TPM News

Last month, The New York Times published its front-page exposé of the Pentagon's strategy of using military analysts. The retired officers who frequently appeared on TV were the ideal vehicle to broadcast the administration's message on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Message force multipliers," Pentagon officials called them.

Well, earlier this week, the Pentagon released all of the documents that had been turned over to the Times. It is a staggering load. But most immediately intriguing is audio of some of the briefings at the Pentagon, including two featuring Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The audio we've excerpted here comes from a meeting on April 18, 2006. It was an emergency meeting called because earlier in the month, several retired generals had hit the airwaves demanding that Rumsfeld resign. 17 analysts attended the briefing, which featured Rumsfeld and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Peter Pace. It was a remarkable display of servility, with one analyst at one point proclaiming that Rumsfeld need to get out there on the "offense," because "we'd love to be following our leader, as indeed you are. You are the leader. You are our guy." Here's the audio:

Another analyst chimed in to the effect that, though PsyOps or "brainwashing" are dirty words, it was necessary to get out there on offense. "You know what they call PsyOps today, they call those public relations firms," another said approvingly. Finally, Rumsfeld had to throw up his hands: "You people should be taking notes. I'm taking all the notes!" It sure was an eager group.

A transcript is available here (pdf) for those who want to follow along at home. The excerpt above begins at the bottom of page 18. It cuts at one point to the top of page 20. The full audio of the briefing is here (wav).

Unfortunately, the transcript does not name the analysts when they speak (it just says "Question"), meaning that it is not easily possible to figure out which of them said what. A list of the participants, however, is here.

The Times reported that the meeting was a rousing success for the Pentagon:

Read More →

Well, that was quick.

As I noted yesterday, the White House offered a "compromise" to the FEC deadlock -- except that they refused to withdraw the centerpiece of the conflict, Hans von Spakovsky. Oh, and the offer also included replacing the sitting Republican commissioner David Mason, who's been creating trouble for the McCain campaign. The only aspect of the offer that could be characterized as a compromise was the promise from White House officials that Senate Republicans would now agree to have a vote on Spakovsky separately from the other uncontroversial FEC nominees.

But now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says they won't. It's either a vote on all the nominees together or nothing. So... no progress has been made. The FEC will remain shut down.

As The Washington Post reported late last month, a host of former detainees have come forward to say that they were drugged by CIA and military interrogators. Put that together with the fact that John Yoo's 2003 torture memo authorized the use of drugs on detainees, and you have plenty of grounds for suspicion.

Today Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Biden (D-DE) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) followed up and signed letters to both the CIA and Defense Department inspectors general calling for an investigation. The letter to the DoD IG is below.

Read More →

Republicans in Washington D.C. have asked Office of Special Counsel chief Scott Bloch to resign. This follows an FBI-led raid of his offices uncovered documents related to an investigation into allegations of Bloch's political bias and obstruction of justice in an office designed to protect whistleblowers and enforce rules on political activity in federal workplaces. (Washington Post)

Pentagon officials are pointing to the suicide bombing in Iraq by Guantanamo detainee Abdullah Salih Al Ajmi as a justification of holding prisoners there until the government is sure they are innocent. The Pentagon went on to release a list of a dozen former Guantanamo prisoners they claim have been released and then returned to fighting against the U.S. and its allies. (Boston Globe)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is once again crying foul over ads from the organization Freedom's Watch. The DCCC claims the conservative group did not follow election guidelines by not reporting more than $600,000 of television ads in Louisiana and Mississippi elections. Freedom's Watch says the ads followed the rules, yet the complaint filed by the DCCC accuses the group of airing "electioneering communications" on April 22 and 29 regarding the race for a Louisiana Congressional seat without proper notice to the FEC. (Roll Call)

Read More →

Three for three?

National Security Letters have been the FBI's favorite toy for the past several years, and who can blame them? With none of the hassle of a warrant and a gag order that ensures stealth, the NSL is a counterterrorism investigators best friend. The FBI issues tens of thousands of NSL requests each year (nearly 50,000 in 2006). After a major review by the Justice Department's inspector general last year found a host of abuses, FBI Director Robert Mueller promised that the FBI would clean up its act. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the number of NSLs issued has gone down -- just that agents are on alert that they can't be so sloppy.

Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU announced that they'd succeeded in getting the FBI to back down from an NSL request issued in late 2007. The request had gone to the Internet Archive and had requested personal information about one of the Archive's users, including the individual's name, address, and any electronic communication transactional records. It just so happens that the Archive's Digital Librarian Brewster Kahle is on EFF's board of directors, and he decided to fight the request. Except it wasn't easy due to the gag order that accompanied the letter: "Because they initially were not allowed to discuss the NSL over the phone, Kahle and his attorneys had to drive to one another's offices whenever they wanted to talk about the case."

But Kahle's lawyers at the EFF and ACLU were ultimately successful -- and the ACLU says this means that they've won every time they've gone to court to fight a NSL:

Every time an NSL has been challenged in court, the FBI has backed off, said Melissa Goodman, an ACLU staff attorney. "That calls into question how much the FBI needed the information in the first place, and finally, whether the FBI needs this kind of sweeping and unchecked surveillance power."

The two other instances of NSL withdrawals involved a library and an Internet consulting business. In February 2004, the FBI served an NSL on the Internet firm. In November 2006, the FBI withdrew the letter, after a lawsuit by the ACLU, but maintained the gag order, which is why the firm has not been publicly identified. The lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of the law authorizing NSLs, is still pending.

In July 2005, the FBI served an NSL on Library Connection, a library consortium in Connecticut. That year, the ACLU sued on grounds similar to the other case. In April 2006, the FBI withdrew the gag order. Three months later, it withdrew the NSL as well.

Meanwhile the FBI says that the information requested was "relevant to an ongoing, authorized national security investigation." I guess they'll just have to get the information some other way.

Mark your calendar: June 26th, Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff David Addington will testify to the House Judiciary Committee about the administration's interrogation policy. Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) made it official in a subpoena issued to Addington today. Addington has indicated that he will show up, but I'll believe it when I see him in the witness chair.

It's hard to say exactly where all the trouble started for Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann (D), because there's so much trouble.

But Dann's says he's not going anywhere. That's despite a virtually unanimous call from Ohio elected officials, including the Democratic governor, that he resign. Dann's resolve is firm. Now state lawmakers are mulling impeachment, though not everyone agrees on that course of action. As one Dem lawmaker put it, "I don't know whether we should impeach somebody for being stupid." So Dann might survive after all, the many, many very embarrassing details notwithstanding.

If you had to pinpoint the source of Dann's downfall, it would have to be Anthony Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is a heavy drinking lecher and the world's worst pickup artist. He is also an old friend of Dann's. So when Dann was elected the state's attorney general in 2006, he put his buddy Tony in charge of the AG's general services.

Dann also moved into a condo in Columbus with Gutierrez and another buddy, Leo Jennings III, who became Dann's communication director. The mens' wives did not move with them, remaining in faraway Youngstown.

And there they lived the bachelors' life without incident. Until September 10th.

That night, Gutierrez succeeded in convincing Cindy Stankoski, a 26 year-old staffer in the office, to go out drinking with him. They went to one bar, and then another, and then another. He drank Crown Royal and ordered Grey Goose vodka for her. The next step was to get her back to the condo. He bragged about the power he wielded in the AG's office and told her that his relatives back in Youngstown had Mafia ties. He rang up Dann, who urged Stankoski to come on over. They'd even get Hawaiian pizza for her. Gutierrez pushed, telling her that she'd be OK with "the big dogs." She relented.

At the condo, there was pizza and tequila. Another female staffer from the office, oddly enough, was there too. Stankoski felt awkward and very drunk. She sent a string of text messages to a friend: "im at marc dann's place..." then "pick me up" then " in a weird situation.. iem w marc dann...." then "drunnnnk."

When she asked to lie down, Gutierrez directed her to his bedroom. She awoke several hours later to find three of her buttons on her pants undone. Gutierrez was lying besides her in his underwear.

Read More →

Since 2005, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, whose office is charged in part with protecting federal whistleblowers, has been under investigation for retaliating against whistleblowers in his own office and generally politicizing the OSC.

Now government watchdog POGO says they've discovered evidence that Bloch's apparent motivation for launching a very well publicized probe was to make himself invulnerable:

An extraordinary document obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) from inside the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) reveals that Special Counsel Scott Bloch created a special task force to investigate sensitive and high-profile matters and then ignored virtually every recommendation made by it. The document lends support to POGO's theory that Bloch used the task force to launch an investigation of the White House, issuing demands for documents termed by his own task force as "overly broad," to create the appearance of a conflict of interest with an ongoing investigation into allegations that Bloch himself had engaged in misconduct.

POGO has posted the document here (pdf). As they say, the document shows that Bloch worked to maximize the probe of Karl Rove and other White House aides against the recommendation of his own advisors. You might say that shows he was just being aggressive, but his task force evidently thought they were wasting their time by getting into matters the OSC had no authority to investigate.

Some more detail in this morning's papers on that raid yesterday at the Office of Special Counsel that involved two dozen FBI agents serving subpoenas on 17 employees in a raid that lasted more than five hours. All indications remain that this is a probe focused on Special Counsel Scott Bloch, but Government Executive reports that the scope is surprising:

But OSC employees said the grand jury subpoenas seek a wide range of information that goes beyond Bloch's deletion of computer files or treatment of agency employees.

Investigators have demanded all files on OSC's investigation last year into allegations of improper political activity by Lurita Doan, the former head of the General Services Administration, who was forced to resign last week by the White House.

In addition, investigators demanded documents related to OSC's investigation into allegations that Secretary of State Rice used federal resources to travel to campaign appearances supporting President Bush's re-election in 2004. Bloch's office closed the case, finding no violation by Rice.

Oh, and don't forget the towels:

An official present during the raid yesterday said federal agents asked for access to computers and e-mail messages from Bloch and from the mid-level workers who received subpoenas. Investigators also sought credit card receipts, an agency employee said. Some staff members had complained that Bloch used agency funds to buy for his office restroom $400 hand towels decorated with a special OSC seal, according to another person familiar with the raid.

The towels were a legit perk, a spokesman told Justin at ABC:

"Scott, as a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed member of the administration gets an allowance for things," spokesman Jim Mitchell explained. "He paid about $300 for some towels that had the OSC seal on it. He took a couple home, which he paid for himself."

It's gotten to be pretty routine. An EPA official goes up to Capitol Hill and straight-facedly insists that the agency is all about transparency and science, and Democratic senators respond by calling it a lie.

But this morning, it wasn't EPA chief Stephen Johnson who made the trip. This time the EPA sent Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development George Gray instead. Why couldn't Johnson make it? Gray didn't seem sure, but explained to an angry Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) that Johnson had been having back problems. In March, Boxer implied that Johnson had planned an official trip to Australia in order to avoid having to attend in Congressional hearings in April. Maybe all that flight time wasn't good for his back.

But the Democrats didn't hold up on Gray. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Boxer went round and round with him, as he continued to insist that "transparency is key" to the EPA's decision process and that the administrator's decisions were based on science. Boxer was most direct, saying at the end of his testimony that Gray's insistence that only science had been considered "is a big lie.... You've tried to defend the indefensible, and you have failed as far as this senator is concerned."

Gray proved himself a fine substitute for Johnson, however. When the senators pressed him on why Johnson had gone along with the White House and overruled the recommendation of the agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee in setting a higher level for smog-forming ozone in the air, Gray wanted everyone to understand that it was "actually a very good example" of the "way in which the uncertainty of science plays an important role in decisions." Gray counseled that "science does not give us a single or precise answer."

But Whitehouse didn't seem to be buying it. "The people that you chose to be the experts unanimously supported this recommendation.... These were the best scientists in the country and you ignored them." Gray responded that Johnson hadn't "ignored" them -- he'd just come to a different conclusion. He did allow, however, that in addition to "scientific considerations," there had been "science policy considerations," which are a "part of moving the scientific process forward." But the EPA wouldn't discuss it's communications with the White House, he said, saying that it was important to keep "discussions with the rest of the federal family" private.