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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, during a long interview with journalists, gave the Bush administration a little of their own medicine. From The Washington Post:

Maliki disputed President Bush's remarks broadcast Tuesday that the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein "looked like it was kind of a revenge killing" and took exception to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Senate testimony last week that Maliki's administration was on "borrowed time."

The prime minister said statements such as Rice's "give morale boosts for the terrorists and push them toward making an extra effort and making them believe they have defeated the American administration," Maliki said. "But I can tell you that they have not defeated the Iraqi government."...

"I know President Bush and I know him as a strong person that does not get affected by the media pressure, but it seems the pressure has gone to a great extent that led to the president giving this statement," Maliki said.

And there was this precious moment:

Maliki spoke slowly and seriously for most of the conversation, but occasionally broke into a smile, such as when he was asked whether Bush needs him more than he needs Bush. "This is an evil question," he said, laughing.

The Times has more, including the audio of the Maliki's interview with journalists.

Earlier today, two senior Justice Department officials participated in a phone briefing with reporters about the president's wiretapping program. We've posted the transcript for you below the fold, as it's the most detailed discussion of the program by administration officials that you're likely to see.

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The Washington Post checks in from the Libby trial. If you lived in DC, though, your sister's secretary's car detailer probably told you about it already:

To see just how small a town Washington really is, drop in on jury selection at the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, where nearly every candidate so far seems to have some connection to the players or events surrounding the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.

There's the software database manager whose wife works as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice and who counts the local U.S. attorney and a top official in Justice's criminal division as neighbors and friends. And a housecleaner who works at the Watergate and knows Condoleezza Rice not by her title of secretary of state but as the "lady who lives up on the fifth floor." And a former Washington Post reporter whose editor was now-Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward; he recently lived across the street from NBC's Tim Russert and just published a book on the CIA and spying.

One guy in particular -- anybody know who this is? -- takes the cake:

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WTOP radio in Washington, D.C. reports:

Seventy-one employees in the Executive Office of the President, which includes the White House, owe $664,527 in taxes for 2005. About 20 of those employees have entered into an IRS payment plan, bringing the EOP balance down to $455,881owed by 50 employees.

The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Thanks to Reader LC for the tip.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) confirmed that as Judiciary Committee chairman last year he made a last-minute change to a bill that expanded the administration's power to install U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval.

Seizing upon the new authority granted by Congress last March, the White House has pushed out several U.S. Attorneys, and begun to replace them without the Senate's consent.

"I can confirm for you that yes, it was a Specter provision," a spokesperson for the senator wrote to me in an email earlier today, responding to repeated inquiries. Earlier we reported that Specter had been fingered for the last-minute change, made in a select Republicans-only meeting after the House and Senate had voted on earlier versions.

Still, a mystery remains: Why Specter wanted the change, which arguably weakened the Senate's role in selecting federal prosecutors.

The senator made no public comment on the provision at the time of the bill's passage. A congressional report which accompanied the final version of the bill said that Specter's change "addresses an inconsistency in the appointment process of United States Attorneys." It's not clear, however, what exactly that inconsistency was.

In her email to me, Specter's aide did not respond to my request for an explanation of why Specter wanted the change.

So the president is finally submitting for court approval his special Terrorist Surveillance Program. How about the details? Why are they only getting approval now and not years ago? Tony Snow does his best to explain:

The National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program will be subject to court approval, according to a new letter from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to lawmakers.

The NSA program, dubbed the "Terrorist Surveillance Program," had been criticized for spying on Americans without warrants from a U.S. court. Now, according to Gonzales' letter, the program will operate under approval by the secret FISA court.

Gonzales is slated to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is mounting a PR effort to rebuff suggestions that the recent spate of administration-forced resignations of U.S. Attorneys may be politically motivated.

"Nothing could be further from the truth,” he told the Associated Press.

“We are fully committed to ensuring that, with respect to every position, we have a Senate-confirmed, presidentially appointed U.S. attorney. . . We in no way politicize these decisions.”

Since the November elections, Gonzales' department has requested resignations from several U.S. attorneys. The only known replacements have been political appointees that do not receive Senate confirmation, thanks to a recent change in law.

And in a letter yesterday to Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Pat Leahy (VT), Gonzales assured that "United States Attorneys never are removed, or asked or encouraged to resign, in an effort to retaliate against them or interfere with or inappropriately influence a particular investigation, criminal prosecution or civil case."

Feinstein had earlier joined other senators in questioning the qualifications of one of the Bush-appointed replacements, Tim Griffin, a 37-year-old Karl Rove protege with a background in opposition research on behalf of GOP campaigns.

In his AP interview, Gonzales explained his expanded powers were necessary because federal judges -- who previously had appointed replacement U.S. attorneys -- were susceptible to cronyism and might appoint unqualified candidates.

In order to replace several U.S. Attorneys with handpicked successors, the Bush Administration has relied on a tiny, obscure provision tucked into last year's USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act.

How did it get there?

Former Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) slipped the language into the bill at the very last minute, according to one of the Republican managers of the bill.

A spokesperson for Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who led the House team working on the bill, said that the provision was inserted by Specter into the final draft of the bill. The language was apparently requested by the Justice Department. Specter's office didn't respond to numerous requests for comment.

Earlier versions of the bill did not contain the provision, which grants authority to the Attorney General to replace U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval. When the House and the Senate first voted in favor of the legislation, the provision did not exist.

Instead, the tweak was inserted during the conference committee, where lawmakers from the House and Senate reconcile discrepancies in the two versions and craft a final bill.

In an unusual move, Republicans blocked Democrats from participating in many of the committee's activities.

According to the original law, the Attorney General could appoint interim U.S. Attorneys, but if they were not nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate within 120 days of being appointed, the federal district court would appoint a replacement. The new law wiped away that 120 day rule, in effect allowing the administration to handpick replacements and keep them there in perpetuity without the ordeal of Senate confirmation.

But amidst all the controversy last year over the PATRIOT reauthorization bill (the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, their use of National Security Letters to get information on citizens), the new law simply went unnoticed. Until now.

Intelligence Group: US Interrogation Techniques Based on Nothing According to a new report from the Intelligence Science Board, an intelligence advisory group, there "is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community's use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information." The report added that "that no significant scientific research has been conducted in more than four decades about the effectiveness of many techniques the U.S. military and intelligence groups use regularly," and that this lack of research may be partially responsible for the abuses reported in American-run detention facilities. (The Washington Post)

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