TPM News

Washington runs on money -- no one understood that better than Jack Abramoff, who built his empire directing huge volumes of sometimes clean, sometimes dirty money from interest groups to politicians (and directed political favors back the other way).

Another man who understands the maxim is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), a senior lawmaker who has helped control the flow of billions of dollars from his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee for many years.

As it turned out, Abramoff had a fat contract to represent one of the wealthiest interests in Cochran's home state, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. So it's no surprise that in the relationship between the three -- Abramoff, Cochran, and the Choctaws -- one might find the purest example of the way money can put politicians to work. And vice versa.

An email obtained by TPMmuckraker and never before published provides perhaps the best example of a lobbyist hitting up his colleagues for donations to a friendly lawmaker. In it, one of Abramoff's lobbyists makes a strong pitch for contributions to Cochran in the midst of his 2002 re-election campaign because "Sen. Cochran's office [had] never said 'no'" to the Mississippi Choctaw -- the casino-owning tribe that was one of Abramoff's prime clients since the beginning of his lobbying career.

"[W]e have been hitting them up for projects almost everyday [sic] the last couple of months," Abramoff associate Todd Boulanger wrote of Cochran's office. The Choctaw tribe is one of the largest employers in Mississippi.

Abramoff and his associates had already donated thousands to Cochran's campaign committee at the time of the email. That was "good," Boulanger allowed, "but not good enough for the member who keeps the lights turned on here at Greenberg."

Read More →

The Denver Post reports at least one bogus arrest: a legal worker at the site of the Greeley, Colo. raid was cuffed, bused away and detained for the day, before being released that evening. Yesterday, a DHS spokesman told me there had been no such incidents:

Sergio Rodriguez was taking a break about 8 a.m. near his position on a production line when ICE agents approached.

"One guy showed up and said, 'Why are you hiding there?' He put handcuffs on me and I still have the marks," he said, rolling up his left sleeve and pointing to a thin red line on his wrist.

Rodriguez, who said he has been in the United States for 27 years, said he didn't have his resident alien card with him. Although his wife brought the document to the plant, she wasn't allowed to give it to him, he said.

He said the agents told him they had a warrant for his arrest. He said he was taken to Denver and held until 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and then released.

Anyone hear of others?

A New York Sun report that Ahmad Chalabi may now be the Bush Administration's point man in reaching out to Syria did not go unnoticed at today's White House briefing. The piece cited "an American diplomat" as saying that Chalabi "was gauging the interest of the Assad regime in a limited rapprochement with America."

Tony Snow professed to not know of any recent U.S. activity with Chalabi, the Iraqi figure known for flirting with American neocons, the Iranians, and the truth with equal abandon, but hedged a bit on what Chalabi might be doing or claiming: "There are also times when people will make claims about what they're doing and the auspices under which they're doing it. And sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong."

Another story of kids left behind by the DHS raids (earlier stories here and here). From today's Worthington (Minn.) Daily Globe:

Jesus Alcantar, a Swift employee and union representative, said through an interpreter that he had found four children knocking on doors looking for their mother.

“I took them by the hand and started knocking on doors, looking for family members who would take them in,” he said. “I saw a little girl on the street. I saw someone take her, but I don’t know who that was.”

For Washington insiders, one of the most troubling aspects of the Department of Homeland Security's six-state raids is their timing. An agency doesn't execute the largest immigration raid in U.S. history, complete with a press conference and a pretty color map for republishing, because it woke up one day and decided the weather was right.

In fact, it seems there's almost no political climate for the raid. The elections are over, Congress is in recess, it's two weeks to Christmas, the White House has no plans to talk about immigration until next year. I talked this morning with one of the top corporate lobbyists on immigration issues this morning, who echoed the sentiment.

Laura Reiff is with Washington powerhouse firm Greenberg Traurig (once home to Team Abramoff), from where she chairs the "Essential Workers Coalition" -- a bunch of corporations and trade groups which rely on low-wage labor.

Saying she was "very disappointed" with DHS for the raids, she lambasted their political sensibilities. "It makes no political sense whatsoever" to run these raids now, she told me. "I can understand doing this prior to the elections." Furthermore, everybody in power is already focused on immigration -- as an issue for next year. "I talked to the president and Karl Rove last week" about the importance of immigration reform, she said. It's a top priority for both Democratic and Republican leadership. . . You don't need to go in and do these high-profile raids."


The battle between anti-global warming activists and their critics is frequently uncivil. Name calling, put downs, you name it, they fling them.

But this marks a new threshold, I think.

This March, Michael Crowley wrote a cover story (sub. req.) in The New Republic hitting blockbuster novelist Michael Crichton's very public denials that global warming was a proved phenomenon.

That was the last he'd heard from Crichton until he picked his latest novel, Next. Here's what he found:

Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers. Crowley was a wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate and heir to a pharmaceutical fortune. ...

It turned out Crowley's taste in love objects was well known in Washington, but [his lawyer]--as was his custom--tried the case vigorously in the press months before the trial, repeatedly characterizing Alex and the child's mother as "fantasizing feminist fundamentalists" who had made up the whole thing from "their sick, twisted imaginations." This, despite a well-documented hospital examination of the child. (Crowley's penis was small, but he had still caused significant tears to the toddler's rectum.)

In an article posted to the New Republic's Web site today, Crowley responded:

The next page contains fleeting references to Crowley as a "weasel" and a "dickhead," and, later, "that political reporter who likes little boys." But that's it--Crowley comes and goes without affecting the plot. He is not a character so much as a voodoo doll. Knowing that Crichton had used prior books to attack very real-seeming people, I was suspicious. Who was this Mick Crowley? A Google search turned up an Irish Workers Party politician in Knocknaheeny, Ireland. But Crowley's tireless advocacy for County Cork's disabled seemed to make him an unlikely target of Crichton's ire. And that's when it dawned on me: I happen to be a Washington political journalist. And, yes, I did attend Yale University. And, come to think of it, I had recently written a critical 3,700-word cover story about Crichton. In lieu of a letter to the editor, Crichton had fictionalized me as a child rapist. And, perhaps worse, falsely branded me a pharmaceutical-industry profiteer.

The federal government continues to hold hundreds of detained workers from Tuesday's six-state "Operation Wagon Train" raid on Swift meatpacking plants, and the fallout continues.

In Iowa, governor and presidential hopeful Tom Vilsack (D) expressed displeasure with the Department of Homeland Security, which has opted to bar access to detainees by family members or lawyers. DHS is changing its policy, Vilsack's spokeswoman said.

The operation -- which was the largest federal immigration raid in U.S. history -- may not have gotten much play in the national media, but made a profound impression on the communities which lost hundreds of members overnight. "The sight of federal agents raiding the local packinghouse is nothing new. In fact, it's happened several times over the past 15 years," reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of the Worthington, Minn. raid. "But never quite like this. . . .

Read More →

A friend in need is a friend indeed. So if you're buddies with Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), now's the time to show it.

Ney, who pled guilty to bribery charges last month, is scheduled to receive his sentence January 19th. The prosecutors have recommended he serve 27 months of not-so-hard time. Like Jack Abramoff, he would likely serve it in a minimum security prison.

But Ney's lawyers want as much leniency as possible so they've written to Ney's friends and colleagues, asking them to write to the judge about "your feelings about Bob’s character, his work for his constituents in Ohio, his work on national issues, his integrity, his dedication to public service, and anything else that you think will give the judge a full understanding of who Bob is and the work he has done.”

Letters like these can indeed help at a sentencing -- but so does taking responsibility for your crime, which Ney (like former administration official David Safavian, who was also convicted of charges related to the Abramoff investigation) has shown no indication of doing.

'04 Pentagon Report Cited Detention Concerns "A previously undisclosed Pentagon report concluded that the three terrorism suspects held at a brig in South Carolina were subjected to months of isolation, and it warned that their "unique" solitary confinement could be viewed as violating U.S. detention standards." (WaPo)

Read More →

Merry Christmas, baby:

A priest's and nun’s mission to find the mother of a nursing baby was thwarted today after they said officials from Camp Dodge would not let them inside to tell their story.

Sister Christine Feagan, from the St. Mary’s Hispanic Ministry, and The Rev. Jim Miller, who is a priest from the St. Mary’s Parish, both said they drove to Camp Dodge [an ICE detention center] this afternoon to find out the status of a nursing mother who was deported and nursing a baby. . . .

At the church’s Hispanic ministry, the baby whose mother was arrested was passed among staff and a community activist who had agreed to help care for her.

They said they don’t know when the girl, whose father is absent, will be reunited with her mother.