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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Let's Kick Some Ass

There's nothing like a Brit in a snit. From the Guardian:
At the heart of the accusation is the fundamental tension between journalists - largely Arab reporters catering for an Arab audience - who say they are anxious to cover the story from both sides, and a United States that regards reporting on some aspects of the insurgency as tantamount to collaboration with terrorism. None of which would matter much were into not for the ferocious tenacity and professionalism of Al Jazeera, factors which have made the station an international phenomenon.

Most gallingly for the US, its reporters have told a story that Washington either disagrees with or would rather remain untold: that the kind of war America is prosecuting in Iraq is messy and heavy handed; that civilians are too often the victims, and that the insurgents are not shadowy sinister figures but ordinary men with more support than politicians would like to acknowledge.
The world has had enough of this cowboy shit. It never crossed my mind that another country might take the lead in saying "enough already" and exposing the lies that got us into this mess (oh that ought to really chap O'Reilly's ass, eh?), but it looks like that may indeed be where we are headed.

Bully for them.

(photo by David Woo, thanks to Valley Girl)


You Just Keep Thinkin', George, 'Cos That's What You're Good At

Oh you can just see the big brains at work here. The Sunday Times is reporting that the day before Dubya "jokingly" told Tony Blair they ought to bomb the daylights out of Al-Jazeera in Qatar, Rummy was fuming about them in a Pentagon briefing. Sounds like one of those coordinated, full-frontal assault things that a kick-ass, take-no-prisoners guy like Dubya would go for:
The Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad detailed 34 instances of alleged hype and distortion by the television station from April 8-13, ranging from reports of a helicopter and fighter plane being shot down to stories about American soldiers killing and mutilating Iraqi citizens.
The CPA? Was this before, during or after they lost $8 billion dollars in cash? Just curious.
In 2001, after the September 11 attacks, the Pentagon awarded the Rendon Group, a public affairs firm, a $16.7m contract to monitor media in the Islamic world. It was assigned to track “the location and use of Al-Jazeera news bureaux, reporters and stringers”, and was asked to “identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances”.
Now if only they'd just done what they were told and run with that Jessica Lynch thing and shut up about the torture, which we don't do but don't ask us to stop, all of this could've been avoided.
Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington-based think tank, last week described Al-Jazeera as fair game on the grounds that it promoted beheadings and suicide bombings.
Was this one of those nights where everyone at the Times got loaded and tried to see how many assholes they could shove into one story? O'Reilly better get cracking on that War on Christmas shit again, 'cos this one's a comer.

(thanks to reader db for the tip, and graphics love to Monk of course)

Update: According to UPI, Blair may have overplayed his hand by invoking the Official Secrets Act:
Leading opposition figures from the Conservative, Liberal-Democratic, Scottish National and Plaid Cymru (Welsh) parties have banded together to back the cross-party motion titled "Conduct of Government policy in relation to the war against Iraq" to demand that the case for an inquiry be debated in the House of Commons. They seem assured of the 200 signatures required to get such a debate.
Given how heavily Fearless Leader claims we leaned on British Intelligence to justify our own little incursion, this could get very interesting.


Thanks, Murtha. Joe Will Take It From Here.

When John Murtha went up like a trial balloon last week, Joltin' Joe Biden "wasn't there yet," 'cos God forbid someone says Joe Can't Do War. Then Jean Schmidt went over like Schiavo, Joe stuck his finger in the air and felt the wind shifting, and just in time for the Sunday morning chat shows he writes in the WaPo that he wants a timetable for withdrawal. Can someone count the number of times Colonial Joe talks about preserving "our interests" in Iraq? Hell, what's a few more dead bodies in the wake of the juggernaut that is Biden 2008.

Hey Joe? When people say they don't think Democrats stand for anything, they're talking about you.


Image Rehabilitation 101

"It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl-Tricia, the 6-year old-named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it."
Do they really want to go there?


Andrea Mitchell Watch -- Day 1

I realize there is some unwritten law that says no woman newscaster is allowed to appear on any of the NBC channels and question the network's hypocrisy relative to TraitorGate, but Andrea Mitchell's continued presence thereon is particularly scalding. I live for those special moments when she, Tim Russert and Chris Matthews get together and "question" each other like they're all not up to their eyeballs in it. The stuff of Murrow, that.

Tom Maguire busts her on this little gem from the Tim Russert show on October 29, 2005:
MITCHELL: You know, I should have spoke--'cause there's been a lot blogged about all of this--I was called by the CIA because it was erroneously reported in The Washington Post that I was the recipient of the leak before Novak's column came out, and I had not been. So I was never questioned because I simply told the FBI--and, you know, NBC put out a statement that night--that I had not been a recipient of the leak; in fact, I had learned about it from Novak's column like everyone else. Then after the fact, a lot of us had gotten calls and conversations with people, you know, `Hey, how about the Novak column?' But that was after the fact.
That particular sentence is really a marvel -- she maintains she was never "questioned" even as she's saying she talked to the FBI. Did a few agents just swing by to drop off a casserole and she started blathering so fast they couldn't get a word in edgewise? (Fitzgerald did, in fact, get a subpoena for her.) (Note: as emptywheel points out in the comments, more correctly Fitzgerald's subpoena was for information from the White House regarding contact with her.)

Oh those nasty bloggers and their mean questions. We should all just go back to posting vacation snaps and leave reportering to the professionals.

NB: If anyone's got a copy of Andrea Mitchell's Oct. 28, 2005 appearance on MSNBC with Chris Matthews the morning of the Libby indictments (before Fitzgerald's press conference) please email me, I need a copy.


Better Stock Up Now...

In case you were asking yourself, "Is it possible that the Scanlon plea will lead to more activity in the Abramoff investigation?", the answer is yes, indeedy.
Prosecutors have already told one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and his former chief of staff that they are preparing a possible bribery case against them, according to two sources knowledgeable about the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 35 to 40 investigators and prosecutors on the Abramoff case are focused on at least half a dozen members of Congress....The investigators are looking at payments made by Abramoff and his colleagues to the wives of some lawmakers and at actions taken by senior Capitol Hill aides, some of whom went to work for Abramoff....

Prosecutions and plea deals have become more likely, the lawyers said, now that Abramoff's former partner -- public relations executive Michael Scanlon -- has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and to testify about gifts that he and his K Street colleagues showered on lawmakers, allegedly in exchange for official favors.
Clearly, Santa has decided that I have been a very good girl this year. Thw WaPo is reporting that Tom Delay, Conrad Burns, and John Doolittle, among many others, are under increased scrutiny, along with members of the Administration.

As I explained here and here, Scanlon's cooperation is likely to be the straw that breaks the cooperation camel's back for a lot of lawmakers. Scanlon flipping opens the door wide to the possibility of a lot of felony prosecutions, by providing the investigators a direct link and testimony on pre-legislation deals, bribes and other improper conduct.

Another Delay indictment in my stocking would be lovely, but throwing in so many more members of Congress and the Administration, all wrapped up in a tidy little bow? I'm giddy.

According to the article, Ney, his former chief of staff Neil Volz, Jack Abramoff, and another Abramoff partner, Adam Kidan, have all been notified that they are targets in the matter. And there are more than 40 members of the investigative/prosecutorial team still working the case.

I'm stocking up on popcorn. And did I mention that Fitz is still working, too? Ooooh, I have been a good girl this year.

Kevin Drum has more from the WSJ. And Josh Marshall has this tidbit on the SunCruz murder investigation -- one of the hit guys is implicating Kidan.


Your Safety "Life Coach?"

In what may be the single most pitiful article on Michael Brown that I have ever read, the NYTimes is reporting that Heckuva Job Brownie will be starting his own safety consulting business. He'll be teaching clients how to not be like him.
''Hurricane Katrina showed how bad disasters can be, and there's an incredible need for individuals and businesses to understand how important preparedness is,'' he said.
Erm...okay. Now there's a selling point if I ever heard one. Brownie says he's lined up some clients, presumably people who think he can get them access to folks on Joe Albaugh's contracting coattails. And he's gotten some very postive feedback.
''I'm doing a lot of good work with some great clients,'' Brown said. ''My wife, children and my grandchild still love me. My parents are still proud of me.''
Uhhhh...yeah. I'm sure the folks in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans and across the rest of the Gulf Coast find that reassuring. Ahem.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Al-Jazeera: Chok Full O' Terrorists?

I'm constantly amazed at people like Daniel Johnson who occasionally manage to drag themselves out of the primordial slime, discover anew their opposable thumbs and tap away at the keyboard:
That shutting down Al Jazeera would be desirable from the Anglo-American point of view is obviously true. And if Qatar, a Gulf state that is nominally an ally of America (on which it relies for its independence), has allowed its capital to become Al Qaeda's principal propaganda base, it has no right to expect America automatically to refrain from punitive action on its territory.
First off, Al-Jazeera isn't some dodgy cable access show you can only pick up with enough tinfoil and the right atmospheric conditions, it has a viewership of some 45 million people. They are the network who just signed Sir David Frost for their English language news channel set to launch next spring. They are also the network who recently hired ex-Marine Josh Rushing (above, he of The Control Room), who seems to have a bit more faith in the ultimate value of the message of democracy than some of his wingnuttier critics:
Rushing views Al-Jazeera's English-language channel as a forum for reaching millions of Muslims, many of whom may not understand the America he knows, and for reaching millions who he thinks know little about the Muslim world, including Americans.

"The gravity of it sets in all the time," he says during an interview in the dining room at the private Army and Navy Club, two blocks from the White House. "It puts me where the good fight is --— at a station that's going to bridge America and the rest of the world."
It's ironic that those who skulked into power in the US by taking control of the media seem to think that the only way to spread democracy in the Middle East is to bomb the fuck out of it, and that anyone who collaborates with indigenous media is a traitor:
Rushing's response to such criticism: "I believe in America so dearly and the values that it stands for that I'm in no way threatened by the kind of information this station's going to put out.

"Besides," he explains, "once a Marine, always a Marine."
Over at the BooMan Tribune, BooMan himself has a really good article outlining the utter stupidity of bombing anything in Qatar (does Dubya even know where it is?) where the US military quite sensibly decided to relocate much of its munitions, equipment and communications gear out of Saudi Arabia following Bin Laden's fatwa of 1998:
The one thing the Bush administration did to appease Bin-Laden was to move our airbase from Saudi Arabia to Qatar where, presumably, it would cause less resentment and violent resistance. Whatever the merits of that decision, they have been pretty well wiped out by the decision to invade Iraq. Nevertheless, our airbase in Qatar is absolutely critical for supporting our operations in Iraq, and is used for missions over Afghanistan as well.

If we had used the airbase in Qatar to bomb the capital of Qatar, where al-Jazeera's headquarters are located, it stands to reason that we would no longer be welcome to use that airbase for other purposes. And since we could not simply move our airbase back to Prince Sultan or negotiate a new location and build a new airbase overnight, it would have necessitated a complete takeover of the country to keep our air force operating over Iraq.

If Bush had ordered such a mission it would have been just cause for mutiny, or even a palace coup to prevent tremendous harm to our country and our military's operations. The idea that Tony Blair had to argue against this mission is truly frightening. It should have been dismissed by any number of Americans before it could be discussed with Blair. Andy Card, Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and several others should have pointed out the lunacy of such a plan as soon as they heard of it.

It stands to reason that any attempt to blow up al-Jazeera would have to be done with plausible deniability. That means a truck bomb or something would need to be used. You can't use bomber aircraft launched from 20 miles away. Such a plan is triply insane.
Meanwhile per Crooks & Liars, we learn that Al-Jazeera staffers have started a blog called Don't Bomb Us. And Mark Kleiman notes, " after his denial that Karl Rove or Scooter Libby had any role in revealing that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, a statement by Scott McClellan that an report is "outlandish" is tantamount to a confirmation.

Sometimes you have to throw up your hands and wonder if they are criminal, stupid, or criminally stupid.


Party On, Pat

From an AP article on Judge Reggie Walton, the judge in the Scooter Libby case:
Walton's role also may be crucial regarding the use of classified information and whether documents sought by Libby's lawyers are relevant. If Walton rules against opening classified files to the defense team, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's case would move to trial.

If Walton rules that Libby must be allowed to present certain evidence that is currently classified, all or portions of the case could be dismissed if the intelligence bureaucracy refuses to declassify the material for use in court.
A lot of people, including yours truly, would love to see Libby facing Espionage charges, and the indictment certainly seems to indicate Fitzgerald had the goods. But in choosing to bring these particular charges rather than others at this point, he may have been anticipating this kind of an end-run. As Fitzgerald said in his press conference:
[A]t the end of the day, I think I want to say one more thing, which is: When you do a criminal case, if you find a violation, it doesn't really, in the end, matter what statute you use if you vindicate the interest.
And in the recent affidavit Fitzgerald filed, he states:
Because the indictment in this case charges obstruction offenses rather than substantive national security crimes, it is hoped that the case can be tried with a minimum of issues concerning classified information needing to be resolved, and thus that the trial may be conducted in as public a manner as possible.
Scooter's looking at 30 years. I'd say that vindicates the public interest, especially if it allows BushCo. a minimum of opportunity to screw the pooch by refusing to declassify certain material.

Furthermore, as rwcole said in the comments:
Sounds like Fitz decided to take Libby down using the OLD Grand Jury -- partly to insulate the evidence that would go to the NEW grand jury.

This will help him to keep Libby's grubby mitts off evidence (if any) to be used in the big case - the espionage conspiracy case. Libby, of course, might get an invitation to that event as well -- but he'll have to wait with the other defendants to see what Fitz has against him.
Like I needed more reason to believe Mr. Fitzgerald is smarter than me. He's putting the squeeze on Libby hard, and there is damn little wiggle room.


Update: Emptywheel has a great forray into Scooter and Dick's history of press overreaction and demonstrates quite ably that their Wilson smear campaign was right in character.

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard.)


And Tarek Ayoub is Still Dead

BradBlog has an amazing clip from Channel 4 in the UK on the memo that purportedly has Bush telling Tony Blair he wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera. They assert that the reason journalists are being threatened with the Official Secrets Act for the very first time is because the White House is putting pressure on Blair et. al. to keep the memo under wraps, and speculates that there are other things in the memo that the US doesn't want to come out.

Said Sir Menzies Campbell:
"Well it does seem to me a very draconian threat and it leads one to the suspicion that the anxiety here is not so much the national interest but preventing the government from embarrassment. After all the events with which we are concerned took place some considerable time ago. Why is it necessary to invoke the terms of an act designed to deal with issues which arise in a time of national emergency?"
There is also an interview with Clive Stafford-Smith, who represents Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, who was seized while traveling to Afghanistan on assignment and has been held in Guantanamo Bay for four years without being charged. In recently declassified documents, Stafford-Smith says that al-Hajj has been questioned 130 times, and 125 of those times they tried to get him to admit that Al-Jazeera was a terrorist front funded by Al Quaeda.

So far neither Downing Street nor the State Department have responded to Al-Jazeera's inquiry about whether this is just one of Bush's "jokes" or not. Since the entire Arab world we are so anxious to "democratize" is waiting to hear exactly what's up with all of this, it seems like something Karen Hughes might want to big foot her way over and get right on.

Meanwhile, the Power Tools have put on the Schutzstaffel regalia again and are marching around in circles singing Kampflied der Nationalsozialisten as they celebrate this ugly disgrace of an article in the New York Sun cheering on the bombing of Al-Jazeera.

God it must get nasty when everyone wants to be Himmler.

(hat tip to "Me" in the comments)


Yeehaw!!! Isn't a Foreign Policy

It's the holiday recess for members of Congress, home in their districts for turkey dinner and flesh pressing, senior citizen center lovefests. Except this year, the love isn't always there. (Here's a fun idea: show up at local elected official chat-fests and talk with them publicly about accountability and making better decisions. It's more fun than crowded shopping malls! And then report back here how things went.)

Things are getting ugly -- and not just for the most junior member of the House of Representatives whose own hometown conservative newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, is questioning her motives in an editorial today.

Boy, Jack Murtha sure stirred up a hornets nest by...*gasp*...demanding accountability and actual planning for the betterment of the country, and because we owe it to the folks sacrificng for this nation in uniform. And he is not alone among Dem hawks who are disgusted with the way this war is being conducted. (Via Huffington Post.)

And Bushie? Well, the Preznit and his cronies are digging in, refusing to look at reality and public mood as reflective of their failed policies. Instead, its a game of blame the messenger (we saw quite a bit of that from Mean Jean and her pals last week). But will this work? Can the public be coaxed back into the kool-aid after they've had a clear-eyed view of things?
Kull said the best the administration may be able to hope for is a draw in the battle for public opinion. If positive changes occur, from a reduction in violence to a stable government to more international involvement, "then he may come out with a possible modest success out of it," he said. "But it's important to remember there are a lot of forces out there that are very determined to make sure this doesn't look like a success. . . . So it's unlikely it will look like a clear success."
Probably not. The Economist has an article up today that is worth a read on this subject. Mike Kinsley has a must read editorial in the WaPo today. And Robin Wright has an eye-opener -- so much for the "things are fine and dandy" crowd.

The time has come for grown-ups to take over our long term strategic planning. We face threats -- both external and potentially internal -- that are far too serious to be half-assed or glossed over. We must start learning from our mistakes (admitting them would be a good first step), and we have to start thinking in the long term.

Here's my advice to Bushie: Yeehaw!!! is not a foreign policy.

(Kudos to reader Zennurse for the title. That bumper sticker made me giggle half the afternoon. Mwahahahaha.)

UPDATE: Ann Coulter is a moron. Think Progress has more.


Now This Is How It's Done

According to the AP, Michael Scanlon has agreed to testify against Jack Abramoff in his SunCruz indictment case, in exchange for Scanlon receiving consideration for a reduced sentence depending on his level of cooperation. This is a very common practice with prosecutors: flipping a subordinate to rat out the next level up.

In Scanlon's case, the next level up is a Pandora's box of Republican KStreet power brokers and elected officials.
In his plea agreement, Mr. Scanlon admitted helping Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Kidan buy SunCruz by persuading Representative Bob Ney, Republican of Ohio, to insert comments into the Congressional Record that were "calculated to pressure the then-owner to sell on terms favorable" to the two men.
It is clear to me that prosecutors are now pressuring Ney to cough up another Congressional hairball -- perhaps Delay, given how entwined his PAC arrangements and Abramoff's skybox bonanza had gotten.

The NYTimes has an additional article regarding the prosecution of these types of cases. (Covered earlier on FDL here.) Here's my question for the NYTimes: Are Joe DeGenova and Victoria Toensing -- the Boris and Natasha of the GOP attorney shill machine -- the only two attorneys that you have on speed dial?

For pete's sake, can you at least publicly identify them as the GOP activists that they are, instead of giving them some sort of neutral quoting cover? It is wrong to pretend that these two are anything but partisans, and you do your readership an enormous disservice by pretending otherwise. (Josh Marshall has much more.)

Whatever the shill position might be, the fact is that the DoJ's public corruption unit has at least one insider in their pocket on this, with more negotiating as I type. In this sort of case, flipping an insider is how it's done. Looks like Boris and Natasha have lost again.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

An Official Job Offer for Judith Miller at Firedoglake

Dear Judy,

I know it has been a very difficult year for you, and since your departure from the New York Times the offers haven't exactly been rolling in. Oh sure you've been spotted brunching with the New York Post, but what would the Hamptons set say? You have the Pulitzers to think of after all, and sharing bylines with the likes of Deborah Orrin would be positively unseemly. You might as well go to work for the Enquirer chanelling the ghost of Jeanne Dixon. And Regnery isn't really a press, it's more like wingnut welfare.

Recently you've been traveling around and speaking in favor of a national shield law for journalists, and when Jay Rosen confronted you with the fact that such a law would not have covered your particular case, you affirmed that it was a good law anyway, and since you really cared about the rights of journalists it was worthy of support. I think what you really need right now is an opportunity to prove that this isn't just an attempt to wrap yourself in First Amendment finery, that you really do care about protecting journalists and are willing to take action to support them.

So I want to offer you a gig. No, I'm serious. We can't pay you, but if the reports of your seven figure parachute are true that shouldn't be a problem for you right now. I think your skills are desperately needed at the moment in order to help the cause of journalists worldwide. Apparently there is a memo floating around in London that says George Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera. Due to their Official Secrets Act, none of the British papers can legally publish it. I think we can make beautiful music together here, Judy. I think you have amazing connections that can allow you to put your hands on that document. And we will happily publish it.

Of course, there's no risk for us because it costs us nothing and we don't have any Official Secrets Act over here, but think of the opportunity to rise above partisan politics to truly stand in defense of the principles you purport to hold so dear. Al-Jazeera has, in fact, been bombed by US forces on two occasions, both in Baghdad and Kabul. If there is evidence that these were deliberate attacks, you owe it to your fellow journalists to ferret out the truth. Because they didn't just throw journalists in jail, Judy, a journalist died. Maybe you even knew him, his name was Tarek Ayoub. He was a father, a husband, and a Palestinian. Do his rights as a journalist count too?

I know when you think about it you will see that this is a really great idea. Reddhedd and I eagerly await your response.

In the spirit of rapprochement, wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.

Jane Hamsher


From the Department of It's About Damn Time

It seems that the so-called "purple Democrats" have decided to start voting with the party a whole lot more these days. It's about damn time.
On three big votes recently - the energy bill, the FY 2006 Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education spending bill, and a budget reconciliation bill aimed at $49.5 billion in spending cuts - not a single Democrat voted with Republicans.
Democrats have little power in a Congress where they are in the minority, unless they stick together and force the Republicans to eek out whatever victories they can, or fail altogether.

This forces Republicans to rely on votes from the moderates in their own party -- and forces them to move bills to less extreme positions in order to secure their votes (at least to some extent, anyway, I'm not ready to dance in the streets or anything...).

With the 2006 election looking shaky for Republicans at the moment, what with Preznit Crapola Poll Ratings and his merry band of corrupt cronies and all, Democrats from conservative districts are trying to distance themselves from Bushie at the speed of light. While it is true that some have had a "see the light" conversion after the Katrina debacle in their districts (see Rep. Gene Taylor pictured above as a possible example), for some it's just political expediency.

While I'd rather see a more progressive motivation for the change of heart, at the moment I'll content myself with the votes and the Democratic unity.

(Photo courtesy of The Hill.)


Cry Me a River

You've got to hand it to Michael Isikoff and his tireless efforts to try and make the most unsympathetic man in the world -- Karl Rove -- look almost human. Even on Thanksgiving, he picks up pen in weary hand to let us know that Karl, poor Karl, had to take out a $100,000 line of credit to pay his mounting legal bills.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the average net worth of the individual members of the Bush cabinet, including the President and Vice President, was between $9.3 and $27.3 million in 2002. That's nearly ten times that of their counterparts in the Clinton administration.

On the richter scale of genuine newsworthiness, I'd say Rove's loan rates just below Nick and Jessica's split. I am certain that there will no doubt be a fat, healthy Rover defense fund fueled with endless supplies of blood money should the need arise.

Of far more worth is the fact that there is no free speech in America, at least not in that little patch of land known as Crawford, Texas, where Daniel Ellsberg and Cindy Sheehan's sister Dede Miller were arrested yesterday in defiance of a new ban that makes it illegal to camp or park within 7 miles of His Imperial Highness.

Today I'm thankful that there are still people in this country ready to put themselves on the line to challenge Karl Rove and everyone else who thumbed through a copy of Orwell's "1984" and said "hey cool, you know I bet that would work."

Happy Thanksgiving.

(thanks always to Monk at Inflatable Dartboard, whose superlative graphics are always a source of inspiration)



It's dreary here, cold, with a wind that makes our dachshund whine when she goes out. I'm sitting in my kitchen, watching Elmo with my toddler between bouts of cooking, and being thankful for so many things. Thought I would share a few with you this morning, before I get back to turkey, stuffing and praline sweet potatoes.

- I'm very thankful for FDL, and to Jane for giving me a chance to blog with her a little over two months ago. It's been a whirlwind, and a blessing to channel my anger at this Administration into a more pro-active, informative debate. Our commenters are amazing. Jane is absolutely right -- I get some of my best ideas from the comments, and I could not do this without everyone who participates here.

- I am grateful for my husband, who is very supportive of my blog obsession, and a wonderful father to our toddler. Speaking of the toddler, I am so grateful to have a child -- now I have an excuse to watch Elmo and The Wiggles whenever I want. Some days are chaos here trying to get an article up in the midst of a tantrum or fixing dinner, but I wouldn't change a thing.

- The greater blogosphere is amazing as well. Jane and I met at dKos, not surprisingly via Traitorgate postings. Having a place to discuss the pent-up frustration with non-wingnuts has been a sanity saver over the last few years. But finding such a wealth of intellectual debate on so many daily blog reads has been a true blessing.

- I am truly grateful to all of the public servants out there who do their jobs the way they are meant to be done -- with compassion, with dedication, and without political nastiness. Patrick Fitzgerald is a great example, but there are so many other unsung Fitz's out there: in uniform, undercover, carrying a briefcase or not. And I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for making all of our lives a little better. And also, a thank you to all those reporters who do their jobs well -- kudos. (And a Thanksgiving gift of an article in the WaPo to all of you.)

- Finally, thankfully the curtain is pulling back and the rest of the American public seems to realize that the wizard is really just a fraudulant little snake oil salesman. Here's to more competence, and more accountability. Oh, and more indictments. Can't forget those.

Wishing everyone in the FDL community a very thankful day. And for the Americans among us, Happy Thanksgiving. Now back to the cooking...

(Painting entitled "Mayflower in Rip Tide," artist unknown.)


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Big Time's Big Adventure

Writing in Salon, Sidney Blumenthal has a quick, brutal sketch of Richard B. Cheney:
Cheney is a master bureaucrat, proficient in the White House, the agencies and departments, and Congress. The many offices Cheney has held add up to an extraordinary resume. His competence and measured manner are often mistaken for moderation. Among those who have misjudged Cheney are military men -- Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft and Wilkerson, who lacked a sense of him as a political man in full. As a result, they expressed surprise at their discovery of the ideological hard man. Scowcroft told the New Yorker recently that Cheney was not the Cheney he once knew. But Scowcroft and the other military men rose by working through regular channels; they were trained to respect established authority. They are at a disadvantage in internal political battles with those operating by different rules of warfare. Their realism does not account for radicalism within the U.S. government.
I've been reading Richard Clarke's book, and he notes that Cheney "had been one of the five most radical conservatives in Congress. The quiet often hid views that would seem out of place if aired more broadly." Read: Get him talking and Cheney's a fucking nutbag, everyone around him knows it, has known for 30 years, and nobody speaks up about it 'cos they're all terrified of being the blood sacrifice at some Cheney/Novak family picnic.

A grateful nation should kick in and get him a CheneyMaster 3000 ™ Defibrillator and Bacon Frier on his way out the door so he can spend his retirement years fearlessly eating salt-cured fatback and we won't be worried that he'll step back in and nuke Beijing or something just because he's feeling a bit peckish.


First We'll Bomb the Journalists

Someone should tell Preznit Cave Smoker that he hasn't got a whole lot of homies in the Middle East, but Qatar (where Al-Jazeera is headquartered) is definitely one of them. And since Tony Blair has now taken the trouble to threaten the Daily Mirror about publishing a British government memo saying PM Poodle talked Dubya out of bombing Al-Jazeera in April of last year, one might reasonably assume such a document exists.

Having "accidentally" bombed Al-Jazeera's Kabul office in 2001 and their Bagdhad offices in 2003, I guess Dubya was going for the hat trick.

Reporters Without Borders said: "We find it hard to believe that President Bush really discussed this possibility.
Have you been under a rock for the past five years?
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."
You don't have to launch space shuttles in your spare time to connect the dots on this one. I think it's high time for another gaggle. I'll take Terry Moran in the White House briefing room with a cattle prod.

BooMan Tribune has more.

(hat tip to AmericaBlog)


Ney Not Having Fun Day(s)

I swear that I'm not picking on Ohio today. But Bob Ney is in the news again -- this time via the DCCC.
Identified in new court documents as "Representative No. 1," Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio has become the poster boy in the Jack Abramoff bribery probe, a beneficiary of trips, tickets and campaign donations, allegedly in exchange for official acts....

Three full pages in the court papers in Scanlon's guilty plea Monday itemize things of value to Ney or his staff and official acts allegedly performed in return.
According to the DCCC, a strong Democratic opponent is expected for the 2006 elections (although no one officially selected as yet). Here's hoping.

By the way, if Ney is reading here, my suggestion is: cooperate. What else have you got to lose? Ahem.


Erm...Write Your Own Caption

Some days, the stories just seem to fall in And some days, it's a turkey. Ahem.

No turkeys for Froomkin today -- the man is on fire. Bush's poll numbers are down, the public doesn't trust him, and Froomkin gives Waas' latest article some good coverage. Plus, Wolf Blitzer can be hilarious. What's not to love?

Congressman Murtha is blogging on HuffPo today. Looks like his positive response is outstripping the negative by a wide margin.

Oh, and the American Prospect says that the Bush Administration really doesn't want peace in Iraq.

Today Andrea Mitchell reported on MSNBC that the Administration had a lot more "nuance" in the PDB than they told the public about in the run-up to the war. Why does Andrea Mitchell call our Preznit and Darth Cheney liars dissemblers? (Because the evidence is forcing her to do so? Ahem.)

It's snowing here, and I'm baking pumpkin pies for tomorrow. Music of choice: The Carols of Christmas. For all the FDL readers who will be out of town for the festive feasting, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. For all of the rest of you, hang on -- it's a news-filled festival today. More to come...

(Picture courtesy of Dependable Renegade. Thanks to reader dubhaltach for the link.)

UPDATE: Oh...*snerk*...hahahahahahaha. Just read the first part of this.


Padilla Charged: Cert. or Moot?

I previously detailed the importance of habeas review during the Lindsey Graham legislation abomination. The recent charging of Jose Padilla brings the issue back to the forefront, along with a whole host of other constitutional questions: limitations of executive power, separation of powers, civil rights, and many more.

For those not familiar with the Padilla case, he is the American citizen who was picked up on "dirty bomb" charges, and who has been held in a military prison solely by order of the President for more than three years, due to his designation as an "enemy combatant," despite being a US citizen.

Both the WaPo and the NYTimes are reporting there is no mention of the "dirty bomb" plot for which he was first arrested in his indictment. (ABC's World Today has more from Padilla's attorney as well.)

Glenn Greenwald has an exceptional post up about this case, and it ought to be required reading for everyone. (Hat tip to reader "A" for bringing this to my attention. Many thanks!) The post is thought provoking, and well worth a full read -- especially given the magnitude of the issues.

The NYTimes further explores the Administration's failure to come up with a coherent, consistent policy for detainees, enemy combatants and pretty much everything else dealing with the clash of civil rights and detention issues after 9/11. These are very important questions that go to the heart of what sort of country we are -- and what sort of country we want to be. And we all ought to be asking them of ourselves and our elected officials.

We've been talking about these issues around the blogosphere for quite a while, certainly here at FDL. It's a good sign that this has hit the MSM in spades over the last few weeks (although perhaps more emblematic of the low Administration poll numbers and fretting among GOP members of Congress). Here's hoping this gets a lot more attention and serious thought in the weeks to come -- and some action that speaks a whole lot louder about our commitment to the human rights of everyone, not just people the GOP finds valuable in the moment.

But the big question in my mind at this point is whether or not the Supreme Court will dismiss cert. in the Padilla case, on the grounds that it is now moot. Will Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow justices stand up for human rights -- and rule on the issue of a citizen as "enemy combatant" -- or the right of the Administration to continue to stamp on our long-held principles of civil rights? Stay tuned.

(Jeralyn has more at TalkLeft.)

(Painting by Johannes Vermeer, entitled Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664.)


So She'd Still Call Him a Coward...

Jean Schmidt, freshman Republican Congresswoman from the OH-2, doesn't understand why people are angry with her. She just doesn't get what all the fuss is about.

And people have been mean to her, including: Saturday Night Live, liberals, her hometown newspaper the Cincinnati Enquirer (oops-- they are conservative, that's not good), her friend Danny Bubp (oops again -- didn't she use his fake words to malign Jack Murtha? That's not good...), and lots of folks in her district who think she went way too far in calling a decorated war veteran, who has served this nation in uniform and in Congress with honor, a "coward."

What does Jean have to say for herself?
Yesterday, Schmidt said she hoped the hubbub will have faded by the time Congress reconvenes next month. Asked if she would change anything if she could do it over again, she replied: "I wouldn't have used Congressman Murtha's name."
Ahhh...but you still would have called him a coward?

(Major graphics love to Mike Tidmas via Pandagon. Huge thanks to reader bkny for tracking down this pix for me.)


FEMA Reconsiders

FEMA has decided not to kick displaced Katrina victims out on the streets during the holiday season, thanks to an outpouring of disgust from...well...everyone.
"We are not kicking people out into the streets," R. David Paulison, acting director of FEMA, said in announcing the revised deadlines at a news conference here. "We want families in decent housing."
You know your proposed policy isn't going to work when protesting members of Congress seem like they have more of a heart than you do. Ahem.

With thousands of people still missing in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, more than 400 bodies stacked in morgues that have yet to be indentified, and homes that are filled with debris, mold, and heaven only knows what else, we can all do better in helping the least of those among us. Time magazine had a heart-rending article about reconstruction efforts that is worth a read.

No matter how much I and my family have tried to do to help, it just doesn't seem enough in the face of so much devastation and sorrow. All my best to those who are trying to find their feet again. And I'm very thankful that FEMA seems to have found its least for now.

UPDATE: Reader Marysz also points to this information regarding voter disenfrinchisement issues in NOLA because FEMA is refusing to cooperate with state government officials trying to contact voters prior to the February election. Lovely.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I'll Take Dick Cheney in the Bathroom With the Defibrillator

Bob Woodward's "Mr. X" may or may not be the first administration official who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to a member of the press -- it is still not known who the journalist was who was contemplating an article on Joe Wilson that made him decide to go public with his own story first. But by most accounts these four candidates are the front runners as Woody's leaker, so place your bets now, 'cos the lid could blow off this pig any day:

George W. Bush: Argument For: Woodward's source was someone he interviewed at length for his book, Plan of Attack. He definitely interviewed Gee Dubya, though the book says his interview took place in December 2003. The possibility that he was doing "background" interviews earlier on, however, still exists. The WaPo claims that "Mr. X" has testified in the Plame matter but Reuters says he has not appeared before the grand jury -- Bush fits the bill on both counts. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman gave a briefing on Wilson at the White House on June 11 or 12, Walter Pincus's article in the WaPo appeared on the 12th, and Woodward said he spoke to his source a few days after the Pincus article. So Bush definitely had access to the information by that time. It could also explain Patrick Fitzgerald's odd appearance at Bush's lawyer's office.

Argument Against: As Atrios would say, God does not like me that much.

Dick Cheney: Argument For: Knew by the time he told Scooter Libby on the 12th that Wilson's wife worked in counterproliferation. Spoke to Woodward for Plan of Attack, though he did it on background, so a confidentiality agreement would cover him. Definitely had both the motive and the malice. Has recently dispatched anonymous gremlins to issue peculiar denials in the press. Also testified but not before the grand jury. CIA hates him just enough to out Woodward prior to Libby's indictment and fuck him up.

Argument Against: On Larry King, Woodward all but cleared him, saying he did not talk to meet with him during the time in question. Hard to imagine the word "casual" applied to Dick Cheney.

Richard Armitage: Argument For: Possibly had access to INR memo during the time in question. Known to have been one of Woodward's sources for Plan of Attack. No record of having appeared before the grand jury. Hasn't issued a denial.

Argument Against: Didn't have any axe to grind against Wilson, wouldn't have been party to any OVP/Rove conspiracy. According to this article, didn't have the INR memo until after Wilson's op-ed piece. If Michael Isikoff is right and Woodward's source is Novak's source it ain't Armitage, 'cos the idea of him shooting the shit with the Prince of Darkness just stretches all credibility. And God, at the moment, does not appear to like the GOP quite that much.

Stephen Hadley Argument for: Coordinated disinformation related to Niger uranium for the White House, including Tenet's self-flagellation. Putative point man for the smear campaign, received Rove's email about Cooper conversation. No record of testifying before the grand jury. Told friends he thought he was going to be indicted. Weird non-denial in Korea. Recently promoted, a sure sign of guilt within the Bush administration.

Argument against: Given how eagerly Bush distanced himself from Rover when it looked like he would be indicted, hard to imagine him embracing Hadley as furiously as he is at the moment if he thought he was guilty. And whatever involvement Hadley had doesn't seem to have been of the "lone wolf" variety.

(special thanks to Valley Girl for the Clue graphic)


What Did He Know and When Will He Know It?

According to a new article by Murray Waas, both Preznit Gung Ho and Big Time received information in a classified Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) 10 days after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center that there were no ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaeda. Its existence was not disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, and the administration has steadfastly refused to turn it over since then despite demands from both sides of the aisle.

So why was any Bushbot with a pulse screaming about Al Quaeda's ties to Saddaam during the ramp up to war?
One reason that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld made statements that contradicted what they were told in CIA briefings might have been that they were receiving information from another source that purported to have evidence of Al Qaeda-Iraq ties. The information came from a covert intelligence unit set up shortly after the September 11 attacks by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith.
That's just ducky. One of the only bright moment in Bob Woodward's otherwise slavish Plan of Attack comes when Gen. Tommy Franks calls Feith "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." This would of course be the same Doug Feith whose prewar intelligence activities the Pentagon's inspector general is now investigating.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say this might qualify as intelligence the President had that the Democrats didn't have when they voted to authorize the war. They're still a bunch of sheep in my book, but it doesn't make BushCo.'s attempts to re-write history (that's right, suck it up, Dick) any less egregious.


How the Middle East Was Won

According to London's Daily Mirror, Billy Sol Huroc George Bush once discussed blowing up the headquarters of Arabic-language TV al-Jazeera real good with Tony Blair. The White House calls the charge "outlandish," despite the fact that the US actually did bomb Al-Jazeera's Baghdad office in April 2003, killing journalist Tareq Ayyoub. At the time, State Department spokesmen said it was a "mistake," and called upon al-Jazeera "not to jump to conclusions."

We know it pales next to big news like Oprah ending her 14 year feud with Letterman or Bob Novak trying to rewrite the Battle of Carville by punching a fellow passenger on a flight to Chicago. But all we want to know is -- does this mean Eason Jordan gets his job back?

(hat tip to John Amato for the Eason Jordan reminder)


Pressure Tactic? But Who Is Being Pressured?

Scooter Libby's defense team has hired John Cline, an attorney at Jones Day and an expert in classified information cases, as an additional legal representative. The SF Chronicle has a short write-up on this today, and says:
"This is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the government," said Robert Weisberg, a criminal law expert at the Stanford Law School. "This suggests they are going to use a very concerted and aggressive strategy."

Although Libby was investigated on suspicions that he or others in the Bush administration might have illegally leaked to journalists the identity of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Wilson, the actual crimes Libby was charged with have nothing to do with the misuse of government secrets.

But Cline's involvement suggests that a defense strategy may be to try to bring large volumes of classified information into the trial to demonstrate the many things Libby was dealing with as a senior national security adviser when he spoke with journalists and later testified to the grand jury.

If Libby's defense can show his thinking might have been obscured by the many sensitive issues he was dealing with, it could potentially weaken the case against him.
I can buy that, to some extent. In a high profile, high stakes case like this, you want to signal to the US Attorney that you are willing to go to the mat, if necessary at the front end. Puts you in a better negotiating position -- you never want to begin negotiations from a point of weakness, especially with an indictment that is as specific as Libby's is.

But here's my question: does a signal that Libby is going to aggressively pursue his case at trial put pressure on Fitz? Or is this a signal designed to perk up the ears of the folks at the White House?

I think you can make a strong argument for the latter, given how badly the politicos allied with the Administration want the whole stench of this to go away as soon as possible, given the already bad poll numbers and horrible implications that a full-blown trial could have for the 2006 elections. Who is Libby really trying to pressure at this point?
The law governing the use of the classified data is called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. It sets up strict procedures for attorneys to review classified data with their clients in special rooms and for how the defense can request the disclosure of such secrets during a trial.

The arguments can be critical. If a judge agrees to permit the use of the information in open court, then the prosecutors are faced with having either to allow the disclosure of sensitive government information or to consider dismissing the charges.

"In this case the defense doesn't have to win on every element of their claims, they just may want to scare the daylights out of the government at this stage," said Weisberg.
Yes, but which part of the government? My guess is that Fitzy doesn't scare easily. In fact, given some of the cases he has prosecuted -- Sheik Omar, Osama bin Laden, the Gambinos -- I'd say it is likely pretty tough to scare him at all at this point.

Frankly, he's the premiere terrorism prosecutor in the country, given the magnitude of the cases he's tried. At this point, I doubt threatening him with a flurry of motions hearings on classified information means much of anything, other than another day and another late night at the office. He's clearly already got a pizza delivery service on speed dial, and some spare socks at the office, so what's the big deal for Fitz?

But for Bushie and his cronies? Life is not looking so sweet these days. Their poll numbers are in the toilet and sinking. Republicans who aren't under investigation are outnumbered by those who are these days (or, at least, it sure as hell seems that way, doesn't it -- between Fitz and the Abramoff mess and Delay's indictment?).

Oh, and the strategy to talk about all the classified information on Libby's plate as a means to show how important, distracted and busy he was? Well, that could backfire as a legal strategy in a big way if they open the door too wide for Fitz on cross-examination.

Does Libby and his legal team really want to open the door to Libby's veracity -- and his bosses (both the VP and the P)-- on national security matters? Is that truly the way you'd want to go were Libby your client? Especially given the fact that close to 60% of the American public now thinks the Administration lied to them about...well, just about everything.

By threatening to go to trial, what is Libby really angling for -- and from whom? Dunno, but let me join the "no pardon, no way" chorus. As if it wasn't clear all along that I felt that way, anyway, I just wanted to be on the record.

UPDATE: Reader Mamayaga makes an excellent Occam's Razor point in the comments: "Actually, I'm thinking this might not be an aggressive signal at all, but rather just shoring up the defense for expected new charges of disclosing classified information." True -- why not grab the good attorneys, so Karl doesn't get them?


Toto's Nemesis Bending Over Backward to Save Own Political Ass

Oops. When you attribute a quote on the floor of the House to a fellow Republican, apparently you'd better get it in writing first.
Danny Bubp, a freshman state representative who is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, told The Enquirer that he never mentioned Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., by name when talking with Schmidt, and he would never call a fellow Marine a coward....

"There was no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward," Bubp said....
Hmmm, maybe Mean Jean should choose her political fall guys a little more carefully in the future.

And maybe she a little less deliberately...erm...obtuse. (Or stop lying. You pick.)
It's unclear whether Schmidt, who will start her 79th day in the House today, knew at the time of her remarks that Murtha had served 37 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve.

She immediately took back her remarks. It's against House rules to refer to a fellow lawmaker by name or to criticize them.

Schmidt, a Republican from Clermont County's Miami Township, then wrote to Murtha to explain that she has a lot to learn and did not mean to disparage his service.
Yes, I can certainly see how calling someone a coward in the well of the House of Representatives on national television isn't meant to disparage their character or that of their political party. Ahem.

Murtha is taking the high road.
Murtha, a lawmaker since 1974 and a Vietnam veteran who received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he doesn't hold Schmidt responsible.

"This is a new member, and sometimes they give her something to say that ... they get out of hand. I try not to take this stuff personal," he said.
Hmmm...smarmy political tactics or decent guy trying to do what he feels is right for his country and the soldiers who serve it? Well, not really a choice for me. Let's hope the rest of America is waking the hell up.

For more on Murtha's statements and the aftermath, the AP has a quick follow-up piece.

And the NYTimes has even more.

Howie Kurtz has more on the smarmy politician tactic of smearing via a straw man in today's Media Notes Extra.

Josh Marshall cracks me up. As does Roger Ailes (the good one), who makes a very good point -- Toto's nemesis participated in an anti-Murtha event the night before and, unless she had a frontal lobotomy in between, had to have known that Murtha was a former Marine.

Poor Mean Jean. All that contortion for nothing.

(Graphics love to Artis Conception. Mwahahaha. Disturbing, yet hilarious.)

UPDATE: Crooks and Liars has some hilarious video up of Mean Jean when she was running against Paul Hackett. Definitely worth a watch.

UPDATE #2: Ooops -- as reader Steady Eddie points out, it was Josh who made the prior night anti-Murtha event point, not Roger. My bad. Never copyedit while watching an Elmo video with your toddler.


The Scanlon Plea Hat Trick

I spent a few hours last night researching the "speech and debate clause" to explain how significant Scanlon's plea is to the prosecution of members of Congress involved in the Abramoff mess. And I woke up to find that Bloomberg has beaten me to the punch. (Darn! Hate it when that happens.)

But I'm going to outline the issue anyway, because it is worth the detail to understand how significant this plea deal is going to be for the DoJ in going after the whole of the conspiracy -- wherever it reaches into the halls of Congress. From Bloomberg's article:
Scanlon's testimony may allow the government to overcome a defense based on the "speech and debate'' clause of the Constitution, which protects lawmakers from being prosecuted for legislation they introduce or speeches they make in Congress, Cole and other experts said. Scanlon may be able to testify about deals between lawmakers and lobbyists; such quid pro quos wouldn't be protected by the Constitution.

"The speech and debate clause only prevents you from using a legislative act'' as evidence, Cole said. "The agreement is the crime.''
This is exactly right. The speech and debate clause is something that most folks never give a second thought, but it is a substantial protection for legislators -- and one that was a substantial block to the DoJ Public Integrity Unit until they got Scanlon (and perhaps Ney) to flip.

Having direct testimony of a potential quid pro quo arrangement between monies paid and legislation being proposed is an essential step, and one that likely has a large number of elected officials dealing with acid reflux and then some today.
"It is very tricky to prosecute a congressman,'' said Cole, now a Washington-based attorney for the law firm Bryan Cave LLP. "If a congressman gets on the floor of the Congress and says, "I'm introducing this bill, I think it stinks, but I'm getting paid $100,000 to do it,' that statement can't be used, even though it is in the Congressional Record.''

Scanlon's cooperation may signal that prosecutors have testimony that can overcome this obstacle. "If there is that explicit quid pro quo, that can be bribery,'' lawyer Reid Weingarten said last month. Weingarten, like Cole, served in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section; he now is an attorney for the Washington-based firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle accepted the plea agreement yesterday that calls for Scanlon to help prosecutors make their case against Abramoff and investigate his contacts in and around Capitol Hill.

"They're using Scanlon to get everybody,'' said Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who now heads Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an advocacy group. "That's how it works. You keep rolling people.''
I like the sound of that. And that's how it works in most extensive conpiracy cases -- you roll one, and use that witness to roll the next guy...and on up the chain. The pressure mounts on everyone else involved to flip while there are still deals left to grab. The more people involved who cooperate, the bigger the incentive to cooperate for those remaining.

But what exactly is the "speech and debate clause" anyway?

The speech and debate clause is contained in the US Constitution, Article I, Section 6, Clause 1.
Section 6. The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
In other words, members of Congress cannot be arrested in the regular performance of their legislative duties -- but they can be prosecuted if it can be shown that a crime was committed, such as bribery, in order to obtain legislation.

It is a very narrow exception, and one that can cause an enormous amount of difficulty for prosecutors. So much so, that an entire segment of the DoJ's Criminal Resource Manual is dedicated to the legal precedents on this issue.
While the Speech and Debate Clause has been expressly held not to shield Senators or Representatives against bribery charges, Johnson v. United States, 383 U.S. 169 (1964), it does impose significant limits on the type of evidence that can be used to prove such an offense. The Clause broadly protects members of Congress "against inquiry into acts that occur in the regular course of the legislative process and into the motivation for those acts," United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501, 525 (1972), and "precludes any showing of how [a member of Congress], acted, voted, or decided." Id. at 527. The Supreme Court has declared that "past legislative acts of a Member cannot be admitted without undermining the values protected by the Clause," including speeches in committee as well as those on the Floor of the Chamber, the Senator or Representative's votes, and his or her explanations for them. A somewhat wider latitude has been allowed insofar as the admissibility of activities that took place occurred prior to a legislative act. United States v. Helstoski, 442 U.S. 477, 489 (1979). However, the parameters of what constitutes a "legislative act" are quite broad, and can severely impair the ability of prosecutors to prove bribery and gratuity cases where the recipient is an elected Member of the Legislative Branch.
In other words, you have to be able to show that the criminal act was the catalyst for the legislation. As in, there was a quid pro quo deal in place that a member would produce some legislation in exchange for money, favors, etc. -- and thus the deal is the criminal act at issue, and not the legislation itself.

You can see how that sort of hairsplitting can be very difficult to show without someone on the inside providing the substantial details. Getting Scanlon to flip provides a hat trick for the Feds:
1. Scanlon gives the DoJ a connection to the inner workings of Abramoff's operation -- giving them Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and a lot of other money players, and a big window into the whole GOP money machine and College Republican Rethug cabal.

2. Scanlon also provides a window into Delay's operation, having worked for him for several years prior to leaving for a partnership with Abramoff. This gives the DoJ a better look inside Delay's KStreet operations and scheming from someone who would have seen it from the inside.

3. And Scanlon is the breach of the "speech and debate clause" firewall -- providing evidence of deals before legislation was introduced. This is vital for the DoJ, and has clearly rattled Ney enough that he's already talking with them.
With the number of members of Congress potentially involved in this mess, if one of their own has started talking, along with Scanlon, then the DoJ can expect a parade of others. One thing you can count on is a politician's desire to save his or her own hide and political power base above everything else. (At least in most cases, anyway.)

Quite a hat trick, I'd say. Pass the popcorn.

For more on the speech and debate clause:

-- Findlaw's Annotations provide a good case law reference.

-- The DoJ's Criminal Resource Manual provides some great analysis on what the DoJ has to consider.

UPDATE: More on the Scanlon plea details from TalkLeft.


Monday, November 21, 2005

My Sister! My Daughter!

In breaking news, Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post reviews Bob Woodward of the Washington Post talking to Larry King of CNN, the network which also hosts Howard Kurtz's show Reliable Sources.

In other news, the New York Times take Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post to task for interviewing his boss Len Downie of the Washington Post about Bob Woodward of the Washington Post on his CNN show Reliable Sources.

Remind me again -- how did we get into this mess?


Bob Woodward: Not Exactly Hero Material

Bob Woodward managed to jam his giant ego into Larry King's tiny studio tonight to answer a few simple questions. To say that he did not dazzle before the cameras would be too kind. He really gave Sulzberger a run for the title of Bang Bang the Idiot Boy. One can see why he is always being called out of the White House steno pool by the BushCo. brass -- he will most assuredly take down everything faithfully, and never be quite smart enough to know what it all means.

Larry actually pressed him a couple of times, and Woody floundered. Larry showed the now-famous clip of Michael Isikoff pushing him about a "bombshell" story he was sitting on the night before the Libby indictment:
KING: In retrospect, Bob, could you have said on the show that night, Well, to you and your viewers, I do have some information, I'm working on it, something was said to me, but I can't reveal it. That would have covered this whole thing.

WOODWARD: But that's always the case. That's always the case. And that would be -- you know, well what is it -- you would have asked me, What are you working on, is it bigger than a bread box, is it a bombshell, is it a firecracker, is it a stick of dynamite and so forth.
So Bob can't tell the truth because Larry might ask him about it. Journalistic integrity. Highly overrated.
WOODWARD: Yes. I think I was a little hyper and a lot of pent-up frustrations, bad night. And as you have pointed out a number of times, I tend to be very neutral, overly neutral...
I think the word you're hunting for is "dumb," Bob.
WOODWARD: And so there is this moment when I realized I have a piece of something. I truly don't know what it means. But then I go in a mode where -- actually some people said, you know, "Why did you do this? Why not stay out of it? Why get involved?" And all of the juices -- my wife, Elsa, told me this, that she could almost hear it, the reporting news juices running.
The necessity for talking about one's running juices on national TV escapes me, but be that as it may, Big Thick Bob has convinced me he didn't know he had something until Fitzgerald's press conference. But once he realized he had the first leak and was only a few phone calls away from being back in the spotlight again, I'm sure poor Elsa suddenly was knee deep in Woody's effluvium.
KING: How did it even come up?

WOODWARD: Came up because I asked about Joe Wilson, because a few days before, my colleague at the "Washington Post," Walter Pincus, had a front page, saying there was an unnamed envoy -- there was no name given -- who had gone to Niger the year before to investigate for the CIA if there was some Niger-Iraq uranium deal or yellow cake deal.
This is key, because it's the first indication there has been about when exactly Woodward spoke to his source. Pincus's article on Niger uranium came out on June 12, 2003 but it did not disclose Joe Wilson's identity. Libby had first learned that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA in late May or early June, and prior to the June 12 article being printed Pincus had contacted Cheney's office for comment.

On June 11 or 12, however, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman held an oral brief at the White House for a larger group of people. I'll let my esteemed colleague emptywheel explain the significance:
Now, there are two groups of people we know were privy to information on Wilson here (there may be more). The first is a group at OVP--the people who discussed how to respond to Pincus' inquiry about Wilson's trip and those who knew enough to write "Wilson" on their CIA dossier; for them, this information is almost certainly tied to the context of a malicious Get Wilson campaign. Then, there's the group that attended the White House meeting; for these people, information on Wilson might be less malicious, tied to the larger question of the problem with the Niger claim. Both groups include Libby, but the latter group would almost certainly include Hadley, who is reported to be Woodward's source, as well as people like Rove and Condi.
So the list of suspects becomes much longer now that we know the date that Woodward first talked to his source, and stretches from Cheney's office to Rove, WHIG and the rest of the Bushbots.
KING: What would you have done if the source had said, "Don't tell him," and you were subpoenaed to deposition? Would you refuse?

WOODWARD: That is a situation I have not had to deal with in this case. But of course, when I went into my aggressive reporting mode, I didn't know exactly what was going to happen.

Now, if I hadn't done that, and the source had said, "Keep quiet; it's confidential," then the special counsel in this case, Fitzgerald, wouldn't have known, I guess, and I would have stayed out of it.
Right, Bob. Scooter Libby's being charged with perjury because he said he thought he told reporters he had heard it from other reporters, even though the reporter he says he thought he heard it from (Russert) says he didn't. So Woodward's notes say that he might have asked Libby about Plame, and this on June 23, possibly before he talked to any reporter and certainly any other than Judy Miller that we know of.

What, exactly, are the chances that Libby's lawyers are not gonna subpoena the only journalist who potentially told him about Plame's identity? Bobby's secret would have come out one way or the other, if Scooter is planning any sort of defense short of insanity. And I'll bet that's how Bob twisted Mr. "X's" arm, which it sounds like he most assuredly did, journalistic privilege be damned.

Whoever Mr. X is, Woody wasn't gonna do any jail time for him.
KING: Why didn't you tell [Len Downie]?

WOODWARD: Because I was focused on getting the book done. You know, the significance of this is yet to be determined. And what's the good news in all of this is, when it all comes out -- and hopefully it will come out -- people will see how casual and off-hand this was.
I made the comment yesterday that the leakers had played Bob like a two dollar banjo, but I think it must have been an incredibly frustrating process for them. Because sadly, I don't think Bob did understand the significance of what they were telling him. Matt Cooper tipped to it instantly, but whoever told Woody was just a smidge too "casual" about it and dogged, simple Bob just didn't get what was going down. Still doesn't.

Can you see Cheney picking up the paper every morning, riffling through it and muttering "fucking Woodward, where is the damn thing?"

The rest of the interview was just pathetic. At one point Woodward was reduced to holding up old headlines from the Washington Post to show us how valuable his reporting had been. (As Bob Adams said in the comments, "he's gonna get 'rhoids if he keeps pulling Nixon out of his ass.")

You know, I truly do believe this whole uproar has shocked Woodward. He doesn't get it. He thought he was going to be the hero. Even Larry asked him if he was being "used" by the administration -- Bob just looked befuddled. He seems to believe that whatever price he paid for access to an otherwise impenetrable administration has been worth it, with no notion that he has turned into a complete tool.

We can assume his access to BushCo. for the purpose of finishing his new tome will continue unabated.

Crooks & Liars has extensive clips.

Clarification: When I said Bob didn't "know" he had anything until Fitzgerald's press conference, I don't think he necessarily knew he was the first (potentially) to be leaked to until then. I still think that the wheels were set in motion the week prior that lead to Bob's sudden willingness to come forward. But I think it didn't occur to him until he heard Fitzgerald speak that there was a chance for him to step back onto the stage with a big, dramatic flourist that would resurrect his Watergatian glory. We presume there was nobody around him to tell him in truth he would wind up the goat.


Monday Evening Round-Up

Larry Wilkerson says that Dick Cheney was the catalyst for torture in the Administration.
"There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office," he said. "His implementer in this case was [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department."
Next up, Dick Cheney will be calling Larry Wilkerson a degenerate traitor and Toto's Nemesis will call him a coward while dressed another lovely red, white and blue jumpsuit ensemble.

Speaking of Dick Cheney, today he accused critics of the Administration "corrupt and shameless" revisionists. Pot, this is kettle...

And on the question of trouble in paradise, Elizabeth Bumiller weighs in:
In short, Mr. Bush is said to be upset with Mr. Cheney because the vice president promised a fast, rosy finish to the war in Iraq, now a two-and-a-half-year-old conflict, and because of the indictment of the vice president's top aide in a case that has focused on alleged efforts to discredit a war critic.

For now, the consensus among Republicans close to the White House is that Mr. Bush may well have been angry about the actions of Mr. Cheney's office, and that he has long been aware that the vice president oversold the case on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
I'm having a moment of zen that I don't have to spend time with either of these people, frankly.

If you aren't reading this, you are missing out. I'm starting to truly love William Arkin's "Early Warning" national and homeland security blog on the WaPo. Today, he tackles the issue of white phosphorus and stupid military statements about it (and about other things), and it is excellent reading.

Porter Goss says that the CIA does not torture. Note the present tense on the verb. Ahem.

And in case you want something more edifying, try this Digby piece. Excellent reading (as always).

And in case you were wondering, the Iraqis want us out.

There's an intriguing read up on TomDispatch, tying a lot of the BushCo crap together in one big post. Good for the schadenfreude-addicted among us.

And just for sheer brilliance of prose and logic, read this from Mark Kleiman.

For the record, Olbermann rocks. Great show this evening. Catch it if you can. (But thus far, Woodward sucks. Blergh. Nothing can ruin an evening more than forcing yourself to watch Booby and Larry Kink at the same time.)

(This is one of my favorite Monet paintings. One of these days, I'm going to find this in a good canvas reproduction, and hang it in my bedroom where I can see it first thing in the morning. But for now, just enjoy along with me. Claude Monet, "Boats Leaving the Harbor," 1865.)


Scariest Words in Washington: Cooperation and Plea

Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty by information today in Federal Court to a charge of conspiracy, according to the NYTimes.
Mr. Scanlon agreed to pay restitution totaling more than $19 million to the tribes, The Associated Press reported from the courtroom, and could face up to five years in prison.

Mr. Scanlon, 35, was accused of conspiring to defraud Indian tribes out of millions of dollars as part of a lobbying and corruption scheme that involved wining and dining of some lawmakers, treating them to lavish trips and contributing to their campaigns.

Until recently, Mr. Scanlon occupied a powerful - and lucrative - position at the intersection of political power and lobbying influence. For several years, he worked as a top aide to Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the Republican majority leader. He left Mr. DeLay's office in 2000 to become an associate of Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist.
In that position "at the intersection of political power and lobbying influence," Mr. Scanlon had contact with a lot of highly placed politicos. Most of them Republicans feeding at the trough. And you can be sure that he knows where a few skeletens are buried -- and is willing to talk about them -- or he wouldn't be getting a deal.

Scanlon faces 5 years in federal prison, and has agreed to repay $19 million in restitution out of his own pocket. That's a pretty stiff restitution amount -- although probably no more than a drop in the bucket compared to how much he and Abramoff and their political cronies are rumored to have scammed from their clients (more than $80 million, give or take). But still, definitely not a sweet deal -- it's hard time and serious restitution.

The plea was negotiated by Scanlon's attorney, Plato Cacheris, who is an exceptional trial lawyer for white collar crime cases. One of the best practicing these days, frankly. That Scanlon is still facing jail time and a stiff level of restitution says how much the DoJ had on him -- and how much he is having to give them -- to even get the deal he has.

In my mind, this is an enormous victory for the DoJ Public Integrity unit. We'll see as time goes on with this matter how much testimony and cooperation Scanlon will be giving, but I would say that it is broad and that it goes high up the chain, just based on his level of involvement and length of contact in all of this.

And it looks like Scanlon isn't the only one in the mood to cut a deal. (Which is likely one of the big reasons that he is doing so, btw -- as I've said before, the first to deal gets the best offer. The last man standing in a conspiracy gets hammered.)
Representative Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, was alluded to in the indictment (although not by name) as a main beneficiary of largess, in return for helping Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon with their clients.

Lawyers involved in the case have confirmed that Mr. Ney is the "Representative #1" cited in the indictment. The congressman - who has not been charged - has asserted that he was duped by the two and is cooperating with prosecutors, a spokesman for Mr. Ney says.
Well, would you look at that? Rep. Ney is putting his self-interest ahead of that of Abramoff and Delay. Hmmm...what could that mean? So sad that the head of the Appropriations Committee in the House, a long time Congressman like Ney, could be duped so handily. *cough* Ahem.

I say, it means that Delay and Abramoff had better lay in a good supply of antacids. You recall Mr. Delay and Mr. Abramoff, don't you?
Mr. DeLay has been indicted in Texas on charges involving political fund-raising that are not related to the inquiry in which Mr. Scanlon pleaded guilty today. And Mr. Abramoff has been indicted in Florida on unrelated fraud-and-conspiracy charges involving an attempt to buy a fleet of casino boats.
Power brokers in the Republican party all. What an ethics-filled group they've turned out to be, too. For shame just seems too subtle...think I'll just buy some more popcorn instead and sit back and enjoy the show.

Oh, and Fitz? Still hard at work.

UPDATE: The WaPo has much, much more, including this:
The charge was in a criminal information filed Friday accusing Scanlon of conspiring with Abramoff to defraud Indian tribes and engage in a corrupt scheme that lavished trips, sports tickets and campaign donations on a member of Congress, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

DeLay is among those facing scrutiny for his associations with Abramoff, including a trip to Scotland and use of Abramoff's skybox at a Washington sports arena.

Abramoff's lobbying network stretched far into the halls of Congress. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show nearly three dozen lawmakers helping to block an American Indian casino in Louisiana while collecting large donations from the lobbyist and his tribal clients.
And the WaPo says Scanlon's restitution will be in excess of $19 million, along with cooperation with the ongoing investigation. Fasten your seatbelts, boys and girls, looks like some folks in D.C. may be in for a very bumpy ride.

And did I mention that Fitz is still hard at work? Yeah, I thought I did.