They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

I was just reading through the FBI's search warrant affidavit, which the FBI released today - it details their very considerable case against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) - and I really can't decide which part is the most damning.

Is it when Jefferson admits to the cooperating witness (a businesswoman named Lori Mody) that he's just sticking around in Congress long enough to make sure that he gets his cut on a Nigerian telecom deal? Or as Jefferson puts it: "I'm gonna get your deal out of the way... and I probably won't last long after that."

Or is it when Jefferson heaps praise on a Nigerian businessman by saying he's got "more deals going than the goddamn man in the moon," adding: "He's a very, well, the word might be... corrupt," but then recommends that Mody bring him in on the deal?

Or is it when Jefferson colorfully describes how another Nigerian businessman might play a role in the deal by greasing some of the local officials' palms? To quote:

...But we need him. We got to motivate him really good. He's got a lot of folks to pay off.... He's gotta, if he's gotta pay Minister X, we don't want to know. It's not our deal. We're not paying Minister X a damn thing. That's all, you know, international fraud crap. We're not doing that.... Whatever they do locally, that's their business.


Or is it when Jefferson describes how his cut of the deal is going to his children to keep his name out of it? Again, from the horse's mouth: "I wouldn't show up in there.... I make a deal for my children."

Or is it where Jefferson suggests to Mody that they could bribe the Vice President of Nigeria (his name is blacked out in the document, but he's been subsequently identified) through his foundation, which Jefferson describes as a "front?"

Well, of course, there is, as I mentioned before, the hand-off in the Ritz-Carlton's parking lot of the $100,000 in cash, which was to be used to bribe the Nigerian Vice President. That doesn't look good.

And then there's the codespeak. When Mody asks whether Jefferson handed the money off to the Nigerian VP, Jefferson, apparently cagey about saying anything explicit, says "I gave him the African art you gave me and he was very pleased."

And really, the most damning detail of all is that Jefferson evidently lied to Mody when he said he'd paid off the Nigerian VP. In reality, the cash (or $90,000 of it) was in his freezer, in "frozen food containers and wrapped in aluminum foil," when the FBI raided his house two days later. In other words, not only was Jefferson apparently involved in a bribery scheme, but he didn't even play that cleanly - he swindled his partner and pocketed bribe money intended for someone else.

So - what's your vote? Read for yourself.

John Bresnahan of Roll Call has more on the FBI's case against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). :

Documents filed in support of the search show that the Justice Department is assembling a wide-ranging case against the veteran Democratic lawmaker. At this time, Jefferson is being investigated for bribery, wire fraud, bribery of a foreign official and conspiracy to bribe foreign officials, according to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent in support of the search warrant.

But the Justice Department and FBI agents are also looking at “least seven other schemes in which Congressman Jefferson sought things of value” in return for official acts, the affidavit states.
That suggests that additional avenues for prosecuting Jefferson could be revealed soon.

The FBI has two confidential witnesses who are offering testimony against Jefferson, as well as undercover audio and videotapes of him allegedly asking for and receiving bribes worth potentially millions of dollars in exchange for his help in putting together African telecommunications deals for U.S. firms, according to the affidavit.


And Bresnahan has more on that $100,000 cash payment made by the FBI informant at the Ritz-Carlton. The meeting was caught on video “from several vantage points,” according to the FBI. The money was supposed to be passed on the Nigerian Vice President, you see, but it seems that Jefferson just kept it in his freezer. Well, he kept most of it:

During a search executed on Jefferson’s home in Washington, D.C., a week later, special agents found $90,000 from that payment in the freezer, “concealed inside frozen food containers” in $10,000 blocks, wrapped in aluminum foil, the FBI stated. The FBI had recorded the serial numbers on the bills before they were given to Jefferson, and the money from the freezer matched those numbers.

Of the missing $10,000, Jefferson allegedly gave $4,800 to one of his Congressional aides, and one of his lawyers later gave the FBI another $4,900, which leaves only $300 unaccounted for.


Keep in mind that Jefferson's already said that there's no way he's stepping down just because of a trumped-up indictment.

Uh-oh:

A congressman under investigation for bribery was caught on videotape accepting $100,000 in $100 bills from an FBI informant whose conversations with the lawmaker also were recorded, according to a court document released Sunday. Agents later found the cash hidden in his freezer.

At one audiotaped meeting, Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), chuckles about writing in code to keep secret what the government contends was his corrupt role in getting his children a cut of a communications company's deal for work in Africa.

As Jefferson and the informant passed notes about what percentage the lawmaker's family might receive, the congressman "began laughing and said, 'All these damn notes we're writing to each other as if we're talking, as if the FBI is watching,'" according to the affidavit....

As for the $100,000, the government says Jefferson got the money in a leather briefcase last July 30 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington. The plan was for the lawmaker to use the cash to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian official


Read the whole thing and see if you decipher Jefferson's code:

Jefferson assured the FBI informant in their coded conversations that he paid the money to the Nigerian official, even though the money was still in Jefferson's possession when agents searched his home Aug. 3.

On Aug. 1, two days after Jefferson picked up the $100,000, the informant called Jefferson to ask about the status of "the package."

Jefferson responded: "I gave him the African art that you gave me and he was very pleased."

Last night, the FBI raided the Congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the New York Times reports. The bureau has already raided Jefferson's homes in Washington and New Orleans.

Jefferson is suspected of agreeing to do favors for companies in exchange for money and stock. The lawmaker has vowed not to resign, even if he is indicted. Last week, the long-dormant House ethics committee announced it would get busy on a probe of Jefferson.

Turns out the telcos aren't the only ones busy complying with law enforcement demands. From today's Wall Street Journal:

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement efforts to secure corporate information about clients and suppliers have reached such levels that some companies have had to create special units that do nothing but deal with these demands, a process often called "subpoena management."

Banks, Internet-service providers and other companies that possess large amounts of data on their customers say that police and intelligence agencies have been increasingly coming to them looking for tidbits of information that could help them stop everything from money launderers to pedophiles and terrorists.

"Corporate counsel that used to see law-enforcement-related requests five times a year are now getting them sometimes dozens of times a day," says Susan Hackett, a senior vice president and top attorney for the Association of Corporate Counsel, which represents the legal departments of leading U.S. companies.


According to the piece, companies generally make an effort to narrow the scope of law enforcement demands. But sometimes they have no choice:

...New powers granted to the government under the Patriot Act mean that Washington can secretly access people's records from businesses without having to provide any notification or seek a judge's permission. Companies are in fact prohibited by the law from disclosing that they had received such requests.

The Justice Department last month reported that the FBI last year issued 9,200 administrative subpoenas known as National Security Letters, seeking information on 3,501 U.S. citizens and legal residents from their banks, credit card, telephone and Internet companies without a court's approval. The records are supposed to be about people in terrorism and espionage investigations, but the FBI is not required to show how they are connected to any terrorism case.


Ah, the National Security Letter, that beloved instrument of law enforcement. As Justin noted before, though that 9,200 (it's actually 9,254) number is frequently cited, Bart Gellman of The Washington Post found that as many as 30,000 NSLs had been issued.

A new Business Week article may help explain how AT&T and BellSouth can say they didn't help the NSA, despite the spy agency having millions of their records showing the call details of Americans using their networks.

The magazine reveals a hidden corner of the telecommunications world: a small group of companies who specialize in granting the government access to telecommunications records, conversations and real-time data on behalf of the telecom giants.

That's right: the government now makes so many requests for wiretaps, phone records and call information that an industry has sprung up to handle the load.

Rather than respond themselves to requests from the FBI and others, a telco can sign up with one of these companies, give them access to their call records and equipment, and let that third party do all the hard work.

What are the benefits? One company, NeuStar, doesn't beat around the bush. In a pitch to service providers, it bills itself as a "scapegoat" for hire, presumably allowing phone companies to deny responsibility for or involvement in turning over their records to the government.

Sound familiar?

NeuStar actually has an advantage over its competitors: it's not just an FBI-friendly third party, it's a major routing company. According to their web site, "Nearly every telephone call placed is routed using NeuStar's system, and every telecommunications service provider is one of NeuStar's customers."

Yep, their customers include AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth - the mighty trio featured in USA Today's story on the NSA's vast calls database last week.

Now, NeuStar's CEO has repeatedly denied that his company had anything to do with the NSA program. That may be so. But if NeuStar isn't the fabled third party to hand over the telcos' data to the NSA, then it seems that there are plenty of other suspects.

We mentioned in the Daily Muck this morning that the FBI is investigating top Air Force officials for improperly steering a $49 million publicity contract to a buddy. Turns out the buddy has some interesting qualifications.

Ed Shipley is the former Navy man who "won" the contract, even though his bid was $25 million higher than the rest. But he was clearly the best man for the job, as our colleagues at Muckraked.com reveal: from 1988 to 1992, Shipley produced and directed Richard Simmons' "Sweatin' to the Oldies" videos.

Here's a curious strategy for you: While the GOP is battered by a massive ethics scandal in the House intelligence committee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) is planning to give that panel's top Democratic post to a guy with a checkered ethics background.

That's right: Pelosi wants to replace House Intel Committee Ranking Member Jane Harman (CA) with Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), who "was forced to surrender his job as a federal judge after being indicted in 1981 on bribery charges," as the LA Times reports it. He beat the rap, but "was impeached in 1988 by the House for conspiracy and making false statement" in connection to the case.

Why, it's almost as bad as giving the Democrat's top seat on the House ethics committee to a fellow who's been funnelling half a billion dollars to his friends and pet charities.

(Hat tip to Steve Clemons, Laura Rozen)

After the reams of bad press the Republican National Committee's gotten for covering millions in legal bills for anti-democratic felons, Ed Gillespie, the RNC's former chair, is attempting to fall on his sword and take the blame.

But he keeps missing.

The more he tries to explain that he alone is to blame for the decision, the more it becomes apparent that he had at least tacit approval from the White House.

Here's his latest:

The former chairman of the Republican National Committee remembers telling someone at the White House that he had decided to have the RNC pay the legal defense bills for convicted phone-jamming conspirator James Tobin, but he can’t remember who.

Ed Gillespie told the New Hampshire Union Leader yesterday he informed the White House after he decided to authorize payment.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Gillespie told its reporter that he had “informed the White House, without seeking formal approval, before authorizing the payments.”

Gillespie told the Union Leader the two accounts were “consistent” because he decided to authorize the payments before telling the White House and actually authorized the payments after telling the White House....

Gillespie yesterday told the Union Leader he could not remember who at the White House he informed of his decision to pick up Tobin’s legal bills.

“I’m not going to guess,” he said. “It was years ago, but as a matter of routine, I would have told somebody over there.”

If someone at the White House had expressed displeasure with his decision, Gillespie said, “It was too late. I had made the decision and they were not involved in it.” [Emphasis added.]


So here's the whole story as Gillespie tells it. He made an arbitrary decision that the RNC would cover Tobin's legal bills. Why? Because "it's the custom, not written anywhere, that you covered your people." - (N.B. according to Ken Mehlman, the RNC has since revoked this honorable, unwritten custom: "consulting contracts now explicitly declare that independent contractors must be prepared to pay their own legal costs in civil and criminal cases.") Having made that decision, he then informed someone at the White House, he can't remember who, that he was going to abide by this unwritten rule. But this was just a heads up, a courtesy, not a dialogue. It was non-negotiable.

Sound funny to you?

Okay, we've had a lot of fun with the Department of Homeland Security's justifications for hiring Shirlington Limousine Company, the outfit at the center of Hookergate which DHS awarded a $22 million contract to ferry its people around. But there's just one more tidbit I gotta throw out there.

According to DHS, hiring Shirlington was a good idea because in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency, the fleet of executive limos they drive can help get top DHS officials to safety.

In bureaucrat-speak: "[the sedans] provide an additional transportation capacity in the event of a Continuity of Operations (COOP) or other emergent situation[.]"

A "COOP situation" is any event which triggers the department's "Continuity of Operations Plan." Those plans used to be for responding to a Soviet nuclear attack, but have since been adapted to handle all manner of dirty bombings, 9/11-style plane hijackings, chem-bio attacks, and other major emergencies.

So if you were worried about how DHS was keeping its operations running, don't! They're betting Shirlington Limo will provide the limos to get them to their secret bunkers before the lethal gas/crumbling buildings/terrorist bullets get them.

Update: An earlier version of this post implied the limousines belonged to Shirlington. Studying the contract, it appears DHS leases the limos directly; Shirlington merely provides the drivers.

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