What a GOP-Managed Reading of the Constitution Looks Like

Bob Goodlatte is the guy the GOP put in charge of today’s reading of the Constitution. He apparently chose to read the 10th Amendment–the foundation of state’s rights–himself. The 10th Amendment is supposed to read:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Only here’s what Goodlatte’s 10th Amendment looks like:

Amendment 10: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the people respectively–are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

So much for state’s rights!

David Ignatius Confuses Joe McCarthy and Dan Burton

David Ignatius got it wrong, IMO, when he asked whether Darrell Issa is going to be the next Joe McCarthy.

When you see the righteous gleam in Issa’s eye, recall other zealous congressional investigators who claimed to be doing the public’s business but ended up pursuing vendettas. I think of Robert F. Kennedy’s ruthless pursuit of labor “racketeering” when he was chief counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And, more chilling, I think of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s use of that subcommittee to probe what he imagined was Communist Party subversion in America.

[snip]

Issa doesn’t come across as a McCarthyite. Indeed, he has struck me as one of the smarter and more creative members of the Republican caucus. But he now has the whip in his hand, and investigative power, as we have so many times in American history, can be grotesquely abused.

Ignatius’ analogy shows his blindness in two directions.

First, it’s pretty obvious that Peter King, not Darrell Issa, intends to be the next McCarthy. Sure, other Republicans will join him in his anti-Muslim fear-mongering, but King is the guy who has promised to use his gavel to accomplish that task. Peter King’s goal, it seems, like that of Joe McCarthy, is to foster a generalized atmosphere of fear and distrust to justify authoritarian measures.

And given that today’s equivalent of anti-Communist witch hunts is anti-Muslim and anti-Arab attacks, it’d be particularly dangerous for Lebanese-American Darrell Issa to carry out that task. Indeed, Debbie Schlussel, one of the key operatives in sowing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate, has in the past targeted Issa for his ancestry, calling him “Jihad Darrell.”

But all that’s not to say Issa won’t launch into a bunch of wasteful witch hunts. But they’re obviously modeled on the witch hunts of Dan Burton, Issa’s predecessor at Oversight, in which a slew of baseless investigations served the purpose of delegitimizing the President.

Perhaps I’m being a pedant for insisting on this distinction, but I do so for two reasons. First, because it’s important to understand the structure of these witch hunts and the intended targets of them. Issa, it seems to me, has an entirely political aim, whereas King’s is more societal. Issa’s target is Obama, King’s is all of us.

But I also think it remarkable that a purportedly centrist Villager like Ignatius can’t even summon the more obvious Burton comparison. All the blathering about bipartisanship, after all, ignores the tactics Republicans use to discredit their opponents, tactics that Burton mastered. It ignores the way Republicans put aside the good of the country to score political points.

I’m glad that Ignatius is calling on Issa to act like an adult, but he seems to ignore the whole point of Issa’s forecast witch hunts.

Oops! Bribing Nigeria for Cheney’s Freedom Not Legal

A lawyer in Nigeria has reminded the country’s anti-corruption watchdog that the recent deal buying Cheney’s freedom for $35 million is not legal.

In a letter to Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, a prominent lawyer in Abuja, said the withdrawal of charges against Cheney was a breach of the law.

“We know as a point of law that once a criminal charge has been filed in a competent court, issue of penalty of fine is for the courts to impose and not parties,” he wrote. “Hence, we are shocked to hear that EFCC imposed a fine on an accused person. We also know as a point of law that criminal matters cannot be settled out of court as in civil matters in Nigeria.”

And a newspaper editorial makes the fairly obvious point that if corporations can keep buying the freedom of its executives, then those executives will never have an incentive to follow the law.

The risk of solving one criminal act through the plea bargain option amounts to a mere slap on the wrist and subtly telling the guilty firm and its personnel to “go and sin no more”. It does not paint a good image for Nigeria, especially in the world’s corrupt nations index where we are currently featuring notoriously.

We therefore condemn in strong terms this kind of under the table settlement. The same thing happened in the Siemens bribery scam, and this is making Nigeria look like a country where money can buy justice. More importantly, the Halliburton case questions the seriousness of government in holding corrupt foreign firms and their officials accountable for their action, while on the other hand encouraging and patronizing companies that have not only confessed corrupt practices, but are not known to respect wholesome business ethics.

Only a painstaking trial and possible conviction, if found guilty, would have forced Halliburton to change its corrupt ways of doing business in Nigeria.

But Nigeria’s anti-corruption watchdog, in response to Ugochukwu, pointed out that such plea bargains are standard in countries like the UK and US.

And, without addressing the move’s legality, the head of the anti-corruption watchdog agency defended the move, saying that it is a “best world practice” used in more developed countries.

“The US and the UK governments are practicing it. Where you cannot successfully sustain a charge in court and you want to recover, then instead of losing the case, losing the money, then you opt for plea bargaining,” Farida Waziri, head of the watchdog agency, said,

Of course, the US got an even bigger bribe from KBR — $402 million — to dismiss these charges, without even having to threaten Cheney with jail time. So I guess Nigeria is left only to aspire to the “best world practice” of getting bigger bribes from corporations guarding the freedom of their executives.

Halliburton Tries to Get Half Off Its Bribe for Cheney’s Freedom

As I noted last week, Halliburton is in negotiations to reach a plea deal with Nigeria to drop its bribery charges against Dick Cheney. At that point, Nigeria was demanding $500 million for such a deal, which led Gregg to quip, “So, Cheney Halliburton is bribing Nigeria to drop bribery charges?”

As Reuters reports, Halliburton and Nigeria are getting closer to a deal. Over the course of negotiations, though, it appears Halliburton has asked for half off of Nigeria’s original demand, or a total fine of $250 million.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it met with officials representing Cheney and Halliburton in London last week after filing 16-count charges at a federal high court in Abuja in a case dating back to the mid-1990s.

Halliburton, which has said the Nigerian charges have no legal basis, could not immediately be reached to comment on the outcome of the meeting. But EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi said an offer had been made to pay fines totalling up to $250 million.

“They have made offers of fines to be paid in penalties. They offered to pay $120 million in addition to the repatriation of $130 million trapped in Switzerland,” Babafemi said.

“It will need to be ratified by the government and we expect a decision by the end of the week,” he said.

It seems like the value of Cheney’s freedom, like all other goods, declines the closer you get to Christmas. Cheney better hope that Nigeria ratifies this deal soon though, because you never know what happens to goods left on the shelf after the holidays.

$500 Million to Keep Cheney Out of Jail?

Apparently, Halliburton is in negotiations with the Nigerian government to craft a plea deal that would keep Dick Cheney out of jail. (h/t scribe)

Halliburton is planning to make a plea bargain in former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s corruption case, Nigerian officials told GlobalPost.

[snip]

Halliburton is in talks with Nigerian officials to make a plea bargain in the case, said Femi Babafemi, spokesman for Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the agency which has pressed the charges against Cheney.

“The companies are asking for a plea bargain, we are reviewing their request, we are talking with them, but we have not gone far with the talks yet,” Babafemi told GlobalPost.

Although Babafemi did not give further details, other sources within the agency said the plea bargain might involve a $500 million settlement.

[snip]

Cheney and three other top executives could face sentences of three years in a Nigerian prison if convicted of the charges in the 16-count indictment, said Babafemi.

$500 million or three years in Nigerian prison. I wonder how much he or his former employers woul’d pay to avoid imprisonment on torture charges?

Dick Cheney: Wanted for Bribery

Nigeria has made it official. Today, it charged Dick Cheney with 16 bribery-related charges.

While that’s not unexpected, I’m amused by Dick Cheney’s Defense-Attorney-on-Call Terry O’Donnell’s response to the charges:

Mr Cheney’s lawyer, Terence O’Donnell, said US investigators had “found no suggestion of any impropriety by Dick Cheney in his role of CEO of Halliburton”.

“Any suggestion of misconduct on his part, made now, years later, is entirely baseless,” Mr O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell suggests that because the US conducted its own investigation–mostly during a period when Cheney remained the most powerful man in government and when DOJ was clearly politicized–then Nigeria should be unable to do so, too.

Particularly given Mary’s very intriguing post about competing jurisdictions and missing millions in Switzerland, I find that response particularly notable.

Chris Christie-Patton Boggs Contract Shows Disturbing Trend

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in one of his first major acts in office, killed the NJ-NY Hudson River Tunnel Project that had already been agreed to and would have brought much needed transportation congestion relief as well as billions in long term Federal construction spending, and related job creation, for his state. Christie said New Jersey could not afford to participate. As a result of Christie’s breach of the agreement and withdrawal, the Federal government, via the FTA, formally noticed demand for losses and expenses in the amount of $271 million dollars that resulted.

Christie, of course, doesn’t want to honor the government’s loss claim any more than he does the tunnel agreement. So Christie has hired the ultra high dollar white shoe Washington DC power law firm Patton Boggs to fight the claim:

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has hired a law firm to challenge a $271 million tab the federal government says the state owes for the canceled ARC rail tunnel. Christie says he’s approved the selection of the high-powered Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs.

A Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak defended the hire, saying “We’re much better off using a firm like this than using our own in-house attorneys or attorneys general. Not to knock their expertise, but let’s face it, that’s what these attorneys [at Patton Boggs] do for a living.”

Drewniak said the firm would be charging $485 an hour. He wasn’t sure where the money to pay that rate would come from — only that it would be found. “There are always contingencies for every agency of government for conducting legal affairs,” he said. “Everybody has to budget money.”

Patton Boggs is listed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit group that tracks influence in Washington, as the nation’s top lobbyist over the last twelve years, with about $400 million in billings since 1998. Its clients include Walmart, several health-care related companies and local governments.

Only $485.00/hr. for a high powered firm like Patton Boggs, the kind of firm where senior level counsel regularly charge $800-$1,000 an hour, looks pretty reasonable on the surface doesn’t it? Looks like Christie actually negotiated a pretty fair deal on outside lawyers, if he is not going to use any of the hundreds of state attorneys he already has on the payroll, doesn’t it? Well, not so much.

$485 an hour for a firm like Patton Boggs means they are using “blended rate” on their RFP response. They put in an estimate that shows a small number of partner hours at $800+, and large number of low level associate and paralegal hours at much lower rates.

After they get the contract, there will be lots more partner hours billed than in the estimate. The final bill will be a multiple of the estimated bill in the RFP.

This is how big white shoe law firms, with huge and expensive overhead, compete with small firms who legitimately charge less than $500 an hour for partner time on governmental contracts. It is a scam that was invented so politicians can funnel lucrative steady contract money to big powerful supporters and the big firms can siphon money from government coffers.

In the old days, the government would set a maximum “government rate” per hour they were willing to pay, and the big firms would not touch the work. Mid sized and smaller law firms specializing in such work, manned by ex-prosecutors and other government lawyer types who still wanted to do “public good work” would open boutique firms that charged less than 1/2 the per hour rate for senior attorneys the big firms could and would get these assignments because the big firms wouldn’t take the government rate. These firms often consisted of attorneys with substantial federal agency or DOJ experience, wanting to actually do more than get rich, and gave the taxpayers a far better deal, and just as good, if not far better, results because the firm was not beholden to Washington DC masters and political and lobbying affiliations.

So, if past practice in such situations is prologue, Chris Christie’s contract with Patton Boggs is not only questionable because the State of New Jersey has plenty of capable attorneys already on its payroll, it is also far from the reasonable deal it is being pitched as.

The Crooks Trying to Bail-Out Alberto Gonzales

Let me start by stating that the words “legal” and “trust” don’t belong on a letterhead with Alberto Gonzales’ name blazoned at the top.

But that’s not the most interesting part of the letter soliciting donations for a legal defense fund for AGAG (linked by Main Justice). It’s the number of signers who were deeply embroiled in Bush Administration corruption. Starting, appropriately enough, with Bush himself.

President and Mrs. Bush have already made substantial gifts to the Judge’s legal expense fund.

But then there are people like Gale Norton, who resigned just as Gonzales’ DOJ began investigating an oil-trading scandal and who later was investigated for a slimy deal with her future employer, Shell Oil. Or Alphonso Jackson, who was also investigated by DOJ for cronyism in HUD contracts. Or Margaret Spellings, who declined to crack down on the pay-to-play scandal in the student loan business. Or Hank Paulson, who was buddying up to Goldman Sachs even as he was crafting out a bailout for them. I’d raise Condi and Rummy and torture; but then, Gonzales was involved as deeply as they were in torture.

Then again, the number of corrupt people soliciting money to pay off Gonzales’ legal bills may just be a function of the corruption in the Bush Administration. Because almost all of Bush’s cabinet secretaries signed this letter. So much so, that the people who didn’t sign may be more interesting than anything else. There are a number minor players here: former Department of Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, former Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige, former Ag Secretary Ann Veneman.

But there are three notable omissions among the major Secretaries: John Ashcroft, Paul O’Neill, and Colin Powell.

Oh, and one more rather notable Bush Administration guy missing from the list of people trying to help Gonzales out of his legal defense hole–a guy known to be rather fond of legal defense funds, in fact, for the right people: Dick Cheney.

Why doesn’t Dick Cheney want to help Alberto Gonzales pay for protecting the Bush Administration?

Dick Cheney to Face Criminal Charges

Not for war crimes or torture, mind you. But for the bribery allegedly committed while at Halliburton that has been bubbling along for years. (h/t scribe)

Nigeria will file charges against former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and officials from five foreign companies including Halliburton Co. over a $180 million bribery scandal, a prosecutor at the anti-graft agency said.Indictments will be lodged in a Nigerian court “in the next three days,” Godwin Obla, prosecuting counsel at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said in an interview today at his office in Abuja, the capital. An arrest warrant for Cheney “will be issued and transmitted through Interpol,” the world’s biggest international police organization, he said.

Peter Long, Cheney’s spokesman, said he couldn’t immediately comment when contacted today and said he would respond later to an e-mailed request for comment.

Obla said charges will be filed against current and former chief executive officers of Halliburton, including Cheney, who was CEO from 1995 to 2000, and its former unit KBR Inc., based in Houston, Texas; Technip SA, Europe’s second-largest oilfield- services provider; Eni SpA, Italy’s biggest oil company; and Saipem Construction Co., a unit of Eni.

You see? I knew that new pulse-less ticker would handily allow Cheney to live long enough to face charges on something!

Stay tuned for the leaked WikiLeak cables showing the Obama Administration pressuring Nigeria to drop these charges.

Chris Christie Was Worst US Attorney for Big Spending on Travel

DOJ’s Inspector General just released a report on whether or not US Attorneys were living it up on the government dime. It finds that five of the US Attorneys studied were the worst offenders for staying at luxury hotels and billing the government. And though it doesn’t refer to those US Attorneys by name, we know the one it calls the worst offender is Chris Christie, because one the trips discussed match the trips discussed when his exorbitant travel first focused attention on the issue of US Attorney travel.

Here’s how the report describes Christie:

In terms of the percentage of travel, U.S. Attorney C was the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification. The U.S. Attorney provided insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification for 14 of 23 trips (61 percent) that exceeded the government rate. [my emphasis]

In particular, here’s a description of his travel to the Nine Zero hotel in Boston and the Four Seasons in DC.

For example, U.S. Attorney C traveled outside of his district to Boston, Massachusetts, for meetings with representatives of a defendant company at the Nine Zero Hotel. U.S. Attorney C stayed at the Nine Zero Hotel at a cost of $449 per night, which was more than double the government rate of $220 per night in Boston.16 U.S. Attorney C’s secretary told us that it was a “coincidence” that these meetings were at the same hotel where she had reserved a room for the U.S. Attorney.

In addition to his case-related travel, U.S. Attorney C also exceeded the government lodging rate when he traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to an association. The U.S. Attorney stayed overnight at the Four Seasons Hotel, where he was scheduled to speak the following morning. The hotel rate at the Four Seasons was $475 per night, more than double the government rate of $233 per night. According to the justification memorandum, the U.S. Attorney stayed at the Four Seasons because his speech was scheduled at that hotel early in the morning.

16 U.S. Attorney C’s reimbursements for airport transportation costs were also noteworthy. For example, rather than take a taxi from the Boston airport to the Nine Zero Hotel in downtown Boston, a trip of approximately 4 miles, he prearranged a car service to and from the Boston airport to the hotel, which cost the government $236 round trip. In another example of excessive transportation costs, his car service from a London airport to his hotel in central London cost $562 round trip. [my emphasis]

Here is TPM’s description of the same trips.

On the high end, Christie spent nearly $500 in taxpayer money on a night’s stay in four star hotel in downtown Boston, claiming government rate rooms “weren’t available.” On the low end, Christie requested $109 for a night in Warsaw, IN. The majority of the trips for which Christie formally requested to spend more than the government allows fall somewhere in between those two examples.

The Boston trip came on Oct. 16, 2007. Christie stayed one night at the Nine Zero Hotel downtown, which touts its ranking as one of Travel And Leisure magazine’s 500 best hotels in the world. The room was $449 per night, which Christie asked the Justice Department to pay because, according to the memo he submitted to the department’s budget officer, “due to a high demand for rooms, the government rate is not available for my stay in Boston.”

On Nov. 17, 2004, Christie made a trip to D.C. and stayed at the Willard Intercontinental, arguably the city’s finest and most prestigious and unarguably among its most expensive. Again, he claimed it was the best deal he could find. “I was unable to locate lodging at the government rate,” he wrote in a memo dated Nov. 22. “The only available lodging was at a rate of $449.00 at the Willard hotel.”

On another trip to D.C. on Oct. 15, 2008, Christie again went over budget limits to stay at a tony spot — this time, the Four Seasons on Pennsylvania Ave. The explanation for the overage is redacted in the memo obtained by TPMDC. [my emphasis]

As Christie continues to call for austerity in New Jersey, it’s really worth pointing out what a big fan he is of billing taxpayers for his own luxury.

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