As Josh announced this morning, we've been making our calls to congressional leaders about whether they support the president's idea of increasing the troop level in Iraq by "15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months" as outlined in The Washington Post.
A number of leaders have come out already with statements, and we'll be providing a tally of those, along with what we were able to find today, a little later. For now, though, we've gotten a statement from the future House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who had not yet taken a public position on the president's "surge" plan. He's clearly against:
I do not believe that it would be helpful to increase troop levels by 15,000 -- or even 30,000. Incoming House Armed Services Chairman Skelton has said this, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell agrees, and even the President's own Joint Chiefs do not think it will help. We must remain focused on a political solution and make clear to the Iraqi leadership that they have to take responsibility for the security and governance of their country. I would hope that the President will address the nation as soon as possible, outline the major changes in policy that Americans have demanded, and quickly get to work with Congress to make a major course correction in Iraq. A small increase in troop strength should not be a part of that.
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa wrote Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff on Tuesday to say he is appalled by the process used to detain and deport workers in raids earlier this month at six Swift & Co. packing plants, including one in Marshalltown.
Harkin, a Democrat, said a telephone hot line for information for family members set up by the government has gone unanswered at times. It "provided no information of any use" at other times, Harkin said in the letter.
It has been "almost impossible" for lawyers and members of the clergy to gain access to workers who were detained, and workers were taken to other states without being granted access to lawyers, Harkin said.
Although assurances were made that parents with small children would be released to make arrangements for their children's care, "there continues to be reports of numerous single mothers remaining in custody," Harkin said.
Harkin said he hopes Chertoff shares his belief that "the failure to ensure that basic legal rights and humanitarian protections are afforded to individuals in our immigration system reflects poorly on the principles that have made the United States strong."
Update: Iowa governor Tom Vilsack also fired off an angry letter to Chertoff, criticising the agency's "information blackout" following the raids and for putting his state's National Guard at risk.
Three weeks ago, on the eve of a White House summit involving the Iraqi prime minister, a classified memo by a senior Bush aide was leaked to the press. The memo, penned by national security adviser Stephen Hadley, questioned the willingness and ability of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to help U.S. interests.
But when a reporter today asked Bush -- who's made no secret of his intolerance for leaks -- whether he or his staff had called for an investigation into the leak, the president pleaded ignorance on the subject.
"You know, there may be an ongoing investigation of this, I just don't know. If there is, if I knew about it, it's not fresh in my mind. . .
"And we've had a lot of leaks, Mark," Bush continued, "as you know, some of them out of â I don't know where they're from, therefore I'm not gonna speculate."
The Bush administration has not been shy about going after leaks when it wants to: the New York Times is facing an investigation into who leaked its reporters details of the secret NSA domestic wiretapping program. At the time, Bush denied a personal role in ordering that probe.
A couple days ago we asked for readers to send us examples where the administration "disappeared" previously available government information -- scientific studies, monthly reports, photographs -- that did not square with its agenda.
There's no shortage, apparently. We've got 16 examples so far, and more to come. Some recent additions:
* In 2004, the FBI attempted to retroactively classify public information regarding the case of bureau whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, including a series of letters between the Justice Department and several senators.
* In October 2003, the Bush administration banned photographs depicting servicemembers' coffins returning from overseas.
* In December 2002, the administration curtailed funding to the Mass-Layoffs Statistics program, which released monthly data on the number and size of layoffs by U.S. companies. His father attempted to kill the same program in 1992, but Clinton revived it when he assumed the presidency.
President Bush teed off on immigration reform in today's press conference. But while his point may be admirable -- the country needs comprehensive immigration reform -- his portrayal of the facts wasn't. Here's how he described the results of last week's unprecedented raids on meatpacking plants:
"I don't know if you've paid attention to the enforcement measures that were taken recently at some meat-packing plants. They found people that had been working illegally, but all of them had documents that said they were here legally â they were using forged documents."
Not exactly, as regular readers are aware. A day after the raids, ICE announced that only 65 of the nearly 1,300 detainees faced criminal charges, and only some of those involved document fraud. That number has since grown to over a hundred. Still, the vast majority of those arrested in the raids and held for days were not charged with identity theft.
Meanwhile, a number of the detainees have proven they are legal residents and workers, and didn't deserve to be arrested and detained. Some rights groups and union officials are mulling legal action in their cases. Unfortunately, the president gave no word on whether he thought the tactics of immigration enforcement are also up for some comprehensive reform.
Ever wondered what to get for that lawmaker who has everything?
Well, The Washington Post has got your answer this morning, with details from Jack Abramoff's 2001 holiday shopping list. So let's see... Who's been naughty and who's been helpful to clients' needs...
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Abramoff's longtime pal, was down for a "$100 gift basket from Harry and David."
Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) -- the guy who did more for Abramoff's clients than any other lawmaker, according to one of his associates -- got "some Jerry Seinfeld CDs."
But Tom DeLay, then Majority Whip and Abramoff's most crucial ally in the House, was listed as getting the sweetest gift of all -- a $250 box of Godiva chocolates. And Susan Hirschmann, then DeLay's chief of staff (now a high-flying lobbyist), was to get a Godiva box worth $100.
House ethics rules forbid lawmakers from receiving gifts from lobbyists worth more than $50. But everybody had an answer for that. My favorite is DeLay:
Reached by phone, DeLay said, "I don't think I got a box of Godiva chocolates" from Abramoff, adding that a box worth $250 would be "memorable."
The vice president, through surrogates, has indicated he will not try to dodge testifying on behalf of his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in his upcoming trial, the Washington Post reports this morning:
Vice President Cheney is willing to testify in the perjury and obstruction-of-justice trial of his former chief of staff that is scheduled to begin next month, according to defense lawyers and sources familiar with his plans.
Lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former top aide, told a federal judge yesterday that the defense plans to call the vice president and expects him to cooperate. That would make Cheney the first sitting vice president to testify in a criminal case, presidential historians and legal experts said. . . .
Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane said Cheney's appearance is also unusual because of his aggressive efforts in other matters to protect the executive office from being forced to disclose details of its deliberative process or inner workings. . . .
Lea Anne McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, said that "historians are entitled to their opinions, but the vice president has said from the very beginning that we're cooperating in this matter and we will continue to do so."
Ex-Iraq Official Tells How He Escaped from Iraq Jail
"Speaking from a location he would not identify, a Chicago-area engineer facing corruption charges in Iraq said Tuesday that he escaped custody in Baghdad with the help of a 'multinational' group and vowed to return to his home in the western suburb of Oak Brook after the new year....
"[Aiham] Alsammarae, a secular Sunni who ran the Electricity Ministry in the first postinvasion Iraqi government, said throughout his detention that he was vulnerable to kidnapping at the police station and that he would be killed if Iraqi authorities moved him to a jail run by the Shiite-dominated security forces....
"Iraqi officials said Monday that Alsammarae broke out of the station with the help of private security experts....
"Responding to e-mail and other messages from the Tribune on Tuesday afternoon, Alsammarae said that the 'multinational' group that helped him escape included Iraqis and men of other nationalities....
"In another phone interview, with The New York Times, Alsammarae was asked how he got away and he recalled a line about Al Capone in 'The Untouchables,' saying that he had escaped 'the Chicago way.'...
"...Alsammarae told the Tribune that since his escape Sunday, he has received several congratulatory telephone calls from Iraqi dignitaries, including former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. He added that he was enjoying his freedom and sleeping in a comfortable bed." (Chicago Tribune, and see yesterday's LA Times)