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From Reuters:

But at a campaign stop in Indiana, McCain replied with a dismissive "no" when asked if he was concerned by the FEC's letter.

"It's not a decision. It's an opinion, according to our people," he said.

See my rundown of the issue here. Essentially what McCain is saying is that since the FEC is effectively shut down, a letter from its chairman carries no weight.

It's a take that drew a sharp analogy from Republican election lawyer Jan Baran, who was quoted by The Washington Post as saying that McCain's position ""is like saying you're going to break into houses because the sheriff is out of town."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) had more forceful words than John McCain's for Rick Renzi:

"The charges contained in this indictment are completely unacceptable for a member of Congress, and I strongly urge Rep. Renzi to seriously consider whether he can continue to effectively represent his constituents under these circumstances."

As we mentioned earlier, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) is one of two dozen co-chairs of John McCain's campaign in Arizona. When reporters asked him today what he thought about Renzi's indictment, he seems to have gotten a little tongue-tied. From the AP:

McCain seemed surprised when asked in Indianapolis for his reaction to the indictment, choosing his words carefully, shaking his head and speaking slowly.

"I'm sorry. I feel for the family; as you know, he has 12 children," McCain told reporters on the presidential campaign trail. "But I don't know enough of the details to make a judgment. These kinds of things are always very unfortunate. ... I rely on our Department of Justice and system of justice to make the right outcome."

While the timing of the indictment might have been a surprise, it should not have been unexpected. The federal investigation of Renzi was first reported in the fall of 2006. The FBI raided his wife's office in April of 2007.

Back then, as Renzi was pressured to resign from all three of his committee assignments. He did. He was also pressured to resign. McCain refused to join in those calls -- and also expressed a similar ignorance about the case, the details of which had been widely reported:

When asked Wednesday if the embattled Renzi would continue to play a part in his campaign, McCain said: "Look, Rick obviously has got great difficulties now. I know nothing about his case. He's in my prayers. He's in my prayers. And that's all I'm going to say. All this stuff will come out."

Well, now it's finally come out. And it's still unclear as of right now whether Renzi will continue to play a part in the campaign.

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.