Blogs

Court Squashes One of Biggest Tax Fraud Cases in History

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 1:46 PM EDT

The AP reports that a judge has dropped charges against 13 former KPMG employees in what had been one of the largest criminal tax cases in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the dismissal was necessary because the government coerced KPMG to limit and then cut off its payment of the onetime employees' legal fees....
The case resulted after the government investigated what it described as a tax shelter fraud that helped the wealthy escape $2.5 billion in U.S. taxes.
Kaplan said the Department of Justice "deliberately or callously" prevented many of the defendants from getting funds for their defense, blocking them from hiring the lawyers of their choice.

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors, Yusill Scribner, told the AP the government "had no comment."

A lawyer reader comments that the DOJ botched the case by overreaching in trying to an unusual degree to deny the defendants the ability to pay their lawyers. "This is a tactic the Justice Department started using under Ashcroft in white collar cases. It has been roundly criticized by civil libertarians, unions, defense counsel and many, many, federal judges. The policy was announced in the infamous Thompson memo, named after the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division who issued it. It was so controversial that Justice recently announced it was withdrawing the memo. Too late for the largest criminal tax fraud case in history.

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D.C. Seeks to Fight for Its 30-Year-Old Gun Ban in the High Court

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 1:30 PM EDT

This past March, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Parker v. District of Columbia, which dissolved the strictest gun regulations on the books of any state or district in the nation—the district's gun ban—using a broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, marking the first time this interpretation has been used to overturn state gun regs.

When the federal appeals court, just a few months later, denied Washington's request for the case to be heard before the full-judge panel (the case was originally heard before a three-judge panel), all anyone could talk about was how the case was headed to the nation's highest court. At Mother Jones, we wondered what D.C.'s Mayor, Adrian Fenty, would do. He could appeal to the Supreme Court and risk a victory for Parker that would have far-reaching implications for state gun laws across the nation or he could accept the ruling and face the music at home. Well, Fenty has made his decision. Today, a news release from the Mayor's office announced that the District of Columbia will petition the Supreme Court to review the decision made by its appeals court.

For more information on Parker and the man behind the case, see this Mother Jones interview with Cato Institute senior fellow and constitutional lawyer Dr. Robert Levy.

Iraqi Troops Get Mine-Resistant Vehicles; U.S. Troops Have to Wait

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 10:55 AM EDT

USA Today dropped a bomb on the Pentagon this morning, reporting that military officials "repeatedly balked at appeals—from commanders on the battlefield and from the Pentagon's own staff—to provide the lifesaving Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, for patrols and combat missions" in Iraq. Rather, to negotiate the country's IED-riddled thoroughfares, U.S. troops have had to rely on humvees that have been retrofitted with armor (some of makeshift design) and offer little protection from direct blasts. But here's the kicker: "Even as the Pentagon balked at buying MRAPs for U.S. troops, USA TODAY found that the military pushed to buy them for a different fighting force: the Iraqi army."

On Dec. 22, 2004 — two weeks after President Bush told families of servicemembers that "we're doing everything we possibly can to protect your loved ones" — a U.S. Army general solicited ideas for an armored vehicle for the Iraqis. The Army had an "extreme interest" in getting troops better armor, then-brigadier general Roger Nadeau told a subordinate looking at foreign technology, in an e-mail obtained by USA TODAY.

In a follow-up message, Nadeau clarified his request: "What I failed to point out in my first message to you folks is that the US Govt is interested not for US use, but for possible use in fielding assets to the Iraqi military forces."

In response, Lt. Col. Clay Brown, based in Australia, sent information on two types of MRAPs manufactured overseas. "By all accounts, these are some of the best in the world," he wrote. "If I were fitting out the Iraqi Army, this is where I'd look (wish we had some!)"

The first contract for what would become the Iraqi Light Armored Vehicle — virtually identical to the MRAPs sought by U.S. forces then and now, and made in the United States by BAE Systems — was issued in May 2006. The vehicles, called Badgers, began arriving in Iraq 90 days later, according to BAE. In September 2006, the Pentagon said it would provide up to 600 more to Iraqi forces. As of this spring, 400 had been delivered.

The rush to equip the Iraqis stood in stark contrast to the Pentagon's efforts to protect U.S. troops.

In February 2005, two months after Nadeau solicited ideas for better armor for the Iraqis and was told MRAPs were an answer, an urgent-need request for the same type of vehicle came from embattled Marines in Anbar province. The request, signed by then-brigadier general Dennis Hejlik, said the Marines "cannot continue to lose … serious and grave casualties to IEDs … at current rates when a commercial off-the-shelf capability exists to mitigate" them.

Officials at Marine headquarters in Quantico, Va., shelved the request for 1,169 vehicles. Fifteen months passed before a second request reached the Joint Chiefs and was approved. Those vehicles finally began trickling into Anbar in February, two years after the original request.


Who Contributes the Most Foreign Fighters to Iraq?

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 10:52 AM EDT

If you had to guess which country contributes the most foreign fighters to the Iraqi insurgency, you'd guess Iran, right? After all, the Bush Administration, specifically the vice president, is proclaiming far and wide that Iran is a nefarious force in the Iraq fight, and even Congress is censuring the oil-rich country for its complicity in killing Americans.

But the American saber-rattling points in the wrong direction. A Los Angeles Times report out today shows that more foreign fighters come from Saudi Arabia than any other country. "About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa," writes the Times, citing official U.S. military figures provided by a senior U.S. military officer. The remaining 30%, presumably, houses Iran's contribution. The officer also pointed out that half of the detainees in American detention facilities in Iraq are Saudi.

Saudi Arabia is an ally in the war on terror, of course, allowing us to keep military bases on the peninsula and cracking down (theoretically) on terrorists within its borders and future insurgents crossing its border into Iraq. But Saudis interested in joining the fight know there is a relatively simple path through Jordan and Syria and into Iraq. Both the senior military officer and a handful of Iraqi lawmakers the Times spoke with feel the Saudis can do more to stop future insurgents moving along this route.

A couple facts to keep in mind as you watch the administration raise the rhetoric with Iran while ignoring Saudi Arabia.

(1) The Saudis are the United States' fourth largest oil importer, sending us 1.2 to 1.5 million barrels per day.

(2) Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks were Saudi.

Just saying. For more, see here and here.

Kirkuk: Barometer of Civil War

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 10:14 AM EDT

As NPR reports, twin suicide car bombings in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk earlier today killed 80 people and wounded an estimated 150 more. The bombs targeted the office of a Kurdish political party and a popular outdoor market. Kirkuk sits on a lot of oil, and its history of ethnic tension between Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomen makes it a potential powder keg. Thanks to the so-called 'surge' in Baghdad, Iraq's violence is diffusing into new areas that, until now, have been relatively quiet. Should Kirkuk explode, there's no telling how things would end. The International Crisis Group released a report last summer about the struggle for control over the city. The New Yorker's George Packer also has also written on the subject in that magazine's pages. The level of violence in the city bears watching...

Petraeus is a Fall Guy? Impossible!

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 10:14 AM EDT

According to this morning's Washington Post, "Some of [Gen. David] Petraeus' military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve."

Uh, duh?

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"Dysfunctional" House Intelligence Committee

| Mon Jul. 16, 2007 9:01 AM EDT

Remember "Duke" Cunningham? He's the California Republican Congressman who pled guilty to bribery-related charges in late 2005, who is now serving an eight-year prison sentence. He also sat on the House Intelligence committee that, among other responsibilities, makes recommendations for the "black" budget of classified federal national security spending.

Concerned that Cunningham's mercenary motivations may have corrupted the Intelligence committee's business, the committee authorized an internal investigation, which was completed last year. But here's the rub: Neither the former House intel committee chairman, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), nor its current chairman, Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx), have agreed to release the investigation's findings.

Ranking Democrat Jane Harman released the investigation's executive summary last December - to howls of outrage from committee Republicans. Today, the Los Angeles Times reports, it got a look at the whole thing -- at least the 23-page unclassified version of the 50-page report.

Its conclusion: "The committee [is] a dysfunctional entity that served as a crossroads for almost every major figure in the ongoing criminal probe by the Justice Department."

"Breaking" News: Gilmore Out of GOP Presidential Race

| Sun Jul. 15, 2007 5:31 PM EDT

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore has dropped out of the Republican race. "Because of the front-loading of the primaries, I would have basically had to stop campaigning and spend full time organizing hundreds of people to raise money for me," he said. Gilmore had raised $381,000, compared to Mitt Romney's $35 million.

I hope this doesn't lead to a tumble of second- and third-tier Republican candidates leaving the race. The more candidates they have, the more spread out the demand for money and the less clarity the GOP can get in debates and on the campaign trail. Don't go anywhere yet, Sam Brownback!

Pyongyang to Close Nuclear Weapons Facility

| Sun Jul. 15, 2007 5:09 PM EDT

Kim Jong Il has finally agreed to shut down the plutonium production facility at Yongbyon, rare good news in the longstanding dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. For those of you who, like me, have grown disoriented by the constant twists and turns in this story, a piece in today's Washington Post offers a good recap of the last few years of diplomatic wrangling. An extended excerpt after the break.

Longer than World War II...And About As Expensive

| Sun Jul. 15, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

Sunday's Washington Post includes a piece about the profits of war—the rising fortunes of companies supplying the war effort. It cites a report, released June 7 by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, showing that current military expenditures, expressed in real dollars, are at their highest level since 1946.

See Mother Jones' breakdown of the Iraq War's costs here.