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The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a "proposed" report this morning finding that Jack Abramoff did indeed have "personal contact with President Bush" and that Abramoff and cohorts were "held in high regard" by White House officials.

The proposed report also finds that Abramoff and his associates "influenced some White House actions" and gave White House officials "expensive tickets and meals."

The report (.pdf), technically a draft of the committee's findings, will be marked up and voted on by committee members in a meeting on Thursday.

We'll be looking through the report and bringing you updates, but in a first read through here are some findings that stuck out.

Abramoff and team gave gifts to Carlos Bonilla, at the time a Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and now an economic policy advisor for John McCain:

On October 18, 2001, Kevin Ring sent an unknown number of tickets to an unknown event to Mr. Bonilla by courier. In addition, in response to an offer from Kevin Ring, Mr. Bonilla requested and was provided with two tickets to sit in the Abramoff suite for the November 20, 2001, Washington Wizards game.

The report confirms much of what was already known about the Abramoff-led effort to oust Department of Interior official Alan Stayman, Abramoff's nemesis on issues involving his client, the Mariana Islands:

One action that White House officials took at the request of Mr. Abramoff was to intervene to force the removal of a State Department official, Alan Stayman. In a previous position at the Office of Insular Affairs in the Department of the Interior, Mr. Stayman had advocated positions opposed by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, then a client of Mr. Abramoff. Mr. Stayman was appointed to his position at the Department of State during the Clinton Administration.

In a recent Committee deposition, Monica Kladakis, then-Deputy Associate Director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel (OPP), confirmed that OPP became involved in Mr. Stayman's removal after White House officials were contacted by Mr. Abramoff's team.

Late Update: McCain Camp: Advisor Linked to Abramoff No Longer with Campaign

A lawyer for Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr says he was shown an operations manual that ordered interrogators to destroy notes, or any other evidence that would have signified harsh treatment which could be used by suspects in their trial defense. Khadr's lawyer said he will use the manual to seek a dismissal of charges against his client. (Associated Press)

A German citizen is suing the German government to force the extradition of 13 CIA agents who allegedly kidnapped and tortured him. Mistaken for a terrorism suspect, Khaled al-Masri was abducted in Macedonia on Dec. 31, 2003 and taken to Afghanistan where he was tortured and probed for four months before his release in Albania. (Associated Press)

Despite public outcry,and a new majority Party, a study led by the Associated Press and assisted by two watchdog groups, the Sunlight Foundation and Taxpayers for Common Sense, found the earmark process in Washington D.C. is as strong as ever. A total of 11,234 earmarks at $14.8 billion ran through congressional bills this year, according the study. (Associated Press)

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The system designed to keep corporate cash from secretly slipping into the hands of doctors who do highly influential medical research isn't working very well.

Even at the nation's top institutions - such as Harvard - and affecting the most vulnerable populations - children with psychiatric problems.

A front-page story in Sunday's New York Times reports that a Congressional probe found some top child psychiatrists earning more than $1 million in often undisclosed consulting fees from drug firms.

What's most troubling about the investigation is that the these individual doctors and their public advocacy for certain drugs for mentally ill children "has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children."

Dr. [Joseph] Biederman is one of the most influential researchers in child psychiatry and is widely admired for focusing the field's attention on its most troubled young patients. Although many of his studies are small and often financed by drug makers, his work helped to fuel a controversial 40-fold increase from 1994 to 2003 in the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder, which is characterized by severe mood swings, and a rapid rise in the use of antipsychotic medicines in children. The Grassley investigation did not address research quality.

Biederman, who works at Harvard Medical School's department of psychiatry, received $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials, according to information given congressional investigators.

While there are rules for disclosing such payments, there's virtually no enforcement of those guidelines.

"It's really been an honor system thing," said Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of Yale School of Medicine. "If somebody tells us that a pharmaceutical company pays them $80,000 a year, I don't even know how to check on that."

While the probe, led by Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-IA) is scrutinizing the system for disclosing such payments, there is no effort to examine whether these payments may have influenced the doctors' research.

As the Times notes: "The Grassley investigation did not address research quality."

Controlling for bias is especially important in such work, given that the scale is subjective, and raters often depend on reports from parents and children, several top psychiatrists said.

More broadly, they said, revelations of undisclosed payments from drug makers to leading researchers are especially damaging for psychiatry.

"The price we pay for these kinds of revelations is credibility, and we just can't afford to lose any more of that in this field," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, which finances psychiatric studies. "In the area of child psychiatry in particular, we know much less than we should, and we desperately need research that is not influenced by industry money.

Since leaving the Department of Justice in the fall-out over the U.S attorney scandal, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has had a little trouble finding work.

Well turn that frown upside down, Alberto, you've got a job.

From Bloomberg:

Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was forced from his job amid a controversy over the firings of federal prosecutors, has been hired to provide assistance to a special master on a patent case.

Gonzales will help former U.S. District Judge Layn R. Phillips oversee settlement talks in the case of a Texas company which claims banks such as Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank and Bank of America Corp. are violating its patents for taking and transmitting digital images of checks.

Phillips, in an order signed yesterday, said he needed Gonzales's help because of the number of parties in the case and the "overall complexity of this litigation.''

. . . Special masters are hired in patent cases to help district judges with complex issues. In this case, Phillips was hired to handle settlement talks between DataTreasury Corp. and the banks.

Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, revealed yesterday that his department had reopened the investigation into whether U.S. officials knew that Canadian citizen, Maher Arar would be tortured when he was turned over to Syria following his U.S. detainment. The investigation was reopened based on "new information," Skinner testified in his appearance before the House Subcommittee on International Relations, Human Rights and Oversight.

The Inspector General also revealed that the Department of Justice's own Office of Professional Responsibility has started an investigation into the role of the DoJ lawyers in the case.

From the New York Times:

A Justice Department spokesman, Peter A. Carr, said that its inquiry, by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, was begun in March 2007 and was examining the role of department lawyers in expelling Maher Arar to Syria, which has long been identified by the State Department as habitually using torture on prisoners.

The DoJ Office of Professional Responsibility already has its hands full with a number of investigations into the Justice Department's role in Bush Administration scandals. OPR is currently investigating allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman ; John Yoo's torture memos; Monica Goodling's possible firing of an attorney because she'd heard a rumor that he might be gay; officials who gave legal approval to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques; the role of Department of Justice attorneys in the authorization and oversight of the warrantless electronic surveillance program and of course the probe into the firings of U.S. Attorneys.

Phase II, the 200+ page Senate intelligence committee's report on pre-war intelligence in Iraq, has revealed the disconnect between what was espoused by Bush Administration officials in the days building up to the war in Iraq, and what was actually known. Besides the simple absence of intelligence, it has also been revealed that the Administration advanced arguments in contradiction of what the intelligence actually showed, in making its case for war.

We've covered Rumsfeld's false testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, and the general outcry from both sides of the aisle over the report.

Today, the LA Times has a good summary of excerpts from the report, which highlight the chasm between what was said by the President and Vice President, and what was actually known:

Statements in dozens of prewar speeches and interviews created the impression that Baghdad and Al Qaeda had forged a partnership. But the report concludes that such assertions "were not substantiated by the intelligence" being shown to senior officials at the time.

Claims that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, for example, were dubious from the beginning and subsequently discounted. The idea that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda hinged on intelligence from a source who soon was discredited.

Bush officials strayed even further from the evidence in suggesting that Hussein was prepared to provide weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda terrorist groups -- a linchpin in the case for war.

In October 2002, for example, Bush warned in a key speech in Cincinnati that "secretly, and without fingerprints, [Hussein] could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own." The threat was repeated frequently in the run-up to war but was "contradicted by available intelligence information," the committee says.

On post-war prospects, the report contrasts the rosy scenarios conjured by Cheney and others with more sober intelligence warnings that were being presented to senior officials.

Cheney's prediction that U.S. forces would "be greeted as liberators" was at odds with reports from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which warned nearly a year earlier that invading U.S. forces would face serious resistance from "the Baathists, the jihadists and Arab nationalists who oppose any U.S. occupation of Iraq."

Other findings show that it seems Pentagon officials were duped by known Iranian counterintelligence. From McClatchy:

A small group of Pentagon officials collected dubious intelligence on Iraq and Iran from Iranian exiles whom Defense Department counterintelligence investigators said might have "been used as agents of a foreign intelligence service ... to reach into and influence the highest levels of the U.S. government," the Senate Intelligence Committee reported Thursday.

The revelation raises questions about whether Iran may have tried to use a small cabal of officials in the Pentagon and in Vice President Dick Cheney's office to feed bogus intelligence on Iraq and Iran to senior policymakers in the Bush administration who were eager to oust the Iraqi dictator and who remain determined to combat what President Bush this week called an "existential" threat from Iran.

A 2003 report by the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity, the Senate committee said, concluded that Michael Ledeen, the American civilian who brokered the contacts through Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian exile whom the CIA in 1984 labeled a "fabricator," and other Iranians "was likely unwitting of any counterintelligence issues related to his relationship with Mr. Ghorbanifar." [Emphasis ours.]

Saudi financier Gaith Pharaon was indicted by the Justice Department for his alleged role in the BCCI scandal and is still wanted by the FBI. But no matter. The U.S. military has handed him an $80 million contract to supply jet fuel to American military bases in Afghanistan. (ABC)

An adviser to Sen. John McCain confirms that the GOP nominee now supports President Bush's warrantless wiretapping policy, and that telecom companies involved in complying should not face ramifications. McCain's view of the eavesdropping program seems to have shifted in recent weeks. (New York Times and Washington Post)

After weeks of wrangling with San Diego officials and community members, Blackwater Worldwide opened its 61,000-square-foot training facility in the Otay Mesa-area of San Diego. Members of the defense contractor wasted no time beginning their combat training. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is making himself scarce for the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual fundraising award dinner with President Bush on June 18.

The Hill speculates that McCain is attempting to distance "himself from the man he wants to replace," but as we noted yesterday there's another attendee who McCain might want to avoid.

The dinner with President Bush is part of a two-day celebration for winners of the NRCC's "Republican Congressional Medal of Distinction." Springboro, Ohio, City Councilman Michael W. Hemmert will be one of the people accepting this distinction, despite two sets of drug charges (cocaine and marijuana) for which he's currently receiving treatment in lieu of conviction.

The NRCC declined to comment when we asked if Hemmert was still invited to the event.

As we've been reporting, Phase II of the Senate intel committee's report on pre-war intelligence on Iraq has been released, and all day lawmakers have been issuing statements of shock and incredulity.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the authoring Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called today for a review of whether then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's testimony to Congress was true, given the information in the report.

Specifically cited are quotes from Rumsfeld's testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on September 18 and 19, 2002:

They now have massive tunneling systems... They've got all kinds of thing that have happened in the period when the inspectors have been out. So the problem is greater today. And the regime that exists today in the U.N. is one that has far fewer teeth than the one you are describing.
   -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committiee, September 18, 2002

Even the most intrusive inspection regime would have difficulty getting at all of [Saddam Hussein's] weapons of mass destruction. Many of his WMD capabilities are mobile; they can be hidden from inspectors no matter how intrusive. He has vast underground networks and facilities and sophisticated denial and deception techniques    -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committiee, September 18, 2002

[W]e simply do not know where all or even a large portion of Iraq's WMD facilities are. We do know where a fraction of them are. . .[O]f the facilities we do know, not all are vulnerable to attack from the air. A good many are underground and deeply buried. . .    -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committiee, September 19, 2002.

On page 50 the report states it's conclusion after investigating these statements from Rumsfeld:

The Secretary of Defense's statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information. [Emphasis ours.]

Wyden had a thing or two to say about Rumfeld's "not substantiated" testimony:

This is stunning: the Secretary of Defense, testifying before Congress about whether or not ground forces would be strategically necessary in a war against Iraq, said that the Executive Branch "knew" something that it did not know.

The intelligence available at the time made this clear, and two months later a report prepared specifically for Secretary Rumsfeld directly contradicted what he told the Committee. As far as I know, neither Rumsfeld nor anyone else from his office made any attempt to contact the Committee and correct the public record, and the result was that Congress and the American people were misled on a question of the utmost importance. I do not think that this is a matter that Congress can afford to ignore and I hope that the Armed Services Committee will take a serious look at Secretary Rumsfeld's statements.

We'll be bringing you more from Phase II, but please, keep your comments and observations coming.

We posted yesterday on Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's curious reduction of torture to frat-boy-like panty raids, in a House subcommittee hearing on the FBI's role in interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Transcript excerpts are great, but video clips are better. . .