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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.

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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.")

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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.

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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)

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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.

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"Anticorruption cases concerning the Ministry of Education have been particularly ineffective….[T]he Ministry of Water Resources…is effectively out of the anticorruption fight with little to no apparent effort in trying to combat fraud…."

That's not the assessment of some goo-goo liberal watchdog. It's the judgment of a team of officials in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, surveying what it considers endemic corruption throughout the Iraqi government. The Nation's David Corn obtained a copy of the team's 70-plus page report, which finds that militias and criminal gangs have turned government ministries into private sectarian fiefdoms.

The report, which was drafted by a team of U.S. embassy officials, surveys the various Iraqi ministries. "The Ministry of Interior is seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement infrastructure of Iraq," it says. "Corruption investigations in Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual." The study reports that the Ministry of Trade is "widely recognized as a troubled ministry" and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person convicted.

The Ministry of Health, according to the report, "is a sore point; corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and threatens the support of the government." Investigations involving the Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the "CPI and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-equipped to handle oil theft cases." There is no accurate accounting of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil "for the benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign buyers."

Some of the biggest offenders are, unsurprisingly, in the ministries controlling the Iraqi security forces. The Ministry of Interior, in charge of the Iraqi police, "has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the 'legal enterprise' to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc." At the Ministry of Defense, there's "a shocking lack of concern" over disappearance of over $850 million from the Iraqi Army's procurement budget in an apparent theft. (That about rivals the alleged theft by Ayad Allawi's defense minister, Hazem Shaalan.)

Corn writes that "you can practically see the authors pulling out their hair" over the damage documented in the report. Visitors to Baghdad familiar with the U.S.'s diplomatic attempts to stanch the official illegality won't be surprised. In March, I attended a briefing in Baghdad with Boots Poliquin, the U.S. embassy's deadly-earnest top anti-corruption official, who explained with evident disappointment that an Iraqi public law called Article 136B allows any ministry to "essentially stop" a corruption investigation. The report Corn obtained is most likely authored by Poliquin's shop, the Office of Accountability and Transparency, and it promises to cast a long shadow over any upbeat assessment given by Ambassador Ryan Crocker next month about the ability of the Iraqi government to actually, well, govern.

"The country is not a one-size-fits-all, a one-description-fits-all. It's much more a mosaic," the U.S. official in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Lieutenant General James Dubik, told military analysts today on a conference call. And he's got a point. So maybe it's fitting that the Pentagon's last two quarterly reports show all sorts of unexplained shifts -- even on the exact same pieces of data.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, told reporters at a National Security Network briefing today that the Pentagon reports can't keep their stories straight when it comes to the incidences of sectarian attacks and murders. Take two most recent reports, from March (pdf) and June (pdf).

On page 17 of both reports is a graph entitled "Sectarian Murders and Incidents" that tallies sectarian attacks by month. The March report lists that, for instance, December 2006 hosted over 900 sectarian "incidents" resulting in just under 1300 murders. But in the June report, the numbers shade up: December 2006 hosted over 1000 incidents yielding over 1600 murders.

Similarly, the March report listed a decline of about 150 sectarian murders from September to October 2006. But the June report changes that to an increase of nearly 400 murders during that same time period. Speaking generally, the June report makes 2006 look like a more deadly, sectarian year than did its March predecessor, but there are exceptions: April 2006 had 700 sectarian murders in the March report, but somehow, that figure drops to under 400 murders in the June report.

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