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One week after The New York Times went front page with the news that Al Qaeda had regrouped and was thriving in a tribal region of Pakistan, the Bush administration has launched a diplomatic offensive to convince Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to crack down.

But talk hasn't gotten them very far. And since the administration is extremely wary of alienating what they see as a key ally, their secret weapon is... the Democratic Congress. From The New York Times:

Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Pakistan on Monday to deliver what officials in Washington described as an unusually tough message to Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda....

Pakistan is now the fifth-largest recipient of American aid. Mr. Bush has proposed $785 million in aid to Pakistan in his new budget, including $300 million in military aid to help Pakistan combat Islamic radicalism in the country.

The rumblings from Congress give Mr. Bush and his top advisers a way of conveying the seriousness of the problem, officials said, without appearing to issue a direct threat to the proud Pakistani leader themselves.

“We think the Pakistani aid is at risk in Congress,” said [the senior administration official], who declined to speak on the record because the subject involved intelligence matters.

The official adds that the message they're sending to Musharraf now "is that the only thing that matters is results.” Sounds like a message worth sending. And it would seem that this game of "Good Cop, Bad Cop" in general goes much better when Congress is the bad cop for a change.

The New York Times gets ahold of the internal Justice Department performance reports for the eight fired prosecutors and finds that six were rated “well regarded,” “capable” or “very competent.”

The Justice Department has insisted, of course, that the firings were "performance related." But wouldn't you know it? Those aspects of the prosecutors' performance that led to their dismissals apparently didn't make it into their comprehensive performance reviews... or so a Justice Department official gamely argues:

In response, a senior Justice Department official said the reviews, which focused on management practices within each United States attorney’s office, did not provide a broad or complete picture of the prosecutors’ performance.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of personnel information, said, “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities.”

Referring to the 94 United States attorney’s districts, the official said, “You can’t have 94 different sets of priorities,” suggesting that the dismissed prosecutors had failed to follow priorities set by the Justice Department in Washington.

However, each case report included a statement that each of the ousted prosecutors had established strategic goals set by the Justice Department in high priority areas like counterterrorism, narcotics and gun violence.

Oh, well.

The prosecutors themselves seem to have a different idea of what happened:

In recent days, several of the prosecutors have described conflicts with the Justice Department over death penalty cases and pending political corruption investigations as a possible factor in their firings. Justice Department officials have denied such issues were a factor.

It seems that U.S. Attorney Margaret Chiara of Michigan's Western District is the eighth prosecutor to have been fired by the administration in recent months.

In a press release today, Chiara, who was nominated by President Bush in September, 2001, only said that she was resigning and that she'd step down March 16th. But according to The Grand Rapids Press, a district judge claims that Chiara was fired as part of the administration's wider purge:

The Justice Department has recently fired seven U.S. attorneys across the country. Chiara is the latest victim in the shake-up, U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell said this morning.

"I was shocked to learn that her resignation had been requested," Bell said. "She's clearly part of a larger pattern."

The paper notes that Chiara had clashed with the administration on the death penalty before, which she opposes, but there's no apparent reason for her resignation.

Update: I just spoke with Judge Bell, who says that he has no knowledge about whether Chiara was asked to step down: " I was not privy to what happened here with her," he told me, "I just got her resignation letter myself late yesterday." He said that he planned to "clarify" his remarks to the paper.

But he did say that Chiara was an "exemplary" U.S. Attorney in "every sense of the word" and "one of the best USAs we've ever had here." Her resignation, he said, certainly raised questions about whether it was tied into the other firings.

Later Update: Here is the only section of the press release from Chiara's office that deals with her stepping down (the remainder discusses her accomplishments in office):

United States Attorney Margaret M. Chiara announced that she is resigning her position as United States Attorney for the Western District of Michigan effective March 16, 2007. Ms. Chiara was nominated by President George W. Bush on September 4, 2001, and she was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 23, 2001. She is the first woman in the history of the State of Michigan to serve as a United States Attorney. Ms. Chiara intends to remain in public service.

What does it mean that she "intends to remain in public service?" Certainly sounds like she doesn't have a job lined up. A spokesperson for her office declined to elaborate beyond the release.

So-Late-It's-The-Next-Day-Update: The Washington Post reports: "Sources familiar with the case confirmed that she was among a larger group of prosecutors who were first asked to resign Dec. 7."

Yesterday, I reported that Democrats had accused the Justice Department of stonewalling a Congressional study on the U.S. attorney purge. A Congressional Research Service analyst was trying to find out if the administration's move was unprecedented; but after a month, the Justice Department still hadn't gotten him the data he needed.

Justice Department spokesman Jonathan Block responded to my request for comment late last evening:

"[The Executive Office of the United States Attorney] was contacted and the inquiry was referred to the Office of Legislative Affairs. The material requested is in the process of being provided."

Maybe this whole thing will speed the process a little.

Expert Declares Padilla Mentally Unfit for Trial “Alleged al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla suffers from intense stress and anxiety after being imprisoned in isolation for years and cannot adequately help his lawyers prepare for a criminal trial, a mental expert testified Thursday.” Padilla is charged with helping al-Qaida operatives in North America provide supplies, money, and new recruits to other terrorist cells. (Time)

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"I've had enough of 'nonbinding,' " says Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA). OK, then. So what's next?

The new plan from Senate Democrats, revealed today in the major papers, is to supersede the 2002 Iraq War authorization resolution with one that would pull out combat troops starting in March, 2008. After that, only troops involved with counterterrorism operations (against Al Qaeda), training Iraqi troops, and securing Iraq's border would remain. The Politico has the best rundown of the resolution's nitty gritty details. Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Joe Biden (D-DE) are the main drivers behind it, but it has support across the spectrum of Senate Democrats. It's unclear when a vote would occur.

Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. John Murtha's (D-PA) plan to restrict funding for only those troops deemed fully rested, trained and equipped was too aggressive for a number of moderate Democrats (says Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN): "Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds."). A sort of compromise strategy settles for making President Bush acknowledge that he is sending troops into Iraq underequipped and under-rested -- but still hands over the funds, no strings attached. From The Washington Post:

Several Democratic aides say the Iraq funding bill, due for a vote the week of March 12, may contain some of Murtha's demands for more training and better equipment for combat troops. But the proposals that set the toughest requirements are likely to drop out, such as a demand that troops be trained on and deployed with the combat equipment they will use in Iraq.

More important, the legislation may include a waiver that the president or defense secretary could invoke to deploy troops who are not fully combat-ready, Democratic aides said. That way, the commander in chief's hands would not be tied.

But under such a bill the president would have to publicly acknowledge that he is deploying troops with less than a year's rest from combat, that he is extending combat tours of troops in Iraq, or that he is sending units into battle without full training in counterinsurgency or urban warfare, the aides said.

The Justice Department has "refused to cooperate" with a congressional analysis of whether the administration's recent firing of U.S. attorneys is unprecedented, according to House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI).

Conyers and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) requested the analysis from the Congressional Research Service to see whether prior administrations had done anything like fire seven United States attorneys abruptly and without stated justification as the administration did in December.

But because "the Administration has refused to cooperate with CRS in their examination," Conyers office says in a press release, the CRS analysis is incomplete. Nevertheless, CRS issued an interim analysis to Conyers and Sanchez, which you can read here.

In the report, the analyst writes that despite contacting the DoJ for information needed to perform his study a month ago, he's still waiting:

In order to determine how many U.S. attorneys had served less than four years with tenure uninterrupted by a change in presidential administration, CRS began by contacting the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), which serves as the liaison between U.S. attorneys and the Department of Justice. CRS first contacted the EOUSA January 24, 2007, to seek records on the appointment and termination dates for U.S. attorneys. As of February 20, 2007, EOUSA had not provided the requested data.

The analyst doesn't say explicitly in his report that the Justice Department has refused to cooperate, and efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. I also placed a call to the Justice Department, to see if there's an explanation for the delay, but my call was not immediately returned.

The initial results of the analysis, which, again, is incomplete, show that since 1981 only three U.S. attorneys were dismissed without apparent cause during the first four years of their terms, making the administration's recent purge unprecedented.

From the AP:

Rep. Gary Miller [R-CA] grew up poor. Even though he's now worth more than $13 million, he says he's still worried about his family's financial security.

So, while federal authorities investigate some of his real estate transactions, he says he'll keep on making deals...

"Some people are arguing I shouldn't have the opportunity to make an investment that every other American citizen has an opportunity to make," he said. "I've got kids, I've got grandkids, and it'd be nice, when I get ready to go, when they're older, if I can help them."

Miller, 58, who makes $165,200 as a congressman, is being scrutinized for the millions he made selling properties to two Southern California communities outside his district. FBI agents have interviewed officials in both towns.

The scandal over the government's top environmental prosecutor's purchase of a vacation home with an oil lobbyist isn't dying down, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling yesterday for tighter federal ethics rules.

But the story goes far beyond that one glaring conflict of interest. It's merely one troubling aspect of a romantic relationship between the Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who headed up the Justice Department's environmental division, and Steven Griles, the former energy lobbyist and Deputy Secretary of the Interior who's well on his way to being indicted as part of the Jack Abramoff investigation.

It's not your typical love story.

Griles came to the Interior Department in 2001, leaving a practice lobbying for coal, oil, and other corporate interests to help oversee the country's resources. Unsurprisingly, ethics officials were on his case almost immediately for allegedly lobbying on the inside for his former clients. On one occasion, for example, he called over to the Environmental Protection Agency to urge that an environmental study not delay a huge coal-bed methane project planned by his former clients in Wyoming and Nevada.

So to ensure that Griles not roam too freely, an Interior official was assigned to keep an eye on him. That official: Sue Ellen Wooldridge, then the deputy chief of staff to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

After a couple of months, the two were dating.

But they didn't tell that to anyone at the Interior Department, especially not the Inspector General, who was investigating Griles for ethics violations.

The relationship began in February, 2003, according to The Washington Post. And during that year, they gave each other "thousands of dollars in gifts and trips" -- only they didn't report them on their disclosure statements (required of federal appointees) until they filed amendments late last year as investigators were bearing down on them.

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Lobbying Work Nice Fit for Ex-lawmakers Despite a number of scandals casting a dark shadow over the influence of interest groups in Washington, a total of five of the the 39 lawmakers voted out last November have found jobs as lobbyists in the capitol. (USA Today) After stepping down as the governer of Maryland, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is opening an office of a North Carolina law firm in the Baltimore area that will include a public affairs consulting group. (The Baltimore Sun)

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