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Just in time for the holidays, there's a special place in Hell just waiting to be filled by some as-yet-unknown Pentagon bureaucrat. Apparently, thousands of wounded soldiers who served in Iraq are being asked to return part of their enlistment bonuses -- because their injuries prevented them from completing their tours. From Pittsburgh's KDKA:

One of them is Jordan Fox, a young soldier from the South Hills.

He finds solace in the hundreds of boxes he loads onto a truck in Carnegie. In each box is a care package that will be sent to a man or woman serving in Iraq. It was in his name Operation Pittsburgh Pride was started.

Fox was seriously injured when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle. He was knocked unconscious. His back was injured and lost all vision in his right eye.

A few months later Fox was sent home. His injuries prohibited him from fulfilling three months of his commitment. A few days ago, he received a letter from the military demanding nearly $3,000 of his signing bonus back.

"I tried to do my best and serve my country. I was unfortunately hurt in the process. Now they're telling me they want their money back," he explained.

Perversely, President Bush phoned Fox's mother to ask after Fox in May. Now his administration is taking money out of the pockets of wounded veterans like him.

Back in October, Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) introduced a bill, the Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act, that would require the Pentagon to pay bonuses to wounded vets in full within 30 days after discharge for combat-related wounds. Back then, the Pentagon's flack vaguely assured The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "We are going to give our wounded warriors and their families what they need to recover and return to duty or private life." But apparently the policy has yet to change. It seems that the enlistment contract that at least some troops sign (whether it's service-specific is unclear) allows for withholding some of the signing bonus if a tour isn't completed. We're in touch with the Pentagon to clear this up, and we'll let you know as soon as we do.

Thanks to TPM Reader DB.

Speaking of Iraq contracting fiascos, TPM friend Laura Peterson of Taxpayers for Common Sense dug through the $471 billion defense bill President Bush signed last week and found some new oversight provisions included for future Iraq contracts.

The bill asks Defense Secretary Bob Gates to come up with regulations for incorporating private security contractors like Blackwater or DynCorp within the U.S. military chain of command in combat zones, a measure Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed on last month. Perhaps more significantly, the bill prohibits any government agency from issuing new contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan after New Year's deal "until a memorandum of understanding is signed between the heads of Defense, State and USAID clarifying their roles in overseeing and managing contracts.

There's a catch, though, right? Sure there is. "This can be waived by the president," Peterson adds.

There you have it: the contracting equivalent of a signing statement. FYI: TCS's big earmark database is here.

Ah, Iraq. The land of milk and honey for a defense contractor. Not that all those contractors have such high profiles. In fact, due to a clever bit of disclosure chicanery, some of them are completely unknown, even to budget watchdogs.

The Center for Public Integrity's brand-new report on Iraq contracting, Windfalls of War II, identifies at least $20 billion in contract money that has gone to non-U.S. companies that it cannot identify:

When the 2003 study was published, federal agencies did not comprehensively distinguish war contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan from other government contracts; therefore, Center researchers had to flush out these contracts one by one. Since then, however, most such contracts list Iraq or Afghanistan as their "place of performance," making the contracting process more transparent and the search for data—available from the General Service Administration's Federal Procurement Data System—more methodical.

But not all contracts for Iraq and Afghanistan are reported in this federal data system, including awards originating at one contracting agency in Baghdad, which reports only some aggregate totals for inclusion in the central database. Because the agency has so far refused to furnish these missing contracts, the Center is now seeking copies via Freedom of Information Act requests.

What would happen to you, do you think, if you couldn't account for, oh, $2,000 of your boss's money? And then pleaded that there was a glitch in the database you maintain to keep track of the cash?

Earlier this month, we reported on a Florida law that requires the state to reject voter registration applications if the data does not match driver's license or Social Security records. The law, first implemented in January, 2006, was based on advice from Hans von Spakovsky -- yet another addition to his legacy of voter suppression at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Civil rights groups, calling the measure "disenfranchisement-by-bureaucracy," have sued to halt the law in an attempt to minimize the effect on the 2008 election.

This weekend, Southwest Florida's News-Press ran an analysis of state records, and, well, the law seems to have had a predictable effect (enjoy the spin from election officials):

County election officials say the number of voters lost through Florida's central registration system is small -- 90 percent of applications get voter cards.

The result is applications from more than 43,000 Floridians hoping to become eligible voters over the past 21 months were rejected by state computer programs and kicked out for special review.

More than 14,000 initially rejected -- three-quarters of them minorities -- didn't make it through that last set of hoops.

Blacks were 6 1/2 times more likely than whites to be rejected at that step.

Hispanics were more than 7 times more likely to be failed.

As for von Spakovsky, his nomination to be a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission remains stuck in the Senate, due to the opposition of Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Ed. Note: Thanks to TPMm Reader KH for the catch.

Now that Buzzy Krongard has quit Blackwater's advisory board, will State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard rescind his recusal from Blackwater investigations?

I'd like to be able to answer that question, but unfortunately it'll take a little while. During the pre-Thanksgiving rush to leave town, the Office of the Inspector General's press operation is in the hands of Terry Heide, who normally handles congressional affairs for the OIG. When I called Heide and posed the question, she replied, "The OIG has no further comments on anything related to Mr. Krongard's situation." Attempts at a follow-up were repelled by an instruction that there was "no need to call us back, because we have no comment." Click.

In September, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) accused Heide of threatening IG whistleblowers Ron Militana and Brian Rubendall. According to Waxman, when Militana and Rubendall attempted to cooperate with his investigation of Krongard for stifling waste, fraud and abuse inquiries, Heide told them, "You have no whistleblower protections. Howard could retaliate and you would have no recourse.” ... Howard can fire you." In a phone interview with me the day Waxman issued the charge, Heide "categorically" denied threatening Militana and Rubendall.

So what provoked U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Rachel Paulose's sudden move back to Washington? The Washington Post reports that Paulose's interview with the National Review might have something to do with it. In the interview, a response to the variety of employee complaints against her, she decried the "McCarthyite hysteria that permits the anonymous smearing of any public servant who is now, or ever may have been, a member of the Federalist Society; a person of faith; and/or a conservative (especially a young, conservative woman of color)."

From the Post:

The brief interview provoked some of Paulose's staff, according to her predecessor as Minnesota U.S. attorney, Thomas W. Heffelfinger. He said in an interview last night that "at least one and as many as three of her current staff managers either had resigned or were threatening to resign today."

Such defections would have been the second in Paulose's office in less than a year. This spring, her top assistant and two other senior prosecutors stepped down from their management responsibilities, saying they no longer could work with her.

"Last week she was talking about staying, and today she is leaving," said Heffelfinger, a state and federal prosecutor for nearly 20 years before he resigned last year to enter private practice. "So something happened."

Her departure "was a mutual decision" between Paulose and officials in Justice's headquarters, said one source familiar with the decision, speaking about a personnel matter on the condition of anonymity.

The trial of Brent Wilkes (recently convicted of bribing Duke Cunningham) and former CIA executive director Dusty Foggo, both charged with multiple counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering, may be headed east. The presiding judge believes that an Alexandria, Virginia venue would make it easier for the parade of beltway witnesses who will testify.(San Diego Union Tribune)

Bernard Kerik may be testifying under oath next week in a suit unrelated to his federal indictment last week. The trial concerns the claims of a former correction Officer, Eric DeRavin, who filed a bias suit against Kerik for his alleged racial discrimination when he headed the city Correction Department. (NY Post)

The list of donors who helped raise $165 million for President Clinton’s library has remained a secret - except to those who bought portions of the list through a data company owned by a Clinton donor and friend. Walter Karl, a subsidiary of the data company InfoUSA, compiled the list of 38,000 donors for the auction block. (ABC’s “The Blotter”)

Read More →

Remember that recently-impaneled grand jury looking at Blackwater's Nisour Square shootings? Turns out it's not just about Blackwater. Four years into the occupation, prosecutors are attempting to build the first criminal case against private security companies -- who up until now worked in a system rigged to ensure unaccountability.

The Washington Post:

The Washington grand jury has issued subpoenas to several private security firms, including Blackwater, a legal source briefed on the probe said yesterday. Authorities are seeking company "after-action" reports and other documents that may shed light on specific incidents, he said.

The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, declined to say which incidents have been targeted, but he said the investigation ranges well beyond Blackwater. Private security companies in Iraq "have been shooting a lot of people," he said.

That's an understatement.

There's no word from the piece about which non-Blackwater firms are in the grand jury's crosshairs, nor which incidents are potentially criminal. As the paper reports, the Iraqi government claims it knows more than 20 potential criminal incidents involving private security companies -- most of which it lays at the feet of Blackwater -- but whether that list has anything to do with the grand jury's focus is unknown.

Also unknown is the specific law which the security firms could be accused of breaking:

But the U.S. government's ability to prosecute remains hampered by the lack of clarity over what laws may apply. For instance, contractors were immunized from Iraqi laws under a June 2004 order signed by the U.S. occupation authority. That ruling remains in effect.

In addition, investigations are complicated by questions about evidence, jurisdiction and the availability of witnesses. "If they're going to try to indict, they've got a lot to overcome," said Patricia A. Smith, an Alexandria lawyer who represents two former employees of Triple Canopy, a private security firm based in Herndon, in a civil lawsuit. The former employees say they were wrongfully terminated after reporting that their Triple Canopy team leader fired shots into the windshield of a taxi for amusement last year on Baghdad's airport road.

That's one way of solving the problem. Just breaking now from the AP:

Rachel Paulose, the embattled U.S. attorney for Minnesota, will be leaving the post to take a position at the Justice Department in Washington, according to a Bush administration official and congressional aide.

What position? We'll have more when we know more.

No matter what position it is, it's hard to see it as anything other than a way of defusing the problems with the 34 year-old Paulose. She was the focus of an Office of Special Counsel investigation into whether she'd discriminated against office employees, including allegedly using the words “fat,” “black,” “lazy” and “ass” in remarks to one employee.

And that was after four top attorneys in the office voluntarily demoted themselves in protest of Paulose's Bible-quoting management style.

Update: The Star Tribune reports:

U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose has quit her job in Minnesota and will return to Washington, D.C., in January to take a job as a legal policy adviser to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy....

According to a press release issued by her office this afternoon, in her new job Paulose will advise the assistant attorney general for legal policy, who serves as the primary policy adviser to Mukasey and his deputy.

So it sounds like she's returning to essentially the same job she had before she was appointed U.S. attorney for Minnesota. Before that appointment, she was "senior counsel to then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty in Washington, D.C., where she was also a special counsel for health care fraud." It's not a promotion -- it's a way out.

Update: Here's Paulose's resignation letter.

So just like that, another symbol of the Gonzales years is outta there.