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Last week, prosecutors in the trial of Tony Rezko revealed that a government witness would testify that Rezko had said he was plotting to get U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald canned. His buddy and Republican bigwig Robert Kjellander was in talks with Karl Rove, the story goes.
Both Rove and Kjellander denied ever speaking of canning Fitzgerald, and the plot did seem to fall somewhat short. The alleged plotting happened back in 2004, right when Fitzgerald was in the thick of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. As I said last week, it would have been an unbelievably bold move even for Rove. Nevertheless, it does appear that Kjellander would have been looking for any opening to get rid of Fitzgerald.
Today the Rezko trial brought another aspect of the somewhat hapless plot:
Tony Rezko associate Elie Maloof just testified that when he received a grand jury subpoena, Rezko told him not to talk to the feds. Why?
"The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor," Maloof just testified that Rezko told him. What did Rezko mean, prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked.
"That Patrick Fitzgerald would be terminated and Dennis Hastert will name his replacement. The investigation will be over."
Maloof said Rezko told him of Fitzgerald's replacement: "That they will order the prosecutor to stop the investigation."
Unfortunately for Rezko, four years later Fitzgerald is still plugging away.
Last week, Robert Coughlin, the former chief of the criminal division at the Justice Department pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges. Filings by prosecutors showed that Coughlin served as an inside man for Jack Abramoff's associate Kevin Ring.
As part of his plea deal, Coughlin has agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors in the continuing investigation. But it wasn't clear from his plea whom Coughlin might be able to finger. Legal Timesreports that prosecutors are looking elsewhere in the Justice Department:
A source familiar with the Abramoff probe says the Justice Department is continuing to investigate other former Justice officials. Coughlin and at least two other unnamed Justice officials helped secure a $16.3 million grant for Ring's client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, court documents say. A deputy assistant attorney general had previously approved $9 million for the tribe. One unanswered question is which official at the department overruled that decision, giving the tribe the full amount.
It looks like the Pentagon is just in a lesson-learning mood lately. While they're busily reviewing whether the carefully-orchestrated use of military analysts was improper, the Army is reviewing whether it should have known better than to award a $300 million contract to supply arms to the Afghan security forces to a company run by a 22 year-old.
As The New York Timesreports, the key lesson seems to be that if a contractor's price seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
The Defense Department has temporarily stopped feeding information to retired military officers pending a review of the issue, said Robert Hastings, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs....
Hastings said he is concerned about allegations that the Defense Department's relationship with the retired military analysts was improper.
"Following the allegations, the story that is printed in the New York Times, I directed my staff to halt, to suspend the activities that may be ongoing with retired military analysts to give me time to review the situation," Hastings said in an interview with Stripes on Friday.
Hastings said he did not discuss the matter with Defense Secretary Robert Gates prior to making his decision. He could not say Friday how long this review might take.
Family members of Iraqis murdered by workers of defense contractor Blackwater have sued the company for wrongful death. Now lawyers for the Iraqis are claiming that Blackwater has shredded documents vital to federal investigations of the company. There is no word yet on an investigation by the Justice Department into the matter. (USA Today)
Defense lawyers of clients living overseas, but barred from the U.S. due to accusations of supporting terrorism, assume that the U.S. government is monitoring their e-mail or phone correspondence with the clients. These assumptions are causing lawyers rigorous travel and expense to meet with exiled clients. (New York Times)
After backing legislation last year calling for campaigns to pay charter rates on flights in an effort to level influence of lobbyists, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been found to have used his wife's corporate-owned jet last summer at about one-third the cost when his own campaign was strapped for cash. The Federal Election Commission tried to close the loophole McCain used to justify his actions, but the agency has been in turmoil since losing the required number of commissioners to enact such rules. (New York Times)
The Supreme Court has ruled that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights. The decision validates Republican-inspired voter ID laws.
The court vote 6-3 to uphold Indiana's strict photo ID requirement. Democrats and civil rights groups say the law would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots.
As those who have followed this issue will remember, this is not a surprise. As Jeffrey Toobin put it early this year:
As a general matter, in recent years the Court has been reluctant to find what is charged in this case: a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. (The notable exception, to belabor the issue, was for a plaintiff named George W. Bush.) In the end, though, it will not be the judiciary that rescues democracy; whatever the obstacles, the problems with the ballot box must be solved at the ballot box.
The law "is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting 'the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'" Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy.
Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented....
"We cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters," Stevens said.
Stevens' opinion suggests that the outcome could be different in a state where voters could provide evidence that their rights had been impaired.
But in dissent, Souter said Indiana's voter ID law "threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting rights of tens of thousands of the state's citizens."
Update: Here are excerpts from the opinions from the AP.
Update: Some thoughts on the decision by voting law expert Rick Hasen.
Update: And here's Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) response:
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It's the same lesson from the administration over and over again: with torture, all things are relative.
Back in January, for instance, Attorney General Michael Mukasey patiently explained to Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) how relative that whole conscience shocking thing is. You have to "balance the value of doing something against the cost of doing it."
And this weekend, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) produced correspondence with the Justice Department showing a similar dance. From The New York Times:
The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law....
While the Geneva Conventions prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity," a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments.
"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public....
In one letter written Sept. 27, 2007, Mr. Benczkowski argued that "to rise to the level of an outrage" and thus be prohibited under the Geneva Conventions, conduct "must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that should be universally condemned."
It's become cystal clear from Mukasey's testimony to Congress that despite the Supreme Court decisions and efforts by Congress to prohibit the use of torture, there is still plenty of ambiguity. The president's executive order last year explicitly ruled out the worst of the worst techniques, like murdering, raping or sexually humiliating detainees, but was silent on what is allowed.
And the administration has been successful in keeping things ambiguous for CIA interrogators. When Democrats tried to limit the CIA to using techniques approved by the Army Field Manual, legislation that would have specifically and unambiguously ruled out those "enhanced interrogation" techniques that fall in the gray area, key Republicans like John McCain helped keep things hazy.
You often hear about the gloves coming off in politics, but this spring, in the heavily Republican 5th district of Pennsylvania, two GOP Congressional candidates set the standard.
Five days before the race, Derek Walker, a 32-year old financial planner and Eagle Scout, was charged with two felonies (burglary and criminal trespass) and four misdemeanors (including disorderly conduct and stalking), all stemming from an incident on August 25, 2007. According to the police complaint, Walker entered his ex-girlfriend's apartment while she was with another man, took a cell phone video of the two of them and remarked: ''This video is going to put an end to your job with the school district.' The ex, Kathleen Ferry, is a 6th grade math teacher.
Walker denied all charges, though admitted to The Progress News "that he had been at the apartment because he wanted to 'smooth things over' with the woman. He admitted to seeing his ex-girlfriend on the sofa with the man and commented, 'The school district will be disappointed in this.'"
A simple misunderstanding? Walker claimed the charge was completely political, and vowed to stay in the race, saying that it was "politics at its worst." Walker's campaign manager added "The alleged incident occurred over 250 days ago. It's very convenient that the DA, who's a Democrat, decided to conclude his investigation five days before the primary."
The next day, Walker published a letter on his website from Kathleen Ferry denouncing the "blatantly false rumors" and offering her endorsement and good luck. Was Walker the victim of a smear? The real culprit, in Walker's mind, was Matt Shaner, 28 year-old businessman, alleged drunk driver, and Walker's main competition.
The week before District Attorney William Shaw brought the charges, Walker ran a negative ad against Shaner, implying that due to a drunk driving incident, he was "unfit to serve in Congress":
Walker was sure that Shaner was behind Shaw's prosecution. Both men denied the accusation.
Shaw said, "this office is not being used in some political gamemanship.... It [the investigation] started well before anybody was running for office." He added that he "couldn't pick Matt Shaner out of a lineup."
And on Shaner's end? His campaign had gone to all the trouble of crafting an ad based on Walker's alleged break-in, but the charges had saved him the expense of airing it:
The Shaner campaign early Thursday morning said it planned to air a TV commercial about Walker and the August incident later that day. When the charges were filed, however, the campaign pulled the ad, citing a change in strategy and a desire to run a positive campaign.
Walker ran another ad, publicly accusing Shaner of "conspiring behind closed doors to fix the election," but to no avail:
Although in the weeks leading up to the primary, the two young, aggressive campaigners had been the front runners, Shaner and Walker effectively disabled the other and each walked away with just 18% of the popular vote, and were respectively $1.2 mil and $265,000 shorter. Glenn Thompson, the Centre County Republican chairman, walked away with the win with 19% of the vote.
You know that Bob Schaffer thinks he's getting a bum rap. The Colorado Republican Senate candidate says he's never met Jack Abramoff, but more than anything, he says his comments that launched the controversy were taken out of context.
Speaking to a talk radio host earlier this week, Schaffer said that he hadn't said that "I endorse everything that goes on in the [Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands]" -- meaning forced abortions, and other human rights abuses. He'd meant "a very narrow aspect of the CNMI's, of the commonwealth's, immigration process, and that was a pre-process of qualifying foreign labor in their home country before they're given entry visas to set foot on American soil."
And that's true, sort of. In his original comments to The Denver Post, Schaffer had been asked about guest-worker programs. And as a successful model for the U.S., he'd pointed to the Marianas, saying "prequalifying foreign workers in their home country under private- sector management" works "very well" there.
It was a comment that mirrored those of ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Jack Abramoff's staunchest ally in Congress, ten years before. From The Houston Chronicle in 1998:
Rather than impose more regulation on the [Marianas], DeLay said, the United States ought to adopt the islands' business and labor practices by creating a guestworker program of its own 'where particular companies can bring Mexican workers in' to fill jobs that Americans won't take. DeLay said the workers could be paid at 'whatever wage the market will bear.'
DeLay had just returned from a tour of the Marianas, where he'd rung in the New Year. Abramoff, of course, had organized the trip, and his clients, the Marianas government and garment manufacturers there, had paid for it. In an interview with the Chronicle, "Delay said he saw nothing wrong with accepting the trip, and said Abramoff, who went on the trip as well, was just 'doing his job (as a lobbyist).'" DeLay remains under federal investigation for his ties to Abramoff.
Beyond the free trips, the Marianas' reliance on private sector management had a clear philosophical appeal to conservatives which Abramoff was keen to exploit. But doing so meant ignoring a host of evidence and findings that the Marianas' guest worker system was at the heart of the abuses there.
A report by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1997, for instance, did not find that the system was working "very well" there.
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While House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) presides over negotiations on the new surveillance bill, House Republicans have continued to push the Senate's version, which contains retroactive immunity for the telecoms, every which way they can.
Earlier this week, they tried to convince moderate Dems that it really was in their best interest (sub. req.):
"This is an opportunity for the 21 Blue Dog Democrats who signed a letter supporting the bipartisan, Senate-passed FISA bill to prove that they are serious about America's national security," said Michael Steel, House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-Ohio) spokesman. "Will they choose to protect their constituents or will they back the Democratic leadership in kowtowing to trial lawyers and liberal special interests?"
Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) (yes, that Jerry Lewis) will try to tack on the Senate's bill to the war supplemental spending bill. As The Politiconotes, the Dems on the appropriations committee will likely vote that down, but "at the very least, he would put members of the majority on the record rejecting the Senate bill, something Republicans have done repeatedly."
So far the moderate Dems have held strong to the Dem leadership's position that retroactive immunity is off the table. Hoyer has said that he hopes that negotiations will result in a new bill by late May. Regardless, the next showdown is likely to take place before August, when the wiretaps authorized under the Protect America Act will actually begin to lapse. So we'll see what happens then.