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We've previously followed some of Sharon Weinberger's coverage at Wired on former Representative Curt Weldon's ties to shady arms-dealings. Weldon, a defeated Republican from Pennsylvania was employed as Chief Strategic Officer for Defense Solutions after losing his election in November 2006.

Lost in the holiday weekend traffic was a Wired story on the Pennsylvania based arm dealer's multiple contracts, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to corner the supplier market from Eastern Bloc countries to to Iraq. The deals, which the magazine describes as "often legally murky" were brokered by Weldon, who is currently under investigation by the FBI for corruption stemming from his work in Congress.

In an update yesterday, Weinberger expanded on Defense Solution's claim that they had an exclusive deal with Ukraine to supply their armored vehicles to Iraq. The boast was bolstered by a signed letter from Ukraine's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andri Veselovsky, to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Stephan Minikes.

Defense Solution's CEO, Tim Ringgold, bandied the letter about as proof of their relationship -- that is until Veselovsky told Wired the letter was a fake, and that it wasn't his signature. Now Ringgold seems to be taking it all back.

In an update on Weinberger's Wired blog DANGER ROOM:

Timothy Ringgold, the CEO of Defense Solutions wrote DANGER ROOM to express some objections with this post. His letter, with our answers, follows......

Ringgold writes: Your article of July 7, 2008 11:07 a.m. has a number of significant inaccuracies, not he least of which deals with your allegation of forgery: As I informed you during our phone conversation, I have no knowledge of a "letter" from Ukraine's Deputy Foreign Minister, but I am aware of an email dated February 25, 2008 received from the Deputy Foreign Minister. Since I spoke with the Deputy Foreign Minister after receiving it, I think it safe to conclude the email was genuine. [DR: The forgery allegation is not ours; it is Veselovsky's. He stated quite clearly it is not his signature on the letter. When asked about the Veselovsky letter during the interview, Ringgold acknowledged it, until he was told the Veselovsky denied signing it.]

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) is wielding more than his gavel against Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In a letter to the AG today, Waxman brought out the big guns, stating that the Committee would vote to hold him in contempt on July 16, if he failed to produce a report on an interview with Vice President Cheney regarding the Valerie Plame leak scandal.

From Waxman's letter:

Despite the Committee's repeated requests, you have consistently refused to provide these reports to the Committee or unredacted versions of the reports of FBI interviews with White House staff. In response to the Committee's June 16 subpoena, you wrote: "we are not prepared to provide or make available any reports of interviews wi t h t he President or Vice President from the leak investigation" because of "core Executive Branch confidentiality interests and fundamental separation of powers principles."

. . .I regret that your failure to produce responsive documents has created this impasse, but Congress has a constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch. Therefore, unless all responsive documents, with the exception of the FBI interview report of President Bush, are provided to the Committee or a valid assertion of executive privilege is made, the Committee will meet on July 16 to consider a resolution citing you in contempt. I strongly urge you to reconsider your position and comply with the duly issued subpoena.

We've gotten our hands on an interesting mailer sent out by BMW Direct, the Washington political firm that raises campaign cash and spends most of the money on its own direct-mail efforts.

This one was sent out on behalf of Dr. Ada Fisher, a black Republican who ran for a North Carolina Congressional seat back in 2006.

It refers to the black leaders Al Sharpton and Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP, rallying opposition to their "liberal policies" that are "harming America."

With Fisher's photo in the top corner, the letter reads: "We need proud conservative Republicans to bring our message to the African American Community...Ada you're just what the Republicans need!"

Click on the letter to see a full-size version.

Vice President Dick Cheney's office apparently worked to cut swaths of the Center for Disease Control's congressional testimony on the effects of greenhouse gases.

The information was revealed in a letter from recently-resigned associate deputy EPA administrator, Jason Burnett, obtained by the AP, to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA):

"The Council on Environmental Quality and the office of the vice president were seeking deletions to the CDC testimony (concerning) ... any discussions of the human health consequences of climate change," Burnett has told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

. . . The letter by Burnett for the first time suggests that Cheney's office was deeply involved in downplaying the impacts of climate change as related to public health and welfare, Senate investigators believe.

Cheney's office also objected last January over congressional testimony by Administrator Johnson that "greenhouse gas emissions harm the environment."

An official in Cheney's office "called to tell me that his office wanted the language changed" with references to climate change harming the environment deleted, Burnett said. Nevertheless, the phrase was left in Johnson's testimony.

As we've reported, the Senate and House have been trying for months to check communications and other documents on the role of political influence in the EPAs work.

Burnett left the EPA in June after disagreements over the "agency's response to climate change":

The White House, at the urging of Cheney's office, "requested that I work with CDC to remove from the testimony any discussion of the human health consequences of climate change," wrote Burnett.

"CEQ contacted me to argue that I could best keep options open for the (EPA) administrator (on regulating carbon dioxide) if I would convince CDC to delete particular sections of their testimony," Burnett said in the letter to Boxer.

But he said he refused to press CDC on the deletions because he believed the CDC's draft testimony was "fundamentally accurate."

[Late update]: To view the letter from Burnett to Boxer, click here.

A memo written in March by the EPA's chief enforcement officer claims that the EPA's guidance document on wetlands policy is undermining the Clean Water Act. The memo was obtained by Greenpeace and released by two Democratic committee chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA) and James Oberstar (D-MN). (Washington Post)

KBR, along with other contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, is planning on a major PR campaign to fight back against charges of corruption and malpractice. The campaign, run by former Republican staff director of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee David Marin, plans to erase the "anti-contractor climate on Capitol Hill" through lobbying. (Politico)

A new disclosure form on an ethics law passed last year may do more harm than good in bringing sunlight to lobbyist activities. The form is said to have a large number of discrepancies that get in the way of ethics oversight. (Washington Post)

Read More →

With all the talk about the new wiretapping law the Senate is expected to approve this week, there are many federal surveillance programs that are going largely unmentioned -- and unmonitored.

A story from the Baltimore Sun points out how limited the proposed FISA legislation is when considered against the whole alphabet soup of surveillance programs run by the federal government.

Although the latest FISA proposal includes numerous provisions for a secret court to monitor and authorize surveillance, and for inspectors general to keep tabs on who's being monitored by various agencies, little oversight exists for surveillance programs that fall outside FISA scrutiny.
For example, the new law will limit whether a CIA transcript of a conversation between a alleged terrorist and his relative in the United States could be shared with other spy agencies and analysts.

But it would have little control over whether, say, the Department of Homeland Security can share wiretaps or satellite surveillance with local law enforcement officials.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have requested information about these other surveillance programs, but many agencies are often reluctant to comply, citing security or secrecy concerns, the Sun reports:

Even when Congress has received information, lawmakers say their questions or concerns are often addressed within the agency that is responsible for the surveillance, amounting to a practice of self-policing.

"You don't have to look far into history to know that when the government, any government, is given secret authorities, that those authorities are ultimately abused," said Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "You don't even have to attribute bad motives to anyone. In an intelligence officer's zeal to protect the country, they often will overstep their bounds."

In response to concerns, the Department of Homeland Security has created a privacy czar to see that federal agencies do not infringe on privacy laws or violate civil liberties. But some suggest that should be a Cabinet-level post in the executive branch since new technologies are constantly creating new questions and concerns.

"We should have what Canada has, which is a minister of privacy, someone looking out for the privacy issues of Americans," said James Bamford, an intelligence expert and author on two books about the history of the NSA. "We have armies of people out there trying to pick into everyone's private life, but we have nobody out there who's an advocate."

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports today about concerns that non-government surveillance is being abused for advertising purposes.

Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee plans a hearing on the privacy issues raised by online advertising. Critics, meanwhile, are questioning whether the practices used by NebuAd and other ad-targeting companies violate wiretap laws, which prevent carriers from monitoring customer communications.

It's been a long, difficult few years for Dr. Cyril Wecht, The former coroner of Allegheny County, celebrity forensic pathologist and prominent Democrat, who has been at the center of a so-called political prosecution, but at least he picked up some friends along the way.

After serving on the jury for Wecht's federal trial that ended in a mistrial earlier this year, five of the former-jurors who had voted for acquittal sought out the good doctor, and his legal team to voice their support. It wasn't long before the group was organizing outings-- most recently to a Pirate's baseball game complete with tailgating.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A message on PNC Park's electronic scoreboard welcoming a special group to a recent baseball game went unnoticed by those it was intended to honor.

That's because Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, along with five jurors who voted to acquit the former Allegheny County coroner at his federal public corruption trial, still were tailgating in the parking lot.

The group get-togethers have been going on since the trial ended in April, ranging from lunch at the food court in downtown Pittsburgh to a 60th anniversary celebration.

"A group of them five of them reached out to us, and told us they'd like to meet with us and talk to us because of how they felt about what had happened," Wecht's attorney Jerry McDevitt told TPMmuckraker.

"They started telling us how strongly they were against the retrial. So, not only did they not convict him, they thought he was a decent guy. . . The whole thing hasn't exactly renewed my faith in the government, but it's certainly renewed my faith in the jury system."

Dr. Ada Fisher doesn't have much good to say about BMW Direct, the Washington political firm that raised money on behalf of her 2006 bid for a North Carolina House seat.

"They sort of -- what shall I say? -- screwed me," Fisher said in a recent interview. BMW Direct raised more than $400,000 for Fisher during the last election cycle, but only about $30,000 made it back to her to use in her campaign against U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC). Sound familiar?

Fisher complained that she never understood where the money raised on her behalf was going. She did not know that many key vendors used by BMW Direct were owned or operated by BMW staffers.

"They make it seem like each of these people is a private entity. But as you listen more and more and you get smarter, you realize they all work together," Fisher said.

BMW Direct and its staff operate a handful of companies out of a downtown Washington office building -- data processors, donor-list rentals, mail services, etc.

Fisher said BMW Direct urged her to "hire" its FEC compliance officer, Scott Mackenzie in Washington, to serve as her campaign treasurer, as he has done on other long-shot campaigns. But she refused, she said, and had a friend serve as treasurer.

So BMW Direct raised the money on her behalf, processed it and then doled out information and cash at its own pace.

Just a day or two before FEC filing deadlines, the firm would send Fisher large files of fundraising data for her to copy and submit under her name.

"We'd fill out the FEC forms based on the information they gave us. They would just tell us: This is how much money you raised," Fisher said.

Fisher's biggest complaint was that the fraction of money she did actually receive came too late. The firm never told her how much money to expect and was unable to plan for the fall campaign.

In late September 2006, she received her first check from BMW Direct for $5,000 and several similar checks followed in October.

"By that time, it was too late," she said.

But according to BMW Direct, Fisher's case was a unique.

Jordan Gehrke, BMW Direct's director of development, agreed that the fundraising efforts for Fisher were not as successful as those of other clients.

That's because she contacted the firm later than most candidates, after the election cycle was underway, Gehrke explained. That shortened the window of time for fundraising, which is critical for direct-mail efforts.

"In Fisher's case, we started eleven months before the election. She was an attractive candidate, and we believed her appeal would enable her to outperform the usual time window," Gehrke said in a written response to questions from TPMmuckraker.

"We firmly believed in her candidacy, and we think we would have been very successful if we had had another six months. For all kinds of reasons, fortune had its say, and things did not work out as we hoped."

The fees -- which in Fisher's case took up more than 90 percent of the total money raised -- are clearly explained to all clients from the outset, Gehrke said.

"We have a very clear contract. We take a lot of time going through this stuff with our clients yo make sure they understand the process....Nothing gets paid without the clients' approval," he said in an interview.

Even if a candidate loses a race, Gehrke said, the direct mail effort is still a valuable way to build a candidates name recognition and shape perceptions about the Republican Party.

"Is it worth it? Yes. If she doesn't win this year, maybe she ends up turning it into a state senate seat a few years later and then runs for congress again," Gehrke said. "Going into a district where Republicans have not traditionally competed and having a black doctor on the ballot is a way of saying this is not your father's Republican Party. This is what building a party is about. This is what expanding your coalition is about. The point is, it has value."

After the news that a class action suit had been filed against former Justice Department officials Esther Slater McDonald and Michael Elston, we've been waiting for the other shoe shoe to drop: bar complaints.

Sure enough, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed complaints in the wake of the Inspector Generals report that found both McDonald and Elston in violation of federal law for taking "political and ideological" affiliations into account when hiring for the U.S. Attorney's Honors Program:

The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorneys from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty and conduct that "seriously interferes with the administration of justice." By illegally taking political and ideological affiliations into account in screening applicants for career DOJ position, Mr. Elston and Ms. McDonald may have violated bar rules could be subject to discipline.

CREW's executive director Melanie Sloane told TPMmuckraker that due to the findings of the independent OIG report, the complaint should be taken fairly seriously. "The only question left for the bar is whether their violations of the law rise to level of professional responsibility," Sloane said. "And I bet that they do."

The complaint was filed, with the OIG report attached, against McDonald in the District of Columbia and Elston in Virginia. Copies of the complaint were sent to all other jurisdictions where they were bar members.

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and his staff were quick to issue a denial last month of anything more than "friendly" ties between the Alaskan Representative and the group of nine federal lobbyists who, according to the "Intern Survival Guide," were given preferential treatment when calling the office. But now his fiscal relationship to the "A Team," as they were called, has become less tenuous.

Mike Anderson, Young's Chief of Staff, solicited campaign donations in June 2007 from 27 individuals -- 23 of whom were lobbyists -- and which included all of the "A Team," the Anchorage Daily News reported. Raising the specter of a Young defeat, Anderson wrote: "[Y]ou and your clients will be impacted by these elections."

The group, dubbed the "AK Wolfpack" by Anderson in the email, includes Rick Alcalde of the Coconut Road earmark and Randy Delay, brother of former House majority leader Tom Delay.

The email, who's subject is "How Can I Help?," was sent on June 8, 2007 from Anderson's personal Yahoo address. Citing the case of defeated Rep. Richard Pombo, a close Republican ally of Young's in the House, Anderson outlined the Democratic threat as a "call to action". . . check-writing action:

For those of you who volunteered and served and watched November's elections, many of you observed or even worked former Congressman Richard Pombo's race. While each of you may have different opinions as to what may have contributed to to the election results, at the strategic level, we will all agree it is a textbook case in how Outsiders can reach into a district with money, volunteers, and a well coordinated attack defeat an incumbent not necessarily on his/her record, but on innuendo and perception.

If you think that Young's article in the NY Times being released the same day as Steven's article in the Wash Post was a coincidence, then I have a beluga whale in the Potomac to show you. If you think that the DNC or DCCC is not interested in turning Alaska blue, then you must have an unlisted phone number to your telephone booth.

You must believe that these forces, when combined, will have a major play and impact on Senator Ted Stevens or Congressman Don Young's election! And if that is the case, then much, much closer to home --- you probably understand that you and your clients will be impacted by these elections.

To some, this may be a scary proposition -- an opportunity to wring our hands and speculate. To others, it becomes a call to action -- to develop and execute a plan. I know into which of these two groups I fall into -- and where you AK Wolfpack members fall into, too.

Since the email was sent, over $90,000 has been contributed to Young's campaign either from the individuals on the list, their firms, or their firm's clients.

Besides those previously known to have ties to Young, through the "A Team," the remaining members of the "Wolfpack" are comprised of many former staffers for Young and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). For all those named to the "AK Wolfack," see the ADN.