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The practice of outsourcing defense operations in Iraq and Afghanistan includes another wrinkle, the House Oversight Committee reported Thursday. While the pertinent government agencies have set rates with a single carrier, the Pentagon has allowed the contractors to negotiate their own insurance deals, causing massive markups that taxpayers inherit. (Associated Press)

Following the recent resignation of two staffers of Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) campaign team due to their ties to lobbying for a dictatorship, Republican consultant Craig Shirley has been asked to leave the campaign now after Politico found Shirley working for a '527' group in opposition to Democratic presidential candidates. McCain hired Shirley's firm, Shirley & Bannister Associates, for $22,000 earlier this year to drum up Republican support. Shirley has received over $155,000 since 2007 from Stop Her Now, the '527', for public relations work. (Politico)

The Bush administration cut ties with Iraq war-pusher Ahmed Chalabi this week ... again. He was removed from his post in the Iraqi government for his connections to Iranian officials. But is he really gone for good? (Newsweek)

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For those who've been watching the Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush administration, you're familiar with the following pattern: the EPA, over the objection of its own scientists, issues a new rule that weakens environmental controls, but when pressed for an explanation, EPA officials explain that the new rule has nothing to do with easing the restrictions on polluters. No -- the change is merely a clarification, or a technical fix to some nonsense bureaucratic rule, or the inescapable conclusion drawn from a sober appraisal of the law.

And here we go again. Here's the rule change (note the dissent from EPA scientists):

The Bush administration is on the verge of implementing new air quality rules that will make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas, according to rank-and-file agency scientists and park managers who oppose the plan.

The new regulations, which are likely to be finalized this summer, rewrite a provision of the Clean Air Act that applies to "Class 1 areas," federal lands that currently have the highest level of protection under the law. Opponents predict the changes will worsen visibility at many of the nation's most prized tourist destinations, including Virginia's Shenandoah, Colorado's Mesa Verde and North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt national parks.

And here is the explanation -- from a former EPA official who has departed to head the the environmental strategies group at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, that Giuliani) no less:

Jeffrey R. Holmstead... helped initiate the rule change while heading the EPA's air and radiation office. He said agency officials became concerned that the EPA's scientific staff was taking "the most conservative approach" in predicting how much pollution new power plants would produce.

"The question from a policy perspective was: Do you need to have models based on the absolute worst-case conditions that were unlikely to ever occur in the real world?" Holmstead said in an interview Thursday. "This has to do with what [modeling] assumptions you're required to do. This is really a legal issue and a policy issue."

The new rule changes how pollution levels in parks are measured -- instead of frequent measures, the new rule "would average the levels over a year so that spikes in pollution levels would not violate the law." Just a common sense fix, you might say. But as one environmental advocate explains, "It's like if you're pulled over by a cop for going 75 miles per hour in a 55 miles-per-hour zone, and you say, 'If you look at how I've driven all year, I've averaged 55 miles per hour.'"

It looks like the EPA is really competing to not only be the most politicized of the agencies in the Bush Administration, but also to create the most lasting damage.

House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) forgot to keep his voice down when there are reporters present:

Just off the House floor today, the Crypt overheard House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers tell two other people: "We're closing in on Rove. Someone's got to kick his ass."

Asked a few minutes later for a more official explanation, Conyers told us that Rove has a week to appear before his committee. If he doesn't, said Conyers, "We'll do what any self-respecting committee would do. We'd hold him in contempt. Either that or go and have him arrested."

The chairman seems to have been having fire for breakfast lately, pursuing the testimony -- with the threat of a subpoena -- of a number of former administration figures, including Dick Cheney's consigliere David Addington. And of course he's also been pursuing Rove to testify about the prosecution of ex-Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL). Yesterday, in somewhat more diplomatic language, Conyers refused Rove's offer to testify in writing.

When you've got lawyers gobbling up $1 million plus in fees, you need all the help you can get. And in January, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) opened up a legal defense fund to help stop the bleeding. He was forced to pay out more in legal fees from his campaign account than he was able to raise in the first quarter of this year.

But through March of this year, a disclosure report for the fund shows, no one had contributed to the fund.

It's been a pretty dismal year for Young so far -- what with drawing a surprise primary challenge from the lieutenant governor and the drumbeat of bad press. The only bright spot has been Democrat Jake Metcalfe's ("Jake the Snake," Young calls him) departure from the race due to his aide's alleged role in rigging up fake websites to ridicule fellow Dem candidate Ethan Berkowitz.

McCain is rolling out a new way of doing things -- instead of reacting to news stories that point out the fact that his advisors are lobbying for clients in opposition to his stated policies, he's going to root such contradictions out himself:

Sen. John McCain said today that his campaign will do a better job scrutinizing the people who work for it, given the resignation of two officials who had ties to a firm representing Myanmar's military junta....

"People will be thoroughly, more thoroughly, vetted and we'll make sure that that is the case."

He specifically referred to the two people who were tied to Myanmar--Doug Davenport, a regional campaign director for Mid-Atlantic states, and Doug Goodyear, who was slated to run the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., this summer.

"We found out that these two individuals had represented that country and so they left. We will vet everyone very seriously to make sure there's not a repetition," McCain told reporters.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Allen Raymond, former Republican consultant connected to the 2002 Election Day phone-jamming controversy in New Hampshire, said the White House had no knowledge of the plot. The scandal has led to at least three criminal prosecutions and a $135,000-lawsuit settled between Republicans and Democrats.(Associated Press)

The top defender in Supreme Court cases of the Bush administration's policies toward legal rights of Gitmo prisoners is resigning after nearly three years at the post. Solicitor General Paul Clement argued before the Supreme Court that the detainees are not allowed rights to prove their innocence, backing the administration's view to abolish habeas corpus rights for all terrorism suspects. (Reuters)

Head of analysis for all U.S. spy agencies Thomas Fingar spent years compiling an intelligence report on Iran and the country's nuclear goals. Just before his report was to be released last summer, new intelligence offered a view different from Fingar's, that Iran was no longer seeking a nuclear program, undermining the Bush administration's hard line on Tehran and underscoring the murky lines that separate politics and intelligence. (LA Times)

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OK, that's it! Let no one say that the administration has not handled the situation with its typical forbearance and caution. Other, rasher leaders would have shunned Ahmad Chalabi after it became apparent that his network of informants were liars and that he could not be trusted. But the U.S. has not been overly swift to act. Sure, there were suspicions that he had passed classified information to Iran, but this is not a group that rushes to judgment.

Now, however, the straw has finally broken the camel's back:

Sources in Baghdad tell NBC News that as of this week American military and civilian officials have cut off all contact with controversial Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, the former favorite of Washington's once powerful neoconservatives.

The reason, the sources say, is "unauthorized" contacts with Iran's government, an allegation Chalabi denies. Iran has been accused of arming and training rebel Shiite forces in Iraq....

Since September 2007... American military officials and civilian officials working out of the U.S. Embassy had contacts with Chalabi. At that time he was installed as the head of a "services" committee for Baghdad that was to coordinate the restoration of services to the city's residents.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq, even escorted Chalabi on a trip, on U.S. helicopters, to address reconstruction issues. And American officials attended meetings with him and supported his efforts.

Call it tough love.

Note: By the Charlie Black code of lobbying, it is now not OK to lobby for Ahmed Chalabi.

Finally. All it took was almost every Democrat in the state House supporting his impeachment and a new investigation by the state's inspector general that involved a raid of his office.

Relive the memories here.

The McCain campaign has provided an ongoing tutorial in the subtle ethics of lobbying. For instance, you might think that a politician who professes to be abhorred by special interests would not surround himself with lobbyists. Not so. What a politician can be drowning in lobbyists -- what matters is his integrity. And for that, you'll just have to take his word.

Charlie Black, McCain's campaign chairman and a veteran lobbyist, provides another tutorial today. Some have criticized the McCain camp for keeping Black while other McCain campaign officials have had to resign for their lobbying on behalf of Myanmar's ruling junta. Black lobbied for plenty of shady characters, they say, including Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi. But Black has an answer for that. He has a code:

Black said he never took on work for foreign figures "without first talking to the State Department and the White House and clearing with them that the work would be in the interest of U.S. foreign policy."

For instance, he said, the U.S. considered Marcos an ally when his firm took on work for his government, and "when the White House pulled the plug on Marcos, we resigned the account the same day," Black said. He said his firm was hired to help show [Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire] how to form political parties and conduct elections, and when Mobutu canceled the results of the parliamentary election, "we quit."

This rule would surely also cover Black's work for Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, which provided much of the dubious evidence that formed the administration's case for war with Iraq, and the Lincoln Group, the State Department contractor that was hired to plant stories in the Iraqi press. So I guess there's no problem with that.

Back in February, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint against the McCain campaign for violating the spending limits for the primary public financing system (explanation of that mess here). Since the FEC is defunct, the DNC then had to go to court to get some action.

Today, the district court in D.C. came to its decision -- for now, at least. The court has ruled that the law is clear that the DNC must wait 120 days after filing their FEC complaint before going to court. So this suit was dismissed, and the DNC must wait until June before they can go back to court. The judge didn't even consider the merits of the case, which will have to wait until June. Meanwhile, McCain continues to spend far beyond the spending limits of the program.