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Aha! Consider this a lesson in the fine art of the FOIA request.

Last week, the Secret Service turned over its records of Jack Abramoff's White House visits to Judicial Watch. The records indicated a paltry two visits - an unbelievably low tally.

Everybody knew that Judicial Watch had gotten the shaft. It just wasn't clear how.

Well, here's how: the Secret Service doesn't have the records - the White House does. That's because the Secret Service transfers their more comprehensive visitor logs, called WAVES (Workers Appointments and Visitors Entry System) records, to the White House every 60 days. If Judicial Watch, or anyone else, wants to find out how often Jack Abramoff visited the White House, they'll have to FOIA (and then probably sue) the Executive Office of the President. All they'll get from the Secret Service are Access Control Records, which, as we found out last Wednesday, don't tell you very much.

This comes from court documents filed by the Secret Service yesterday. Angry at what little they received from the Secret Service, Judicial Watch has renewed their suit against the agency, but the Secret Service is arguing that they have nothing more to give. To explain why, the Secret Service agent in charge of FOIA requests explained how their record keeping works:

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ThinkProgress uncovers a presidential memorandum allowing telecommunications companies to hide transactions which involve national security. Would it allow, say, Verizon to mislead the public on whether it cooperated with the NSA?

Late Update: Just spoke with Nancy Libin, a lawyer and policy expert with the nonpartisan Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C., who downplays the importance of the memorandum. "All this would do would immunize [telcos] from a lawsuit under securities laws," she told me. "It woudn't protect them from suits under the Electronic Communiations Privacy Act," which protects the privacy of customer data.

From today's Charleston Daily Mail:

More than two dozen organizations in northcentral West Virginia with ties to Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV) reportedly have been subpoenaed, and one nonprofit has reportedly shipped 160 cartons of documents to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

This is a tiny detail, but it rubs me the wrong way.

National Security Letters -- secret demands for records and information from the FBI -- have been in the news lately. Once an obscure tool that allowed the bureau to get information on suspected spies and terrorists without court approval, the Patriot Act expanded their application so that now they are reportedly used against U.S. journalists and other law-abiding Americans.

Here's what bugs me: As ABC News and others have reported, Justice Department Assistant Attorney General William Moschella told Congress last month that 9,254 National Security Letters were issued in 2005 against 3,051 U.S. persons.

But last November, the Washington Post cited multiple anonymous "government sources" who put the number of NSLs issued by the FBI each year at 30,000.

At the time, Moschella wrote the Washington Post to complain about the piece and "disputed the article's statistics on the use of national security letters," the paper reported Nov. 30. "[B]ut he did not offer another figure."

So what's the deal? How many letters did the FBI issue? The Post was counting all NSLs, while Moschella reported only those issued against U.S. persons. Does that account for a discrepancy of more than 20,000 letters?

Last week Paul mentioned that investigators wanted to know more about joint vacations taken by former CIA official "Dusty" Foggo and alleged Duke Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes. The two men had a curious habit of spiriting off to distant places, with Wilkes apparently paying the big bills and Foggo paying the small ones.

Where did they go? The Hawaiian estate once owned by haircare magnate Paul Mitchell is among the exotic vacation locales visited by the two men, the San Diego Union Tribune reports. ABC News provides a link to a web site for the seven-bedroom waterfront villa.

Late Update: An earlier version credited ABC News with breaking this tidbit. In fact, news of the two men's stay at the Mitchell estate was first broken by the San Diego paper on May 13.

I love it when scandals converge.

As reported in today's Washington Post, the New Hampshire Republican State Committee has been so financially drained by legal bills piling up from defending its phone jamming that they have only a total of $733.60 in their state and federal accounts. What to do?

Call Karl Rove. On June 12th, Rove will be the "special guest" at the NHRSC's annual dinner. For those in the area, it'll cost you $100 a head to get into the Radisson to hear the possibly-then-indicted-Rove. But if you want to get an especially good look, you'll have to pay $250.

Proceeds will go to a worthy cause: Devine Millimet & Branch, the law firm defending the NHRSC against the Democrats' ongoing lawsuit. The bill is $85,535 and climbing.

As a scandal's details become known, it develops its own flavor. In today's New York Times, we get our first real taste of the Mollohan scandal, and it's clear this one will carry the heartiness of the West Virginia mountains from which Mollohan hails.

The paper reports today that the feds are curious about a mess of condominiums Mollohan purchased with his "cousin." Having roots in West Virginia, I can tell you that "cousin" there is used as an inclusive, not an exclusive, term. It's thrown around to mean just about anyone you're in any way related to who isn't your parent, grandparent, great-grandparent or your child.

Indeed, Mollohan and his investment-partner "cousin" Joe Jarvis aren't immediate cousins. In a case like theirs, it's a favorite West Virginia game to sit around and figure out exactly how two such characters share blood -- as the New York Times dutifully engages:

Mr. Jarvis, 74, and Mr. Mollohan, 63, share a great-great grandfather, and Mr. Jarvis's son, Skeeter, said his grandmother Mildred and Mr. Mollohan's Aunt Tib were best friends who lived next door.


Oh, this is going to be a fun one. West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home.

Miffed (and Fearful), Lobbyists Withhold Campaign Donations

Criminal probes, convictions, and halfhearted "reformist" posturing by members is having a chilling effect on the Washington status quo, Roll Call reports. Take, for example, the change of heart by former Rep. Mike Flanagan, now the head of his own lobby shop, Flanagan Consulting:

[Flanagan] said he's less likely to attend fundraisers now.

"You can't just call me bad names night and day and expect me to show up," he explained. "I'm also afraid. I don't need to be punished for my efforts to help good Members stay in office ... because the Congress is beginning to view activities like that in a bad light. We don't want to be viewed in a bad light."

Flanagan added that his firm has backed off from hosting events. Typically, he said, Flanagan Consulting would host about one fundraiser a month. "Now," he said, "we will only do a couple a year, and those are for personal friends of mine."
(Roll Call)

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Oh, come on, John.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) has been paying for babysitters out of his campaign till, the Washington Post tells us today. He's dropped nearly $6,000 since 2001 for childcare. A guy pulling down $165,000 a year, and a wife who funnels off another $100K from his campaign contributions, is sticking his supporters with his babysitting bill.

Can't wait to see who pays for college. . . (via Dump Doolittle)

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