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

There really wasn't much doubt about what members of the 9/11 commission thought about the CIA's failure to tell them about the videotapes of agents interrogating Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri.

But in today's New York Times, the commission's chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean (R), and its vice chairman, Lee Hamilton (D), make the bottom line clear. The op-ed runs under the title, "Stonewalled by the C.I.A."

The commission never explicitly asked for videotapes of interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees, they write, but "the commission’s interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot" was crystal clear. When they felt unsatisfied with the information the CIA had provided about the interrogations of Zubaydah and others, the commission even sought to interview the detainees directly. After extensive back and forth, the administration denied that request -- but didn't mention that videotapes of the interrogations existed.

One of the things the Justice Department inquiry of the tapes' destruction will (or should) be looking at is whether the failure to produce the tapes to the 9/11 commission constitutes a crime. Kean and Hamilton, for their part, make a point of using the "O" word in their conclusion:

As a legal matter, it is not up to us to examine the C.I.A.’s failure to disclose the existence of these tapes. That is for others. What we do know is that government officials decided not to inform a lawfully constituted body, created by Congress and the president, to investigate one the greatest tragedies to confront this country. We call that obstruction.

Push-polling is alive and well in the Iowa Democratic Caucus. Voters have reported receiving anonymous phone calls criticizing all three of the top Democractic candidates. (AP)

In the deadliest attack in Baghdad in months, a suicide bomber killed 30 people yesterday. The bombing was one of a number of attacks to hit Iraq yesterday, leaving a total of no less than 40 people dead. (New York Times)

Last week was a busy week in the case of Cyril Wecht, a former Allegheny County Coroner who is facing trial for fraud (and whose lawyers, former attorney general Dick Thornburgh among them, say that he's the victim of political prosecution). Last Friday prosecutors moved to dismiss 43 of the 84 charges against Wecht, claiming that this would "streamline the proof and timing of the trial." That same day Wecht's defense attorneys asked the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to remove the judge, Arthur J. Schwab, claiming that he is biased against their client. And last Thursday three local media organizations challenged in appeals court Judge Schwab's order to seat a nearly anonymous jury in the case, arguing that it violates the First Amendment. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Read More →

It turns out the Pakistani government is as good at public relations as they are at detective work.

After absurdly insisting for days that Benazir Bhutto had died from the blow of her head against the sun roof of her vehicle (when she ducked down due to the close range gun fire), the government seemed to finally come clean.

It was all the fault of the Interior Ministry's hasty spokesman, who'd floated the sun roof theory, it turned out. During a meeting with Pakistani newspaper journalists, the Interior Minister, Hamid Nawaz, asked them to "please forgive us and ignore the comment." Because, well, "we are not so articulate to present our views as you journalists can."

But it was only a couple of hours, apparently, before the government took back the take-back -- in the form of a "clarification." As Pakistan's News summarizes a government press release, "As a matter of fact [Nawaz] had merely appealed to the editors to overlook the tone and style of the spokesman which may not have been received well."

So it's back to the sun roof.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune had a good rundown yesterday on the government's "bizarre" inquiry into Bhutto's assassination. Beyond the now-infamous decision not to perform an autopsy, there was the decision to cordon off the crime scene and wash it down with fire hoses afterward.

I'm worried that CSI:Islamabad just won't make it off the ground.

Boy, was it time for an update.

Late last year we decided to take stock of all the Bush Administration officials who'd been accused of corruption and/or resigned in the face of scandal. Although we had fun doing it, we altruistically started the project in order to help our friends at Powerline, who professed an inability to think of any Bush officials beset by scandal.

This year´s result, which built on Justin Rood´s original gem, is, like our catalog of the administration´s efforts to disappear information, a staggering monument to the Bush Administration. And it wouldn't have been possible without TPM's research hounds, Adrianne Jeffries, Andrew Berger, and Peter Sheehy.

A quick note on methodology. Since a complete catalog of administration officials who've been accused of some form of corruption or abuse of power would be endless, we tried to maintain a high standard for inclusion. Most of those below were the subjects of criminal probes, but we also included officials who were credibly accused of acts that, if not criminal, were a corruption of office (like the U.S. attorney scandal). And even then, such officials were only included if their accusers had them dead to rights (which is why Karl Rove didn't make the cut). We also limited ourselves to officials who were either political appointees or whose actions were so political that they were effectively political appointees (like John Tanner).


Read More →

Why did the CIA choose to videotape its interrogations of the first Al Qaeda detainees?

The short answer provided by The New York Times piece this weekend, based on "interviews with two dozen current and former officials," proves misleading. And there are a host of competing theories to sort through. But in the end, it´s really not so complicated.

The story's straightforward headline, "Tapes by C.I.A. Lived and Died to Save Image," is based on the idea that the videotaping was "prompted in part by worry about how [the agency´s interrogation methods] might be perceived — by Congress, by prosecutors, by the American public and by Muslims worldwide," as the Times puts it. According to this theory, the CIA was trying to cover its ass by showing that it was keeping to authorized techniques. That same fear was behind the drive to destroy the tapes.

But the bulk of the reporting of the piece tends towards a very different interpretation. There were plenty of reasons to want to videotape the interrogations, and one simple reason to want them destroyed. Buzzy Krongard (yep, that Buzzy) -- one of the very few CIA officials who spoke to the Times on the record -- puts it best:

Read More →

The FBI's chat with Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) led to new revelations in the case against the congressman. During questioning in August of 2005, Jefferson led investigators to James Creaghan, a lobbyist who asked Jefferson for help obtaining contracts in Africa. Of the thirteen bribery schemes alleged in the indictment against Jefferson, five are linked to either Creaghan or one of his business associates. (New Orleans Times-Picayune)

South Carolina Republicans are investigating the origin of a fake holiday greeting card purporting to be from Mitt Romney's family. The card cites passages from the Book of Mormon such as "God the Father had a plurality of wives." (Los Angeles Times)

Objecting to the use of torture in interrogations, Navy JAG Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Williams has resigned his commission. In his letter of resignation, Williams cited both Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann's refusal to call waterboarding torture and the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes as reasons for leaving the Navy. (Think Progress)

Read More →

The year's end is a time for remembering -- and we here at TPM are just falling all over ourselves in a general fit of nostalgia. While the Golden Dukes constitute our tribute to the brightest stars in 2007's constellation of muck, there's just too much to commemorate for one website to bear.

Dahlia Lithwick has as good an approach as any over at Slate, celebrating "the Bush administration's dumbest legal arguments of the year." Now, as you can imagine, these arguments are not simply singled out for their stupidity. They are honored for their brazen opposition to common sense and the facts.

The administration's gravest offenses get special billing: "The United States does not torture" gets number one. And "the NSA's eavesdropping was limited in scope," kicks off the countdown.

But while the gravity of those assertions makes me question whether they can be described as "dumb," there are plenty of truly stupid legal arguments to go around: "The vice president's office is not a part of the executive branch" and "Everyone who has ever spoken to the president about anything is barred from congressional testimony by executive privilege," for example. And fittingly enough, "Alberto Gonzales" gets number three on the top-ten list, special recognition for a man who not only parroted a vast catalog of stupid and/or dishonest arguments, but looked dumb doing it.

Enjoy. We'll miss you 2007! But not to worry, as long as Dick Cheney -- and especially David Addington, who has a genius for dumb legal arguments -- remain in office, 2008 won't disappoint.

Note: Dahlia´s list is perfect as is, and she had to stop somewhere. But the White House's desperate efforts to keep the Secret Service's visitor logs secret deserve a special commendation for stupidity. Readers are invited to nominate others.

Can we stroll down memory lane for a second? Remember when Paul and I offered a grand unified theory of President Bush's warrantless surveillance efforts? Or when I brought you General Petraeus' own methodology for tabulating sectarian killings? How about the time I hung around the Rayburn building when Blackwater's Erik Prince smirked his way through a House oversight hearing? Those times I embarrassed myself playing TV reporter? And, hey, Cookie Krongard -- that was some fun, right?

Well, I'm getting wistful because today's my last day at TPM. As great as working here has been -- more on that after Boyz II Men do their thing -- I'm transferring over to The Washington Independent, a forthcoming online experiment designed to shift the tectonic plates of investigative reporting. We launch on January 28 on, and I hope you'll check it out. (You might find some old friends there, too.) Until then, I'm having some fun with Jonah Goldberg's brilliant book on my personal blog, if you're interested.

Read More →

Back to our Afghanistan-contractors document for a minute. How could it be that the State Department could effectively lose $28 million worth of cars, guns, radios, computers, generators, and other not-easy-to-lose items? Probably because State doesn't devote people to making sure the stuff is where the contractors say it is, in violation of federal regulations. From the State Department Inspector General:

[Federal Acquisition Regulation] assigns certain responsibilities, such as reviewing contractors' property control systems and approving the type and frequency of physical inventories, to the [contracting officer] or "the representative assigned the responsibility as a property administrator." However, the Department had not appointed a property administrator for these contracts, and Department officials indicated that it was not the Department's practice to do so. ...

As of September 30, 2006, according to the Department, contractors held capitalized government property with a total cost of about $144 million and a net book value of almost $49 million. Although the Department has not appointed property administrators in the past, [the Office of the Inspector General] concluded that contractor-held property has reached such a level that the amount of oversight necessary cannot be met effectively by the Department's existing property administration structure and recommends the following.

The federal government uses many acronyms. Unfortunately, WTF isn't one of them.