TPM News

Here's House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes' entire statement on the White House's sudden decision to allow them access to documents concerning the warrantless surveillance program:

“I have pushed for eight months to review this material... I don't know why the White House refused to give us access. Now we will be able to view documents used to set up the President's warrantless wiretapping program.”


With the battle over retroactive immunity in the Senate looking pretty good for the administration, they're no doubt looking to the House as the next battleground. And they apparently decided that it would help if they shared a little. They certainly haven't suddenly been struck with a love of inter-branch comity.

As for House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI), he decided that this was an offer he couldn't refuse -- ten Dems on his committee and nine Republicans will get to see the docs, an apparently arbitrarily limitation -- but he remains "disappointed," he said, that the administration is still withholding some documents from this and other programs.

WARNING: Readers with an impatience for administration evasiveness should not watch this video.



EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson appears to be a student of the Alberto Gonzales School of Congressional Testimony, the main teaching of which is to never answer a question "yes" or "no." And at the first sign of trouble, you'd better spiral into minutiae and hope the Senator's time runs out.

The first time around, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) didn't know quite what he was up against. But as someone who went toe to toe with the Dean of Evasion himself, and as a former prosecutor, he was ready for round two.

Read More →

After more than two years of review and delay, the EPA finally shot down California's attempt to crack down on greenhouse gases with a state law. And when EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson finally issued that decree, it was not accompanied by the usual bulk of agency legal and technical analysis. Rather, it came in the form of a press release on December 19th, which just happened to be the same day that the President signed the new energy bill.

In case the connection was lost on anyone, the EPA's press release proclaimed the decision to deny California's waiver with the title, "America Receives a National Solution for Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions." Johnson was quoted as saying "The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution – not a confusing patchwork of state rules – to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles." We've posted the press release in full below.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) wanted to know if just maybe there was a connection. Johnson, of course, did not oblige with a direct answer. And as the questioning proceeded, Sanders' patience thinned and his voice raised:



Oddly enough, Johnson's first explanation for the timing indicated a coup to curb a staff revolt. EPA internal documents had been leaked to the press, he said, and they were misrepresenting "what actually was true." So he made the judgment call to announce the decision rather than "having inaccurate information" out there.

Two observations on this.

Read More →

Well, one down. The Senate just voted to kill (table) the Senate Judiciary Committee's surveillance bill, which did not contain retroactive immunity for the telecoms. The vote was 60-36 to table, with a number of Dems crossing over. As we said earlier, a number of other amendments will also go up for votes this afternoon.

Among the Democrats voting to kill the SJC bill were Sens. Mark Pryor (AK), Daniel Inouye (HI), Claire McCaskill (MO), Mary Landrieu (LA), Ken Salazar (CO) and Tim Johnson (SD).

Update: The final tally was actually 60-36, not 60-34, and the full list of Dems voting to kill were: Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Ken Salazar (D-CO).

From the AP:

Ending months of resistance, the White House has agreed to give House members access to secret documents about its warrantless wiretapping program, a congressional official said Thursday.

The Bush administration is trying to convince the House to protect from civil lawsuits the telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on Americans without the approval of a court. Congress created the court 30 years ago to oversee such activities.

House Intelligence and Judiciary committee members and staff will begin reading the documents at the White House Thursday, said an aide to Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.


They asked for the documents last May and finally got them now as the debate over the surveillance rages and will probably culminate this weekend. Nice.

Remember that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for the full Senate to have access to such documents last year, a request that seems to have been ignored.

For most of the hearing this morning, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has been doing his bureaucratic best to descend into minute discussions of the law ("Section 209" of the Clean Air Act is a favorite hobby horse), extended discussions of process, and the like. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) didn't have time for that.



Every time Sanders asked a question and Johnson made his monotone parry, Sanders struck back to the heart of the issue.

Is global warming a major crisis facing the planet? he wanted to know.

"I don't know what you mean by major crisis," Johnson responded.

"The usual definition of the term "major crisis" would be fine." The reason Sanders wanted to know, he said, is that Johnson's decision to deny the waiver would make sense if the Bush administration didn't think global warming was something worth getting worked up about.

Johnson chose "serious issue" as his preferred term, and then returned to discuss Section 209 again.

Sanders wanted to know if Johnson thought that global warming was due to human activity. It took Johnson a paragraph and another exchange to say yes.

Then do you believe that "bold action" is needed to reverse it? Sanders wanted to know.

Read More →

So here is where the FISA debate, which kicked off in earnest this morning, stands.

The first vote today will be on the Senate Judiciary Committee's version of the surveillance legislation, which contains no retroactive immunity for the telecoms who collaborated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. That will be at two o'clock this afternoon. There is no agreement that such a vote meet a 60-vote threshold, so when the Republicans move to block that bill, the vote will be held on a 50-vote threshold. If they win that vote, then the bill will revert back to the Senate intelligence committee's bill, which has a retroactive immunity provision.

After that will come a number of amendments, among them Sens. Chris Dodd's (D-CT) and Russ Feingold's (D-WI), which contains a provision to strip the immunity from the bill. Reid says that he supports such a bill. And he said today that Republicans will have to actually filibuster if they want to stop any of the amendments from getting a simple majority vote:

"As I have said before, if there are Senators who don't like these amendments and think they should be subjected to 60-vote thresholds, these Senators are going to have to engage in an old-fashioned filibuster. These amendments are by and large germane, and I believe they should be adopted if a majority of the Senate supports them."


You can Reid's entire statement here.

When Reid said something similar yesterday, a number of people interpreted it as in reference to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) who has said that he would filibuster any bill that contained retroactive immunity. Now it seems as if that remark was meant for everyone.

As for what happens next, I think we'll just have to wait and see. We'll keep you updated.

The EPA's catch-us-if-you-can game with Congress is not the norm, Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in kicking off this morning's hearing (airing on C-Span), declaring, "In all my years in the House and the Senate, I've never seen such disregard and disrespect.... I've never seen anything like it."



She went on to describe what her staff had to do to actually take notes on the EPA staff's recommendation on California's greenhouse gas waiver, even producing a visual aid. The documents with "sensitive" information on them had been covered with white tape, she said, and her staff had to pull it off to see -- a task which took 5 1/2 hours to review 46 pages (read what they said here). She produced a visual aid, a heap of the tape; saying "this is what they did to us."

Update: Here's the transcript:

Read More →

Though the CIA recently asserted that Bhutto was assassinated by al-Qaida, Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism chief admits that "there's gaps in intelligence," because "we don't have enough information about what's going on there. Not on al-Qaida. Not on foreign fighters. Not on the Taliban." Dailey said this makes him "uncomfortable," especially since more than 40% of Pakistanis support or feel sympathetic to al-Qaida. (ABC's "The Blotter")

Already facing a variety of legal problems, Blackwater may soon be facing financial ones as well. The security company's contract with the State Department runs out in May and with the ongoing investigations into the company's activities in Iraq - and the possibility of indictments in the future - it's possible that the contract will not be renewed. (Time)

Though one might consider suicide to be the ultimate bad side effect of any drug, for decades the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has paid scant attention to the psychiatric impact of medicines. The FDA has changed course and set new rules - perhaps the "most profound changes of the past 16 years" - but the agency's new policies remain hidden from the public because FDA oversight of experimental drugs is conducted in secrecy. (New York Times)

Read More →

Finally, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson gets to show what stuff he's made of. Is he your garden variety Bush appointee who shoots off arbitrary and lawless decrees from behind his desk? Or is he the type who'll go before Congress, lead with his chin, and declare his loyalty from the rooftops?

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate environmental committee, rolled out the red carpet for Johnson yesterday, when she released notes that her staff had taken on internal EPA briefing documents (you can see them below). They showed, as has been reported, that Johnson's staff recommended granting California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. But Johnson ignored that and denied it anyway.

It was a battle for Boxer's committee just to see these documents. The EPA sent over heavily redacted versions, arguing that they were protected by executive privilege -- specifically that cherished privilege against "needless public confusion" over the staff advising one thing and the political appointees declaring another.

Since the EPA leadership refused to release the offending documents, Boxer's staffers had to go over and copy them themselves. Reports the AP, "EPA officials asked that the information be kept private, but Boxer's staff told EPA they wouldn't agree to that condition, and they released the excerpts to reporters Wednesday."

So what was Johnson's rationale? He said in his two-page letter that global warming is "fundamentally global in nature" and so California didn't meet the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" necessary to pass such a law. But his staff had said just the opposite: "California continues to have compelling and extraordinary conditions in general (geography, climatic, human and motor vehicle populations - many such conditions are vulnerable to climate change conditions) as confirmed by several recent EPA decisions." And if Johnson went ahead and denied the waiver anyway, his staff told him, California would sue, and as one briefing slide told him, "EPA likely to lose suit."

That suit, led by California and joined by 15 other states (Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) is pressing on.

You can expect Johnson to stick to his guns, even as he tips his hat to his staff for a job well done (though ignored). ("What it shows is quality staff work," Jonathan Shradar, acting EPA press secretary, said of the excerpts.) He's also sure to be grilled about whether he decided to buck his staff on his own:

Among the questions Boxer is expected to ask Johnson is what discussions he had with the White House before reaching his waiver decision. Records show that auto executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney and dropped off documents at the White House arguing against the waiver request.


The notes Boxer released yesterday are below:

Read More →

LiveWire