TPM News

Lately, there's been rampant speculation that Bush administration officials might face prosecution under Obama for ordering or approving torture. But it looks like Alberto Gonzales isn't sweating it.

In an interview with NPR, written up by the Chicago Tribune, Gonzo was asked about the issue. His response:

I don't think that there's going to be a prosecution, quite frankly. Because again, these activities.... They were authorized, they were supported by legal opinions at the Department of Justice.

In his confirmation hearings to be Attorney General, Eric Holder declared flatly that "water-boarding is torture," a determination that could leave key Bush officials, not least Gonzales, facing legal jeopardy -- though President Obama has expressed a desire to "look forward as opposed to looking backwards."

A special prosecutor ha also been appointed to look into whether DOJ officials committed crimes in connection with the US Attorney firings of 2006. And there have been some signs that the probe is circling Gonzo.

Norm Coleman's attorney Joe Friedberg just finished his opening statements in the election-contest trial, and he said his case hinges almost entirely on one issue: Another review of rejected absentee ballots that will get another 4,500-5,000 votes into the pool.

Friedberg said that some ballots were rejected in one area of the state, while ballots with similar minor perceived errors were accepted elsewhere -- a violation of equal protection. As such, he wants the judges to review these ballots again, after local officials have looked at them a few times before, and level the playing field by approving ballot envelopes if one like it was already accepted.

And again, Friedberg insisted that the campaign is not cherry-picking the ballots -- though he seemed to concede that the campaigns have had experts hard at work on that question.

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One of the issues we'll be following in the new administration is the EFCA or, as it's more commonly known, "card check." The bill would make it much easier for unions to organize and already its defeat is the rallying cry for business groups inside the Beltway who agree on little else. I argue in favor of the bill in the latest issue of Condé Nast Portfolio and so does T.A. Frank in The Washington Monthly (although with less enthusiasm) where I'm an alumnus and contributing editor. I'm not willing to give unions a free ride on their many mistakes or excesses over the years but on balance I think the playing field has been tilted against union organizing and EFCA would help arrest the decline in union membership.

Thus far, EFCA opponents have won the battle for elite opinion. The Washington Post has weighed in against the measure as has George McGovern who is surely a bygone figure but whose condemnation of the bill has been used by the right to great effect as proof that the measure is way outside the mainstream. In fact, if you talk to labor advocates, they'll concede that anti-EFCA ads like this one and these ones have been very effective, at least with the chattering classes, in portraying to the bill as anti-democratic. In fact, if anyone has been more guilty of intimidation over the years its been the corporations trying to crush union organizing.

"They've done a good job," says one labor ally characterizing the business opposition. As for the larger public, there's some debate over whether the public is pro or anti-EFCA.

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As rational individuals everywhere cheer today's White House move to expedite California's auto emissions standards, there comes another encouraging sign from inside the Environmental Protection Agency.

As reported late Friday night by Carbon Control News, a subscription-only website that reports on D.C. climate change issues:

Georgetown Law Professor Lisa Heinzerling, the lead author of plaintiffs' briefs in the landmark Supreme Court case that found EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, has taken a job with EPA to advise incoming Administrator Lisa Jackson on how to address climate change, according to a knowledgeable source. ...

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One thing is clear going into today's election trial in Minnesota: The Franken and Coleman camps really don't like each other.

Yesterday, the Coleman team posted a YouTube promoting their new push to have the rejected absentee ballots reviewed yet another time -- their current goal is to have 4,500-5,000 more added into the count, which they insist are not cherry-picked -- and declaring Coleman is the champion of counting every vote, against Al Franken's disregard for the people's will.

On a conference call with reporters just now, lead Franken attorney Marc Elias ripped the Coleman team for saying they want to count every vote, after spending most of this recount litigating to stop absentee-vote reviews, and still basing their election lawsuit largely upon throwing out votes for Al Franken. Said Elias: "So don't believe them when they say they want every vote counted, because that isn't what most of their case is about, and it's not what this case is gonna boil down to."

As an extra sign of his contempt for the Coleman team, Elias referred to them as "charter members of the flat-earth club" for questioning the legitimacy of Franken votes during the recount. At today's trial, the tone isn't likely to improve more than the minimum necessary for the courtroom.

The Coleman vid is available after the jump.

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John Thain is fighting back.

The former Merrill Lynch CEO was ousted last week as a Bank of America exec after Merrill posted massive losses in the last quarter before its takeover by B of A. In December, Thain had approved billions of dollars in bonuses before the takeover went into effect. He also spent $1.2 million redecorating his office suite last year. (We catalogued our Top Ten Thain Moments here.)

Now CNBC has obtained a memo written by Thain to his former colleagues in which he defends his record, and offers to reimburse B of A for the redecorating spree.

Thain says that Merrill's 2008 bonuses totaled only 41 percent of 2007's, and that Bank of America was involved in the decision.

As for the fourth quarter losses, Thain calls them "very large and unfortunate" but adds that they "were incurred almost entirely on legacy positions and were due to market movements." In other words, not his fault.

That appears to run counter to the New York Times report that a substantial part of those losses came from Merrill's disastrous decision to continue buying mortgage assets into the fall, in the belief that the market had bottomed out.

Thain also says B of A knew about the losses as soon as Merrill did:

We were completely transparent with Bank of America. They learned about these losses when we did. The acting CFO of my businesses was Bank of America's former Chief Accounting Officer. They had daily access to our p&l, our positions and our marks. Our year end balance sheet target (which we more than met) was given to us by Bank of America's CFO.

Thain refers to "several topics that have been inaccurately reported in the press" but doesn't specify what the inaccuracies were.

CNBC is also reporting that in an exclusive interview, set to air at 4:15 today, Thain argued that the bonuses were necessary to retain top staffers.

The full memo follows after the jump...

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We've been talking about this for a while now, but mass transit is getting woefully little attention in the economic recovery proposals released so far by Democrats.

The House's stimulus bill, which is slated for a final vote on Wednesday, included only $10 billion for rail and other public transportation projects, compared with $30 billion for roads. (According to House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the decision was made to leave enough room for tax cuts.)

But what about the Senate, where the second- and third-ranked leaders are blue-state mass-transit boosters Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY)? As it turns out, the upper chamber of Congress is doing even worse.

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