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"McCain camp goes on offense in S.C." headlines the Los Angeles Times. "McCain Takes the Fight To Negative Opponents" echoes the Washington Post.

The campaign is doing its best to show that it won't let 2000 happen again, when still unknown dirty tricksters called South Carolina voters to ask them whether they knew that McCain had illegitimately fathered a black baby. But so far, the campaign's response to the attacks has been far more notable than the attacks themselves.

As we've been amply documenting here, McCain has indeed been the target of push polls this time around, but so have his opponents Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson -- with the notable exception of Mike Huckabee. The calls, numbering around seven million so far in various primary states, are the work of the Huck-supporting group Common Sense Issues, and the attacks are pretty standard GOP negative fare so far.

And then there's Vietnam Veterans against John McCain. Recently, the group sent a mailer to approximately 80 newspaper editors in South Carolina accusing McCain of selling out his fellow POWs in Vietnam. On Tuesday, the McCain campaign (which is working hard to appeal to vet voters) made one of McCain's former fellow POWs available to the media to respond to the smear. The story, picked up by the AP and Wall Street Journal among others, got national play -- undoubtedly more play than the group would have been able to get on its own.

I spoke to the founder of Vietnam Veterans against John McCain, Jerry Kiley, yesterday. He told me that the group hasn't "actively sought donations at this point," and that the next step for the group will be mailings "going out to our network," with the intention that the mailing would then be forwarded on to local media there. The group just doesn't have the funds to send mailings directly to voters -- nor, as they declared they would in their statement of purpose, to run radio and TV ads. Things "could change," he told me, "if we received a sizable donation," but he wasn't holding out much hope.

Instead, they're planning "an email campaign." Groups of like-minded vets throughout the country will get the email chain started, he said, "so it will spread very quickly throughout the country."

So they're not exactly the second coming of the well-funded Swift Boat Vets (one of whom said he was "appalled" by their attack on McCain). They don't have $22 million to spend. But they are certainly admirers -- even making an homage in their South Carolina mailing. As we pointed out yesterday, the mailing had a label with the Swift Boat Vets' icon on it. But we couldn't figure out if it said Swift Boat Vets for Truth or Swift Boot Vets for Truth:



The winner, Kiley, told me, is Swift Boot Vets. "We actually named ourselves the Swift Boot Vets because we want to boot McCain out of the primary."

Update: Here's video of McCain responding to the mailers on Fox News:

A number of TPM readers have written in with descriptions of the pro-Huckabee push polls done by Common Sense Issues, and we had a very good idea of how they went. But it helps to hear one. Luckily, one South Carolinian was able to record the latter half of the call, and Jeffrey Taylor, blogging at Reason, posted a link (wav).

We've transcribed the call below. Unfortunately, the man who recorded it missed the beginning, but here's how that would have gone. A male voice says "this is a call from Election Research with a 45-second survey" (sometimes it's from "Data Research" -- they're both names used by the calling firm, ccAdvertising). The voice then asks who you support. If you say Fred Thompson, you get a slew of reasons why Thompson is not half the man Mike Huckabee is. The transcription shows how that goes.

Now, there seems to be a specific question about state politicians at the end of each call that varies from state to state. In the example below, it's about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). In the Nevada calls, voters who said they had a favorable view of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) were asked what they thought about Reid wanting to surrender in Iraq and hand over our freedoms to "Islamo-fascists."

Again, we'd love to hear other recordings. So if you manage to get one, please email it in to tips(at)tpmmuckraker.com.

The transcription:

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We've been tracking Common Sense Issues, the Mike Huckabee-supporting push polling group, closely (click here to see our past coverage). They've already made millions of calls and last night, they unleashed another onslaught on South Carolina, where they'll call a million homes over three days. All told, that means they've made approximately 6 million calls so far this election (see update below).

The group's executive director told me that they're "well within the law." But one thing that hasn't been clear is whether any of the states will call the group's bluff and prosecute them.*

South Carolina has a law against automated phone calls. And the state's attorney general, Henry McMaster, is co-chair of John McCain's state campaign. In a phone interview today, he told me that his office was still gathering information about the calls, but that "I'd advise anybody making automated calls that they should get some legal advice."

The state's law carries a potential civil penalty of $1000 per call, McMaster said, meaning that the state could hypothetically seek a $1 billion penalty (see update below). "It takes much less than that to put a hurting on most folks," he added.

McMaster is a member of the McCain's so-called "Truth Squad," an effort by the campaign to counter negative attacks, and the campaign released a statement from him earlier today responding to the "several misleading claims" about McCain in Common Sense Issues' push polls. When I asked him whether it might be a conflict of interest for him to pursue a case against a group backing a rival candidate, he said no: "It doesn’t make any difference who we’re supporting or not supporting. In my state, everybody knows everybody. It’s a small place. You just have to be ethical and do your job and overlook those kind of things."

*Note: The firm that's been doing the calls on Common Sense Issues' behalf is ccAdvertising (also known as FreeEats.com). And their legal record isn't encouraging. That company has already lost twice in federal court. In 2004, they challenged North Dakota's do-not-call law and lost (they'd made approximately 235,000 calls polling a range of GOP hot-button issues). The company was fined $20,000. And in 2006, they challenged Indiana's do-not-call law and lost (the group made 400,000 calls attacking Rep. Byron Hill (D-IN)).

Thursday Update: It's been hard to get a handle on just how many calls the group has been making, but the group's executive director gave me an estimate of approximately 5 million this morning. That's based on his count of 850,000 in Iowa, 400,000 in New Hampshire, 3 million in Michigan, approximately 50,000 in Florida, over 1 million in South Carolina and approximately 500,000 in Nevada. This post originally gave an estimate of 7 million based on earlier numbers provided by Davis.

The post originally estimated a maximum penalty of $2 billion based on there being roughly 2 million calls in the state. But Davis would only characterize it as "over 1 million."

From the AP:

A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted Wednesday as part of a terrorist fundraising ring that allegedly sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida and Taliban supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.

The former Republican congressman from Michigan, Mark Deli Siljander, was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about lobbying senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.

A 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying — money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.


Siljander served in the House from 1981 until 1987.

No surprise here:

Justice Department officials have told Congress that they face serious legal difficulties in pursuing criminal prosecutions of Blackwater security guards involved in a September shooting that left at least 17 Iraqis dead.

In a private briefing in mid-December, officials from the Justice and State Departments met with aides to the House Judiciary Committee and other Congressional staff members and warned them that there were major legal obstacles that might prevent any prosecution....

The officials from the Justice and State Departments “didn’t say they weren’t going to prosecute,” said one Congressional aide who attended the briefing. “They said there would be a lot of difficulties.”


To review: it's debatable whether Blackwater can even be prosecuted because they don't seem to be covered by any law. Beyond that, the State Department provided the Blackwater guards involved in the incident with limited immunity in order to get their version of events, thus further compromising the investigation. And don't forget that Blackwater quickly mended the trucks involved in the incident, destroying key evidence as to whether the guards were actually under attack when they opened fire (Blackwater says that State gave them the green light to do that).

So those are the difficulties. The DoJ did launch a grand jury investigation after the FBI determined that the guards had indeed opened fire without provocation. But don't hold your breath.

Is the ragtag Vietnam Veterans against John McCain giving swift boating a bad name?

Yes, said Swift Boat Veterans and POW’s for Truth treasurer Weymouth Symmes. "I don't think there's any truth to that at all. He was a hero, in my opinion. I'd be appalled if anybody questioned his war service."

The reason I asked is that the anti-McCain group seems to be piggybacking on the Swift Boat Vets in their recent mailer, which was sent out to 80 newspaper editors. (For a quick summary of the group's attack and McCain's response, see the AP.)



In the mailer (above), you can see the icon for the Swift Boat Vets for Truth in the lower left hand corner. But Symmes said that the real Swift Boat Vets isn't affiliated with the group -- or any group active in the 2008 race. In fact, he'd never even heard of the group, adding "they must be a pretty small and obscure group, I would guess."

In fact, on closer inspection, the Swift Boat Vets icon has a North Carolina address, the same as the anti-McCain vet group. And we've been having an internal debate here at TPM whether, in a possible precaution against charges of infringement, it actually says Swift Boot Vets for Truth:



We've been playing phone tag with Jerry Kiley, one of the founders of the group, and hope to speak to him later this afternoon to sort all this out.

As for the size of the group and it's supporters, it's not clear. They filed papers with the FEC last February and March establishing the group, announcing in a statement of purpose that "We will collect donations to pay for a web site, radio and TV ads exposing John McCain only (negative advertizing). We are completely independant (sic) and not connected to any political organization. All of the money collected will be used for the express purpose of defeating John McCain.” But they've reported no contributions since then, even failing to file the required mid-year report, which won them a chiding letter from the FEC.

Kiley, along and another Vietnam vet, Ted Sampley, who's part of the effort, also ran a Vietnam Veterans against John Kerry website in 2004. They've also been after McCain for a while; they registered the Vietnam Veterans against John McCain website back in 2005.

Sampley* has quite a history with McCain, going back to the 1980's, even getting into a fight with McCain's longtime aide Mark Salter. Here's an account from a long piece in the Phoenix New Times back in 1999:

*Update/Correction: This post originally said that Sampley is an Arizona resident -- he's actually in North Carolina. Another of the group's founders, Earl Hopper, is in Arizona.

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Oops. From the AP:

The White House has acknowledged recycling its backup computer tapes of e-mail before October 2003, raising the possibility that many electronic messages — including those pertaining to the CIA leak case — have been taped over and are gone forever.

The disclosure came minutes before midnight Tuesday under a court-ordered deadline that forced the White House to reveal information it has previously refused to provide.

Among the e-mails that could be lost are messages swapped by any White House officials involved in discussions about leaking a CIA officer's identity to reporters.

Before October 2003, the White House recycled its backup tapes "consistent with industry best practices," according to a sworn statement by a White House aide.

Backup tapes are the last line of defense for saving electronic records.


Update: CREW, which filed the suit, has more on the White House's filing.

Larry Craig’s poorly executed bathroom sex may be a case of first impression for the Senate Ethics Committee, but a recent ACLU brief notes that the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 38 years ago that people who have sex in closed stalls in public restrooms “have a reasonable expectation of privacy.” The ACLU brief, filed on Craig’s behalf, asserts that "the government cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Senator Craig was inviting the undercover officer to engage in anything other than sexual intimacy that would not have called attention to itself in a closed stall in the public restroom.” (Boston Globe)

Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) is furious that he and other lawmakers cannot get an answer from the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding its handling of the case of the woman who says she was raped and sexually assaulted by KBR/Halliburton employees in the Green Zone. So far, DOJ has not filed any charges and has failed to prosecute a similar case in which the accused assailant confessed to physically harassing behavior. Democratic Senators Daniel Akaka (HI), Barack Obama (IL), and Jon Tester (MT) have joined Poe in demanding answers from Michael Mukasey. (ABC’s “The Blotter”)

Tomorrow a federal judge will hear arguments to decide whether Las Vegas casinos can be used as caucus sites in the Democratic primary in Nevada later this week. If permitted, the caucusing on the strip will undoubtedly boost the turnout of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which has endorsed Barack Obama. The Nevada State Teachers Union and other plaintiffs in the suit (who support Hillary Clinton) against caucuses on the strip, allege that the plan creates a “preferred a class of voters.” The suit has led to charges that the Clinton campaign is attempting to suppress the voter turnout. (Washington Post)

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We've heard CIA Director Michael Hayden's confusing and risible explanation for why the CIA's torture tapes were destroyed. And there have been a number of media accounts citing dozens of unanimous government officials that haven't managed to shed much light. But today's Washington Post provides about as clear of a narrative as we're likely to get on why the tapes were made, when they were made, and why they were destroyed.

Here's what they came up with: "the taping was conducted from August to December 2002 to demonstrate that interrogators were following the detailed rules set by lawyers and medical experts in Washington, and were not causing a detainee's death." CIA officials have also said that videotapes of the interrogations would have been very useful for reviewing what the detainees had said.

And here's why they were destroyed, according to the Post. The Post broke news of the CIA's black sites in November of 2005. That made CIA officials even more nervous that "the agency could be publicly shamed and that those involved in waterboarding and other extreme interrogation techniques would be hauled before a grand jury or a congressional inquiry." At the same time, the station chief in Bangkok, who'd had the tapes in a safe in the U.S. Embassy compound there for three years, was retiring and "wanted to resolve the matter before he left." So he sent a cable to CIA headquarters asking if he could destroy them.

The rest we know. Then-operations chief Jose Rodriguez checked with two CIA lawyers who said that the agency was not required to preserve them. Since no one in the administration had directly forbidden the destruction of the tapes, he went ahead and gave the station chief the go-ahead.

And no one seemed to be very upset after the deed was done: "Word of the resulting destruction, one former official said, was greeted by widespread relief among clandestine officers, and Rodriguez was neither penalized nor reprimanded, publicly or privately, by then-CIA Director Porter J. Goss, according to two officials briefed on exchanges between the two men."

The Post also has more details on the Justice Department and White House discussions about the tapes:

The tapes were discussed with White House lawyers twice, according to a senior U.S. official. The first occasion was a meeting convened by Muller and senior lawyers of the White House and the Justice Department specifically to discuss their fate. The other discussion was described by one participant as "fleeting," when the existence of the tapes came up during a spring 2004 meeting to discuss the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, the official said.


And can you tell who's missing in this tally?

Those known to have counseled against the tapes' destruction include John B. Bellinger III, while serving as the National Security Council's top legal adviser; Harriet E. Miers, while serving as the top White House counsel; George J. Tenet, while serving as CIA director; Muller, while serving as the CIA's general counsel; and John D. Negroponte, while serving as director of national intelligence.


If you said David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, you were right. Alberto Gonzales is another notable exception. Although The New York Times has reported that Addington, who's done so much to shape the administration's torture policy, took part in discussions about the tapes, he somehow didn't make the list here. The Times also cited a "former senior intelligence official" as saying that "there had been “vigorous sentiment” among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes." But the official wouldn't specify who that was. I think we might have our winners.

House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) thinks it's nice that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation of the CIA's destruction of its torture tapes, but it's not good enough. John Durham may be a tough, unimpeachable prosecutor, but he'll still be reporting up the chain to Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Arguing that the Department has a "clear conflict of interest" because "high Administration officials" are necessarily implicated -- they approved the interrogation methods documented on the tapes and were involved in the discussions about whether to destroy them -- Conyers wrote Mukasey today to formally request that he appoint a special counsel. 18 Democratic members of the committee also signed on. Conyers has consistently called for a special prosecutor to be appointed.

The letter is posted in full below. A judiciary subcommittee will be holding a hearing to hear from experts on the subject this Thursday.

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