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Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel will not step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Tuesday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports Rangel's decision to keep the position. Rangel has been taking increasing fire over items not reported on his financial disclosure forms. (New York Times)

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the new proposed rules for FBI national security investigations would help protect Americans from terrorists. Many of the Democrats on the committee were dubious of the new guidelines, saying that they do not trust the FBI or the Department of Justice to protect civil liberties and privacy rights. Mueller returns to Congress today, this time to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP)

A scientist who had assisted in the government's investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday, that he made an "honest mistake" in classifying the anthrax he examined as weaponized. Peter Jahrling's statement came shortly after FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a hearing yesterday (see above) that the National Academy of Sciences would be overseeing the review of the FBI's findings that another scientist, Bruce Ivins was behind the anthrax attacks. (Los Angeles Times)

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Indicted Sen. Ted Steven's (R-AK) most recent attempt to have his case thrown out, on the grounds that it violated the constitutional separations that prohibit members of Congress from being prosecuted for legislative actions, has been rejected by a U.S. District Judge.

From McClatchy:

[U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan] turned down Stevens' lawyers' request to throw out the seven-count indictment against the senator and said Tuesday in a hearing that if evidence arises at trial that looks as though it violates what's known as the speech-or-debate clause of the Constitution, he will consider barring it.

. . . Sullivan reviewed grand jury transcripts to determine whether witnesses were asked questions that would've violated the speech-or-debate clause, which limits what sort of evidence executive branch investigators can use when they probe acts by members of Congress. He said he saw a handful but that they were "in no way pervasive."

Stevens, in the midst of a re-election bid, didn't attend the court hearing Tuesday. However, he was in Washington at the Capitol.

Less than a week after the Alaska State Senate Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas in the investigation into Gov. Sarah Palin, those state employees who were ordered to testify won't be honoring the subpoenas, the Alaska attorney general said yesterday.

In a letter to Sen. Hollis French (D), who is overseeing the investigation, Attorney General Talis Colberg requested the subpoenas be withdrawn and spoke for the employees, stating their refusal to testify unless compelled by the full state Senate or the entire legislature.

From the AP:

Colberg, who was appointed by Palin, said the employees are caught between their respect for the Legislature and their loyalty to the governor, who initially agreed to cooperate with the inquiry but has increasingly opposed it since McCain chose her as his running mate.

"This is an untenable position for our clients because the governor has so strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity," Colberg wrote.

The legal action surrounding the investigation into Palin's firing of former Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, known as Trooper-Gate, has markedly increased since Palin was named the Republican vice-presidential nominee. When the investigation began just two months ago, Palin pledged the full-cooperation of herself and her staff.

The GOP campaign to thwart the Trooper-Gate investigation cranked into even higher gear early this morning, with an emailed announcement by Anchorage attorney Kevin Clarkson that, on behalf of five Republican members, he is suing to halt the investigation. Clarkson argued in the email that Democratic senators Hollis French and Kim Elton, and independent investigator Steve Branchflower have inappropriately politicized the probe "in an attempt to unlawfully smear Gov. Palin." The Republican legislators behind the move are Representatives Wes Keller, Mike Kelly, and Bob Lynn, and Senators Fred Dyson and Sen. Tom Wagoner.

In addition, the GOP Speaker of the House, Rep. John Harris, released a letter today in which he asserted that what "started as a bipartisan and impartial effort is becoming overshadowed by public comments from individuals at both ends of the political spectrum."

And McCain staffers were all over the airwaves making a similar claim, and arguing that, as a result, the matter should be turned over to the state personnel board -- a request made originally by Palin's lawyer.

There's evidence of additional involvement by national Republicans in the effort to stymie the probe. Clarkson told the Associated Press he's working with the Liberty Legal Institute (LLI) a Texas nonprofit legal firm that's donating its time. The LLI is the legal arm of the Free Market Foundation, a conservative activist group that describes itself on its website as "the statewide public policy council associated with Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family." Dobson, of course, is a key religious right leader and GOP power-broker.

As for Clarkson himself, one veteran Anchorage attorney described him, in an email to TPMmuckraker, as "a religious conservative who is known for taking on politically charged cases that get his name in the paper," but added that he "is not a heavy hitter".

By all accounts, this particular effort to get the courts to stop the probe is unlikely to succeed, as few courts would be likely to want to intervene in the management of an internal legislative matter. But the move may be designed as much to create political pressure on French and his allies to back down or soft pedal the investigation.

After reports that the Michigan Republican party planned to challenge voters whose homes had been foreclosed, thirteen senators have petitioned Attorney General Michael Mukasey to ensure that such voters would not be harassed or intimidated at their polling places.

"Foreclosures are devastating enough for affected families and neighborhoods without adding the outrage of disenfranchisement," wrote Sens. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Joseph Biden (D-DE), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russell Feingold (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barack Obama (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

In their letter, the senators called the tactic "simply a new variant of the destructive practice of voter 'caging.'" Voter caging is a term used to describe discouraging eligible voters to vote.

"In the middle of the worst economy in recent memory, with so many Americans fighting to stay in their homes, these allegations suggest a mean-spirited and desperate attempt to suppress the vote," said Whitehouse, who has authored legislation on voter suppression.

So Sarah Palin's latest explanation for why she fired Walt Monegan is that he had gone over her head in seeking federal money for an initiative to combat sexual assault crimes, before she had approved the program.

But it now appears that the program in question is one that most elected officials would be wary of admitting they hadn't strongly backed. According to Peggy Brown, who heads the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Monegan wanted to use the federal money to hire retired troopers and law enforcement officials, and assign them to investigate the most egregious cases of sexual assault -- including those against children.

In other words, if Palin's new story is true, she fired Monegan for being too aggressive in going after child molesters.

ABC News reported yesterday that, although Alaska leads the nation in reported rapes per capita, Palin hasn't made the issue a priority as governor.

Monegan, however, appeared eager to change that. "He seemed to get the issue and really took it seriously," Brown told TPMmuckraker.

According to the Palin camp, too seriously.

It's happened before, and it's threatening to happen again -- obstacles placed in the way of voters in low-income, highly Democratic areas.

The most recent charges come out of the swing county of Macomb in Michigan where late last week, the Michigan Messenger quoted the chairman of the Macomb County Republican Party, James Carabelli as stating that the party would be blocking voters who are registered at foreclosed addresses.

"We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses," Carabelli told the Messenger.

Michigan state voting laws allow "election challengers" to monitor the polls for the parties. If those challengers have "good reason to believe" that a person is ineligible -- such as not being a resident of the city or township -- they can lodge a challenge with the chairperson of the election precinct.

But according to voting rights experts, a foreclosure notice does not mean that a person is no longer a resident -- making it an inadequate basis for a challenge.

Just a few days after the article was published, Carabelli back-tracked on his statement, telling the Macomb Daily that the party has "no plans to do anything." He has now issued a full-throated denial, calling the original article "not true."

Today, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer told the AP that he "simply [does] not believe [Carabelli's] denial. This fits the pattern we've seen here in Michigan."

And just in case, Obama's Presidential Campaign, the Democratic National Committee and a number of voters filed for an injunction today, in order to prevent any GOP efforts to disenfranchise voters whose homes have been foreclosed on.

There's a moment in a lot of political scandals when the contradictions and inconsistencies in the story being put out by the figure accused become so glaringly obvious that they themselves turn into an important part of the story. We may now have reached that point in Trooper-Gate -- especially as regards Sarah Palin's stated reasons for firing Walt Monegan.

A court filing made yesterday by Palin's lawyer, Thomas Van Flein, asserts that Palin fired Monegan as the state's public safety commissioner because of a series of instances of Monegan's insubordination on budget issues, including Monegan working with an Alaska legislator to seek funding for a project Governor Palin had already vetoed. This alleged pattern of "outright insubordination" is said to have culminated in Monegan planning a trip to Washington to go after federal funds for an initiative to fight sexual assault crimes, which had not yet been approved by the governor. (Van Flein's account was in sync with the line taken last night by a McCain campaign spokesman at a press conference in Alaska.)

The issue of Monegan's work on the sexual assault initiative doesn't come completely out of the blue. In a lengthy exploration of Palin's record on combating sexual assault crimes, ABC News reported yesterday that Monegan was the "chief proponent" for an "ambitious, multi-million dollar initiative to seriously tackle sex crimes in the state," and that Palin's office "put the plan on hold in July," just days before Monegan's firing.

But whatever the role of the sexual assault initiative in Monegan's departure from state government, this is by now the third substantive explanation given by Palin for that departure. And, to one degree or another, all those explanations contradict each other.

In this interview from July, Palin said she fired Monegan because she was dissatisfied with his performance on filling vacant trooper positions and on bootlegging and alcohol abuse issues.

Around the same time, she told The New Yorker, for a story published this week, that she hadn't actually fired Monegan, but rather had wanted to reassign him to combat alcohol abuse, and that he quit instead.

She said that one of her goals had been to combat alcohol abuse in rural Alaska, and she blamed Commissioner Monegan for failing to address the problem. That, she said, was a big reason that she'd let him go--only, by her account, she didn't fire him, exactly. Rather, she asked him to drop everything else and single-mindedly take on the state's drinking problem, as the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. "It was a job that was open, commensurate in salary pretty much--ten thousand dollars less"--but, she added, Monegan hadn't wanted the job, so he left state service; he quit.

But the new line from the Palin camp is that Monegan was fired for his insubordination on budget issues, culminating in his effort to win federal money for the initiative to combat sexual assaults -- an explanation that neither Palin nor anyone around her had raised until now, two months after the firing.

That's by no means the only contradiction in Palin's story.

As we've explained before, Palin at first said no one in her office had exerted pressure to fire Mike Wooten -- the trooper who was embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Palin family. But after a tape surfaced of Palin-aide Frank Bailey raising the issue with a trooper official in a phone call, Palin backtracked and admitted that "pressure could have been perceived to exist," though she maintained that Bailey had been freelancing.

Similarly, she at first said that she had never contacted Monegan about Wooten except in the context of expressing concerns about the safety of her family. But recently, The Washington Post published emails sent by Palin to Monegan in which she expressed frustration that Wooten was still on the job.

And of course, Palin at first pledged total cooperation with the investigation. Now, through her lawyer, she refuses to testify, saying that the probe has been inappropriately politicized.

Update: According to TPMmuckraker's reporting, the initiative to combat sexual assault that Palin now claims she fired Monegan for trying to get federal money for, was designed to go after child sex abusers.

Since yesterday, the right-wing blogosphere has been all aflutter over a report in the New York Post, written by the Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri, that Barack Obama has privately tried to delay an agreement between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration on a draw-down of American forces from Iraq.

Here's the key passage:

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops - and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its "state of weakness and political confusion."

Yesterday evening, the McCain camp sought to get some mileage out of Taheri's report, releasing a statement from Randy Scheunemann, McCain's top foreign policy aide, asserting that: "If news reports are accurate, this is an egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas."

But there are a couple reasons why the bloviation looks to be uncalled for. The Obama camp yesterday put out a statement of its own asserting that the story "bears as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial," and charging that Taheri has confused a long-term Status of Forces agreement with negotations over a shorter-term drawdown.

It's worth looking at that distinction more closely to get a sense of what the Obama camp means here and where Taheri may have erred. In terms of a Status of Forces agreement, Obama has consistently made clear that he believes any such agreement should be delayed until after the election -- so that a President Obama or McCain would not be bound by an agreement negotiated by a weakened Bush administration. The McCain camp did not object when, in June, Obama told reporters at a press conference that he had made exactly this argument to Zebari in a phone call.

The Obama campaign's statement released yesterday in response to the report was consistent with this position: "Barack Obama has consistently called for any Strategic Framework Agreement to be submitted to the U.S. Congress so that the American people have the same opportunity for review as the Iraqi Parliament," though, perhaps unwilling to alienate antiwar voters, it artfully omitted the fact that Obama has argued that this should be delayed until the next administration is in charge.

As for a shorter-term drawdown -- which is what Taheri seems to mean by "a draw-down of the American military presence" -- Obama has never suggested that this should be delayed. And again, yesterday's statement backs that up: "Unlike John McCain, he supports a clear timetable to redeploy our troops that has the support of the Iraqi government. Barack Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations, nor has he urged a delay in immediately beginning a responsible drawdown of our combat brigades."

Still, if Taheri's report were accurate, and Obama had indeed talked to Zebari about delaying any shorter-term deal, it would at least represent a change of position for the candidate.

But Taheri doesn't exactly have a reputation for care and precision in his work. In May 2006, he published an explosive story in the Post (since removed from the paper's site), as well as Canada's National Post, about an Iranian law that forced Jews to wear a yellow stripe, stoking fears of a second Nazi Germany. Only problem: it turned out to be a complete fabrication.

That turned out to be typical of Taheri's work. A 1989 review of Taheri's book, Nest of Spies: America's Journey to Disaster in Iran, written for The New Republic by noted Iranian scholar Shaul Bakhash and unearthed by TPMmuckraker in 2006, noted that Taheri "repeatedly refers us to books where the information cited does not exist," and is "capable of generalizations of breathtaking sweep and inaccuracy." According to Bakhash, "[Taheri's] interpretations of the documents are often egregiously inaccurate," and he "has trouble transcribing even the simplest information."

One Iraq scholar told TPMmuckraker after the false yellow-star report, referring to Taheri: "This is a person who doesn't have any credibility."

Doesn't exactly sound like a reliable source.

House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), who is facing increasing criticism over his finances, met Monday night with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Rangel refused to comment on the meeting last night, but Pelosi insisted that it was focused on Monday's stock market plummet. Pelosi also claimed she did not ask Rangel to step down as House Ways and Means Chairman. (Politico)

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's former chief of staff turned down a plea deal Monday. The aide, Christine Beatty, is at the center of the Kilpatrick scandal due to their affair and the ensuing text messages. Beatty is charged with lying under oath about her relationship with Kilpatrick. Kwame Kilpatrick resigned as part of a plea deal earlier this month and will leave office Thursday. (New York Times)

Anchorage mayor and Sen. Ted Stevens challenger Mark Begich (D-AK) has run into trouble for omitting items on his state financial disclosure statement. The Alaska Public Offices Commission is considering a recommendation that Begich pay a $1,420 fine for the error. Alaska Republican Party spokesman McHugh Pierre filed a compliant to the commission earlier this summer. (Anchorage Daily News)

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