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.
Before the hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wasn't shy about saying what he thought of Michael Mukasey: "I like him." And the attorney general nominee breezed through the first day of questioning. But day two got rough. And now the chairman seems to be wavering in his support of Mukasey. From the AP:
Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination for attorney general ran into trouble Thursday when two top Senate Democrats said their votes hinge on whether he will say on the record that an interrogation technique that simulates drowning is torture.
"It's fair to say my vote would depend on him answering that question," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told reporters late Thursday.
"This to me is the seminal issue," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, another member of Leahy's panel. Asked if his vote depends on whether Mukasey equates waterboarding with torture, Durbin answered, "It does."
Leahy has refused to set a date for a vote on Mukasey's nomination until he clarifies his answer to that question.
Separately, a Democrat familiar with the panel's deliberations said Mukasey may not get the 10 committee votes his nomination needs to be reported to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation unless he says, in effect, that waterboarding is torture.
The issue, of course, is Mukasey's "massive hedge" of an answer to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's (D-RI) question about whether waterboarding is torture (watch the exchange here). Earlier this week, the Democrats on the committee penned a letter to Mukasey, giving him a primer on the old torture technique and asking again for an answer. His confirmation might depend on it.
Condoleezza Rice took pains to insist today that the U.S. "would not support a policy that would prevent investigations" in Iraq of government officials for corruption charges. But she repeatedly demurred from passing judgment on a decree signed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office manager, which was provided to the House oversight committee by former top corruption judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi. In that document, Maliki informs corruption judges that his approval is required before bringing charges against practically any senior government official. Here's the document (pdf), signed April 1, 2007:
Peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you!
It has been decided not to refer any of the following parties to the court until approval of His Excellency, the Prime Minister, is obtained:
1. Presidential Office
2. Council of Ministers
3. Current and Previous Ministers
Dr. Tariq Najim Abdullah
Prime Minister's Office Manager
At a few moments during the hearing, both Rice and ranking Republican Tom Davis (R-VA) suggested that maybe Maliki was trying to referee a bureaucratic dispute between Iraq's numerous anti-corruption agencies. Hands-on management style and all that. That still wouldn't explain all the murder and torture of corruption judges, but otherwise, the explanation is perfectly sound.
After over a year of demands, four months of subpoenas and an immeasurable amount of acrimony and mutual distrust, the White House has finally agreed to let Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) -- and possibly even the whole Senate Judiciary Committee -- review the legal basis for the warrantless surveillance program. Apparently politics can compel what subpoenas can't. Congressional Quarterly:
The White House has offered leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee access to legal documents related to the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program, senators said Thursday.
But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said while the White House had offered the documents to both him and the panel's ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, he was pushing for the entire committee to receive access to the documents.
The Bush administration is asking Congress to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies being sued for their alleged role in the NSA program.
A Judiciary Committee aide had said the panel was holding off on a markup of legislation rewriting the rules for electronic surveillance until it received access to those documents, which pertain to the legal foundation of the NSA program.
Two Senators on the judiciary committee who saw the documents via their seats on the intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), ultimately voted for retroactive telecom immunity. Could Specter and Leahy possibly be next? Stranger things have happened -- like, for instance, the disclosure of these documents to the judiciary committee leaders. The committee will hold a hearing on the surveillance legislation Wednesday.
Man, is it a good thing Condoleezza Rice expressed "regret" that State waited until last month to start reviewing its relationship with Blackwater. And it's particularly nifty that she isn't "personally following" every little multi-million dollar discrepancy, shenanigan or blooper. Because then she might have to explain why State Department officials, back in 2005, chatted in internal e-mails about how Blackwater was killing Iraqi civilians and yet were outside the law:
Internal State Department e-mails, obtained by the Blotter on ABCNews.com, show top officials were extensively briefed about repeated incidents of Blackwater security guards killing innocent civilians more than two years ago. ...
Yet, the e-mails show that State Department officials had extensive knowledge of a growing problem in the summer of 2005, and complained about a lack of a compensation program for civilian victims.
"Obviously it is not pleasant meeting with these individuals with nothing more to offer than apologies, condolences and vague promises," wrote a State Department security officer based in al Hillah, Michael Bishop, to his superiors at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Two years later, the State Department recommends making appropriate "condolence or compensation" payments, as well. And Iraqis love that!
Krongard, recall, is the State Department inspector general accused by his own subordinates of scuttling Iraq-related corruption investigations and then retaliating against his accusers for snitching to Henry Waxman. (Allegedly!) Pointing to the hearing's cavalcade of State-related corruption problems -- cost overruns on building the U.S. embassy in Baghdad; lax supervision of a $1.2 billion DynCorp contract to train Iraqi police; that whole Blackwater thing -- Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) asked if perhaps having a more "vigilant" IG might have been helpful.
Rice's answer? Nah, not really.
Krongard, she said, "very much" wants to respond to the committee's "allegations against him," and she all but promised he'll finally testify. But she emphasized that, in several cases -- the DynCorp controversy, for instance -- the State Department had uncovered for itself the extent of corruption-related problems in Iraq and either provided that information to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, or took action itself. Sometimes, even, Krongard's "very active" office contributes to "how we find things."
Why Rice thinks it's exculpatory that the State Department is aware of billions of dollars worth of corruption problems despite the problems' persistence is, well, a bit unclear. But take that, Waxman! Every now and then, Krongard actually does his job.
Maybe the corruption trial of former state legislator Rep. Vic Kohring (R-AK) is really a call for healthcare reform. Kohring learned the age-old HMO lesson (never, ever go out of network) the hard way and ended up begging Veco executives for cash when faced with collection agency calls.
Kohring says a spinal surgery in 2002 at the Mayo Clinic, which wasn't on his health plan's preferred provider list, set him back thousands of dollars. One credit card still had a $17,000 balance in March 2006. With collection agencies harassing him and his house, worth about $100,000, not selling, he approached Veco executives Bill Allen and Rick Smith with an idea. He would lobby other state lawmakers to support a piece of pipeline legislation in exchange for some cash. He never received the $17,000.
Kohring's lawyer has argued prosecutor's nabbed his small fish client when they should have been pursuing the big fish: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and former state Senate President Ben Stevens. The lawyer, Wayne Anthony Ross, wrote in a letter to federal prosecutors: "You dun got the wrong man." Father and son Stevens, who are both under investigation for their connection to Veco, have not been officially accused of wrongdoing (yet), but Kohring is charged with accepting $2,600 in cash and lining up a Veco summer internship for his nephew worth $3,000.
It took two different questioners -- and a reversal of her initial position -- but Condoleezza Rice finally acknowledged that State should have acted earlier to rein in Blackwater. "I certainly regret that there was not the oversight that there should have been," she said. Was that so difficult?
Condoleezza Rice knows deep down that she wants the State Department to cooperate with the House oversight committee's investigation of Iraqi corruption issues. She just wants to make sure that sources and methods are protected, and that the committee stays discreet, she said during today's hearing.
Unfortunately, obscure bureaucrats like State's Joel Starr have told the committee that it can't publicly discuss things like "Broad statements/assessments which judge or characterize the quality of Iraqi governance or the ability/determination of the Iraqi government to deal with corruption, including allegations that investigations were thwarted/stifled for political reasons."
"I didn't make this directive," Rice said when Rep. Pat Lynch (D-MA) read it to her. "Consider it rescinded." Whether that'll make a difference is unclear: Rice still wants to discuss most aspects of corruption in closed session.
Waxman asked the bottom line question: is corruption cash from the Iraqi government funding attacks on the U.S.? No more retreating behind requests for a closed session or pleas to request sources and methods.
Rice: "There are militias being funded by multiple sources, including people who are able to use the Iraqi system to bring funding to their militias, yes, especially in the south." She said, however, that it would get worse if Iran could fund Shiite militias unimpeded in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal.