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Who is the man behind the key scandals erupting in Alaska? It's Bill Allen, former CEO of Veco Corp., of course. But how did he get to be such a political force in the state? The Los Angeles Times take us through Allen's story:

Of all the scandals and investigations, the one that has drawn the most attention here -- and that could lead to a watershed change in Alaska politics -- centers on Allen, a high school dropout from Socorro, N.M., who arrived in Alaska in the 1960s as a welder.

When oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, Allen formed the VECO oil-services company with a partner who later left, and then rode the roller-coaster economy of the Alaska oil fields.


Veco filed for bankruptcy in the 1980s, but was saved by (of all things) the Exxon Valdez spill which drenched Prince William Sound with millions of gallons of oil. Veco got the major contract to clean it all up.

Allen had become a big political player in Alaska by then, and his clout only grew over the years. The Times points out that it's hard to pin down Allen's drive, whether its greed or a thirst for political power (or both).

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Former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias has signed a book deal.

Iglesias, remember, has been at the center of the firings controversy ever since he went public with the revelation that two New Mexico Republicans had pressured him about indicting a state Democrat shortly before the 2006 elections. The book promises to focus on Iglesias' experiences as a U.S. attorney in the Bush administration and his role in the scandal, before and after the firing. It's anticipated to be released in April, 2008.

Also, we hear that the book will spend some time discussing Iglesias' handling of voter fraud cases -- how the administration directed Iglesias' focus on the issue, and how that direction made Iglesias uncomfortable. Remember that Republicans all the way on up to Karl Rove and President Bush were frustrated with Iglesias' failure to indict liberals for alleged instances of voter fraud. Apparently Iglesias was no stranger to such pressure.

John Wiley & Sons is the publisher.

A county body in Florida voted today to send back Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) $10 million earmark. Young rewrote the language in the bill while it was on its way to the President's desk -- after passing both Houses of Congress.

Originally, the $10 million was allocated for an I-75 expansion project in Lee and Collier Counties. But after Young's fast one, the money could only be used for an interchange to Coconut Road. That project is unpopular in the area, but a boon to real estate developer Daniel Aronoff, who held a fundraiser that brought in $40,000 for Young right before the earmark appeared.

This morning, the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization voted 10-3 to return the money and ask that it be reallocated for the broader project. It's not clear if that will work. Some experts told me the signed legislation carries the force of law. But, this situation is unprecedented. We'll keep following the saga as it unfolds.

The Naples Daily News first broke that Young was behind the Coconut Road earmark and then how he changed the language. They are blogging the MPO meeting live, here.

One million dollars. That’s how much it cost the Defense Department to ship two 19-cent washers after a South Carolina small supplies shipping company exploited an automated shipping system designed to quickly get supplies to American troops. Charlene Corley, the owner of C&D Distributors LLC, pleaded guilty yesterday to wire fraud and money laundering when she and her late sister Darlene Wooten overcharged the government by over $20 million through a loophole in the automated system. (AP)

Someone doesn't want the government to continue its raids against immigrants: the Census Bureau. The agency is trying to prepare for the 2010 population count, and it worries that the raids will erode what remains of the trust between immigrants and the federal government. (Associated Press)

First there were student loans scandals. Now investigators are looking into study abroad programs. The New York attorney general is looking into allegations that study abroad programs have been unfairly influencing universities to adopt their programs by giving cash incentives and perks to administrators. (NY Times)

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) is looking for help with his legal defense fund. Unfortunately, one of the first contributors is Tyng-Lin Yang, a federal contractor whose close relationship with Feeney got both men in trouble when Feeney was a state representative. (Orlando Sentinel)

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What did John Ashcroft really know about the warrantless surveillance program?

According to FBI Director Robert Mueller's notes on the March 10, 2004 visit to Ashcroft's hospital room, Ashcroft told Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales that "strict compartmentalization rules" by the White House prevented him from "obtaining the advice he needed" about the warrantless surveillance program. At first glance, I thought that meant that Ashcroft himself was prevented from knowing certain aspects of the program. Several commenters read it differently, and judged that Ashcroft was complaining that his key advisers were barred from information about the program that would inform Ashcroft about its legality. And today, the Washington Post backs them up, citing anonymous official sources.

This, however, seems like two sides of the same coin. If Ashcroft couldn't consult with senior legal advisers about Program X, the White House was essentially keeping Ashcroft -- and the Justice Department -- in the dark about the legal basis for the surveillance program, expecting him to simply bless the effort without asking too many questions. After all, Ashcroft's tenure showed a consistent deference to presidential prerogative -- most notably, when he warned the Senate about the Patriot Act that "those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists." If Ashcroft couldn't vet the program with his legal advisers, it's an open question about what he really "knew" about its legality. Sure enough, as soon as the program was opened to Ashcroft's deputy, Jim Comey, a longtime U.S. attorney and Justice official, Comey saw a program riddled with legal problems.

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There's no shortage of intrigue over the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance efforts contained in FBI Director Robert Mueller's just-released notes on the March 10, 2004 tussle in John Ashcroft's hospital room between Alberto Gonzales, Andy Card and Jim Comey.

First thing to note. Mueller testified on July 26, contra Gonzales, that the legal dispute between Gonzales and Acting Attorney General Jim Comey that prompted the rush to Ashcroft's hospital room had to do with the program now known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. (Gonzales insisted on July 24, as he had in testimony last year, that Comey objected to "other intelligence activities," not the TSP.) The surveillance program known as the TSP was but one component of a constellation of surveillance activities, even though Comey and others at the time of the March 2004 controversy considered the whole effort -- authorized under a single 2001 executive order -- to be a unitary enterprise. Now notice that all throughout Mueller's memo, he refers to "program" -- singular.

Secondly, the only non-redacted portion of the notes concerns the Ashcroft hospital visit, which takes up only a scant four paragraphs. Ashcroft -- who, contrary to Gonzales' portrayal, is described in Mueller's notes as "feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed" -- isn't talking about what happened during the visit. But Mueller reveals something intriguing. According to the FBI director, Ashcroft tells Card and Gonzales that "he was barred from obtaining the advice he needed on the program" -- again, note program, singular -- "by the strict compartmentalization rules of the [White House.]" Now that's cronyism! For the first time, there's the suggestion that even John Ashcroft -- the attorney general of the United States and by all accounts a loyal Bushie -- didn't know all there was to know about the warrantless surveillance efforts. Apparently, Ashcroft wasn't considered trustworthy enough to be kept in the loop on the most legally controversial program of them all -- though his counterpart at the White House, and eventual successor, clearly was.

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Who would have guessed the company that recently swept Ben Stevens off to sea amidst his -- and his father's -- compounding legal woes also happens to be a major federal contractor? Roll Call did.

The younger Stevens took a job aboard a Bering Marine Corp. vessel in hopes of raising some cash to cover his mounting legal expenses. Apparently the consulting fees he earned over the years-- $775,000 from various seafood companies and $240,000 from Veco -- are running out.

Bering Marine is a subsidiary of transportation company Lynden.

Lynden CEO Jim Jansen has had long-standing ties to Ben Stevens. According to Opensecrets.org, Lynden paid Stevens $10,000 to work as a federal lobbyist in 1997.

Additionally, Jansen and Ben Stevens both served on the board of directors of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, a nonprofit organization created by Ted Stevens to funnel millions in federal dollars to the state’s fishing industry. The FBI and IRS are investigating both Stevens and the members of the AFMB’s board of directors as part of the widening federal probe.

Over the past several years, Lynden companies have secured scores of federal contracts, according to federal records compiled by FedSpending.org. Since 2000, the various companies connected to Lynden and the Jansen family have received at least $312 million in federal funding, much of it coming through contracts with the Department of Defense.


Still no word on when Stevens will be back on land.

During his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller revealed that he had kept notes of the infamous encounter between James Comey and Alberto Gonzales over John Ashcroft's hospital bed. Mueller had taken the notes, he said, because the situation was "out of the ordinary."

Well, here they are. They were turned over to the Committee earlier this week and released by Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) today. We'll have analysis of what they tell us in a moment.

Update: Here's Conyers' statement:

“Director Mueller’s notes and recollections concerning the White House visit to the Attorney General’s hospital bed confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.

“Unfortunately, this heavily redacted document raises far more questions than it answers. We intend to fully investigate this incident and the underlying subject matter that evoked such widespread distress within the Department and the FBI. We will be seeking an unredacted copy of Director Mueller’s notes covering meetings before and after the hospital visit and expect to receive information from several of the individuals mentioned in the document.”

Whatever happened to John Rizzo, the longtime CIA lawyer nominated to become chief CIA counsel? Rizzo, who vetted CIA interrogation guidelines as an agency attorney, got through a contentious June nomination hearing largely by equivocating on whether any detainee in CIA custody was tortured. But his nomination never received a vote from the Senate intelligence committee. And now it's clear why: Ron Wyden (D-OR) is blocking Rizzo from moving through the process.

“I’m going to keep the hold until the detention and interrogation program is on firm footing, both in terms of effectiveness and legality,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Mr. Wyden said he was troubled that John Rizzo, who is the Central Intelligence Agency’s interim general counsel, did not object to a 2002 memo authorizing interrogation techniques that stop just short of inflicting pain equal to that accompanying organ failure or even death. Mr. Wyden also said he was concerned that an executive order issued last month by Mr. Bush did not clarify legal guidelines regarding detentions and interrogations.


Rizzo said at his confirmation hearing that, even in retrospect, he didn't regret assenting to the Justice Department's infamous "torture memo." (An embarrassed DOJ repudiated the memo in 2004.) It's hard to see how the CIA can salvage this nomination. That would make Rizzo, at the time the agency's acting head lawyer, the only administration official involved with crafting interrogations policy to have his career suffer as a result.

Well, not so bad apparently. Ex-Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) former chief of staff Will Heaton was sentenced to two years of probation today for his involvement with Ney and Jack Abramoff.

Apparently the judge was mollified by Heaton's extensive cooperation with investigators -- wearing a wire for conversations with Ney and even passing on documents from Ney's office.

Heaton's youth (he's still a ripe 29) was also a factor. As prosecutors wrote in a recent court filing, Heaton was tapped to be Ney's chief of staff at 24 exactly because he was young and unqualified. "Ney intentionally hired and quickly promoted young, inexperienced staffers - who did not receive any formal ethics training from Congress - so that the staffers would have neither the knowledge nor the maturity to question Ney's conduct," prosecutors wrote. And he kept all those young staffers in line by making sure they knew that if they stepped out of line, they'd be cut off from all the lobbyist freebies.

Most of the major cooperators in the Abramoff investigation (such as Ney's prior chief of staff Neil Volz) have yet to be sentenced, as they continue to cooperate with investigators.

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