TPM News

Citing recent reports that US attorney Rachel Paulose is under investigaiton by the Office of Special Counsel for mishandling employees, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and chair of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter to the Department of Justice again asking for documents on the decision to hire her.

The letter is available here.

The former US attorney from Minnesota Tom Heffelfinger has said he voluntary resigned and did not know at the time that his name appeared on a list of potential prosecutors to be fired. Conyers and Ellison want details on how and why the very young and very conservative Paulose was picked.

Ellison and Conyers sent a letter to Alberto Gonzales back in May asking the same questions.

Since State Department officials' ability to travel in Iraq had been severely limited by Blackwater's temporary shutdown, it was just a matter of time:

American convoys under the protection of Blackwater USA resumed on Friday, four days after the U.S. Embassy suspended all land travel by its diplomats and other civilian officials in response to the alleged killing of civilians by the security firm....

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said the decision to resume land travel outside the heavily fortified Green Zone was made after consultations with the Iraqi governments. She said the convoys will be limited to essential missions.

If Dick Cheney or his right-hand lawyer David Addington are talking to Justice Department officials about individual cases, Congress wants to know about it.

What could be the second law change to emerge from the U.S. attorney firings scandal passed the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would require the White House and Justice Department to detail in reports to Congress twice a year which Department officials had spoken to which White House officials about cases.

During questioning of Alberto Gonzales this spring, Whitehouse revealed that the Bush White House had thrown the door open to literally hundreds of White House officials being able to confer with Department officials about cases. A memo signed by John Ashcroft had initially opened the door. But a May, 2006 memo by Gonzales had exacerbated the problem and seemed to take special care in ensuring access for Cheney's staff. Gonzales, under questioning, was characteristically befuddled by the document that he'd signed: “I’d have to go back and look at this.... I must say I'm troubled by this.”

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Blackwater had better hope there's an Iraqi Abraham Zapruder out there. The Interior Ministry has pieced together an account of Sunday's shooting in Mansour alleging that the private-security company fired on civilians at a traffic circle in Nisour Squar with practically no provocation.

In the Interior Ministry account — made available to The New York Times on Thursday — Iraqi investigators interviewed many witnesses but relied on the testimony of the people they considered to be the four most credible.

The account says that as soon as the guards took positions in four locations in the square, they began shooting south, killing a driver who had failed to heed a traffic policeman’s call to stop.

“The Blackwater company is considered 100 percent guilty through this investigation,” the report concludes.

An internal U.S. forensic analysis is still ongoing, and an announced joint U.S.-Iraqi investigation has yet to get underway. But the Interior Ministry is already using the report as a lever for getting the State Department to cancel Blackwater's contract to protect U.S. diplomats -- a move State is refusing. The Iraqis also want U.S. security companies to be subject to Iraqi criminal liability.

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The FBI is so interested in what Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) says to former Veco CEO Bill Allen that they secretly taped his calls to hear. There is no word yet on the content of the conversations.

The recorded calls between Stevens and businessman Bill Allen were confirmed by two people close to the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way. They declined to say how many calls were recorded or what was said.

Allen, a wealthy businessman and Stevens' political patron, agreed to the taping last year after authorities confronted him with evidence he had bribed Alaska lawmakers. He pleaded guilty to bribery and is a key witness against Alaska legislators. He also has told prosecutors he paid his employees to renovate the senator's house.

Allen pleaded guilty himself to corruption charges and is cooperating in the broad investigation. During the corruption trial of former state Rep. Pete Kott (R-AK) this week, prosecutors played a recorded phone conversation between Kott and Allen where Kott admits Allen tucked extra money into a payment for a legitimate flooring project. The Anchorage Daily News has the audio here. (On the call, Kott and Allen also touch on Kott's dream of becoming a prison warden in Barbados.)

The AP also reveals that Stevens, whose home was raided by the FBI in June, has been of interest to investigators long before that.

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President Bush yesterday refused to comment on questions about the recent Israeli bombing in Syria. However, according to the Washington Post, anonymous government sources have confirmed that Israel did in fact attack a suspected nuclear site that was being created with an undetermined amount of North Korean assistance. Further, the U.S. shared intelligence on the site with Israel prior to the attack. (Washington Post)

A former financial manager of the Iraq reconstruction, Robert Raggio, is under investigation. Raggio quit his government job for the private sector, where he helped his company get a contract to fight fraud in Iraq. Turns out, it's illegal to write policy guidelines for the government while at the same time pursing a government contract that's under the purview of those guidelines. (USA TODAY)

Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, is out to prove that he ain't no Alberto. In a move that sharply distinguishes him from his predecessor, Mukasey has vowed to fire any Justice Department employee who shares sensitive case information with the White House without his approval. (Boston Globe)

At least one lawmaker is attacking the politicization of fear. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) attacked Republicans and the administration alike for hyping bogus claims of impending terror this past August in order to facilitate the passing of an exceptionally broad FISA reform act, calling the move part of the "Rovian strategy of using terrorism as a wedge political issue." (Think Progress)

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So what defense contract in Iraq didn't involve a kickback? What contract was awarded through competitive bidding? As Pentagon investigators conduct an unprecedented review into corruption in the department's Iraq contracting, it's a rare bid that wasn't crooked.

Yesterday, Congress learned that $6 billion worth of contracts are under criminal review. That's right -- criminal:

Military officials said Thursday that contracts worth $6 billion to provide essential supplies to American troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan — including food, water and shelter — were under review by criminal investigators, double the amount the Pentagon had previously disclosed.

In addition, $88 billion in contracts and programs, including those for body armor for American soldiers and matériel for Iraqi and Afghan security forces, are being audited for financial irregularities, the officials said.

Taken together, the figures, provided by the Pentagon in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, represent the fullest public accounting of the magnitude of a widening government investigation into bid-rigging, bribery and kickbacks by members of the military and civilians linked to the Pentagon’s purchasing system.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) called DOD's procurement process "a culture of corruption," an assessment that appears to represent the bipartisan consensus. Yet the Pentagon's deputy inspector general said the contracting corruption was attributable to "isolated incidents." Yes, $6 billion worth of isolated incidents.

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A knowledgeable government source says the account Admiral Mike McConnell gave to the House intelligence committee about the procedure for wiretapping Iraqi insurgents earlier this year is "really terrible."

McConnell told the committee today that restrictions derived by the FISA Court this year on wiretapping foreign-to-foreign communications that pass through the U.S. prevented the NSA from surveilling Iraqi insurgents who had kidnapped U.S. soldiers for 12 hours. But the source, who is privvy to the timeline of the incident, says "internal bureaucratic wrangling," and not court-based restrictions, were responsible for the lag time. "To get an emergency warrant, you just have to believe the facts support the application that someone is an agent of a foreign power," the source says. "That takes approximately five seconds to establish if you're going after an Iraqi insurgent."

Why did so much time elapse before the surveillance? Top Justice Department officials needed to approve the emergency order. But according to the source, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was out of town; Deputy AG Paul McNulty had resigned already; Solicitor General Paul Clement "had left the building"; and the other responsible official, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein was not yet authorized to approve the emergency order. Wainstein testified today, but demurred from answering questions about the incident in open session.

Despite McConnell's testimony today and Tuesday that the FISA Court unreasonably tied the NSA's hands in the case, the source says, "it stems from their own internal process, and it stems from their own reading" of the court's ruling.

More on this tomorrow.

On Tuesday, Admiral McConnell, director of national intelligence, told the House Judiciary Committee that a FISA Court ruling earlier this year prevented the NSA from eavesdropping on Iraqi insurgents who had captured U.S. soldiers. At least one FISA expert we spoke with found the claim "totally implausible." Today, McConnell offered some details about the incident to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in response to a question from ranking Republican Peter Hoekstra.

Well, sir, I have to be a little careful because of sources and method issues. But the situation was, as you know, because global communications move on wire, you can have a situation where information would pass on a wire through this country. So for us to specifically target the individuals that were involved in that kidnap, we had to go through a court order process.

Now, when we've talked about this before, people frequently say, "Well, wait a minute. Why don't you just do emergency FISA?" Well, that is the point. We are extending Fourth Amendment rights to a terrorist foreigner foreign country who's captured U.S. soldiers. And we're now going through a process to produce probable cause that we would have authority to go after these terrorists.

And then people say, "Well, why don't you just go? You got emergency authorization." Well, emergency authorization doesn't mean you don't go through the process, which is probable cause. So some analyst has got to do it and some official's got to sign it out. And it has to come to either me or some other official. Then it goes to the attorney general. Then it goes to FISA court.

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If Erik Prince of Blackwater shows up at the House oversight committee's hearing into his company's activities in Iraq, expect him to get an earful. It's not just about the Mansour incident, or the murky legal status the private-security firm possesses. According to the Iraqi government, Blackwater employees engineered a jailbreak to free a minister convicted of corruption charges.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki referred obliquely to the incident yesterday. But a Defense Ministry spokesman told Leila Fadel of McClatchy that Blackwater, in December, broke former Electricity Minister Ahyam al-Samarrai out of prison in the Green Zone, where he was awaiting sentencing for embezzling $2.5 billion in reconstruction money.

Until now, Iraqi officials hadn't named the private security company that they believe helped Samarrai, the only Iraqi cabinet official convicted of corruption, to escape from a jail that was overseen jointly by U.S. and Iraqi guards. He subsequently was spirited out of the country and is believed to be living in the United States.

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