight Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has been pressing Rice and other agency officials for months to testify about corruption and the department's contract with Blackwater. According to the release, committee members will also be asking about allegations of misconduct in the construction of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.

Contacted for confirmation, a State Department spokeswoman would only say that there might be an announcement later today on the subject of Rice's potential testimony.

Update: Waxman's office has sent out a press release announcing Rice will appear tomorrow morning before the committee.

Rudy’s adviser has a special touch with kids. Just months after Monsignor Alan Placa, a priest, “ was accused of sexually molesting two former students and an altar boy and told by the church to stop performing his priestly duties,” Giuliani asked him to join his consulting firm. The priest, who officiated Giuliani’s second wedding (#2 was Donna Hanover), is still employed by Giuliani Partners. Giuliani has stated, "I know the man; I know who he is, so I support him.” (ABC, “The Blotter”)

Another addition to our great list of disappearing information! The White House removed scientific references from Congressional testimony by the Centers for Disease Control that pointed out the potential health risks of climate change. A CDC official speaking on condition of anonymity asserted that the CDC report "was eviscerated." Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has called for the immediate release of the uncut CDC statement. (LA Times)

Monday’s mistrial in a terrorism case against an Islamic charity is reflective of its low conviction rate in terrorism cases since 9/11. Critics say the government has been using bad judgment by bringing weak cases and relying on stale evidence. But a former federal prosecutor said failures are due to the fact that juries “are demanding strict proof” these days in terrorism cases. (New York Times)

Read More →

Seriously this time: Ambassador Patrick Kennedy has unveiled his recommendations on the State Department's relationship with security contractors DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Blackwater. They represent a step back from Defense Secretary Bob Gates' reported suggestion that the military take control of State's security contractors and instead emphasize greater oversight of the existing system.

The Washington Post reports that Kennedy concluded that there's no alternative to contracting security for U.S. diplomats. The military doesn't consider that mission "feasible or desirable," preferring to actually fight the war. That leaves bolstering oversight as the department's option -- something that's been sorely lacking, as Special Inspector General for Iraq Stuart Bowen found. Bowen released a report yesterday finding that only seventeen State Department officials oversee the hundreds of security contractors working on a billion-plus dollar contract to train the Iraqi police -- and, earlier this year, that oversight office consisted of a whopping two people.

As spoofed yesterday, Kennedy's recommendations do include cultural-awareness training. But more substantively -- and significantly for the contracting industry -- Kennedy recommended that State begin a dialogue with the Justice Department and Congress to clarify the legal rules under which contractors operate overseas. That contradicts both Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, who has repeatedly that he has a clear "understanding" of his company's legal responsibilities, and George W. Bush, who has threatened to veto a House measure passed earlier this month that allows alleged contractor misdeeds overseas to be tried in U.S. courts. "We don't see the clarity here," Kennedy told reporters.

Read More →

The trouble with State Department security contractors, it turns out, is that they're just not very sensitive.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday ordered new measures to improve government oversight of private guards who protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, including extensive cultural awareness training for contractors.

The AP got an advance description of the recommendations made by Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, Rice's adviser on contractor oversight. But TPMmuckraker goes a step beyond. We've got an advance look at the cultural-awareness lesson plan for Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp.

Lesson One: Don't drunkenly murder bodyguards of Iraqi dignitaries.

Lesson Two: Should Lesson One fail, don't hire those who drunkenly murder bodyguards of Iraqi dignitaries.

Lesson Three: Don't shoot people as they flee in terror from your orgy of destruction.

Lesson Four: Don't force terrified civilians off the road with your reckless convoys.

Lesson Five: Don't fire your weapons at members of the U.S. military.

Lesson Six: Don't broadcast your orgy of destruction on YouTube while set to music meant to show what a bad ass you are.