Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Kucinich Challenges Towns for Top House Oversight Slot

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 10:40 AM EST

It's official. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has launched a bid to become ranking member of the House oversight committee, when the Republicans take over the House in January, a race that will pit him against the panel's current chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). The top Democratic slot on the committee will be a key position for the Dems in the next Congress, for the GOP pitbull who will be at the helm of the committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has earned a reputation as Obama's "annoyer-in-chief" and has vowed to initiate multiple investigations of the Obama administration. Issa, as the ranking Republican member of the committee, has already launched politically charged probes of, among other things, a White House job offer made to Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), presumably to persuade him to not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. If Issa was a thorn in the side of the administration as a minority House member, when he assumes the chairmanship and obtains subpoena power, he will become a giant pain in the ass for the White House. Think Henry Waxman during the Bush years. Issa has already promised to hold an unheard of 280 hearings during his first year, which are expected to include a probe of climate science. By comparison, Waxman held 203 hearings over two years.

From Kucinich's letter:

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, has already made wild and unsubstantiated charges which threaten to turn the principal oversight committee of the House into a witch hunt.

In just the past week, he has indicated a telling enthusiasm for a broad probe into the $700 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act program.  He has equated it with "walking around money."  As you know, that is political slang for money off the books and under the table.  He made this unsubstantiated claim in the context of promising hundreds of investigative hearings into the present Administration, calling President Obama "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." I immediately sent Mr. Issa a letter (attached) calling for him to produce the evidence for such charges or to retract his statement.

Mr. Issa, through his eagerness to make unsubstantiated charges and to draw conclusions in advance of evidence, reveals a lack of restraint and basic fairness.  This conduct in the Chairman of the Committee will degrade Congress’ oversight credibility and undermine the institution of the House through a lack of restraint in the use of subpoena power.  

We cannot simply stand by idly and hope that such a reckless approach to the use of the power of the Chair will not happen, especially since it is not only being promised, but demonstrated by the person who will hold the gavel.

It is a matter of the highest importance that any intemperate use of the power of the Chair be challenged at every turn.

The independent-minded Kucinich (on his website he dubs himself "America's Most Courageous Congressman"), who mounted a long-odds and unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008, has often challenged the powers that be on both sides of the aisle. There's little doubt that he would throw out every obstacle he can to thwart the more partisan aspects of Issa's agenda. Towns, on the other hand, has largely proven himself unable to keep the California Republican in check. In recent years, Towns' own investigation's have frequently been overshadowed by Issa's.

Recently, Democrats have privately expressed concerns about Towns retaining the senior slot on the committee during the Issa-era, preferring someone with a stronger presence to do battle with Issa. But Kucinich, an ardent progressive who takes pride in adopting buck-the-conventional policies (such as his years-long quest to establish a Department of Peace), may have a tough time convincing fellow Democrats that he ought to be placed in this high-profile position. Additionally, he's currently fifth in seniority on the committee (though Rep. Paul Kajorski, who's second, lost his reelection bid). In challenging Towns, he is leapfrogging several other members. And there's this: if House Democrats back Kucinich—or another committee member—over Towns, that could draw protest from the Congressional Black Caucus, which usually is quick to protect the chairmanship positions of its members.

For the Dems, it's a bit of a catch-22. Towns remaining the top Democrat on the committee poses a problem. So does replacing him with Kucinich or amonther oversight member.

Blackwater 3, DOJ 0

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 10:22 AM EDT

When it comes to prosecuting Blackwater contractors on murder charges, the Justice Department has a pretty weak track record. The government's case against 5 contractors charged in connection with 2007's mass shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square imploded last January, thrown out by a judge who said prosecutors had relied on tainted interviews. A few weeks ago, the case against two contractors for a Blackwater shell company who were charged with killing Afghan civilians ended in a mistrial. And late Monday came word that federal prosecutors have decided against indicting Andrew Moonen after an investigation that lasted nearly 4 years.

Moonen is the Blackwater contractor who, on Christmas Eve 2006, fatally shot one of the Iraqi vice president's bodyguards following a drunken confrontation in Baghdad's Green Zone. Blackwater whisked Moonen out of the country immediately after the incident. The company—now known as Xe—was subsequently accused of destroying evidence. (Similar allegations have surrounded the Nisour Square shooting, including reports that Blackwater immediately repaired the vehicles its contractors were riding in when the incident occured.)

All three incidents have been highlighted as examples of contractor-related abuses that seriously undermined US war efforts, inflaming anti-American sentiments. It certainly doesn't help local notions of American accountability and justice in the theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan that the DOJ is now 0 for 3 against Blackwater. If concerns about prosecution had anything to do with Blackwater founder Erik Prince's recent relocation to Abu Dhabi, perhaps he needn't have worried.

The Book the Pentagon Doesn't Want You to Read

| Fri Sep. 10, 2010 9:55 AM EDT

I admit I was unfamiliar with Operation Dark Heart, the new book by former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and retired army reservist Anthony Shaffer, until I read about it in the Times last night. But now I can't wait to get my hands on a copy—partly because it sounds like an interesting read (tagline: "spycraft and special ops on the frontlines of Afghanistan and the path to victory") but mostly because the Pentagon does want me (or you) to get a look at what's inside.

The book was originally cleared by army reviewers, who vetted the manuscript to ensure it didn't reveal national security secrets. It went to press, was sent to reviewers, and was even available for a short time online. Now your best best of getting a copy may be to bid for the one some opportunist put up on Ebay—starting bid, $500 $1000. That's because the Pentagon is now negotiating with Shaffer's publisher to purchase all 10,000 copies of the first print run with the intention of destroying them. It turns out the book may indeed contain a significant amount of senstive material. Once the DIA looked over the book, and shared it with other intelligence agencies, "200 passages suspected of containing classified information" were discovered "setting off a scramble by Pentagon officials to stop the book’s distribution," according to the Times.

It's worth noting that just because information is classified doesn't mean it's not widely available publicly. Details intel community censors might consider worthy of redaction could have already appeared in a news article or elsewhere. And it's not unusual for retired spooks and their publishers to do battle with their former employers over what can and cannot be divulged. (Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, for one, famously clashed with the agency over what he believed were capricious redactions to his book, Jawbreaker. It's a great book, if you don't mind reading around the swaths of black hiding key details of Berntsen's story.)

The classified portions of Shaffer's book, according to the Times, include "the names of American intelligence officers who served with Colonel Shaffer and his accounts of clandestine operations, including N.S.A. eavesdropping operations." Fox is reporting that intelligence officials are also trying to deep-six portions of the book concerning a classified data mining program known as "Able Danger." Shaffer—and others—have previously said that the program, established in 1999, had identified Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers well before the attacks, though an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee has determined the claim doesn't hold up.

One thing's for sure: the Pentagon's effort to block the book's release has probably done more to boost its future sales prospects (albeit, for a heavily redacted version) than any ad blitz. (See Wings Over Iraq for more on DIA's inadvertent publicity campaign.) It's certainly one way to sell out a first printing in record time.

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