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The Duke Cunningham case continues to interest in more ways than one. Thomas Kontogiannis, a Greek businessman who helped launder bribes to Cunningham and a relatively minor player in the case, has proven the most sensitive prosecution of the bunch. Indications are that Kontogiannis was a counterterrorism informant, and prosecutors have fought to keep the details of Kontogiannis' cooperation secret ever since he pleaded guilty.

It's becoming one of the more remarkable cases of government secrecy, reports The San Diego Union-Tribune:

More than a year ago, a New York financier pleaded guilty to laundering bribe money for former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in a deal that was kept secret for months.

That closed-door bargain triggered a battle between federal prosecutors and public-access advocates that took secrecy to unprecedented heights.

At one point, attorneys arguing for openness were prohibited from sharing their briefs with their clients, who were media. Even the court's docket tracking the progress of the case was not publicly available until recently.

While portions of the case remain secret, a batch of previously sealed court filings was released this week that show the government arguing what media law experts said was an astounding position....

In essence, prosecutors argued that once the executive branch says something is classified, courts are virtually powerless to review or disagree.

From the AP:

A former high-ranking Justice Department official is being accused of criminal conflict of interest in the latest case stemming from the investigation of disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Robert Coughlin was deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department's criminal division before his resignation a year ago.

In court papers filed Monday in federal court in Washington, prosecutors accused Coughlin of providing assistance to a lobbyist and the lobbyist's firm while receiving gifts from the firm and discussing prospective employment there. The lobbyist isn't named but The Associated Press has previously reported that Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff's lobbying team who also is under investigation.

Update: The filing today is a criminal information, meaning that Coughlin will very likely be pleading guilty sometime soon. We'll have that document up soon.

Coughlin stepped down about a year ago as the investigation of Kevin Ring, a former DoJ official and aide to Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), was heating up.

Update: Here is the charge filed today, which has very little in the way of facts about what Coughlin might be admitting. As I said, it's an information, which means that a guilty plea is likely to follow.

Update: The Washington Post reported last year that Coughlin, who worked with Ring on John Ashcroft's Senate staff, had accepted tickets to sporting events from Ring, who was by then one of Jack Abramoff's closest associates. Those coveted skybox seats, remember, constituted one of Abramoff's prime means of wooing lawmakers and staffers. Coughlin worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at the time. It looks from the information that Ring and Abramoff also talked to Coughlin about working for Abramoff after Coughlin was done with public service.

When Coughlin later moved to the criminal division, the DoJ said that he recused himself from any dealings with the Abramoff investigation.

How do you say goodbye to a HUD chief who ineptly presided over the worst national housing crisis in recent memory, who made HUD a byword for cronyism, and who resigned under the cloud of a federal criminal investigation?

Last Wednesday, Alphonso Jackson got the send off he deserved, as you can see from the cover of the program for the event obtained by TPMmuckraker. The event, which was held in the main auditorium at HUD, included an overflow crowd of about 1,000 HUD employees, said HUD spokesman Jerry Brown. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the special guest speaker at the event, Brown said.

Despite the regal appearance of the program, Brown said that the event mainly involved "a slide show and a person who sang the national anthem." It was "pretty much the standard fare when a secretary departs." You can bet that the slide show contained plenty of pictures of Jackson -- and maybe even a painting or two.

You can see the full program here.

From the AP:

Under pressure to increase their numbers, the Army and Marine Corps are sharply raising the number of recruits with felony convictions they are admitting to the services.

Data released by a congressional committee shows that the number of soldiers admitted to the Army with felony records jumped from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007. And the number of Marines with felonies rose from 208 to 350.

You can see a breakdown of the numbers by service and felony released by the House oversight committee here (pdf).

Bob Schaffer's Jack Abramoff problem isn't going away.

Ever since the Colorado Republican Senate candidate declared that he thought the guest worker system used in the Northern Mariana Islands was so great that it ought to be exported to the mainland, the media has been on his back. And now a conservative organization has jumped into the fray, a spokesman for Colorado's Right to Life telling The Denver Post that Schaffer's boosterism for the Marianas meant he was no pro-life advocate: "The pro-life movement will no longer give a pass to candidates like Bob Schaffer who look the other way when Chinese women are forced to abort their children."

Schaffer's response to the comment was twofold. First, he made clear that he didn't question the veracity of federal investigations that found instances of Chinese guest workers being forced to get abortions. But he wants everyone to know that he did his due diligence as a crack investigator when he went on his trip to the islands in 1999 -- which was organized and managed by Jack Abramoff, the Northern Mariana Islands government, and the garment manufacturers. And, try as he might, he just couldn't find any evidence of it:

Schaffer, who visited the Marianas in 1999 while in Congress, said allegations of forced abortions were among the things he looked into on that trip.

"I absolutely did not look the other way on this issue," Schaffer said, saying he interviewed "dozens" of workers and met with local religious leaders about the topic....

Schaffer said during his visit he tried to determine how often abortions occurred.

"In five days, I did not observe a forced abortion or meet anybody who had any knowledge of them," he said, adding that no subsequent examples were ever brought to him.

The comment from Colorado's Right to Life has sparked something of an intra-pro-life activist battle, with Colorado's Citizens for Life calling Colorado's Right to Life's criticism "simply irrational."

After a steady string of legal defeats, including conviction on all counts for bribing Duke Cunningham, Wilkes finally caught a break last month when an appeals court ruled that he could be released on bail pending his appeal of the case. Wilkes had been sent immediately to prison after his conviction because the judge simply thought Wilkes was such a crook and liar that he'd be sure to skip bail.

But it seems that Wilkes, once flush with multi-million dollar defense contracts, won't be able to seize his second chance:

A federal judge said Friday that [Wilkes] hasn't raised enough money to get out of jail while he appeals his case.

Wilkes sighed as U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said roughly $400,000 in retirement accounts pledged by family members couldn't be used as part of his bail....

Burns said he wants to be sure the government can collect on Wilkes' bail if necessary. He said he doesn't trust that a "stubborn" Wilkes will be able to stick to bail conditions "if it's not consistent with his agenda."

It appears that Wilkes is yet another victim of the burst housing bubble: real estate pledged by himself and his family as collateral for bail was sufficient to get him free in February of 2007 when he was indicted, but dropping property values have left him well short of the needed $1.4 million.

God giveth and he taketh away. Detroit Mayor Kwame "Busted Is What You See!" Kilpatrick can attest to that:

The mayor addressed a crowd Saturday at Fellowship Chapel Church in Detroit. He and his former chief of staff face perjury and other charges stemming from their testimony during a whistle-blower trial last year.

Kilpatrick told the crowd: "I'm not being whupped by the devil; I am being punished by my God. I know that my disobedience put me in the situation I am in."

So it seems that Kilpatrick finally understands what he did to deserve the mess he's in. That much is clear. The next logical question is what Detroit did to deserve Kwame Kilpatrick.

John McCain has based part of his candidacy for president on his record of independence from big name lobbying efforts. But The New York Times reports that of the campaign's 106 top fund-raisers who have raised over $100,000 for McCain, a sixth of them are lobbyists. The list of bundlers was voluntarily released by the campaign. (New York Times)

The New York Times reported Sunday on the practice of top "military analysts" appearing on television and radio to comment on American military affairs being handpicked and debriefed by the Pentagon. The effort began before the Iraq war, and several former military officials, some with ties to overseas military contractors, have gone to bat for the Pentagon to share favorable news. (New York Times)

A Supreme Court ruling from 1950 has prevented active-duty military personnel from suing for medical malpractice. The initial, and persistent, reasoning was that an excess of litigation would hamstring true military objectives. Now, after a series of recent questionable medical procedures, some in the military are demanding the ruling be amended. (LA Times)

Read More →

They've got the bark part down pat.

You heard about Freedom's Watch, the billionaire-backed, uber-connected attack group that was going to put a $250 million hurt on the Democratic nominee and a number of Congressional candidates to boot. Well, that hasn't turned out too well.

And now there seems to be no shortage of self-doubt amongst conservative insiders about their prospects for a good bite come the fall. The left has its act together, but a Swift Boat 2.0 has yet to emerge for the right.

From The Washington Post:

With Sen. John McCain facing the prospect of being dramatically outspent in the race for the White House, a collection of major Republican donors and party leaders that includes former Bush strategist Karl Rove is scrambling to catch up with the efforts of liberal groups aiming to influence the outcome in November....

This year, allies of President Bush such as Rove, billionaire T. Boone Pickens, New York financier Paul Singer and Florida developer Mel Sembler, who helped harness and direct millions of dollars to the 2004 campaign, are working to rekindle those efforts. But they are finding the 2008 landscape to be more challenging, according to Republican sources familiar with the ongoing talks....

"I hear rumblings," said Brad Freeman, a Bush donor in California. "People keep asking the question, 'What are we going to do this time?' "

Sembler, a big Bush donor and former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, confirmed that he and others are working to identify a group that could help shape the agenda for the presidential campaign and steer major donors to it. A motivating factor, he said, is the sense that Democrats are much further along in their efforts.

"They are very organized. They started a whole lot earlier," Sembler said. "We are not quite as organized. But our efforts are still going forward."

Now, maybe this is just a bunch of premature talk. After all, this is not a group that is just going to sit on its thumbs. But it does seem possible that rather than one prominent conservative attack group emerging this election, there will be a cluster who emerge at different times.

Another interesting dynamic this election will be whether Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticizes outside attack groups as he has in the past, and as he did speaking to Chris Matthews last week, and whether those groups respond. The Post's reporting suggests that McCain's criticism actually has had an impact, making conservative donors more skittish about taking the plunge. On the other hand, the McCain camp seems to be puzzled by the response:

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said Friday that he understands the cause and effect and is not bothered by it. He conceded that he has been surprised that no one group has emerged on the Republican side, in spite of the candidate's comments. "I would have thought by now someone would occupy that space," Davis said.

In the annals of local muck, lawmaker assault is a consistent subcategory. Maybe it's the pressures of the job, but this week we meet yet another: Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston).

Miles was indicted this past Monday for two counts of deadly assault. Though many in this category could be called impulsive, few appear quite so conflicted in heart and mind as Borris Miles.

Miles was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2006. His notoriety began only four months later when he was walking through the capitol with his two children and saw a couple of paintings he found offensive. The paintings were curated by an anti-death penalty group. The first depicted a lynching, the second an electrocution with the caption "Doing God's Work." Mile's response? He took them off the walls and hid them in his office. Why Miles freaked out is not quite clear. He later said that part of the problem was that the paintings were displayed without an explanatory note, and "As a black man, I was offended on the first one, and as a Christian on the second one."

The following July, Miles shot a man who was attempting to burglarize his construction site. Miles, a former police officer, had a license for the gun, and was never charged-- he was protected by a self-defense law. A law he opposed. The New York Times reported:

In July, Mr. Miles confronted a robber at his home construction site and shot him in the leg. No charges were filed, but he said he still opposed the new law. "We have a right to defend ourselves in our home. I support that and I always will," Mr. Miles said. But the law went too far, he said, by expanding the right to use deadly force in the workplace and one's automobile.

But apparently restraint is not much of a watchword for Miles.

In December 2007, Miles had a real red letter day.

In the afternoon, he brandished a pistol while threatening Texas Southern University regent Willard Jackson and his wife during a Rockets/Mavericks game at the Toyota Center.

In the evening, he forced his way into an invitation-only party of a business rival, and threatened another husband-wife pair. First brandishing his pistol again, then telling them that he is a "thug" and a "gangster," and then forcibly kissing the wife, then her husband:

Hall (the prosecution) said his client, party host David Harris, decided to press charges after a drunken Miles shocked guests with loud, profane language, grabbed his face and planted a Godfather-style "kiss of death" on his cheeks. Harris also said Miles handed him a pistol and declared, "You don't know what I'm capable of doing."

On January 14th, Miles' lawyer said that Miles "disagrees" with the reports of the event.

However, on Wednesday, he turned himself in. He's currently out on bail, facing up to $4,000 in fines and a year in jail. Unfortunately for Miles, his political career isn't in the balance, since earlier this year he lost in the Democratic primary to the former Texas rep he beat in 2006. Since the indictment, he's managed to keep quiet and has made no statement.