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Finally, Vanity Fair has delivered their take-out on the Mark Foley scandal (or Pagegate, if you prefer). And it's chock full of satisfyingly sordid details.

One figure in particular gets a drubbing: the out-going House Speaker, Dennis Hastert.

Here's Hastert, standing dumbly by when Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff and then Rep. Tom Reynolds' (R-NY) chief of staff, brings word of the coming calamity -- that ABC News has copies of sexually explicit instant messages sent by Foley to underage pages:

Fordham thought he made it clear that his old boss needed to quit, but Foley couldn't bring himself to do that. The N.R.C.C. headquarters was around the corner, and Fordham made it his next stop. There he found Representative Reynolds and Speaker Hastert. But before he could finish relaying the awful news, Reynolds's face got purple and he began to shout, "He needs to resign, and he needs to do it right now!" The Speaker just sat there, silent, according to Fordham: "He didn't react at all. This was weeks before the election, and they're thinking how this is going to impact us."

And here's Hastert trying to attempt damage control:

Hastert, believing the leadership needed to present a united front, as one by one his colleagues were repudiating his foggy recollections, called a Republican-leadership meeting. That same day, an ethics-committee investigation was pressed for by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (over the objections of those who wanted an independent counsel), its purpose to discover who knew what when about Foley. Blunt, Boehner, and Reynolds were all summoned "to basically get their stories straight for the press," according to a knowledgeable source, who adds, "That to me is where Hastert attempted a cover-up."

Reynolds balked at having such a meeting. "This is stupid! We can't all go and meet privately and try to get our stories straight, because this matter was just referred to the ethics committee," he told Hastert, according to the same source. "In fact, none of us are supposed to be talking to each other, because we are not supposed to talk to potential witnesses." Worse, added Reynolds, "I can tell you anything we say at this leadership meeting is something we have to share with the ethics committee."

The meeting eventually became a conference call, but without Reynolds's participation.

Read the whole thing here.

The post-election dispute in Florida's 13th District won't have an easy answer, it seems.

The state completed their second test run of the machines on Friday without a hitch in the congressional race. Election officials will continue on to the next phase of the audit, which involves a variety of tests on the machines' hardware and software, but hopes (never very high among Democrats) are diminishing that the state's tests will find the reason that the Sarasota County machines failed to register more than 18,000 votes in the congressional race Election Day.

As election officials continue a less public array of tests on the machines (here's a good rundown on the audit), Democrat Christine Jennings, whose lawyer has argued that Florida's audit is hopelessly inadequate, will argue in court that she should be able to run outside checks on the machines. No court date has yet been set for that showdown. Jennings also has until December 20th to contest the election in the House of Representatives.

But as all that moves forward, it's worth giving this a look -- video of some of the dozens of Sarasota County voters who showed up to a recent People for the American Way meeting to recount their troubles voting on the machines. Jennings' lawsuit challenging the election results also included a host of voter testimonials.

Like cowbell was to the Blue Oyster Cult, Dems know exactly what Congress needs: more oversight.

In the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress, the House Armed Services Committee wants to add a new subcommittee devoted to oversight and investigations.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), who will be chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has formally asked Nancy Pelosi to approve the creation of the subcommittee, according to a spokeswoman. The panel was abolished by Republicans in 1995 soon after they took control of Congress.

Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA), a senior member of the Armed Services Comittee, has said he wants to chair the new Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. In a Nov. 8 memo to Skelton (you can read the document here), Meehan said his focus would be on probing funding levels for warfighting equipment, contracting abuses by private corporations, and military readiness.

Ah, the Man with the Iron Mustache is leaving the international arena -- but not before attempting a thoroughly embarrassing and wholly unsympathetic maneuver.

Less than two weeks before the White House announced his resignation, Ambassador John Bolton's U.N. mission blocked an effort to celebrate the end of slavery in our hemisphere.

Next year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As far as anniversaries go, it seems like a good one to recognize, doesn't it? It should not be a real bone of contention to say that one is against slavery; and, upon hearing of the anniversary of its abolition in one region, to acknowledge that as a good thing; to recognize the cost of the practice in the millions of lives uprooted and forced into extreme suffering; and to celebrate the efforts which ended the horrific practice.

To do so, a number of Caribbean countries got together to propose a commemorative resolution before the United Nations.

Guess who refused to sign? That's right: Ambassador John Bolton's United States.

In a letter, the Bolton-led U.S. mission to the UN explained their objection to two words (the U.S. preferred "the emphasis" to "emphasizing") in the document. (You can read the document here.) After a couple dozen U.S. congresspeople kicked up a fuss -- most of them members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- the U.S. mission reportedly backed down, and consented to sign the document without their preferred language, according to sources close to the process.

The U.S. mission did not return my call on the matter.

The melee over who would be the next House intelligence committee chairman made our head spin. In fact, in our excitement over Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Jane Harman (D-CA), we all but overlooked a bit of muck that attached itself to the man who was tapped to fill the post.

But the Washington Post helpfully reminded us on Saturday of a scandal from last year which threatened to tarnish the reputation of Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the former border patrol agent and Vietnam gunner whom House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has chosen to lead the intel panel.

Shortly after getting elected to Congress in 1996, Reyes began pushing for a pricey program to install surveillance cameras along the northern and southern U.S. borders. He also pushed for a certain business, International Microwave Corp., to win that contract, according to the Post, who broke the story in April 2005. The paper gave no details on how Reyes is said to have supported the company's bid.

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Defense Nominee's Business Ties Raise Concerns "In the 14 years since he left government, former CIA director Robert M. Gates has jetted cross-country to advise 10 different companies, assessing issues as varied as Saudi oil drilling, mutual fund performance and restaurant sales at Romano's Macaroni Grill. . . .

"[A]s Gates awaits Senate confirmation as President Bush's secretary of Defense, ethics watchdogs worry about the revolving door between government and private business that allowed Gates to align himself with defense contractors, investment houses and a global drilling company involved with Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton Co.

"Companies with which Gates has been affiliated have secured hefty no-bid Pentagon contracts, and "you have to wonder if these companies will continue to get around bidding requirements once Gates is secretary," said Alex Knott, political director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group." (LATimes)

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As we wait for the Democratic players to take the field of the 110th Congress, we're going to take a closer look at the senior lawmakers whose positions put them at the forefront of investigations into the Bush administration.

They're trading cards of a sort. Collect them all! Today we start with two Democratic Senate lions, Carl Levin (MI) and Patrick Leahy (VT).

Player: Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) Position: Chair, Armed Services; Chair, Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

At hearings, Levin's reading glasses live on the very tip of his nose, and it's over those frames he looks at witnesses as he asks them question after withering question, in a style Congressional Quarterly has described as "both unfailingly polite and utterly relentless."

Despite nearly 30 years in office Levin's command of national security issues has not dulled, nor has his zeal for oversight. He's respected as a leading thinker among Democrats, and doesn't shy away from a fight, although he gets along well with both Democratic and Republican colleagues. During Bush's presidency he has taken issue with the Iraq war, the treatment of detainees, and the Pentagon's in-house intelligence operations.

Odds favor Levin taking an early and commanding role overseeing the execution of the Iraq war from his Armed Services chair.

In addition, Levin will be running the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations -- a modest workhorse that's technically under the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but in practice operates on its own. For the most part, the panel eschews political probes in favor of deep investigations into financial crimes. It has the distinction of being the only panel which can issue subpoenas (at the order of the chair) without a committee vote, I'm told, although that doesn't have much impact on its activities.

Player: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) Position: Chair, Judiciary Leahy's white hair and soft voice belie the tenaciousness with which he latches onto an issue or a witness, and doesn't let go. (Remember, he's the only senator who has earned the distinction of having Dick Cheney tell him publicly to go fuck himself.)

A former prosecutor, Leahy approaches issues with an organized and commanding knowledge of the facts. And he keeps his staff roster stocked with sharp investigative counsel. During the Bush years, he has been a point man for Democrats in challenging the White House on the NSA domestic surveillance program, detainee treatment, the Patriot Act and national security letters, and presidential signing statements. He has also shown an interest in civil rights and voting rights enforcement issues.

Leahy has an active request with the administration for documents showing Bush's approval of torture and the CIA's "black sites" program. Expect Leahy to push on war profiteering, also.

What happens to a celebration deferred?

Last year, Congress had planned a triumphant national "day of celebration" upon the return of our armed services following their victories in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. A provision in the 2006 National Defense Authorization Bill set aside $20 million for our generation's V-I Day. (For those wondering, success would be determined by presidential proclamation.)

Alas, the ticker tape orders have been postponed. With our troops mired in mideast violence, Senate Republicans added a line to the 2007 defense authorization bill to extend the measure through next year. Because, you know, all our troops are coming home then.

(Note: We somehow missed this catch in The New York Times last month, but we owe the reminder to this month's Harper's Magazine.)

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's (R) presidential ambitions take a hit in The Boston Globe today:

Even as Romney travels the country, vowing to curb the flood of low-skilled illegal immigrants into the United States, some of those workers maintain his own yard, cutting grass, pruning shrubs, and mulching trees.

For "a decade," the paper found, "the governor has used a landscaping company that relies heavily on workers like these, illegal Guatemalan immigrants, to maintain the grounds surrounding his pink Colonial house on Marsh Street in Belmont."

Romney -- who speaks frequently on immigration -- never inquired about the workers' status, the Globe reports, only offering up the occasional "buenos dias" to the toiling workers. There's no direct evidence that Romney knew they were illegal.

Any comment, Mr. Romney?

Asked by a reporter yesterday about his use of Community Lawn Service with a Heart [the lawncare company], Romney, who was hosting the Republican Governors Association conference in Miami, said, "Aw, geez," and walked away.

Several hours later, his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, provided the Globe with a statement saying that the governor knows nothing about the immigration status of the landscaping workers, and that his dealings were with [Ricardo] Saenz [the owner of the company], who is a legal immigrant from Colombia.

Perhaps even worse is Saenz's reaction to the Globe's inquiries:

Saenz said he met Romney through the Mormon Church and said Romney has used his company's services for a decade. Saenz said Romney never asked him if his workers are legal immigrants.

"He doesn't have to ask," Saenz said. "I'm a company."

Saenz asserted that all the workers he used were in the United States legally. Told by reporters that his employees said they were in this country illegally, Saenz responded: "What you've heard is not my problem."