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Congratulations to Rep. John Murtha (D-PA)! He is this year's winner of the Daily Muck's coveted "Most Pork" award. Murtha has requested or co-requested a cool $150 million in earmarked funds. (The Hill)

The House Rules Committee struck down three of Rep. Allan Mollohan’s (D-WV) earmark requests after Mollohan himself asked to remove the earmarks. The lawmaker, who anticipated that Republicans would move to strike the earmarks anyway, is currently under investigation by the FBI for his close ties to nonprofit groups and the earmarks he has directed to these organizations. (The Hill)

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has requested a Pentagon investigation of 21st Century Systems, Inc., a defense contracting company, for alleged misuse of government earmarks. Coburn has set his sights on the company as part of a wider effort to crack down on earmark spending. Sen Nelson (D-NE), who sponsored the earmark, defended his request despite questions raised by the fact that the Senator's son is an employee of the firm. (The Hill)

After two years of listening to complaints that the post-Katrina "disaster trailers" contained dangerously high levels of formaldehyde, FEMA is springing into action. They have finally decided to suspend the sale and donation of these trailers while they review the reports that the trailers are causing respiratory problems for residents. It's a stunning reversal, considering that only a few weeks ago Congress saw documents showing that FEMA lawyers had discouraged the agency from looking into the problem. (USA TODAY)

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How about post-facto FISA review, guys? Interested?

That's the message from Admiral Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence. After a week of grueling briefings on Capitol Hill lobbying for an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, McConnell last night released a statement reluctantly endorsing putting terrorist surveillance back under FISA Court supervision -- with certain restrictions. The key passage:

However, to acknowledge the interests of all, I could agree to a procedure that provides for court review—after needed collection has begun—of our procedures for gathering foreign intelligence through classified methods directed at foreigners located overseas. While I would strongly prefer not to engage in such a process, I am prepared to take these additional steps to keep the confidence of Members of Congress and the American people that our processes have been subject to court review and approval.

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The scheme was simple: dispatch political aides from the White House to agencies throughout the government and make sure political appointees there knew which Republican members of Congress were faltering. There was a line, however, that ought not to be (openly) crossed. Political appointees got a "not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans," but they were not given explicit directions. That would be a blatant Hatch Act violation.

Karl Rove's aide Scott Jennings understood the game. That's why when he briefed (pdf) employees at the General Services Administration early this year (see a sample slide above), he knew to keep things at the not-so-subtle level -- but no more. From The Washington Post:

At [the briefing's] completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. The briefer, J. Scott Jennings, said that topic should be discussed "off-line," the witnesses said. Doan then replied, "Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up...."

Today, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) took advantage of Jennings appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee to question him about the briefings. And Jennings, like Rove's former aide Sara Taylor, was right on message.

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Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) called the tactics used by FBI and IRS agents who raided Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) home "Gestapo-like" today, the Crypt reports.

Craig's main objection seems to be that the agents could have parked a large white truck in front of Stevens' Girdwood home, photographed it and the neighboring property and carried out black trash bags (presumably filled with evidence) much more discreetly than they did. Maybe Craig's never been to Girdwood, because I just consulted our handy Girdwood map and it looks like it might have been tough for a dozen federal agents to have shown up at the most famous Alaskan's house without any of the neighbors noticing:

From the Crypt:

"I think some people say, 'Ah, but for the grace of God go I.' Especially when you have the allegatiatons, you have the judicial segment of our government, the executive branch, out raiding the homes of senators, that is a very frightening proposition. It is a bit Gestapo-like in its style and tactics," Craig said on Wednesday. "When the FBI was offered a key and invited into the home, they chose publicize it to make sure the media was there first, and they broke in. That is gamesmanship. That makes senators very, very angry when they attempt to cooperate when for reason they are caught in these webs and yet they are denied that for the sake of the judciary’s publicity. That is wrong.’’

There's irresponsibility. There's demagoguery. And then there's Trent Lott.

It turns out the Capitol Police have bolstered security around the U.S. Capitol after a recent al-Qaeda communique threatened an attack on Washington. Lott, according to Roll Call (sub.req.), responded with characteristic gravitas. In light of the heightened threat, Congress can either amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or all of us can run screaming into the inferno.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) ominously advised Thursday that Congress needed to pass changes to terrorist surveillance laws before leaving for the August recess and warned that otherwise “the disaster could be on our doorstep.”

Further demonstrating his counterterrorism sagacity, when asked if people should leave Washington, D.C., during the month of August, Lott replied that "I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th." By contrast, a former Capitol Hill chief had the temerity to note that, according to U.S. intelligence analysis he'd been privvy to, "Americans tend to be much more oriented toward anniversaries and the jihadists seem to be less so. I've seen over the years where we concentrate on dates and the analysts say, 'Don’t get wrapped up in dates because our terrorist jihadist enemies bide their time.'"

Negotiations continue between the White House and Senate Democrats to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and a deal might be done as early as this evening. But Sen. Russell Feingold tells Roll Call (sub.req.) that he'd rather scrap the summer congressional recess than scrap civil liberties in the name of getting a deal done by Monday, when Congress takes a holiday:

Saying Congressional Democrats and Republicans were moving “awfully quickly” on a White House proposal to make it easier to eavesdrop on suspected overseas terrorists, Feingold said he is in “no hurry” to leave town for the August recess.

“I don’t feel the need to get out of here. I would much rather stay here than have us make a terrible mistake,” said Feingold, who has made a name for himself as a champion on civil liberties in the Senate. “This is not the kind of thing that should be done on the fly, and I am prepared to stay here as long as it takes to fix it. Or, if they need force this through, I’m not going to make it easy, if they don’t make it better.”

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It's hard to keep track of every distinct controversy sparked by Alberto Gonzales's testimony last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is trying to make sure one particular element of scandal doesn't fall by the wayside.

In response to questioning by Durbin and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Gonzales said it was "not so clear" that five interrogration techniques -- painful stress positions, use of dogs in interrogation, nudity, mock execution, and the infamous waterboarding -- were ruled out by President Bush's recent executive order on CIA interrogations. Today, Durbin sent a letter to Gonzales asking him to make sure that's really what he meant to say. The letter uses a somewhat confusing formulation about whether the administration thinks the use of such techniques on U.S. personnel is legal, but that's simply a way of drawing out whether the Bush administration has created a loophole in its interpretation of the Geneva Conventions.

Full text below the fold.

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Very, very few people know the extent of the NSA surveillance program, part of which is called the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the rest of which we call Program X. We'd be dishonest if we suggested to you we knew how it works. But take a look at an interview Julian Sanchez did with former NSA analyst Russell Tice for Reason magazine in January 2006.

A brief recap: the NSA fired Tice in 2005 after he alleged that a colleague was a spy for the Chinese. (A DOD inspector general's report found "no evidence" to support the charge.) He outed himself in December of that year as a source for James Risen, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the NSA surveillance scandal, and alleged that the program as acknowledged publicly by the president was, he told me last year, "just the tip of the iceberg." That would certainly fit in with Alberto Gonzales and Mike McConnell's recent revelations. While he won't tell reporters what the iceberg exactly is -- he'd risk jail time for that -- Tice did tell me last year that NSA officials weren't particularly concerned about the risk of abuse after the administration told it in 2001 not to bother with FISA warrants. "When I brought up problems, [NSA employees] said, 'Who's gonna stop us? Keep your mouth shut.'"

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Even though Rove's aide Scott Jennings said less than nothing today about the U.S. attorney firings (he wouldn't even testify about emails which had already been turned over to the committee), he did testify about two other areas of interest. One of those concerns the White House's use of Republican National Committee-issued email accounts. A number of aides, including Jennings, violated the Presidential Records Act by using those accounts for official business. The underlying allegation, of course, is that Karl Rove's shop used a kind of off-the-record email system on purpose. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who's investigating, has called it "the most serious breach of the Presidential Records Act in the 30-year history of the law."

The White House's fig leaf for that has been the Hatch Act, which prohibits using government resources for political activities. Staffers in the White House Office of Political Affairs have both a White House address and computer and a RNC email address and devices. And as Jennings testified today, he frequently used his RNC address for official business (including matters related to the U.S. attorney firings) for "convenience and efficiency." (That's also what Jennings' boss Sara Taylor testified. Rove also found using his RNC blackberry incredibly convenient.) In fact, it sounds like he hardly used his White House address, since he carried an RNC-issued blackberry with him. The problem was not lost on Jennings, apparently, who testified, in response to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), that he had actually asked for a blackberry for his White House email once.

It was "very early in my employment," he testified, "the President was doing a lot traveling in my region [the South]... I was receiving a lot of email on my official account and I requested [a blackberry for White House email] at that moment, and I was told that it wasn't the custom to give the political affairs staffers those devices."

So even though Jennings was aware that this was a problem and apparently raised the issue with a supervisor, he was told to ignore it. That doesn't quite square with the White House explanation for the illegal use of the RNC accounts, which is "oops."

Congressional negotiators are busy working out a compromise with the Bush administration over reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). As a result, the specifics of any prospective legislation are currently unknown. But leading civil liberties and national security experts certainly know what they want the bill to contain -- and some, at least, are inclining favorably to a fix that Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, is proposing. Here's a guide to what to look for.

Carve-Outs vs. Safeguards. What the Bush administration wants -- and probably has done over the past six years -- is to remove FISA protections from a broad swath of people in the U.S. in order to look for terrorism connections. That has had, and will have, broad implications for what the U.S. intelligence community can collect in terms of domestic communications. "Everything that they've proposed to redefine the term 'electronic surveillance' under FISA, the effect is to put millions of communications outside the protection of FISA. It's a carve-out," says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. The person the administration wants to supervise that carve-out for U.S. persons able to be targeted is... the attorney-general.

Rockefeller's proposal, as it stands so far, doesn't change any existing term under FISA. Instead, pursuant to FISA as it stands, the National Security Agency can collect intelligence unimpeded on foreign-to-foreign communications. The administration would be required to go to the FISA Court for a blanket authorization targeting foreign suspected terrorists, in order to make a case that its methods are likely to net foreign communications primarily. All of what follows is a temporary fix -- set to expire after six months so the administration and Congress can work out a permanent solution -- but after 60 days of surveillance, the administration would have to inform Congress and the FISA Court exactly who has had their communications intercepted. And if the administration believes there's a "significant" pattern of communication between someone in the U.S. and a foreign-based surveillance target, it has to acquire a specific warrant from the FISA Court or end the surveillance.

"That preserves the basic framework of FISA," says Martin, "that to listen in to people in the U.S., you need a probable-cause warrant." No carve-out there, but a lot can change in deadline negotiation.

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