TPM News

Here's some strange news coming out of the Alaska trial of former state Rep. Vic Kohring. It turns out that when former Veco CEO Bill Allen testified last month in a separate corruption trial about being blackmailed by his own nephew, the strong-arming was related to Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK) suspect home renovation.

Allen was defensive on the stand that day, the Anchorage Daily News reported, combating questioning from defense attorneys that he actually threatened to kill his nephew:

Allen said he didn’t make such a threat. “Not me, no. I told them (him?) I’d beat the shit out of him,” Allen said.

Later, he said: “I never did say that I would kill him. No. I wouldn’t have done that … because his mother is my sister.”


Today Allen clarified while under cross-examination that his nephew was blackmailing him over “Ted Stevens’ house.” Just what his nephew was threatening to do (go to the feds?) is unclear.

Allen also testified again today that Veco paid for some of the renovations that doubled Stevens' home, but he didn’t know how much Veco spent.

Friday night, we reported that the House Judiciary Committee had mistakenly sent the email addresses of would-be whistleblowers to everyone who had written in to the committee's Justice Department politicization tip line. A committee spokesperson responded to that story with a statement apologizing for the "technological error."

In a statement released this afternoon (which can be read in full below) a committee spokesperson clarified that the error was, in fact, human. For those of you interested in the nitty gritty, the "nonpartisan, clerical employee" of the committee who was tasked with sending the email out to the list screwed up by assuming that checking "private" in Microsoft Outlook's Distribution List function meant that recipient names would be hidden. Alas, not so.

The full statement is below.

Read More →

For a company that was supposed to be outside the law, investigations of Blackwater have been proliferating like wild ever since the September 16th Nisour Square shooting, which left seventeen Iraqis dead. The number has been growing so fast, in fact, that we lost count.

So we decided to catch up. Here, then, is our rundown of the ongoing investigations that have been reported. If we miss one, let us know and we'll update our tally.

House oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has, of course, been leading the charge over the preceding months in an investigation that has followed a number of strands. Waxman's probe of the 2004 ambush in Fallujah led to the conclusion that Blackwater's cost-cutting was at the heart of the debacle. And he's continued to widen the scope of the probe since the Nisour Square shootings. As such, it's impossible to detail all of its aspects here. It's concentrated, however, on four main areas:

Read More →

Oh well. John "Pat" Philbin's career with the Director of National Intelligence is indeed over before it started. From the AP:

"We do not normally comment on personnel matters," DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein said Monday. "However, we can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence."

Feinstein said earlier that Philbin's job change had been put on hold while McConnell reviewed his record.


We assume that Philbin will be holding a press conference with himself in the wake of this development.

Voting rights section chief John Tanner has apologized for saying earlier this month that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: They die first."

The apology went out to a number of attendees of the National Latino Congreso, where Tanner made the remarks. You can see one of them, to the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, here. The letter is dated Friday, October 26, a week after Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) publicly called for Tanner to be fired based on those remarks.

In the letter, Tanner does not recant his analysis that voter ID laws actually discriminate against whites, but does apologize that his "explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way." Others who worked in the Justice Department, of course, including Toby Moore, a former redistricting expert in the section who will testifying alongside Tanner tomorrow, disagreed with more than his tone.

The full text of the letter is below:

Read More →

John "Pat" Philbin's choice to fake a FEMA press conference on the California wildfires late last week isn't looking like the greatest career move.

Before setting up the phony press conference -- in which FEMA staffers pretended to be journalists while real journalists on a conference call couldn't ask fire-related questions -- Philbin, FEMA's press chief, was all set to take a job helming public affairs for the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell. McConnell's credibility has come under attack recently over misstatements concerning surveillance, so Philbin's arrival at the DNI's office might have looked a bit fishy. When I asked McConnell's spokesman, Ross Feinstein, about Philbin, Feinstein commented simply, "We do not discuss internal personnel matters."

But while today was supposed to be Philbin's first day, he's still transitioning from FEMA to the high-secrecy world of the DNI, starting with instruction on how to handle classified information. That process was supposed to consume Philbin's first day -- think of it as an Intel Flack 101 crash course -- but now Feinstein tells the AP's Pam Hess that Philbin might be in bureaucratic limbo a little while longer, if he ever emerges. According to Hess, Philbin's new job is "on hold" while McConnell reviews Philbin's record. That doesn't augur well for the man whose old FEMA online bio page has been speedily expunged from the site.

When John Tanner, the chief of the Justice Department's voting rights section, goes before Congress tomorrow, he'll have a lot to answer for.

One of the most uncomfortable topics, to be sure, will be continuing charges of discrimination in the section that is supposed to be the font of civil rights enforcement -- charges that point squarely at Tanner himself. Things became so bad that a 33-year veteran analyst sent out an email to colleagues on her last day last December: "I leave with fond memories of the Voting Section I once knew, and I am gladly escaping the 'Plantation' it has become. For my colleagues still under the 'whip', hold on - 'The Times They are A Changing.'"

In an interview with NPR, that analyst, Teresa Lynn, made clear who was holding the whip in that metaphor. It was "aimed toward the leadership of the section," she said, "both the section chief [Tanner] and the deputy chief of section five [Yvette Rivera]." Lynn told NPR that she got "high fives" from her former colleagues for her parting shot.

We first reported on charges of discrimination in the section -- charges that resulted in at least two Equal Employment Opportunity complaints from African-American employees -- in May. But the same problems still persist today, Carl Goldman, executive director of AFSCME's Council 26, the union that represents non-attorney staff in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, told me:

Read More →

And then there were two: Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) is the second senator and first Democrat to come out against Mukasey. Says Dodd: "Mr. Mukasey's position that the President does not have to heed the law disqualifies him from being the chief attorney for the United States."

Janine Brookner has made a second career out of opposing the CIA's resistance to reform. Brookner's story highlights some of the problems that haunt the old-boys' club turned spy agency. Her immediate concern is gender discrimination that runs rampant at the institution, though that is exacerbated by the near total lack of oversight that might otherwise encourage reform. (Mother Jones)

Though Paul Bremer’s infamous Article 17 grants immunity for private U.S. military contractors from Iraqi law, The UN will begin probing whether US military or contractors have violated international law in cases of civilian deaths. ( USA Today, Washington Post)

Around thirty detainees are still unaccounted for since the CIA closed its secret prisons overseas. Many of these so-called ghost prisoners are presumably being held by either the U.S. or Pakistan, though even that much is unclear. (Washington Post)

Read More →

TPMLivewire