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It's late Friday afternoon, and yet, Howard "Cookie" Krongard still appears to be in office as the State Department inspector general. (His voice is still on his office voicemail, at least.) His spokeswoman says he has no intention of resigning, even as the likelihood of a congressional perjury investigation increases. So if he won't resign, who can fire Krongard?

In the final analysis, it would be up to President George W. Bush. Only a handful of federal inspectors-general can be fired by their agency chiefs, and State's is not among them. That's a good-government measure: after all, it's probably not conducive to integrity in governance if top officials can dismiss their internal watchdogs. (Only top U.S. allies can do that.) Savor the irony: by not firing a supposedly-independent public servant, President Bush is helping the cause of transforming the U.S. into a banana republic.

There are, however, procedures to be followed for cashiering Cookie. The first is to refer a complaint to the Inspector Generals' inspector -- Kenneth Kaiser of the FBI, who runs the integrity committee of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency. His committee is presumably the one State Department spokesman Sean McCormack meant when he said yesterday that State has "asked the overseer board of inspectors general to look into the work of the State Department Inspector General Office." However, when I called the State Department to confirm that, and to find out when the referral occurred, a charming State flack told me that it was after 5 p.m. on Friday and he had "a million things to do." I left a message with Kaiser's spokeswoman, and I'll bring you more as soon as I have more to report.

However, in the event that Kaiser thinks Cookie's gone a bit stale, Kaiser's boss might be more sympathetic. That would be famed Bush crony Clay Johnson III, who vetted such Bush administration luminaries as Mike Brown and David Safavian. If Krongard wants to fight on to the bitter end, he might have a friend in a very convenient place.

We're that much closer to a perjury investigation. Buzzy Krongard has told House oversight committee staff what he told TPMmuckraker on Wednesday: that he told his brother, State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, about his decision to join the advisory board of State Department contractor Blackwater. Cookie Krongard told the committee on Wednesday his brother had told him no such thing.

Waxman says he'll hold a hearing the week of December 3 to determine if Krongard lied to the committee under oath. Both Krongard brothers will be invited to testify. And you thought your last family reunion was awkward. But will Howard Krongard resign before then?

Here's what Buzzy Krongard told Waxman's staff, according to a just-released Waxman memorandum:

Buzzy Krongard stated that Howard Krongard called him specifically to ask about any relationship he had with Blackwater “in preparation for his testimony” to the Committee. Buzzy Krongard stated: “He asked me whether I had any financial interest or any ties to Blackwater, and so I told him ‘I’m going on their Board.’” According to Buzzy Krongard, “He responded by saying, ‘Why would you do that?’ and ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’” Buzzy Krongard then said, “I told him that was my decision, not his, and that we just differed on that.”

Buzzy Krongard stated that during the Committee hearing, he was at home watching it live. He listened to Howard Krongard’s prepared opening statement. Then, he heard Howard Krongard offer spontaneously the comment that his brother had no connection to Blackwater. Buzzy Krongard said: “You could have blown me over.” During the hearing, he attempted to reach Howard Krongard by telephone. Before he could reach him, Buzzy Krongard received a call from Howard Krongard and explained again that he was a member of the Board.

Apparently Buzzy called the committee after receiving a letter from Waxman yesterday. As Waxman reiterated at the hearing, lying to committee staff -- even if not deposed under oath -- is a potential criminal offense, and Buzzy offered this account without being subpoenaed.

Update: Just got off the phone with Cookie Krongard's spokeswoman, Diane Quest. Quest says she just saw Waxman's letter and has taken it in to Krongard for review. "I don't see us having any comment on it," she says. No word yet on whether he'll go back to testify at the just-announced hearing. And, for the record: Will Krongard resign? "As far as I know, no."

The version of the surveillance bill that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday (and that was approved in a do-over vote today) strips out the hotly-debated immunity provision for telecommunications companies. But several other proposals disliked by civil libertarians remain. For instance: like the Senate Select Intelligence Committee version that served as its template, there isn't a role for the FISA Court in approving surveillance of foreign-to-domestic communications. That power, formerly in the hands of an independent court -- to approve quaint things like "warrants" -- would reside with the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

Comments Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies:

"Even with the substantial improvements made by the Committee yesterday, the bill still authorizes unconstitutional surveillance of Americans' international communications; the bill eliminates the prior judicial approval for such surveillance that was contained in FISA before the Protect America Act and is required by the Fourth Amendment."

So no matter what Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) brings to the floor, it looks like lights-out for the FISA Court here.

Sure enough, Rep. Henry Waxman wrote yesterday to Buzzy Krongard to sort out whether or not his brother, State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, truthfully testified to Waxman's committee that Buzzy never told him about joining the advisory board of State Department contractor Blackwater.

Waxman didn't subpoena Krongard, but asked if he'd consent to a "transcribed interview" by November 30. He also wants a couple pieces of documentation. From Waxman's letter (pdf):

1. All documents reflecting communications to or from (a) Erik Prince, (b) Blackwater USA or any parent companies, subsidiaries, or affiliated companies thereof (collectively, "Blackwater"); or (c) any officers, employees, or other persons affiliated with Blackwater.

2. All documents, including phone records, relating to communications with Howard J. Krongard regard Erik Prince or Blackwater.

3. All other documents relating to Blackwater or your relationship with Blackwater.

Look out Anchorage Daily News (and maybe others)! Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is gonna get ya! He's not saying how, but he's gonna get ya.

Just because two oil executives have pleaded guilty to bribing Stevens, his son, and a handful of Alaska state lawmakers, and a grand jury is hearing evidence against Stevens and his son, the Daily News keeps on reporting that Stevens is mixed up with the wrong crowd. And probably just to sell more papers, whenever one of those Alaska state lawmakers gets convicted of taking bribes from the executives (Bill Allen and Rick Smith of Veco), the Daily News feels compelled to mention Stevens and his son. Stevens spoke his mind to the Daily News in an interview:

"Your papers print (the names of) those people who have been convicted and my son's name and mine at the same time. As far as the public is concerned, it's all the same ball of wax," Stevens said. "I'm not going to comment on that ball of wax."

Just for example, take the trial of former state pol Vic Kohring for taking Veco bribes. The paper reported comments by both Kohring's lawyer and jurors that Stevens and his son were really the ones who should be on trial. And during former Alaska lawmaker's Pett Kott's trial, the paper reported when Veco exec Bill Allen admitted that he'd paid for renovations on Stevens' Alaska home. Now, is that fair?

And is it really that big of a deal that one the most powerful, longest-serving senators in the Senate's history is under investigation?

"I don't see any reason why we should have had this massive press interest in what's going on," Stevens said. "It's just an investigation of a federal agency. They go on all the time. No one else talks about them the way they talk about the one involving me."

So put two and two together: 1) the paper has been unfairly tying him to crooked locals and 2) the investigation isn't that newsworthy anyway. Clearly, the ADN is on a smear campaign. As Stevens said before, the paper's trying to "assassinate" him. And that's a crime that will not go unpunished:

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Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post and Warren Strobel of McClatchy unearth a gem I missed from Wednesday's Cookie Krongard hearing. Apparently, the Justice Department has a criminal probe open into the construction of the Baghdad embassy. That would explain Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-CA) focus on Krongard's alleged non-cooperation with Justice on the embassy contracting issue. Kessler:

The probe came to light Wednesday during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing into the actions of State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. Though lawmakers appeared careful not to mention names of people under investigation, Krongard mentioned two people during his testimony, both of whom are key figures in the building of the embassy, as he defended his practice of meeting with people under investigation.

"I would like to tell you exactly what I was doing, both with Mr. Golden and Ms. French," Krongard told lawmakers.

James L. Golden is a Washington-based contract employee of the State Department who oversees the project, though earlier this year the U.S. ambassador to Iraq barred him from returning to that country after he was suspected of altering evidence after a mortar attack. Mary French is the embassy project coordinator based in Baghdad.

Justice isn't commenting. But perhaps this probe is why the FBI paid Krongard a recent visit?

In the middle of a story in the Baltimore Sun about the sibling tension between State Department inspector general Cookie Krongard and his brother Buzzy, there's this revelation: apparently, in the phone conversation where Buzzy told Cookie he was going over to Blackwater, Cookie tried to talk his brother out of it.

Buzzy Krongard was watching that testimony at home in Lutherville and said he was "flabbergasted" by his brother's remarks. The pair had talked about three weeks earlier, Buzzy Krongard said. "I told him I was going on the advisory board, and he then said, 'I don't think that's a very good idea,' and I said that was for me to figure out."

Cookie Krongard, as we reported yesterday, is not saying another word about the incident. But Buzzy's latest revelation -- which he did not mention to me when TPMm broke the story -- suggests even more trouble for Cookie. If true, then Cookie clearly acknowledged that the appointment of his brother to Blackwater's advisory board would create a conflict of interest for him as the State Department inspector general.

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He probably called it a working vacation.

TPMm friend Nick Schwellenbach at POGO highlighted this a couple weeks back, but it's never too late to bring to your attention the travel photos of Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the embattled State Department inspector general.

To the left and above, Cookie hangs out with his security detail. "Not too worried about the bad guys at the moment," the caption says. Unfortunately, those guys weren't around for Cookie's Congressional hearing earlier this week.

To the right, see him kick back in what he calls the "V V I P lounge" of Kabul airport on what appears to be a leopard-skin chair! He must be tired from a hard day of thoroughly investigating waste, fraud and abuse in Afghanistan all by himself.

Below, a sporty-looking Cookie climbs the ruins of what he claims is a Taliban armored personnel carrier! (They had those?)

The Justice Department is bringing new attention to the "potential criminal activity," poor planning, and faulty construction in the massive $736 million development of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. During testimony at the House Oversight Committee, State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard revealed that one of the individuals under investigation is James L. Golden, who oversees the embassy construction project but was barred from Iraq earlier this year after he was suspected of altering evidence after a mortar attack. Meanwhile, Krongard has recused himself from involving himself in any investigation in the matter. (Washington Post)

The State Department has dropped its plan to force diplomats to take assignments in Iraq. Despite the fact that some diplomats called the “directed assignments” “potential death sentences,” volunteers have filled all of the empty 48 positions. (AP)

Watchdog groups are accusing the Democrats of attempting to reverse a White House policy of ensuring the timely public release of Congressional budget information. A newly released House-Senate conference report reveals Democratic plans to delay by several months the release of spending priorities. (ABC’s “The Blotter)

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Hear that? Those are the hosannas of civil libertarians.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, by a single vote, passed a surveillance bill yesterday. And it doesn't include retroactive legal immunity for telecommunications companies that complied with the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance programs. Since the Senate intelligence committee's version of the FISA Amendments Act of 2007 does have the immunity provision, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the majority leader, has the discretion to choose which bill to bring to the Senate floor for a vote.

It's more than clear by now that the White House wants the immunity provision badly. AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein says that the reason isn't to spare the telecoms financial indemnity, or a matter of "fairness," as administration officials claim. Rather, it's to stop some 40 class-action suits against the companies from revealing how massive, how domestic and how illegal warrantless surveillance was between 2001 and 2007. Revelations from those suits could even, hypothetically at least, lead to criminal charges against administration officials and telecom companies. So needless to say, the White House is none too pleased with the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. And it won't be pleased with Reid if he brings the judiciary committee's bill to the floor.

The New York Times reports that an immunity compromise pushed by Rep. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has some support:

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the panel, is pushing a plan that would substitute the federal government as the defendant in the lawsuits against the telecommunications companies. That would mean that the government, not the companies, would pay damages in successful lawsuits.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said in an interview after the vote Thursday that he would support a compromise along the lines of the Specter proposal.

Mr. Whitehouse was one of two Democrats who voted against an amendment proposed by Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, that would have banned immunity for the companies. “I think there is a good solution somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Whitehouse said.

Perhaps, but that assumes the White House wants a compromise. In another headache for President Bush, the House passed its companion surveillance bill, the Restore Act, yesterday, and that doesn't include telecom immunity either. We'll see who blinks first.