TPM News

Dems Consider Creating Outside Ethics Panel "House Democrats are seriously exploring the creation of an independent ethics arm to enforce new rules on travel, lobbying, gifts and other issues that Democrats intend to put in place on taking power next month.

"Senior party officials said Tuesday that Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the incoming speaker, had consulted with Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the minority leader, on forming a bipartisan group to examine outside enforcement. The goal would be to have the group report back in the spring.

"An independent Congressional watchdog, if approved, would be a major break with tradition. Some lawmakers say House and Senate members have sole responsibility for policing themselves when it comes to internal rules." (New York Times)

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Morale has tanked at the Justice Department's counterterrorism division, a well-informed source tells me. These are the officials who oversee the federal government's terror prosecutions around the country -- the part of the war on terror that involves actually locking up real terrorists. Why? The administration doesn't seem focused on that part, he says.

These Justice guys are at the business end of the domestic war on terror, but they haven't seen much real action, and that's got to burn. While the NSA sifts through millions of phone records, and the FBI runs down tens of thousands of mostly useless tips, federal prosecutors have only fielded a few hundred cases since 9/11. And even those are mostly chump change: Of 510 cases brought by the Feds in the past five years, they've won only four convictions on terror charges, according to one study.

But the complaints aren't about the stats, my source says. It's the leadership vacuum that keeps them from fighting the good fight. "There's widespread dismay at the adminisration's complete lack of focus and ability to get anything done," he said. "There's no coordination. Nothing actually happens. It's all the same [expletive]."

Via ThinkProgress, I see that Tom DeLay has admitted to not authoring his own blog posts. "“I have the ideas, and I have somebody else put the words together," says he.

Punchline, anyone?

From a chat at this morning with the Post's White House reporter Peter Baker:

Rochester, N.Y.: I'm sure you won't take this one, but it's worth a shot: is anyone in the newsroom concerned about the fact that the Post is hiring John Solomon (formerly of the AP), whose pieces on Harry Reid were widely criticized, not only in the blogosphere but also by media critics (such as your own Howard Kurtz)? Does his hiring mean we can look forward to more RNC-inspired hit pieces on Democratic leaders?

I'll bet your getting a lot of questions like this today. And I'll bet you won't take any of them.

Peter Baker: Old trick: "I bet you won't take this question cuz you're scared, nyah, nyah." (And by the way, glad to welcome back our friend in Rochester to these chats.) But the serious answer to your question is everyone I've talked with in the newsroom is absolutely thrilled that John Solomon is joining us from the Associated Press. John is one of the marquee names in political journalism and he's going to help us build the best accountability team in the business going into the 2008 election cycle. Has he been criticized by partisans in the blogosphere? Personally, I don't know, but who hasn't been? He wouldn't be doing his job as an investigative journalist if he didn't make some people squirm. John and the team he's led at the Associated Press have broken a lot of important stories without regard to political party; in addition to the ethical missteps of Senator Reid, he and his team exposed the Dubai ports deal that caused a huge civil war within the Republican party and uncovered the videotape showing what President Bush was told about Hurricane Katrina before it hit.

Many things I could point out about this response (nothing easier than painting critics with the broad brush of partisanship), but I'll settle for this: Baker, listing Solomon's accomplishments, notes the Dubai ports deal and the pre-Katrina Bush tape, both indisputably big stories, together with Solomon's stories on Reid. The paper also did this in their press release on the hiring.

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Incoming House intelligence chief Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) found himself in hot water recently for failing to know the basics of Islamic radicalism. But he's got other problems: blogger Laura Rozen and other reporters recently noted that Reyes attended a strange meeting with former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) and lying arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to former CIA official Bill Murray.

Reyes has simply denied the claim, but Weldon is apparently outraged. And while he may be leaving Congress, he's not one to leave an embattled friend behind. So to, he fired off a defense of Reyes in his inimitable style:

"Bill Murray's aim was to impugn the reputation of the incoming chairman of the House intelligence committee. . . . This is outrageous. And it is a blatant lie, because Reyes never met with Ghorbanifar in Paris."

That's right -- Weldon doesn't deny the meeting took place, nor that he attended. He's only incensed that Murray insulted Reyes by suggesting he was also there.

Does that remind anybody else of that old Groucho Marx line, I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me for a member?

Update on the case of the admitted criminal who's still working at the National Insitutes of Health -- it turns out Dr. Trey Sunderland can't quit, and NIH can't fire him. Here's why:

First, NIH can't fire him because Sunderland doesn't work for NIH. He's a member of a quasi-military organization called the U.S. Commissioned Corps, we're told. Corps members are medical experts with ranks and uniforms who can be dispatched to respond to disease outbreaks and other medical emergencies. When they aren't responding they work in the federal health system, but they're under the control of the U.S. Surgeon General.

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Here's another major Republican name who blames Americans first for the problems in Iraq — and will explain why. Tom DeLay, appearing on Hannity and Colmes last night to promote his new on-and-off blog, took square aim at the real culprits for problems in the war in Iraq. "It's the fault of the liberals and the media and the Democrats, that from the very beginning have tried to undermine the will of the American people to fight this," DeLay said.

After Alan Colmes, in a moment of bravery, reminded DeLay that Democrats were out of power during the course of this war, DeLay nevertheless set out to explain in detail just how the problems in Iraq are the fault of liberals and other war critics. "It has nothing to do with power," DeLay said. "It has everything to do with perception, Alan, and you know it as well as I do."

The new slogan for Fox News and the Bush Administration: "It has everything to do with perception."

You probably don't know the name of Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), but you should.

One of the richest lawmakers in Washington (and allegedly one of the most corrupt), reporters have been digging into him for months. Today the Los Angeles Times delivers a punishing combination of allegations from former aides -- and most appear to be violations of federal law.

First, there's the possible attempted bribery (which has Miller trying to land a local pawnbroker a seat on a presitious federal panel). Then there's illegal "self-enrichment" -- in this case, Miller appears to have trumped up "rent" fees for his campaign in order to give himself a cut of his political donations.

But our favorite allegation is his apparent abuse of federal funds. Miller seems to have a habit of using his taxpayer-funded congressional staff to do personal errands for him -- like check his stock prices, help his son register for college classes -- or score him sweet tickets to a Rolling Stones concert:

Miller learned in May 2002 that the band was coming to Edison Field in Anaheim that October.

"Per his instructions, we are checking with city officials, Edison contacts, etc., to see what we can come up with," an e-mail written by an aide to Miller's chief of staff states.

A few days later, the staff was told by Miller's chief of staff to look for tickets to a Staples Center concert as well, according to e-mails. By May 29, a Miller staffer had prepared a memo outlining four options for getting tickets. The most promising was for the Edison Field show.