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Yesterday, we noted that the State Department plans to fine Blackwater USA for illegally shipping weapons to Iraq without the proper permits.

Now, adds some more detail to the picture, reporting that a federal grand jury is probing whether the company used sacks of dog food to hide weapons and silencers it was shipping into Iraq.

State Department rules forbid Blackwater from using "offensive" weapons, including silencers, which, an expert tells, would only be used for assassinations.

The report adds:

Larger items, including M-4 assualt weapons, were secreted on shipping pallets surrounded by stacks of dog food bags, the former employees said. The entire pallet would be wrapped in cellophane shrink wrap, the former employees said, making it less likely US customs inspectors would look too closely.

Earlier today, the Associated Press reported that an indictment had been drafted in connection to the deadly shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians last year, in which 6 Blackwater guards have been implicated. No decision has yet been made to file charges.

Federal prosecutors have drafted an indictment against 6 guards working for Blackwater USA, who were involved in deadly shootings last year of 17 Baghdad civilians, according to the Associated Press.

But it's not yet certain that charges will be filed. AP reports:

The draft is being reviewed by senior Justice Department officials but no charging decisions have been made. A decision is not expected until at least later this month, people close to the case said.

The shootings by Blackwater guards, which witnesses described as an unprovoked attack, took place at a busy Baghdad intersection in September of last year.

Earlier this week, the company was fined by the State Department for shipping automatic weapons to Iraq without permits.

Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman says that new revelations about his prosecution amount to "outrageous criminal conduct in the US Attorney's office and the Department of Justice," and are "more frightening than anything that has come before." And he believes that his case is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of politicized prosecutions by DOJ.

Siegelman was reacting in an interview with TPMmuckraker to the news, first reported this morning by Time, that the US Attorney on his case, who had recused herself because her husband was a top GOP operative who had worked closely with Karl Rove -- and even run the 2002 campaign of Siegelman's gubernatorial opponent -- continued to advise prosecutors on the case.

At times while speaking to TPMmuckraker, Siegelman appeared to have trouble maintaining his composure. He called the news -- which came from a whistleblower in the US Attorney's office who passed on emails and other information to the House Judiciary Commitee -- "another shocking revelation in the misconduct of the US attorneys offices and the DOJ."

The news appears to contradict previous statements from DOJ on the matter. When Congress investigated the affair earlier this year, DOJ had said that the US Attorney, Leura Canary, had recused herself "before any significant decisions ... were made."

Siegelman continued: "If what [the whistleblower] says is true, it's one issue. But the fact that it was never disclosed to the defense or the judge, and then was covered up by DOJ, is a crime, even if what she said wasn't true."

He added: "At every stage of this investigation, either by lawyers or the House Judiciary Committee, DOJ has refused to turn over documents" or otherwise cooperate.

The authenticity of the key emails provided by the whistleblower has not been questioned, according to Time.

Siegelman also said he was shocked by other revelations from the whistleblower, including that one of the jurors had expressed romantic interest in an FBI agent working with prosecutors. He called it "astounding" that this hadn't been revealed to the judge and the defense.

And Siegelman, a Democrat, left no doubt that he believes that the apparent politicization of his prosecution was just one example of many such cases. "If this were isolated to just the middle district of Alabama, it would be shocking enough. But I guarantee this kind of misbehavior has been going on all over the country."

He added: "Whoever is the new Attorney General has to be strong enough to weed out the Karl Rove clones who have been embedded in US Attorneys' offices throughout the United States. If not, it is going to eat at our system for years to come."

At one point, Siegelman turned philosophical: "If I've been put through this for a reason, it's to expose the fact that this is not an isolated incident. I am prayerful that Congress will dig in and demand the truth. These folks have got to be weeded out."

New documents relating to the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman suggest misconduct by the US attorney in the case, and appear to contradict previous statements from the Department of Justice about the matter.

The new revelations, reported by Time, are contained in a letter sent last week by House Judiciary chair John Conyers to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, based on information provided to the committee by a legal aide in the US Attorney's office in Alabama. That information includes emails written by the US Attorney, Leura Canary, showing that she continued to advise prosecutors on the case even after having recused herself because her husband was a top Alabama GOP operative who had worked closely with Karl Rove.

Here's the key excerpt from Time:

In one of Canary's e-mails, dated September 19, 2005, she forwards senior prosecutors on the Siegelman case a three-page political commentary by Siegelman. Canary highlighted a single passage which, she told her subordinates, "Ya'll need to read, because he refers to a 'survey' which allegedly shows that 67% of Alabamans believe the investigation of him to be politically motivated." Canary then suggests: "Perhaps [this is] grounds not to let [Siegelman] discuss court activities in the media!"

Prosecutors in the case seem to have followed Canary's advice. A few months later they petitioned the court to prevent Siegelman from arguing that politics had any bearing on the case against him. After trial, they persuaded the judge to use Siegelman's public statements about political bias -- like the one Canary had flagged in her e-mail -- as grounds for increasing his prison sentence. The judge's action is now one target of next month's appeal.

When Conyers' committee investigated the Siegelman matter earlier this year, DOJ had said that Canary's 2002 recusal had come "before any significant decisions ... were made."

DOJ has already conducted its own inquiry into some of the claims contained in the letter sent by Conyers, and produced a report dismissing them as inconsequential.

Siegelman's supporters and congressional Democrats have long raised suspicions that DOJ's prosecution of Siegelman, a red-state Democrat, was an example of the inappropriate politicization of the department.

Siegelman's appeal of his conviction is set to begin next month in a federal court in Atlanta.

The legal troubles of Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) began last February, when an Arizona grand jury charged the congressman with using his post to influence a federal land deal benefiting a former business partner, and indicted him on 35 counts including conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering. Yesterday, it slapped eight more charges on him, alleging that he had led a criminal insurance enterprise and lied on his tax returns. Renzi, who steps down from Congress in January, pleaded not guilty and will stand trial in March. (Congressional Quarterly)

Guantanamo detainees are held in conditions that have led to war crimes charges elsewhere, and they continue to have psychological problems even when returned to their home country, charges a report issued this week by two human rights organizations. The U.S. has released 520 people from the prison, many of whom say they were mistakenly rounded up after being sold to American forces. 250 detainees remain. The report urges the incoming Obama administration to investigate the camp's activities. (Reuters/McClatchy)

Drilling for natural gas, a policy being touted as a means of reducing America's dependence on foreign oil, may contaminate water supplies with unsafe levels of chemicals like benzene, a compound that can cause leukemia, according to an investigation by Pro Publica. The drilling process, pioneered by Dick Cheney's former company Haliburton, uses water pressure and chemicals to break rocks and release the gas. It was exempted by Congress from the Safe Water Act after a 2004 Environmental Protection Agency study declared it safe. (ProPublica)

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The New York Times today raises the notion that after leaving office, George W. Bush may claim that executive privilege still applies, allowing him and members of his administration to continue to frustrate Congressional efforts to gain access to information on issues ranging from harsh interrogation tactics to the U.S. Attorney firings scandal.

Congressional Democrats, as well as outside watchdog groups, say they are determined to go on pursuing investigations into Bush administration malfeasance on these and other matters.

The Times explains that if Barack Obama, after taking office, decides to release information from his predecessor's tenure, Bush could file a lawsuit claiming executive privilege. The dispute would likely go to the Supreme Court, and there appears to be little precedent that would guide a ruling.

Harry Truman made such a post-hoc claim of executive privilege in 1953, when subponaed to testify before a congressional committee about why he had appointed a suspected communist to the IMF. The committee backed down, meaning the claim became a historical precedent -- and was subsequnetly invoked by Richard Nixon, while still president in 1973, when he refused to cooperate with the committee investigating Watergate.

But a lawyer who helped hastily put together the argument on Truman's behalf today tells the Times: "I think, legally, we wrong."

Democrats from the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees last week sent a letter to the White House demanding that it preserve all records produced by the Bush administration. The letter expressed particular concern that the office of Vice President Cheney would not comply with the law.

The letter, sent by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Sen. John D. Rockefeller of West Virginia and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, asks White House counsel Fred Fielding to detail steps being taken to preserve White House documents and hand them over to the National Archives and Records Administration.

And it asks whether Fielding has investigated a Washington Post report that the White House has kept some presidential orders off it records, in a safe in the office of the vice president's lawyer.

Cheney's office is separately involved in a lawsuit brought by the watchdog group CREW, which is seeking to ensure that all vice presidential records are made available to the public.

The Democrats' letter cites that litigation, noting, "the declarations filed in that case by the Office of the Vice President raise serious concerns about its interpretations of the (Presidential Records Act)."

The law requires all presidential and vice presidential records to be transferred to the National Archives as soon as the president leaves office.

Jeff Rosato, a senior staffer for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), has been fired after he was charged by authorities late last week with distributing and receiving child pornography.

Roll Call reports (subscription required):

He was arrested after he sent more than 600 images and movies of child pornography to an undercover FBI agent he believed was a 13-year-old boy, according to an FBI affidavit.

The online chats occurred from Jan. 2 to Jan. 23 over Google Hello, a photo-sharing program that was shut down in June. To identify Rosato, the FBI subpoenaed Google and Comcast.

In a Nov. 7 search of Rosato's Alexandria home, FBI agents found a computer with "approximately 200 images of child pornography and child erotica, and several movies containing child pornography and child erotica." Many of the images showed prepubescent boys engaged in sexual acts, according to the affidavit.

Rosato, who had served as senior policy advisor and counsel on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which Boxer chairs, had worked for the California senator since 2005.

As Norm Coleman gets set for a recount in his bid to hold onto his Minnesota Senate seat, it's worth considering where things stand on the allegations that surfaced in the waning days of the campaign about Coleman's relationship with his friend and longtime associate, the businessman Nasser Kazeminy.

Here's what we know:

Late last month, in a suit filed in Texas, Paul McKim, the former CEO of Deep Marine Technologies (DMT), alleged in a sworn statement that Kazeminy -- who owns DMT -- directed him to make payments totaling $75,000 to the Hays Companies, a Minnesota insurance brokerage that employs Coleman's wife Laurie Coleman. The payments, claimed McKim in the suit, were not for legitimate work performed by Hays for DMT, but rather were a way for Kazeminy to funnel money to Coleman.

Soon afterwards, a group of DMT investors filed a separate suit naming both Kazeminy and McKim as defendants, and making similar allegations.

Since news of the suits surfaced in late October, none of the principals has offered responses that have put the matter to rest.

Coleman has vehemently denied the charges, and even cut a last-minute TV ad suggesting, with little evidence, that the campaign of his opponent, Democrat Al Franken, was behind them. And yesterday, when a progressive Minnesota watchdog group that ran ads attacking Coleman during the campaign held a press conference at which it called for investigations by the FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee into the matter, Coleman quickly said in a statement that he would welcome such probes, and that he wanted them to start "immediately." (Coleman's Senate office did not immediately respond to a detailed message from TPMmuckraker asking whether he has already been contacted by investigators.)

But neither Norm Coleman nor Laurie Coleman have offered details on the nature of her work for Hays.

Neither has Hays. Soon after news of the allegations broke, the company put out a statement calling the charges "libelous and defamatory." It said that Laurie Coleman "has been an Independent Contractor for Hays Companies since 2006," but offered no further detail on what she does for the company, beyond saying that she "receives no compensation related to the services we provide for our client Deep Marine Technology."

What are those services? Again, the statement was vague, saying only: "In the first half of 2007, we were retained to provide our risk management consulting services, and that work continues at this time."

As for Kazeminy, after initially remaning silent, he eventually hired a top Minneapolis-based crisis management expert, who late last week issued a tautological denial on his behalf: "Mr. Kazeminy vehemently denies the false and baseless claims made against him in recent weeks."

It's also worth noting that Norm Coleman and the Hays Companies may not have been on the same page about the arrangement between the firm and Laurie Coleman - a former model and actress who, according to state records examined by TPMmuckraker, only received her insurance license in October 2006. As we reported earlier this week, Norm Coleman wrote on his Senate disclosure forms for 2006 and 2007 that Laurie Coleman receives a salary from Hays - which would appear to contradict Hays' assertion that she's an independent contractor.

And according to FEC records examined by TPMmuckraker, Hays has been a frequent financial contributor to Coleman's Senate campaigns.

We may have to wait for possible law-enforcement or congressional investigations to get to the truth about Coleman's role in the alleged scheme. But it's certain that, barring any compelling explanations from any of the principals said to be involved, questions about the affair won't be going away any time soon.

Blackwater USA, the State Department's largest personal security contractor in Iraq, is set to be hit with a multi-million dollar fine for shipping automatic weapons to that country without the necessary permits, reports McClatchy. Some of the weapons are believed to have ended up on Iraq's black market.

The State Department has been looking into whether Blackwater employees shipped weapons hidden in shrink-wrapped pallets from the companies headquarters in North Carolina to Iraq. No criminal charges have been filed in the case.

But according to one official, the department found that Blackwater shipped 900 weapons to Iraq without the paperwork required by arms export control regulations.

Since the weapons case became public in September 2007, Blackwater has received $1.2 billion in federal contracts, by one estimate.

The company is also being investigated by the Justice Department in connection with the killing last year of 17 Iraqi civilians.