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Hot on the heels of the GAO report today suggesting the Bush administration is playing fast and loose with the Iraq benchmarks comes a letter to Congress urging scrutiny over how the administration is quantifying allegedly-improving security in Iraq. The liberal National Security Network writes today that "US officials have recently claimed that violence is down and specifically civilian deaths in Iraq have decreased. No evidence has been provided to the public that supports this claim."

The letter -- signed by former Clinton Defense Secretary Bill Perry, Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Clinton and Bush 43 counterterrorism aide Rand Beers, and six other security wonks -- urges disclosure of statistics underlying the claim. "Not only is accurate reporting the key to sound policy, it is also the responsibility of government to those who have lost loved ones to this horrific conflict."

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Earlier this week, Judge Larry Burns ruled that four days' worth of sealed proceedings surrounding Thomas Kontogiannis' guilty plea in the Duke Cunningham case should be made public. The prosecution in the case, for unspecified reasons, has argued for months that the case proceed in secret. Earlier this month, prosecutors agreed to release portions of certain transcripts -- but still want others to stay under wraps. Burns order just pertains to those portions that prosecutors have agreed to release.

It's unclear when the transcripts will be released. But they'll represent the first disclosures in the case since the court released the fact of his plea in June. And maybe we'll learn the "security reasons" why Kontogiannis wasn't fingerprinted for months.

No wonder Ayad Allawi thinks he can get the Bush administration to propel him back to power in Iraq. The two men see eye to eye on the public's right to see into their operations.

Asked by Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek to disclose who's funding his $300,000-over-six-month lobbying effort by GOP firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, Allawi said:

“Of course not. They may be killed by the Iranians, they may be killed by the sectarian people … These are details I am not interested in answering.”

Shades of Mike McConnell's statement that "some Americans are going to die" because of the public Congressional debate over revising FISA!

Only Allawi's not alone. After Allawi's comment on CNN Sunday that he's getting funded by unnamed "supporters," Justice Department officials told BGR that it needed to be more forthcoming about who's paying Allawi's legal bills. BGR tells the magazine that it intends to fully comply with its legal obligations, but that may not mean much for actual disclosure. The firm has the option of changing its listed client from Allawi to his political party, the Iraqi National Accord: "Under the law, lobbying firms are usually permitted to list foreign political parties as their clients without identifying the financial sponsors of those parties."

The busiest employee of the Department of Justice by far must be the inspector general, Glenn Fine.

A couple of weeks ago, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked Fine to investigate whether outgoing-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had misled the Congress and press on a number of occasions. Fine, in a letter sent today (you can read it here), has responded that he's already looking into it.

That's because Fine is already juggling a number of investigations. And those investigations will necessarily touch on Gonzales' public statements. Writes Fine:

"The OIG has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the Attorney General's testimony that you identified. In particular, the OIG is conducting a review relating to the terrorist surveillance program, as well as a follow-up review of the use of national security letters. In addition, the OIG is conducting a joint investigation with the Department's Office of Professional Responsibility into allegations regarding the removal of certain United States Attomeys and improper hiring practices.

We believe that through those investigations and other OIG reviews we will be able to assess most of the issues that you raise in your letter."

Leahy responded in a statement (in full below) that he's "pleased" that Fine is examining Gonzales' statements.

In June, Fine also confirmed to Leahy that he was investigating whether Gonzales had obstructed Congress' investigation of the U.S. attorney firings by having a conversation with Department aide Monica Goodling about his recollections.

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Can they all just get along?

From The New York Times:

White House officials said Wednesday that the search for a successor to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales would probably last at least several days. The officials said they were trying to strike a conciliatory tone with Senate Democratic leaders who will control the confirmation.

The officials said a nominee might not be announced until after President Bush had returned on Sept. 9 from Australia....

In hopes of smoothing the nominee’s way, senior White House officials have contacted Congressional leaders to sound them out about candidates.

The contacts are routine for all cabinet nominations, although Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was struck by the cooperative tone he had heard in a conversation about nominees with the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, who is overseeing the search.

“In the past,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview, “the White House has talked about consultation, but they were the most wooden conversations I ever had. This was the first time there was a real back and forth.”

Alberto Gonzales's resignation was just the latest in the steady flow of departures by senior Justice Department officials involved in the U.S. attorney firings. But Brian Roehrkasse, the Department spokesman who served as the leadership's attack dog as the firings scandal intensified, is staying where he is. In fact, Roehrkasse, formerly the deputy director of public affairs, was actually promoted to the top spot in the office earlier this month.

Just about every story in the major papers on the scandal this spring and summer featured Roehrkasse's rebuttals. That, of course, is his job. But just as a number of statements from Department officials to Congress have proven false, so have a number of Roehrkasse's public statements. And Roehrekasse surprised many with his personal attacks on the fired U.S. attorneys, most famously calling them "former disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress." The former prosecutors, of course, had been subpoenaed to appear.

Roehrkasse replaced the former director, Tasia Scolinos, after she retired from the Department. Scolinos is perhaps best known for her brainstorming on how to handle the U.S. attorney firings, for instance suggesting in an email that the "one common link" among the fired prosecutors was that "three of them are along the southern border so you could make the connection that DOJ is unhappy with the immigration prosecution numbers in those districts." Scolinos' suggestion, of course, was duly employed.

Burt Brandenburg, who served as the Justice Department's director of public affairs during the Clinton administration, said being the DoJ's spokesperson is a tough job, dealing with complex issues in a highly politically charged atmosphere. "Every day's a Super Bowl," he said. But "there's a tradition of attorney generals of both parties that you have to be the grown-up, that you have to have some of the thickest skin in Washington and can't be as political as your critics.... You're held to a higher standard."

Roehrkasse has fallen well short of that standard, making a string of public statements about the firings that were dubious at best (e.g. that they were performance-related and part of a "routine process") and downright false at worst (like some of Gonzales'). Below is our brief round-up of the worst of the worst.

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Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (D) has already been convicted of a crime, and he and his co-defendant are in jail pending an appeal of their convictions. But according to a prosecutor on the case, Siegelman's efforts at getting his conviction overturned have crossed the line into obstruction of justice.

Speaking during a hearing for former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Feaga said Siegelman and Scrushy had been doing things from behind bars to "manipulate events" - acts that could be considered a crime.

Feaga did not provide details to U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, and he would not elaborate in an interview outside the courtroom.

"It should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention" to what is going on, Feaga said, "and it will be more obvious in the coming months."

Siegelman, of course, has been arguing that the Republican U.S. attorney, at the prodding of Karl Rove, went to extraordinary lengths to secure a conviction against him, a popular Democratic former governor. Presumably Feaga is referencing the Siegelman legal team's attempts to drum up coverage of their claim that the original prosecution was politically motivated. But is that illegal? We'll have some perspective on that shortly.

A federal prosecutor filed court papers yesterday formally rejecting the assertion that he indirectly profited from the ill-gotten largesse of several-time-felon Thomas Kontogiannis.

Two weeks ago, attorneys for John Michael, who's facing money laundering charges in the Duke Cunningham scandal, issued a j'accuse of their own. It so happened that Phil Halpern, an assistant U.S. attorney on the Michael case, had an uncle named Leonard, who lived on the same Nassau County, New York cul-de-sac as Tommy K. Two years after Leonard died in 2003, Tommy K's daughter, Annette Apergis, bought the Halpern property using an account of her father's connected to laundering money for Cunningham-directed bribes. Michael attorney Ray Granger asked, essentially: What are the odds?

It gets weirder.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is going to donate $23,000 of her Presidential campaign funds to charity after it became public that the man who raised the cash is wanted in California. Norman Hsu is wanted for failing to appear in court for a 1991 charge of grand theft auto. But shirking the support of Hsu might be more costly than it first seems; Hsu has quietly become one of the largest campaign supporters in the country, and has claimed that he could bring in over $1 million to Hillary's campaign. (Associated Press, WSJ's Washington Wire)

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is desperately trying to find his way out-- of his guilty plea for lewd conduct. Craig has suggested that he will try to withdraw his plea, which in someone's mind will make this whole story go away. Legal analysts aren't so sure; although Craig could withdraw his plea, he then might face more serious charges, and be subject to the release of more details about his restroom romp. (LA Times)

Last December, four Marine Corps infantryman were charged with rampaging into Haditha, killing 24 civilians after one of their friends was killed by a roadside bomb. Today, the charges on two of the men have been dismissed and dismissal has been recommended for another man. Legal issues have thwarted the prosecutors, who were unable to even prove that the killings violated the American military code of justice. (NY Times)

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