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The Pentagon was successful in preventing Col. Morris Davis from testifying before Congress. But he's taking a step that could be even more damaging: agreeing to testify as a defense witness in a Guantanamo Bay tribunal. From the AP:

Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who resigned in October over alleged political interference in the U.S. military tribunals, told The Associated Press he will appear at a hearing for Salim Ahmed Hamdan.

"I expect to be called as a witness ... I'm more than happy to testify," Davis said in a telephone interview from Washington. He called it "an opportunity to tell the truth."

At the April pretrial hearing inside the U.S. military base in southeast Cuba, Hamdan's defense team plans to argue that alleged political interference cited by Davis violates the Military Commissions Act, Hamdan's military lawyer, Navy Lt. Brian Mizer, told the AP.

The Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.) that Morris' testimony could potentially impact all of the tribunals.

Davis also repeats to the AP what he told The Nation: that William Haynes, the Pentagon official currently overseeing the tribunals, had told Davis in 2005 that "We can't have acquittals, we've got to have convictions."

We noted this yesterday. But The Washington Post does a good job today in sizing up the situation and its possible mammoth consequences for McCain's campaign.

There are really two completely separate issues here.

First, McCain opted in to the public finance system for the primaries last year. It meant that his struggling campaign would get $5.8 million in public matching funds in March. Now that he's effectively the Republican nominee, he wants out, because the system entails a spending limit of $54 million through the end of August. He's almost spent that much already, according to the Post.

So the McCain campaign sent the Federal Election Commission a letter (pdf) earlier this month saying that he was opting out. But there's a problem. And FEC Chairman David Mason, a Republican, made it plain in his letter (pdf) yesterday: McCain can't tell the FEC that he's out of the system. He can only ask.

And the FEC, which normally has six commissioners, can't give him an answer until it has a quorum of four commissioners. It currently only has two. That's because the Senate has been deadlocked over four nominees; Democrats insist on a separate confirmation vote for vote-suppression guru Hans von Spakovsky, and Republicans insist on a single vote for all nominees.

The second issue has to do with McCain's tricky loan and whether the FEC will conclude that it locked him into the system. But for now, that's really ancillary to the first issue.

It is a serious issue. As the Post reports, "Knowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison."

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From the AP:

Republican Rep. Rick Renzi has been indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges related to a land deal in Arizona.

A 26-page federal indictment unsealed in Arizona accuses Renzi and two former business partners of conspiring to promote the sale of land that buyers could swap for property owned by the federal government. The sale netted one of Renzi's former partners $4.5 million.

Here's the indictment.

Update: The charges boil down to this, basically. Renzi (who's already said he won't seek re-election) is charged with doing everything he can as a congressman to strong-arm others into buying land from his buddy James Sandlin -- Sandlin then allegedly kicked back sizable chunks of cash back to Renzi in a series of complicated financial transactions (thus the money laundering charge). The main details of these charges were reported by the Arizona papers and The Wall Street Journal last year.

Update: Yikes. In a completely separate matter, the indictment charges Renzi with a conspiracy to "embezzle and misappropriate client premiums [from his insurance company] to fund his congressional campaign."

Update: It's worth recalling that the Renzi case played a small role in the U.S. attorneys' firings scandal. One of the fired U.S. attorneys was Arizona's Paul Charlton. The investigation dates way back to June of 2005, but it did not surface publicly under shortly before the 2006 midterm elections. Renzi's people, obviously, weren't happy, and an aide to Renzi put in a call to Charlton (who in turn reported the contact to the Justice Department leadership).

And the Wall Street Journal later reported that investigators and prosecutors in Arizona had been frustrated with senior Justice Department officials' general reluctance to pursue the investigation. The thrust of the piece was that the investigation had been slow-rolled in the run-up to the election.

Update: Renzi is, at least for the time being, a co-chair of John McCain's Arizona Leadership Team (he's one of 24 co-chairs). One imagines he won't be such a public advocate for McCain this election.

A group of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many who have been held for seven years as enemy combatants, have pleaded with the Supreme Court that any further delay in the appeals about their detention (filed under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005) would be "unconscionable." The Bush administration, however, is seeking to delay or derail the appeals process because it believes that due process will "impose extraordinary compliance burdens" and pose a "serious threat to national security." (New York Times)

The CIA now admits that when the U.S. government assured Great Britain and the American press that the U.S. had not used British territory for refueling planes that were transporting alleged terrorists to secret overseas prisons, it made an "administrative error." Prime Minister Gordon Brown seems to be accepting the "mistakes were made" argument, yet Brown shares "the disappointment that everybody has" about the use of Diego Gracia in the U.S.'s "extraordinary rendition" program. (AP)

Despite the fact that Pakistani President Musharraf was routed in the recent elections, President Bush believes that Musharraf should continue to play a role in the new government and that the new government should not reinstate the judges that the former president dismissed last year. Bush's position has caused friction with his own Department of State and diplomats fear that it could provoke turmoil in Pakistan. (McClatchy )

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It still remains to be seen whether yesterday's New York Times piece will be the last word on John McCain's relationship with Vicki Iseman. For now, the Times quoted anonymous aides saying that they'd suspected there was an affair ongoing; McCain denies that there was.

But remember that the Times piece ran under the memorably lame headline, "For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk." There's a broader point there. Set aside the issue of the nature of his relationship with Iseman, and you have the undeniable conflict of McCain, the chest-beating reformer, being so undeniably close to lobbyists. That, many have pointed out, is the real story. The man who's absurdly proclaimed that "I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to" is surrounded by lobbyists.

And The Washington Post, a day after it ran its own Iseman story on page one, goes with that story on today's front page under the concise headline, "The Anti-Lobbyist, Advised by Lobbyists."

The story involves quite a roll call:

-- "His campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-founded a lobbying firm whose clients have included Verizon and SBC Telecommunications."

-- "His chief political adviser, Charles R. Black Jr., is chairman of one of Washington's lobbying powerhouses, BKSH and Associates, which has represented AT&T, Alcoa, JPMorgan and U.S. Airways."

-- "Senior advisers Steve Schmidt and Mark McKinnon work for firms that have lobbied for Land O' Lakes, UST Public Affairs, Dell and Fannie Mae."

-- "McCain recently hired Mark Buse to be his Senate chief of staff. Buse led the Commerce Committee staff in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was until last fall a lobbyist for ML Strategies, representing eBay, Goldman Sachs Group, Cablevision, Tenneco and Novartis Pharmaceuticals."

-- "McCain's top fundraising official is former congressman Tom Loeffler (R-Tex.), who heads a lobbying law firm called the Loeffler Group. He has counseled the Saudis as well as Southwest Airlines, AT&T, Toyota and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America."

McCain, of course, insists that he's incorruptible. During yesterday's press conference, he proclaimed “I’ve never done any favors for anybody — lobbyist or special interest group — that’s a clear, 24-year record.” Maybe he just keeps all those lobbyists around to test his fortitude.

Jake Tapper over at ABC takes a look at John McCain's remark during this morning's press conference that we noted earlier.

And the McCain campaign tells him that when McCain said "the former chairman of the FCC at the time in 2000 said that was more than an appropriate role for me to play," he meant the then-former chairman, Reed Hundt (a frequent TPMCafe contributor) -- not the FCC chairman in 2000, William Kennard. Kennard, obviously, felt unduly pressured by the letter. Hundt, apparently, thought "nothing was objectionable."

As we noted in another post, the McCain camp has stretched to the limit of credibility in trying to downplay McCain's role in the Paxson letters. But certainly this meaning of the line would have substantially changed the way we approached our earlier post.

Well, this is probably why the Republicans didn't show up today to help hash out a compromise. There's not going to be one. From the AP:

President Bush on Thursday stood by his demand for legal protection for phone companies that help the government eavesdrop on suspected terrorists, saying he sees no prospect of a compromise with congressional Democrats on the subject....

Asked about a potential deal with Democrats, Bush said, "I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection." The administration says it needs the help of the phone companies for its post Sept. 11, 2001, surveillance.

Bush said his strategy for breaking the deadlock on the surveillance bill will be to keep talking about why it should be passed on his terms. "The American people understand we need to be listening to the enemy," he said.

Update: Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), ranking member of the intelligence committee, echoes the sentiment in a statement:

“Last week, the House Democratic leadership had the opportunity to put national security first but they chose instead to leave town for a twelve day vacation. Today’s so-called bicameral staff meeting is nothing more than a partisan attempt by Democratic staff at the 11th hour to dismantle the bipartisan compromise that a majority of the Senate and the House support.

“The time for excuses and more meetings is over. House Democratic leaders have had months to work in a bipartisan fashion yet they have done nothing but stall. If they want to work in good faith they should give their members the opportunity to pass the bipartisan compromise that protects civil liberties and gives our terror fighters the tools they need to keep American families safe.”

So the Republicans have done their negotiating -- and it resulted in the Senate bill, which contains retroactive immunity. The negotiating is over.

If John McCain was too close for comfort with lobbyist Vicki Iseman, what did she have to show for it?

The New York Times story made a run at cataloging the possible favors. And with the exception of the letters I noted in my earlier posts, it's pretty thin gruel.

The Times sums most of it up in a single paragraph (here's the McCain camp's point-by-point rebuttal):

A champion of deregulation, Mr. McCain wrote letters in 1998 and 1999 to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to uphold marketing agreements allowing a television company to control two stations in the same city, a crucial issue for Glencairn Ltd., one of Ms. Iseman’s clients. He introduced a bill to create tax incentives for minority ownership of stations; Ms. Iseman represented several businesses seeking such a program. And he twice tried to advance legislation that would permit a company to control television stations in overlapping markets, an important issue for Paxson.

The question naturally arises whether anything is remarkable about this "champion of deregulation" responding to the desires of telecoms and media companies. Was it special attention or typical indulgence? When the Times took a look at McCain's actions as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee back in 2000, it reached the conclusion that McCain had frequently taken actions benefiting campaign contributors.

Iseman's client Paxson was a case in point. The company and its lobbyists had contributed $20,000 to McCain and flown him around on their corporate jet. And that was the obvious angle to the stories about McCain's letters to the FCC in late 1999: that Mr. Straight Talk Express and campaign finance reform was at the beck and call of special interests.

But Paxson was far from unique. The Times also reported that McCain had weighed in on behalf of Baby Bell telephone companies seeking to enter the long-distance business; two of those companies -- neither of them clients of Iseman -- had contributed a total of $167,000 to McCain.

So while The Washington Post reports that Iseman would frequently tout her access to McCain to other lobbyists, it's not clear at this point what remarkable favors that supposed access won her.

After all the fear-mongering, charges of fear-mongering, counter-fear-mongering, and so on, the surveillance bill discussions went behind closed doors when Congress left for the week.

The chairmen and ranking members of the judiciary and intelligence committees are supposed to be the ones forging that compromise. But a statement just out from the Democratic chairmen of those committees in the House and Senate (including the pro-immunity Senate intelligence committee chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)) indicates that things aren't going so well:

"In what should have been a bipartisan, bicameral meeting, staff members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees met today to work in good faith to reach a compromise on FISA reform. As we have said, we are using this week to work on a compromise that strengthens our national security and protects Americans' privacy. Unfortunately, we understand our Republican counterparts instructed their staffs not to attend this working meeting, therefore not allowing progress to be made in a bipartisan, bicameral way. While we are disappointed that today's meeting could not reflect a bipartisan effort, we will continue to work and hope Republicans will join us to put our nation's security first."

We'll let you know if we get a response on this from the Republicans.

Update: A Democratic aide clarifies that this was to be the first meeting of the staff.

Update: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-MD) statement is more to the point:

“...The decision to not participate, coupled with their vote against an extension of their bill - the Protect America Act - only serves to reinforce the perception that Republicans prefer to have a political issue rather than a strong new FISA bill in place as quickly as possible. Certainly Republicans do not really believe that the role of the House is to simply rubberstamp whatever bills the Senate passes.

Update: See the Republicans response here.

TPMm Reader AC writes in with a little more context to McCain's December, 1999 letter to the FCC.

As I mentioned in my post, the McCain campaign has responded at length to the New York Times story, and the statement strives to beat back any impression that McCain had given any undue consideration to clients from Vicki Iseman's firm, Alcalde and Fay -- in this case, Paxson Communications, which was seeking the FCC's approval of a deal.

The statement goes out of its way to claim that no one from Alcalde and Fay had ever "personally asked" McCain to send the letter. The statement also says that while McCain's staff had met with "representatives" from that firm, the staff had also met with activists who opposed the deal. Both camps wanted the issue resolved, and "both parties asked the staff to contact the FCC regarding the proceeding," according to the statement.

There are a couple things wrong with that. For one, the lawyer who represented opponents of the deal told The Boston Globe back in 2000 that McCain's letter was " improper, unethical, violated FCC rules barring such contacts on pending FCC matters, and appeared designed to assist a major contributor." It certainly doesn't sound like she or her clients were consulted.

And when The Washington Post posted a story the next day, the paper had a clear take as to who had wanted the letter sent:

As for the Paxson letter, McCain's aides confirmed that he had written the missive at the request of Alcalde & Fay, the Washington lobbying firm retained by Paxson.