TPM News

The one time Greg O'Connell, lawyer for Thomas Kontogiannis, answered my phone calls, he respectfully told me he wasn't going to talk with me and ended the conversation. My loss: I'd love to ask him about this statement he made in court on February 23.

I only have the broadest understanding of the things that this government is asking my client to do.


In context, O'Connell was imploring Judge Burns to keep as much of the hearing transcripts classified as possible, so it's possible that his plea of ignorance is something of a rhetorical gambit -- i.e., how can the public be permitted to know aspects of the case forbidden even to Kontogiannis' attorney? But maybe the substance of his cooperation is so super-secret that even O'Connell, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is in the dark.

(A digression: Even if his lawyer is in the dark, Kontogiannis is getting some plush treatment. The North Country Times reports tracking Kontogiannis to a "five-star hotel in Greece." In February, Kontogiannis surrendered his passport and was forbidden travel outside of federal custody. Usually, that means travel occurs only for family or urgent business, and it's an open question what in the world Kontogiannis is doing in the lap of Grecian luxury.)

Get the party horns out! Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the FBI's raid on the offices of six Alaska state legislators (including Ben Stevens'), Veco and other undisclosed locations. Sadly, none of the "Corrupt Bastard Club" paraphernalia has surfaced on Ebay.

KTUU reports that the raid marked a public turning-point. Gov. Sarah Palin (R), for instance, ousted Gov. Frank Murkowski last year in the primary and went on to win the general election on a campaign touting ethics reform.

"It was a manifestation of the need for the ethics reform that so many Alaskans were craving and were calling for anyway," Palin said.

Whatever happened to the federal investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)?

Finally, an answer. It's been stalled, reports Scot Paltrow in The Wall Street Journal, due partly to the departure of top prosecutors from the office (including former U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles Debra Yang) and partly to budget shortages. Paltrow's piece focuses mostly on those shortages in offices across the country, the often-forgotten backdrop to the U.S. attorney firings.

The last time we checked in on Lewis, prosecutors were focusing on his relationship with his lobbyist buddy Bill Lowery, whose firm's bread-and-butter business was cashing in on its relationship to Lewis (it continues to do well). But Paltrow reports that prosecutors had also hit another vein:

Read More →

David hinted at it on the main page this morning: reporters on the Kontogiannis story have long wondered whether Tommy K might be a U.S. intelligence asset. After all, he has an amazing knack for staying out of jail despite at least two convictions, he's an international businessman, and the government went to extraordinary lengths to keep his identity secret in his current plea arrangement -- including delaying Kontogiannis' fingerprinting for months after his guilty plea. Now, in the unsealed transcript of Kontogiannis' February 22 hearing, Judge Larry Burns provides some strong hints in that direction.

In February, when arranging Kontogiannis' guilty plea, the government requested that Burns keep the proceedings under seal -- a highly unusual request -- pending the development of an unspecified "investigation." Burns, attempting to strike a balance between the government's need to pursue its investigation and the public's right to open court proceedings, decided to give the government a renewable 30-day closure period. "The court's experience is that deadlines tend to move an investigation on," Burns said on February 21. A memo provided by the government explaining both the facts of Kontogiannis' involvement with the investigation and the legal arguments justifying the extraordinary secrecy would remain sealed permanently, to be released "over my dead body," Burns promised the next day.

However, at that subsequent hearing, Burns still grappled with striking the proper balance. A sticking point was how the court would even place in the record the fact that the case was sealed without making public who the case concerned -- an imperative for both prosecutors and Kontogiannis' counsel.

Read More →

When Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) says he isn't going to talk to reporters about any investigation, he means it. Yesterday he declined to even give his thoughts on the Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) scandal, Alaska NBC affiliate KTUU reports.

Do you believe in God? Are you gay? Have you cheated on your spouse? What's your position on abortion? Should gays be allowed to marry? Have you contributed to Republican candidates? What kind of conservative are you?

Welcome to Bush's Department of Justice. Those are just some of the questions that investigators think may have been asked during interviews for both career and political positions at the Department over the past three years.

They come from a questionnaire (pdf) sent out from the Department's inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility, the two offices conducting the joint investigation of politicization at the DoJ. The questionnaire (as reported yesterday by Bloomberg and The Washington Post) recently went out to an untold number of people who'd applied for spots at the DoJ. Investigators are trying to get a hold on how widely politicized the hiring process was at the Department.

Former Department White House liaison Monica Goodling admitted to "crossing the line" with regard to career employee hiring decisions when she testified before Congress. But she was pretty hazy about the details. (Did she ask about political contributions? She couldn't "rule that out.")

Read More →

Yesterday we promised to check out the obstruction of justice accusation a prosecutor launched at jailed former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL).

It's a puzzling accusation, as the AP's report made clear. Was assistant US attorney Steve Feaga pointing to Siegelman's media campaign of claiming his case was politically motivated? Feaga said Siegelman and his co-defendant (who have both been convicted of corruption charges) are "reaching out from their jail cells" trying to sway events. When asked for specifics, Feaga said "it should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention."

Randall Eliason, a former prosecutor for the US Attorney's office in Washington, DC, told me the obstruction of justice charge is probably not related to Siegelman's PR campaign. Eliason said a prosecutor must show there is a pending proceeding in order to establish obstruction. "It's pretty unlikely that the allegation would be that they are obstructing their own case by talking to the media," Eliason told me. Siegelman is waiting on an appeal, but Eliason said the appeal proceedings will be based on the trial record, not subsequent media coverage.

Read More →

Kontogiannis just can't stop snitching.

This time around, his cooperation helped lead to the indictment of one-time ADCS bigwig Brent Wilkes, as well as his own nephew, John Michael. From the February 21, 2007 hearing, here's a telling exchange between prosecutor Jason Forge and Judge Larry Burns:

THE COURT: How long ago was the plea agreement struck with Mr. Kontogiannis?

FORGE: Your honor, the date, the content -- within the past couple of weeks, February 9, 2007. We signed it when it was struck. We did not reach an agreement and postpone. It was struck just before we indicted the case against Mr. Wilkes and Mr. Michael, and that was a requirement for the plea.

Here's another hurdle for the government to clear in the litigation of wartime detainees: finding prosecutors. Roughly one quarter of the Justice Department's civil appellate staff have refused to participate in the cases, citing disagreement with the government legal approach to the cases. Thankfully, the government isn't letting a little internal dissent (or three Supreme Court rulings) slow down their prosecutions. (U.S. News)

Loose lips sink ships. The Director of National Intelligence's recent comments--in which he acknowledged for the first time the role of private companies in the controversial surveillance program -- has been cited by at least one telecommunications firm as a reason why the government can't have their case thrown out of court. You might recall the interview; McConnell was lambasting loose-talking politicians and journalists. (Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has released emails from White House staffers showing they explicitly intended to use the former Surgeon General for political gain, and according to the President's agenda. (Reuters)

Once more for the cheap seats: Waxman wants those emails. Yesterday he sent a new letter to Fred Fielding requesting information about White House emails that went uncollected due to an oversight in the Presidential Records Act enforcement. Now Waxman is citing officials from the Office of Administration that told him the email archive system wasn't all it cracked up to be; sometimes it captured only a few emails, sometimes it captured none at all. (Associated Press)

Read More →

Thomas Kontogiannis: thrice-convicted felon. Identity thief. Admitted money launderer to extremely crooked Congressman. And, in his own telling, counterterrorist.

Thanks to Judge Larry Burns, who earlier this week ordered four days of court transcripts in the murky Kontogiannis case unsealed, we have our first peek into the motivations of the shady Long Island businessman. Not avarice nor profit guided his actions, Kontogiannis told the court: he linked up with Duke Cunningham out of a post-9/11 sense of patriotism.

“My interest is (the) United States, basically. And (Cunningham) was in a position that I could reach and tell (the government) information that I was gathering from all over the world.”


Cunningham and Kontogiannis have a relationship stretching back years before 9/11. With his frequent travel abroad -- including on a strange trip with Cunningham to Saudi Arabia in December 2004 -- Kontogiannis told the court that he was in a position to help the government learn to fight terrorism, based on his network of contacts. Laundering money for Cunningham's boat and home purchases was merely, to Kontogiannis, a cost of doing business to keep the ear of a Congressman who served on crucial defense and intelligence committees. Asked if he was buying Cunningham's influence, Tommy K replied, "definitely."

Kontogiannis, in his own mind at least, isn't some ordinary shyster. He's Jack Bauer.

Read More →

TPMLivewire