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Here's a little taste of how Scott Jennings answered any questions that had anything remotely to do with the firing of U.S. attorneys this morning.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) couldn't even get Jennings to answer the question "what role you have in the selection of nominees to be U.S. attorneys." When Jennings refused to answer based on the President's assertion of executive privilege, Leahy cautioned, "now, let's not be too contemptuous of this committee, I'm just asking you what you do."

Other lines of questioning were (slightly) more fruitful. We'll have more on that later.

Note: Jennings' former boss in the White House, Sara Taylor, began her hearing last month with a similar tack, but then ended up answering a number of questions that Jennings has refused to answer.

So here's Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) verdict on Alberto Gonzales' testimony, delivered during this morning's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Karl Rove's aide Scott Jennings.

Gonzales, he says, sought to mislead the committee, but should not be investigated for perjury, because his testimony, while misleading, doesn't rise to that standard.

Reading from a Supreme Court opinion on the statute of perjury, which said that a witness cannot be convicted of perjury simply because he is a "wily witness" who "shrewdly" evades the questioner by speaking "the literal truth," Specter said that that's what we have here. Gonzales is certainly "wily" and sought to mislead -- but he spoke, in Specter's judgment, "the literal truth." (Here's how that might be.)

But "just because it's not perjury," Specter said, "doesn't mean it's the way that the highest ranking legal officer in the United States ought to respond to a Senate inquiry." Specter went on to say that he thought that the conclusion of the committee's investigation of the U.S. attorney firings would be to "end the tenure of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales." When that conclusion will come, however, no one knows.

The White House, as expected, claimed executive privilege with regard to testimony by Karl Rove and Rove's aide Scott Jennings about the U.S. attorney firings. You can see that letter here.

But while the White House found that Rove, as an "immediate presidential advisor" was "immune" from Congressional subpoena, they did not make that claim for Jennings. And so he's up this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We'll bring you a little from that hearing, which is going on now, shortly.

Even as Congress seeks to determine whether Alberto Gonzales lied under oath about the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, the Democrats have been negotiating with the administration to update the surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

As The Los Angeles Times reports this morning, the alleged need for such a fix was precipitated by a FISA court judge's ruling, which restricted the ability of the National Security Agency to collect information on multiple surveillance targets under a single warrant. Additionally, the FISA Court apparently balked at allowing the NSA to collect intelligence on persons whose location inside or outside the U.S. is unknown. Indeed, there's a lot that isn't clear about the ruling -- the FISA Court meets in secret -- but the Bush administration has apparently persuaded congressional leaders that it creates a cumbersome standard for surveillance, given the extent of the threat from terrorism.

Back in January, remember, the administration brought its warrantless wiretapping program -- known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which monitors communications between persons in the U.S. and "known" terrorists abroad -- under the auspices of FISA, making it no longer warrantless.

The administration's first proposal, apparently, was to take the power to authorize NSA surveillance of foreign targets away from the FISA court and give it to the attorney general . The Democrats, unsurprisingly, said no -- noting that it's generally a bad idea, but especially a bad idea with this attorney general. The administration came back late yesterday with a proposal that the director of national intelligence would have to sign off too. Again, the Democrats said no.

And here's the Dem proposal, as described by The Washington Post this morning:

Congressional Democrats outlined a temporary plan yesterday that would expand the government's authority to conduct electronic surveillance of overseas communications in search of terrorists.

The proposal, according to House and Senate Democrats, would permit a secret court to issue broad orders approving eavesdropping of communications involving suspects overseas and other people, who may be in the United States. To issue an order, the court would not need to identify a particular target overseas, but it would have to determine that those being targeted are "likely," in fact, overseas.

If a foreign target's communications to a person inside the United States reaches a "significant" number, then an court order based on probable cause would be required. It is unclear how "significant" would be defined.

This would seem to lower the bar in terms of the evidence needed to initiate surveillance. The FISA court has a probable cause standard to initiate surveillance of a member of Al Qaeda or some affiliated group. Apparently the Democrats' plan would initially lower that bar -- allowing the targeting of "suspects" -- but then require probable cause once the number of wiretaps became "significant," whatever that means.

Hopefully clarity will enter into whatever ultimate compromise bill emerges. Negotiators are racing to finish and vote on a proposal before the congressional August recess begins Monday. Unless the bill defines critical terms like "significant" and specifies what standard the government will have to meet to begin surveillance on a given target, the compromise will either snarl in congress, depriving the NSA of a tool it says it urgently needs, or protections on Americans' civil liberties will erode even further. Pick your poison.

Next stop, the Senate. The Senate leadership is expected to bring a vote on ethics reform this afternoon, which, if passed, would leave only a Presidential signature to make reform official. (USA TODAY)

Chiquita Banana has been in trouble recently for hiring a Columbian paramilitary group -identified by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization - to provide protection for the company. Chiquita has argued that, though they knew their actions were illegal, they would be unable to operate in Columbia without local protection. They are now justifying the decision by pointing to a series of meetings with government officials, including Michael Chertoff, that led Chiquita executives to believe the government would allow them to continue paying the paramilitaries. Chertoff allegedly sympathized with the position of Chiquita execs and told them he would inquire on the issue and get back to them, but never did, which the company took as de facto approval. (Washington Post)

Executive privilege! Are there two sweeter words in the English language? Not for Karl Rove, who got the OK from President Bush not to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee today over last year's firing of U.S. Attorneys. (McClatchy Newspapers)

Despite the administration's pledge to increase the number of contracts awarded to small business for Katrina-related projects, a new congressional analysis finds that percentage of such firms represented in contracting has dropped from 12% to 7% of all those awarded. In addition, the report found that $95 million in contracts that the government claimed were awarded to small businesses were actually awarded to large companies or were ineligible receipts. (USA TODAY)

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Well, that long awaited clarification from Alberto Gonzales about his testimony last week has arrived. And as you'd expect, it follows the same line that Gonzales and the administration have been touting, most recently in the letter yesterday from Michael McConnell. We'll have more on Gonzales' parsing of the parsing tomorrow.

Here's what Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) had to say after taking a gander:

“The Attorney General’s legalistic explanation of his misleading testimony under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week is not what one should expect from the top law enforcement officer of the United States. It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing.

“The Attorney General has until the end of this week to correct and supplement his testimony. I hope he will take that opportunity to clarify the many issues on which he appears not to have been forthcoming and to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American people the whole truth.”

Planning to eat at Uncle Ted's tonight? If you are, plan on canceling.

A former aide to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) filed papers in 2004 to create a restaurant company called Uncle Ted's Alaska LLC. But, unfortunately, it looks like the aide got cold feet last year, right around the time his boss' criminal investigation came to light. A few weeks following The Anchorage Daily News' initial coverage of the scandal, the aide, Trevor McCabe, dissolved the company. "Decision not to pursue original business idea," is the only explanation.

According to documents McCabe filed with the state, he was registered to run eating and drinking places, food stores and miscellaneous retail stores. Perhaps he had a vision for a chain restaurant devoted to foods loved by Stevens, who is known as "Uncle Ted" up in his home state. Alas, we'll never know (we can only offer our suggestion of "Big Boy" inspired icon). I can imagine a mean salmon sandwich, you could even call it a "Murkowski" for fun. Certainly pork (ribs? chop? roast?) would have been in generous supply.

This wouldn't have been the first time that McCabe used his relationship with Stevens for his benefit -- a connection that's become clearer due to the federal investigation of Stevens. He served on a marketing board with Stevens' son, Ben Stevens, that provided federal grants to the seafood industry, while they were paid "consulting fees" by the same companies receiving the money. He also benefited from a string of the elder Stevens' earmarks that have come under FBI scrutiny.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) cited his and his wife's health problems as reasons for his bizarre outburst on the House floor two weeks ago, where he threatened to bite Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) like an Alaskan mink "that kill their own." (Video here.)

Young lost his temper when Garrett tried to yank money Young wanted for native Alaskan students. He told the Republican Study Committee today that he regrets his aggressive response: “I come to you as a weakened man whose weaknesses are greater than my strengths at times,” he said.

It's just like old times. The Justice Department turned over an additional 40 pages of documents related to the U.S. attorney purge to Congress today. You can see them here. Please let us know in the comments what you find.

Here's our favorite of the lot.

In late December of last year, Sen. Pete Domenici's (R-NM) chief of staff Steve Bell called to speak with William Moschella, a senior Justice Department official, and made a follow-up call to the White House. Domenici, remember, had been frustrated that U.S. Attorney David Iglesias failed to indict a prominent state Democrat before the 2006 election on corruption charges. And after Iglesias was fired, Domenici apparently wanted to make sure that he wasn't canned in vain.

Here's what a White House aide wrote to Moschella about her conversation with Bell two weeks after Iglesias was fired:

[Bell] mentioned he had chatted with you today about his request for a non-partisan team that specializes in corruption to be sent down to NM.

I just wanted to circle up with you and see if you had any thoughts about it.

You might think that it goes without saying that a team of Justice Department prosecutors would be "non-partisan," but apparently in this administration, it needs saying.

There hasn't been much ambiguity that Domenici wanted Iglesias fired because he failed to speedily indict and convict key Democrats. Both Gonzales and Domenici have tried to cast the issue as a broader preoccupation with public corruption cases or white-collar cases -- but of course no other cases besides two prosecutions of state Democrats seem to have been at issue. So it shouldn't be surprising that Domenici moved shortly after Iglesias' firing to request that the White House ensure the U.S. attorney's office in New Mexico be beefed up with a "non-partisan team" (ahem) that "specializes in corruption."

You might say that Nancy Pelosi's toe is in the water:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) welcomed a resolution by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) to begin an impeachment inquiry of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"Of course it's merited," Pelosi said. "I've called for the resignation of the attorney general. But right now, we're focusing on health care for America's children, a strong energy bill for energy independence, lobby reform. ... If that's something he wants to introduce, I think there are certainly grounds."

But Pelosi fell short of committing to move the resolution through the House.

Here's our rundown of Inslee's resolution from yesterday.