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George Torres-Ramos is the owner of a successful chain of supermarkets situated throughout low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. He's also under indictment, facing 59 counts of charges spanning from racketeering, violence in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants and several types of fraud that netted over $100 million. Along the way, Torres has been accused of bribing several officials to help secure liquor licenses. He’s also suspected of orchestrating three murders.

The trail to his indictment traces back to the end of the Clinton era. Officials at the Drug Enforcement Agency had long held suspicions that Torres was trafficking cocaine in his grocery trucks, but had never had enough evidence to to charge him. Torres’s business association with one Horacio Vignali eventually changed that.

Vignali had been identified as one of Torres’ business partners by the DEA, but any investigation into Torres had subsequently run out of steam. But Vignali became public news when his son's prison sentence for cocaine trafficking was commuted by President Clinton on the way out of office. Remarkably, President Clinton had received commutation requests from the sheriff, the U.S. Attorney, two Congressmen, the L.A. County Supervisor and the current mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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Former Gov. Don Siegelman's (D-AL) case has made it to Washington. His cause has been taken up by Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who wants the House Judiciary Committee to look into Siegelman's story at a hearing on selective prosecution by the Department of Justice.

Davis, himself a member of the House Judiciary, sent a letter (available here) to the head of the committee Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) today saying that the case against Siegelman has been called "unusually weak," with only one witness corroborating bribery charges with second-hand information. He also noted the claims made by Republican lawyer Dana Jill Simpson that implicate Karl Rove playing a role in the investigation.

A politically-motivated prosecution is not "implausible," Davis said, citing how former US Attorneys David Iglesias and Jack McKay said they were pressured to bring indictments against Democrats. Davis also reminded Conyers of how the Seventh Circuit tossed out a conviction of a former Democratic governor's aide in Wisconsin, calling the case "beyond thin."

Siegelman's case deserves a review, Davis argues because:

The trading of favors for official acts is reprehensible, and stains the reputation of the political process. But it would shatter the system if a Justice Department built a culture in which prosecutors’ career advancement depends on their willingness to press exotic legal theories that might advance the electoral interests of the Republican Party.

Meet Mahtaub "Mattie" Hojjati. A well-connected government and business consultant Hojjati is about to embark on a new career: revolutionary provocateur. She has two missions: to hasten the overthrow of the Iranian regime, and to convince the American public to support her.

Under the byline of Mattie Fein -- her husband is Bruce Fein, the prominent Reagan-era Justice Department lawyer last seen calling for the impeachment of Dick Cheney -- Hojjati penned an op-ed in the Washington Times last week heralding the creation of a new think tank, known as the the Institute for Persian Studies, devoted to pushing the regime over the abyss. From her perspective, the nearly 30-year old Iranian Revolution is in a terminal phase. "The cue that most of the population is looking for is international support," she tells TPMmuckraker, "but right now, they're getting mixed signals."

Exile politics played a crucial role in getting the U.S. into the Iraq war. From the late 90s until the invasion of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi persuaded many in Washington that deposing Saddam Hussein and imposing a democratic regime in its place would be relatively cost-free. (The cooked WMD and terrorism propaganda didn't hurt, either.) While Hojatti balks at a U.S.-Iranian war -- something Chalabi embraced -- her project bears some similarity to prewar Iraq exile politics in D.C. She's not pushing any dubious intelligence. But she does want to "reeducate" the American public as to why "Iran is so critically important in a geopolitical sense, why they should care." Caring, in this sense, means supporting the overthrow of the Iranian theocracy -- with air strikes, if necessary, Hojjati says.

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After the 6th District Court of Appeals dealt the ACLU a loss in its suit against the National Security Agency, Legal Director Stephen R. Shapiro indicated that the civil-liberties organization may seek to have the Supreme Court rule on the president's stated authority to issue wiretaps without a court order:

"We are deeply disappointed by today's decision that insulates the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance activities from judicial review and deprives Americans of any ability to challenge the illegal surveillance of their telephone calls and e-mails. As a result of today's decision, the Bush administration has been left free to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress adopted almost 30 years ago to prevent the executive branch from engaging in precisely this kind of unchecked surveillance.

"It is important to emphasize that the court today did not uphold the legality of the government's warrantless surveillance activity. Indeed, the only judge to discuss the merits clearly and unequivocally declared that the warrantless surveillance was unlawful.

"We are currently reviewing all of our legal options, including taking this challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime it is now more important than ever for Congress to engage in meaningful oversight."

Just out from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who's locked in his own imbroglio with the Bush administration over warrantless surveillance:

“The Court’s decision is a disappointing one that was not made on the merits of the case, yet closed the courthouse doors to resolving it. I hope the Bush Administration will finally provide the information requested by Congress regarding the constitutional and legal questions about this program so that those of us who represent the American people can get to the bottom of what happened and why. There is a dark cloud over the White House’s warrantless wiretapping program, and a full response to the outstanding subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee by this Administration would be a good start to clearing the air and moving forward in ways that allow us to better protect against terrorists while honoring the rule of law and the liberties of law-abiding Americans.”

So much for the ACLU's suit against the National Security Agency over the NSA's warrantless surveillance program. Last year, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the Eastern District of Michigan ordered an injunction against the NSA program, an action crucial to the Justice Department's January announcement that the Bush administration would get out of the warrantless wiretapping business. This morning, Judge Alice Batchelder of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Taylor's injunction based on the plaintiffs' (a group of journalists, academics, and lawyers who regularly communicate with individuals located overseas) lack of standing.

Update: This post initially attributed dissenting views on the legality of the warrantless surveillance program to Batchelder's majority opinion. We deeply regret the error.

Those jihadis. Hopped up on paper bags filled with glue, amped from too much Nintendo, understimulated after the last day of school, they went back to their old ways: trying to kill Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf. As Musharraf's plane took off outside the capitol of Islamabad, gunmen fired shots at the presidential aircraft in an unsuccessful assassination attempt. A security official blamed the attack on "miscreants," a bizarre way of referring to would-be killers. TPMmuckraker has learned that the nudniks next intend to rip up Musharraf's lawn after he spends all afternoon sodding it.

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Tony Sanchez, a longtime public official from Guam, has resigned. Sanchez is facing multiple counts of conspiracy, theft and public misconduct for his relationship with Jack Abramoff. (Pacific Daily News)

A 2006 spill at a uranium production factory closed the plant for seven months, but the general public never complained. That’s because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission report was labeled “Official Use Only”, which means that even though the information is not a state secret, it cannot be shown to the public. Even worse, only one of the five NRT commissioners made an effort to inform Congress of the disaster. (NY Times)

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has earmarked $100 million to help build an engine for the Pentagon’s infamous Joint Strike Fighter, even though the Pentagon and two independent boards have declared the engine redundant. (Associated Press)

A little Canadian muck: up to 40 radioactive devices monitored by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have been lost in the past five years. Just another reason to be wary of our neighbors from the North. (Globe and Mail)

A nationwide shortage of firefighters comes at the wrong time, as this summer promises prolonged fire danger levels. (Associated Press)

Things just aren't what they used to be.

Nowadays, hardly an arbitrary exertion of executive power goes by without examination. Fire eight U.S. attorneys at once, and Congress starts asking questions. Commute the sentence of your former aide who was convicted of lying to protect senior administration officials and within a week, there's a hearing. Even your off-the-record email system is exposed, so that now there might be a record of Karl Rove's communications.

The White House is not happy, as spokesman Scott Stanzel made clear during yesterday's press briefing. Clearly, the Democratic Congress is in some sort of oversight frenzy, cross-eyed and foaming at the mouth, issuing subpoenas every waking hour:

I would note that we do get a lot of inquiries from the Hill. They've launched over 300 investigations, had over 350 requests for documents and interviews...And they have had over 600 oversight hearings in just about 100 days -- so that's about six oversight hearings a day. And we've turned over 200,000 pages of documents as an administration.


It's just no fun being in power any more.

Of course, Democrats, with characteristic skepticism, question the White House's numbers:

Democrats were dubious of the figures but did not offer their own.

"His numbers are as faulty as the intelligence they used to make their case for war," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"In the last six years, all they've had is a rubber-stamp Congress. Since January, Democrats have demanded accountability, a change of course and transparency," Manley said.


Full transcript below.

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Just when D.C.'s johns got comfortable again.

Today, a federal judge denied the government's attempts to keep Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the D.C. madam, from disseminating her business' phone records. Now she's free to do what she will with them. The government sought a restraining order on Palfrey back in March, too late to stop her from giving most of her records (Palfrey says it was about 80% of years 2002 to 2006) to ABC News, which busily matched thousands of numbers to names. Those records led to Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias' resignation. Brian Ross, during ABC's 20/20 report on Palfrey's service, said that there were plenty of high-profile D.C. types on the lists -- numbers of "Georgetown mansions and prominent CEOs, officials at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and lobbyists both Republican and Democratic" -- but that there were no members of Congress or White House officials that they could find. Maybe in that remaining 20%?

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