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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Okay, now for the trivial but funny.

The standard line, true or not, is that grand juries are such pushovers that a good DA can get an indictment against a ham sandwich.

But a TPM reader (SL) points out that in his comments in defense of Tom DeLay to the Anniston Star on Thursday, Rep. Mike Rogers seems to be arguing that the problem is actually rogue ham sandwiches securing indictments against well-meaning politicians like Rep. DeLay.

As we noted earlier, but without apprehending their full comedic value, Rogers told the Star, "I’m an attorney, and any attorney knows you can get an indictment with a ham sandwich. We’re trying to raise the standard, to make it so that you don’t allow what is purely a political indictment to make someone step aside from a leadership role."

Does Ronnie Earle have a ham sandwich with Tom DeLay's name on it?

I'm a little confused about the <$Ad$>current explanation of the origins of the Legislative Provision Formerly Known as Istook (LPFKI).

Sen. Frist originally said it was inserted by Rep. Istook. The Times reported yesterday that Istook "was responsible for the insertion of the tax provision in the 3,000-page, $388 billion legislation."

And in his statement yesterday Istook appeared to concede this, while asserting that the actual language was drafted by personnel from the IRS.

Today, however, Rep. Istook seems to be saying that he had no involvement in the matter whatsoever. From his statement this morning ...

"I want to reiterate what I said on Sunday, namely that this was not my language. I then spent most of the day tracking down what happened.

"I had nothing to do with inserting this language. I never knew what was happening until it was done. Had I known, I would have intervened to omit or to fix this provision.

"I didn't write it; I didn't approve it; I wasn't even consulted. My name shouldn't be associated with it, because I had nothing to do with it, and didn't even know about it until after the bill was done and was filed."


Now, I'm not trying to be nettlesome or willfully dense. But even if we take as granted the basic outlines of the current account (namely, that Appropriations committee staffers wanted some language empowering oversight and folks at IRS wrote it too broadly), something seems missing.

Somone on the committee wanted more oversight power or wanted that power more clearly defined in legislation and asked the IRS for the appropriate language. Was that not Istook or one of his staffers?

In his statement Istook seems to suggest [but murkily] that "appropriations [committee] staff" had the language put in and that he, as chairman of the relevant subcommittee was "bypassed."

If he and his staff had nothing to do with it, who did exactly? And what did they tell the folks at the IRS that they wanted? Because clearly the language is specifically written to allow inspection of tax returns without reference to existing privacy laws.

Is the LPFKI really not tied to Rep. Istook in any way?

And isn't it about time someone talked to whomever at the IRS provided the language?

Absolutely, positively, totally completely nuthin' to do with me<$NoAd$>.

Rep. Istook takes another bite at the apple in a statement released this morning ...

Further Statement by Istook Regarding Mistaken Claims About Provision in Omnibus Spending Bill

Washington, DC - Congressman Ernest Istook (R-OK), chairman of the Transportation and Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee made the following statements Monday morning in reaction to mistaken claims that he included a controversial provision regarding the IRS in the omnibus spending bill.

"I want to reiterate what I said on Sunday, namely that this was not my language. I then spent most of the day tracking down what happened.

"I had nothing to do with inserting this language. I never knew what was happening until it was done. Had I known, I would have intervened to omit or to fix this provision.

"I didn't write it; I didn't approve it; I wasn't even consulted. My name shouldn't be associated with it, because I had nothing to do with it, and didn't even know about it until after the bill was done and was filed."

"We have a problem with how bills like this are put together. On occasions, appropriations staff will take the initiative to insert language they believe will be non-controversial. They do this with the approval of full committee staff, but without the knowledge or approval of subcommittee chairman like me. That is what happened in this case.

"We have a chain of command problem over whether the subcommittee staff are ultimately accountable to the full committee staff-who represent the full committee chairman-or to the subcommittee chairman. The subcommittee chairman should never be bypassed like I was in this case. I will work to fix this as part of the reorganization of the appropriations committee that will take place during the next several weeks.

"I'm satisfied that nobody intended to breach or to weaken the privacy laws that protect people's tax returns. But good intentions are no guarantee of good results."

"Our committee has responsibility for the IRS budget. That includes its personnel, facilities and equipment. This language wasn't sufficiently reviewed because it was drafted by the IRS, so our staff presumed that it was okay. The IRS drafted this language at staff request, in an effort to make it clear that our oversight duties include visiting and inspecting the huge IRS processing centers-but NOT inspecting tax returns. That was also made clear on the House floor when the omnibus bill was brought up.

"Nobody's privacy was ever jeopardized. Honest mistakes were made, but there's no conspiracy."


So just an honest attempt to protect tax payer privacy gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Late Update: The text of the statement is now posted on Rep. Istook's website.

Alabama's Mike Rogers, a DeLay Rule man, tells the local paper, the Anniston Star, that the DeLay Rule was an effort to "raise the standard."

"You have to look at protecting the institution,” Rep. Rogers told the paper on Thursday. "I’m an attorney, and any attorney knows you can get an indictment with a ham sandwich. We’re trying to raise the standard, to make it so that you don’t allow what is purely a political indictment to make someone step aside from a leadership role."

Protecting the institution.

Meanwhile, we now have Indiana Rep. Mark Souder down as a confirmed DeLay Rule man.

No DeLay indictment after all?

CBS's David Paul Kuhn quotes "an official involved in the investigation" as saying he thinks a DeLay indictment is unlikely and that DeLay's lawyers already know that.

Material further down in the article suggests that while DeLay was "kept aware" of illegal activities being committed on his behalf that the investigators have not been able to uncover evidence that DeLay "acted to promote" the illegal activity and they haven't been able to uncover sufficient evidence of that.

This does raise an interesting question. DeLay may be a crook, but he's no fool. If he and his lawyers had any confidence he wasn't going to be indicted I find it hard to believe they would have gone to the trouble of such a self-inflicted black-eye as the DeLay Rule predictably turned out to be.

I confess I'd been skeptical. But it seems now that Congress may actually have perfected the self-writing conference committee provision. (I'm told the CIA had been testing the technology for some time; but go-getters at the Pentagon decided to press it in to actual service.) According to CNN, Rep. Istook's deputy chief of staff Micah Leydorf says that neither he nor Istook had even seen the provision. Rather, it was added at the full committee level.

That would be somewhat in contrast to Sen. Frist's statement that Rep. Istook had the language inserted in the bill as well as what at least seemed like Rep. Istook's admission that he had had the language inserted.

Meanwhile, Rep. Istook wants all you privacy girlie-men to calm down about the whole thing: "It may get the media's attention when someone makes a wild claim, but it's time for everyone to calm down. There's no conspiracy here."

Reconciling ourselves to reconciliation <$NoAd$>(from a series last month in the Boston Globe) ...

Congressional conference committees, charged with reconciling differences between House- and Senate-passed versions of the same legislation, have become dramatically more powerful in shaping bills. The panels, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.

...

Lawmakers say they are still finding items in the Medicare package that passed last winter that they find objectionable, such as the financial penalty on seniors who wait to sign up for the Medicare prescription drug plan.

"There was no way that every member of Congress could hold up their right hand and say, `I read every page of that bill before the vote,' " said Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, noting that members had just one day to examine the 400-plus-page bill before voting on a law that would change health-care allotments across the country.


This whole article, by the Globe's Susan Milligan, and the whole series, are really worth reading.

Sometimes it only makes sense to focus our attention on those questions that are equal parts trivial and intriguing. And to that end I call your attention to the Campaign for America's Future (CAF) website and their list of political giving by Tom DeLay's leadership PAC, ARMPAC. (For some reason, whenever I write that name, I can't help but thinking 'armpit'. But perhaps that's my bias speaking.) The list is quite helpful in understanding the vote on the DeLay Rule, particularly up at the higher reaches where we find Rep. Mike Ferguson (#1) pulling down over $42,000 or Minnesota's John Kline (#10) raking in over $30,000.

But hop over to the list and scroll all the way down and you'll see a non-trivial number of reps. who got $20 or $14 or -- humiliation of humiliations! -- $6 from the Bugman.

Now, unfortunately, I suspect there must be some quite mundane explanation for these micro-payments. But such an explanations don't satisfy my curiosity. Some readers wondered too. "Of course, you have to wonder how that $20 was exchanged. Almost like a tip on the way out the door or something," one reader wrote.

And I'm thinking this may be right. Perhaps a tip? Or a generous payment for a shoe-shine? Or maybe like some congressional version of that weird thing your grandpa used to do just before you left when he'd put your hand in his and then suddenly that one dollar bill he'd furtively placed in his hand was in yours?

Okay, let's try this one more time.

From <$NoAd$>the Associated Press on Rep. Istook's statement ...

Istook, chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, said in a statement Sunday that the Internal Revenue Service drafted the language, which would not have allowed any inspections of tax returns. "Nobody's privacy was ever jeopardized," the statement said.


The actual text Rep. Istook inserted into the bill ...

Hereinafter, notwithstanding any other provision of law governing the disclosure of income tax returns or return information, upon written request of the Chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such Chairman access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein.


Abuse of power or poor reading comprehension? We report; you decide.

[ed. note: Emphasis added in above quotes. Special thanks to TPM reader DC.]

Rep. Istook says it's all a big misunderstanding (from the Times)

Representative Ernest Istook, Republican of Oklahoma, who was responsible for the insertion of the tax provision in the 3,000-page, $388 billion legislation that provides financing for most of the government, issued a statement on Sunday saying that the language had actually been drafted by the Internal Revenue Service and that "nobody's privacy was ever jeopardized." Mr. Istook is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that has authority over the I.R.S. budget.

John D. Scofield, the spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, said that the purpose of the provision was to allow investigators for the top lawmakers responsible for financing the I.R.S. to have access to that agency's offices around the country and tax records so they could examine how the money was being spent. There was never any desire to look at anyone's tax returns, he said.

Mr. Scofield said the only purpose of the provision was to allow investigators to have access to revenue service offices. He said the authority would be similar to that allowed senior members and staff assistants of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee, the panels with primary jurisdiction over the activities of the revenue service.

...

Mr. Scofield, the spokesman for the House committee, called the entire matter "a tempest in a teapot" and said Mr. Istook and his colleagues had no objection to the removal of the authority.

"We don't really care," Mr. Scofield said Sunday in an interview. "It was an honest attempt to do oversight. If they want to take it out, fine."

Mr. Scofield said he found it strange that senators felt they were taken by surprise. He noted that the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Bill Young, Republican of Florida, had discussed it briefly on the House floor, and that the language had been available since Thursday for Senate staff members to read.


Similar, just without any privacy <$NoAd$>laws applying.

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