It's true that in Washington, adversaries often wind up drinking together after hours. But when insiders at the FBI saw that Sen. Ted Stevens had RSVP'd "yes" to last Friday's annual director's holiday bash, the hunters couldn't quite conceive of partying with the prey. FBI agents raided the Alaska Republican's home less than five months ago as part of a sprawling corruption probe.
Every member of Congress is invited to the party, but Stevens was among those who had replied to say he'd be attending. But the embattled senator must have gotten cold feet: He was a no-show at the packed party, where handcuffs and holsters abound.
Take heart, California's Fourth Congressional District. Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) may be under federal investigation for taking bribes from Jack Abramoff, but he's got due process on his side. And he says he's going to litigate his way to at least one more term:
Rep. John Doolittle disclosed Wednesday that his attorney is fighting subpoenas issued to him for office records and that he believes the investigation of him will be on hiatus for one to two years while the constitutionality of the subpoena is fought out in the courts....
In a telephone news conference Wednesday, Doolittle said the legal battle is delaying the federal investigation.
"My attorney tells me that this issue alone â the constitutional issue presented by those subpoenas, which as you know is also being litigated against the Justice Department by the U.S. House of Representatives â is going to take one to two years to resolve," Doolittle said.
He was asked: "Do you see your case stretching one to two years down the road then?"
"Since the subpoenas involve me and my office, that's what I am saying â one to two years on this issue alone," he said.
We've had some fun keeping track of the various muddled descriptions of the advice that White House lawyers gave the CIA about the torture tapes.
But The Washington Posthas the clearest description yet of the unclear counsel:
When told that some high-ranking CIA officials were demanding that the tapes be destroyed, the White House lawyers "consistently counseled caution," said one U.S. official familiar with Hayden's testimony. Another source said that Harriet E. Miers followed up with a similar recommendation in 2005, making her the fourth White House lawyer "urging caution" on the action.
But: "other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed." To be sure, all of-the-above could be true.
Meanwhile, there's this:
[CIA Director Michael] Hayden's message to lawmakers last week was that the White House officials neither advocated destroying the tapes nor counseled against their destruction.
Why so much confusion?
"People are trying to recall stuff that happened four or five years ago," said [one former senior attorney for the CIA]. "They are trying to speak with honesty and candor, but they are also having to get 'lawyered' up themselves -- they have to protect themselves."
Attorney General Michael Mukasey is limiting White House access to information about Department of Justice investigations to only those cases âwhere it is important for the performance of the president's duties" and crucial "from a law enforcement perspective.â Gonzalesâ protocols authorized more than 40 Justice Department officials and 400 White House officials to keep tabs on investigations. During the Clinton administration, only seven White House and Justice officials were permitted to receive such information. (McClatchy)
The Justice Department refused to send any representation to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing yesterday on the brutal gang rape of KBR/Halliburton employee, Jamie Leigh Jones, in the Green Zone more than two years ago. Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) (Jonesâ Representative who received a call from the victimâs father when she was still locked inside of a shipping container) told the committee, âwhat Jamie will tell you paints a picture of lawlessness â where criminals go unpunished and victims are vilified. For American civilian contractors, Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge.â (ABCâs âThe Blotter,â The Gavel)
The chief of the State Departmentâs embassy-building program (Charles Williams) will be retiring before the completion of the $730 million embassy in Baghdad. This is not his first disgraceful and early departure. Williams âresigned from two other high-profile jobs -- head of the $4 billion New York City School Construction Authority and then chief operating officer of the D.C. public schools. In New York, an âaudit found that he had given misleading information on the progress of projects he was overseeingâ and in D.C. âan audit said he authorized shoddy contracting procedures and left the school system vulnerable to waste and fraud.â (Washington Post)
We all can get along. At least for the time being.
After the House intelligence committee threatened to issue subpoenas yesterday, the Justice Department backed down. Now the CIA will begin forking over documents relating to the destruction of the torture tapes, and the committee will hear from their second witness, the CIA's general counsel John Rizzo.
The DoJ seemed keen to paint Congress' reaction to their letter last Friday as an overreaction. Spokesman Brian Roehrkasse told the New York Times that "the department has 'no desire to block any Congressional investigation' and has not advised the C.I.A. against cooperating with the committee." And the AP relays that Department officials "denied they had changed their stance on the investigation."
And indeed, if you look at their letter to the committee from last Friday, where they "respectfully request" that the committee sit on their thumbs until the DoJ probes into the tapes' destruction wraps up, they have a point. They were just askin'. But somehow the graciousness and subtlety of the letter was lost on the House intelligence committee, who pronounced themselves "stunned" that the Department would move to block their investigation and said that, indeed, they'd been "notified that the Department of Justice has advised CIA not cooperate with our investigation."
Really, if the DoJ was just asking, it should have been pretty clear off the bat that the answer was "no." But apparently the threat of subpoenas was needed to drive the point home.
Now, while The Washington Post, straightforwardly calls this a reversal on the Department's part, the Times hedges, calling it a "partial resolution." Take, for instance, Roehrkasse (take him, please!):
âThe wisdom, propriety and appropriateness of the decision to destroy these tapes are worthy and compelling subjects of an oversight investigation,â Mr. Roehrkasse said. But he said officials were still concerned that a Congressional inquiry could cause âdisruption of our initial witness interviews, the delay and disruption of our document collection, and the tainting of any future criminal prosecutorial action because of Congressional grants of immunity to witnesses.â
Accordingly, things will get interesting when it comes to Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who ordered the tapes' destruction. The committee wants to talk to him in January, along with Rizzo. But, with Rodriguez's lawyer crying about witchhunts and scapegoats, that's going to be hairy:
Officials said Mr. Rodriguezâs appearance before the committee might involve complex negotiations over legal immunity at a time when the Justice Department and the intelligence agency were reviewing whether the destruction of the tapes broke any laws.
The Bush administration is dropping a plan to take control over the promotions of military lawyers, following an outpouring of alarm over the independence of uniformed attorneys who have repeatedly objected to the White House's policies toward prisoners in the war on terrorism.
Under the proposal, first reported by the Globe on Saturday, politically appointed lawyers in the Pentagon would have gained the power to veto the appointment or promotion of any member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the military's 4,000-member uniformed legal officers group.
Jeez. Not only is Hans von Spakovsky's FEC nomination bound up in the Senate, but one of his pet causes, having states reject voter applications if the data does not match driver's license or Social Security records, has hit a snag in Florida.
Civil rights groups argued that the policy amounted to "disenfranchisement-by-bureaucracy." Now a federal judge has agreed:
U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle on Tuesday sided with the NAACP's request for a preliminary injunction suspending Florida's 2-year-old "voter match" law while courts decide whether it violates federal laws protecting the right to vote....
Lawyers for Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning contended the matching process is required to prevent voter fraud....
But in his order Tuesday, Mickle wrote that Florida's match law "stands as an obstacle" to the objectives of the federal Help America Vote Act, by making it harder to vote.
"Though it is true that prevention of voter fraud and prevention of voter disenfranchisement were both goals of HAVA, the impetus for the Act was to respond to the millions of votes that went uncounted -- not the millions of incidents of voter registration fraud," Mickle wrote.
In a direct challenge to President Bush, a House panel said Wednesday it has prepared subpoenas to force CIA officials to testify about the agency's secret destruction of interrogation videotapes.
The Justice Department had blocked the officials from appearing at a closed hearing before the panel this week, citing the department's ongoing investigation into the destruction of videotapes of the harsh interrogation of two al-Qaida suspects in 2002. The CIA destroyed the tapes in 2005.
The House Intelligence Committee's threat marked the second challenge to a White House attempt to shut down independent investigations into the matter, and escalates a fight over which branch of government properly has jurisdiction.
It seems they haven't issued the subpoenas yet. This is more of a last chance threat for the DoJ to back down. Ball's in your court, Mr. Mukasey.
Today, Mark Filip, the administration's nominee to be Michael Mukasey's deputy, had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And much like his future boss did during his hearing, Filip (like Mukasey, a former federal judge) treaded lightly, seeming deferential while also proving elusive on certain key questions. Here's video:
When Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA ) asked whether waterboarding is torture, he punted, parroting Mukasey's answer exactly. Like Mukasey, Filip called the practice "repugnant." But stopped short, explaining that since Mukasey is conducting a review, he couldn't "get out in front of him on that question." He added: "if I am confirmed... I would view it like any other legal question and take a long hard look at it, and if I had a view other than his, I would tell him so."
Kennedy responded that after what Mukasey went through at his hearing, "We thought you'd be able to give a response."
When Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) pushed Filip on the Justice Department's recent stance that Congress had to sit on its thumbs until the Department finished its probe of the CIA's destruction of its torture tapes, he got pretty much the same result. To Specter, the issue is clear (see video below) that Congress has "pre-eminence over the Department of Justice on these investigations."
Specter asked if Filip agreed. He dodged: "I would hope, Senator, that I don't have to pick between the two." Some sort of agreement could be worked out with Congress, he said. When Specter tried again, all he got was "I would work very hard to find common ground."
The situation right now, to refresh your memory, is devoid of common ground. The Department has asked the CIA to refuse all Congressional requests until its probe wraps up.
But Specter said that he remains optimistic. He spoke with Mukasey the day before, he said, and hoped that conversation was just "the beginning" of more discussions.
Victory! Or not quite. The White House's public freak-out over the New York Times has won them... a correction to the Times' sub-headline:
Catherine Mathis, senior vice president of corporate communications for the newspaper, stated that the sub-headline has been changed, adding that a correction would be printed. However, Mathis also pointed out that the White House did not challenge the contents of the article.
A TPM Reader runs through how the Times might phrase that correction:
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