TPM News

OK, so you knew Duke Cunningham was dirty, but you didn't know that he was this dirty.

The Wrong Stuff: The Extraordinary Saga of Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the Most Corrupt Congressman Ever Caught, the book about Cunningham by the reporters who brought him down, hits stores this coming Monday. We here at TPM were lucky enough to get an advance copy and have been tearing through it.

The book is the Cunningham scandal from A to Z -- following from Duke's childhood to his guilty plea, and following the (alleged) bribes from Brent Wilkes' or Mitchell Wade's pocket to the harassed contracting officer in the Pentagon who was to make sure that the contractors got their money. And the book is bursting with details, a number of them new and unforgettable.

Take, for instance, the following scene aboard Duke's yacht, the Duke-Stir. It has a way of seizing hold of your imagination and not letting go, no matter how very, very hard you try:

...even Wilkes drew a line on what he would do for the congressman. For one thing, Wilkes was totally disgusted by the hot tub Cunningham put on the boat's deck during the autumn and winter. What repelled Wilkes -- and others invited to the parties -- was both the water Cunningham put in the hot tub and the congressman's penchant for using it while naked, even if everybody else at the party was clothed. Cunningham used water siphoned directly from the polluted Potomac River and never changed it out during the season. "Wilkes thought it was unbelievably dirty and joked if you got in there it would leave a dark water line on your chest," said one person familiar with the parties. "The water was so gross that very few people were willing to get into the hot tub other than Duke and his paramour." That was a reference to Cunningham's most frequently seen girlfriend, a flight attendant who lived in Maryland.

One of these parties started at the Capital Grille with Cunningham ordering his usual filet mignon -- very well done -- with iceberg lettuce salad and White Oak. Wilkes used the dinner to update Cunningham on the appropriations he wanted. Cunningham then took the whole group back to the boat where they drank more wine, sitting on white leather sofas while Cunningham told more war stories. Cunningham then took his clothes off and invited all to join him in the polluted hot tub that was hidden from the neighbors by a white tarp. There were no takers.

You can read an interview with Marcus Stern, one of the book's authors, here.

There you have it, yet another pile of emails from the Justice Department.

At first viewing, I don't see any significant new information -- just more after-the-fact justifications for the firings, more talking points, more discussions of PR strategy. But I'm just a humble, human muckraker. So if you do see anything new, please let us know in the comments. To identify the document, use the number in the lower right-hand corner of the page.

Happy raking!

Update: Here's a good rundown from Salon's Tim Grieve.

The House Judiciary Committee is prepared to use subpoenas to compel the testimony of Karl Rove and other White House officials, Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and subcomittee Chairwoman Linda Sanchez (D-CA) warned White House counsel Fred Fielding today.

"We are today writing to express our extreme disappointment in the White House's rebuff of efforts by the Judiciary Committee to obtain voluntary cooperation with our investigation concerning the firing of at least nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 and related matters," they wrote. "We write to make one last appeal for such voluntary cooperation." You can read the letter here.

If this seems like deja vu, it's because Fielding got a very similar letter from Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) last week. As Sen. Leahy did in that letter, Rep. Conyers and Rep. Sanchez note that the negotiation process between Congress and the White House stopped as soon as it started. After Democrats requested interviews and documents from the White House, Fielding replied with an offer to have Rove and others interviewed privately with no oath and no transcript. The Dems rejected the offer. That was two months ago. There hasn't been any progress since then.

As Sen. Leahy did in his letter last week, Rep. Conyers notes that even without the White House's cooperation, it's become increasingly apparent that the U.S. attorney firings were driven by the White House. That role might become even clearer when Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's former liaison to the White House, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee this Wednesday.

Conyers and Sanchez conclude:

"If the White House persists in refusing to provide information to the House Judiciary Committee, or even to discuss providing such information, on a voluntary basis, we will have no alternative but to begin to resort to compulsory process in order to carry out our oversight responsibilities."

Today Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) will introduce a motion to rebuke Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) for breaking a House rule. The charge? Rogers says that Murtha threatened to deny Rogers’ earmarks for “now and forever” in retaliation for Rogers' opposition to one of Murtha's pet projects. That's a real threat coming from Murtha, who's one of the senior appropriators in the House.

The thing is, Republicans used to do this all the time when they were in power. And that's why the Democrats instituted the new rule this January, which prohibits denying or awarding earmarks (members' targeted spending projects) based on a member's vote.

But Murtha is, if anything, a creature of the old order, a lawmaker who opined to The New York Times that "deal making is what Congress is all about" and called the Democrats' ethics reform bill "total crap." You might say that Rogers' allegation has the weight of credibility behind it. Murtha has declined to respond to the allegation, and Rogers, a former FBI agent, says he has a number of witnesses.

Read More →

Congress and the administration keep getting closer and closer to the edge. As part of the U.S. attorney firings investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) has threatened to subpoena Karl Rove and other White House officials, a subpoena the White House will certainly fight. And in the House, House reform committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has subpoenaed Condoleezza Rice to testify next month; Rice has said she won’t comply.

So what happens when they get to the edge? Will we see top officials in cuffs soon?

The short answer: no, but a subpoena still gets results.

Former general counsel to the House Charles Tiefer explained that these face-offs never culminate in court.

"In theory, what happens is, after the House, or the Senate, goes through a certain process, [the case] is kicked over to a prosecutor," Tiefer said. But to think that will actually happen "is a naive way" of looking at Congressional investigations.

No top government official has ever been indicted for failing to respond to a Congressional subpoena. Tiefer, who signed off on more Congressional subpoenas than anyone else while counsel to the House from 1984 to 1996, explained that these investigations mount pressure to achieve results.

When asked if a Congressional subpoena has teeth he asked his own question: “Does a vise have teeth?” Well, no, but, “you could crack stones in a vise.”

The investigation process ramps up political pressure with letters, media outreach, subpoenas and contempt until one side cracks. The more bipartisan support an investigation has, the heavier each move weighs. The more the public supports the opposing branch, the more likely a committee will be to back down.

Usually a negotiated agreement is reached before the investigation hits a serious phase.

Read More →

From U.S. News:

Soon after Gonzales became attorney general, his then chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales's "vision" was to merge the deputy's office with Gonzales's own office. That meant that Comey would have lost some of his autonomy, becoming less of a leader and more of a senior staff member. A source close to Sampson says he merely wanted Gonzales and Comey to operate as a "seamless leadership team," with "harmony rather than conflict," and never meant to "degrade the status or authority" of the deputy. Comey didn't buy it. "You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general," Comey is said to have responded to Sampson. "But it's not going to work with me."

No wonder Comey didn't last long under Gonzales.

Sen. Olympia Snow (R-ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have not called for the resignation of Alberto Gonzales, but they both offered harsh criticism of the Attorney General after discovering that their state’s US Attorney spent time on the now-infamous firing list. (Portland Press Herald)

Read More →

Meet Hans von Spakovsky, yet another major player in what McClatchy straightforwardly calls the administration's "vote-suppression agenda."

We've spent a lot of time introducing you to one of von Spakovsky's closest peers, Bradley Schlozman. Schlozman, you'll remember, presided over the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division with an iron hand, making sure that the division was stocked with hard-line Republicans and that career staff in the voting rights section in particular were punished when they stepped out of line. Schlozman was rewarded for his tenure there with an appointment as the U.S. attorney for Kansas City in 2006 -- he proved reliable there too, delivering voter-fraud indictments just days before the election. Schlozman will be appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in two weeks, alongside Todd Graves, the fired U.S. attorney he replaced.

Well, Von Spakovsky was Tweedledee to Schlozman's Tweedledum at the Civil Rights Division. The two worked together in overseeing the voting rights section, and in particular in ensuring that the section, which is tasked with stopping the implementation of voting laws that might impinge on the rights of minorities, did not block voter ID laws. As I reported last month, the two teamed up to make life hell for one section analyst who had had the temerity to object to Georgia's voter ID law (the one ultimately blocked by a federal judge who compared it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax).

But as McClatchy reports this morning, von Spakovsky did not confine his activities to the Justice Department. He was also busy making sure that the Election Assistance Commission, a tiny agency that serves as the government's election information clearinghouse, stayed in line. And that meant making sure that whatever research it published conformed to the voter-fraud orthodoxy. But unfortunately for von Spakovsky, the commission's chairman Paul DiGregorio was hard to control:

After the commission hired both liberal and conservative consultants to work on the studies in 2005, e-mails show that von Spakovsky tried to persuade panel members that the research was flawed.

In an Aug. 18, 2005, e-mail to Chairman DiGregorio, he objected strenuously to a contract award for the ID study to researchers at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, who were teaming with a group at Rutgers University.

Von Spakovsky wrote that Daniel Tokaji, the associate director of Moritz' election program, was "an outspoken opponent of voter identification requirements" and that those "pre-existing notions" should disqualify him from federal funding for impartial research.

So von Spakovsky (surprise, surprise) got him canned:

Last September, the White House replaced DiGregorio with Caroline Hunter, a former deputy counsel to the Republican National Committee. DiGregorio confided to associates that he was told that von Spakovsky influenced the White House's decision not to reappoint him, said the two people close to the panel.

Asked about his ouster, DiGregorio said only that he "was aware that Mr. von Spakovsky was not pleased with the bipartisan approaches that I took."

Now, von Spakovsky, like Schlozman, was also rewarded for his time in the Civil Rights Division. He was given a recess appointment to sit as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission in December 2005. A confirmation hearing --which you can expect to be contentious -- is scheduled for June 13th.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Weeks before the 2006 midterm election, then-New Mexico U.S. Atty. David C. Iglesias was invited to dine with a well-connected Republican lawyer in Albuquerque [Pat Rogers] who had been after him for years to prosecute allegations of voter fraud....

Rogers, reached by telephone in Albuquerque, recalled a brief discussion of voter fraud at the lunch, but he challenged much of Iglesias' account.

Rogers said the primary purpose of the gathering was to discuss the U.S. attorney's failure to move on corruption cases, not voter fraud. Rogers also said that it was he who invited the other employee of the office to attend and that he was presenting them with concerns of others in law enforcement, including concerns raised in a newspaper article that described how the FBI had finished its work on a public corruption matter and turned it over to the U.S. attorney.

That's one hell of an alibi.

Remember that the "public corruption matter" Rogers is referring to here is the investigation of a prominent New Mexico Democrat -- the investigation that Republicans hoped would deliver an indictment before the election. And that's the same investigation that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) had called Iglesias about that same month.

So what Rogers is saying is that he wasn't meeting with Iglesias to pressure him to indict Democrats on voter fraud charges. No! He was meeting with Iglesias to pressure him to indict a Democrat on corruption charges.

It's the whole story of Iglesias' firing. It's not clear if the lack of voter fraud indictments, Republican disappointment at the pace of his public corruption investigations, or both led to his firing. But all the evidence shows that one or both of them did. And it all amounts to the same thing: Iglesias was canned for not indicting Democrats.

When it became apparent in March that the Justice Department would be forced to turn over all the documents relevant to the U.S. attorney firings, Michael Elston, chief of staff to the deputy attorney general, made a round of phone calls.

He wanted to apologize to the five U.S. attorneys whom he had listed on a November 1st email as "other possibilities" for firings (yesterday Elston's lawyer claimed that Elston had never intended for any of those U.S.A.s to be fired). But it sounds like a lot of the calls went like this:

Colm F. Connolly, the chief federal prosecutor in Delaware, said Elston called "to inform me that there was an e-mail that was going to be turned over to Congress and, although it was not to be disclosed publicly, often times Congress would leak things and this could be public at some point."

Connolly said he "expressed disappointment" and asked how the e-mail was prepared. He said Elston told him "that there was this firing process in the works at the time, and he had been asked to find out whether there were any other U.S. attorneys about whom there had been concerns."

Connolly said Elston told him that he collected names by "speaking to people" but that he "could not remember who he spoke with, and he said he could not remember what the concerns were as they related to me."

In other words, 'Sorry for almost getting you fired and sorry I can't remember why I almost got you fired.'

Remember that Elston, as the chief of staff to the DAG, plays a key role in overseeing the U.S. attorneys. I'm guessing this won't help that working relationship.