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

The Feds have another big lawmaker in their crosshairs, we learned recently: prosecutors are looking into the dealings of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chair of the House appropriations committee, a longtime Defense porkbarreler and one of the most powerful men in Congress.

Hanging like a loose thread from the tails of stories about Lewis' troubles has been the name of his longtime aide, Letitia White. First as his "gatekeeper," then as a lobbyist for some of his closest corporate friends, White's otherwise unremarkable career reveals the kind of questionable activities that have reportedly drawn the Justice Department's interest: how powerful interests became closely linked in a multi-million-dollar cornucopia of wealth for all involved. Including White.

For over two decades White worked for Lewis, and was reportedly known as his "gatekeeper." His allies were her allies. For instance, Lewis fought for a decade on behalf of San Diego contractor General Atomics, forcing the Pentagon to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on GA's Predator UAV, which the generals didn't want.

In return, General Atomics donated generously to Lewis' campaign and PAC, and hosted at least one fundraiser for Lewis -- along with "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for corruption, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).

Indeed, some of the sordid details of the Cunningham saga are echoed in GA's bruising Beltway tactics, particularly how defense contractors would work Cunningham over to force the Pentagon to heel. "His goal has always been to sidestep the regular procurement process," Aviation Week reported last year of Tom Cassidy, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the GA subsidiary which makes the Predator. "'He threatens general officers with congressional action if they don't pay attention to him,'" the publication quotes an anonymous former Air Force officer saying of the man.

In 2002, General Atomics paid for White and her husband to take a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Italy, at a reported cost of nearly $8,500. It may have made an impression: White left Lewis' employ some months later, on Jan. 8, 2003, to work at the lobby shop of Lewis' old friend, Bill Lowery. (The feds are reportedly probing Lewis' ties to Lowery, his firm and his clients.) An old friend followed her: on Jan. 9, the very next day, she filed with Congress to lobby on behalf of General Atomics.

Read More →

TPMm Reader JS writes in:

I have been struck by how differently the alleged bribery of Rep. Jefferson has been handled than, say, the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal.

Is there even a precedent for a congressional office to be searched?

The FBI's raid of Jefferson's Congressional office is a remarkable development - without precedent, it seems. Here's Roll Call yesterday:

This is believed to be the first-ever FBI raid on a Congressional office.....

The FBI affidavit states that agents adopted “special procedures” to assure that “potentially politically sensitive, non-responsive items in the Office” would not be seized. The procedures included using FBI agents “who have no substantive role” in the investigation, referred to as “non-case agents.”

A “Filter Team” made up of lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, as well as an FBI special agent, will sift through any documents seized. If any are found to be non-germane to the probe, they will be returned to Jefferson’s office within 10 business days.

The “Filter Team” will also review the other documents to make sure they do not fall under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause — the Congressional privilege that protects lawmakers and staffers from being charged with criminal acts for conducting official legislative business. Jefferson’s lawyer will be given a list of documents that may meet that privilege, and prosecutors will not be informed of their contents. A federal judge will then review them for admissibility in any prosecution of Jefferson.

On the first point - whether Jefferson's case has been handled any differently from Cunningham's - I'd keep in mind that Cunningham gave in and pled guilty a mere five months after the FBI had opened their case. The FBI has been investigating Jefferson since March of 2005, and after flirting with the idea of a plea deal, Jefferson has clearly decided to fight prosecutors tooth and nail. If Duke had stood his ground, we might have eventually been treated to the same show.

Guess what? the Homeland Security Department has an NSA liaison in its intelligence shop who keeps a direct secure computer link to NSA's Ft. Meade headquarters. Since DHS has some pretty big domestic security responsibilities, Congress is wondering how much -- if any -- intel it got from the NSA's domestic call data-mining and surveillance operation, reports CQ's Jeff Stein.

The New Yorker's Sy Hersh brings news that the National Security Agency monitored the content of calls by U.S. persons. Interestingly, some of Hersh's details mesh with our earlier conjecture about how the FBI may be supporting the NSA's questionable call records-mining.

Through mining the vast database of domestic U.S. calls, the NSA would come up with individuals they wanted to listen in on. “After you hit something, you have to figure out what to do with it,” one Administration intelligence official told Hersh. Then it gets really interesting:

The next step, theoretically, could have been to get a suspect's name and go to the FISA court for a warrant to listen in. One problem, however, was the volume and the ambiguity of the data that had already been generated. ("There's too many calls and not enough judges in the world," the former senior intelligence official said.) The agency would also have had to reveal how far it had gone, and how many Americans were involved. And there was a risk that the court could shut down the program.

Instead, the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other. (emphasis added)

Earlier, we had mused on the fact that the Justice Department reported issuing approximately 21,000 fewer "National Security Letters," secret non-court-approved warrants for information, than the Washington Post had reported last November. In its report, DoJ specifically said it was not including requests for "subscriber information" -- that's when they ask a phone company for the identity of a person who has a particular phone number, or when they ask an ISP for the subscriber at a given IP address.

So, we concluded, there could be tens of thousands of NSLs related to the work NSA was doing, that Justice hasn't yet admitted.

Hersh doesn't make the connection between what the NSA was doing with the call data and the FBI's phantom NSLs -- and indeed it may not exist. But if the NSA were to engage in the kind of surveillance of U.S. persons that Hersh describes, it would make sense they'd ask the FBI for the kind of quasi-legal fig leaf that an NSL could provide. That would generate thousands of FBI requests for "subscriber information" which neither the FBI nor the NSA would like to see reported publicly.

Harris: My Dinner(s) with Mitchell It took a while, but Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) finally fessed up to dining with former MZM Inc. owner and Duke Cunningham briber Mitchell Wade. Recall the $2800 meal at Citronelle? The "only-appetizers-and-a-drink" claim? The failure to reimburse or report the meal, which was w-a-a-a-y over the House gift limit?

It turns out Harris enjoyed an earlier dinner with Mitchell -- on his dime -- that she also failed to report or reimburse. Harris dispatched her spokesman to defend her activities, but apparently failed to arm him with a viable set of facts. She made a contribution to a charity for the amount of her meal, he insisted, "but he could provide no details," reports the St. Petersburg Times, which broke the story. "He said he did not know how much that meal cost, how much Harris donated to charity or what the charity was."

Read More →

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.


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.