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The feds are probing whether Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) was on the take from execs at the oil company Veco. One focus in particular has been whether CEO Bill Allen paid for Stevens to jack up his Alaska home and another floor. Allen, cooperating with investigators, even taped phone conversations with Stevens. That much is clear.

But there's another angle to the investigation which seems to center on Stevens' possible use of earmarks to stuff his buddies' pockets. One of those earmarks that's getting a lot of attention is a $1.6 million appropriation Stevens made in 2005 to the Alaska SeaLife Center for it to buy property partially owned by Trevor McCabe, a former aide and close associate of Stevens. McCabe is also tied up in another area of investigation with Stevens' son Ben.

According to this detailed blow-by-blow account of the deal by The Anchorage Daily News, an aide from Stevens' office and a lobbyist teamed up in order to make sure that McCabe and his partners got their money. They had some trouble finding the right organization to close the deal. The City of Seward, where the property is located, was eventually ruled out, because the requisite public oversight would prove too hairy -- it wasn't a sure thing. That's why the funds made their way to the SeaLife Center, a marine research center and tourist attraction that's grown up on $50 million in public money.

As the ADN summarizes the deal:

The backdoor arrangement described in the documents appeared to assure that a money-losing real estate venture by the partners would be bailed out by U.S. taxpayers without any need for the earmark itself to be explicit about its intent. As passed into law, the public language of the legislation only spoke vaguely about "various acquisitions."


The FBI is digging on this, along with the inspector generals from the Interior and Commerce departments.

The Senate is very close to wrapping its work on the bill today.

Part of the agreement between the parties was a cloture vote before moving on to the final vote. That passed easily, with only 29 Dems voting against. The final vote on the bill is expected later today.

Update: Here's the final tally.

This one was an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD). It went down 41-57.

The amendment was another attempt at compromise over retroactive immunity for the telecoms. Under the amendment, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would have reviewed the telecoms' participation in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program to determine whether that participation "complied with the legal requirements of FISA or was legal or undertaken in good faith with an objectively reasonable belief that such assistance was lawful." If the court found that the companies should have known that what they were participating in was illegal, the pending lawsuits against the telecoms would have been allowed to continue.

Once again, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), unwilling to compromise, voted nay along with a number of senators who'd also voted down the attempt to strip retroactive immunity from the bill, Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) among them.

Update: Here's the final tally.

After soundly rejecting the Dodd/Feingold amendment, the Senate also took up a bill by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) (co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)) which would have substituted the government as the defendant in the lawsuits against the telecoms over the administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

This vote was no closer, going down 30-68, with some Dems who'd voted to strip retroactive immunity voting against it (Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) among them). It seems this was a compromise that made no one happy.

Update: Here's the final tally.

Let there be no doubt: a majority of senators, and a large number of Democrats, think the telecoms should not suffer the hazard of accountability for cooperating with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) took to the floor last night to give a speech asking, "This is our defining question, the question that confronts every generation: The rule of law, or the rule of men?" The resounding answer: the rule of men.

The Senate voted on the Dodd/Feingold amendment, which would have stripped retroactive immunity from the surveillance bill just now. The final tally was 31-67; crossing over to vote nay were Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Evan Bayh (D-IA), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jim Webb (D-VA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Update: Here's the official tally.

Presidential candidates Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Barack Obama (D-IL) were present for the vote – voting nay and yea, respectively.

Next up on the Senate floor this morning was an amendment to provide more oversight of surveillance involving Americans, sponsored by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Jon Tester (D-MO). See below the fold for Sen. Webb's description of how the amendment would have worked.

A number of Democrats joined together to vote this one down, resulting in a resounding 35-63 defeat.

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The voting on the lion's share of the amendments to the surveillance bill will take this morning and afternoon in the Senate. We'll keep you updated as the results come in.

The first major vote was on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) amendment to make clear that FISA is the "exclusive means" by which the government could conduct surveillance. As Feinstein said in her pitch, “The President does not have the right to collect the content of Americans’ communications without obeying the governing law -- and that law is FISA. Let there be no doubt: FISA has been – and continues to be – the exclusive means for electronic surveillance in this country. This amendment simply reaffirms and strengthens the existing law.”

Well, Democrats couldn't convince enough Republicans that there should be no doubt. And the doubt will remain. The bill failed 57-41, since it needed 60 votes, according to prior agreement between Republicans and Democrats. Update: Here's the tally for that.

We'll keep you updated as the (probably dismal) results come in.

From The Washington Post:

The Bush administration announced yesterday that it intends to bring capital murder charges against half a dozen men allegedly linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, based partly on information the men disclosed to FBI and military questioners without the use of coercive interrogation tactics....

FBI and military interrogators who began work with the suspects in late 2006 called themselves the "Clean Team" and set as their goal the collection of virtually the same information the CIA had obtained from five of the six through duress at secret prisons.

To ensure that the data would not be tainted by allegations of torture or illegal coercion, the FBI and military team won the suspects' trust over the past 16 months by using time-tested rapport-building techniques, the officials said....

Prosecutors and top administration officials essentially wanted to cleanse the information so that it could be used in court, a process that federal prosecutors typically follow in U.S. criminal cases with investigative problems or botched interrogations. Officials wanted to go into court without any doubts about the viability of their evidence, and they had serious reservations about the reliability of what the CIA had obtained for intelligence purposes.

"It was the product of a lot of debate at really high levels," one official familiar with the program said. "A lot of people were involved in concluding that it may not be the saving grace, but it would put us on the best footing we could possibly be in. You can't erase what happened in the past, but this was the best alternative."

Government prosecutors announced Monday that they are seeking the death penalty in the case against six men suspected of plotting the suicide-hijackings of September 11, 2001. The trial, which will be the first in the history of the Guantanamo detention system, faces a number of questions, including "whether waterboarding constitutes torture, how statements obtained by coercion are to be handled, whether detainees may be so psychologically damaged that they may not be able to assist in their defense and exactly what the rules of the trials are to be." The case also raises the possibility that the administration's interrogation methods will be themselves put "on trial" as defense lawyers are likely to question the reliability of evidence obtained through coercive methods. (New York Times, Boston Globe)

A federal Judge has granted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) the right to collect a "very limited" amount of information from the White House Office of Administration regarding the 10 million e-mails that the White House failed to maintain. CREW, which sued the White House Office of Administration under the Freedom of Information Act, is attempting to prove that the Office of Administration is subject to the public records law and the judge rejected an offer by that agency to provide its own description of its functions and responsibilities. (USA Today)

The House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the CIA's destruction of videotapes of interrogations of terrorist suspects, will be allowed to view videotapes of an interrogation that are in the CIA's possession. Neither the suspect nor the interrogators have been identified publicly and it is not clear how the CIA obtained the tapes. (New York Times)

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It's amazing how seriously people can take a little thing like a presidential caucus.

Everyone has been all over the Washington Republican Party's back over this caucus result thing. But as the party's spokesman laid out to me yesterday, Chairman Luke Esser owed it to the party faithful to announce results Saturday, because no one likes to go to bed with things unresolved.

OK, so it seems that at least four counties had transmitted the wrong information to the party on Saturday. They were supposed to be counting the stated preference of the elected precinct delegates, and they'd counted the sign-in sheets, which reflected the preference for all their caucus attendees -- two measures that seem to have little to do with one another. Oops. As the party spokesman stressed to me yesterday, it's their first time reporting results on the same day, so perhaps mistakes were inevitable.

But never fear! The party has fixed that mistake (at least partially, one of those counties hasn't provided the correct information yet) and John McCain is still in the lead. With 96% percent reporting, he's up 25.6% to Mike Huckabee's 23.3%.

Now maybe the media and Mike Huckabee's lawyers will get off the state GOP's back. The main thing to realize, they want everyone to know, is how little Saturday's caucus bears any relation to the final slate of delegates Washington State will send to the national Republican Convention this summer. From The Seattle Times:

Due to the way Republicans select their delegates, the results could bear little resemblance to the presidential preferences of the 40 Washington state delegates ultimately sent to the GOP national convention in September.

"Nobody won or lost anything on Saturday," said Vance, now a public affairs consultant and McCain supporter. "But every other state had been able to report a 'winner,' so there was expected there would be a 'winner' in Washington state."


So the "winner" of the "caucus" (according to the party's "count") was McCain. Probably. So enough with the fuss already.

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