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From The Hill:

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) failed to disclose a $200,000 payment he received from a business partner in 2005 in apparent violation of House ethics rules. Prosecutors could use the omission as evidence that Renzi intended to conceal a transaction he knew to be controversial or even improper.

The $200,000 was a payment from James Sandlin to settle a debt related to a previous business transaction involving land in northeast Arizona, one of the lawmaker’s attorneys, Grant Woods, told a newspaper last week.

This explanation might have been expected to dispel suspicion that Sandlin gave Renzi an illegal gift in exchange for action Renzi took to help Sandlin sell a $4 million parcel of land.

But Renzi’s claim that Sandlin’s $200,000 payment was a legitimate business transaction is weakened by the fact that he failed to disclose it in his personal financial disclosure report for 2005 filed with the House clerk.

Political Briefings at US Agencies Disclosed "White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday. The previously undisclosed briefings were part of what now appears to be a regular effort in which the White House sent senior political officials to brief top appointees in government agencies on which seats Republican candidates might win or lose, and how the election outcomes could affect the success of administration policies, the officials said." (Washington Post)

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The entire scheme has been laid out before us. The question now is whether Karl Rove will get away with it.

Here's the scheme, as revealed over the past month: Rove and his deputies traveled to various agencies throughout the government, lecturing management there about Republicans' political prospects. Which House and Senate members were in trouble? Which Democratic seats were vulnerable? What were the major issues in the election?

But there was a line to be drawn: no commands were to be given -- because such a directive would be a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of government resources for political ends.

On the contrary, the government officials receiving the briefing were supposed to get the hint -- as Tom Hamburger reported, "employees said they got a not-so-subtle message about helping endangered Republicans." The briefing simply gave them the tools to be helpful in the next election. They were supposed to take the ball and run with it.

The Washington Post reports today that Rove and his deputies gave such briefings to at least 15 different agencies (ranging from NASA to the Department of Homeland Security). But one briefing in particular continues to shine a light on all the rest: the one given this January to officials at the General Services Administration, the government's massive procurement agency.

Rove's deputy Scott Jennings simply showed up and gave the briefing (the slides (pdf) for which have been obtained by the House oversight committee -- that's one of them above). Employees were supposed to get the "not-so-subtle" message. But unfortunately for Jennings, GSA chief Lurita Doan doesn't do "not-so-subtle." From today's Post:

At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help "our candidates," according to half a dozen witnesses. The briefer, J. Scott Jennings, said that topic should be discussed "off-line," the witnesses said. Doan then replied, "Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up," according to an account given by former GSA chief acquisition officer Emily Murphy to House investigators, according to a copy of the transcript.

"Something was going to take place potentially afterwards" regarding Doan's request, GSA deputy director of communications Jennifer Millikin told investigators she concluded at the time.

Doan was obviously supposed to come to the tacit understanding that such things should be discussed "off-line." But, as anyone who watched Doan testify before the House last month can attest, she doesn't think well on her feet.

Now, the White House has adopted the line that the briefings were simply to provide employees a look at "the political landscape." And apparently that talking point has been widely distributed, as R. Jeffrey Smith from the Post found:

By the end of yesterday afternoon, all of those describing the briefings on the record had adopted a uniform phrase in response to a reporter's inquiries: They were, each official said, "informational briefings about the political landscape."

It's all about plausible deniability. As Scott Bloch, the head of the Office of Special Counsel -- the office that is charged with investigating Hatch Act violations -- tells Smith, "Political forecasts, just generally . . . I do not regard as illegal political activity." Bloch, remember, is the one who announced to the world earlier this week that he'd leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of Karl Rove. (There's more on Bloch here.)

The burning question here is this: what about those agency officials who are smarter than Doan? The briefings have been going on since the beginning of the Bush administration. Somebody got the hint, had that "offline" conversation, and successfully helped "our candidates." How many? When? Where?

Yet another questionable prosecution brought by U.S. Attorney for Milwaukee Steve Biskupic has been reversed by an appeals court.

This time, it was one of the voter fraud prosecutions Biskupic's office pushed, as part of a joint task force his office created with local prosecutors to investigate whether Democrats had conspired to steal the 2004 election.

From the AP:

The supervisor of a voter registration drive did not commit a crime during the 2004 election when he failed to stop others from submitting fraudulent voter registration forms, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The court reversed the conviction of Damien Jones on one count of falsifying statements relating to voter registration as party to a crime. Jones, 27, supervised a voter registration drive for a liberal-leaning group in Racine and Kenosha.

The appeals court said he was guilty of poor supervision but that is not a crime.

"We recognize the trial court's concern about voter fraud, and we respect the integrity of the electoral process," Judge Daniel Anderson wrote for the District 2 Court of Appeals. "However, one cannot be convicted of a nonexistent crime."...

Prosecutors initially said Jones took part in the fraud and encouraged the conduct, but after further investigation they acknowledged he was not personally involved and those beneath him were responsible.

In a plea agreement, they agreed to drop the charges in exchange for Jones' guilty plea to a single violation of being party to the crimes....

The appeals court ruled Jones could withdraw his guilty plea, saying state laws "do not criminalize poor supervision of voter registration."

It's been a bad month for Biskupic, who had a prominent prosecution overturned and learned that he'd once been on a list of U.S. attorneys to be fired.

Update/Clarification: The prosecution resulted from Biskupic's joint voter fraud task force with local prosecutors. Some of the cases targeted by the task force were pursued by Biskupic's office, some were pursued by local prosecutors The case above was one of the cases pursued by local prosecutors, which is why it was heard by a state court.

Update/Correction: I'm proud to say that it's rare that I get something wrong, and it's even rarer that I get things grossly wrong, but I'm ashamed to say that this post fits that description. Biskupic's task force was in conjunction with the Milwaukee County D.A., not the Racine County D.A. (directly to Milwaukee County's south), which brought the charges discussed above. Biskupic's office had nothing to do wtih the case. I sincerely regret the error.

The Jack Abramoff investigation has certainly come roaring out of its hibernation.

Next on the list, apparently, is Tom DeLay's former right-hand man, Ed Buckham. From The Houston Chronicle:

...prosecutors could decide within weeks whether to bring charges against former DeLay staff chief Edwin Buckham, according to sources close to the investigation who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The decision should give a clear signal on whether DeLay remains in legal jeopardy, the sources said.

As we've noted before, Buckham was the main cog in DeLay's operation and a close associate of Abramoff.

And he also -- to further burnish his status as a distinguished muckrakee -- acted as the lobbyist for Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor who was recently indicted for bribing Duke Cunningham and CIA #3 Dusty Foggo.

In today's episode of TPM TV, we took a hard look at just where Karl Rove got the bulk of the voter fraud stories he imparted at an April 7, 2006 speech before the Republican National Lawyer's Association. We noted that three of the seven "hot spots" he mentioned in that speech appeared to come directly from a 2000 New York Post op-ed by Stephen Bronars and John Lott, Jr. entitled, It's the Fraud, Stupid.

We're sure you took our word for it, but in case you're incredulous, here's a direct matchup of Rove's words from the speech and the corresponding quote from the Bronars and Lott piece, so you can see for yourself.

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The Democratic-run House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on today authorized subpoenas for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice....

Waxman has been trying to get Rice to testify about claims Iraq was attempting to obtain uranium, a vital element for nuclear weaponry, in the buildup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The committee voted 21-10 to authorize him to issue a subpoena to Rice.

Update/Correction: This post originally incorrectly stated that the panel had issued the subpoena.

Today, Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Arlen Specter (R-PA) wrote to Alberto Gonzales asking him to "promptly supplement your testimony of April 19 with answers to those questions for which you responded that you could not recall or did not know." You can read the full letter here.

By the senators' "conservative" count, Gonzales failed to provide answers "well over 60 times." I'm not sure how many questions Gonzales was asked, but it can't be much more than that.

Noting that despite weeks of preparation, Gonzales did not appear ready to answer a number of key questions at the hearing, the senators wrote:

"We believe the Committee and our investigation would benefit from you searching and refreshing your recollection and your supplementing your testimony by next Friday to provide the answers to the questions you could not recall last Thursday."

It's not often that I'm embarrassed for a figure in this administration, but this is one of those times.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has just voted 20-8 to authorize subpoenas for both RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and emails held by the RNC. They are set to vote on three more subpoenas this afternoon.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) from today's Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, on the president's expression of increased confidence in Alberto Gonzales:

"The statements coming out of the White House on this matter seem disconnected to reality. It is reminiscent of the President’s “heckuva job” assessment of the head of FEMA who failed to prepare for Hurricane Katrina and then failed in our recovery efforts. And, again, the White House wants to turns the page and move on. Just as they have left so many displaced residents of New Orleans without the relief they needed then — and that many still need — this White House is ready to leave federal law enforcement in shambles."

Leahy's committee is likely to authorize a subpoena today for Sara Taylor, another of Karl Rove's deputies.