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After Democrats failed to muster any substantive opposition to the Bush White House's overhaul of domestic spying laws just a few weeks ago, it would be a striking turn of events if the House leadership launched into a massive, multi-decade investigation of how the government has been monitoring its own citizens since the Cold War.

But that's what Salon speculates about today in a far-reaching report from Capitol Hill.

While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.
That's pretty interesting. This Democratic leadership doesn't seem to have done anything over the past couple years to suggest it is about to launch a broad, sweeping investigation into highly sensitive national security-related issues. (They haven't even really questioned the president on his hugely unpopular Iraq policies).

Reporter Tim Shorrock reaches as far back as the Regean Administration and culls evidence of a secret and potentially illegal database maintained by the National Security Administration called "Main Core." The existence of such a database has been the subject of speculation for years, but never confirmed. This database would presumably be the focus of any large-scale congressional investigation.

The investigation under consideration would be rare in its scope, potentially encompassing both Republican and Democratic administrations.

During one recent discussion on Capitol Hill, according to a participant, a senior aide to Speaker Pelosi was asked for Pelosi's views on a proposal to expand the investigation to past administrations, including those of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. "The question was, how far back in time would we have to go to make this credible?" the participant in the meeting recalled.

That question was answered in the seven-page memo. "The rise of the 'surveillance state' driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this Administration," the author wrote. Even though he acknowledged in interviews with Salon that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents, he recommended in the memo that any new investigation follow the precedent of the Church Committee and investigate the origins of Bush's programs, going as far back as the Reagan administration.

It's hard to think of any examples of a Congressional probe of the scope described here.

The Salon report notes that Democrats on the Hill may be reluctant to green-light the investigation because of their own party's complicity in approving certian surveillance techniques. Key lawmakers declined to comment for Salon's story, including Pelosi, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI).

However skeptical we may be, the idea sounds fascinating. It's hard to think of much more exciting than a parade of witnesses on Capitol Hill revealing how the government has been spying on all of us since the Cold War. We'd be sure to cover that gavel-to-gavel.

Tom Delay's lawyers have ruled out asking President Bush for a pardon. Delay was indicted over two years ago on charges of money laundering, and is still in the middle of legal proceedings in Washington and Texas. Delay's lawyers insist he has not committed a crime, and therefore has no use for a pardon. (The Hill)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is asking for immunity from lawsuits filed by victims of the Katrina and Rita hurricanes who claim they were exposed to harmful fumes while living in FEMA trailers. A U.S. district judge is set to hear FEMA's request today. (AP)

A new Government Accountability Office report reveals that the Information Sharing Environment which is responsible for sharing information on terrorism has achieved limited success. The ISE is faulted in the report for putting too much emphasis on "activities accomplished rather than results achieved". (AP)

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More evidence of ties between John McCain's top foreign policy adviser and Stephen Payne, the guy caught on video offering to arrange meetings with top White House officials in exchange for big donations to the future George W. Bush Presidential Library Fund.

We knew that Randy Scheunemann had worked for two of Payne's firms in recent years. Now the AP reports on a third:

International Business & Energy Development Corp., is the third of Payne's firms to emerge as paying money to Scheunemann. The payments from mid-2001 to mid-2003 totaled $80,000, for issues ranging from monitoring legislation concerning global energy developments to lobbying on a bill authorizing Bush to provide assistance to Pakistan and India, according to the Senate filings. The post-Sept. 11 legislation lifted the last remaining economic sanctions against Pakistan.

That brings the total paid by Payne's firms to McCain's adviser to about $130,000 since 2001.

The McCain campaign said Scheunemann has had no business relationship with Payne since July 2006 and has no knowledge of Payne's business activities since that time.

From the Miami Herald:

Congress has put the U.S. Agency for International Development's $45 million Cuba program's 2008 funding on hold, following a series of troubling audits and cases of massive fraud, The Miami Herald has learned.

In a quest to get the funding hold lifted, U.S. AID on Friday ordered a bottoms-up review of all its Cuba democracy programs and suspended a Miami anti-Castro exile group that spent at least $11,000 of federal grant money on personal items.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., ordered a hold on the U.S. AID Cuba program funding last month, in part in response to a $500,000 embezzlement at the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington disclosed earlier this year, federal officials said.
Rep. Howard Berman continued to amp up the pressure today, saying the amount embezzled amounts to $700,000.

Berman's been pushing for a "fresh ideas" in the U.S. policy toward Cuba.

We've gotten a hold of a new document from Worldwide Strategic Energy, one of the numerous firms run by Stephen Payne.

We've been writing a lot about Payne since he was caught on video offering to arrange meetings with high-level Bush administration officials conditioned on big donations to the future George W. Bush Presidential Library fund.

This 44-page document, which was previously obtained by the Times of London and the blog Majikthise, was distributed to investors about two years ago and outlines the people involved with Worldwide Strategic Energy and how they planned to make money.

Payne is listed as the president and chief executive officer and touts some connections to the Bush administration that we hadn't heard before.

Spending hundreds of days on the road for the Bush/Cheney Campaign in 2000 and 2004, Mr. Payne was part of a small team of five Bush operatives, including former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, who coordinated the campaigns' efforts for the three Presidential debates held that year.
The document includes a photo, above, showing Payne in traditional Kazakh garb alongside Timur Kulibayev, a billionaire and chairman of the board for KazMunaiGaz, the Kazakh oil and gas company (Kulibayev is also the Kazakh president's son-in-law), and Togrul Baglrov, executive vice president with the Moscow International Petroleum Club.

This particular document also offers some insight into what Payne and his business partners do. In short, they go into politically unstable countries and forge political deals for leasing the rights to drill for oil or natural gas. Once those deals are secured, they form "joint ventures with developing and drilling companies."

It's big money they are looking for:
In order to begin our lease acquisition phase of operations, WSE is seeking an Angel Investor round of funding of between $3,000,000 and $5,000,000.

If successful, investors can expect a massive return for the expected 20-year lifespan of a well, the document says. One example suggests a total of $773 million in total revenue (and that's calculated with oil at $50 a barrel).

The document is not dated, but appears to be no older than March 2006, based on its sources and references.

There are big players involved, according to this document.

One is a current White House official. Bush appointed Spencer E. Geissinger last year as Deputy Assistant to the President for Advance and Operations. Geissinger also served in a similar White House position under President George H.W. Bush as a Special Assistant to the President for Advance.

For Payne's firm, Geissinger is listed as an "advisory board member." A call to Geissinger's White House office was not immediately returned.

The firm Bracewell and Giulinai, which includes the former New York City mayor and has an office in Kazakhstan, is listed as the "Outside Strategic and Legal Counsel." A spokeswoman for the international law firm has not responded to our request for further information.

And, in keeping with our reporting from yesterday, the document also lists Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, among its "executive team." The McCain camp responded yesterday.

Josh Crescenzi is also reported to have worked with the White House advance team under the current President Bush. For Worldwide Strategic Energy, Crescenzi is listed as a "Vice President, Administration and Controller." Crescenzi did not return a call for comment.

The judge presiding in Guantanamo over the first military commission since World War II threw out some evidence because it was obtained under "highly coercive" conditions. The discarded evidence were statements made by the detainee, Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden's driver, while he was held captive in Afghanistan. (Washington Post)

The Indian Health Service has lost millions of dollars worth of equipment according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office. The goods, such as laptops, tractors, vehicles, and cameras, have reportedly been either mismanaged by the agency or stolen. (Washington Post)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has announced an investigation into the Office of Special Counsel, and its head, Scott Bloch. Conyers wants to speak with Bloch's top deputy, Jim Byrne, who resigned recently, citing "political agendas". (Congress Daily)

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John McCain's campaign responds to the AP regarding McCain aide Randy Scheunemann's previous work with Stephen Payne, the guy caught on video offering to set up meetings with White House officials in exchange for big donations to the George W. Bush Presidential Library fund.

The AP reports:

On Monday, the McCain campaign said that from 2002 to 2006, Scheunemann periodically engaged in consulting relationships with the two companies and that Scheunemann was never on the payroll of either firm, but that he was an occasional outside expert consultant.

Scheunemann did not lobby on any specific legislation on behalf of Worldwide Strategic Partners, said McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.

In regard to Caspian Alliance, Scheunemann arranged several informational meetings for Payne with Department of State and NSC officials following Caspian energy issues, but Scheunemann did not lobby on specific legislation or projects, said Rogers.

Scheunemann did not lobby McCain on Caspian energy issues or any other issue related to Payne, the McCain campaign spokesman added.

Before last week, we'd never heard of Worldwide Strategic Partners and Stephen Payne, the (former) Homeland Security adviser who was caught on video soliciting big donations for the future George W. Bush Presidential Library fund while offering to arrange access to top White House officials.

But Randy Scheunemann, Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, has known him -- and been working with his business associates -- for years.

Worldwide Strategic Partners was one of Scheunemann's lobbying clients back in 2002, when Scheunemann worked for the lobbying firm Orion.

And more recently, Scheunemann was lobbying for a group called the Caspian Alliance. That group was one of Scheunemann's four registered lobbying clients in 2005 and 2006, and paid him a total of $40,000.

The Caspian Alliance was formed by Payne's business associate, Houston lawyer Brian Ettinger, to "specialize in pushing the interests and advising American oil groups active in the former Soviet republics that overlook the Caspian Sea (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan)," according to a 2006 report in the Paris-based Intelligence Online, which we found in the Nexis news database.

Ettinger has worked with Payne at Worldwide Strategic Partners along with other ventures and currently shares office space with Payne at the firm's Houston office.

And the Caspian Alliance uses the same Houston address as Payne's Worldwide Strategic Partners on lobbying forms filed with the Senate.

One lobbying form for the Caspian Alliance lists several people working on its behalf, including including Ettinger, Payne's former business partner Gary Polland and Ari Storch with Artemis Strategies.

Payne is among the founders of Atremis Strategies, a lobbying firm which has had a partnership with the Caspian Alliance. Artemis Strategies was founded in 2003 by Payne, Ettinger and others including Timothy F. Powers, formerly deputy director of the Republican National Committee's congressional affairs and strategic planning operation and member of the Bush-Cheney transition team, according to a March 13, 2003 report in the Washington Post.

Payne was recently caught bragging about his close ties with Scheunemann, according to the Times of London. The British newspaper took an undercover video of Payne talking to a Kazakh politician about a potential deal. On the tape, Payne said Scheunemann has been "working with me on my payroll for five of the last eight years," according to a report in the Times.

The Times described the Caspian Alliance as a "subsidiary" of Worldwide Strategic Energy, of which Payne is also president. TPMmuckraker found that many of the same people are involved with both the Caspian Alliance and Worldwide Strategic Partners, but could not independently verify the nature of the relationship between the two firms.

A reporter for the blog Majikthise apparently obtained a 44-page document from Worldwide Strategic Energies that featured Scheunemann prominently, including the above photo. The reporter, Lindsay Beyerstein, said the document was a prospectus distributed to potential investors and listed Schuenemann among the firm's executive team, along with Major General Lincoln Jones III, a former executive at Enron.

The Times also said it obtained a similar document.

Neither the McCain campaign nor Worldwide Strategic Partners responded to requests for comment today.

Late Update: The McCain campaign responded late Monday.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey angered Democratic senators when he made an unexpected call for Congress to step in and legislate detainees rights, rather than waiting for federal court proceedings.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute this morning, Mukasey spoke to the "unanswered questions" raised by the Supreme Court decision of Boumediene v. Bush, which stated that detainees are protected by the right to habeas corpus. Mukasey called the Court's decision a "disappointment," and said the court stopped "well short of detailing how the habeas corpus proceedings must be conducted." Currently, over 200 cases are waiting to be heard in federal court related to the Supreme Court's ruling, a problem Mukasey thinks could be circumvented by Congressional action:

Congress and the executive branch are affirmatively charged by our Constitution with protecting national security, are expert in such matters, and are in the best position to weigh the difficult policy choices that are posed by these issues.

Judges play an important role in deciding whether a chosen policy is consistent with our laws and the Constitution. But it is our elected leaders who have the responsibility for making policy choices in the first instance.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement today, slamming Mukasey for failing to consult or inform the Committee of his thoughts before his speech:

"The Committee has held a wide range of hearings on issues of detainee rights and procedures. Attorney General Mukasey's call today for Congress to create new rules for these habeas proceedings is the first I have heard from the Administration on this issue," Leahy said. "The Administration made this mess by seeking to avoid judicial review at all costs, causing years of delay and profound uncertainty."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) echoed Leahy's comments. "Our federal courts are capable of handling these cases," he said. "By repeatedly mishandling these cases, the administration has delayed justice from being served."

[Late update]: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) just chimed in with a statement from the Senate floor.

"As a result of its repeated efforts to circumvent the requirements of the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution, the Bush administration has yet to bring to justice the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of September 11," he said. "The courts are well equipped to handle this situation, and there is no danger that any detainee will be released in the meantime."