TPM News

Members of the House Judiciary Committee want the Justice Department to hand over documents, among them correspondence with the White House, related to three controversial prosecutions, including that of former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL).

In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, three Democratic House Judiciary members, including chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), voiced their concern that the Bush Administration's Justice Department has pursued and ignored prosecutions based on politics.

The letter names three specific cases they want to investigate. In addition to Siegelman's case, the other two are: former Wisconsin state procurement officer Georgia Thompson whose conviction was overturned by the Seventh Circuit and prominent Democrat and coroner Cyril Wecht who was accused of misusing his official staff (similar allegations against local Republicans were not investigated).

Read More →

Members of Congress have now filed their second quarter spending reports, and several past and current lawmakers are putting those hard-earned campaign funds towards their mounting legal bills. Here is a look at the past quarter's political spending on criminal and ethics investigations:

Former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL): $277,000 Foley is being investigated for inappropriate actions and communications last year involving his underage House pages.

Rep. Don Young: (R-AK): $262,138 Young is under investigation for his relationship with Jack Abramoff as well as a long history of generous earmarking.

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ): $102,000 The FBI has been investigating Hayworth's large campaign contributions from Native American tribes as a part of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Read More →

For years, the Bush administration has lived in fear of this moment. The formal consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community is that Pakistan's federally administrated tribal areas ("FATA" is the new jargon-y acronym, natch) is al-Qaeda's new "safehaven," where the al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (similarly, AQSL) is reconstituting its "Homeland attack capability." Now comes the hard question: what to do about it?

Frances Fragos Townsend, President Bush's chief homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, gave an answer that was at least honest in its straightforward obfuscation. The administration has a two-fold strategy: first, rely on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf; and second, pray.

Read More →

Tons of intelligence reports exist about the windfall that the Iraq war has given to global Salafist jihad. The National Intelligence Council in 2005, for instance, called Iraq the new "breeding ground" for "professionalized" terror. An April 2006 NIE, which remains classified, plainly said the war "has made the overall terrorism problem worse," as one intelligence official told the New York Times. It's hard to see how this could be controversial: there would be no al-Qaeda in Iraq -- which the National Intelligence Estimate today says "energize(s) the broader Sunni extremist community" -- had there been no invasion.

Yet the declassified key judgments of the NIE don't address Iraq -- except for a few bizarrely constructed sentences. What gives with the NIE's weaselly wording?

Here's the sum total of what today's NIE gives on Iraq's relationship to al-Qaeda:

(W)e assess that al-Qa'ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa'ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attack.

Read More →

It's time for another round of "Which Office or Agency is the White House Politicizing Now?"

House oversight committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), having recently brought to light the politicization of the surgeon general's office, is shining a light on the nation's drug czar. The czar, John Walters, and his deputies traveled on the taxpayers' dime to 20 events with vulnerable Republican members of Congress in the months prior to the 2006 elections, according to a committee press release. Not only that, but several of the trips were "combined with the announcement of federal grants or actions that benefited the districts of the Republican members." If government officials were using government funds to help elect Republicans, that would be a violation of the Hatch Act.

You can guess who was behind all that GOP-boosting travel: Karl Rove. Waxman says that Rove's former top aide Sara Taylor was the point person, and so he wants her to testify before his committee. He's requested that she appear for a deposition July 24th and raises the possibility of a hearing on July 30th. Taylor, you'll remember, just testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about the U.S. attorney firings.

Read More →

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is getting another extension to file his financial disclosure forms:

Spokesman Aaron Saunders said he could not elaborate on what changes needed to be made and issued a brief written statement.

"The Ethics Committee has completed its review and has asked Senator Stevens to make a few technical clarifications to his disclosure," the statement said. "To make these minor adjustments, the Committee has granted the Senator another extension."

The disclosure paperwork was due May 15, but Stevens missed that deadline. He skirted it by asking the Senate Ethics Committee to review his finances from the previous year. Other lawmakers facing legal troubles, like Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), did the same.

This must have been the most controversial sentence in the entire NIE:

We assess Lebanese Hizbullah, which has conducted anti-US attacks outside the United States in the past, may be more likely to consider attacking the Homeland over the next three years if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or to Iran.

Hezbollah blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, murdering 241 Americans, but hasn't pulled off an attack on the U.S. since. It's significant that the NIE says it won't attack the U.S. absent a sense of provocation, particularly over Iran. You can imagine the row that must have caused within the intelligence community.

The declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate on al-Qaeda are hot off the presses. We've added them to our Documents Collection here. Some highlights:

* The NIE throws President Bush a bone by saying "increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts... have greatly constrained the ability of al-Qa'ida to attack the US Homeland again." But al-Qaeda has "protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability." For the first time, U.S. intelligence formally assesses that al-Qaeda possesses "safehaven in the Pakistani Federal Administered Tribal Areas."

* In the U.S. there are "only a handful of individuals with ties to al-Qa'ida senior leadership," though al-Qaeda will try to infiltrate more of them.

* The rise of jihadist websites and the "growing number of radical, self-generating cells in Western countries indicate that the radical and violent segment of the West's Muslim population is expanding, including in the United States." Extremism among U.S. Muslims is "not likely to be as severe as it is in Europe," but the NIE points to "a small number of violent Islamic extremists inside the United States" as a serious issue.

* al-Qaeda will try to "leverage the contacts and capabilities" of al-Qaeda in Iraq to "enhance its capabilities" for striking the Homeland. al-Qaeda in Iraq also helps al-Qaeda "energize the broader Sunni extremist community." If that seems like weaselly wording, that's what it takes to suggest that If We Don't Fight Them There, We'll Fight Them Here.

* The broader trend in terrorism is toward "small numbers of alienated people to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources to attack -- all without requiring a centralized terrorist organization, training camp or leader."

More soon.

Last year, the government made 20.5 million decisions to classify government secrets, despite the fact that the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) says that more than 10% of the reviewed classifications lacked any justifiable basis. The ISOO is also supposed to receive data from executive agencies about how much material they classify and declassify, but Cheney’s office stopped sending information in 2002. (Associated Press)

After changing his mind about a presidential run, ex-Governor Tom Vilsack (D-IA) decided to support Hillary Clinton in her bid for presidency. A few weeks later, Vilsack's now-defunct presidential campaign fund received about $90,000 from some of Clinton's major backers, of which most went to pay back the loan he gave his own campaign. Clinton's campaign maintains she merely wanted to help a friend to close out his campaign without debt. (LA Times)

Barack Obama may be talking the talk on the campaign trail as he attacks special interests and lobbyists in Washington, but last year Senator Obama introduced bills-at the request of lobbyists-that would save foreign companies millions in customs fees and duties. (The Blotter)

Read More →

War: it's not a time for strict accounting.

USA Today conducted a Freedom of Information Act review of Pentagon contracting in the Iraq war. The paper found that, through October, more than two-thirds of contracts flagged by auditors as "inflated, erroneous or otherwise improper" eventually found their way to approval, representing over $1 billion. In total, auditors have raised red flags about 10 percent of contracts for about $38.5 billion in bidded-out Iraq funds.

Sometimes the overruns are legit, say contracting officials:

Linda Theis, a spokeswoman for the Army office overseeing the largest contract in Iraq, said payments of questioned costs often happen when the contractor provides evidence justifying the spending.

"Sometimes the contractor is able to provide additional information or rationale to convince the contracting officer to include the cost in the estimate, and sometimes they do not," Theis wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY.

Contracting officers often gave more weight to companies' justifications for costs in Iraq because they were operating in a war zone, the head of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), William Reed, testified at a congressional hearing in February. "I am satisfied they are fairly considering our recommendations," Reed said of Pentagon contract managers.

Read More →