U.S. Attorney Update: Domenici Lawyers Up

domenici.jpgIn a move that suggests he's feeling the heat, New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici hired a high-powered lawyer today. Fired attorney David Iglesias said Domenici's chief of staff called him just weeks before the November election and pressured him to be more aggressive in his ethics probe of a Democrat. The senator himself took the phone at one point and asked if Iglesias would produce indictments before the election. (For a full report on yesterday's congressional testimony, click here.)

I'm not sure if it's more comical or terrifying, but Domenici has hired the lawyer who represented Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the former Republican congressman who was found guilty on ethics charges brought by U.S. attorney Carol S. Lam—who was fired shortly thereafter. Comical because Cunningham is in jail; terrifying because the Republican wagons are circled pretty tight and they don't fight fair.

In January, Clara wrote about the plan to sell the financially-troubled Air America to brothers Stephen and Mark Green. That deal was consummated yesterday and Mark Green celebrated the event by posting his vision for the new Air America (a/k/a Air America 2.0) on Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, having read Green's essay, I'm a bit skeptical of the "new" attributes of Air America. They sound an awful lot like the old attributes -- the ones that sent them into Chapter 11. Green asserts in the "Huff Po" that Air America will now:

  • "[Focus] on the radio fundamentals of making a strong line-up even stronger."
  • "[Connect] to other progressive membership organizations to be mutually fortifying."
  • "[Be] a multi-media content company involving other distribution platforms -- Internet, blogging, audio and video streaming, mobile, social networks, and more."
  • I think you can do all three of those things and still not make any money if the idea of progressive radio is a fundamentally flawed one, or if the execution of your core product is shoddy, or if there simply isn't a market for what you are selling. Green also says Air America will "be a business with a sharp point of view. The era of on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand liberalism is over" (what, AA didn't take a strong point of view before?) and that "Air America will aggressively cover national politics and policies in ways that will be informative, opinionated and entertaining."

    Well, okay. It sounds a little like, "We're going to do it better this time!" but I'm willing to be optimistic. Air America covering and maybe even breaking news would be cool, and some genuinely funny content would be welcomed. Go for it, boys, and good luck.

    Any readers who have heard Air America in the last few days (or in the next few) should leave their thoughts in the comments. Any material changes?

    Yesterday, former U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee (read my dispatch from the hearing here) that Mike Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, made a threatening phone call to him. (Cummins was removed to create a spot for former Karl Rove aide Timothy Griffin.) Cummins produced an email for the committee which he had sent to five of the other USAs that had been fired, in which he recounted the phone conversation with Elston. Elston strongly advised Cummins that any further discussion with the press or Congress regarding the attorneys' resignations would be seen as an escalation of the situation and the DOJ would be forced to take action. The email read that the department was threatening to "pull their gloves off and offer public criticisms to defend their actions more fully." This phone call was in response to a Washington Post article in which Cummins was reported saying, "If they [DOJ] are trying to suggest that people have inferior performance to hide whatever their true agenda is, that is wrong. They should retract those statements." It looks like the DOJ didn't like that friendly suggestion. TPMmuckraker reports today that Elston has issued a statement denying the allegations made against him yesterday. Read the whole letter here. Essentially, Elston said, he is "shocked and baffled" by the accusations.

    The misconduct list of the DOJ is totally out of control. One of the most shocking and appalling things revealed yesterday at the senate hearing was the allegation launched at New Mexico's now high-profile former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. A reason given for his forced resignation was that he was an "absentee landlord." Iglesias is a Navy Reserve Officer and must serve 40 days during the year, something, he claimed he is not only very proud of, but highlighted on his resume when he applied for the position of U.S. Attorney. The irony of this accusation did not slip past Iglesias. He noted that the DOJ is a strong advocate of USERRA, a law that protects reserve officers from discrimination in the workplace. So, shall we add discrimination to the list?

    Stay tuned for more to come, because in the words of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Schumer, who is leading the senate's investigation, the "plot continues to thicken."

    When Sports and Climate Change Collide

    Ah, finally an entry for MoJo Sports. Sports Illustrated has a neat article on the impact of global warming on sports.


    Searing heat is turning that rite of passage of Texas high school football, the August two-a-day, into a one-at-night, while at the game's highest level the Miami Dolphins, once famous for sweating players into shape, have thrown in the soggy towel and built a climate-controlled practice bubble.


    One day in November enough snow fell at Colorado's Beaver Creek to cause the cancellation of practice for the men's downhill at a World Cup event. A day later on the other side of the globe, officials at the French resort of Val d'Isère called off another World Cup event on account of too little snow, as well as a forecast of prolonged warm temperatures -- one of seven World Cup events in Europe this season to have all races canceled for the same reason.


    The world's signature dogsled race, Alaska's Iditarod, hasn't begun at its traditional starting point in Wasilla since 2002 because of too little snow there.

    And on and on. The examples abound. There are also thoughts on how to build a green stadium and instances of players who have undertaken green initiatives and teams that have gone carbon neutral. Here's is a neat one:

    Scientists told the NFL that Super Bowl XLI would put one million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air -- not counting air travel to Miami -- so the league planted 3,000 trees around Florida in an attempt to pull at least that much of the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.

    Check out the whole thing. Make sure to look for quotes from our very own Bill McKibben, who wrote "Reversal of Fortune" for MoJo's most recent issue, and the sidebar packed full of links on how to "become a greener sports fan." Activism and sports, suh-weet.

    Spotted on Feministing:

    Saying the word "vagina" during a reading at a John Jay High School open mic session has resulted in suspension for three female students and has sparked a debate about censorship throughout the community.
    School administrators had warned the girls it would be inappropriate to say the word while reading a selection from Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues," but the students were willing to suffer the consequences.

    Jeepers. Here's the news article. Thankfully, students and parents are organizing and speaking out -- they've already got a facebook group (the students) and a letter-writing campaign (the parents). The administrators of the school are saying that the issue isn't censorship, it's insubordination, which is kind of odd because the original ban on saying the word that the girls defied was censorship, no?

    Eve Ensler has volunteered to go to the school and talk about the situation. Her quote to the press: "What is wrong about the word 'vagina,' which is the correct biological term for a body part? It is not slang. It is not dirty or racy. The fact that it was censored is an indication of exactly what is going on in American schools, where girls and boys are not being educated about their bodies in a healthy way. We're pushing everything into the closet. We need open, healthy sex education where girls know and love their bodies."

    For the record, the offending V-word came in the verse: "My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women's army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina's country." The girls considered not saying the word, or holding up a sign with the world written on it, but in the end did "not feel they had the liberty to change a work of art."

    Bravo, kids. Turn this whole thing into a wicked college application essay.

    In December of last year, George W. Bush chose Karl Rove's assistant, Timothy Griffin, to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Greg Palast writes today that the House Judiciary Committee missed a major scandal when it omitted Griffin's appointment from its agenda yesterday: Griffin, according to reporters from the BBC, was behind the scheme to disenfranchise 70,000 citizens in Florida in 2004.

    Emails sent by Griffin, who was RNC Research Director, got into the hands of BBC Newsnight reporters. These emails led to the discovery of "caging" lists--spreadsheets containing the names of voters whose voting rights could be challenged. The voters were African American and Hispanic, and they all voted in Democratic precincts in Florida. Thousands of students, military personnel and homeless people were targeted, and many lost their vote. (It is interesting to note that while the RNC was throwing a fit about military votes being counted, it was also throwing potential military votes for Gore into the trash).

    Palast reminds us that it is illegal to challenge voters en masse when race is an element in such a target. Therefore, Griffin committed a federal crime, and was rewarded with a U.S. Attorney appointment. An even greater outrage, though, is that--to this day--neither Congress nor the news media has dealt with the blatant stealing of votes in both Florida and Ohio.

    Iraq Objector to Face up to Seven Years

    With well-known Iraq objector Ehren Watada waiting to face his second court martial, objector Agustin Aguayo was found guilty of desertion earlier today. He fled on September 2 from a window of his on-base home in Germany while officers were there trying to force him to redeploy. Here's the Los Angeles Times:

    Aguayo first applied for conscientious objector status in February 2004, just before his unit deployed to Iraq.

    A combat medic with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, he served for one year at a base near Tikrit -- often refusing to load his weapon while on guard duty -- while his application was being considered.

    The Army rejected his request, and after numerous appeal attempts failed...Aguayo faced a second deployment to Iraq last summer.

    Aguayo may face up to 7 years in prison. The number of conscientious objector applications tripled when the Iraq war began, and has held steady since then.

    Scooter Libby's Unpardonable Fundraiser

    Scooter Libby's legal defense fund has yet to start calling for a presidential pardon. But while it rejiggers its strategy, let's get reacquainted with the group's head, Republican donor and former ambassador Mel Sembler. As John Gorenfeld wrote in our May 2006 issue:

    ...Sembler knows a thing or two about the humiliations of involuntary confinement. For 17 years, he directed Straight, Inc., a substance-abuse rehab and behavior modification program that treated American teens like terrorism suspects. Sembler's official bio boasts that the "remarkable program" — where children had to flap their arms like chickens or else face shaming as "sluts" and homosexuals — treated 12,000 kids. President George H.W. Bush hailed it as one of his "thousand points of light." But in the early '90s, amid state investigations and suits filed by clients claiming physical and mental abuse, his clinics were dismantled. Hundreds of Straight alums now claim they were scarred for life, among them Samantha Monroe, who was enrolled in 1980 at age 12 and claims she was starved, raped, and confined in a closet.

    Once a point of light, always a point of light, I guess.

    Up Next for Libby: How to Get Pardoned

     libby110.jpg The pressing question for Scooter Libby, now that he's been convicted on four of the five counts against him and faces 25 years in prison, is how to get off the hook. Who will pardon him and when? The answer to the first question is Bush, probably, but would W. really do it in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign? That would surely sink the already rickety Republican ship.

    Libby is to be sentenced in June and cynical professionals in Washington don't expect him to do any jail time. They know he'll get off one way or another. Key pardons of the past:

  • President Jerry Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for official misconduct on September 8,1974. Of course, that was after Nixon resigned. At the time polls showed Americans were against the pardon.
  • Jimmy Carter pardoned Vietnam war resisters.
  • George H.W. Bush pardoned 75 people. They included six top Reagan administration officials tied up in the Iran contra scandal. (Bush senior owed his very political existence to Reagan. Reagan trounced him in the Republicans primaries in '80, then magnanimously offered him the vice presidency, which the Connecticut blueblood grabbed.) Casper Weinberger, secretary of Defense, was convicted of lying to the independent counsel. He was pardoned by Bush Sr.
  • Clinton pardoned billionaire Marc Rich.
  • -- James Ridgeway

    Meet David Hicks and his Beleaguered Counsel

     david_hicks65x70.jpg Few people in America know who David Hicks is. He's an Australian man who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 and last week was the first person stored away at Guantanamo to be formally charged by the United States government under the new system of military tribunals. Hicks had been in Gitmo for five years (he claims he was subject to beatings), and was there under an allegation of attempted murder until the charges came down. At that point attempted murder was dropped because of lack of evidence (see Padilla, Jose) and Hicks was instead charged with material support of terrorism, which wasn't illegal until 2006.

    Well, now that Hicks's case is actually going to trial, the government is considering charging Hicks' lawyer with "using contemptuous language towards the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense." Apparently that's illegal for a military lawyer (free speech is notoriously lacking in the Armed Services). Never mind the obvious question of how the man is supposed to do his job without violating that law; penalties for that offense include jail time and loss of employment and Hicks' lawyer -- Major Michael Mori of Massachusetts, who has been criticized by the military for repeatedly traveling to Australia to speak out against Hicks' treatment and taking part in events like vigils on Hicks' behalf -- is saying that he may resign from the case because he can no longer speak out for Hicks' without endangering his own legal status. It's a total conflict of interest, one that the government may have created intentionally and in my mind amounts to an obstruction of due process.

    The newest reporting on Hicks is that if he is willing to accept a plea bargain and plead guilty to supporting terrorism, he might get off on time served and return to Australia a free man.

    To learn more, see the David Hicks wikipedia page, which has links to dozens of Australian newspaper articles about him.