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An FBI official who declined to be named tells TPMmuckraker that the JFK bomb plotters aren't connected to any international terrorist organizations or other foreign powers. "They were not associated with anyone else," the official says.

Over the weekend, reports out of Trinidad -- where Abdul Nur, the fourth suspect in the plot, surrendered to authorities yesterday -- suggested that the FBI had told Trinidad's Police Special Branch to look at the plotters' connections to Shiite terrorist groups, including those based in Iran and southern Iraq. The Trinidad & Tobago Express quoted sources in the Police Special Branch saying they were looking at whether alleged conspirator Kareem Ibrahim "has links to radical Shia groups in the Middle East" based on information provided to them by the FBI. That's not the case, according to the official.

While the FBI official wouldn't comment on the bureau's "partnerships with a variety of law enforcement and intelligence agencies," he added, "I think they were stretching," referring to the paper's sources in the Special Police Branch. If Trinidadian officials are in fact looking for Middle East connections to the JFK plot, they may be digging a dry hole. The plotters "may have been looking for help, and people to talk to, but I don't think they had much success," the official says.

Don't tell Foggy Bottom that the Bush administration's post-9/11 foreign policy has made the country safer. The State Department is in the midst of a staffing crisis thanks to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to a new report by an advisory council.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Foreign Affairs Council, an association of nonprofit organizations, finds that the need to fill diplomatic positions in the war zones has left the foreign service understaffed by about 1,000 positions. The Council anticipates "a very, very serious situation a year from now" unless the administration and congress takes immediate action.

The council said Rice has required diplomats to carry out a more aggressive mission of "transformational diplomacy" to prod other countries to adhere to democratic principles.

But at the same time, envoys have had to cope with wartime strains, inadequate language and skills training and more overtime work.

In addition, about 750 have been required to take one-year stints in sometimes dangerous postings where they are not allowed to bring their families, the group said.

It's understandable that Iraq and Afghanistan require an outsized share of diplomatic resources, hard as it is to get many at State to go to the war zones, particularly Iraq. Muckraker reported in February how and why some Foreign Service Officers balk at Iraq assignments. But the Foreign Affairs Council's report suggests that unless the Foreign Service expands significantly -- the service only has about 9,000 people -- will barely be able to play catch-up when new crises emerge.

Bradley Schlozman pointed to Craig Donsanto in his testimony today when he was asked who gave him the go ahead to press criminal voter fraud charges days before the 2006 midterm election, in an apparent violation of agency policy.

Donsanto, though, is the director of the Election Crimes branch of the Justice Department and author of the manual outlining that policy. It seems a bit surprising that he'd be the one to approve skirting that election policy, when he'd literally written the manual.

Schlozman's account also conflicts with an email former U.S. Attorney from New Mexico, David Iglesias sent to a Department of Justice legislative aide in 2004, just before an election. The email, contained in a DOJ document dump in April, shows Donsanto's stance was on bringing charges just before an election:

There will be another meeting of the EFTF (Election Fraud Task Force) on Wed, Oct. 6. Craig Donsanto has not authorized the FBI to open any case.


The federal members of the EFTF should be aware of the DoJ policy of not attempting to influence the outcome of an election through investigation or prosecution. I am not aware of any prosecution which will commence before November 2, 2004. I know Donsanto would not authorize such action because he has stated the same.

Note that last line again: " I am not aware of any prosecution which will commence before November 2, 2004. I know Donsanto would not authorize such action because he has stated the same."

Perhaps Donsanto changed his mind on these matters between 2004 and 2006. But on its face Iglesias' account of Donsanto's view of this question seems starkly different from the account Schlozman provided today in his testimony.

Here's video of Schlozman testifying:

In his testimony today, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Todd Graves reiterated what he has maintained for the last few weeks in the press: he was pushed out to make room for someone else, not for performance reasons.

That someone, of course, was Bradley Schlozman who testified first today. Schlozman asserted that he knew nothing about Graves' dismissal and never discussed it with anyone.

Graves also recounted how he refused to sign a letter outlining a civil case against the state of Missouri for failing to purge its voter rolls.

One of the most interesting parts of Graves' testimony was his response to former Justice Department White House liaison, Monica Goodling's testimony from two weeks ago. Goodling implied in her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee that Graves was under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General and that factored into his dismissal. Graves told the Kansas City Star that, in fact, he brought the case himself to squelch a complaint from a fired employee. Here is video of Graves explaining this to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

As it turns out, Bradley Schlozman, who brought criminal charges against four ACORN workers on the eve of an election in Missouri does not know if the group has a political bent, or, apparently, what the acronym means.

ACORN, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a grass roots group that runs voter registration drives for poor and minority voters. Not surprisingly, the group has a history of left-leaning work.

Schlozman claims in the video below he is not aware of where ACORN falls on the political spectrum. (Listen closely to hear the press table chuckle.)

When asked who signed off on the ACORN indictments despite Justice Department guidelines that suggest U.S. attorneys should hold off on bringing such cases before an election, Schlozman named Craig Donsanto, the head of the Elections Crimes Division. Donsanto actually authored the manual that outlines the guideline, which Schlozman does not mention. Here is video of Schlozman naming him. The red book Whitehouse holds is the maual:

I wonder when we'll get to meet Donsanto.

Former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice Bradley Schlozman doesn't remember an alert from the U.S. attorney in Minnesota that Native American voters might be the target of voter discrimination. Los Angeles Times profiled the U.S. attorney from Minnesota, Thomas Heffelfinger, last week who was named on one of the firings lists. Schlozman tried to discredit the story today in his testimony, but also said he never spoke about the case with anyone and does not remember any details. (This was just after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) pointed out that he remembers less than U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales did during his testimony.)

The Los Angeles Times pointed out similarities between Heffelfinger and other U.S. Attorneys that were fired or on a list for possible firing. Heffelfinger appeared on a list after raising a concern that Native Americans might be disenfranchised:

Citing requirements in a new state election law, Republican Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer directed that tribal ID cards could not be used for voter identification by Native Americans living off reservations. Heffelfinger and his staff feared that the ruling could result in discrimination against Indian voters. Many do not have driver's licenses or forms of identification other than the tribes' photo IDs.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) confronted Schlozman today over what she painted as a contradiction between rushing four voter-fraud indictments just before an election in Missouri and the Justice Department's decision to ignore Heffelfinger's complaint:

Bradley Schlozman has been criticized for bringing voter fraud charges against several ACORN registration organizers just days before a close election in 2006. The decision appears to be in conflict with Department of Justice policy. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pointed out the apparent conflict to Schlozman today during his testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the politicization of the agency.

Leahy became openly angered during his questioning of Schlozman when the witness tried to skirt the topic. Schlozman claimed he had clearance from his superiors at the Department of Justice to bring the charges. He also said that he did not think the charges would have an affect on the pending election. Leahy raised his voice and sharpened his tone, not his typical persona.

Here is video of the Leahy-Schlozman tussle:

Feinstein also pressed Schlozman on his decision to bring the criminal indictments right before the election. She was not thrilled with his answer either. Her video is on the way.

Late Update: Here's Feinstein.

We're reporting live from the Senate Judiciary's latest hearing on the politicization of the Department of Justice. The first witness will be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' first appointed U.S. Attorney, Bradley Schlozman, of the Western District of Missouri. The second witness we'll hear from is Todd Graves, the U.S. Attorney that was ousted to make room for Schlozman.

Schlozman is being sworn in. More coverage is on the way. You can also follow along with video here.

Several readers have alerted us to a piece in the San Diego Union Tribune about a 13-page document written by former U.S. Attorney Carol Lam. We think the document refers to a 13 page document Lam sent to Congress responding to written questions in May. Her full response is available here. (pdf)

We covered Lam's response last month, which included additional dubious details about her firing. In one passage, Lam explains that she was not immediately told why she was being let go:

Following the call from Michael Battle informing me I was to resign effective January 21, 2007, I called DAG McNulty to inquire why I was being asked to resign. He responded that he wanted some time to think about how to answer that question because he didn’t want to give me an answer “that would lead” me down the wrong route. He added that he knew I had personally taken on a long trial and he had great respect for me. Mr. McNulty never responded to my question.

After a follow-up call with Mike Battle a few days later, I requested additional time to ensure and orderly transition in the office, especially regarding pending investigations and several significant cases that were set to begin trial in the next few months.

On January 5, 2007, I received a call from Michael Elston informing me that my request for more time base on case-related considerations was “not being received positively,” and that I should “stop thinking in terms of the cases in the office.” He insisted that I had to depart in a matter of weeks, not months, and that these instructions were “coming from the very highest levels of the government.” In this and subsequent calls, Mike Elston told me that (1) he ‘suspected” and “had a feeling” that the interim U.S. Attorney who would succeed me would not be someone from within my office, but rather would be someone who was a DOJ employee not currently working in my office, (2) there would be “no overlap” between my departure and the start date of the interim U.S. Attorney, and (3) the person picked to serve as interim U.S. Attorney would not have to be vetted by the committee process used in California for the selection of U.S. Attorneys.

Former U.S. Attorney from Missouri, Todd Graves, is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon. Graves is the most recent U.S. attorney to say he was asked to resign suddenly. The questionable layer to his case hinges on whether his decision not to force a voter-fraud lawsuit on the state led to his dismissal. It will be interesting to see if there are any similarities in his testimony.

Will I. "Scooter" Libby remain free during a possibly lengthy appeals process? Judge Reggie B. Walton who just handed down the 30 month sentence "saw no reason to let Libby remain free pending appeal, Walton said he would accept written arguments on the issue and rule later," the Associated Press reports.

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