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Of all the innumerable times that lawmakers asked Gen. David Petraeus over the last two days for some indication of what success in Iraq is, this answer seemed as clear as any of them. At least in this answer, there was no reference to success being "conditions-based" or any mention of "battlefield geometry." Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) asked "Please tell us, general, what is winning?"



"Ambassador Crocker and I, for what it's worth, have typically seen ourselves as minimalists. We're not after the Holy Grail in Iraq, we're not after Jeffersonian democracy," Petraeus responded. "We're after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage."

For those who've been watching the Iraq debate, this sort of "minimalism" is nothing new. After all, administration officials have been saying since the start that a "Jeffersonian democracy" isn't likely to take root in Iraq (even Paul Bremer said "We're not going to have a Jeffersonian democracy here" in 2003). But with Iraq, there never can be enough minimalism.

Transcript of the full exchange is below.

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The House Judiciary Committee has concentrated on three cases as instances of political prosecutions pursued by President Bush's Justice Department.

Yesterday, one of those three, the trial of Dr. Cyril Wecht, a celebrity forensic pathologist, prominent Pennsylvania Democrat, and former coroner of Allegheny County, ended in a hung jury. After fifty hours of deliberations, the jury was hung and obviously going to stay hung. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh leaped at the chance for a re-trial, which has been scheduled for May.

If the views of a juror is any indication, conviction will be difficult. Rev. Stanley Albright, a juror who was excused last week when he became ill, told the AP, "I couldn't find the crime."

Albright was the only Wecht juror to be interviewed on the record by the media, because Judge Arthur Schwab asked all jurors not to talk to the media or attorneys from either side after he declared the mistrial. Schwab had the jury on the case seated anonymously and then ensured that the jury left the courtroom before the media or the attorneys could speak to them. It was a series of moves that Wecht's lawyers, who've repeatedly tried to get Schwab removed from the case, say is unprecedented: "Who's ever heard of anything like this?" A handful of jurors spoke anonymously to The Pittsburgh-Tribune Review, one saying that "a majority of the jury thought he was innocent."

Dick Thornburgh, who served as attorney general under Pres. George H. W. Bush, testified to the House Judiciary Committee in October that the case brought by U.S. Attorney Mary Buchanan was a raft of "nickel and dime transgressions" trumped up into an indictment.

The government's case relied on charges that Wecht had used resources from his coroner office for his private practice. Most of the counts of wire fraud against Wecht related to his use of county fax machines ($3.96 worth, his lawyers say) for his personal business. He was also charged with improperly billing the county for gasoline and mileage costs -- for a total of $1,778.55, his lawyers say.

Rather than leading to a sprawling two-year federal prosecution, Thornburgh said, Wecht's transgressions should have been referred to the state ethics commission. So why was the case brought? Wecht is a high-profile Democrat, "an ideal target for a Republican U .S. Attorney trying to curry favor with a Department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance," Thornburgh said, also noting that Buchanan had prosecuted "not one" Republican, while prosecuting Democrats in a "highly visible manner."

Yesterday, Thornburgh said that he'd appeal personally to Attorney General Michael Mukasey to bring an end to the case: "He knows what our grievances are. I think we can make a persuasive case that this prosecution should be dismissed forthwith." Thornburgh earlier had worked with then-Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty to ensure that Wecht was allowed to turn himself in: Buchanan, he's said, wanted to subject Wecht to a "perp walk."

The House Judiciary Committee has been consistently rebuffed by the Justice Department in its requests for documents from the case -- along with documents from the Georgia Thompson case in Wisconsin, which was dramatically overturned on appeal, and former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman's case, which awaits appeal, Siegelman just having been released from prison.

Update/Correction: This post originally stated that the judge on the case had ordered jurors not to speak to the media or Wecht's attorneys. In fact, the judge asked, but did not order, the jurors not to speak to all attorneys on the case.

As we've often observed before, EPA chief Stephen Johnson has a remarkable capacity for withholding information. And now he's make a strong bid to making the EPA the most subpoenaed Bush administration agency.

Today, House oversight committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) issued his third subpoena to the EPA this year. Waxman's committee has been investigating Johnson's decision, made against the unanimous recommendation of his legal and technical staff, to block California's attempt to institute tough greenhouse gas limits for cars and trucks.

Waxman says that his staff "has found evidence that EPA officials met with the White House" about the rule, but that "EPA has refused to disclose the substance and extent of its communications with the White House." Waxman's subpoena seeks about 100 EPA documents involving the White House.

Johnson has thus far stonewalled Congressional attempts to get more information about those White House meetings, telling Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) that he couldn't disclose anything about them because "I value the ability to have candid discussions that are part of good government."

From The Hill:

FBI wiretaps picked up the voices of several members of Congress in their conversations with Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.).

The House General Counsel’s office recently notified those members after the Department of Justice (DOJ) told the House lawyers that the lawmakers’ voices had been intercepted during the FBI’s investigation of Renzi’s land deal, according to three GOP sources.

It is unclear which members were taped and whether Renzi’s home, office, and/or cell phones were tapped. And there is no indication of alleged wrongdoing by any member other than Renzi; the Renzi indictment does not mention or allude to other legislators and the use of wiretaps is not mentioned in it.


Nevertheless, as the prosecution of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) has made apparent, any criminal matter involving lawmakers is thorny. So any use of the wiretaps at the trial is likely to be the subject of a protracted legal battle involving Constitutional issues.

It's partly because of such issues, no doubt, that Renzi's trial has been pushed back from its original scheduled start this month until October.

Attorneys for Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a detainee being held as "enemy combatant," argued to an appellate court yesterday that a memo that the Justice Department declassified and released only last week proves that their client's detention is illegal. According to the attorneys, the memo "makes plain as day that al-Marri was declared an enemy combatant based on discredited legal opinions and for the illegal purpose of abusive interrogations." (Washington Post)

The Washington Post has published a guide to the 11 multicolored charts that General Petraeus presented to Congress yesterday because "a close look at the facts indicates that the data often lacked context or were misleading." In the case of Petraeus' first chart, the paper notes that "the figures for 2009 appear to be based on guesswork, and Petraeus's office declined to provide supporting information." (Washington Post)

Jury deliberations have resumed in the trial of the six men accused of conspiring with al Qaeda to destroy the Sears Tower in Chicago. The Bush administration has claimed that this case is an important accomplishment in the war on terror but the first trial ended in a deadlocked jury and Neal Sonnett, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, believes the case is "more hype than evidence." (ABC's "The Blotter")

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In the annals of public service, it was not a high point. Last Halloween, at a fundraising event for charitable organizations held at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Headquarters Building, they held a costume contest. And the winner was a white lawyer dressed in dreadlocks and prison stripes.

When it came time to present himself to the judges, amng them Julie Myers, the chief of ICE, he said "I’m a Jamaican detainee from Krome — obviously, I’ve escaped.” Krome is an ICE Detention facility in Miami that is mostly filled with Jamaican, Haitian and Latin American detainees. The judges, Myers among them, laughed, according to a report (pdf) issued yesterday by the House Committee on Homeland Security. Later, Myers posed with the winner:



At some point later that day, Myers apparently realized that others might not appreciate the fun of the costume and ordered that the pictures be destroyed. In a letter to Congress in November of 2007 (after news of the costume broke), Myers explained that she "was not aware at the time of the contest that the employee disguised his skin color," but that she believed "that it was inappropriate for me to recognize any individual wearing an escaped prisoner costume.”

So on that same day, she ordered the pictures deleted, according to yesterday's report, as part of ""a coordinated effort to conceal the circumstances surrounding the party." Myers' nomination was still pending before the Senate at that time. The committee report is titled "The ICE Halloween Party: Trick, Treat, or Cover-up?" The committee appears to come down on the cover-up side of the question.

As for Myers, her spokesperson tells The New York Times that trying to curb the damage wasn't the same thing as a cover-up:

Kelly A. Nantel, an agency spokeswoman, confirmed Tuesday that Ms. Myers had ordered that the photographs be deleted, but said she had done so because she belatedly realized that the costume was inappropriate and that it would be offensive if the photos were included in any agency publications.

But Ms. Nantel said that Ms. Myers never tried to cover up that the event had occurred. In fact, Ms. Myers sent a message to all agency employees two days after the party acknowledging that “a few of the costumes were inappropriate.”

“To suggest she somehow coordinated a cover-up is absolutely false,” Ms. Nantel said.


Rather unfortunately for Myers, the pictures were not completely deleted and were restored. They were released to CNN in February as a result of a FOIA request.

In any case, the committee has used the occurrence to point out the lack of diversity at ICE and DHS more broadly, noting that ICE has zero African-American senior executives and 28 whites. It's a point that lawmakers were able to demonstrate when Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff last visited the committee:

Anger among some African American lawmakers about diversity in the Homeland Security Department led to a testy exchange with Chertoff during a March hearing. Lawmakers asked Chertoff's staff to stand. About 10 people stood.

Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) pointed out that all the staff members were white men. "Please reassure me that your staff is more diverse than that," he asked Chertoff, who seemed taken aback.

"That is definitely the case," Chertoff said, as other lawmakers looked visibly skeptical.


Hearings on diversity in the department are planned for next month.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) finally got his turn during today's Senate foreign relations committtee hearing and used it to question Ambassador Crocker and Gen. Petraeus on what "success" would be in Iraq, focusing on the strength of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Iranian influence as key benchmarks.

After questions about the status quo in Iraq of these two areas, Obama proceeded to ask Crocker and Petraeus whether that status quo could be called success if maintained without such a high level of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Here's video of Obama's questions:



His point, he said, was that the "definition of success is so high," such as wiping out AQI and eliminating any undue Iranian influence, then success would be unattainable. But that if the criteria for success was a "messy, sloppy status quo," not dissimilar to the current state of affairs, though without U.S. troops holding the country together, then that was attainable.

Such a state of affairs, Obama said, could be achieved with "measured, but increased pressure" on the Iraqis via troop withdrawals (he was keen to point out that "nobody is asking for a precipitous withdrawal") and a "diplomatic surge" in the region.

Here's video of Obama's conclusion:



"Our resources are finite," he said, and "when you have finite resources, you have to define goals tightly and modestly."

Crocker generally agreed with Obama's definition of success in Iraq ("this is hard and this is complicated"), though he did not stipulate to Obama's somewhat more modest characterization of what success would look like.



Text of Obama's comments below.

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House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) wants to former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo to discuss his now-infamous March 14, 2003 memo that broadly authorized the use of torture by military interrogators of unlawful combatants.

Conyers has gone ahead and scheduled a hearing for May 6th on the memo and invited Yoo in a letter today. But it's apparent from the letter that Yoo is not too enthusiastic about the prospect of testifying to Congress. He's apparently raised concerns to committee staff that the topics covered might "implicate executive confidentiality interests" and generally indicated that he'd rather not appear.

But given that Yoo has spoken with a variety of news outlets about the memo and other matters, Conyers points out, there's no reason why he couldn't talk to Congress. And while Conyers has invited Yoo to appear voluntarily, he makes it clear that he will issue a subpoena if Yoo declines.

Hopefully lawmakers will use the opportunity to ask Yoo why it was that he signed the memo himself, bypassing even the attorney general.

The full letter is below.

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Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, immediately cast a different tone on the Republican side than the one that prevailed throughout the earlier hearing, led by the ranking member on that committee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Earlier, McCain started from the assumption of what success means and seemed to take for granted the means of achieving it. Lugar's take was much different.

In his opening statement, Lugar offered a sweeping analysis of the situation in Iraq and concluded that today's hearing was actually much different than the one held last September:

At that time, the President was appealing to Congress to allow the surge to continue to create breathing space for a political accommodation. Today the questions are whether and how improvements in security can be converted into political gains that can stabilize Iraq despite the impending drawdown of U.S. troops. Simply appealing for more time to make progress is insufficient. The debate over how much progress we have made and whether we can make more is less illuminating than determining whether the Administration has a definable political strategy that recognizes the time limitations we face and seeks a realistic outcome designed to protect American vital interests.


At the moment, according to Lugar, the administration clearly has no "definable political strategy." He looks forward, he said, to discussing with Petraeus and Crocker "how the United States can define success and then achieve our vital objectives in Iraq."

Towards the end of this morning's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) elicited the plainest assessment yet of the day from Gen. Petraeus.

Given the complexity of the situation in Iraq, Bayh wanted to know, "isn't it true that a fair amount of humility is in order in rendering judgments about the way forward in Iraq, that no one can speak with great confidence about what is likely to occur?"

Petraeus seemed to grow a bit irritated at the insinuation that he'd been painting an overly rosy picture. "It's why I've repeatedly noted that we haven't turned any corners, we haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. And the progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible," he replied.



Later, Petraeus again refused to venture any guess about when there might be further drawdowns of troops from Iraq after July.

A transcript of the exchange is below.

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