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In today's press conference, President Bush dodged a question as to whether he'll overrule top military brass if they oppose his reported plan for a "surge" of troops in Iraq.

"That's a dangerous hypothetical," he said, concluding his answer with "nice try."

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the White House was promoting the "surge" idea "over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

Ever wondered what to get for that lawmaker who has everything?

Well, The Washington Post has got your answer this morning, with details from Jack Abramoff's 2001 holiday shopping list. So let's see... Who's been naughty and who's been helpful to clients' needs...

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Abramoff's longtime pal, was down for a "$100 gift basket from Harry and David."

Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) -- the guy who did more for Abramoff's clients than any other lawmaker, according to one of his associates -- got "some Jerry Seinfeld CDs."

But Tom DeLay, then Majority Whip and Abramoff's most crucial ally in the House, was listed as getting the sweetest gift of all -- a $250 box of Godiva chocolates. And Susan Hirschmann, then DeLay's chief of staff (now a high-flying lobbyist), was to get a Godiva box worth $100.

House ethics rules forbid lawmakers from receiving gifts from lobbyists worth more than $50. But everybody had an answer for that. My favorite is DeLay:

Reached by phone, DeLay said, "I don't think I got a box of Godiva chocolates" from Abramoff, adding that a box worth $250 would be "memorable."


The vice president, through surrogates, has indicated he will not try to dodge testifying on behalf of his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in his upcoming trial, the Washington Post reports this morning:

Vice President Cheney is willing to testify in the perjury and obstruction-of-justice trial of his former chief of staff that is scheduled to begin next month, according to defense lawyers and sources familiar with his plans.

Lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former top aide, told a federal judge yesterday that the defense plans to call the vice president and expects him to cooperate. That would make Cheney the first sitting vice president to testify in a criminal case, presidential historians and legal experts said. . . .

Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane said Cheney's appearance is also unusual because of his aggressive efforts in other matters to protect the executive office from being forced to disclose details of its deliberative process or inner workings. . . .

Lea Anne McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, said that "historians are entitled to their opinions, but the vice president has said from the very beginning that we're cooperating in this matter and we will continue to do so."

Ex-Iraq Official Tells How He Escaped from Iraq Jail "Speaking from a location he would not identify, a Chicago-area engineer facing corruption charges in Iraq said Tuesday that he escaped custody in Baghdad with the help of a 'multinational' group and vowed to return to his home in the western suburb of Oak Brook after the new year....

"[Aiham] Alsammarae, a secular Sunni who ran the Electricity Ministry in the first postinvasion Iraqi government, said throughout his detention that he was vulnerable to kidnapping at the police station and that he would be killed if Iraqi authorities moved him to a jail run by the Shiite-dominated security forces....

"Iraqi officials said Monday that Alsammarae broke out of the station with the help of private security experts....

"Responding to e-mail and other messages from the Tribune on Tuesday afternoon, Alsammarae said that the 'multinational' group that helped him escape included Iraqis and men of other nationalities....

"In another phone interview, with The New York Times, Alsammarae was asked how he got away and he recalled a line about Al Capone in 'The Untouchables,' saying that he had escaped 'the Chicago way.'...

"...Alsammarae told the Tribune that since his escape Sunday, he has received several congratulatory telephone calls from Iraqi dignitaries, including former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. He added that he was enjoying his freedom and sleeping in a comfortable bed." (Chicago Tribune, and see yesterday's LA Times)

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In a letter sent out to select supporters earlier this month reacting to the controversy (among certain extreme conservatives, at least) over Muslim representative-elect Keith Ellison's (D-MN) decision to be sworn in on the Koran, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) warned that the U.S. must close its borders to guard against the influx of still more Muslims. In it, he also proudly recounts his retort to a Muslim student who asked him why he did not include the Koran with The Ten Commandments on his wall. "As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office," he says he told the student.

The letter, which by some horrible error in Goode's office was sent to the chair of the local Sierra Club chapter, was obtained by Charlottesville's C-Ville Weekly. Goode's spokesman, after correcting my pronunciation of his boss' name (it rhymes with "food") refused to expand beyond Goode's comment to the Weekly of “I wrote the letter. I think it speaks for itself,” although I was invited to fax in a question to the congressman.

"[I]f American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran," the letter reads. "I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

The text is reproduced below. (Thanks to Waldo Jaquith)

Update: We've posted a copy of the actual letter here.

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The Bush Administration's chief of counterterrorism operations at the State Department is out the door, The Washington Post reported this morning. In the mold of the sudden resignation, he says he's leaving for "family reasons." But a recent news piece noted that he'd had trouble getting the ear of the administration.

Henry A. "Hank" Crumpton was a career CIA agent who led the CIA's campaign in Afghanistan after 9/11. He only came out of hiding last summer to take the helm at the State Department. By all accounts widely regarded, he, along with his deputy, have tried to push the Bush Administration toward a more expansive approach to the "War on Terror" - as documented extensively by George Packer in the current issue of The New Yorker. Packer, in his adulatory piece, profiles Crumpton's deputy David Kilcullen, a former captain in the Australian Army who's become Crumpton's chief strategist:

"You don't play to the enemy's global information strategy of making it all one fight," Kilcullen said. He pointedly avoided describing this as the Administration's approach [i.e. The War on Terror]. "You say, 'Actually, there are sixty different groups in sixty different countries who all have different objectives. Let's not talk about bin Laden's objectives-let's talk about your objectives. How do we solve that problem?' " In other words, the global ambitions of the enemy don't automatically demand a monolithic response.

Kilcullen's (and Crumpton's) "ideas have yet to penetrate the fortress that is the Bush White House," Packer notes.

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The Associated Press reporting:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Dick Cheney will be called as a defense witness in the CIA leak case, an attorney for Cheney's former chief of staff told a federal judge Tuesday.

"We're calling the vice president," attorney Ted Wells said in court. Wells represents defendant I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is charged with perjury and obstruction.

The trial is scheduled to begin next month. If he testifies, Cheney would be the first sitting vice president to do so.

Just another day in Iraq:

A once-prominent Iraqi American, jailed on corruption charges, was sprung from a Green Zone prison this weekend by U.S. security contractors he had hired, several Iraqi officials said.

Ayham Sameraei, a Chicago-area businessman, returned to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and assumed the position of electricity minister during the interim government of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi....

There have been no suggestions that American officials had a role in Sameraei's escape Sunday afternoon. But the B-movie scenario of a rich businessman hiring armed muscle to bust himself out of jail from inside the fortress-like, U.S.-protected enclave could further contribute to Iraq's image of instability and lawlessness. The flamboyant former government minister's arrest and prosecution were held up by Iraqi and U.S. officials as a rare example of good government prevailing in the new Iraq....

According to Iraqi anticorruption officials, several sport utility vehicles arrived Sunday at Sameraei's Green Zone jailhouse. About 10 heavily armed men identified as Americans entered the single-story police station, which is usually guarded by three to five police officers.

Over at his new blog, ex-CNNer Eason Jordan raps the Pentagon for refusing to heed experts' advice and reform its reporting of violence in Iraq.

As the Iraq Study Group noted in its recent report, the Pentagon does not include incidents of sectarian violence in its reports. As the country falls into civil chaos, attacks by Iraqis against other non-military, non-official Iraqis are probably the fastest-growing type of violence in the country.

Yet in the Pentagon's newest report on the state of Iraq, that violence does not exist.

"Thus, the total number of attacks in Iraq remains much higher than is reflected in the U.S. military's qualified tally," Jordan finds.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) joins the ranks of lawmakers spending campaign money on a criminal defense lawyer ($31,528).

Read our take on the investigation here.