TPM News

The Minnesota election trial is continuing today, after the Franken campaign spent the morning laying out their claim that Norm Coleman's legal arguments at this point cannot be taken at face value.

Specifically, Franken attorney David Lillehaug reviewed rejected absentee ballots that were vetoed by the Coleman campaign, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees. The presentation made an interesting display of the Coleman camp's reasons for rejecting ballots then -- and though Lillehaug didn't directly say it just yet, it provides a contrast to Coleman's positions now:

• A ballot was rejected because the witness failed to fill in their address. This past Monday, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg was arguing that a lighter standard should be used to include ballots such as these.

• A ballot was affirmed by the Coleman camp as being properly rejected because the voter failed to sign their absentee application, but were given the ballot anyway. Yesterday, Friedberg was saying this sort of state negligence wasn't a specific legal reason to throw out a vote.

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At this very moment, President Obama is preparing to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. It's an admirable bill that remedies a regrettable 2007 Supreme Court ruling which had constrained the time limit for women to file pay-discrimination claims against their employers.

Media coverage of today's White House ceremony depicts the Ledbetter signing as a major victory for gender pay equity. But a much broader bill addressing pay discrimination -- the Paycheck Fairness Act -- faces a mysteriously uncertain future in the Senate, where it has yet to receive a floor vote despite approval in the House last year and again this year.

What's the holdup? And will the (well-deserved) hoopla over the Ledbetter victory obscure the facts behind the inaction on Paycheck Fairness?

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You may not have known this, but before former Team Abramoff lobbyist Todd Boulanger got indicted for bribing government aides, he was something of a fashion icon -- at least for the staid city he lived in.

In October 2006, he appeared in Washingtonian magazine's "Men with Style" package. Some gems:

How would you describe your style? Savile Row meets Thrasher magazine.

Favorite labels? Duncan Quinn, Paul Smith, Theory, John Varvatos, and Ralph Lauren. But nothing beats a custom suit.

Biggest splurge? It probably wasn't for me--I work to support my wife's Christian Louboutin addiction.


There are a lot of places we could go here, snark-wise. Better to leave it, maybe.

Still, given Boulanger's apparent love of fine fashion, we couldn't help noticing the fact that, during his once-thriving career as a Republican talking-head on cable TV, he once opined: "Barack Obama is a total diva."

It's in this Daily Show segment (Boulanger appears at the 3:15 mark), which fingers Boulanger as one of the many no-name political pundits who appear above fancy-sounding but meaningless titles like "GOP strategist."

JP Morgan acknowledged that it withdrew its own investments from two hedge funds that invested with Bernard Madoff just months before the massive fraud came to light. Investors are angry over the disclosure and want to know why JP Morgan, which says it withdrew over transparency concerns, protected its money but not that of investors whom it had steered towards the funds. (New York Times)

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. government may continue to hold a 29-year-old Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Judge Richard Leon supported the government's case despite the fact that most of it was based on statements the detainee made to interrogators over the years; the legitimacy of statements made by detainees during interrogations has been questioned by judges and legal personnel involved in cases, including Leon himself. While the defense argued that the man was only a cook for the Taliban, Leon said that, in the words of Napoleon, "an army marches on its stomach." Leon had previously ruled in favor of the release of Gitmo detainees. (Washington Post)

According to documents obtained by the Washington Post, the Interior Department ignored scientific findings when deciding to limit water flows in the Grand Canyon in order to optimize generation of electric power. A memo written by the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park suggests that the department produced a flawed environmental assessment in order to defend itself in a lawsuit from an environmental group. The reduced flow of water was harmful for endangered fish species and risked eroding the canyon's beaches. (Washington Post)

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At last, the bell has tolled for Todd Boulanger.

In November, he quit his job as a lobbyist at Cassidy and Associates, amid the growing likelihood that he'd be charged in Jack Abramoff's corruption scheme.

And now he has been.

The Associated Press reports:

The government says Todd Boulanger gave government aides "a stream of things of value," including all-expense-paid travel, tickets to professional sports and concerts and nights out at expensive restaurants, to reward and influence actions that would benefit his clients. He was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.


One of those aides, it appears, was Trevor Blackann, a former staffer for Missouri Republicans Roy Blunt and Kit Bond, who pleaded guilty last fall to having accepted an all-expenses paid trip to the 2003 World Series -- including limousine service and a visit to a strip club -- arranged by Boulanger and another member of Team Abramoff, James Hirni.

But the Associated Press has identified another of the aides who accepted gifts from Boulanger: Ann Copland, a former staffer for Sen. Thad Cochran, the Mississippi Republican.

According to the documents, in 2002 Kevin Ring, another Abramoff crony who was charged last September, forwarded to Abramoff and Hirni an email from "Staffer E" (identified by AP as Copland), above which Ring wrote: "Wow ... We already told her she was fine on McCartney, ice skating and Green Day -- although we need to let her know how many tix she can have for each. Also, please review the other requests and let me know what we can do there."

Copland was hired by Mississippi Public Broadcasting in May 2008 as deputy executive director for education.

Before working with Abramoff, Boulanager was an aide to former Republican senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire.

It looks like Boulanger will plead guilty. The AP notes:
The charge was outlined in a federal court document known as an information -- a document normally filed as part of a plea deal.


So it's possible we could we see yet more charges filed in this long-running saga...

Late Update: Boulanger says he is cooperating with the investigation. His lawyer sent the following statement to AP:
Mr. Boulanger regrets this situation and is accepting responsibility for certain past conduct.

The circumstances underlying this situation arose more than five years ago, when Todd was employed by the law firm of Greenberg Traurig as a young lobbyist working under Jack Abramoff. Mr. Boulanger is cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and looks forward to its complete and swift resolution.

Today: Blago Speaking To Illinois Senate Rod Blagojevich will be speaking to the Illinois state Senate, the body that is poised to remove him from office in his impeachment trial, delivering a closing argument in his own defense at 12 p.m. ET. This should be very interesting to watch.

Obama's Day Ahead -- Signing Ledbetter Bill President Obama will be signing the Lily Ledbetter Bill, a law to make it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, at 10 a.m. ET. He will also be holding a series of closed meetings throughout the day with his economic advisers, Hillary Clinton and others. There will also be a pooled press meeting with Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.

Biden Meets With Daschle Vice President Biden is meeting for breakfast this morning with Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle. He will then join with President Obama for the meetings and events listed above.

NYT: Stimulus Varies In Speed, Efficiency The New York Times takes a look at the stimulus plan as it currently stands in the House-passed package, finding that its various components vary in terms of just how quickly they will spread through the economy. The quickest portions will be in unemployment benefits, food-stamp increase and tax cuts, while infrastructure spending would take a while to get going.

Minnesota Senate Trial Continues This is the fourth day of the Minnesota election trial, scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. ET. Al Franken's legal team will continue their cross-examination of Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who was originally called by the Coleman campaign to examine the fallibility in the system -- and which the Franken camp has rebutted by pointing out that Coleman's team fought against the fallibility case right up until he fell behind.

Senate Expected To Pass Children's Health Care Bill The Senate today will likely pass a bill expanding the SCHIP program, extending health insurance to 11 million children who are currently not eligible. The bill passed in the last Congress, but was vetoed by President George W. Bush.

Mitchell Speaks To Palestinian Leaders In West Bank Middle East Envoy George Mitchell travelled to the West Bank today to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in an effort by the Obama Administration to restart the Middle East peace process. He did not meet with Hamas.

Obama To Make First Foreign Trip To Canada President Obama will be making his first trip outside the United States as president next month, the White House has announced. Obama will be visiting Canada, the United States' largest trading partner, on February 19.

The Coleman campaign has launched the latest P.R. front in their effort to have the rejected absentee ballots reconsidered, with some interesting potential ethical ramifications.

The Coleman camp's Web site has now published in an easily accessible form the names and home counties of every individual who delivered an absentee ballot and who has not yet been counted. In Hennepin County (Minneapolis), which has its municipalities run elections instead of the county, we are also shown the home towns of the people involved.

"Check below to see if you are one of the thousands of Minnesotans the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise," the page says. "And please contact us at info@colemanforsenate.com to express your support for our effort to have your vote counted."

It gets better. By including every last rejected ballot, regardless of backstory or merit, they are including ballots they themselves earlier objected to counting, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees -- and they're now saying it's the Franken campaign who is disenfranchising these people.

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Guess that dinner at the White House didn't go so well ... the $825 billion stimulus bill just passed the House of Representatives with zero Republicans voting in favor. Eleven Democrats -- 10 centrist Blue Dogs and the unconvinced Rep. Paul Kanjorski (PA) -- joined the GOP in opposing the package.

Brad Woodhouse, president of the Dem-allied group Americans United for Change, described the GOP's stalwart opposition in two words: "political suicide," the subject of his e-mailed statement on the stimulus vote.

But maybe this was the Republicans' plan all along. Now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his troops can start the next act in the show and ask for just a few more concessions in order to give the stimulus its bipartisan stripes.

Either way, with GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) signaling her support, its passage in the Senate by next week is looking assured.

Norm Coleman briefly spoke to reporters outside his election trial after it ended for the day, and he stressed the importance of the drawn-out proceedings we've seen -- with a handy pop-culture reference.

"What you're observing out there may not seem as exciting as what you see on Law & Order," said Coleman. "But the principles that we're fighting for, that I fully believe are being established today, are more important than anything you'll see on Law & Order."

Later on he said that the trial is "not as exciting as Law & Order, though I'd take [Coleman attorney] Joe Friedberg over Fred Thompson, at least in the courtroom."

Fred Thompson must be feeling pretty put down right now. First Norm endorsed Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination, and now this.

(Press conference viewed at The Uptake.)

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