TPM News

It's often tempting to dive into the GOP's noisy crusade against earmarks, if only to point out the unabashed hypocrisy of lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- who watched many in his party decry the earmarks in this year's $410 billion spending bill while securing a nice bit of cash for his own home-state projects.

And on the topic of shooting fish in a barrel, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) was pretty exercised about earmarks today on Fox News:

Now is not the time to be earmarking a lot of this money. People don't mind paying taxes and they understand the government needs to be run, but they hate to see their money wasted. So that's a second reason for opposing [the bill.


Well, I suspect there will be some that vote for it. Some like these earmarks, for one thing.

And Kyl would be one of those who likes earmarks. He secured $5 million in funding for solo earmarks in the bill, along with $25.8 million for joint earmarks with other lawmakers, according to a database assembled by the non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Or as Kyl told the Washington Examiner this week, "Anything I have in the bill, I have a reason for."

Yet another indictment in the Jack Abramoff case...

The Justice Department has announced that Fraser Verrusio, the other Hill staffer who went on that 2003 Team-Abramoff-funded trip to the World Series -- including a trip to a strip club and a chauffeur-driven limousine -- has been charged with accepting an illegal gift, and failing to report it on his financial disclosure form.

Last November, Trevor Blackann, an aide to Sen. Kit Bond, pleaded guilty to failing to report that same trip.

Verusio was at the time a policy director on the House Transportation committee. According to the indictment, he accepted the trip in exchange for inserting into the Federal Highway bill amendments favorable to an equipment rental company, which had hired Abramoff's firm to lobby for it.

Todd Boulanger and James Hirni, two members of Abramoff's team, have already pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme. The Transportation committee was at the time chaired by Alaska GOPer Don Young. So today's news may bring federal prosecutors closer to Young himself, whose ties to Abramoff and his firm have been amply documented.

We're guessing it won't be long before prosecutors announce a plea deal with Verrusio, in which he agrees to cooperate fully. Hope those strippers were worth it.

The Minnesota Supreme Court just handed down their opinion on Al Franken's lawsuit to force the state to issue him a certificate of election -- and it's a unanimous No:

It is our legislature that is charged by both the federal and state constitutions with the authority and responsibility to fashion the processes for the election of United States Senators from Minnesota. The legislature has done so and has clearly chosen not to authorize issuance of a certificate of election until an election contest is completed. Franken has failed to establish that either the United States Constitution or federal statutes mandate the issuance of a certificate of election immediately. In the absence of such a mandate, overturning a legislative choice in order to maintain comity with a federal scheme is not within our judicial powers.

The remaining question, then, is when does somebody get a certificate? When does a "court of proper jurisdiction," as the law terms it, decide the case? The court cites prior case law declaring "the term 'proper court' in the same section applies to the state court which is given jurisdiction." This appears to suggest that a certificate could be issued after this goes through state court -- and not an onerous federal appeals process as the state's solicitor general said during oral arguments in this case.

However, the possibility would still exist of federal appeals placing an injunction against issuing a certificate -- so who knows.

This line has to be the cruelest cut for Franken. The opinion also says that Franken is not being hurt by the lack of a certificate -- the Senate can seat him if it wants:

In other words, if the Senate believes delay in seating the second Senator from Minnesota adversely affects the Senate, it has the authority to remedy the situation and needs no certificate of election from the Governor to do so. We cannot conclude, therefore, that the Minnesota Legislature's choice to defer issuance of a certificate of election until the full state election process has run its course unconstitutionally usurps the Senate's authority.

Of course, Senate Republicans are saying they'll block any attempt to suspend the rules and seat Franken without a certificate, even if theoretically the Senate has the power to do so. Remember all that fuss the Democratic leadership made over Roland Burris, demanding that everything be checked out on his credentials? Oy.

Team Coleman has just filed their formal opposition to the Franken campaign's motion to dismiss all of the various counts in the Coleman lawsuit, demonstrating a fundamental disagreement going on here: Team Franken insists that Coleman is bound to a much higher standard of proof than the Coleman lawyers say.

Check out some highlights, after the jump.

Read More →

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is responding to Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), without naming him directly, over his recent prediction that she would be dead from pancreatic cancer within nine months.

In an interview with USA Today, Ginsburg explained why she made sure to attend President Obama's speech to Congress last week. "First, I wanted people to see that the Supreme Court isn't all male," the lone female justice said of the evening event Feb. 24. "I also wanted them to see I was alive and well, contrary to that senator who said I'd be dead within nine months."

Bunning made his remarks while speaking to a local GOP event back home in Kentucky, in explaining the importance of his commitment to appointing conservative judges, and how this would be an issue soon.

Josh observed earlier that the International Swaps & Derivatives Association was one of the major lobby groups helping to ensure that derivatives contracts got special repayment privileges from creditors under the 2005 bankruptcy bill. Which got me wondering ... the ISDA must be shaking in its loafers over the possibility of stronger regulation passing Congress this year. Which D.C. lobbyists are in their corner?

Here's what I found: a healthy $1.9 million in lobbying spending for 2008, more than twice as much as embattled bank UBS and comparable to the lobby bills of Credit Suisse, one bank heavily tied to derivatives trading and other complex financial instruments.

The lobbyist lineup for ISDA looks like a staff alumni list for top GOPers (and a few Dems):

Read More →

So what's the significance of the court ruling upholding most of the bribery and corruption charges on which former Alabama governor Don Siegelman was convicted?

Siegelman's appeal wasn't primarily focused on the allegations that his prosecution was politically motivated. (Bill Canary, the husband of Leura Canary, the US Attorney on the case, was a state GOP operative and close associate of Karl Rove, who had run the campaign of Siegelman's gubernatorial opponent.)

Still, today's ruling did touch tangentially on that set of issues. One of Siegelman's arguments on appeal was that there had been inappropriate contacts between jurors and prosecutors during the trial. That claim was of a piece with several allegations of prosecutorial misconduct detailed in an internal DOJ report -- including evidence that Leura Canary kept advising junior prosecutors on the case, even after recusing herself.

But the court appears to have rejected that claim, upholding a district court's opinion that no significant misconduct occurred.

As for Rove's alleged ties to the prosecution -- a witness has given sworn testimony that Rove was involved -- we'll hear his side of the story in the coming weeks, when he sits down with the House Judiciary committee to talk about both Siegelman and the US Attorney firings.

The court that's hearing Don Siegelman's appeal of his conviction on bribery charges has reversed two of the counts of which the former Alabama governor was found guilty -- but upheld several others.

In an order issued today, a US appeals court reversed two counts related to Richard Scrushy's activities while on the state board to which Siegelman appointed him.

However, it upheld the several charges related to Siegelman's appointment of Scrushy to the board in the first place, which was found to have come in exchange for campaign contributions -- the heart of the case against Siegelman.

The court also ordered a new sentencing hearing, in light of the reversal of the two counts. It's unclear as yet how those reversals will affect Siegelman's sentencing.

We've put in calls to Siegelman and his lawyers, and will be back with more soon.

All signs are pointing to an accommodation of the standoff over Cuba policy that jeopardized a few key votes on the $410 billion 2009 spending bill (and trapped a couple of science nominations in limbo).

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is reported to be working with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to assuage his concerns that elements of the spending bill would excessively relax the trade embargo against Cuba. But interestingly enough, another senator with identical concerns over the Cuba language, Bill Nelson (D-FL), was prepared to vote for the spending bill last night*, his spokesman told me.

The key for Nelson was not removing the Cuba provisions at issue, but rather "making sure they don't have unintended consequences," Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said.

The apparent disconnect between Nelson's and Menendez's positions notwithstanding, here's the skinny on what specifically alarmed the senators.

Read More →

So when exactly will Karl Rove have his big sit-down with the House Judiciary committee to reveal what he knows about the White House's involvement in the US Attorney firings?

According to Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, not for "several weeks." That's how long it will likely take, Luskin told TPMmuckraker, for both Rove and the committee to review the relevant documents and schedule the testimony. Luskin declined to give a more specific time frame.

The agreement securing Rove's testimony, announced Wednesday between Congress and the Bush administration, acknowledged this need for deliberation, declaring: "The interviews will be conducted as soon as possible consistent with needed preparation time and the availability of the witnesses and their counsel."

But Luskin did defend Rove's comments to, published yesterday, in which he warned of a "show trial" and said that Democrats "would love to have me barbecued."

Arguing that Rove had legitimate concerns about the fairness of the process, Luskin referred to a comment made about Rove by Judicary chair John Conyers -- "someone's got to kick his ass." Luskin also said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had told Rolling Stone that Rove might have to go to jail. (In fact, Pelosi said she foresaw Rove being prosecuted.)

"If you were the subject of that, you'd worry about the process too," said Luskin.

Luskin also confirmed to TPMMuckraker that he had played no role in the agreement, and was not kept closely informed about the progress of negotiations.