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John Durham, the prosecutor tapped by Attorney General Michael Mukasey to probe the destruction of the CIA’s videotapes of interrogations, finally laid out in detail the purview of his investigation last week. And it’s clear that his focus is on the tapes themselves – not what they might show.

Given Mukasey’s refusal to investigate the use of waterboarding, that’s not much of a surprise. Mukasey had also allowed that Durham could look at the possible use of torture “if it leads to showing motive” for the destruction. Durham’s summary of his investigation jibes with that -- showing that it’s all about the tapes, but that why someone might have destroyed the tapes will also be key to his investigation:

The questions under active review in this investigation focus on whether any federal criminal offenses were committed in connection with the destruction of the…videotapes. More specifically, the investigation team is actively reviewing whether any person or persons obstructed justice, made false statements, or acted in contempt of court or Congress in connection with the destruction of the videotapes. With respect to potential obstruction of justice offenses, we are investigating whether the destruction of the videotapes violated any order issued by any federal judicial officer, and, if so, what the persons’ knowledge, motive, and/or intent was in destroying the tapes or causing their destruction….

Central questions for this investigation include: who within the federal government knew of the existence of the videotaped interrogations at issue; who was aware of the various orders that might have required the preservation of the videotapes; and who was involved, in any way, in the decision and/or directive to destroy the videotapes.

In other words, whether any of this will lead to an examination of the interrogation techniques that were used on the two detainees whose interrogations were videotaped is unclear.

Durham made the disclosure, which was first reported by The New York Times this weekend, as part of the government’s bid to convince a federal judge to withdraw an order to explain the tapes’ destruction. You can read it here.

TPM Reader JW writes in with a little window into the mind of Washington GOP Chair Luke Esser, who decided to stop counting votes on Saturday night just because.

It's a column from Esser's college days, and a column that was clearly intended to be humorous at that. So it should be taken with a grain of salt. On the eve of the 1986 midterm elections, Esser wrote in the University of Washington's paper that he was praying for rain, because that would drive Democratic-voting "shiftless deadbeats" away from the polls. He explained, "Years of interminable welfare checks and free government services have made these modern-day sloths even more lazy. They will vote on election day, if it isn’t much of a bother. But even the slightest inconvenience can keep them from the polling place."

And since, he wrote, "[m]any of the most successful anti-deadbeat voter techniques (poll taxes, sound beatings, etc.) that conservatives have used in the past have been outlawed by busybody judges," he was organizing a "Rain Dance" for conservatives that night. Ha ha ha.

In a race that's been marked by GOPers noisily competing to claim the mantle of Reaganism, Mike Huckabee seized an easy opportunity on CNN this morning to resurrect the old foe: "That is not what we do in American elections... Maybe that's how they used to conduct it in the old Soviet Union, but you don't just throw people's votes out and say, 'well, we're not going to bother counting them because we kind of think we know where this was going.'"

Well, the Washington state GOP chair Luke Esser was successfully bullied into finishing the state's count earlier than he'd planned -- and finally getting "as close as we can" to counting 100% of the vote.

That accelerated rate has put the GOP closer to that goal -- now it's at 93%, up from 87% when Esser decided to call it quits Saturday night. But assuming that they eventually get there, the counting is sure to get plenty of scrutiny. And given that this was a caucus with only about 13,500 Republicans turning out (with a couple hundred votes the difference between Huckabee and McCain), what would be otherwise minor charges of disenfranchisement take on greater importance. The Huckabee camp is already citing reports of supporters getting elbowed aside (see the "irregularities" campaign chairman Ed Rollins claimed last night) -- in particular three supporters say that those running the caucus didn't follow the correct process. One in particular is most outspoken:

Kim Davis of Lakewood in Pierce County outlined her experience in an e-mail....

"I think that was the trigger that fired the shot," [Huckabee Washignton volunteer leader Joseph] Fuiten said.

In an interview, Davis said she "absolutely" thought McCain supporters rigged voting in her precinct because she and a Ron Paul supporter were denied a chance to run to be delegates.

"They didn't follow the process. No one got to talk. No one got to vote," she said.

"I felt like what they did was wrong," she said. "If they could do that to us, I wondered how many other places could that have happened."

We'll see.

This week Col. Lawrence J. Morris, the newly installed Guantanamo chief prosecutor, will publicly detail a series of criminal charges against six men suspected (sub. req.) of plotting the suicide-hijackings of September 11, 2001. Morris has waited for this moment for years as the Bush administration's military tribunal system has suffered legal setbacks, internal conflicts, revelations of detainee abuse, and embarrassing disclosures about its effort to conduct show trials. (Wall Street Journal)

President Bush used his State of the Union address to excoriate lawmakers for spending taxpayer dollars on their pet projects, yet Bush's new budget includes plenty of executive earmarks. Bush's pork includes $330 million for combating pests such as the emerald ash borer and sirex woodwasp, and $800,000 for the Neosho National Fish Hatchery in Missouri. (New York Times)

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates suggested that after the last of the troops deployed to Iraq as part of the surge return to the U.S. in July, no more American troops will leave Iraq for at least another month and possibly even longer. If there is indeed a "freeze" on the withdrawal of U.S. forces later this year, it is possible that there will "be nearly as many U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2008 as were in the country when the administration announced plans for the surge more than a year ago." (Wall Street Journal)

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Back in the summer of 2005, just as journalists were toiling to produce the first books on what had gone so horribly wrong in Iraq, the Army was handed a thorough study by the RAND Corporation, its federally-financed research arm.

And it came, as one might expect, to some sharp conclusions. It faulted the President and Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon, Colin Powell's State Department, and Gen. Tommy Franks' Central Command for a variety of shortcomings, all essentially for their role in not adequately preparing for securing postwar Iraq. The report provided a strategy for how the Army and the government in general might avoid a similar plight the next time around (the short version: try preparing for the aftermath).

Unclassified versions of RAND reports are regularly made public, and the researchers had hoped a version of this report would be too. But, as The New York Times reports this morning, the Army wasn't happy with the product. So they buried it. The reason, an Army official explains, is that the report was just too gosh darn informative:

“After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army.... Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”

Another Pentagon official, this one whispering to the Times anonymously, gives another version:

A Pentagon official who is familiar with the episode offered a different interpretation: Army officials were concerned that the report would strain relations with a powerful defense secretary and become caught up in the political debate over the war. “The Army leaders who were involved did not want to take the chance of increasing the friction with Secretary Rumsfeld,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he did not want to alienate senior military officials.

Of course, the report still isn't publicly available, and from what the Times describes, it would make for interesting reading. Overlaying the various critiques of the agencies, the report cites a general principle (The Cheney Principle of Prewar Bravado?) that explains the general failure:

One serious problem the study described was the Bush administration’s assumption that the reconstruction requirements would be minimal. There was also little incentive to challenge that assumption, the report said.

“Building public support for any pre-emptive or preventative war is inherently challenging, since by definition, action is being taken before the threat has fully manifested itself,” it said. “Any serious discussion of the costs and challenges of reconstruction might undermine efforts to build that support.”

It was still dark last Wednesday morning when the cleaning crews pulled into the alley behind a Washington, D.C., mall, but not so dark that they didn’t notice some unusual items left for them to pick up with the rest of the trash. The two 3-foot-high servers were clearly labeled “PROPERTY OF D.C. OFFICE OF TAX AND REVENUE.”

Now, who puts a server out on the street? More to the point, who would dump servers belonging to an agency that’s in the midst of a federal investigation of what’s described as the biggest corruption scandal in the city’s history? (See our artful rendering of what it might have looked like above.)

The garbage collectors notified Melvin Barnes, the building maintenance man.

“At first, I was thinking, ‘Man, who's putting this stuff here?’” said Barnes. “But when I saw the labels of the tax office, with all this stuff going on, I was like, ‘Uh oh.’”

“All this stuff”—the alleged embezzlement of at least $20 million in a money-laundering scheme and its investigation— has been front-page news in Washington for months. Two employees of the city tax office are among the ten people who’ve been arrested in connection with the scandal.

The former supervisor of the tax office, Harriette Walters, has been charged with approving hundreds of fraudulent property tax refund checks made out to to phony companies and handing them over to a group of her relatives and friends. She allegedly instructed her co-conspirators to cash the checks at a Baltimore branch of Bank of America, where Walter Jones, the former assistant bank manager of the branch, would accept them. In one month alone, three bogus checks totaling $1.1 million were cashed through Bank of America. Jones was arrested last December.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) makes a bid to avoid another edition of the administration's surveillance squeeze play. From CQ:

To guard against the expiration of a temporary surveillance law Feb. 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., has filed a bill that would extend it for 15 days.

The Senate is expected to pass a six-year bill overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Feb. 12, but that gives lawmakers little time to work out a compromise between the Senate bill and a House-passed version before the Presidents Day recess begins and the temporary law expires.

Reid filed the latest extension Friday “in case we can’t finish the conference negotiations in time,” spokesman Jim Manley said.

Having given in once, the Republicans have vowed not to give in again. So no matter how justified the plea, this dog won't hunt.

Note: Get ready for another round of the GOP's double-talk squeeze special, e.g. the Dem's effort to extend the bill that must not lapse is unacceptable.

Don't think we've forgotten about EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson. Because we haven't. And neither has House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA).

Last we heard of Johnson, he gave a masterful performance of wonkish evasion before the Senate environmental committee.

Today Waxman issued a subpoena to compel the EPA to provide "unredacted" copies of a PowerPoint presentation Johnson's staff made to him about California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

The presentation shows that Johnson's staff recommended granting the petition. But Johnson ignored that and denied it anyway.

The EPA has been eager to keep the presentation away from the public's eye, even invoking a kind of executive privilege against embarrassing documents (i.e. documents that show the staff recommending one thing and the administrator proclaiming another). The EPA refused to hand over the presentation to the Senate committee in its full glory and turned over mostly blank pages. The Senate committee staff was only able to see the actual documents by going to EPA offices and pulling white tape off of the offending portions.

Apparently Waxman doesn't have patience for that sort of thing. So he's issued a subpoena. The EPA is crying foul, fretful that the committee will turn the documents over to the 16 states and five environmental advocacy groups that are suing the agency over the decision. From the AP:

"What they've subpoenaed is to get control of documents that they have seen every word of. They know what it says," [EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar] said. "I'm not going to imply that they would turn them over to those currently in litigation, but that is a concern."

Waxman has been interviewing EPA staff as a prelude to an eventual showdown with Johnson himself.

From The Caucus:

A conservative group -– Citizens United -– that has produced a film now in distribution attacking Hillary Clinton called “Hillary, the Movie,” has its sights set on a new target: Barack Obama.

The group has budgeted about $1 million to produce a documentary film about Mr. Obama that is set to be distributed this summer. At the moment, Citizens United has its researchers poring over Mr. Obama’s records as a community organizer, state legislator and United States senator in the same way that it scoured Mrs. Clinton’s record with a highly critical eye and a sharply conservative point of view.

“Obama is a completely clean slate,” said David Bossie, president of the group. “We will develop the image that we want the people to see. We’re doing the hard work of the research right now. The American people don’t know much about Obama, except that they like his speaking style.”

Why do I have a feeling that the word "madrassa" might help fill in the picture?

As we noted earlier this week, Citizens United has embarked on a legal battle to advertise their film unconstrained by campaign finance laws. The Supreme Court will decide next week whether it will rule on the case.

Of the 24 cases of detainee abuse that the CIA's inspector general and Department of Defense have referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution in the last several years, the Department has declined to prosecute in 22 of them, according to a letter from a Justice Department official in response to Sen. Dick Durbin's (D-IL) question about "accountability for illegal conduct by civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan."

A prosecution team was formed in June, 2004 to handle the cases in the U.S. attorney's office for Virginia's Eastern District, and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft announced he'd be referring all pending cases there. While the Defense Department has prosecuted a number of soldiers for abuse, this team was formed to concentrate on abuses by civilian government employees.

And how have they done? Well, there have been no indictments. The DoJ official, Brian Benczkowski, disclosed that two of the cases remained pending -- it's unknown what those cases are. Benczkowski said that there had only been four referrals by the CIA's inspector general in the last year, and all four had been declined. You can read that letter here.

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