It looks like an ambitious new effort to set up an investigation of President Bush and his top aides for potential crimes committed on their watch may have a had time getting traction.
As we reported last week over at Election Central, House Judiciary chair John Conyers recently introduced a measure to create a "National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties." The commission, whose members would be appointed by the resident and congress, would be designed to probe the legality of Bush administration policies on issues like torture, treatment of detainees, and extraordinary rendition.
But the president-elect appears lukewarm to the idea. Asked yesterday on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" about the idea of a broad inquiry into those Bush administration programs, Obama said: "We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards."
Part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the C.I.A., you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.
Here's the video:
So it doesn't exatly sound like Obama would be eager to sign Conyers' bill.
And the top two House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, weren't jumping to express their support for the bill when Election Central called their offices about it last week.
Congress will look for ways to stop midnight regulations passed by the Bush administration. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) join Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the fight to block regulations. Wyden, as the chair of a subcommittee on natural resources, has said he wants to focus on stopping rules allowing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and making it easier for coal companies to dump mine waste in streams and valleys. (The New York Times)
The Mayor of Baltimore was indicted on Friday for 12 counts relating to theft and perjury. Sheila Dixon is accused of using gift cards meant for the poor to buy clothing and gadgets for herself. A conviction on any one of the counts would necessitate her removal from office under Maryland's constitution. (Associated Press)
Ten percent of Guantanamo detainees are now being force-fed, as a new hunger strike begins. The new strike was likely spurred by the upcoming seven-year anniversary of the prison. Detainees are also upset at witnessing Osama Bin Laden's driver released while they remain held without being charged of any crime. 25 of 250 detainees are currently being fed through tubes in their noses. (Miami Herald)
The Senate Judiciary committee has released its witness list for the confirmation hearings of Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, to begin Thursday:
The Honorable John W. Warner, Former United States Senator from Virginia
The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congresswoman from the District of Columbia
Eric H. Holder, Jr.
The Honorable Louis J. Freeh, Former Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Chuck Canterbury, National President, Fraternal Order of Police
John Payton, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Witness to be designated by the Minority
Witness to be designated by the Minority
It'll be interesting to see who Arlen Specter and friends decide to call, since they've signaled a desire to scrutinize Holder's record -- in particular his role in the Marc Rich pardon -- very closely.
Prosecutors in the Dusty Foggo case are urging the judge to make public secret grand jury testimony, saying that the American people has a right to know the extent of Foggo's misconduct, the AP reports.
They also argued that the testimony should be considered by the judge at Foggo's sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for next month.
Prosecutors won't say what the specific information that they want released from the transcripts is.
Foggo, the former number three official at the CIA, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with a scheme to help his old friend Brent Wilkes to obtain agency contracts at inflated contracts. Former GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham is serving a jail sentence for taking bribes from Wilkes.
During her interview on CNN, Elizabeth Warren got to spend a little less time dealing with inane knee-jerk responses from anchors, and a little more time explaining the crux of the issue: that the Treasury Department isn't tracking its bailout spending.
This isn't rocket science. This isn't some strange thing we're asking for. If you're gonna take that much money from American taxpayers, you've gotta have the banks tell what they're going to do with it. We have to have some way of telling if its working. and if you don't have accountability, if you don't have metrics in place, you're really just kind of handing it out there and hoping for the best.
Treasury did not say: tell us what you're going to do with the money. Tell us how you used it. That just hasn't happened. There's no basic accountability in the system.
Warren also laid out the intriguing idea of establishing a product safety commission for financial products, just as we have for toasters, car seats, and other consumer products.
And she ended with an Eliot Ness-like pledge to keep up the fight. Asked by CNN's Tony Harris whether she'd continue to try to track the bailout spending, she replied, with brio: "You bet!"
Here's Elizabeth Warren's interview with CNBC about her report on the TARP spending.
It's notable mainly for her setting one network anchor straight about the fact that, even though, "money is fungible" it would still be possible to track for Treasury to track its bailout spending.
Warren: You and I could sit here with pencil and paper and come up with a minimum of ten metrics in about ten minutes. If you just hand the money over and say gee moneys money then you won't see whether or not there's been any difference. And if that's the case then it really is just blank checks to financial institutions.
She also has an admirably calm response to Larry Kudlow's sophomoric contention that asking banks to monitor what they're doing with our money is "central planing."
We just highlighted a Bloomberg story in which Joseph Stiglitz and other economists story slammed Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for not driving a hard enough bargain on behalf of taxpayers when investing the TARP funds.
So it's probably only fair that we post Paulson's response, from an interview Bloomberg TV just conducted with Paulson:
Well, what we were looking to do was not to replicate one off private sector deals. The market was under great stress and the private sector was extracting very, very severe terms and what we were attempting to do, which I think we did successfully was design a program that would be accepted by a large group of healthy banks with terms that replicate what you would get in normal market conditions. And the other point I will make here - this is an investment and I find it highly, highly likely that the taxpayer will get this money and get this money back with a profit because these are preferred, these are - as long as the financial system remains intact and stable, which it will, that these will come back to the taxpayer.
And our objective was not to say how tough a deal can we give to the banks because then what we would have is we would have a - not a program for healthy banks. We would have a failing bank program and it would have a much different complexion. And again, I think history will show that the financial system needed a lot of capital and if you leave it to the banks to say I really need capital, what you're going to get is you're only to get them when they're desperate. And otherwise, what they're going to do is shrink and not play the role we need them to play and pull in their horns. And we needed to get a program that would be accepted by a lot of banks and would provide very much needed capital. So that was the philosophy of the program.
Lately at TPM, we've been wondering about exactly what kind of deal taxpayers got on that whole $700 billion bailout that the Treasury isn't doing much to track.
And along comes Bloomberg with a report that suggests we might not want to know the answer.
The lead data point:
[Treasury Secretary Henery Paulson] invested $10 billion in Goldman Sachs in October, twice as much as [Warren] Buffett did the month before, yet gained warrants worth one-fourth as much as the billionaire.
So Buffett's investors got a better deal than taxpayers. Bloomberg explains:
Paulson left money on the table in three ways, according to [former IMF chief economist Simon] Johnson: accepting fewer warrants than Buffett did; setting the certificates' price trigger, or strike, above market values; and receiving an annual yield on the preferred shares that is half of what Buffett will get for the first five years.
And Bloomberg has some damning quotes about Paulson's investing. Johnson calls them "just egregious," adding: "You want to do it the way Warren does it."
And according to Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz: Paulson said "he had to make it attractive to banks, which is code for 'I'm going to give money away.'"
Stiglitz continued: "In many ways, it's not only a giveaway, but a giveaway that was designed not to work."
And he added: "If Paulson was still an employee of Goldman Sachs and he'd done this deal, he would have been fired."
As for the issue of limits on executive pay, which Congress insisted on including in the TARP, the Warren report says:
While some executives at some financial institutions have voluntarily reduced their compensation, there is no uniform program in place. Treasury has the power to set the "terms and conditions" of any purchase it makes using the TARP funds.
Treasury had opposed the limits from the start, arguing that they would discourage banks from participating in the program.
In places, the panel appears outright angry -- understandably -- at Treasury's stonewalling on key questions:
The Panel's fourth area of inquiry focused on what financial institutions have done with the taxpayer money they received. As indicated in question 1 above, Treasury appears to believe the question is beside the point because their goal for the CPP is to stabilize the financial system and to restore confidence in financial institutions.
This, they believe, will eventually increase the flow of credit. Treasury argues that there are several reasons why the TARP investments will be slow to produce increased lending: (1) The CPP began only in October 2008, and the money must work its way into the system before it can have the desired effect. (2) Because confidence is low, banks will remain cautious about extending credit, and consumers and businesses will
remain cautious about taking on new loans. (3) Credit quality at banks is deteriorating, which leads banks to build up their loan loss reserves. For example, Treasury notes that the level of loan loss provisioning by banks doubled in the third quarter from one year ago. Treasury seems to be suggesting these larger trends may be obscuring the effect of TARP funds. The Panel understands the reasons why measurement of banks' use of TARP funds may be difficult.
Nevertheless, the Panel believes such direct measurements at the level of individual TARP recipient firms are important for determining the extent to which the funds are having a direct benefit to businesses and consumers.
And the report highlights Treasury's amazing unwillingness to require banks that get government money to take actions that are in the public interest:
[T]he Panel asked whether Treasury's actions preserved access to consumer credit, including student loans and auto loans at reasonable rates, and
whether Treasury was taking action to ensure that public money could not be used to subsidize lending practices that are exploitive, predatory, or otherwise harmful to customers. Treasury answered that its TARP programs to preserve access to consumer credit do not involve encouraging or mandating banks to take consumer-friendly actions with respect to credit cards or other consumer loans. (our itals)