Earlier this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced that he'll be voting against confirming Michael Mukasey as attorney general. Today, over at The Huffington Post, he explains why -- with no weaseling:
Mukasey should not be confirmed because he could not muster a simple, straightforward answer at his confirmation hearing when he was asked the simple, straightforward question: Is the president of the United States required to obey federal statutes? "That would have to depend," he weaseled, "on whether what goes outside the statute nonetheless lies within the authority of the president to defend the country."
The mad proliferation of Blackwater investigations continues.
Earlier this week, House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) accused Blackwater of hiding "tens of millions of dollars, if not more" in Social Security, Medicare and retirement taxes by classifying its security guards in Iraq as independent contractors.
Today, Sens. Barack Obama (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) piled on, asking for investigations of Blackwater's alleged tax dodge.
Obama and Durbin asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson for a full investigation and audit of the company's tax setup. Noting that legislation they introduced earlier this year would forbid contractors from using this kind of loophole, they write (the full letter is below):
It is difficult to fathom how Blackwater employees in Iraq can be considered independent contractors. They are trained by Blackwater, paid by Blackwater, and told whom to guard by Blackwater. These are not independent small businessmen establishing their own individual working relationships with those they are hired to protect.
As for Kerry, he wants the Senate Finance Committee, of which he's a member, to dig in and investigate too. So he wrote Chairman Max Baucus (R-MT) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to request an investigation.
All of the senators don't think much of Blackwater's reliance on a determination by the Small Business Administration that they could classify guards as independent contractors. First of all, as Spencer reported earlier this week, the SBA determination only dealt with an employee in Guam. More importantly, the SBA says it carries "no legal weight."
Unfortunately for Blackwater, Kerry is also the Chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and he's on the case. Now he wants Blackwater to explain what the SBA finding has to do with anything. His letter to Prince, sent today, is also below.
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Better late than never. Three weeks ago, we reported that the House leadership seemed to be wavering in its pursuit of contempt citations for White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers. Both of them, remember, refused to even show up in response to a House Judiciary Committee subpoena relating to the U.S. attorney firings.
But now things seem to be moving along again. The Politicoreports that vote counting has begun and quotes a House aide as saying that a vote is likely in the next couple of weeks.
The committee passed the resolutions in July, and once the House votes on them, they would be referred to the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C. What happens then will be, to say the least, interesting. Michael Mukasey was a noncommittal on that question during his confirmation hearing last week. And the Miers and Bolten contempt citations aren't likely to be the only ones.
The Dems are apparently confident that they could easily pass the resolutions despite no likely Republican crossovers. For his part, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has put the emphasis on institutional integrity, rather than subjecting Harriet Miers to a frog march:
Conyers said the contempt battle was not aimed at seeking criminal sanctions against Bolten and Miers personally, but would nonetheless surely spark a long legal fight over the reach of executive privilege.
âRemember â no handcuffs,â Conyers said in an interview Thursday, noting that contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor.
Last week Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) called for the Justice Department's voting rights chief John Tanner to be fired. And in written questions to attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey this week, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) asked Mukasey to review Tanner's record and consider whether he ought to be canned.
In the question, Kennedy noted Tanner's reasoning that voter ID laws actually discriminate against whites because "'minorities don't become elderly the way white people do.'" The "remarks display a shameful lack of understanding and sensitivity that is unacceptable in the person charged with enforcing the nationâs laws against voting discrimination," he wrote.
Tanner will appear before a House judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday, where he's sure to be questioned about those remarks, others where he said that African-Americans tend to carry picture ID because of racial profiling, and his role in whitewashing a Justice Department review of Columbus, Ohio voting problems in the 2004 election and forcing through approval of a controversial voter ID law in Georgia -- among other things. It's not going to be a fun hearing for Tanner. The chairman of that subcommittee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), called on Tanner to resign yesterday.
"The Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division has failed miserably in its responsibility to enforce the Voting Rights Act during this Administration," Sen. Kennedy said in a statement. "The latest shameful revelations from the Section drive home the urgent need for the next Attorney General to install strong leadership to allow the Voting Section to return to its historic role in ensuring access to the ballot."
Bad news for Ben Stevens. Another Veco executive testified in federal court to paying the one-time state Senate President, and son of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), $250,000 in bogus consulting fees.
Former Veco vice president Rick Smith's testimony came during the trial of state Rep. Vic Kohring (R-AK), accused of accepting bribes from Veco and unsuccessfully trying to get the company to pay off his $17,000 credit card debt. Veco's Bill Allen previously testified about the bogus consulting fees paid to Stevens, in yet another, earlier Alaska corruption trial.
Kohring's lawyers have long argued that their client was unfairly netted in an investigation shooting for the two Stevenses. One even told investigators they "dun got the wrong man." While the younger Stevens was paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars in monthly retainer fess for his lobbying services while in office, Kohring has been charged with accepting $2,600 in cash.
The FBI raided Ben Stevens' legislative office last year, but he has not been charged with a crime.
Yesterday, the White House finally agreed to turn over those warrantless surveillance documents that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has been seeking for so long. Now the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is pressing for a response to another age-old request: documents relevant to the administration's interrogation policy.
Earlier this week, the White House turned over what Leahy describes as "four previously undisclosed documents" relating to the administration's torture policy. All of them, however, precede Alberto Gonzales' tenure as attorney general. So in a letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding today (reproduced below), Leahy requested documents from that murkier era, including the 2005 and 2006 Office of Legal Counsel opinions reported by The New York Times earlier this month (both opinions were signed by OLC acting chief Steve Bradbury). Leahy's House counterpart Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has also requested those. Leahy notes in the letter, which is co-signed by the panel's ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), that they made general requests for this stuff a year ago.
Leahy also presses Fielding to release an unclassified version of a March 13, 2003 memo by John Yoo to William J. Haynes, the Pentagon's general counsel. In his book The Terror Presidency, former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith describes the memo as similar to the infamous "Bybee Memo" (pdf), saying that it contained "abstract and overbroad legal advice" which led to the department adopting specific techniques that "contained elaborate safeguards." Goldsmith later withdrew and replaced that analysis. After years of opposition from Democrats over Haynes' role in approving those techniques, the administration finally withdrew Haynes' nomination to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in January of this year.
Three months after Logistics Health Inc. hired a Bush appointee who had supervised military health programs at the Pentagon for six years, Logistics won a $790 million medical services contract. Logistics, which is headed by Bushâs former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, was underbid by two other companies but still won the contract. The two competing firms have filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. (LA Times)
Just last month, Senator Robert Menendezâs (D-NJ) former senior aide Kay LiCausi, now a political consultant, was honored as one of the âtop forty business people under the age of fortyâ by NJBIZ magazine. Now, federal investigators are scrutinizing LiCausiâs lobbying contracts with organizations aided by Menendez. (Harpers)
Two former top executives of DBH Industries, the leading supplier of body armor to the U.S. military, falsely inflated the value of the inventory of DHB's top product, the Interceptor vest, according to charges brought yesterday. The two were also indicted on charges of insider trading and tax evasion in a scheme that earned them almost $200 million and could earn them up to 70 years in prison. (CBS)
If you're a corrupt pol looking for lessons in the Duke Cunningham story, you've found dozens. Don't make a bribe menu, first and foremost. But it's also probably not a good idea to shoot a video of your Hawaii vacation with your (alleged) briber.
Prosecutors entered the following 90-second video into evidence last week during the trial of Brent Wilkes. In it, you can see Wilkes, his nephew Joel Combs (who's testifying against his uncle), and Duke himself silently weaving in and out of coral reefs. And one diver, just to drive home who the trip was all about, is swimming around with a large rock with "DUKE" on it. You can see him in the image above handing it to the man himself.
Duke lumbers into view at about the fifty second mark. And of course that's Wilkes at the end there, suddenly bursting out with "Bali Hai!" on the deck of the boat. This is the same guy known at his company for suddenly yelling "Boom shaka laka!" and "Yeah, baby!" when he got good news (like, say, Duke had delivered millions in earmarks). Not so hard to imagine.
This is the same 2003 trip, of course, where Wilkes treated Duke to prostitutes on two consecutive nights. At least they had the good sense not to add a "Goofing Around in A Hot Tub" section to the vacation video.