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Was Pat Tillman murdered?

Stunning as it is to contemplate, the Associated Press obtained Pentagon documents through the Freedom of Information Act showing that investigators looked into whether the athlete-turned-soldier might have been deliberately killed in 2004 by members of his Special Forces unit in Afghanistan. Nothing the AP obtained is definitive, and ultimately the friendly-fire ruling withstood a criminal investigation.

But, according to the AP, medical examiners questioned the close proximity of three bullet holes in Tillman's forehead, fired from ten yards away. There are questions -- which will be difficult to hear, considering Tillman's heroism -- that Tillman was not well-liked within his unit. Other elements of the circumstances surrounding Tillman's death appear difficult to reconcile with the friendly-fire ruling -- which came after the Army announced that Tillman died in combat:

In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

_ Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.

_ The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions.

_ No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene _ no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.


Almost every aspect of Tillman's death has been surrounded by official obfuscation. The head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, General William Wallace, is in charge of issuing reprisals to Tillman's commanders. His recommendations, according to Julian Barnes of the Los Angeles Times, are for administrative punishments and not criminal ones. The general who told investigators 70 times of his faulty memory, now-retired Lieutenant General Philip R. Kensinger Jr., will be stripped of one of his stars and lose approximately $900 a month from his retirement package.

On Wednesday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) will hold a hearing about what and when the Pentagon leadership knew about Tillman's death. Kensinger has been invited to testify, as has former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Command chief General John Abizaid, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. They're not likely to appear, but the AP's revelations will surely figure prominently in the committee's exploration of what exactly happened to a national hero.

Sure enough, the revelation that FBI Director Bob Mueller kept notes on the March 2004 clash in John Ashcroft's hospital room has made House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) very interested in seeing what those notes reveal. Just out from Conyers:

The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigation

935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20535

Dear Director Mueller:

During today’s Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, you testified in response to questions from Rep. Artur Davis that you had taken or made notes regarding conversations that you had with former Deputy Attorney General James Comey (who at the time was Acting Attorney General) and former Attorney General John Ashcroft (who at the time had transferred his Attorney General duties to Mr. Comey) regarding a March 10, 2004, hospital visit involving former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and former Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card. You also testified that you still were in possession of those notes, which from your testimony appear to memorialize facts regarding the issues discussed during and after the important events of March 10, 2004.

During the hearing, Representative Davis requested that you provide the Committee with copies of those notes. I write now to formalize that request, and ask that you provide the Committee with copies of the notes to which you referred in your testimony. To the extent that the notes may contain classified information, we are fully prepared to accommodate any such concerns by controlling or limiting storage of, access to, or publication of information contained in the notes.

I would appreciate receiving the notes from you by the close of business on Wednesday, August 1. Your response should be directed to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515 (tel: 202-225-3951; fax: 202-225-7680). Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.



Sincerely,







John Conyers, Jr.

Chairman

cc: The Honorable Lamar S. Smith

The Honorable Artur Davis


Interesting fact: If Mueller delivers his notes by August 1 as Conyers asks, the committee will have them just as Alberto Gonzales runs into Sen. Pat Leahy's deadline for the attorney general to revise his much-disputed Tuesday Senate testimony. What a coincidence!

Alberto Gonzales' testimony that there was "no serious disagreement" within the Bush Administration about the NSA warrantless surveillance program has left senators sputtering and fulminating about the attorney general's apparent prevarications. But a closer examination of Gonzales' testimony and other public statements from the Administration suggest that there may be a method to the madness.

There's a lot of evidence to suggest that Gonzales's careful, repeated phrasing to the Senate that he will only discuss the program that "the president described" was deliberate, part of a concerted administration-wide strategy to conceal from the public the very broad scope of that initial program. When, for the first time, Program X (as we'll call it, for convenience's sake) became known to senior Justice Department officials who were not its original architects, those officials -- James Comey and Jack Goldsmith, principally -- balked at its continuation. They did not back down until the program had undergone as-yet-unspecified but apparently significant revisions. But when President Bush announced what he would call the "Terrorist Surveillance Program' in December 2005, he left the clear impression that the program had always functioned the same way since its 2001 inception.

The administration's consistent refusal to discuss any aspect of the program -- current or former -- aside from what President Bush disclosed in December 2005 appears to be intended, specifically, to gloss over Comey and Goldsmith's objections. If that's the case, it could mean that the public has been presented with an inaccurate picture of the origins and scope of Program X. The Bush administration is currently contesting a Senate Judiciary Committee subpoena for documentation establishing Program X's history -- in essence, trying to ensure that the public never learns more about the program and the internal deliberations over it than what President Bush chooses to reveal.

Alberto Gonzales, on this theory, has found himself enmeshed in the administration's attempt to distinguish the less-troublesome Terrorism Surveillance Program from Program X. And it may mean he perjured himself in doing so. Today, Senate Democrats responded to Gonzales's dubious testimony on Tuesday by calling for a perjury investigation. At issue is whether Gonzales' assertions that there was "no serious disagreement" within the government about the TSP was so misleading as to amount to perjury, or whether his distinction between TSP and Program X was merely a careful parsing -- perhaps misleading but not, to use Sen. Arlen Specter's word, actionable.

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It gets worse and worse for Alberto Gonzales. Today, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, dealt a serious blow to Gonzales's sworn Senate testimony on Tuesday, just hours after Senate Democrats called for a perjury investigation into the attorney general.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, under questioning from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), conceded that he and James Comey had concerns about the "much discussed" National Security Agency surveillance program. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that Comey had legal objections to "other intelligence activities" than the "much-discussed" Terrorist Surveillance Program. For Gonzales to beat a perjury rap, he must maintain the distinction he created on Tuesday between the TSP and whatever it is Comey is alleged to have dissented from. In the span of a few short seconds, Mueller went a long way toward collapsing the difference.

It's true that Mueller doesn't come out and say the words "Terrorist Surveillance Program," but Lee's questioning left no doubt that Mueller was referring to precisely that program.



Lee: Did you have an understanding that the discussion was on TSP?

Mueller: I had an understanding that the discussion was on a, uh, a, uh -- an NSA program, yes.

Lee: I guess we use "TSP," we use "warrantless wiretapping," so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?

Mueller: The discussion was on a National -- uh, NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.


Mueller was smiling when he finished saying that. You can bet Gonzales wasn't.

Now here's where it gets good. Under questioning from Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Mueller admitted that he took and kept notes after speaking with John Ashcroft following the hospital-room showdown between Comey, Gonzales and Card.



Mueller sought legal review over the notes he took, he told Davis:

Davis: Who have you shared them with, prior to today?

Mueller: My counsel.

Davis: Counsel...?

Mueller: Office of the General Counsel.

Davis: OK. Is that the only individual, the Office of the General Counsel?

Mueller: Well, there may have been people in my immediate staff.
Davis wants the House Judiciary Committee to have access to Mueller's notes, but Mueller seemed to resist turning them over. Without specifying much, Mueller said he kept notes on the incident because it was "out of the ordinary." Davis recommended that Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), and the committee's Senate counterpart, "make a formal inquiry to obtain those notes."

FBI Director Mueller tried to remain discreet during today's hearing at the House Judiciary Committee when it came to the Comey-Gonzales showdown in 2004. Mueller confirmed that he had "serious concerns" about "an NSA program," as he termed it. Fears within the Justice Department that the program was illegal, he said,

affected the FBI in the sense that we received pieces of information from the NSA. ... My concern was to assure that whatever activity we undertook as the result of the information we received was done appropriately and legally. At some point in time, (Comey) expressed concern about the legality of it.


This legal doctrine is known as the "fruit of the poisoned tree." That is, Mueller's fear is that if the information he gets from NSA to launch investigations was collected illegally, then any resulting prosecution of potentially dangerous figures will be thrown out of court.

But one thing he wouldn't corroborate is his alleged threat to resign -- a big part of Comey's testimony.



"I would resist getting into that conversation," Mueller told Rep. Steve Cohen (D-NC).

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey started a firestorm in May when he revealed his 2004 standoff in John Ashcroft's hospital room. Comey was positioned opposite former White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card.

Comey was backed in the encounter by FBI Director Robert Mueller, who allegedly ordered his agents guarding Ashcroft's room not to evict Comey if Gonzales or Card asked them to. Later, he would tell the two White House aides that he was prepared to resign if the President overruled Comey on the wiretapping program.

Responding to questions this afternoon to the House Judiciary Committee's Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC), Mueller for the first time spoke about the Ashcroft hospital visit -- and backed Comey to the hilt:



Watt: Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?

Mueller: Yes.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said this morning that she and her husband intend to sell back their Kenai riverfront property to Anchorage businessman Bob Penney....

Murkowski told reporters in her Capitol office this morning that Penney, a real estate developer who does business in Alaska and Outside, has agreed to buy back the property for the $179,400 purchase price she and husband Verne Martell paid Dec. 22, 2006.

“While Verne and I intended to make this our family home and we paid a fair price for this land, no property is worth compromising the trust of the Alaska people,” Murkowski said in a written statement. “I cannot allow this to become a distraction from the major challenges faced in representing Alaska. So we have decided to sell this property back to Bob Penney at the same price for which it was purchased.”


Read the post that started Murkowski's headache here.

FBI Director Robert Mueller is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee right now. In one of the more contentious exchanges of an otherwise rather congenial hearing, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) grilled Mueller on the FBI's mishandling of National Security Letter authorities, in which FBI agents obtain data without warrants about individuals "relevant" to terrorism investigations. Mueller emphasized the need for speed in terrorism cases, but Scott had a hard time understanding one thing: Why does the FBI need NSLs if the bureau can obtain warrants after the fact for records under FISA?

Mueller's response? If not for the NSLs, the post-facto warrants mean agents will get bogged down in "paperwork" up to "a quarter-inch thick":



Later in the hearing, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) helpfully reminded Mueller that NSL-acquired information helps formulate warrant requests under FISA.

Finally, the big one.

The Senate Judiciary Committee issued two more subpoenas as part of the U.S. attorney firings investigation today: one for Karl Rove and the other for his deputy, Scott Jennings. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced the subpoenas on the Senate floor.

The question for Rove and Jennings, of course, is whether to take the same course taken by Rove's former aide, Sara Taylor, who appeared before the committee to answer questions that were not covered by executive privilege -- or to take the approach taken by Harriet Miers, who refused to show up at all.

The subpoenas call for Rove and Jennings to show up on August 2nd and also produce documents by that date.

Update: Leahy's statement is below.

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