TPM News

Whoops. Strike that: the sky is not falling. But it'll probably fall soon. So Dems should still give in, pronto. From The Washington Post:

The Bush administration said yesterday that the government "lost intelligence information" because House Democrats allowed a surveillance law to expire last week, causing some telecommunications companies to refuse to cooperate with terrorism-related wiretapping orders.

But hours later, administration officials told lawmakers that the final holdout among the companies had relented and agreed to fully participate in the surveillance program, according to an official familiar with the issue.


Laura Rozen has the bizarre press release the DNI and AG sent out yesterday.

The administration's strategy became clear yesterday: there will be no compromise. The Democrats will back down and pass the Senate's version of the surveillance bill (with retroactive immunity for the telecoms), or they will be consistently attacked for exposing the country to risk.

The strategy continued today. For the second day in a row, Republicans boycotted talks to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the surveillance bill.

And Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey got in the act, sending a letter to House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) that claimed that the lapse of the Protect America Act this past weekend has already had a significant impact on intelligence collection. You can read that whole letter here. They write:

"We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress' failure to act. Because of this uncertainty, some partners have reduced cooperation. In particular, they have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act."


Democrats and experts have said that wiretapping of certain terrorist groups authorized under the Protect America Act will be good for a year. New wiretaps would be authorized under the old FISA law. But the DNI and AG are saying that the telecoms or other private sector partners in wiretapping are balking -- at least in part because it's now unclear whether they will be granted immunity for cooperating with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. They write that "most partners" are still cooperating, but they've expressed "deep misgivings."

Later on in the letter, they write that the "significant difficulties" the administration had working with the private sector due to the failure to get them immunity "have only grown since expiration of the Act without passage of the bipartisan Senate bill.... Exposing the private sector to the continued risk of billion-dollar class action suits for assisting in efforts to defend the country understandably makes the private sector much more reluctant to cooperate."

In a statement responding to the letter and the Republicans' continued boycott of the bill talks, the chairmen of the judiciary and intelligence committees charged that this was further evidence of Republican efforts to politicize the debate:

"They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the President and congressional Republicans to block an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences."


House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) echoed a similar line:

“If this is true, then it was grossly irresponsible for the President to threaten to veto and Congressional Republicans to vote against a PAA extension and any intelligence gap would be one of their own creation. Again, if Republicans truly believe gaps are created by a PAA expiration, they should support a temporary extension and join us in quickly crafting a strong, bipartisan FISA modernization bill that represents the best of the House and Senate passed bills.”

Eric already posted this over at EC, but it's worth repeating here. Here's a new web ad from the House Republicans about the current surveillance bill showdown.



I don't really have anything to add besides, "Wow." Do not watch that in the dark.

Remember that yesterday, Republicans made it clear that there will be no negotiating. So either Dems give in and award the telecoms immunity for cooperating with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, or the Republicans will strive for even better produced efforts at fear-mongering.

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."

Read More →

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 )

Read More →

TPMLivewire