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12,881 earmarks. $18.3 billion. Taxpayers for Common Sense has cataloged them all, and you can see them right here in their awe-inspiring earmark database of this year's spending bills. Jump in and tell us what you find.

A number of journalists dove in to the database and here's what they came up with (TPMm research hounds Andrew Berger, Peter Sheehy, and Diane Vacca compiled this round-up):

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has received campaign contributions from each (sub. req.) of the 26 groups for whom he requested earmarks in the recent defense spending bill. An analysis by Roll Call shows that since the beginning of 2005, PACs and employees of those groups have given Murtha $413,250, of which $100,750 came "in the two weeks leading up to March 16, the original deadline for lawmakers to file their earmark requests." (Roll Call)

In terms of securing earmarks, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) ranks among the top ten in the Senate ($340 million) while Barack Obama (D-IL) ranks in the bottom 25% of the Senate ($91 million). John McCain (R-AZ) has rejected earmarks entirely. Since becoming the majority party, Democrats are responsible for 57% of the $18.3 billion spent on earmarks. (Washington Post)

Freshmen Democrats in the House are "among the biggest recipients of earmarked funds." Democratic leaders have distributed the funds with an eye towards aiding representatives in contested districts in the upcoming election. Further analysis of the study by Congressional Quarterly shows that Democratic minority lawmakers trailed white Democratic lawmakers' earmarks by a two to one ratio in the House. (The Hill, CQ Politics)

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U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts has ordered the Bush administration to explain whether any evidence contained on videos of the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - which the CIA destroyed in 2005 - was relevant to a case involving a Guantanamo detainee. Roberts argues that "the government has done nothing to prove that it didn't destroy evidence in the case." (AP)

The question of immunity for military contractors in Iraq is expected to make up a significant part of the upcoming negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq over a new "status-of-forces" agreement. In response to incidents like last September's shootings in which Blackwater security guards shot 17 Iraqis, members of the Iraqi government have been highly critical of immunity, while discussions at both the Pentagon and the State Department over whether to "ask the Iraqis to maintain status quo" are currently ongoing. (Time)

The Bush administration has asked the Supreme Court to review the recent appeals court ruling in Gates v. Bismullah requiring the administration to provide "evidence supporting the classification of more than 180 Guantanamo detainees as enemy combatants." The administration argues that the requirement is a "serious threat to national security." (New York Times)

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What happened? The administration did everything right. The invocation of "countless American lives" hanging in the balance, the specter of terrorists delightedly chatting away undetected, the urgency emphasized by a threat to delay a long-scheduled presidential trip to Africa in order to secure the nation against attack.

That's right, the Protect America Act, the surveillance bill the administration pushed through Congress last August in a brilliantly executed squeeze play, will expire at midnight. The House should have already folded by now and simply passed the Senate's surveillance bill, complete with retroactive immunity for the telecoms. But the Dems haven't; they're sticking to the bill they passed months ago. What gives?

It might have something to do with the fact that the lapsing of the Protect America Act (PAA) won't substantially affect things at all. The old FISA law will kick back into effect. And authorizations granted under the PAA in the last six months to wiretap entire terrorist groups will stick for an entire year. In the words of House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), "Things will be fine."

In a conference call with journalists yesterday, Kenneth L. Wainstein, the head of the Justice Department's national security division, did his best to back up the president's warnings, but, according to The Washington Post, all he could come up with was that expiration of the law would require "more paperwork and time." The humanity!

But the Democrats seem callously immune to this new burden. The fear just didn't stick this time around (certainly by no fault of the White House). The House broke for a week's recess yesterday -- and not only did the Dems refuse to pass the Senate's version, but they also had the gall to pass contempt resolutions against White House officials on the same day.

It was, The New York Times reports, "the greatest challenge to Mr. Bush on a major national security issue since the Democrats took control of Congress last year."

So now it's down to the nitty gritty. House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) has announced that he'll be working through the recess to reach a compromise. Presumably the other key players (Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), along with the ranking members on the intelligence and judiciary committees) will be sticking around too. We'll see what they come up with.

This morning, Bush stuck to the plan and tried to bring the squeeze on the House:

This Saturday at midnight, legislation authorizing intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor terrorist communications will expire. If Congress does not act by that time, our ability to find out who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning will be compromised.


So dire was the threat that Bush said that he was prepared to delay his scheduled trip to Africa.

Reid responded today by letter, saying that the fault for letting the Protect America Act lapse lay with Bush and the Republicans, and that he regretted Bush's "reckless attempt to manufacture a crisis." The full letter is below.

And so it goes.

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As we noted earlier, there was something of an uproar in the House this morning when a Republican called for a vote during the memorial service for Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA). The vote was part of a general Republican effort to delay the scheduled vote on contempt resolutions against White House officials.

As the Politico reported, there has already been plenty of rancor over the move. The Dems, via a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called the move "unjustifiable." But GOPers said it was justifiable, and explained that the Dems were really at fault because they broke their commitment to keep the House in recess during the memorial service:

"The reason for the chaos is the majority," [Jo Maney, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Rules Committee] said. "We made clear we would use every procedural rule" to delay the contempt votes.

"There was an agreement that there would be no votes during the service, but they [Democrats] rang the bells" to bring the House back into session, Maney said.


But a Dem leadership aide responded that that explanation doesn't hold water:

“This is the height of disrespect and completely shameful. None of their procedural options were denied by starting when we did; they just chose to call for a vote at the most inappropriate time. The idea that Republicans had no choice is preposterous, all they had to do was allow debate to continue for another 20 minutes and the service could have concluded in peace.”


We've bounced it back over to the Republican to side to see if they have a rejoinder. Here's video of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) explaining why he called the vote.

Update: Here's CQ's version of what happened.

Update: To cap it all off, see House Minority Whip Roy Blunt's (R-MO) floor comments on this below:

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Well, after all that -- after seven months, it's done. The House passed the contempt resolution against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers, 223-32. Most Republicans, having staged their walk out, did not vote.

So now the ball's in Attorney General Michael Mukasey's court. He's expected to decline to enforce the citation of contempt, since both Bolten and Miers declined to testify as a result of an assertion of executive privilege.

The resolution included both a criminal contempt citation and the authorization for the House Judiciary Committee to sue the White House if Mukasey refuses to enforce the citation. You can read those here. Update: Here's the final tally.

Surprise!

When the Dems finally made a move to get a vote on the contempt resolutions against White House officials for ignoring subpoenas in the U.S. attorney investigations, the Republicans had a walkout all planned out. As Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) gave a speech haranguing the Dems for "political grandstanding" at a time of dire threats to national security (because work on the surveillance bill has still not been completed). They then filed out onto the steps, where a podium was waiting to complete the photo op.

No political grandstanding, indeed.



More in a sec.

Update: Here's video:

The House GOP has been doing their best to kick this can down the road, even igniting something of a fracas. From The Politico:

During what was supposed to be a somber memorial service in Statuary Hall for Rep. Tom Lantos, who died Monday, the House chamber became mired in chaos over procedural votes.

Democrats angrily denounced the GOP as insensitive for calling a "motion to adjourn" — essentially a dilatory tactic — while dignitaries were still giving tributes to Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. But Republican aides shot back quickly, saying it was Democrats who broke an agreement to keep the House in recess during the memorial service....


More at Huffington Post.

We'll have results from the vote when the House finally gets to it.

The CIA's use of waterboarding was legal and not torture, a Justice Deparment official argued this morning, because it was a "procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards" that made it substantially different from historical uses of the technique by the Japanese and the Spanish Inquisition.

Steven Bradbury, the Justice Department official who heads up the Office of Legal Counsel, is testifying before a House Judiciary subcommittee this morning. And he made an unexpected argument when Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) asked him whether waterboarding violated the law against torture.

It did not, he said. And he argued that what the CIA did bears "no resemblance" to what torturers in time past have done. "There's been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding," he said. But the "only thing in common is the use of water," he said. Here's video:



The Spanish and Japanese use of "water torture," he said, "involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water." Asked by a Republican whether Bradbury was aware of any "modern use" of waterboarding that involved the "lungs filling with water," Bradbury said no.

The Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was "beyond the capacity of the victim's stomach." Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to "blood coming of the victim's mouth." The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of "agony or death."

But the CIA wasn't doing that, he argued. "Strict time limits" were involved -- presumably governing the length of time that interrogators could induce the sensation of drowning. There were "safeguards" and "restrictions" that made it a much more controlled procedure. Because of that, he said, the technique did not amount to torture.

But Bradbury said that subsequent laws and Supreme Court decisions passed in 2005 and 2006 had changed his office's analysis, and in 2006 the CIA removed waterboarding from its authorized battery of interrogation techniques.

Update: Once again, here's former Navy instructor describing the technique of waterboarding, and here's a video demonstration.

Late last year, Newsweek added a significant wrinkle to the CIA's destroyed torture tapes scandal. Then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte had apparently "strongly advised against" destroying the tapes in a memo, "the only known documentation that a senior intel official warned that the tapes should not be destroyed." That potentially meant trouble for Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA official who ordered the tapes destroyed.

But, during an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer yesterday, Negroponte said that he'd totally forgotten about that whole destroyed tapes thing before the scandal blew up in December of last year. He doesn't dispute having written the reported memo, but seems to be baffled that the tapes have become such an issue:

Until this issue was written about I had frankly forgotten that this issue might have existed in any way, shape or form. And apparently what these emails suggest is that somebody had suggested to me that these tapes first of all existed and secondly that they be destroyed, and apparently the emails suggest that I objected to that, that I said I didn’t think that would be a good idea. Now some people will say “how can you possibly not vividly remember something like this?” And the fact of the matter is that one handles and deals with so many different issues in any given day or time, I just didn’t happen to recall this situation.


Apparently Negroponte was immune from the anxiety at the CIA that the agency "could be publicly shamed and that those involved in waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques would be hauled before a grand jury or a congressional inquiry."

You can listen to the interview here and a transcript is below:

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