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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to hold two top aides to President Bush in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate in its probe of fired federal prosecutors.

On a largely party-line vote of 11-7, the Democratic-led panel sent contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to the full Senate for consideration.

As with many of Bush's battles with the Democratic-led Senate, the president may ultimately prevail since his fellow Republicans may be able to block the citations with a procedural hurdle.

Bush has claimed executive privilege to protect aides from complying with congressional subpoenas demanding documents or testimony in an investigation into the firing last year of nine U.S. attorneys. The committee has rejected his privilege claim as unfounded.

The U.S. has just released 15 more Guantanamo Bay detainees, bringing the total number of detainees who have never been charged or tried to 485. This leaves approximately 290 detainees, of which the government plans to prosecute about 80 in military tribunals. A portion of the remaining 200 have been cleared for transfer provided some nation will accept them. 1 detainee has been convicted in the history of the Guantanamo system. (USA Today)

Despite the failures of the military tribunal system at Guantanamo, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that his push to close the prison camp has run into “obstacles” from the administration’s lawyers and Dick Cheney. Cheney “opposes bringing detainees to the US under such a system, because they would receive greater legal rights.” (Financial Times)

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint with the Senate alleging that senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) violated rules by “contacting the U.S. Attorney in Albuquerque, New Mexico, David C. Iglesias, and pressuring him about an ongoing corruption probe.” Now, Domenici wants to use campaign funds to pay his legal fees from the ethics investigation. (CREW)

Federal law enforcement has subpoenaed the financial records and employees of Rev. Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign. The FBI declined to comment but Carl Redding, Sharpton's chief of staff for eight years during the 1990s, said "it was like a sting or a raid... they converged on everybody." (Chicago Tribune)

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When it comes to torture, it's the system.

Today's New York Times carries a valuable analysis by Scott Shane running through how the revelation of the destroyed CIA torture tapes underscores the agency's fears of having the administration turn on it. That is, after manipulating the law to justify ordering the CIA's torture of Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda detainees, the Bush administration might finally prosecute someone low on the CIA food chain for doing what they ordered him or her to do. The agency watched Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes and Ricardo Sanchez walk while Lynndie England and Charles Graner took the fall for Abu Ghraib. No one wants to be the Lynndie England of the Black Sites.

The administration hasn't gone down this road yet. But, from the CIA's perspective, the destruction of the tapes might bring it dangerously close. After all, if the Justice Department-CIA probe finds that Jose Rodriguez committed a crime by destroying evidence when he had the tapes junked, it raises the question of what those tapes contained evidence of. There are reams of evidence -- legal guidance from John Yoo, for instance, some still classified -- of what the underlying crime is.

So how does the CIA get out of it? Why, blame the system. Consider this passage from Shane:

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Since we're talking about destroying tapes of interrogations, why limit it to those made in secret CIA prisons? The Chicago Tribune reports today that Abu Omar, a suspected terrorist abducted in Italy and flown to Egypt by the CIA, says that "his captors made audiotapes of his extensive interrogations in an Egyptian prison that recorded 'the sounds of my torture and my cries.'"

That raises several questions, says Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and he asked them in a flurry of letters today.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he asks whether she knows if interrogations of detainees rendered by the United States to foreign countries were recorded, and if so, whether any have been reviewed "to verify compliance with diplomatic assurances not to torture detainees?"

In his letter to CIA Director Michael Hayden, he asks whether he knows of any such recordings and whether the CIA has any -- and whether, well, they've already destroyed them.

And his letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requests that the Justice Department's investigation into the destruction of the tapes include possible tapes of interrogations of rendered detainees -- and they're possible destruction.

Yep, that's right. The American Bar Association Journal has named Alberto Gonzales Lawyer of the Year. Wait a minute, you say, isn't that like naming Alec Baldwin Father of the Year?

But there's a rationale. Gonzales makes the cut for being the "most talked-about" lawyer around, not for the quality of his lawyering. True, most of the talking had to do with how he should resign, but there was undoubtedly a lot of talk. Other administration figures like Monica Goodling, Scooter Libby, and David Addington -- also much "talked-about" -- got honorable mention.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has a choice. Both the Senate intelligence committee and Senate Judiciary Committee produced versions of the surveillance bills last month. But there's a crucial difference between the two. The intelligence committee's bill contains retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that collaborated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The judiciary committee's does not.

Today, fourteen senators (thirteen Dems and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)) wrote Reid to urge him to have the judiciary committee's version be the base bill for the Senate debate. "As this is such a controversial issue, we feel it would be appropriate to require the proponents of immunity to make their case on the floor," they write. Presidential candidates Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Barack Obama (D-IL) signed on. The letter is below.

In an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times this morning, Attorney General Michael Mukasey came out in favor of the Senate intelligence committee's bill.

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What a difference a scandal makes. Coming out of his briefing to the House intelligence committee today, CIA Director Michael Hayden was penitent: "particularly at the time of the destruction we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alerted and informed."

It's a markedly different tone from the one he took last week. Then, he released a statement about the tapes' destruction and claimed that the intelligence committees had received ample notification of the intention to destroy the tapes and then their actual destruction. Both committees said that wasn't true. Now he apparently agrees.

Today was the second of Hayden's initial briefings on the scandal. Yesterday's was to the Senate intelligence committee, where he said that even though he's in charge at the CIA, he's not really the guy to be talking to: "Other people in the agency know about this far better than I." Hayden says he learned of the tapes' destruction as far back as last year, when he was the principal deputy director of national intelligence and before he took over at the CIA in May of 2006.

Accordingly, Senate intelligence committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says that former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo and current General Counsel John Helgerson will testify in the next week. Jose Rodriguez, who decided to destroy the tapes, will also be up.

The same people will likely appear before the House committee. Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) says that Hayden's testimony today was "just the first step in what we feel is going to be a long-term investigation." So there's plenty of apologizing left to do.

Here's a court order that appears not to have an easy out.

From a press release just out from the ACLU:

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion asking a federal judge to hold the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in contempt, charging that the agency flouted a court order when it destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the harsh interrogation of prisoners in its custody. In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the ACLU and other organizations in October 2003 and May 2004, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the CIA to produce or identify all records pertaining to the treatment of detainees in its custody. Despite the court’s ruling, the CIA never produced the tapes or even acknowledged their existence.

Make that two State Department officials overseeing Blackwater to resign. On November 30, Kevin Barry, a top official at the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security -- Blackwater's liaison office -- opted to spend more time with the family. Barry joins the Bureau's chief, who quit in October.

Barry's departure is surprising, as his star was so recently on the rise at Foggy Bottom. Shortly after an internal State review in October recommended a massive overhaul of the Bureau's process for overseeing State's security contractors, ABC News reported that Barry and a colleague, Justine Sincavage, nevertheless received promotions. And on December 4th, TPMmuckraker published State Department cables showing that despite Blackwater's Nisour Square shootings becoming State's biggest scandal this year, both Barry and Sincavage were slated to receive pay bonuses of between $10,000 and $15,000 for "outstanding performance," effective December 20.

But apparently, Barry couldn't wait that long to get out. A message sent to his work e-mail at State bounced back with instructions that he "will be in and out of the office during the week of November 26 and retiring on November 30." No word yet on whether he got his holiday cash early. Or whether his retirement is long-standing or Blackwater-related.

Here's another data point for the timeline. From the AP: "The Bush administration was under court order not to discard evidence of detainee torture and abuse months before the CIA destroyed videotapes that revealed some of its harshest interrogation tactics." But the CIA has an "out": the videotapes and the detainees were being held at the CIA's black sites, which were not revealed until November of 2005.

Consider the timeline.

In June of 2005, the AP reports, "U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had ordered the Bush administration to safeguard "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay."

But both Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the Al-Qaeda members whose brutal interrogations were videotaped in 2002, were being held by the CIA overseas. The tapes, which were also kept overseas, were reportedly destroyed the same month The Washington Post broke the black sites story, November of 2005. In September of 2006, President Bush announced that fourteen high value detainees were being transferred to Guantanamo Bay; both Zubaydah and Nashiri were among them.

That may mean that the tapes were "beyond the scope of the court's order," the AP reports, adding "CIA director Michael Hayden told the agency in an e-mail this week that internal reviewers found the tapes were not relevant to any court case." Neat trick.