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We'd be remiss if we didn't link over to fellow muckraker Charlie Savage's stay at TPMCafe this week to discuss his new book Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy.

It's long been apparent that the administration has sought to expand executive power whenever possible. But Savage's book documents the extent to which this was a conscious and controlling priority, especially for Dick Cheney -- so much so that Savage calls it "The Cheney Project." Go check it out.

A particularly telling excerpt from the book is below.

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Let's clarify a bit about the Iraq coalition. President Bush last night thanked "the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq." We count 25 of them (including, um, us) as part of Multinational Force-Iraq, most of whom have a tiny presence "on the ground"; six nations that have a non-MNF-I presence as part of a Nato mission that mostly takes place outside of Iraq; and then brave Fiji, which helps protect the United Nations mission. (Also mostly outside Iraq.)

Multinational Forces-Iraq lists 25 members of the coalition. (We list them after the jump.) Nearly all of them have minuscule numbers of troops devoted to the Iraq mission, for a total of only 11,732 . The most substantial non-U.S. troop contribution, from the UK, pulled back from Basra earlier this month to assume the non-combat "overwatch" role that General Petraeus believes that the U.S. can adopt at some as-yet-undefined point in the (far) future. Others are pulling out: the Danes, proud contributors of 470 troops in Iraq, have said they would withdraw in August, but that seems not to have happened yet. South Korea is expected to get out at the end of the year. Famous ex-members of the Coalition include Singapore, Honduras, the Netherlands, Ukraine and the Philippines, as well as major partners like Spain and Italy.

But wait! Italy and the Netherlands are listed on the State Department's latest weekly Iraq status report (pdf) as being part of the Nato contribution to Iraq. What Nato contribution?

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Today at 3 PM, Alberto Gonzales will speak at his farewell ceremony at the Department of Justice. In addition to the dwindling number of remaining Department officials who haven't resigned, a coterie of law enforcement officials, such as FBI Director Robert Mueller will be there to see him out the door.

The Washington Post reports this morning that Gonzales appears "relieved and happier since announcing his resignation."

As for what he leaves behind:

Almost every senior Justice Department official has resigned or announced plans to depart this year, leaving the department under the control of more than a dozen acting officials. More than a quarter of the nation's U.S. attorneys are also temporary appointees, partly because of the mass firings that eventually had repercussions on Gonzales's tenure.

The mystery is solved! (Again) On the witness stand yesterday Bill Allen identified the "Senator B" in his guilty plea as former State Senator Ben Stevens (R-AK), son of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

Allen pleaded guilty to paying Stevens "consulting fees" in exchange for votes -- and made it clear that he's a briber with a big heart.

As to Stevens, he started consulting for Veco in 1995, six years before he was appointed to the Senate, Allen said. "He was real good at details. He was like Pete [Kott]. He would work," Allen said.

By the time Stevens was in the Senate, he had four kids, Allen noted. "How am I supposed to say 'now that you're a senator, Ben, I can't give you more money,' " Allen testified. "I couldn't do that."

Politicians have mouths to feed too, after all.

It's demeaning that we have to do this. But since President Bush keeps lying about the size of the coalition in Iraq, we have to. Last night, the president thanked "the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq." To which the Washington Post sighs:

But the State Department's most recent weekly report on Iraq said there are 25 countries supplying 11,685 troops -- about 7 percent of the size of the U.S. forces.

It would be funny if it weren't designed to mislead the American people about the way the international community contributes to the American mission in Iraq. But Bush is right that there are more than 25 countries contributing fighters in Iraq -- you know, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Emirate of Blackwater....

Seriously, the State Department report (pdf, page 31) lists the 25, and then ticks the number up to 33 by adding the U.S., Fiji, and "seven Nato countries" that aren't -- aren't -- a part of Multinational Forces-Iraq: Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey and Slovenia. Yes, you read that right: State says seven but only lists six.

The final three? We've got calls out to the State and Defense Departments, and we'll let you know who our mystery nations are when they tell us.

Norman Hsu, who yesterday was ordered by a Mesa County judge to be held on $5 million cash bail, is calling attention to an old fund-raising technique call "bundling." Bundling became important after the 2002 McCain-Feingold law limited the contributions individuals could make to political parties because bundlers can skirt the law by rounding up contributors and delivering contributions as a "bundle." According to the Times, Hsu enlisted 260 people to give a total of $850,000 to Hillary Clinton for President and delivered hundreds of thousands to other candidates. (Los Angeles Times)

Kim Long, author of The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals & Dirty Politics, reminds us that the "good old days" were full of the same political patronage, scandal and sleaze that we find today. His book goes back to colonial times but Long also notes a "close precedent" to the Larry Craig story from 1964 in which Walter Jenkins, LBJ’s chief of staff was caught by undercover officers in a sexual encounter with another man in the basement of the Men’s Room of a YMCA near the White House. Though Jenkins was a close friend of LBJ's, he was dumped within 24 hours because the election was one month away. The history lesson according to Long -- "it makes you wonder about the sensitivity of the public and the media to these types of things." (Harper's)

A report distributed to Congressional offices in March, but not made public until now, reveals that Department of Commerce employees have been indulging in unauthorized, improper first- and business-class travel. ABC News notes that, "Ironically, the inspector general responsible for discovering the improper travel, Johnnie E. Frazier, resigned in June, facing multiple investigations into numerous allegations of abuse and mismanagement, including that he fraudulently charged the government for improper travel." (ABC News)

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An epilogue, of sorts:

Disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley, whose e-mails and instant messages to teenage former congressional pages shocked the country, may avoid criminal prosecution in Florida because of the state's three-year statute of limitations.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not start a criminal investigation of Foley until November 2006, making it nearly impossible to prosecute what some officials regarded as the best case, an explicit instant message sent by Foley to a 17-year-old high school student in February 2003, when Foley was in Pensacola, Fla.

Time to move some goalposts. The White House today released its third benchmark report (pdf) on Iraq, and, miracle of miracles, it shows some achievements. Iraq is now making "satisfactory" progress toward de-Baathification reform. Repeat after me, in your best Johnny Drama voice: Victory!

Of course, the Iraqi parliament has been on vacation for all of August, almost half of the time since the White House's last benchmark status update. Needless to say, no law relaxing the purge of overwhelmingly Sunni ex-Baath Party officials has been passed. Just last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office bluntly assessed the de-Baathification benchmark as "not met" in its report. So what gives?

What gives is the White House has seized on an agreement between the different factions of the Iraqi government in August to relax the de-Baathification program as evidence of progress. Now, the salient fact here is that the government of Nouri al-Maliki doesn't contain any Sunnis. One influential Sunni official, Tariq al-Hashemi, signed onto the agreement. But that was largely out of politesse. Not only did his Sunni political bloc not rejoin the government, but one of his deputies dismissed the agreement as "an irrelevant media production."

And that's exactly why it's good enough for President Bush. The report expects the American people to believe that yet another in an endless litany of promises is a sign of the inevitable march of sectarian healing. "The fact that legislation has not yet passed the [parliament] should not diminish the significance of the agreement," the report hectors. But the GAO included the agreement in its assessment, which is far more realistic: "No consensus exists on reforming the current de-Ba'athification policy, and many Iraqis are concerned about the prospect of former Ba'athists returning to power."

And there lies the new way forward for the Iraq war: to paraphrase Senator George Aiken of Vermont, declare victory and stay in forever.

I don't have half the brainpower necessary for economics reporting, but luckily, the Media Consortium's Brian Beutler does. Beutler examines the statistics cited by Amb. Ryan Crocker during his testimony this week, and finds that -- somehow! -- they don't really add up to the success story that Crocker related:

Perhaps Crocker's single biggest claim during his two days on Capitol Hill was this: "The IMF estimates that economic growth will exceed 6 percent for 2007." It's a true statement as far as it goes, but the International Monetary Fund's Executive Board reported the figure with less enthusiasm. "Economic growth has been slower than expected," the IMF fretted, "mainly because the expected expansion of oil production has not materialized."

Indeed, it's typical for a country as damaged as Iraq to see its economy fluctuate wildly, resulting in spurts of growth much more substantial than 6 percent.

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The going suspicion in Washington has always been that politicians are not prone to ask too many questions of contributors as long as the checks keep coming. But never has a contributor's hidden past blown up in a campaign's face quite like it has for the Clinton campaign in the case of Norman Hsu.

The story began just two weeks ago when The Wall Street Journal noticed that one of Hillary Clinton's biggest donors was a family that lived in a single story home near the San Francisco airport. The father, William Paw, was a mail carrier; his wife was a homemaker. And yet the couple and their children had given $45,000 to Clinton since 2005. The contributions closely, and suspiciously, matched the timing of those by a New York businessman named Norman Hsu. It's illegal to reimburse individuals for making campaign contributions.

The next day, The Los Angeles Times made the story a scandal when it reported that Hsu had been convicted in California state court of stealing $1 million from investors in the early 90s. He'd failed to show at a sentencing hearing and been on the lam ever since.

After that story, he made his way back to California, but then promptly disappeared again after posting $2 million for bail. After sending out a "To Whom It May Concern" suicide note via FedEx to acquaintances and charitable organizations to whom he'd donated (like, ironically enough, The Innocence Project), he hopped on an Amtrak train to Chicago. On the train, he locked locked himself in a compartment. A passenger discovered him the following morning shirtless, wedged against the door in the fetal position. Pills were scattered over the floor. He was arrested after being transferred to a hospital in Colorado.

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