Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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Court: White House Doesn't Have To Release Documents Relating to Missing Emails

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 12:08 PM PDT

Even though the White House Office of Administration (OA) has complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for decades, a court yesterday supported the Bush administration's claim that the OA is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. The Bush administration made the claim last August. The court dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was using the FOIA to seek documents from the OA about missing White House emails. The decision means the OA will not have to release its documents to CREW, which had hoped to use them in a separate lawsuit that aims to force the recovery and preservation of any missing emails.

While the ruling is a setback for CREW and the National Security Archive (NSA), its co-plaintiff in the White House emails lawsuit, the battle is far from over. CREW plans to appeal this decision. In the meantime, the main lawsuit, which focuses on the recovery and preservation of the emails, will carry on without the OA documents. CREW and the NSA already have access to some information about the OA's email failures because House government oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) obtained and released some of that information earlier this year. Recent developments in the main lawsuit have favored the plaintiffs, with a magistrate judge issuing recommendations that the White House didn't like, including one that suggested the White House be ordered to secure portable devices, like BlackBerrys, that could contain versions of some of the missing emails. The judge in that case could still force the OA to take measures to recover and preserve missing emails. But each day that goes by until then will make any deleted emails present in "slack space" on hard drives harder to recover, and get the Bush White House one day closer to running out the clock.

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Waxman to DoD Inspector General: Investigate Contractor Fraud

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 10:47 AM PDT

In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to Claude M. Kicklighter, the Defense Department Inspector General, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the House government oversight committee chairman, asks the IG to investigate "potentially thousands" of cases of contractor fraud in Iraq. In the letter, Waxman refers to the findings from the IG's earlier investigation of DoD expenses in Iraq, which indicated that 28 transactions worth $35 million "appeared to involve criminal misuse of taxpayer funds." Since the 28 transactions the IG found came from just a small sample of DoD transactions in Iraq, Waxman asked his staff to extrapolate from the small sample and come up with a figure representing how many of the 180,000 Iraq transactions might involve fraud. The results were shocking. From the letter:

Among the transactions you examined, approximately 4% resulted in criminal referrals. When this percentage is applied to the entire pool of 180,000 transactions, it appears that there may be more than 7,000 potential criminal cases involving more than $190 million in federal spending that have not been identified. This is an astounding amount of potential criminal fraud.

Waxman goes on to ask the IG to "assess the extent of potential criminal fraud" in Iraq and make recommendations to DoD and Congress about how to investigate and prosecute "cases of criminal conduct." As Waxman also noted in his letter, the DoD has a record of little cooperation with Waxman or its own IG, so it remains to be seen whether the Congressman will get what he wants. Knowing Waxman, he'll keep trying regardless.

Obama Channels Chris Rock

| Mon Jun. 16, 2008 8:49 AM PDT

Barack Obama gave a widely-praised speech on fatherhood yesterday from the pulpit of one of the largest black churches in Chicago. You can see it here:

A lot has already been said about this speech, a somber reflection on the duties of being a father. But around 13:03, Obama references some of the most controversial work of comedian Chris Rock. Here's Obama:

"Chris Rock had a routine. He said some—too many of our men, they're proud, they brag about doing things they're supposed to do. They say "Well, I- I'm not in jail." Well you're not supposed to be in jail!"

It's odd enough for a politician to cite the work of a comedian. But Obama's specific reference was particularly intriguing. It wasn't in the prepared text—Obama dropped it in himself. And Obama isn't talking about Rock's recent material. He is referencing one of Rock's most discussed routines, from 1996's "Bring the Pain," an HBO special. It's a bit about "a civil war going on between black people." Here are the few lines from Rock that Obama is paraphrasing:

"You know the worst thing about n*****s? N*****s always want credit for some s**t they supposed to do. A n*****r will brag about some s**t a normal man just does. A n*****r will say some s**t like, "I take care of my kids." You're supposed to, you dumb motherf****r! What kind of ignorant s**t is that? "I ain't never been to jail!" What do you want, a cookie?! You're not supposed to go to jail, you low-expectation-having motherf****r!"

In a recent Atlantic article about Bill Cosby, Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out that Rock has stopped performing the "civil war" routine because "his white fans were laughing a little too hard."

Abramoff's White House "Fruit"

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 7:24 PM PDT

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Despite administration denials, superlobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff did have political traction in the White House, according to a damning draft report released Monday by Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) House government oversight committee. Among the findings: Before he was disgraced, Abramoff provided gifts and meals to White House officials, met with President George W. Bush at least six times, and influenced a State Department dismissal and a presidential political endorsement.

While the draft report does not allege that Abramoff influenced any decision taken by President Bush himself, the latest revelations seem to confirm the conclusions of an earlier oversight committee report sketching out Abramoff's influence in the White House. The first report, issued in September 2006, used billing records and emails from Abramoff's firm as its main sources of information. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino subsequently attacked the first report for being based on "fraudulent" records, and then-White House spokesman Tony Snow claimed Abramoff "got nothing" from his efforts at 1600 Pennsylvania.

Instead of giving up in the face of the administration's attacks on the committee's first report, Rep. Waxman requested the White House's own information about its contacts with the superlobbyist. The White House's own records confirmed what Tony Snow had denied: Abramoff often got what he wanted from the White House, even when what Abramoff wanted went against the advice of the president's own party. In the new report, the committee hammers the administration for allowing its representatives to initially mischaracterize Abramoff's relationship with the White House: "the White House failed to conduct even the most basic internal investigation of the White House relationship with Mr. Abramoff before making public statements characterizing the connection between Mr. Abramoff and the White House."

The latest findings strongly imply that Abramoff's success was at least partially due to his use of what one administration official referred to as "fruit": Gifts including meals and sports tickets. According to the White House documents and testimony, White House officials asked for or received tickets from Abramoff associates on 21 confirmed occasions. The report says:

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