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One of the companies involved in the widening federal probe into Alaska political corruption is positioned to benefit handsomely from a $3.5 million earmark tucked into a 2008 Senate spending bill by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), CQ reports.

The company, Trident Seafoods Corp., was one of several that received federal money via a local board headed by Stevens' son, Ben Stevens. While the younger Stevens dolled out federal grants supplied by his father, he received "consulting fees" from an association formed by the same companies winning the grants. Trident CEO Charles Bundrant contributed $6,700 to the elder Stevens' campaign and affiliated PACs since 2004. He also gave the National Republican Senatorial Committee $35,000 between 2005 and 2007.

The earmark CQ notes is for an airstrip that would service seafood giant Trident, and the 100 Alaskans who live in Akutan.

Trident and Stevens are no strangers. For years, company founder and Chief Executive Charles Bundrant has been a generous contributor to the Alaska Republican’s campaigns. And in December, according to the Seattle Times, a federal grand jury investigating political corruption in Alaska ordered Trident and other seafood companies to produce documents detailing financial ties to the senator’s son, former Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board Chairman Ben Stevens.

I'd never thought I'd say this, but... somebody get Dick Cheney on message!

Alberto Gonzales and the administration have gone to great pains to say that the March 2004 hospital showdown was not about the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- no, it was about "other intelligence activities." And the Terrorist Surveillance Program is a phrase, they've said, that refers very narrowly to the surveillance activities confirmed by the President in December of 2005.

But Cheney got a little sloppy during his interview with Larry King:

Q In that regard, The New York Times -- which, as you said, is not your favorite -- reports it was you who dispatched Gonzales and Andy Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital in 2004 to push Ashcroft to certify the President's intelligence-gathering program. Was it you?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't recall -- first of all, I haven't seen the story. And I don't recall that I gave instructions to that effect.

Q That would be something you would recall.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would think so. But certainly I was involved because I was a big advocate of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and had been responsible and working with General Hayden and George Tenet to get it to the President for approval. By the time this occurred, it had already been approved about 12 times by the Department of Justice. There was nothing new about it.

Q So you didn't send them to get permission.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't recall that I was the one who sent them to the hospital.


D'oh! So according to Cheney, the dispute was about the TSP. Too bad Cheney doesn't understand that the dispute was really about certain intelligence activities authorized by the president of which the Terrorist Surveillance Program (i.e. the program publicly described by the president) was only an uncontroversial part. Why can't he keep that straight? It's so simple.

So lump Cheney in with FBI Director Bob Mueller, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and others who've been briefed on the NSA surveillance program and refer to a single program, called the TSP for a shorthand, which dates back to October, 2001 and is comprised of more than the limited facet acknowledged by the President.

I posted this excerpt yesterday, but missed this implicit admission that the dispute was about the TSP. So thanks to TPM Reader JS and commenter barney for the catch.

Note: Marty Lederman points to another revealing admission in this excerpt -- Cheney's implication that he could give "directions" to White House officials who work, of course, for the President.

Members of the Senate leadership told The Hill that Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) should be allowed to keep his committee seats.

Two watchdog groups have pushed to have Stevens temporarily removed from his committee assignments until the conclusion of a federal criminal investigation looking into his dealings with oil services company Veco and a series of earmarks that benefited one of his pet projects in Alaska.

Unlike in the House, the Senate has adopted a "wait and see" posture:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both said Tuesday that Stevens could continue serving on his Senate panels, since charges have not been brought against him.

“My personal feeling is that we have to be very careful about punishing people during an investigation,” Reid, a former longtime appropriator, said Tuesday. “I don’t know anything about the Stevens investigation, but I’m not going to be in a position where just because someone’s under investigation they’re punished here in the Senate.”

As we've reported before, Alberto Gonzales' careful parsing of the NSA's surveillance program reflected an administration-wide strategy to obscure just what the administration was up to before senior Justice Department officials refused to continue the activities.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that the director of national intelligence is in on the fun. As we noted yesterday, Michael McConnell sent a letter last afternoon to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) that purported to clarify the issues behind Gonzales' testimony (see below). Gonzales testified, remember, that there had not been disagreement concerning the program that President Bush publicly disclosed in December, 2005. But in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed that the disagreement had been over the NSA surveillance program, a.k.a. the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

McConnell helps muddy the water in his letter (Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) uncharitably calls it "gobbledygook" full of "weasel words"). There was no single surveillance program, McConnell writes, but "various intelligence activities" that had been authorized in a presidential order. And those activities weren't characterized as being in a program until the President was forced to publicly disclose a "particular activity," i.e. "the targeting for interception without a court order of international communications of al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist organizations coming into or going out of the United States." The phrase "Terrorist Surveillance Program," McConnell says, refers only to that specific activity. (Entertainingly enough, he doesn't independently characterize the TSP as a program - just a "particular activity".) Notably, McConnell's letter is the first time that the administration has publicly admitted that "Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005."

Now, none of this weasel wording is new. But it is entertaining to see McConnell bend over backwards to avoid characterizing the bundle of activities authorized by the President in a single order as a program. To admit as much, of course, would be to admit that there was a single NSA program. And that's a slippery slope.

Of course, Bob Mueller and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey don't seem to be in on the fun. To them, there is and was a single program, albeit a program that has undergone major changes.

But wait! There's more! Sen. Specter has said that he still is awaiting a letter from Gonzales which will "interpret" McConnell's letter. It will be, in essence, a parsing of McConnell's parsing. Specter says that he'll only decide whether Gonzales perjured himself after reviewing Gonzales meta-parse. So stay tuned.

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Remember when there were lots of U.S. Attorneys to be fired? Here's the story of another who made the list. John L. Brownlee is the U.S. Attorney for Virginia; he settled a huge federal case against Oxycotin. On the final day that the drug company could accept a settlement deal, Brownlee received a call suggesting that he give the company a few more days to decide. The only problem is that the call came from Michael Elston, then chief of staff to DAG McNulty. Brownlee ignored the suggestion. Eight days later, he appeared on the firing list. (Washington Post)

A 2004 Inspector General report into the Klamath River incident found no evidence of Dick Cheney's involvement. Reasonable people can disagree as to why that is; of course, one former official with the IG's office thinks it is hard to find evidence of involvement when no one is looking for it. She says that throughout the inquiry, the office never asked for any information on the Vice President. (Washington Post)

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Georgia will implement its voter identification law starting in September, following the Georgia Supreme Court’s refusal to reconsider a lawsuit that contends the voter ID law would place an undue burden on voters. Georgia voters will be required to show ID in a September special election. (Boston Globe)

States are finally showing showing signs of reigning in the conflicts of interest presented to individuals assigned to oversee their election processes. One problem that need fixing: five secretaries of state (who oversee elections) were on Bush' last reelection campaign. Here's another: five states have had voting officials go immediately into lobbyist positions for the voting machine industry. (NY Times)

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Just when we thought there was no more Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) news for the day, John Bresnahan hears that he's promising to block ethics legislation.

You couldn't make this up:

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, whose home back in Alaska was raided by federal investigators Monday in a wide-ranging corruption investigation, has threatened to place a hold on the Democratic-drafted ethics legislation just passed by the House and expected on the Senate floor by week’s end.

The senator told a closed session of fellow Republicans today, including Vice President Dick Cheney, that he was upset that the measure would interfere with his travel to and from Alaska – and vowed to block it.

And Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), confirming Stevens' threat, said bluntly: “There could be a lot of holds on this bill.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) appeared on CNN today to say that he still hadn't gotten the information he wants about Alberto Gonzales' testimony on the NSA surveillance program. Therefore, he said, he's still unprepared to say whether he thinks Gonzales lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Specter met with director of national intelligence Michael McConnell yesterday, and as a follow-up, McConnell sent a letter to Specter today explaining what Gonzales was talking about. That letter hasn't yet been publicly released, but CNN reported that the letter covers more of the same ground addressed in prior statements from administration figures. McConnell writes that "a number" of surveillance activities were "authorized in one order" and that "one particular aspect of these activities and nothing more, was publicly acknowledged by the President and described in December 2005." For background on this, see our post explaining this parsing from last week.



Specter said that he needs more than McConnell's letter to decide whether Gonzales lied or not -- he's been promised an additional letter from Gonzales explaining his testimony. That letter (expected at noon today) is still forthcoming:

Wolf Blitzer: Does this clarify on behalf on Alberto Gonzales that he didn't lie?

Specter: I'm not prepared to say until we get Attorney General Gonzales' letter. I was promised this letter from Admiral McConnell and a letter from Attorney General Gonzales at noon. This one came at mid-afternoon and I've been asked not to comment on it until we have the Gonzales letter. But the Gonzales letter will, in effect, interpret this letter....

There is a question that has been raised about what is in McConnell's letter and AG Gonzales is on the verge of giving the information to at least give his side of it.

Today, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) gave more detail on his resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry into the Attorney General (see the resolution here).

The resolution would require the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether the Attorney General committed high crimes or misdemeanors. Inslee explained during a press conference today: "we are pursuing an investigation prior to filing for the actual articles of impeachment… frankly, it affords the Attorney General due process, something he did not afford his [U.S. attorneys] when they were fired." Specifically, the investigation will focus on the firing of U.S. Attorneys, the abuse of FISA courts and subsequent covering up of those abuses, and the perjury allegations from his Congressional testimonies.

Here's how it would work. The first battle, of course, would be convincing the House leadership to bring the resolution to a vote. Then the resolution would be voted on by the entire House. If approved by a majority, the House Judiciary Committee would then investigate whether impeachment would be appropriate. That committee would then report its findings to the House, which would vote on whether to approve articles of impeachment. Then, if the vote succeeds, the case heads over to the Senate for trial.

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From Dick Cheney's interview tonight with Larry King:

Q In that regard, The New York Times -- which, as you said, is not your favorite -- reports it was you who dispatched Gonzales and Andy Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's hospital in 2004 to push Ashcroft to certify the President's intelligence-gathering program. Was it you?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't recall -- first of all, I haven't seen the story. And I don't recall that I gave instructions to that effect.

Q That would be something you would recall.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would think so. But certainly I was involved because I was a big advocate of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and had been responsible and working with General Hayden and George Tenet to get it to the President for approval. By the time this occurred, it had already been approved about 12 times by the Department of Justice. There was nothing new about it.

Q So you didn't send them to get permission.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't recall that I was the one who sent them to the hospital.

Nearly five months after former U.S. Attorney for New Mexico David Iglesias publicly testified to Congress that he was pressured by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) to bring indictments against a prominent state Democrat before the 2006 election, the House ethics committee is shuddering to life. Sort of.

Iglesias will be interviewed by House ethics Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) and ranking member Doc Hastings (R-WA) today*, according to The Albuquerque Tribune. But this isn't yet an investigation, the paper cautions -- just an interview which might lead to an investigation. Given that a committee investigation is a rare occurrence (far rarer, of course, than a criminal investigation of a member), watchdogs aren't getting their hopes up. Says CREW's Melanie Sloan, "I haven't seen anything to indicate they're going to do anything serious here."

And there's another reason for pessimism.* Hastings himself has been implicated in similar behavior, via his then-chief of staff. Former U.S. Attorney for John McKay testified in March that Hastings' right-hand aide called him to inquire whether he'd be pursuing allegations of Democratic voter fraud in the 2004 election.

Truthout first reported Iglesias' upcoming appearance Monday.

*Update: Hastings has recused himself and will be replaced by Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL). Also, the interview is tomorrow, not today.

TPMLivewire