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House Transportation Committee ranking member Rep. John Mica (R-FL) said no one who works for him was involved in the infamous change to Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) Coconut Road earmark in the highway bill of 2005. Young chaired the committee back then, so the main culprit for the change (made after the bill passed both houses of Congress) has been one of his staffers.

The Hill reports that Mica queried his staff and believes that if a Republican Transportation staff member was involved, he/she no longer works for the committee:

[Mica] also said he was so concerned about how the earmark was inserted that he asked his entire Transportation Committee staff whether any of them had anything to do it.

“If they had, I would have fired them,” Mica remarked, noting that none were involved.

Many of the aides had remained on the committee after Young stepped down as chairman when Democrats assumed the majority in January.

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Rep. David Price's (D-NC) bill putting private-security companies' activities overseas under U.S. civilian law has passed the House:

The House passed a bill on Wednesday that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts. It was the first major legislation of its kind to pass since a deadly shootout last month involving Blackwater employees.

Democrats called the 389-30 vote an indictment in connection with a shooting incident there that left 11 Iraqis dead. Senate Democratic leaders said they planned to follow suit with similar legislation and send a bill to President Bush as soon as possible.

"There is simply no excuse for the de facto legal immunity for tens of thousands of individuals working in countries" on behalf of the United States, said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.

From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on Wednesday derailed a plan blessed by Senate leaders to vote on controversial Federal Election Commission White House nominee Hans von Spakovsky, a move giving Democrats time to breathe in the ongoing Senate stalemate on FEC nominees.

According to Democratic Senate aides, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck a deal mid-week to hotline four FEC slots that must be confirmed by the Senate before next year. As part of the proposed deal, a voice vote on fellow commission nominees only would take place if no Senators objected to von Spakovsky's nomination.

But a vote on the deal, which was expected to come to the floor as early as today, appeared to be off by mid-day Wednesday after Obama -- and unconfirmed others -- voiced concerns that von Spakovsky's nomination was too controversial not to go through regular floor proceedings.

A Democratic aide said Senate offices continue to explore "concerns with Mr. von Spakovsky, if they rise to the level of other objections, as well as where the caucus lies."

Obama earlier called von Spakovsky an "unacceptable nominee." For a rundown for why Dems would find von Spakovsky so objectionable, see here and here.

Rick Hasen has more on where things might go from here over at the Election Law Blog.

Classy guy, that Rep. John Mica (R-FL). Hearing about how Radhi Hamza al-Radhi's investigators have been tortured and murdered by militias affiliated with Iraqi political parties -- including the prime minister's -- Mica kept his eye squarely on the real target: Bill Clinton. Mica read out a list of what he described as the Clinton administration's misdeeds -- officials under indictment; officials who fled the country rather than testify; and, of course, impeachment -- to make the point, he said, that "no administration is left without corruption."

It's a responsible comparison. After all, Bill Clinton hung his opponents up on meat hooks, tortured them with power drills and sent Democratic Party-affiliated armed bandits to steal oil revenue in order to finance their illicit activities.

It was too much for Radhi, who, through translation, reminded Mica of the billions of dollars stolen by the Iraqi government and asked, "don't you think it deserves follow up and attention?"

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and subcommittee chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) today demanded the Justice Department release secret legal opinions from 2005 and 2006 that The New York Times described today as "an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency."

The opinions, authored by acting Office of Legal Counsel head Stephen Bradbury, had been previously unknown until the Times wrote about them this morning -- even to the committee. And they were penned even as the Bush administration was publicly renouncing torture.

"Both the alleged content of these opinions and the fact that they have been kept secret from Congress are extremely troubling, especially in light of the Department’s 2004 withdrawal of an earlier opinion similarly approving such methods," Conyers and Nadler wrote. They also demand that Bradbury -- who has never been confirmed by the Senate despite serving as OLC chief for years -- testify about his justifications for such techniques as waterboarding. You can read their letter to acting Attorney General Peter Kiesler here.

For fans of circular reasoning, today's press gaggle was a classic. Here's White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacting to this morning's New York Times blockbuster that revealed secret Justice Department memos that authorized brutal interrogation techniques:

QUESTION: You maintain that the administration still does not torture?

PERINO: Correct....

QUESTION: But is it not possible that some of these classified opinions may have changed the definition of "torture"?

PERINO: No. I don't believe so. I have not seen them. But as everything was described to me, no, I don't believe that's possible....

QUESTION: But the idea that you can't discuss it and that you blanketly say there's no torture when, clearly, in the Department of Justice there has been a debate about if those techniques were too severe ... and to simply say there's no torture, but then to never provide any insight as to what the limitations are, with the exception of death or organ failure ...

PERINO: I'm not disputing that there can be legal disagreements between reasonable people who may look at something one way and another person looks at it in another way. I'm not disputing that. What I am saying is that we do not torture, and I disagree with the notion that just because information is leaked or provided to The New York Times or any other news organization that this country should ... that this government should then have to spell out any specifics. And I'm not confirming or denying anything that you just listed ... all the ones that you just listed.

QUESTION: How can you say that ... how can you say with assurance that we don't torture if you don't know what was in the ...

PERINO: Because we follow the law.

Much more from this morning below.

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Substantive new evidence makes it look even more likely that politics played a role in the decision to prosecute Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL) on corruption charges.

Siegelman supporters have long claimed that Siegelman was targeted for being a successful Democrat in a largely Republican state.

According to documents obtained by Time, in 2002 a lobbyist and trash dump developer named Lanny Young told investigators, including representatives from the local US attorney's office, the Justice Department's public integrity unit and the Republican attorney general's office, that he'd given illegal gifts and contributions to Siegelman and a number of other powerful Alabama politicians. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Session's successor as attorney general and now federal judge William Pryor (R) were named.

One of Young's contracts with the state triggered the Siegelman investigation. Siegelman was acquitted on 25 of 32 counts, with about half of the charges stemming from Young's testimony.

Notably, none of the Republicans named by Young were ever investigated, reports Time's Adam Zagorin, let alone prosecuted. Zagorin also points out that "several of the lawyers involved in the Siegelman investigation were from Pryor's office and had worked for Sessions as well when he held the post." But instead of raising any issue of a possible conflict of interest, the investigators "chose not to recuse themselves but to simply ignore the allegations."

The documents obtained by Time are a sensitive portion of materials requested by the House Judiciary Committee -- but which have been so far withheld by the Department of Justice.

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Here's how bad corruption is in Iraq. An Iraqi corruption judge, Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, is testifying now before the House oversight committee. It's been known that institutional mechanisms in the Iraqi criminal code allow the Iraqi ministers to stifle corruption investigations. But al-Radhi, who is now seeking asylum in the U.S., stated that a whopping $18 billion has been lost to thieves in "nearly every ministry." (That's not the U.S.-provided Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund.) Corruption, he said, is not just getting worse, but has "stopped" reconstruction efforts.

Al-Radhi testified that the Maliki government's corruption "has helped fund sectarian militias," as has that of Maliki's rivals in the Sunni parties. According to al-Radhi, the militias controlling cities like Taji (Sunni) and Basra (Shiite) control oil sales and use the revenue to buy weapons. "These militias are from the parties' blocs, and it is a source of revenue for them." Even worse is what happens to those who try to stop the corruption: The militias have systematically targeted al-Radhi and his investigators. His staff and their relatives have been kidnapped, detained, tortured and murdered. Their bodies have been found hung on meat hooks, tortured with power drills, and attacked by suicide bombers.

He said Maliki -- who recently issued counter-charges of corruption against al-Radhi -- has protected his deputies and "his relatives" from corruption investigations. These are allegations that the State Department tried to stop Waxman from airing publicly.

Video of al-Radhi's opening statement coming shortly.

Update: Here's the video.

Finally, Brent Wilkes' trial is under way:

"Lies, deceit, greed. Most of all greed. This case is all about greed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern told jurors as he laid out the government's case in his opening statements....

"The evidence will show the politician was bought by the defendant lock, stock and barrel," Halpern said, adding that the bribes include "the truly astonishing," such as machine gun lessons and the services of prostitutes.

Among the expected witnesses are Duke Cunningham's former staffers, former Pentagon officials, and Wilkes' nephew, who's expected to give the most detail about how his uncle kept Cunningham in pocket. Cunningham is on the prosecutors' witness list, but apparently is not likely to be called.

Wilkes' lawyer Mark Geragos will make his opening statement next Tuesday -- when we'll finally hear how he plans to get his client off the hook.

Federal Prosecutors have named top executives from TDC (a Louisiana-based company) as co-conspirators in William Jefferson’s alleged bribery scheme. TDC was awarded a $450,000 grant from a government agency that Jefferson attempted to influence. No word yet on whether TDC kept the cash in their freezer. (The Hill)

Just after Alberto Gonzaleswas sworn in as Attorney General, the Justice Department began retreating from its 2004 public declaration that torture is “abhorrent.” The New York Times reports that under Gonzales, the department issued new, highly secretive endorsements of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the CIA. James Comey, then deputy attorney general told department colleagues at the time that they would be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of the Gonzales-sponsored memos. (New York Times)

Under the recently enacted lobbying reform bill, former senators-cum-lobbyists are barred from working out in the senate gym during a one year “cooling off period” (in January the term will be extended to two years) but they are allowed to dine with colleagues in the Senate while active members discuss legislative agendas. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who organizes such lunches, insists, “"There's no lobbying that ever goes on," it’s just a “kind of a small courtesy to former senators." (Washington Post)

Off in Seattle, a former Army paratrooper lives and works behind the padlocked chain-link fence that surrounds his house. Though Blackwater will not confirm or deny whether he was an employee, he is the sole suspect in the shooting of the bodyguard of an Iraq vice president. His lawyer says he has not yet been charged with a crime. (NY Times)

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