TPM News

The Justice Department's Inspector General has just released a report on politicized hiring at the Civil Rights division, focused on TPMmuckraker favorite Bradley Schlozman.

It's here.

More soon...

President-elect Barack Obama will likely issue an executive order closing Guantanamo Bay within his first week on the job, an adviser says. At the same time, the President-elect admits that actually closing the facility is easier said than done, and that it will take a while to find a place to send the current occupants and to sort through important-though-tainted evidence gathered by the facility. Obama has said that closing Gitmo will be non-negotiable. (Reuters)

Officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted on Monday that the federal government is not prepared to stop predatory lenders from taking advantage of U.S.-backed home loans. One Arizona-based lender, after the state revoked its licensed and forced it into bankruptcy, was able to reapply for the license under a different name and continue business. Officials assert that the Federal Housing Authority in particular lacks legal authority and manpower to properly guard against abusive lenders. (Financial Week)

Three environmental groups are suing the EPA over new rules that endanger native marine species in U.S. waterways. The lawsuit charges that a rule requiring cargo ships to exchange ballast water before entering American coastal waters and the Great Lakes does not include more extensive guidelines needed to keep away invasive and damaging species. Ballast water was the likely medium through which coastal waters became infested with the Zebra Mussel in the late 1980s. (Associated Press)

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Looks like the Senate may finally be prying loose a bit more information from the Treasury Department about its bailout spending.

We just received the following statement from Sen. Carl Levin:

The Department of Treasury assured me today that there will be no need to serve a subpoena, because they will provide the documents I have requested, beginning tomorrow," said Levin. "It should not have taken two months and a subpoena threat, but I -- along with Senator Susan Collins who supports obtaining these documents -- look forward to receiving the documents this week."

The Treasury Department has agreed to provide copies of the TARP contracts issued to ten companies: AIG, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, State Street Corporation, and Wells Fargo.

Levin, the chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, had said he wouldn't vote for releasing the additional $350 billion in TARP funds requested by the Treasury unless the department revealed more information about the contracts it signed in connection with the first $350 billion.

Bank of New York Mellon has contracted with the treasury to help manage the TARP program.

We've called Levin's office to find out about getting our own copies of these contracts...

Last week, Congress's oversight panel for the TARP funds confirmed in a report that the Treasury Department essentially has no idea what banks have done with the astronomical sums they've been handed.

Given this lack of information, we figured it might at least be helpful to know a bit about a few of the people at Treasury who are in charge of administering the massive program, and what their backgrounds might tell us about the way they've gone about it.

As the New York Times reported back in October, many of those people are former execs at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street behemoth that used to be led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Most prominent among those is Neel Kashkari, the 35-year old former Goldman VP who was appointed by Paulson in October as the interim head of the Office of Financial Stability (OFS), which is in charge of implementing the bailout. Kashkari's role is said by the Times to have "evolved" after Paulson changed the original bailout plan, so that Treasury would invest money directly in troubled banks.

But less attention has been paid to another Goldman alum, Kendrick Wilson, who was brought in -- after a personal call from his old Harvard Business School buddy, George W. Bush -- to advise Paulson on how to fix the financial markets.

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We're not sure whether this counts as a positive thing ... but Eric Holder, Barack Obama's nominee for Attorney General, has won the support of a former DOJ official who was seriously tainted by the US Attorney firings scandal.

In a letter obtained by Politico, former deputy AG Paul McNulty wrote that despite the issues raised by some GOPers about Holder's tenure at DOJ under Bill Clinton, he nonetheless deserved support:

When Eric Holder was Deputy Attorney General, he encountered a daily barrage of complex issues and demands," McNulty wrote. "His challenge was to exercise sound judgment, often within severely limited time constraints. As a result, it should come as no surprise that Eric can now look back and wish that he had handled some things differently. What is important, however, is that he remains the same person of high integrity, and through it all, he is far better prepared to lead the Department of Justice.

While serving as deputy AG under Alberto Gonzales, McNulty was involved in an effort to keep details of the US Attorneys firing scheme from Congress. And his chief of staff, Michael Elston, told IG investigators for a separate inquiry that he looked for GOP or conservative credentials when making hiring decisions for McNulty's office.

So McNulty's endorsement may not be the one of which Holder is most proud. Still, Pat Leahy's comment to TPM that, depsite Arlen Specter's anti-Holder crusade, there was in fact significant Republican support for Holder's nomination, appears to be being borne out.

Baseball may be our national pastime -- and football our real national game -- but that doesn't mean taxpayers should be paying to make it easier for Fox Sports' announcer team to get away from the stadium more easily.

A new report by the Justice Department's inspector general finds that a lawyer for the U.S. Marshals Service arranged for the Marshals Service to provide a private escort for the limousines of Fox's star broadcasters, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, after two World Series games at Fenway Park in 2007.

The report also found that the lawyer, Joseph Band, had arranged for a US Marshals escort for Buck and colleague Troy Aikman, the former Cowboys star, after a January 2008 NFL playoff game in Tampa.

Band was working as a paid statistician for Fox Sports at the time.

A judge has ruled that against revoking Bernard Madoff's bail, meaning the disgraced investment advisor will get to stay in his $7 million Upper East Side apartment -- albeit under house arrest and 24-hr surveillance -- while awaiting trial.

Prosecutors had argued that Madoff should be sent to jail, after he mailed more than $1 million worth of personal items, including gold necklaces and watches, to family and friends, contravening a court order freezing Madoff's assets.

Madoff's lawyers contended that he simply didn't realize that mailing the items would contravene the order.

CNBC adds:

A court hearing tentatively scheduled for Monday on the criminal charges against Madoff has been adjourned for 30 days, his lawyers said.

When Mary Schapiro was announced as Obama's pick for SEC chair, she was warmly received, in general, as someone likely to restore the agency's regulatory teeth after the free-market ideologues who ran the place under Bush.

But it looks Schapiro's confirmation hearings, set to begin this week, may not go perfectly smoothly all the same.

Schapiro heads the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the non-governmental body that supervises oversees U.S. brokerages. And as we noted last week, Finra, under Schapiro, failed to catch Bernard Madoff's alleged "$50 billion ponzi scheme". Indeed, it conducted an inquiry into Madoff's operation that concluded, in 2007, that he had violated certain technical rules and had failed to promptly report some transactions, but identified no more serious wrong-doing -- a very similar story to the SEC's.

Still, it's also worth pointing out that Finra's investigation into Madoff was focused on his brokerage operation, which, according to a Finra spokeswoman, is all that it is legal empowered to look into. Madoff's business was split into brokerage and investment-advisory arms -- but the alleged fraud, investigators believe, was centered on the investment-advisory arm. So Finra would appear to bear less responsibility than SEC for missing Madoff.

But that's not the only potential confirmation headache for Schapiro. She was accused in two recent lawsuits of making misleading statements in an effort to build support for the creation of Finra, which was created two years ago by merging the regulatory units of the NYSE and the Nasdaq. Schapiro headed the Nasdaq regulator at the time, and became the head of Finra, seeing her yearly salary rise from $2 million to $3.1 million.

The New York Times explains the details:

Among the misstatements that she is accused of making is that the Internal Revenue Service had prohibited the NASD from paying each member more than $35,000 as part of the merger deal. Although an NASD proxy statement issued while the deal was pending said that the I.R.S. would not permit the organization to give more compensation to members, the I.R.S. did not actually issue a ruling on the matter until March 2007, long after the deal closed and three months after the members voted to approve it.

The first lawsuit was rejected by a Federal judge but is on appeal. The second suit, which is similar and was brought by a former SEC lawyer, appears to have been filed soon after Schapiro was nominated to head the SEC, though lawyers for the plaintiffs say it was in the works before then.

Looks like those hearings could be more lively than we thought. We'll be watching closely later this week...

It looks like an ambitious new effort to set up an investigation of President Bush and his top aides for potential crimes committed on their watch may have a had time getting traction.

As we reported last week over at Election Central, House Judiciary chair John Conyers recently introduced a measure to create a "National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties." The commission, whose members would be appointed by the resident and congress, would be designed to probe the legality of Bush administration policies on issues like torture, treatment of detainees, and extraordinary rendition.

But the president-elect appears lukewarm to the idea. Asked yesterday on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" about the idea of a broad inquiry into those Bush administration programs, Obama said: "We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards."

He added:

Part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the C.I.A., you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.

Here's the video:

So it doesn't exatly sound like Obama would be eager to sign Conyers' bill.

And the top two House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, weren't jumping to express their support for the bill when Election Central called their offices about it last week.

Congress will look for ways to stop midnight regulations passed by the Bush administration. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) join Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the fight to block regulations. Wyden, as the chair of a subcommittee on natural resources, has said he wants to focus on stopping rules allowing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and making it easier for coal companies to dump mine waste in streams and valleys. (The New York Times)

The Mayor of Baltimore was indicted on Friday for 12 counts relating to theft and perjury. Sheila Dixon is accused of using gift cards meant for the poor to buy clothing and gadgets for herself. A conviction on any one of the counts would necessitate her removal from office under Maryland's constitution. (Associated Press)

Ten percent of Guantanamo detainees are now being force-fed, as a new hunger strike begins. The new strike was likely spurred by the upcoming seven-year anniversary of the prison. Detainees are also upset at witnessing Osama Bin Laden's driver released while they remain held without being charged of any crime. 25 of 250 detainees are currently being fed through tubes in their noses. (Miami Herald)

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