Blogs

Yoo and Addington Visit Congress, Say Nothing

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 3:29 PM EDT

Today's House Judiciary Committee questioning of John Yoo and David Addington, architects of the Bush Administration's interrogation policies, was not impressive.

Yoo was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel and Addington was and is Dick Cheney's consigliere. They were present at the formation of the administration's policies on which interrogation tactics are permissible and which are not, and they have spent the six or seven years since revisiting, studying, and defending those policies. Some of the congressmen questioning them weren't even in Congress when the policies were formed, and none of them have focused on these issues full-time.

As a result, the questioning was at times laughably one-sided. Addington often showed his questioners little respect, and deliberately provided long and unnecessary citations to chew up their allotted time. Despite his reputation as a whip smart lawyer, he repeatedly claimed to not remember certain key meetings or events. Yoo, either because he has a greater sense of shame or because he is simply a less artful participant in the hearings dance, would admit that he did know certain things but that he couldn't specify them because the Department of Justice had prohibited him in advance for doing so.

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White House Won't Read Emails About Global Warming

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 1:55 PM EDT

What does the White House do when you send it an email about the need to control CO2 emissions? Refuse to read the email, of course. If you still need convincing that our country is run by toddlers, head on over to The Blue Marble and read all about it.

Supreme Court Overturns DC Handgun Ban

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 12:28 PM EDT

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So much for that vaunted era of good will on the Roberts court. The media have been suggesting all year that after all its splintered, contentious decisions in 2007, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has been working hard to find some common ground with the liberals and to just get along better for the good of the country. The story line seemed to hold up all term, as the court issued one 6-3 or 7-1 decision after another. But today, the court issued a whopper of a 5-4 decision that split entirely on ideological grounds. Saving the biggest case for last, the court ended the term by releasing its opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court upheld a lower court ruling invalidating the District's strict ban on handgun ownership.

The case was unusual in large part because the court hasn't ruled on a Second Amendment case in 70 years, but also because the Solicitor General—the legal arm of the Bush administration at the court—supported the District, while the Vice President entered into the case on his own to recommend overturning the city's gun ban. During the oral arguments in the spring, the justices spent a great deal of time mulling over whether early settlers in this country would have needed guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears or for hunting, a sign that the right to bear arms extended beyond the well-regulated militia identified in the language of the Second Amendment. So it's no surprise that hunting figures prominently in the majority opinion, written by Justice Scalia, who has, of course, spent a great deal of time hunting with the vice president.

Federal Investigations of Pentagon Intrigues: Don't Forget the Chalabi Leak

| Thu Jun. 26, 2008 8:56 AM EDT

Regarding my recent articles on signs of a federal investigation seemingly looking at at least one Pentagon official, a colleague reminded me of the following. That the Defense Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency did forward a crimes report to the Justice Department on the question of who leaked to Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi the allegation that the U.S. had broken Iran's communications codes in Iraq, a detail which Chalabi allegedly shared with his Iranian intelligence interlocutor.

For instance, revisit this Newsweek piece:

Spring Cleaning at the FBI

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 10:20 PM EDT

The FBI maintains a total of 300,000 cubic feet of historical documents and records, in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts.

But apparently, freedom of information is also subject to spring-cleaning.

Among the guidelines for determining documents worth hanging on to is the "fat file theory," positing that heft is somehow correlated to importance.

Obama's Campaign Manager Displays the Confidence that Comes with $300 Million

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 5:47 PM EDT

David Plouffe looks ready to roll. At a Washington, D.C., press conference, Barack Obama's campaign manager surveyed the general election political landscape for several dozen reporters, and he spoke confidently, like a man who will have the money to do all that he believes is necessary and optional. Which he is, because he can expect to have $200 to $300 million to deploy--now that Obama has decided to sidestep the public financing system (which awards $85 million to party nominees) and raise much more from individual donors.

Plouffe repeatedly noted that the Obama campaign will have the resources to challenge John McCain in practically every state and to pursue multiple strategies for victory. That is, the campaign can attempt to win by holding on to every state John Kerry won in 2004 and swinging only Ohio from R to D, or it could win by bagging Iowa plus Colorado and New Mexico. Or how about losing Pennsylvania but winning Virginia and North Carolina? Plouffe claimed that Obama was already competitive in states that are not traditionally Democratic in presidential races, such as Alaska and Montana and that he can make a run at McCain in Georgia (where Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, a former GOP congressman from Georgia, might draw votes from McCain). Plouffe has the money to invest in a number of game plans--to run ads and set up staff in various states. And as the election approaches, he will be able to determine which states to stick with or abandon. He's in a candy store with plenty of allowance.

How will he use the money? Plouffe told the reporters that a top priority is to "shift the electorate." He wants to spend a lot on registering African-Americans and voters under the age of 40 to "readjust the electorate" in assorted states so the voting pools in these states are more pro-Obama. "A couple of points here, a couple of points there," he says, and red states can go blue. Especially smaller states, where a swing of 10,000 votes could be decisive. And, he emphasized, his campaign will have sufficient resources to identify the people it needs to register, contact them directly, and mount targeted get-out-the-vote efforts. The campaign, he said, is not just going to set up registration tables outside community events.

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Feingold and Dodd Take to the Floor of the Senate

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 4:03 PM EDT

Last night, Chris Dodd took to the floor of the Senate and made an impassioned plea to his colleagues not to support the House FISA legislation. The video, and text are available here.

Earlier today, Russell Feingold followed suit, in words that echoed his remarks in response to my question at a New America Foundation event on Monday. Here's a snippet:

This legislation has been billed as a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. We are asked to support it because it is a supposedly reasonable accommodation of opposing views. Let me respond as clearly as possible: This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation. This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program – a program that more than 70 members of this body still know virtually nothing about. And this bill will grant the Bush Administration – the same administration that developed and operated this illegal program for more than five years – expansive new authorities to spy on Americans' international communications. If you don't believe me, here is what Senator Bond had to say about the bill: "I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get." And House Minority Whip Roy Blunt said this: "The lawsuits will be dismissed. There is simply no question that Democrats who had previously stood strong against immunity and in support of civil liberties were on the losing end of this backroom deal."
I think it's safe to say that even many who voted for the Protect America Act last year came to believe it was a mistake to pass that legislation. And while the House deserves credit for refusing to pass the Senate bill in February, and for securing the changes that are in this new bill, this bill is also a serious mistake…Mr. President, the immunity provision is a key reason for that. It is a key reason for my opposition to this legislation and for that of so many of my colleagues and so many Americans. No one should be fooled about the effect of this bill. Under its terms, the companies that allegedly participated in the illegal wiretapping program will walk away from these lawsuits with immunity. There is simply no question about it, and anyone who says that this bill preserves a meaningful role for the courts to play in deciding these cases is wrong…But I'm concerned that the focus on immunity has diverted attention away from the other very important issues at stake in this legislation. In the long run, I don't believe this will be remembered as the 'immunity' bill. This legislation is going to be remembered as the legislation in which Congress granted the executive branch the power to sweep up all of our international communications with very few controls or oversight.

On the other hand, moments ago Diane Feinstein just announced that she's read the Department of Justice's legal memos, the written requests from the White House to the telecommunications firms, and met with representatives from those firms, and after contemplating that balanced body of information, has decided to support the legislation.

Unable to Fire Entire EPA, White House Ignores Their Emails Instead

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 4:02 PM EDT

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When you're at work, you probably sometimes get emails that you don't want to deal with. Maybe you missed a deadline and have yet to 'fess up, or are supposed to meet with your boss and know it's going to be ugly. But eventually you deal with it, because you're responsible and know you can't avoid the situation forever.

Unless, of course, you're the Bush White House, in which case you stick your fingers in your ears and start singing loudly and shouting "I'm rubber and you're glue!" every time your co-workers try to bring up the issue. From the New York Times:

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week. The document...ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status.

Now, "e-mail limbo" is certainly a concept with which the White House is familiar, though it's not totally clear how they played this one. Did they open the email in order to reply to it, but leave the attached report untouched? Or did they just take one look at the subject line and start a second email thread about how they weren't going to open the first one? They must have looked at something, because for the past week they've been pressuring EPA officials to cut huge sections of the supposedly unseen report. The final version, due out as early as next Wednesday, will contain no conclusions, only a general discussion of the issue. What is the White House trying to hide? According to the Times article, a conclusion estimating that the government could save up to $2 trillion over the next three decades by strictly regulating greenhouse gas emissions. You'd think an administration $400 billion in debt would be shouting that number from the rooftops.

Good Gov't Groups Push McCain, Obama on Bundling Disclosure

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 3:29 PM EDT

Eight campaign finance reform and watchdog organizations sent letters to John McCain and Barack Obama Wednesday asking them to identify exactly how much each of their bundlers has raised.

Bundlers are the closest thing to fat cats in today's fundraising landscape. Each individual can only donate $4,600 to a presidential candidate ($2,300 in the primary and $2,300 more in the general, if the candidate is declining public funds), but a bundler can lean on all of his contacts to put together hundreds of other people's donations, thus delivering anywhere from $50,000 to many millions to the candidate.

For that kind of money, a donor can expect some influence.

And that's why the eight groups — Campaign Finance Institute, the Center for Responsive Politics, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, the Sunlight Foundation, and U.S. PIRG — are asking McCain and Obama to make public how much bundlers collect.

This isn't really an unreasonable request. According to the reform group Public Citizen:

In 2004, Bush provided the names and states residence of bundlers who raised $100,000 (called "Pioneers") or $200,000 ("Rangers"). The information was displayed in an obvious place on his campaign Web site and appeared to be published promptly. Kerry provided lists of bundlers who raised at least $50,000 or $100,000.

We've Got an FEC

| Wed Jun. 25, 2008 12:34 PM EDT

The longstanding vacancies at the FEC have finally been filled. Last night, the Senate confirmed five commissioners to join the only sitting commissioner, Ellen Weintraub. The panel, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans as per the usual, will finally have the quorum it needs to address issues like this and this, and deal with the DNC's newly filed lawsuit challenging John McCain's withdrawal from the primary election matching funds program.

Don't expect the new FEC to usher in an era of reform. Good government groups have long criticized the FEC for being a collection of party loyalists more prone to gridlock and slaps on the wrist than to firm and effective oversight. That said, a weak FEC is better than no FEC, particularly during an election year. So, happy day.