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The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [FISC] which determines whether government wiretapping of terrorism suspects is constitutional, refuses to grant the public access to their decisions and deliberations. The court recently denied a request by the ACLU to access unclassified portions of FISC rulings, citing concerns that classified information could be compromised. The ACLU criticized the decision, arguing that "[t]he intelligence court should not be deciding important constitutional issues in secret judicial opinions issued after secret hearings at which only the government is permitted to appear." (ACLU)

Another senior official has left the Office of Special Counsel, whose leader, Scott Bloch, has been under investigation for destroying documents and retaliating against employees. Special Counsel chief of staff Jim Mitchell was reportedly fired without warning or explanation. The firing comes one month after the resignation of deputy special council Jim Byrne, who accused Bloch of putting "political agendas and personal vendettas" ahead of the office's mission. (NPR)

The Service Employees International Union is now being investigated by the U.S. Labor Department, for alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds. Three union leaders, including president Tyrone Freeman, have already stepped aside pending the investigation. A SEIU spokewoman said that the union was fully cooperating. (Los Angeles Times)

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MSNBC just reported that presumptive vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has hired a lawyer in relation to the Trooper-Gate scandal.

Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Hollis French told TPMmuckraker that Palin has hired Thomas Van Flein, an Anchorage attorney at the law firm of Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen & Thorsness. French said that Van Flein has already been in contact with him, regarding the ongoing investigation of Palin.

Van Flein has represented the Alaska Dental Society and according to a cached version of his firm website, specializes in professional liability -- including licensing issues, commercial litigation, appellate practice, and employment law.

From the AP:

Anchorage attorney Thomas V. Van Flein has requested a copy of all witness statements and documentary evidence from the Legislature's investigator, Stephen Branchflower. Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, says he instructed Branchflower not to comply with the request.

The presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has made her albeit-short public service career on ending corruption and turning the Alaskan political establishment on its ear.

Palin has been vocal about not being more of the same in Alaskan poltics. "[Experience is] not what Alaska needed," Palin has said. "The state needed new blood in there. A candidate with new energy and new ideas."

But it looks like Palin got her experience working as a director at the 527 group from the oldest of Alaskan politicians, embattled Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

From the Washington Post:

Palin's name is listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the "Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.," a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. The group was designed to serve as a political boot camp for Republican women in the state. She served as one of three directors until June 2005, when her name was replaced on state filings.

It looks like the special investigator in the Trooper-Gate case -- in which John McCain's surprise VP pick Sarah Palin stands accused of trying to fire a state trooper who had been embroiled in a bitter divorce proceeding with Palin's sister -- could soon uncover exactly what happened.

State Senator Hollis French, a Democrat and the chair of the bipartisan Senate committee overseeing the investigation, told TPMmuckraker that the independent investigator assigned to the case, Steve Branchflower, has contacted the Governor's office about having her deposed, and has received a response. French said that Palin's deposition would likely take place in the next few weeks and will almost certainly be under oath. "I think that's best," he said. French added that Branchflower does not expect to have to subpoena Palin, as her office has been cooperative thus far.

But that co-operation appears to have extended only so far. Her office has claimed executive privilege on emails requested by the state trooper's union in a separate civil suit*. But several Alaska lawmakers told TPMmuckraker Friday that those claims likely won't stand up, and that Branchflower should get access to the emails should he force the issue.

Palin had at first denied that her office was involved in the effort to have the trooper fired, but was forced to retract those denials when taped evidence emerged that a staffer in her office was involved.

French said he expected that Branchflower would play things pretty close to the vest with his probe, so we may not learn what he's found until he wraps things at the end of October -- just days before the election.

* This sentence has been clarified from an earlier version .

NATO's top commander in Afghanistan called for a joint investigation into a recent U.S. airstrike. The United States has maintained that only five civilians were killed in the attack, contradicting reports by Afghan officials, human rights groups, and the United Nations, which found "convincing evidence" that up to 90 civilians were killed. In Kabul, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to protest the killing of civilians. (Washington Post, Reuters)

Lawyers for Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick offered a plea deal, in which the indicted mayor would plead guilty to two felonies, make restitution, serve five years of probation, give up his law license, do 300 hours of community service and agree not to run for office for two years. In return, Kilpatrick would avoid serving time in prison. (AP)

The Republican judges handling Tom DeLay's corruption trial inappropriately delayed the resolution of the trial and interfered with the administration of justice, according to a justice on the 3rd Court of Appeals. Despite designating the trial as an accelerated case, the lower court took years to resolve pretrial proceedings. (Austin American-Statesman)

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It looks like there's even more muck than meets the eye in Trooper-Gate.

After the allegedly improper firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) appointed former Kenai Police Chief Chuck Kopp to the post.

Kopp served just two weeks this summer as the head of law enforcement in Alaska, resigning on July 25, after a past complaint of sexual harassment and a subsequent letter of reprimand surfaced in news reports.

But Palin made sure he had a soft fall from grace, giving him a $10,000 severance package for just two weeks served.

While Palin has conceded she was aware of the past complaint against Kopp, she claims that she thought the complaint had been unsubstantiated and was unaware of the letter of reprimand.

It looks like John McCain's new running mate, Sarah Palin, could be hit with some decidedly negative PR at the worst possible time. The Alaska legislature's investigation of whether Governor Palin improperly fired a state employee is scheduled to wrap up and release its findings just days before the November election.

The firing is at the center of a scandal that has largely remained confined to the Alaska press, but is now likely to become a national story in the wake of Palin's selection -- one that could conceivably have an impact on the presidential race.

As it happens, we've been tracking the story closely here at TPMmuckraker.

The scandal concerns allegations that Palin's office improperly fired the state's public safety commissioner because he refused to remove Palin's ex-brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper after his bitter divorce from Palin's sister. In addition to the legislature's investigation, the Alaska attorney general is also looking into the matter.

Palin had at first denied that her office had a hand in pushing to have the trooper fired, but was forced to retract those denials when taped evidence emerged that a staffer in her office was involved.

If the investigation finds that her personal involvement was more extensive than she has admitted, it could create some damaging headlines for the McCain campaign at the worst possible moment.

Here's a recap of the story:

The scandal began on July 11, when Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was removed from his post with little explanation, a move whose abruptness quickly raised questions in Alaska. A few days later, Monegan decided to blow the whistle, and came forward to tell local media that he had been dismissed because he refused to fire trooper Mike Wooten, the ex-husband of Palin's sister, after having been pressured to do so by aides to Palin. (Monegan's replacement, former Kenai Chief of Police Chuck Kopp was only lasted two weeks on the job once past complaints of sexual harassment from 2005 were publicized.)

Critics pointed out that the effort to fire the trooper might have been directly related to the fact that Palin's family had a longstanding grievances with Wooten. In an internal state police investigation in 2005, Palin herself had accused Wooten of threatening to harm her father during the breakup of her sister's marriage. (The Palins claimed, among other things, that Wooten had used a taser on his 10-year-old stepson, and shot a moose without a permit.)

Since Monegan made his allegations, Palin has denied that she personally had a role in the effort to fire Wooten. On July 28, the state legislative council, a bipartisan panel of senators and representatives, appointed a special commission to probe the matter.

Her backtrack on her office's role was prompted by the preliminary findings of a separate ongoing investigation into the matter by the state Attorney General, launched on August 4, that she herself put into motion. At a press conference at which Palin revealed some of that investigation's finding, she acknowledged that in February, state troopers had taped a phone call from Frank Bailey, Palin's director of boards and commissions, whom she appointed in August 2007, in which Bailey appeared to push for the firing of Wooten on Palin's behalf.

In the call, Bailey appeared to say that Palin and her husband were frustrated that Wooten still had his job. "The Palins can't figure out why nothing's going on," Bailey said in the recorded phone call. "Todd and Sarah are scratching their heads ... 'Why is this guy representing the department, he's a horrible recruiting tool.' You know? So from their perspective everybody's protecting him."

The investigation could be particularly poorly timed for the GOP. Steve Branchflower, a former state prosecutor who is conducting the investigation, has a three-month contract for his work, which started August 1, and will end October 31, according to Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Hollis French (D), who is overseeing the probe. French told TPMmuckraker that he expects Branchflower to release his report in the days before the November 4th presidential election.

A spokeswoman for Palin told TPMmuckraker that the governor's office would be fully cooperating with Branchflower.

Palin won the governor's office in 2006 as a squeaky clean reformer. "She portrayed herself as an open-government, ethical person," Rep. Mike Doogan, a Democratic state lawmaker, told TPMmuckraker. "You can see the obvious problem." He added: "These things don't help her [politically]."

And they may not help John McCain either.

(ed.note: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that the state legislature was in Democratic hands and ordered the probe of Monegan's firing. In fact, the senate is under the control of a coalition of Democratic and dissident Republican lawmakers and the House of Republicans. The state legislative council, which ordered the probe, is a bipartisan panel made up of members of both bodies.)

Since he began his campaign, John McCain has abandoned just about every position on which he had displayed his independence from President Bush. But his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) had, until recently, been perhaps the last remaining evidence of the maverick McCain.

His choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running-mate could well end that. The Weekly Standard this week described Palin as "the nation's most prominent advocate of drilling in ANWR," the wildlife refuge that environmentalists see as one of America's most precious natural wilderness areas (though she admits it would take at least 5 years to have any).

In a June interview with CNBC, Palin judged that McCain was likely to "evolve" into supporting drilling. That now looks prescient. Earlier this week, McCain told the Standard that he's considering flip-flopping on his anti-drilling stance, and that he plans to talk to Palin about the issue.

Indeed, it looks like the Bush administration is too pro-environment for Palin. Earlier this month, the state of Alaska sued the federal government for listing the polar bear as an endangered species.

Palin's husband, Todd Palin, is a production operator for BP on Alaska's North Slope.

Update: The oil industry seems to agree. The Institute for Energy Research, an industry-backed group, just sent out the following message to reporters: "FYI: John McCain's selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate naturally places ANWR energy production front and center in the policy debate once again. Visit IER's website for facts on ANWR oil and gas estimates, arctic production technologies, wildlife statistics, and more."

The Pentagon today reiterated its view that recent U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan killed only 5 civilians along with 25 militants. The tally contradicts the United Nations, Afghan officials, and human rights group, all of whom have put the civilian casualty toll at between 75 and 90. According to three Afghan officials, the U.S. was misled into attacking the village based on faulty information by tribal rivals. (Washington Post)

It may be more difficult for prosecutors to acquire sensitive information during investigations of corporate fraud cases, thanks to new guidelines issued by the Department of Justice. The changes will prevent companies from being penalized for paying for the legal expenses of their employees, and will prevent the government from demanding confidential legal materials. A representative from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said they were "overjoyed" at the changes. (Bloomberg)

A U.S. Marine has been acquitted for the manslaughter of four Iraqi civilians Sgt. Jose Nazario was the first military officer tried in civilian court for war crimes in Iraq. Jurors explained both that they felt there was inadequate forensic evidence to convict Nazario, as well as expressing reservations about passing judgment on Marines in combat situations. According to one juror, "I hope they realize that they shouldn't be second-guessed, that we support them and know that they're doing the right thing." (Los Angeles Times)

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Defense attorneys for the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff last night filed 95 letters from friends and supporters in an effort to get the former GOP power-broker out of jail early. In the words of the Associated Press, the letters "describe him as a humbled, changed man whose family is suffering and nearly broke after his first 18 months in prison."

Apparently Abramoff has turned himself into something of a professor while in prison. His lawyers say that he has taught classes entitled "Parenting from a Distance," "Modern Marvels," "Cinema Studies," and "The Holocaust in Films," and is currently teaching a film theory class.

As we told you this morning, prosecutors have asked for leniency for Abramoff because he has already spent over 3000 hours helping them with their ongoing federal corruption probe, which implicates a number of other Washington players.