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First was the war over the benchmarks. Now there's the war for whose benchmarks really mark the benches.

In May, Congress mandated that the Government Accountability Office produce an assessment of whether the U.S. and the Iraqi government are meeting eighteen indicators of political, economic and military progress in Iraq. Unlike the analysis produced by the Bush administration -- preliminarily delivered in July, and to be finalized by September 15 -- the GAO study has to give a stark yes-or-no answer for the achievement of each so-called benchmark. Sure enough, a draft of the study, leaked to The Washington Post, finds that only three of the eighteen benchmarks have been met -- while the July White House assessment said about half of them had been.

As the Post reports, the GAO report casts doubt on whether progress is being achieved in several of the areas the Bush administration has highlighted. July's White House report, for example, cited "an overall decrease in sectarian violence" in Baghdad. The GAO, by contrast, finds that "the average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July." The Iraqi security forces remain dysfunctional: the GAO cites pervasive sectarianism in the Iraqi Army units sent to Baghdad for the surge, while the White House called their performance "satisfactory."

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Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) isn't wasting any time. On August 4, literally the day that the Protect America Act passed the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to Conyers and intelligence committee chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), imploring them to come up with alternative legislation for foreign-to-domestic surveillance.

And this afternoon, Conyers announced that his House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the now-gutted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on September 5, the first Thursday back after the Congressional recess.

The current act expires in six months, but relentless pressure from liberals in the House to immediately scale back its vast powers is forcing Pelosi's hand. During the debate over the act on August 4, Conyers focused on "reverse targeting" -- warrantless surveillance of a person inside the U.S., potentially occurring when he or she speaks to someone abroad -- so expect the committee hearing to reflect that focus.

Who will Bush nominate to be the next attorney general?

Although there haven't been any signs so far that the administration is interested in working with Democrats to name a broadly acceptable replacement, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wants to talk it over.

"I look forward to working with you in your selection of a nominee to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States," Leahy wrote to Bush today. "I hope that you will engage with Senate leadership and share your thoughts so that meaningful consultation can result and the Senate will be better able to fulfill its constitutional advice and consent role. I am available to meet with you in Washington after Labor Day and urge that Senator Specter be included as well."

A couple of weeks ago, Leahy also wrote Bush to see if they couldn't work out a deal for the testimony of Karl Rove and other former White House aides.

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Long before he was internationally infamous as the Homeland Security secretary who dithered while New Orleans drowned, Michael Chertoff helmed the Justice Department's Criminal Division, placing him at the top of all federal criminal prosecutions. He left the position in 2003 to take a federal judgeship -- but not before severely misconstruing, under oath, a chain of events in the 2001 interrogation of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. As it turns out, a sworn statement, made by an attorney in the division's Terrorism and Violent Crime Section, John De Pue, contradicts Chertoff's testimony to Congress, something that can't bode well for his rumored nomination for attorney general.

Chertoff, in 2003, testified that he was unaware of internal dissent over a decision by the FBI to interview Lindh without the presence of his family-retained lawyer. "I have to say, Senator," he told Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), "that the Professional Responsibility [Advisory] Office was not asked for advice in this matter. I'm familiar with the matter. I was involved in it."

An account given by De Pue in 2002 casts serious doubt on Chertoff's statement. You can read his statement here.

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Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) -- whose home was raided by the FBI late last month -- told an NBC affiliate in Alaska, KTUU, he still isn't sure if he is the "target" of the federal investigation.

"I'm not sure I'm a target yet. I've not been told I'm a target. But as a practical matter, the situation -- I shouldn't have answered that question either," Stevens said. "I was not a target of those other investigations, is what I was saying."

As we've noted before, the "target" line is a favorite one of scandal subjects who want to sound as if things aren't all that bad. But it sounds like Stevens needs some convincing.

Yesterday we raised an eyebrow at Ayad Allawi's Sunday statement that he's "not party to the exact amount" of his lucrative lobbying contract with GOP power-firm Barbour Griffith Rogers. Now, Christina Davidson of IraqSlogger, who broke the story in the first place, adds an interesting wrinkle: If Allawi is, as he said on Sunday, getting his money from an anonymous "supporter," he's legally obligated to disclose his benefactor's identity.

Watching Allawi's interview with Wolf Blitzer, it seems that Allawi only mentioned his patron as a way of dispensing with a distraction from his core message that he has a "six-point plan" to save Iraq. But that admission comes with a host of legal complications, Davidson writes, if Allawi and BGR want to stay on the right side of the Foreign Assets Registration Act.

FARA requires persons representing foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to publicly disclose their relationship, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of activities on behalf of that principal.

In filing papers with the Department of Justice, required for compliance with FARA, BGR's Dan Murphy registered Allawi as the sole foreign principal the firm would be representing, checking of the appropriate box to confirm that he was not being “financed by a foreign government, foreign political party, or other foreign principal.” If an Iraqi is indeed paying for Allawi’s US activities, BGR is required by law to disclose the identity of the financier.

Looks like we might be step closer to learning where Allawi's money is coming from -- whether from former Defense Minister (and probable crook) Hazem Shaalan; from Mashal Nawab, who paid for Allawi's last lobbying contract in Washington; or someone else.

When Rep. Don Young (R-AK) dishes out pork, it sticks.

After Lee County twice tried to return a mysterious $10 million earmark for an unwanted Coconut Road Interchange, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) warned the Florida county that it was jeopardizing receiving federal funds in the future. Lee County faces a similar fate again, after voting to return the $10 million to Congress in hopes of getting it reauthorized for a broader (and wanted) project.

The News Press reports that the Florida Department of Transportation will not approve the county's budget through 2012 unless it overturns the reauthorization vote and allows more time for public comment on the issue.

Locals who want the county to forge on with the $10 million extra-Constitutional project, like, say, those married to developers who pushed for the deal, should have a fair shake at voicing their opinion.

Jack Abramoff is in prison. Ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) is in prison. Ex-Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) is in prison. Ex-Reps. Mark Foley (R-FL), Katherine Harris (R-FL), Tom DeLay (R-TX), Curt Weldon (R-PA), and Ex-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), all either lost or did not seek reelection. Gone, away, to be forgotten. This year was supposed to be different for the Republicans. But...

As The New York Times notes this morning, scandal has pursued them into 2007. “The real question for Republicans in Washington is how low can you go, because we are approaching a level of ridiculousness,” says one Republican strategist.

So what's the tally this year so far? Well, there is, of course, 1) Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and 2) Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) with their sex scandals (the attempted restroom tryst and numerous successful hotel room trysts, respectively).

But then there's the much greater toll of just plain ol' corruption. 3) Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) and 4) Rep. Don Young (R-AK) are under investigation for their ties to the oil company Veco (though that's just the tip of the iceberg for Young). 5) Reps. Tom Feeney (R-FL) and 6) John Doolittle (R-CA) have found themselves the focus of a reinvigorated Abramoff investigation (though Abramoff is in prison, he's still busily cooperating). 7) Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) had his house raided. 8) The FBI is investigating Rep. Gary Miller's (R-CA) land deals.

And then there's 9) Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) whose land deal with a businessman and campaign contributor became such a scandal that she finally just sold back the plot of land.

(Update: Thanks to a TPM Reader for pointing out that I omitted 12) Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and 13) Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) in my original round-up. Both are facing ethics committee investigations for their calls last October to former U.S. attorney David Iglesias about his office's investigation of a state Democrat.)

A kind of bonus field of scandal has been campaign officials for the various Republican candidates and their various scandals.

And there are a couple holdovers from 2006, of course; scandal figures who've stuck around and managed to keep a relatively low profile. 10) Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is still apparently under federal investigation. And 11) Rep. Ken Calvert's (R-CA) land deals are still winning scrutiny.

Republican scandal is one of Karl Rove's chief preoccupations. He's said that it was a mistake not to have addressed the scandals earlier, before the 2006 midterms. The effect of scandal even had a place in the political briefings that his aides gave to various departments and agencies over the past several years. Here, for instance, is a page from a briefing his aide Scott Jennings gave this January:

But it would appear that the GOP will be facing a similar dilemma all over again come next November. The question is: will things turn out any differently?

Note: As always, we keep a running tally of investigations and prosecutions of both Democrats and Republicans on our Grand Ole Docket.

We've written about Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's (R) impressive talent for securing federal Katrina aid funds. That might come from his former role as RNC chairman. But it might also have to do with the fact that he still receives monthly checks from Barbour Griffith & Rogers Inc., the lobbyist firm he helped to start. Haley says all the money coming is part of a pension; others say it's generally good practice to disclose these things. (Bloomberg)

The only officer prosecuted in the Abu Ghraib scandal was acquitted on all three abuse charges, though he was found guilty on one count of disobeying a direct order in connection with the investigation. (The Boston Globe)

The federal government is shifting its investigation of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to Kay LiCausi, his former chief of staff. Menendez had been accused of having conflicts of interests with some of his legislation, but now the concern is that LiCausi (who moved right from Congress to be a lobbyist) might be the source of the conflict. (NY Times)

The GOP leadership is seeking an investigation into Sen. Larry Craig's (R-ID) bathroom imbroglio. Meanwhile, CREW is curious why Republicans are willing to bring an investigation against Craig but were unwilling to do so against Rep. Vitter (R-LA).

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With the Pentagon's inspector general set to arrive in Iraq in a few weeks to personally investigate allegations of corruption in, among other places, the training of Iraqi security forces, it's worth remembering that suspicions of wrongdoing in the command led one officer to take his own life out of apparent shame. In a suicide note left on his bed in Baghdad, Lt. Colonel Ted Westhusing wrote, "I didn't volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves." Westhusing, 44, killed himself on June 5, 2005.

Much about Westhusing's case remains a mystery. According to a definitive Los Angeles Times exploration of his death published in November 2005, the committed Christian and West Point graduate began working for the training command, known as MNTSC-I, in January of 2005. General David Petraeus, who now leads U.S. forces in Iraq, commanded MNTSC-I in 2004 and 2005. Westhusing's primary responsibility was to oversee a private company, USIS, which held a $79 million contract to train Iraqi special forces, and Petraeus told him he had exceeded "lofty expectations."

In May, however, someone -- apparently a USIS contractor -- slipped him an anonymous four-page letter contending widespread corruption within the company and the command. Journalist Robert Bryce obtained the letter (pdf) earlier this year for a piece in the Texas Observer:

Recently I was told that USIS... is only missing 4 weapons. Now, we just spent the last 9 months with almost 200 weapons missing so I wondered how we went from 200 to 4. The missing weapons are common knowledge within the camp and no one seems to be trying to hide it. The take on it is that the Iraqis are stealing them and it is not our problem. This is not true. A lot of weapons were signed out by instructors and never returned. ...

Our Log guys have lost total control over what is issued. If you try to match up what USIS is charging the government, the inventory on camp and what has been issued to Iraqis it will not even be close.

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