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The Bush administration's days may be numbered, but some loyal Bushies are taking steps to worm themselves or their subordinates into the federal bureaucracy, so that they can't be dislodged by the incoming Obama administration.

The Washington Post reports:

Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the Bush administration allowed 20 political appointees to become career civil servants.


In one example of what some Washington veterans call the "headless nail" phenomenon -- in which political appointees quietly move into career jobs ithin their departments, making it hard for the incoming administration to remove them -- David Bernhardt, the top lawyer for the Interior Department, has shifted six of his deputies into senior civil service positions. One of these, Robert Comer, was found by an internal DOI report to have struck an agreement on grazing with a Wyoming rancher "with total disregard for the concerns raised by career field personnel." Another, Matthew McKeown, has attracted criticism from environmentalists for promoting grazing and logging on public lands.

Bernhardt told the Post: "I believe these management decisions will strengthen the professionalism of the Office of the Solicitor and result in greater service to the Department of the Interior. However, the next solicitor and the department's management team are free to walk a different path."

But a career DOI official disagreed: "It is an attempt by the outgoing administration to limit as much as possible [the incoming administration's] ability to put its policy imprint on the Department of Interior."

Two Labor Department political appointees have also secured civil service jobs there.

This strategy is hardly unique to the Bush administration. In its final year of existence, the Clinton administration, says the Post, made 47 such moves, "including seven at the senior executive level."

The ACLU is today filing a suit alleging that the Bush administration has asked other countries to hold terror suspects whom the U.S. lacks the evidence to charge.

The poster boy for the case is Naji Hamdan, an American Muslim, who, reports McClatchy, has been held for nearly three months in the United Arab Emirates without charges, access to a lawyer, or contact with his family.

"If the U.S. government is responsible for this detention and we believe it is, this is clearly illegal because our government can't contract away the Constitution by enlisting the aid of other governments that do not adhere to the Constitution's requirements," an ACLU spokesperson told McClatchy.

An FBI spokesman said: "The FBI does not ask foreign nations to detain U.S. citizens on our behalf in order to circumvent their rights."

Hamdan served on the board of a Los Angeles mosque, and had originally been questioned by the FBI about possible ties to Osama Bin Laden as early as 1999. He moved with his family to the UAE in 2006, and was arrested by local law enforcement in August of this year.

Hamdan's family, which is bringing the lawsuit, says he's no friend of OBL. "Naji hates war. He hates what happened on September 11. He hates terrorism," his wife told McClatchy.

Contracting giant Blackwater has confirmed the existence of multiple federal investigations into its work in shipping weapons to Iraq, reports Congress Daily.

The North Carolina company is facing separate investigations by a grand jury in the state, and by the State Department.

But in a statement, it took issue with some details from news reports last week. "The investigations ... do not allege that the company failed to obtain licenses or failed to ensure the government was aware of its actions," it said.

Rather, it said, "[t]he investigations concern Blackwater's not properly annotating the licenses, not timely submitting required reports, and not retaining required records."

Still, it essentially admitted the most eyebrow-raising charge -- that it had shipped weapons inside sacks of dog food -- saying that this was done to prevent theft.

Separately, federal prosecutors have drafted an indictment against Blackwater guards in connection with the deadly shooting of 17 Baghdad civilians last year, though no decisions on charges have been made.

The ACLU contends that the U.S. is using other countries to detain U.S. citizens without charges or access to lawyers, in a suit the organization plans to file today. The suit holds the U.S. responsible for the imprisonment of Naji Hamdan, an American Muslim, in the United Arab Emirates. The FBI has admitted to interviewing people being held by other countries, but denies involvement in Hamdan's arrest. (McClatchy)

The U.S. Postal Service has hired an outside investigator to determine whether mortgage giant Countrywide Financial waived fees on a $322,700 mortgage issued to Postmaster General John Potter. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) also received "VIP" loans from the company. All three have said they were unaware they were receiving discounts. Countrywide, which was bought out by Bank of America in January, had been a large issuer of subprime loans. (AP)

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will investigate allegations by agency scientists that Food and Drug Administration managers ignored warnings and approved medical devices that are unsafe or ineffective. The letter does not specify which products were thought to be wrongly approved. (New York Times)

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Looks like The Washington Post got spun just a bit on a story about a new group said to be advocating for increased online privacy.

Under the milquetoast headline, "A New Voice in Online Privacy: Group Wants Tighter Rules for Collecting, Using Consumer Data", the paper reports:

A group of privacy scholars, lawyers and corporate officials are launching an advocacy group today designed to help shape standards around how companies collect, store and use consumer data for business and advertising.


Privacy scholars pushing for more online privacy makes sense. And "lawyers" could mean a lot of things. But exactly which "corporate officials" have an interest in tighter rules governing online consumer privacy?

Read on and things become clearer: The group, says the Post, is sponsored by AT&T, and will be led in part by Jules Polonetsky, "who until this month was in charge of AOL's privacy policy."

The paper adds:
Internet companies have come under fire for tracking consumers' online habits in order to tailor ads relevant to their interests. Lawmakers have held several hearings this year to examine online privacy protections.

President-elect Barack Obama has cited privacy as one of the technology issues his administration would address, setting the stage for a debate over standards for online publishers and advertisers. Obama also said he would appoint the first chief technology officer, who may be charged with making government data more transparent while protecting citizens' privacy. The Future of Privacy Forum will seek to work with the government on these issues.


So, reading between the lines, it's not hard to figure out what's going on here. Corporations understand that stricter privacy regulations are coming, no matter what they do. So they're trying to get out in front, by funding an advocacy group that appears to put them on the right side of the issue, but will almost certainly work to ensure that whatever reforms are put in place won't be too onerous for internet companies.

Not that that's unusual in Washington. But why should Post readers have to read between the lines to understand what's really going on?

Since the Post appears not to have bothered to look into the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) much beyond reading and transcribing its press release, we asked the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading advocacy organization for the public interest in the online sphere, what they knew about the group.

In response, we hardly received a ringing endorsement of FPF's bona fides as an advocate for stricter privacy standards. "This is the first we've heard of this group, so we'll have to wait and see," an EFF spokesperson told us.

We should note, by the way, the San Francisco Chronicle did better in giving its readers an accurate picture of what's going on, reporting in the lede of its story:
AT&T is funding a group run by some of the nation's top privacy experts that aims to influence policy in the Obama administration and develop best practices on privacy for businesses.

The Justice Department is denying a subpoena from House Judiciary chair John Conyers for documents relating to the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

Conyers is investigating whether the 2006 prosecution on corruption charges of Siegelman, a Democrat, was politically motivated.

In a letter sent Friday to Conyers, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Keith Nelson writes that DOJ won't produce the documents in question, consistent with a department policy of not providing internal prosecution materials to Congress. Nelson makes the contorted argument that even though such documents in fact have been given to Congress in the past, that would not affect the decision on the Siegelman documents, because of supposed uncertainty about the facts of the other cases:

We do not believe that a possible departure from those policies in any given matter, the details of which may not be known or knowable at this point, requires us to set them aside in any other matter.


In response, a Judiciary Committee aide told TPMmuckraker:
Not sure when DOJ starting getting Donald Rumsfeld to write their letters, but I don't think the Committee's subpoena can be put off by some Justice Department Uncertainty Principle that refuses to answer Congressional oversight based on the unknowable nature of facts. In the end, this wrangling over oversight precedent misses the important point here - the Department's reputation is at a low ebb, and they should be working to clear away the clouds over the Siegelman case, not hunkering down and hoping they'll blow over.


At a 2002 press conference, Rumseld famously told reporters, in regard to whether Saddam Hussein had tried to pass weapons of mass destruction to terrorists:
[A]s we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.


Last week, we reported on new documents that have surfaced in the Siegelman case, showing, among other things, that the U.S. Attorney on the case -- who had recused herself because her husband is a top GOP operative who had run the gubernatorial campaign of Siegelman's GOP opponent -- continued to advise prosecutors.

In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Siegelman lamented what he called "outrageous criminal conduct" on the part of the US Attorney's office and main DOJ.

Change we can believe in?

Last week, the Obama transition team announced that it had tapped veteran Beltway Democrat Thomas Donilon to help lead its review of operations at the State Department. As multiple news outlets quickly pointed out, until 2005 Donilon helped oversee the aggressive lobbying operation of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

Now, ABCNews.com has fleshed out the picture a bit, reporting that Donilon oversaw what it describes as a "backdoor lobbying campaign ... to undermine the credibility of a probe into the firm's accounting irregularities."

The details, which center on a campaign to discredit an agency charged with overseeing the company:

The effort -- which reportedly included attacks on the funding for the oversight agency, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, and an attempt to launch a separate investigation into OFHEO itself -- was ultimately unsuccessful, and regulators eventually discovered top Fannie Mae executives had been manipulating the company's financial reporting to maximize their bonuses.


Donilon was not found to be involved in the financial manipulations, but he did help give Fannie's board the misimpression that the company was in good financial health, according to the OFHEO investigation.

Donilon did not comment to ABCNews.com.

Sen. Chuck Grassley has asked the Treasury Department's inspector general to investigate the potential conflicts of interest surrounding a change to bank merger tax code made as part of the bailout package. Grassley, the most senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, names one of Treasury Sec. Hank Paulson's top aides, and questions whether his and others' ties to Wells Fargo and Wachovia executives might have prompted the change, which pushed the controversial Wachovia buyout to Wells Fargo over Citi. The unprecedented leeway given to the Treasury Department to conduct the bailout has raised concerns among lawmakers and watchdog groups that there will not be sufficient oversight. (Financial Times)

Dan Rather's multi-million dollar suit over the CBS investigation of his 2004 "60 Minutes" piece about President George Bush's treatment in the National Guard has found evidence that the network wanted to pick people who would "mollify" the GOP to lead the investigation, which Rather says was politically biased. Notes from top CBS officials show that they considered well-known conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Matt Drudge. In the segment, Rather suggested that Bush had received preferential treatment in the National Guard; CBS later backed away from the report. The controversy led Rather to resign as anchor. (New York Times) White House e-mails that went "missing," among them some sought by prosecutors during the investigation of the Valerie Plame leak, could remain confidential, according to the Associated Press. The service reports that federal appeals court justices appeared unconvinced by arguments Friday that records that would explain the e-mails' disappearance fall under the Freedom of Information Act. The suit was filed by the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. The three judges hearing the appeal are Republican appointees. (AP)

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A good catch by The Huffington Post yesterday, in response to the news that Norm Coleman is dropping out of the race for chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to focus on the Minnesota recount -- and is throwing his support behind John Cornyn, who will almost certainly now win the post.

HuffPo notes that Cornyn, of Texas, is also currently the GOP chair of the Senate Ethics Committee - the body that could well investigate whether Coleman accepted gifts from his longtime supporter Nasser Kazeminy.

Earlier this week, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a good-government group that ran anti-Coleman ads during the election, publicly called on the Ethics Committee, as well as the FBI, to look into sworn allegations, made in a lawsuit, that Kazeminy passed $75,000 to Coleman by having one of Kazeminy's companies make payments to an insurance brokerage that employs Laurie Coleman, the senator's wife.

So Coleman's decision to drop out of the NRSC race directly benefits one of the people who will have the most influence over the direction of any investigation by the Ethics Committee.

Coleman's Senate office has not responded to numerous requests from TPMmuckraker to comment on whether he has already been contacted by investigators.

But there's another wrinkle beyond HuffPo's catch: But for the GOP chair of the supposedly non-partisan Ethics Commitee to also serve as head of the NRSC -- an explicitly political post -- might appear to present a conflict of interest.

Cornyn's office did not immediately respond to a call from TPMmuckraker asking whether Cornyn intended to serve in both roles at once.

Yesterday, we noted that the State Department plans to fine Blackwater USA for illegally shipping weapons to Iraq without the proper permits.

Now, ABCNews.com adds some more detail to the picture, reporting that a federal grand jury is probing whether the company used sacks of dog food to hide weapons and silencers it was shipping into Iraq.

State Department rules forbid Blackwater from using "offensive" weapons, including silencers, which, an expert tells ABCNews.com, would only be used for assassinations.

The report adds:

Larger items, including M-4 assualt weapons, were secreted on shipping pallets surrounded by stacks of dog food bags, the former employees said. The entire pallet would be wrapped in cellophane shrink wrap, the former employees said, making it less likely US customs inspectors would look too closely.


Earlier today, the Associated Press reported that an indictment had been drafted in connection to the deadly shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians last year, in which 6 Blackwater guards have been implicated. No decision has yet been made to file charges.

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