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It's been a slow burn at the hearing on the 2004 elections at the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. With two separate panels, Hans von Spakovsky didn't get around to testifying until 5:00 PM ET.

But Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) made it all worth it.

Ellison threw tact to the wind in questioning von Spakovsky, berating him for the disenfranchisement of a group of a dozen elderly nuns and battering him with inquiries on his communications with U.S. attorneys on voter fraud prosecutions. We have video coming, but to tide you over, here's the transcript:

ELLISON: Now here's something that happened on the May 7th Indiana election. A dozen nuns and another unknown number of students were turned away from the polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana's stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the United State Supreme Court. Mr. von Spakovsky, you wanna stop nuns from voting?

VON SPAKOVSKY: [silence]

ELLISON: Why don't you want nuns to vote, Mr. von Spakovsky?

VON SPAKOVSKY: Congressman Ellison, uh-

ELLISON: I'm just curious to know.

VON SPAKOVSKY: Those individuals, uh, were told, were- knew that they had to get an ID, they could have easily done so. They could have voted, uh, by absentee ballot- uh, nursing homes under the law are able to get-

ELLISON: . . . Mr. von Spakovsky, are you aware that a 98-year old nun was turned away from the polls by a-

VON SPAKOVSKY: They all had passports-

ELLISON: Excuse me.

VON SPAKOVSKY: They had expired passports which meant that they could have gotten-

ELLISON: Mr. von Spakovsky, do you know a 98-year old nun was turned away from the polls by a sister who's in her order and who knew her, but had to turn her away because she didn't have a government-issued ID? That's okay with you?

VON SPAKOVSKY: Yes. . .


And once he was done making von Spakovsky look like a guy who won't help an old lady across the street to get to her polling place, Ellison started in on his communications with the U.S. attorneys. All that and more, after the jump.

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A story in the New York Times today reports that the U.S. is planing to buy a new fleet of F-16 jet fighters for Pakistan.

Apparently the Bush administration wants to use nearly $230 million in "counter-terrorism money." That's an awfully broad definition of counter terrorism.

Nevertheless, the report underscores how U.S. relations with Pakistan have come around 180 degrees since Sept. 11, 2001, when the U.S. still had harsh words and economic sanctions for the country that had tested a nuclear bomb in 1998. Back then we used to consider President Pervez Musharraf a military dictator who'd overthrown a democratically elected government.

It was a small team of lobbyists who helped lead Pakistan back into our good graces. We told you last week that Stephen Payne was among them. And we were reminded this week that Randy Scheunemann, Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, was also helping out a few years ago, too.

Scheunemann was head of the two-man lobbying shop called Orion Strategies back in 2002 when they signed on to lobby for International Business & Energy Development Corp., a firm run by Payne.

According to lobbying disclosure reports, Scheunemann was "monitoring" a bill providing assistance to Pakistan.

Specifically, the bill -- which ultimately passed -- said any law that "prohibits direct assistance to a country whose duly elected head of government was deposed by decree or military coup shall not apply with respect to Pakistan."

These days, Scheunemann likes to talk tough about dealing with the "situation" in Pakistan.

Between 2001 and 2003, Scheunemann's firm was paid about $80,000 for its work for International Business & Energy Development Corp, lobbying disclosure reports show.

Scheunemann stopped working for Payne on Pakistan-related issues in 2003, according to Senate lobbing disclosure reports.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, who has notoriously avoided congressional testimony, declined to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

The hearing on the EPA's refusal to provide Congress with documents relating to the health risks of global warming was scheduled for July 30, but has now been cancelled by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

"Administrator Johnson declined our invitation," said Chairman Leahy in a statement. "The letter we received from the EPA this week gave no reasons for his refusal to appear before the Committee."

This week the Senate Environment and Public Works Commitee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) heard from EPA whistleblower Jason Burnett on the White House's interference with EPA decision making.

Leahy stated that he was a referring Johnson's refusal to testify to the EPA Inspector General. "Like Karl Rove's refusal to appear before the Judiciary Committee in response to a congressional subpoena, and Josh Bolten's refusal to appear to provide documents we subpoenaed," Leahy continued in his statement. "This administration follows. . . its own imperial executive style."

Thank goodness Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers (D-MI) is holding a hearing on the "Bush Imperial Presidency" tomorrow.

From The Hill:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday announced joint appointments to a landmark ethics review board that for the first time will allow private citizens to review allegations against members.

Still, four out of six members of the board for the newly created Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will be former members of Congress, including former CIA Director Porter Goss (R-Fla.), who will serve as co-chairman.

The other board members include Rep. David Skaggs (D-Colo.), who will serve as chairman of the board, former Rep. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (D-Calif.), former Rep. Karan English (D-Ariz.), former House Chief Administrative Officer Jay Eagen and Allison Hayward, the former chief of staff to Bradley Smith, a Republican-appointed former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. ... The OCE will conduct preliminary reviews of ethics complaints and make recommendations to the full ethics committee for further investigation and action. Some watchdogs have criticized its lack of subpoena powers.

From the AP:

The Justice Department in 2002 told the CIA that its interrogators would be safe from prosecution for violations of anti-torture laws if they believed "in good faith" that harsh techniques used to break the will of prisoners, including waterboarding, would not cause "prolonged mental harm."

The newly released but heavily censored memo approved the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques method by method, but warned that if the circumstances changed, interrogators could be running afoul of anti-torture laws.

The Aug. 1, 2002 memo signed by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee was issued the same day he wrote a memo for then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales defining torture as only those "extreme acts" that cause pain similar in intensity to that caused by death or organ failure. That memo was later rescinded by the Justice Department.
Late Update: The ACLU has posted the memos here.

The Devil is in the details, as they say.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin was breathlessly celebrating in yesterday's New York Post about how much money Republican Congressional candidate William Russell has been raising this year.

Never heard of him? You're not alone. Russell is challenging Rep. John Murtha for his Pennsylvania House seat, which is considered among the safest Democratic seats in the country.

Malkin was pointing out Russell's "JAW-dropping political miracle" in campaign fundraising. Indeed, Russel has raised almost $1 million so far this election cycle, a huge pull no doubt.

But guess who helps Russell run his massive, nationwide direct-mail fundraising efforts? Our old friends over at BMW Direct.

Russell is perfect for BMW Direct, which often raises tons of cash for candidates who look good on glossy mailers but ultimately spends nearly all the money raised on expenses related to the fundraising effort itself.

Lt. Col. William Russell is a clean-cut Army veteran who served in Iraq, the Gulf War and at the Pentagon on 9/11, according to a campaign Web site.

Malkin claims there's been a "great media wall of silence around Russell's upstart campaign." OK, let's break that silence and take a close look.

In the most recent quarter Russell raised $669,534, almost all from out-of-state donors who presumably are on BMW Direct's list of self-styled conservatives with a good track record of responding to direct-mail fundraising.

At the same time, he spent $442,990, almost all of it on expenses related to the direct mail effort and paid to BMW Direct and its affiliates (some of which share the same downtown Washington office).

The only expenses that appear to be spent on an actual campaign totaled about $20,000 for Web site design, a low-budget video and a campaign consultant based in Pennsylvania rather than Washington.

He reports having $269,953 in cash on hand. But he also reports debts totaling $242,521 -- almost all for direct mail expenses to BMW Direct and its vendors.

So that leaves him only about $27,431 ahead -- not much for a guy who's raised a total of nearly $1 million this election cycle.

Meanwhile, Malkin suggests that Murtha is in trouble since he only "scraped together a measly $119,000." But Murtha isn't running a direct mail campaign with BMW Direct, so he actually has money left over to spend on things like renting a campaign office back in the 12th District.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) admitted yesterday to seeking donations to his academic center namesake with personal entreaties to foundations and corporations. This comes after several ethics violation accusations and Rangel's multiple declarations that he did nothing wrong. (Washington Post)

A former U.S. counter-narcotics official claimed Wednesday that Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is standing in the way of the fight against the country's drug trade. The former top official, Thomas Schwich, claimed that Karzai's government is corrupt and protecting drug lords for political reasons. (AP)

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles is set to probe Countrywide, IndyMac, and New Century Financial Corp. The investigation will examine whether fraud and other crimes have contributed to the current mortgage crisis. (LA Times)

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Federal prosecutors in Miami have stepped up their case against AEY Inc. and the 22-year-old arms dealer accused of selling shoddy and illegal ammo to the U.S. government to supply the Afghan Army.

Prosecutors have filed a superseding indictment, adding a stack of wire fraud charges to the initial case that led to the arrest of Efraim Diveroli and three other business associates on June 19 for violations of the Arms Control Export Act.

There's no new allegations from the previous indictment, but the U.S. attorney in Miami decided to hang wire fraud charges on each of the money transfers the firm received from the U.S. Army.

Diveroli now faces 13 counts of wire fraud, which under federal law carry a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

This all makes getting arrested for drunk driving and accused of domestic violence seem like no big deal.

There's no doubt that the federal investigation of former Rep. John Sweeney (R) and his lobbying pal from upstate New York is delving into the time Congressman Kick-Ass spent on the House Appropriations Committee.

And freshly unsealed court papers show the prosecutors have a key informant who's helping to build their case. Who that is remains unclear.

The new disclosures came after the Albany Times Union convinced a federal judge to unseal documents related to the raid conducted on Powers & Company, the lobbying firm, in June.

Investigators appear to be looking for evidence that Sweeney may have steered federal money toward Powers' clients or that Powers provided favors for Sweeney's ex-wife, Gayle Sweeney, who worked for the lobbying office when Sweeney was in the House.

The search warrant affidavits show prosecutors are digging through Sweeney-related records dating back to 2001, when he landed a coveted seat on the appropriations committee. Others from that committee have been targeted in the broader investigation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was one of Sweeney's travel buddies at the time.

And the fact the raid was orchestrated through the Department of Justice's Washington-based Public Integrity Unit rather than the local U.S. Attorney in New York gives a further clue into what the focus might be.

The DOJ didn't fight release of papers showing what the FBI agents seized. But they did urge the judge to block release of their initial request for the search warrant, which spelled out their justification for the raid -- and named their informant.

"Unsealing the affidavit would reveal the identify of a cooperating witness whose help is important to the ongoing investigation," wrote Public Integrity Unit Chief William Welch II in a letter to the Albany judge.

The federal agents in the raid seized documents and computer equipment with records dating back to January 2001. Specifically, they were looking for "communications in any form" between Powers' office and Sweeney, his Congressional office or staffers.

The warrants also sought "any thing of value paid to or received by Gayle Sweeney or John Sweeney ... (including) gifts, loans, offers of employment, contracts, billings, financial transactions, travel, tickets, souvenirs or photographs of sporting or entertainment events, or dining at restaurants."

The documents also suggest that prosecutors had previously received materials from Powers & Company and may have suspected some sort of tampering. The agents sought "the author, timing, extent and purpose of modifications of electronic data provided to the FBI on our about March 28, 2008'".

Also listed among the items seized was a letter from Sweeney to President Bush. What was that doing in Bill Powers' office?

The thorn in the FEC's side, Hans von Spakovsky, will be testifying tomorrow in front of the House Judiciary Committee on the 2004 Elections.

And who will be joining him? None other than Ohio's controversial former Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (R).

The hearing starts at 1:00 PM ET tomorrow, and we'll be here, doing what we do best. . . which is to say watching an inordinate amount of CSPAN.

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