TPM News


The Justice Department will drop all charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, NPR has learned.

It added that Attorney General Eric Holder decided the conviction could not be defended thanks to problems with the prosecution.

The news of the case being dropped has now been confirmed independently by the AP and CNN.

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NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions just put out a statement looking forward optimistically in NY-20 and playing the spin game, boasting that their man Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a tough, Democratic-held district:

"As the latest vote totals reflect, there still remain thousands of absentee and military ballots that have to be counted. Rest assured that Republicans will ensure that the integrity of the election is protected and every vote is counted. As it stands now, there is a Republican advantage in the number of absentee and military ballots that have been returned.

"With that being said, Jim Tedisco has closed the gap in a district that has come to exemplify Democratic dominance in the Northeast in recent elections. That is a testament to the strength of Jim's campaign and the effectiveness of the Republican message of fiscal responsibility and accountability that Americans are demanding in the wake of the AIG scandal.

"Less than 150 days ago, President Obama carried New York's 20th District, and former Congresswoman Gillibrand was handily reelected in this district by a margin of 62-38 percent, despite the fact that her Republican opponent spent $6 million trying to defeat her. For the first time in a long time, a Republican candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters. This was hardly a common phenomenon in 2008, particularly in the Northeast."

The claim that more Republicans have turned in absentee ballots could very well be true -- but it's not quite complete, either. The unaffiliated voters in this district have leaned heavily Democratic in recent elections -- thus the Dem wins in a district where the GOP has a big registration advantage on paper. And if that pattern continues, it won't be good news for them.

As for Tedisco closing the gap, it needs to be remembered that he led in all the polls against his lesser-known opponent, until very late in the race.

But it really is too early to know how this will all turn out.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen has put out this statement regarding tonight's deadlocked special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat -- predicting that Murphy will only expand his lead as the absentee ballots are counted, and pretty much declaring victory:

"From 21 points down to securing a majority of the vote tonight, congratulations to Scott Murphy who ran an extraordinary campaign focused on his record as a successful businessman who helped to create jobs and his strong support for President Obama's economic recovery act. As votes continue to be counted, we're confident that Scott Murphy will expand his lead.

"Scott Murphy's strong showing in this district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 70,000 represents a rejection of the obstructionist agenda and scare tactics that have become the hallmark of House Republicans."

At this point, the race really comes down to which party had the better absentee ballot operation. Van Hollen is voicing a confident tone here.

Frequent readers of this site might recognize the next steps in New York's 20th Congressional District, where tonight's special election for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's old House seat has left Democratic candidate Scott Murphy leading Republican Jim Tedisco by 65 votes with 100% of precincts in: Courtroom proceedings, as the lawyers sort their way through absentee ballots.

The key issues here is that the Republican Party filed a legal complaint today to contest the election results, before the polls even closed -- which is not actually unheard of in New York, I've been told by state board of elections spokesman Bob Brehm.

Ballots have already been impounded tonight, for safekeeping. A hearing has been scheduled for this coming Monday, at which the candidates and the government will hammer out the procedures for counting, challenging and resolving ballots -- and you can bet the absentees will play a major part in this.

"There are statutory processes for canvassing and re-canvassing," Brehm explained, "and basically they're on hold until the court can set up a calendar that is mutually agreeable."

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The national parties are giving their reactions to today's big legal developments in Minnesota.

Jim Manley, the spokesman for Harry Reid, issued this statement:

"Sen. Reid is looking forward to the final resolution of this case by the Minnesota courts so that Al Franken can finally be seated as the new senator from Minnesota."

Pay close attention to the specific mention here of the Minnesota courts. This would appear to say that Reid believes Franken should be seated after his expected victory at the Minnesota Supreme Court -- and that this shouldn't wait for federal appeals.

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Gregg Levine at Firedoglake has two intriguing posts up about the latest developments in the NY-20 race, the ramifications of which we're still parsing through over here. Gregg writes, "The Dutchess County Clerk's Office has confirmed to FDL that Tedisco's people have filed an ex parte motion in order, the effect of which would be to investigate and overturn today's election results, should the outcome not be to Republicans' liking."

Peculiar! Here's a link the filing. One key section Gregg cites reads:

Ordering the respondent New York State Board of Elections and the Commissioners thereof to certify the name of James Tedisco as elected to the public office of Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 20th Congressional District, in Dutchess, New York, at the Special Election held therefor on the 31st Day of March, 2009, or alternatively enjoining the improper issuance of a certificate of election for the said public office.

It's unclear whether this is a major development, or a procedural maneuver that will go nowhere. We're trying to get more information and context--New York state election law turns out to be rather complicated! I've placed calls to the Murphy campaign, the DCCC, and the New York State Democratic party, and nobody seems to know what to make of this just yet. Perhaps significantly Jim Tedisco spokesman Adam Kramer writes to say that the motion was filed in the New York State Supreme Court by the state Republican party, and not by the Tedisco campaign.

We'll post updates as they come in.

Just a quick budget update, the Senate did ultimately pass the Thune amendment, which, in its original form, was aimed at preventing climate change legislation from increasing gas and energy prices. However, Barbara Boxer swooped in unexpectedly and made some changes of her own, which allowed the Thune amendment to pass harmlessly.

Meanwhile, Judd Gregg, suddenly concerned with the national debt, introduced a measure that would have prohibited the congress from voting on anything in any way related to the budget that "shows an increase in the public debt, for the period of the current fiscal year through the next 10 years, equal to or greater than the debt accumulated from 1789 to January 20, 2009." But it failed 43-54 with Democrats Jon Tester and Ben Nelson voting with the Republicans.

The more interesting proposal, though, was introduced by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), and would explicitly prevent the Senate from using reconciliation to pass climate change legislation. It hasn't been voted upon yet, but when that happens, we'll let you know.

Last week the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the Justice Department had appointed a lawyer to monitor an accounting fraud-fraught AIG in 2005. And today the paper reports that the House Oversight Committee has demanded the full dossier of records kept by the longtime Washington-based Bryan Cave attorney named James Cole, on what he saw while he was there. Yesterday the committee fired off letters jointly to Bryan Cave and Attorney General Eric Holder demanding all available records -- "to be construed on the broadest sense" -- from Cole's tenure in the post:

Mr. Cole evidently had routine access to the highest levels of the company and participated as an observer in AIG Board meetings. In effect, Mr. Cole had a seat at the table as the company decided to oust two CEO's, developed its strategy in the midst of the housing bubble and subsequent collapse, and made critical decisions concerning restructuring AIG-FP, allocating retention payments, generating options to produce liquidity, and ultimately requesting taxpayer capital injections from the Federal Reserve and Treasury now amounting to nearly $180 billion.

Cole was appointed to monitor the insurer's meetings as part of a "deferred prosecution" agreement with the SEC after investigators unearthed a complex tangle of fraudulent partnerships the company had set up to hide debt on behalf of its client PNC Bank. At the time Cole was retained -- which has so far cost AIG (us) $20 million -- the "independent monitors" installed to sit in on the senior meetings of the 103 companies with whom the government had struck such bargains were the source of much hand-wringing in corporate circles.

So much hand-wringing, in fact, that the Criminal Law Review in 2007 worried:

With respect to the corporation, DPA's "cooperation" provisions typically obligate the corporation to act at the direction and on the behalf of the government in the investigation and prosecution of individuals. This has the potential to turn corporations into agents of the state, with resulting corporate governance and constitutional implications.

Ha, AS IF.

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On a conference call with reporters just now, held in the wake of the election court's ruling to review only 400 ballots for possible inclusion -- and explicitly rejecting Coleman's calls for leniency in the standards and the burden of poof -- legal spokesman Ben Ginsberg made it absolutely clear: "If these rulings stand in any final order of the court, if it will give us no choice but to appeal that order to the Minnesota Supreme Court."

Ginsberg followed up on his previous ridicule of the court's February 13 ruling that required strict standards for letting ballots in -- which he would refer to as the "Friday the 13th Ruling" -- by giving this one a new name: "The Almost April Fool's Day Ruling."

Ginsberg said the court was "subsumed with its own logic" to require strict standards, despite local officials on Election Day being much more permissive. When asked when he realized the court would not bend, Ginsberg said: "Our recognition that the court was not going to change came roughly 97 minutes ago, when we got the order."

"I gather we fundamentally disagree with them," he said later. "And that's why there are appellate courts."

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We've told you that the Feds are looking at that December 2007 presentation that Joe Cassano gave for investors, to determine whether he, along with AIG CEO Martin Sullivan, knowingly gave an unduly rosy picture of AIGFP's exposure to sub-prime losses.

But a review of that presentation suggests that a few other AIG execs may also have shaded the truth, to put it mildly, on a different question.

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