They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Right after last night's Republican Fox News debate, Frank Luntz appeared to demonstrate that, based on his focus group of New Hampshire Republicans, Mitt Romney was the big winner.

But as Josh pointed out, the group's unanimity of opinion and blind insistence on Romney's rout had a suspicious air to it.

Along those lines, a number of bloggers have pointed out that one man in the focus group actually appeared in a prior Luntz Fox News focus group four months prior. Both were gatherings in New Hampshire (at the same Manchester, New Hampshire restaurant, it appears) of approximately 30 New Hampshire voters -- according to the lead-in last night, Luntz's group were registered Republican undecideds. Although Luntz doesn't identify the man by name in both segments, he's easily identifiable through his appearance and voice -- either that, or he's got an identical twin.

While this isn't necessarily evidence that Luntz has used actors or plants in his segments, it "says there's something sloppy at best about his recruitment process, Mark Blumenthal, a veteran of the polling business and founder of Pollster.com, told me. "If you see a respondent show up twice, it's a sign of professional respondents leaking through."

But when I spoke to Luntz today, he said that he uses repeat participants by design. In a segment to air on Fox News tonight, he said, there should be a "bunch of people" who had been in prior focus groups, some of them participating as early as May of last year. "It allows me to see how people's opinion have changed over time," he explained. "I'm trying to isolate that moment that made the difference."

When asked about the charge that he'd used actors or plants, his already rapid speech accelerated: "That's ridiculous.... I'm sure that the person who said that doesn't have a PhD, probably doesn't have a masters, and doesn't know what they're talking about."

He's conducting a "study of human behavior" with his dial tests (a mechanism that registers viewers' moment by moment reaction) he said, not a traditional focus group. And if you "want to understand how people change their points of view, you have to ask them over time and multiple times. This is how social biologists do it. This is anthropology.... If you're goal is to study how opinions change over time, of course you've got to call them back."

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Say it ain't so, John!

The California Majority Report reports that Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), one of the long-time subjects of the Jack Abramoff investigation, "will announce that he will not seek re-election." That could come as soon as this week, reports John Bresnahan of The Politico. Back in September, Doolittle proclaimed "I am running again. Period."

Ever since Doolittle refused to plead guilty, the Justice Department has evidently been building a bribery case against him. Doolittle, meanwhile, has made quite a pastime of demanding that the DoJ fish or cut bait. All that tough talk hasn't helped his fundraising, and his campaign has increasingly been drained by payments to his wife for her purported fundraising work. Things just aren't like they used to be during the glory days before Abramoff's downfall.

From Newsweek:

George Tenet, who was CIA director when the tapes were made, will be represented by former FBI general counsel Howard Shapiro. Roy Krieger, a Washington lawyer who has represented about 100 CIA employees, says that two agency officers have approached him about representation, though neither has retained him yet.

For the CIA spooks involved, cost is a serious issue. Krieger says legal expenses for each employee could reach "hundreds of thousands" of dollars; the CIA will not foot the bill. In anticipation of just such a scenario, however, the agency some years ago began encouraging its employees to purchase special liability-insurance policies from Wright & Co., a Virginia firm that specializes in coverage for government investigators. A Wright spokesman had no response to questions about whether claims have been filed for legal fees in connection with the tapes inquiry.

Apparently the Pakistani government is having trouble selling their sun roof assassination theory to American officials. From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats increasingly believe former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto died from a gunshot wound, placing Washington at odds with Islamabad over the cause of her death.

The government of President Pervez Musharraf has held Ms. Bhutto died on Dec. 27 from a fractured skull, sustained when the shock wave from a suicide bombing threw the opposition politician against the lever of her vehicle's sunroof.

But U.S. officials said information independently gathered from Pakistan, including eyewitness accounts and video footage, left few doubts that Ms. Bhutto was shot by one or more assailants. "There is a consensus emerging that she must have been shot," said a U.S. administration official working in Pakistan.


Call it a lack of imagination.

Guantanamo Bay is not the only overseas military prison that is posing problems for the the Bush administration. The secretive American detention center at the Bagram military base – constructed as a temporary site after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – now holds 630 prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross alleges that some detainees are subjected to cruel treatment that violates the Geneva Conventions. (Herald-Tribune)

Former White House economic adviser Lawrence B. Lindsey lost his job shortly after he broke from White House talking points and estimated (six months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq) that the war would cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. Lindsey’s new book What a President Should Know . . . But Most Learn Too Late explains how he came up with that number and admits that putting "out only a best-case scenario without preparing the public for some worse eventuality was the wrong strategy to follow.” (Washington Post)

The judge in the case of former Allegheny County coroner Cyril Wecht has agreed to drop 43 of the 84 charges against Wecht and ruled that they cannot be refiled. Wecht's defense attorneys, who have argued that Wecht is being prosecuted for political reasons, objected to the prosecution's original motion to drop the charges, which would have allowed them to be filed again at a later date. Last week an appeals court refused to grant the defense's request to remove the judge from the case. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

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It's pretty fitting that one day after one of the biggest events this campaign season, the New Hampshire primaries, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on a case that could significantly affect the 2008 election: the fight over Indiana's voter ID law.

The issues behind Crawford v. Marion County Election Board are pretty simple to understand. The Indiana law, passed by Republicans, prevents citizens from voting without a picture ID, and they say it will stop voter fraud, though they can't point to a single instance of criminal voter impersonation occurring in the state. It is a solution in search of a problem.

Or rather, it's a solution to a very different problem. In this issue of New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin writes that the voter ID laws, which Republicans have pushed in states throughout the country, are a reminder that, though racism has disappeared from mainstream political discourse, "racial discrimination itself" has not been banished from politics:

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Terence T. Evans, the dissenting Court of Appeals judge in the Indiana case, slyly wrote. “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.” He’s not the only one to notice: the three federal judges who approved the Indiana law were appointed by a Republican President; the lone dissenter was appointed by a Democrat. It was also Republican-dominated legislatures that produced the Indiana and Georgia laws, both of which were signed by Republican governors.

Who are the “certain folks,” in Judge Evans’s delicate phrase, that the Indiana law is trying to discourage? The best answer can be found in a friend-of-the-court brief in the case filed by twenty-nine leading historians and scholars of voting rights. They concluded that the Indiana law belongs to a malign tradition in “this nation’s history of disfranchising people of color and poor whites under the banner of ‘reform.’ ” Such measures as the poll tax and literacy tests, they write, were “billed as anti-fraud or anti-corruption devices; yet through detailed provisions within them, they produced a discriminatory effect (often intended) within the particular historical context.” So it will be in Indiana, where the law creates a series of onerous barriers to voting.


And don't forget that the United States government, by way of the Justice Department, has weighed in to support the Republican side of the argument. As election law expert Rick Hasen has pointed out, the fight over voter ID laws has been strictly partisan -- Republicans push and support the laws, Republican-appointed judges uphold them, and recently Republican secretaries of state have written amicus briefs in support of Indiana's law. So the Bush Administration's decision shouldn't surprise.

The court will deliver a decision by late June, in time to affect the November elections. As for what's likely to happen Wednesday, Toobin himself is not optimistic about the outcome of the arguments:

As a general matter, in recent years the Court has been reluctant to find what is charged in this case: a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. (The notable exception, to belabor the issue, was for a plaintiff named George W. Bush.) In the end, though, it will not be the judiciary that rescues democracy; whatever the obstacles, the problems with the ballot box must be solved at the ballot box. In the end, though, it will not be the judiciary that rescues democracy; whatever the obstacles, the problems with the ballot box must be solved at the ballot box.


Note: Here's The New York Times' rundown of the case.

Surprise, surprise. From Roll Call (sub. req.):

Putting weeks of speculation to rest, former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) confirmed Friday they plan to file paperwork next week to form a powerful lobbying partnership called The Breaux Lott Leadership Group....

“This is not a well kept secret to say the least,” Lott said. “We’ve worked together for many years in the House and Senate and in the leadership together in the Senate. We thought it was a good opportunity and a fun opportunity to work together.

“We start next Monday and we’re hoping to find some business.”...

While Breaux left the Senate three years ago, Lott abruptly resigned his seat late last year — a move that fueled speculation that he wanted to leave his post before new, stricter lobbying restrictions took effect.

House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) has set a date, January 16th and invited a stable of players fingered in the Mitchell Report to testify, he announced today. They are: Brian McNamee, Kirk Radomski, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, and Roger Clemens.

Tough luck, Spencer. Looks like the Yanks are very well represented.

Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better for Norman Hsu, the bizarre Hillraiser and fraudster.

He's been sent off to prison for 3 years to serve time for the fraud he was convicted of way back in 1992. And he still has to go to trial for the Ponzi scheme he was charged with by federal prosecutors in New York.

Here's an approach I haven't seen before. From The Chicago Tribune:

In the latest legal contest over the treatment of detained terrorist suspects, attorneys for Jose Padilla filed a suit in a California federal district court this morning against John Yoo, the former deputy assistant Attorney General whose legal opinions formed the basis for Padilla's detention and the interrogation techniques used against him that the attorneys call torture....

The suit filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, turns the spotlight of blame on Yoo, the author of a series of legal memoranda known collectively as the "Torture Memos." Drafted in 2002, when Yoo was a deputy assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department, they provided the legal justification for the interrogation techniques used on suspected Al Qaeda operatives that many, from former generals to presidential candidates, have since decried as torture.

"John Yoo is the first person in American history to provide the legal authorization for the instiution of torture in the U.S.," said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney representing Padilla in the suit. "He [Yoo] was an absolutely essential part of what will be viewed by history as a group of rogue officials acting under cover of law to undermine fundamental rights.it never would have happened without the legal green light. That made it possible."

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