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We already know that in the years just before the invasion of Iraq, Randy Scheunemann, now John McCain's top foreign policy aide, was part of the circle of advisors and operatives around Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who used bogus intelligence to sell the war. Over the last few days we've spoken to associates of Chalabi's and Scheunemann's from those years to fill out the picture of the working relationship between the two men.

Entifadh Qanbar, who worked for Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) in Washington in 2001 and 2002, described Scheunemann to TPM as a "close friend....We exchanged thoughts, exchanged ideas. We would often meet, go for lunch." Qanbar said Scheuenemann was also very close with both Chalabi and Francis Brooke, a longtime Chalabi aide and spokesman. Qanbar said he believes it was Brooke who first connected Scheunemann to Chalabi and the INC.

In fact, said Qanbar, Scheunemann was so friendly with the INC crowd that when the INC moved out of the shabby office space that Qanbar had found at 918 Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Capitol Hill, Qanbar suggested to Scheunemann -- who at the time was looking for a cheap spot to house his new lobbying shop, Orion Strategies -- that Scheunemann take the place over. To this day, Orion HQ is at 918 Penn (though the McCain campaign has said Scheunemann suspended his activities there earlier this year). And that was also the address Scheunemann later used for the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), the group he founded in late 2002 to gin up public support for the war.

But the links between Chalabi's INC and Scheunemann's CLI may go even further. Here's a photo of a webpage from the INC site. But notice the web address at the bottom: That's the address for the CLI. The picture was taken by the Washington journalist Jim Lobe, who blogged about it in May, and confirmed its authenticity to TPM. According to Lobe, in April 2003, he typed in the address for Scheunemann's group, and got the INC homepage. When he called CLI to ask why, Scheunemann "mumbled something about how both the CLI and the INC used the same server in London."

Scheunemann seems to have set out from the start to make himself useful to Chalabi. Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector, got a firsthand look at just how. Ritter told TPM that back in 1998, he came to Washington for a meeting with Scheunemann. Instead, Scheunemann sent him over to Chalabi's Georgetown townhouse, where Chalabi, Brooke, and a who's-who of Washington neoconservatives explained their half-baked plan to topple Saddam. The next day, Ritter did meet with Scheunemann, and shared with him a lab report that, Ritter believed, suggested Saddam was making chemical weapons (the intelligence proved to be flawed). Ritter asked Scheunemann to leak the report to the press, in order to put pressure on the Clinton administration and the UN to toughen their inspections. Scheunemann was more than happy to do so, says Ritter. But when, a short time later, The Washington Post ran a story on the lab report, the story was sourced to Chalabi's INC. Scheunemann, it seemed, had, without Ritter's permission, passed the intel on to Chalabi to leak, as a way of enhancing Chalabi's status, and currying favor with the INC leader. Ritter wrote about the incident in March.

The House Judiciary Committee has won the first round of its lawsuit against the White House over contempt of Congress in House Judiciary Committee v. Harriet Miers et al.

From the order:

Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena from plaintiff; and Ms. Miers may invoke executive privilege in response to specific questions as appropriate.

and that. . .

Joshua Bolten and Ms. Miers shall produce all non-privileged documents requested by the applicable subpoenas and shall provide to plaintiff a specific description of any documents withheld from production on the basis of executive privilege consistent with the terms of the Memorandum Opinion issued on this date

The ruling is the latest in an ongoing battle between Congress and the White House, to have senior aides testify about the U.S. attorney firings.

After looking over the Opinion, Federal Judge John Bates lays out protocol for Congressional subpoenas, stating that while there may be perfectly legitimate claims of executive privilege, a subpoena from Congress can't just be ignored-- and if it is, Congress has a right to sue for failure to respond.

But as far as those claims of executive privilege go, the questions of their validity is still on the table. The Opinion specifically states that the Court "expresses no view on such claims," but it does go so far as to demand that the White House produce specific descriptions of all documents that relate to the claim of executive privilege. This list of descriptions, often called a "privilege log," helps lift the veil on the swath of documents that are being considered under the Administration's privilege claim.

So in short, the White House can continue to claim executive privilege, and Congress can continue to sue them on the legitimacy of the claims. Unless the two parties can work something out, around and around we go.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey sent a letter to all Department of Justice employees yesterday trying to boost morale and addressing the Inspector General's report from Monday that concluded numerous high-ranking officials violated civil service laws.

In the letter first reported by the Wall Street Journal, Mukasey wrote:

I was disturbed and disappointed by those reports: disturbed by the finding that some Department employees had violated federal law, rules and regulations; and disappointed that these actions have harmed the reputation of this great institution.
He outlined several changes the Department has made in recent months, including a new process for hiring immigration judges and "mandatory training for all political appointees regarding prohibited personnel practices."

Mukasey also referenced the two additional pending reports from the IG, one about the firing of U.S. Attorneys and the other about politicization in the Civil Rights Division.
I do not know when those reports will be issued or what they will find. I am hopeful that they will recognize the many changes and actions taken by current Department employees to address the relevant issues. But I will review carefully those reports and any recommendations in them, as I have past reports, and I will not hesitate to respond as appropriate.
Read more for the full text of Mukasey's letter

Read More →

The House Oversight Committee yesterday questioned Pentagon and KBR Inc. officials over delays in protecting U.S. forces in Iraq from faulty electrical wiring. Oversight Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) interrogated the Pentagon's inspector general about absolving KBR in the death of a soldier. The faulty wiring has killed at least 16 people. (AP)

A secret government document submitted at the military commission of Osama bin Laden's driver Salim Hamdan confirms that Hamdan was sexually humiliated by a female government agent. Hamdan's lawyers claim the document is proof that Hamdan was coerced into making a confession. (New York Times)

Some Army recruiters have been caught lying to recruits in order to keep them from dropping out. One high school student in Houston was threatened with jail time if he left the recruitment program, despite signing up for a non-binding program. (KVUE)

Read More →

There are still two more uncompleted inspector general reports pending -- one about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and another about political agendas in the department's Civil Rights Division.

Yet from the IG report Monday on hiring practices, it's already clear that a culture of partisanship prevailed inside the department, and many DOJ officials were playing along, some more actively than others.

"It had a significant effect throughout the department. I think one of the most significant things is people not objecting, people not standing up," Inspector General Glenn Fine told lawmakers today on Capitol Hill.

To be sure, Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson and others appear to have been serious party hacks who violated department policy and federal law by screening out prospective lawyers and judges for partisan reasons. But many others went along, if only more passively.

Take for example what Michael Elston told the IG's investigators. Elston clearly understood how Goodling and others operated and admitted to adopting a go-along, get-along attitude.

For example, Michael Elston, former Chief of Staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, stated that when he sought attorneys for details to the [Office of the Deputy Attorney General], he would generally look for candidates with the type of experience required by the position, but he also looked for candidates with Republican or conservative credentials in order to get them approved by the [Office of Attorney General].

Elston said that Goodling made it clear to him that she did not want Democrats detailed to the ODAG because she had a "farm system" approach to filling vacancies in the Department, and she wanted to "credential" Republicans so that they could move on to higher political positions.
We saw an example of this in an email sent by Bradley Schlozman, the U.S. Attorney for Missouri's western district. He was sending resumes for three prospective hires to DOJ headquarters. Apparently without any prompting, Schlozman began touting their political credentials.
In his e-mail, Schlozman described the three candidates as "rock-solid Americans" who would be a "hugely positive legacy for this Administration." Schlozman described each candidate in terms of their conservative political credentials. He wrote that the first applicant's "involvement with the Bush/Cheney campaign speaks for itself."
Yes, in some cases, Goodling and others actively screened out prospective lawyers and judges for partisan reasons. But in many situations, they didn't have to. Others did it for them.

Yesterday we learned that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote a letter to Special Counsel Scott Bloch urging the embattled chief of the independent investigative office to step down.

Bloch's had a lot of problems lately. He's under investigation by the FBI and his top deputy quit recently complaining about "political agendas" at the office that's supposed to investigate things like misconduct related to political agendas.

Today we see that Bloch promptly fired back, sending Waxman, chairman of the House oversight committee, a terse letter saying he has no plans to resign his post until his term ends next year.

Read the letter here.

One year after the feds searched his Alaska home, and one day after a grand jury handed up a seven-count indictment, Sen. Ted Stevens is the subject of today's TMPtv. Muckraker reporter Kate Klonick recaps Ted's troubles and tells us what that means for the GOP in Alaska and nationwide.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales knew essentially nothing about the partisan culture and violations of federal law that were routine at the agency under his watch.

That's what we heard today from Glenn Fine, the Department of Justice Inspector General.

Fine told lawmakers on Capitol Hill today that his investigators interviewed Gonzales for their report, which found numerous senior officials were illegally using partisan considerations when hiring some prosecutors and judges.

The IG was emphatic. Take a look:

Should federal judges interpreting the new U.S. wiretapping law be able to hear and consider legal arguments from outside parties like the American Civil Liberties Union?

The Bush administration says no.

The Department of Justice filed court papers yesterday seeking to block the ACLU -- and any other third party -- from submitting briefs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the classified forums that will be primarily responsible for translating the federal law signed last month into practice.

The DOJ argues that any briefs the ACLU might file would be ill-informed because its lawyers cannot access the classified information at the heart of many FISA cases, and the proceedings would just clog the flow of cases

"The collective effect of these restrictions is to make any meaningful participation by the ACLU...impossible. ... Indeed, allowing third-parties to use this Court as a general forum to present facial challenges to the Government's surveillance activities could cause a flood of litigation that would district this Court from its important national security functions."
But the ACLU, which has filed a lawsuit seeking access to the FISA court, says the new law is public and complex and the judges should be able to consider a wide range of views when handing down important rulings. Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU's National Security Project said in a statement today:
"If the government's request is granted, the court won't hear arguments from anyone except the government and those arguments will be presented to the court in secret briefs. ... Especially because the new surveillance law departs so significantly from the standards that have applied to government surveillance for the last 30 years, any proceedings relating to the new law's constitutionality should be adversarial and as informed and transparent as possible."
Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, supports the ACLU's position. He wrote a paper in 2004 calling for greater participation in the FISA court.

"The DOJ is taking an expansive view of executive power and narrow view of judicial power, Swire told TPMmuckraker in an interview today. "Under the government's view, the judges seem required to uphold an unconstitutional system because the judges are forbidden from getting briefing from anyone other than the executive branch."

While there is limited precedent for third-party involvement in the typically classified proceedings under the 1978 FISA law, the new technologies that prompted lawmakers to updat the law law may also warrant new procedures, Swire said.

"The 1978 version of FISA targeted one individual at a time or sometime one terrorist organization. The new approach sweeps far more broadly and it looks more like an administrative system than a traditional judicial wiretap order."

"In light of those changes and the constitutional challenges to those changes, the court would be well served to be briefed with multiple viewpoints," Swire said.

The DOJ argues that the ACLU already has an opportunity to contest the constitutionality of the FISA law a lawsuit currently pending in New York's Southern District.

For those in a quandary about what the House Judiciary Committee's contempt citation of Karl Rove means, we refer you to the currently pending House Judiciary Committee v. Harriet Miers, et al.

Following the path of Miers, we see that after the committee votes on contempt, the resolution is then passed to the entire House. If the House approves the contempt of Congress resolutions, it goes to the DOJ for action.

But since Rove is claiming executive privilege, it is unlikely the DOJ will take any action -- at least they certainly didn't for Miers.

After the predicted DOJ demurring occurs, the House has passed a resolution that allows the HJC to file suit against the parties held in contempt-- which brings us back around to where we started: HJC v. Miers.