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Attorneys for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) fought back Monday after prosecutors filed a discovery motion that hinted at possible quid pro quos between Stevens and VECO executives.

"The government wishes to smuggle in suggestions of bribery and corruption that it has not charged and cannot prove," Stevens' attorneys wrote in their motion. Stevens is charged with making false statements for failing to mention over $250,000 in gifts on his Senate disclosure forms -- not with taking bribes.

From the AP:

Prosecutors also want to present somewhat unrelated evidence that they believe shows the Alaska senator got a sweetheart condominium deal, his daughter got a discounted car and his son got a job from VECO.

In court documents filed Monday, Stevens suggested the Justice Department was making accusations haphazardly, hoping to damage his reputation at trial. Those accusations have nothing to do with the crime he's charged with, attorneys said.

"They are an obvious attempt to smear the Senator's character," defense attorneys wrote, adding later that the Justice Department was "continuing its assault on the senator's family."

A United Nations investigation has found that U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan killed 90 civilians. The U.N. report contradicts the official U.S. account of the attacks, which found that twenty five militants were killed and only five civilians. Afghan officials and human rights groups had previously disputed the U.S. tally. (AP)

A holistic health counselor pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit prostitution on Monday. Tanya Hollander, is the fourth person to be convicted in the prostitution ring that brought down former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer. Hollander claims that she was tricked into believing that she was engaged in a legitimate business. (New York Times)

Poland is investigating claims that the country may have hosted a CIA secret prison used to detain terrorism suspects and move them to other locations. A European Parliament committee found that 14 E.U. countries have hosted these CIA "black sites," and according to a CIA source quoted in the New York Times, one of the most important secret prisons was in Poland. (EU Observer)

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We knew Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, was into guns. After all, in 1997 he was arrested for having a shotgun and several rounds of ammunition in his car on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. And in addition to his extensive lobbying work on behalf of former Soviet bloc countries, he's also a longtime lobbyist for gun-rights groups. But it now looks like, for Scheunemann, doing the bidding of the gun lobby takes precedence over efforts to combat terrorism.

Newsweek reports that, according to registration documents filed by Scheuenemann's lobbying firm, Orion Strategies, Scheunemann lobbied on behalf of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) against a bill that aims to close a gun-control loophole that inhibits the government from stopping people on terrorist watch-lists from buying guns. According to Newsweek, "the bill was inspired by an official audit covering a five-month period in 2004 which found that, because of the loophole, the Feds had to greenlight 35 out of 44 cases where a gun buyer was on a terrorist watch list."

The bill, which is backed by the Bush Justice Department, was introduced last year by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), but has been held up in committee. It has since faced stiff opposition from the gun lobby, an aide to Lautenberg told TPMmuckraker, and has yet to come to a vote.

According to lobby disclosure reports, Scheunemann's firm was paid $120,000 by NSSF in 2007, and another $60,000 so far this year. Scheunemann himself took a leave of absence from the firm earlier this year to work on McCain's campaign.

Sen. McCain has not taken a position on the bill. His campaign would not tell Newsweek whether he supports it, or whether Scheunemann had ever lobbied McCain on gun-control issues.

We learned over the weekend, via Newsweek, that there's a Dick Cheney connection to the Ted Stevens case. But are federal prosecutors looking the other way?

In a phone conversation recorded by the FBI and included in a court filing by prosecutors, Sen. Stevens (R-AK) told oil-services executive Bill Allen that he would try to get some "bigwigs" from Washington to weigh in on a bill pending in the Alaska legislature, that would have given the go-ahead to a pipeline Allen wanted. Two days later, Newsweek notes, Cheney sent a letter to Alaska lawmakers urging them to pass the bill. Stevens told Newsweek that Cheney's letter had been sent at his urging.

But we were curious about one thing. Why didn't prosecutors mention Cheney's letter in their filing? Although technically Stevens is being prosecuted for giving false statements on disclosure forms, demonstrating that Stevens took action on Allen's behalf is still at the heart of the case.

And in citing another example of Stevens using his influence on Allen's behalf, prosecutors did include chapter and verse on the results Stevens got. Consider this passage from the filing:

Stevens added: "I'm going to try and see if I can get . . . the Secretary of Energy and also the head of, of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [("FERC")] up there to explain why it's necessary that they act before we act."

On July 7, 2006, Senator Stevens traveled to Alaska and addressed the Alaska Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urging it to cease infighting and pass the pipeline legislation before liquified natural gas monopolizes the marketplace. Three days later, on July 10, 2006, the FERC issued a report similar to the message delivered by Stevens.
But when it comes to Stevens calling on Cheney, the prosecutors -- who are from the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section, and the U.S. attorney's office in Alaska -- go strangely silent.

One former government prosecutor we spoke to said he could see little reason why the link to Cheney wouldn't have been mentioned. The most charitable explanation, the ex-prosecutor said, is that the government thought that bringing in Cheney would unnecessarily bog the case down. The least charitable is that they were "trying to protect Cheney."

Another former federal corruption prosecutor agreed, writing in an email to TPMMuckraker:
"If the government has the evidence that Stevens asked Cheney's office to intervene/write a letter, I can see no strategic or tactical reason not to have cited that evidence in their motion. They specifically argue for the admission at trial of evidence regarding Stevens' attempts to influence the executive branch on behalf of VECO. Citing the Cheney evidence could only bolster that argument and help educate the judge on the extraordinary lengths Stevens was going to help out VECO, which just happened to be providing him with undisclosed personal benefits at the time.
The source cautioned, however, that prosecutors may not have had evidence that Stevens was behind Cheney's letter, before Stevens confirmed it to Newsweek.

A DOJ spokesperson did not immediately return a call for comment.

In news that should surprise no one familiar with the Justice Department politicization under Monica Goodling and Jan Williams, a study conducted by the New York Times found that immigration judges installed during this period of illegal hiring were more likely than their peers to reject immigrants' bids for asylum.

According to the Times, of the 31 judges appointed during Goodling's tenure, only 16 had extensive enough records to support statistical analysis. Of those, nine rejected immigrant asylum seekers at a rate higher than other local judges, three were more likely to grant asylum, and four were in keeping with averages.

Collectively, the group was 6.6 percentage points greater in denying asylum than their combined local averages.

From the Times:

In Houston, for example, Judge Chris Brisack denied asylum in 90.7 percent of his cases, while other judges in that city averaged a 79.1 percent denial rate. Judge Brisack, a former Republican county chairman who also works in the oil business, did not return a call.

Garry Malphrus, the judge later elevated to the Board of Immigration Appeals, denied asylum 66.9 percent of the time, compared with an average denial rate of 58.3 percent among other judges at his court in Arlington, Va. Judge Malphrus, a former associate director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, did not return a call.

The highest gap belonged to Judge Earle Wilson. He worked first in Miami, where he denied 88.1 percent of asylum requests -- 9.8 percentage points higher than the local average. He then moved to Orlando, where his denial rate was 80.3 percent -- 29.2 percentage points higher than peers.

It wasn't but two weeks ago that Attorney Gen. Mukasey made the bold statement in a speech to the American Bar Association, that the Justice Department would not systematically remove all those hired during the DOJ's period of politicization.

"Two wrongs do not make a right," said Mukasey of the idea of dismissing those hired through the flawed process. "[T]he people hired in an improper way did not, themselves, do anything wrong. It therefore would be unfair - and quite possibly illegal given their civil service protections - to fire them or to reassign them without individual cause."

But even more interesting in the light of the Times report, is Mukasey's specific defense of IJs hired under Goodling's watch and his highlighting of one of the judges he had recently promoted:

One of the Immigration Judges identified by the joint report as having been hired through the flawed process was recently tapped - by the revised hiring process that gives no consideration to politics - to be a member of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Putting aside fairness to him, it would have ill served the public interest not to appoint him merely because those who first hired him had violated the civil service laws. Firing him and all those like him would be wrong, and it would be harmful to the Department and to the country.

In the same speech, Mukasey promised a "swift and unambiguous response" if anyone is "found to be handling or deciding cases based on politics, and not based on what the law and facts require."

The Times study certainly suggests that judges hired under this illegal process were likely to rule more harshly than their peers. It will be interesting to see if Mukasey considers these findings proof of "handling or deciding cases based on politics."

Some interesting news broke today that has been buried amid the orgy of convention coverage: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said -- apparently in a speech to tribal leaders in the Green Zone -- that the U.S. and Iraq had agreed that all "foreign soldiers" would leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Maliki was promptly shot down by the White House, which maintained there is no pullout date.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have been working toward an agreement for months, with the U.S. seeking a legal basis for stationing troops in Iraq when U.N. authority expires at the end of this year.

Here's how Campbell Robertson of the International Herald Tribune reported Maliki's comments today:

Iraq and the United States have agreed on a date for the departure of all American troops as part of a broader security pact they are negotiating, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said Monday.

"There is actually an agreement concluded between the two parties over the definite date, which is 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said.

Maliki made the comments in a speech to tribal leaders in the Green Zone in Baghdad, but it was far from clear that the issue had been settled.

In its own version of the story, Agence France-Presse runs a slightly different Maliki quote:

"There is an agreement between the two sides that there will be no foreign soldiers in Iraq after 2011," Maliki said in a statement issued by his office.

AFP also includes a stern denial from Bush Administration spokesman Tony Fratto, who maintains that "we have not yet finalized an agreement." Fratto even seems to back away from Condoleezza Rice's recent endorsement -- however mushy -- of a "timetable" for withdrawal. Fratto's comment, after the jump:

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In the wake of the CIA's offical denial of Ron Suskind's explosive claim that the White Houe ordered the agency to fabricate a letter suggesting a Saddam- al Qaeda link, the blogger Laura Rozen makes a couple interesting points.

First, the CIA's statement seems to come close to contradicting Richer's own denial. According to the CIA statement, "our government considers Habbush [Saddam's former intelligence chief] to be a wanted man," implying that they don't know where he is. But Richer makes clear that the Bush administration was actively discussing how to use Habbush, writing of his conversations with Suskind: "I do speak to discussions regarding using Habbush, which were frequent during that period, but what I was talking about was the possibility of using him to tamp down the insurgency - not to influence western public opinion."

Richer also writes: "I was asked to respond to documents regarding the potential use of Habbush upon his defection ... I was also involved in many queries from elements of the Administration trying to document an Al-Qa'ida and Saddam government link." As Rozen notes, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation doesn't appear to have seen these documents. Did the CIA fail to turn them over?

Looks like this is far from over...

A joint U.S.-Afghan attack killed 78 people on Friday morning, according to Afghan officials and human rights monitors. The tally contradicts the official U.S. coalition account, which reported that 30 militants and only five civilians were killed in the battle. The U.S. has said it will further investigate the matter. (AP)

Two U.S. Marines were found in contempt of court after they refused to testify against their former squad leader, accused of killing four Iraqi detainees. The Marines had previously told investigators that they had been ordered to kill the Iraqis by squad leader Sgt. Jose Nazario to avoid taking the time to process the prisoners according to the laws of war. Nazario is now being charged with manslaughter. (Los Angeles Times)

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick rejected a plea offer from state prosecutors on Friday, in which the prosecutors would have dropped two felony assault charges against the Mayor in return for his resignation from office. The Mayor is accused of shoving two police officers as they attempted to serve a subpoena to one of his friends. A spokesman for the Mayor said that he considered the plea deal politically motivated and insincere. (New York Times)

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The corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is already yielding some interesting fruit.

Newsweek reported Saturday that, in a 2006 conversation secretly recorded by the FBI, Stevens and Bill Allen -- the oil-services executive who allegedly provided Stevens with $250,000 in financial gifts -- discussed how to get a pipeline bill through the Alaska legislature.

Stevens told Allen: "I'm gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here and say, 'Look ... you gotta get this done'." Two days later, Vice President Cheney took the unusual step of contacting Alaska lawmakers directly, urging them in a letter to "promptly enact" the legislation. Stevens confirmed to Newsweek that he had indeed asked Cheney to write the letter.

Newsweek notes that the former executive director of Cheney's energy task force had gone on to work as a lobbyist for BP, which would have built the pipeline. The magazine doesn't name the task force director, but it appears to be Andrew Lundquist. And it's worth pointing out that Lundquist -- who had worked as the Bush-Cheney campaign's energy expert in 2000, earning the nickname "Lightbulb" from the president -- has also worked as a top aide to Stevens.

Newsweek also reports that DOJ prosecutors did not include Cheney's letter in their motion and did not respond when the magazine asked why.

On Friday the CIA issued an official denial of Ron Suskind's claim that the White House ordered the CIA to fabricate a letter suggesting a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The statement declared flatly that "it did not happen," and called Suskind's charges "false" and "offensive."

One of Suskind's key on-the-record sources for the claim, former CIA official Rob Richer, had challenged Suskind's account when it was first reported earlier this month. And over the weekend, Richer told The Washington Post that he agrees with the CIA statement, saying that the forgery "never happened."

In response, Suskind suggested to the Post that he thinks the Bush administration has been leaning on his sources. "The White House is focusing on this because there may be legal complications for the administration," he said.

To be continued, no doubt. . .