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Blabby Brennan to Replace Publicity Petraeus at CIA?

“He is a horrendously political animal, and there will be a tendency to politicize information to put the best spin for the administration on it.”

–An anonymous CIA officer, speaking of John Brennan, with whom he worked at CIA during the Bush Administration

As predicted, John Brennan’s past support for torture has generated only limited concern from John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, but no real threat that it will hold up his confirmation. No one, as far as I know, seems to care that Brennan was involved in Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program, nor that he decided to give NCTC access to the federal data of completely innocent Americans, nor his “intimate familiarity” with the genesis of NYPD’s abusive domestic spying program. And while there has been much discussion of his role in drone strikes–much of it credulously insisting Brennan wants to put order to drone strikes with an effort stalled after Mitt lost–even drone skeptics like Ron Wyden have not yet raised it as a confirmation issue.

John Cornyn’s warning that Brennan won’t be approved until the leak investigations finish is much more interesting, however.

“John Brennan has not been absolved of responsibility for the slew of high-level security leaks that have characterized this White House,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told POLITICO in a statement Monday. “This investigation needs to be resolved before his nomination can move forward.”

An aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The questions about national security leaks by this administration have not yet been answered, and that will obviously be an issue as the Senate considers his nomination.”

Sure, to some degree Cornyn’s professed concern just reflects Cornyn being not only a partisan asshole, but a hypocrite about leaks.

But there seems good reason to inquire into what John Brennan’s sieve-like qualities will have on national security.

Consider his role in the exposure of the sources and methods used to set up a sting entrapping AQAP in an UndieBomb plot and with it sustaining the claim that AQAP wants to–and has the ability to–strike in the US. After the AP revealed there had been a plot (having held off at the request of the Administration), Brennan called his predecessors to spin the plot and in doing so made it clear that it was a sting, thereby exposing the British passport holder who set up the sting as an infiltrator.

At about 5:45 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 7, just before the evening newscasts, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on counter-terrorism, held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.

According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had “inside control” over it.

Brennan’s comment appears unintentionally to have helped lead to disclosure of the secret at the heart of a joint U.S.-British-Saudi undercover counter-terrorism operation.

A few minutes after Brennan’s teleconference, on ABC’s World News Tonight, Richard Clarke, former chief of counter-terrorism in the ClintonWhite House and a participant on the Brennan call, said the underwear bomb plot “never came close because they had insider information, insider control.”

A few hours later, Clarke, who is a regular consultant to the network, concluded on ABC’s Nightline that there was a Western spy or double-agent in on the plot: “The U.S. government is saying it never came close because they had insider information, insider control, which implies that they had somebody on the inside who wasn’t going to let it happen.”

The White House made it clear they would have revealed the plot anyway. Indeed, they did so in an analogous situation two years earlier. And our Saudi and Yemeni partners tend to boast about such things anyway. Much of the outrage over this so-called leak served only to beat up on the AP that had exposed the aforementioned abusive NYPD program.

Nevertheless, revelations about how Brennan briefs his predecessors who then run to their respective networks to officially leak this information show that he is an enthusiastic participant in the asymmetric spread of information in DC.

But hey. We knew that.

Nevertheless, the asymmetry is key. As I’ve noted, Brennan has an interesting closeness to half of the Administration’s whistleblower prosecutions. Yet one of those prosecuted whistleblowers–John Kiriakou, whose book someone who looks exactly like Brennan helped to get publishedsuggested today that Brennan is “the most prolific leaker in this administration.” A former senior Administration official seems to agree.

“It’s not on people’s radar, but this could be an issue,” said the former administration official, who asked not to be named discussing a potential downside of Brennan’s nomination. “He’s a guy who comes across as a strong, silent type who never speaks, [but] he actually does a lot of talking both internally with the president and externally with select, influential reporters. … I’m not saying the guy seeks it, but [other White House officials] view him as the most credible internal mouthpiece on national security matters.”

Which brings me back to this point. It’s not just that Brennan exposes sources and methods while seemingly supporting the unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers who do the same. But it’s also that he does so for political gain. This is not–contra Brennan’s many boosters–transparency. It’s about enforcing an official version of events that often contradicts markedly from the truth.

Mind you, it is not at all unprecedented to have a skilled leaker madly spinning Administration policies rather than leveling with the American people at CIA. That doesn’t make it good for national security, but it happens a lot.

All that said, one of yesterday’s jokes is that Brennan–a man with ties to torture and illegal wiretapping–is replacing a guy purportedly ousted for a consensual affair. There are reasons why such affairs on the part of the Director of CIA raise more concerns in the nuclear era than they might have in the past. And that nuclear tie may be the related complications cited to explain why Petraeus had to resign.

Or maybe not. In Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s recent report on Petraeus’ habit of giving the pundits who advanced his career Top Secret clearance and access to materials that might be used to oppose Administration policies, he suggested this practice was receiving new scrutiny at DOD, the kind of scrutiny that might necessitate retirement.

John Cornyn is largely being an asshole in raising Brennan’s blabby mouth in respect to his nomination. But in doing so, he may just expose the deep hypocrisy underlying this Administration’s asymmetric leaks. That may be the price Cornyn demands to rubberstamp Brennan’s CIA appointment.

Dick Durbin: The Targeted Killing Memo Is Like the Torture and Illegal Wiretap Memos

It took transcribing the debate in the July 19 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for me to realize it, but Democrats are running very serious interference to keep the Anwar al-Awlaki targeted killing memo secret. Not only did Dianne Feinstein basically roll John Cornyn, telling him she’d introduce language that would accomplish his goal of getting all the oversight committees the memo when, if hers passes, it will only, maybe, get the Intelligence Committee the memo.  Not only did the Democrats vote on a party line vote to table John Cornyn’s amendment to require the Administration to share it–in classified or unclassified form–with the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. Not only did Pat Leahy get pretty snippy with Cornyn for offering–and asking to speak on–the Amendment.

Most stunning, though, is Dick Durbin’s comment on it.

Durbin: Thank you Mr. Chairman. My staff briefed me of this on the way in, and I asked the basic question, “would I ask this of a Republican President? Of course. And I did ask it, in a different context, of the previous President, when it came to questions of interrogation, torture, and surveillance. I might say to the Senator from Texas I had no support from the other side of the table when I made that request. But I do believe it is a valid inquiry and I would join the Senator from Texas and any who wish in sending a letter to the Attorney General asking for this specific information on a bipartisan basis. And certainly we can raise it the next time the Attorney General appears before us. I do have to say that I’m going to vote to table because I think that as flawed as this [the FAA extension] may be without the Lee Amendment which I think would help it, I do believe we need to pass this and  bringing in these other matters are going to jeopardize it. But I think it is a legitimate question to be asked of Presidents of either party, and I will join you in a letter to this President and his Attorney General for that purpose. [my emphasis]

This partisan retort (one Leahy repeated) says, in part, that the Democrats aren’t going to cooperate with Cornyn’s effort to get the memo because Cornyn didn’t cooperate with Durbin’s efforts to get the torture and illegal wiretap memos. Durbin and Leahy are right: Cornyn and the rest of the Republican party did obstruct their efforts.

That doesn’t make obstructing Cornyn’s effort right, of course, particularly given that Durbin purports to support Cornyn’s intent.

But remember, Republicans obstructed the release of the torture and illegal wiretap memos because, well, they showed the Executive had broken the law. When we all got to see the torture memos, they made it clear CIA had lied to DOJ to get authorization for torture, had exceeded the authorizations given to them, had engaged in previously unimagined amounts of torture, and had ignored legal precedent to justify it all.

And while we’ve only ever seen part of Jack Goldsmith’s illegal wiretap memo (after the Bush Administration purportedly fixed the data mining and other illegal problems with it) and a teeny fragment of an earlier John Yoo memo, those showed that Yoo relied on gutting the Fourth Amendment, there is an additional secret memo on information sharing, they were hiding their flouting of the exclusivity provision, and–possibly–the illegal wiretap program violated an earlier decision from the FISA Court of Review. We also learned, through some Sheldon Whitehouse persistence, that these memos revealed the President had been pixie dusting Executive Orders and claiming the right to interpret the law for the Executive Branch.

The Republicans had good reason to want to help Bush bury these memos, because they showed breathtaking efforts on the part of the Bush Administration to evade the law.

And that’s the fight that Dick Durbin analogized this one to.

Dianne Feinstein Agrees with Obama: Public Can’t Know Targeted Killing Legal Justification

At the end of a useful Steve Coll piece on the Constitutional danger of the Administration’s unilateral decisions to kill American citizens, he argues that Congress has the ability to force the Administration to release the process by which it executes Americans with no due process publicly.

None of Obama’s legal advisers has testified similarly about what secret system and classified legal memos may exist for judging, in the case of an American citizen targeted overseas, whether and why a capture attempt may be feasible. Congress has the power to force such statements onto the public record. It must try; it is obvious by now that the Obama Administration will not volunteer them. Is “kill or capture” a policy, or are the words just a screen for politically convenient targeted killings?

As I laid out the other day, Congress has tried to ask nicely for the memos on over 10 occasions, only to be blown off by the Administration.

That’s why Dianne Feinstein’s thus far successful effort to undercut John Cornyn’s effort to mandate release of the memos is so dangerous. John Cornyn’s amendment would mandate release to six oversight committees (those overseeing Intelligence, Judiciary, and Armed Services) within a month. DiFi’s bill would require release of all intelligence related memos (which is good), but only to the Intelligence Committees, and with loopholes  that would permit the Administration to withhold a slew of their legal authorities. And any release could be delayed 6 months beyond the passage of the bill (so, if Mitt were to win, beyond the end of the Obama Administration).

There is widespread bipartisan support for releasing a real explanation of this to the public, now. Cornyn’s amendment would be an important half measure, requiring release of the Awlaki kill memo at least to the members of Congress purportedly ensuring government activities remain constitutional. And yet DiFi’s efforts undercut even that half measure.

Update: My original title, which I’ve resigned to the dustbin of over-long novels, stunk. Thankfully, Kade Ellis gave me a better one.

The Administration Has Not Responded to Over 10 Congressional Requests for Targeted Killing Memo

Back in September 2010, when the Administration successfully argued that whether or not the government had the authority to kill Anwar al-Awlaki was a matter for the Executive and Congressional Branches to decide, it claimed Congress served as a check on that power.

The nonjusticiability of the plaintiff’s claims in this Court “does not leave the executive power unbounded.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 200. “The political branches effectively exercise such checks and balances on each other in the area of political questions[,]” and “[i]f the executive in fact has exceeded his appropriate role in the constitutional scheme, Congress enjoys a broad range of authorities with which to exercise restraint and balance.” Id. Accordingly, “the allocation of political questions to the political branches is not inconsistent with our constitutional tradition of limited government and balance of powers.” Id.

The Administration’s behavior in the interim period has proven those assurances to be utterly false. Congress has asked the Administration on more than 10 separate occasions for the OLC memo authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki (many of these 10 documented requests refer to earlier requests, and Pat Leahy sent President Obama a letter that his office could not share).

And yet here we are, 22 months after the Administration assured Judge John Bates that Congress exercised some kind of check on the Executive, at least 17 months after members of Congress first started asking for the legal analysis, and the Administration has not responded to those requests.


Here are the requests.

February 2011: Ron Wyden asks the Director of National Intelligence for the legal analysis behind the targeted killing program. (1)

April 2011: Ron Wyden calls Eric Holder to ask for legal analysis on targeted killing. (2)

May 2011: DOJ responds to Wyden’s request, yet doesn’t answer key questions.

May 18-20, 2011: DOJ (including Office of Legislative Affairs) discusses “draft legal analysis regarding the application of domestic and international law to the use of lethal force in a foreign country against U.S. citizens” (this may be the DOJ response to Ron Wyden).

October 5, 2011: Chuck Grassley sends Eric Holder a letter requesting the OLC memo by October 27, 2011. (3)

November 8, 2011: Pat Leahy complains about past Administration refusal to share targeted killing OLC memo. (4)

February 8, 2012: Ron Wyden follows up on his earlier requests for information on the targeted killing memo with Eric Holder. (5)

March 7, 2012: Tom Graves (R-GA) asks Robert Mueller whether Eric Holder’s criteria for the targeted killing of Americans applies in the US; Mueller replies he’d have to ask DOJ. Per his office today, DOJ has not yet provided Graves with an answer. (6)

March 8, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ appropriations hearing. (7)

June 7, 2012: After Jerry Nadler requests the memo, Eric Holder commits to providing the House Judiciary a briefing–but not the OLC memo–within a month. (8)

June 12, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ oversight hearing. (9)

June 27, 2012: In Questions for the Record following a June 7 hearing, Jerry Nadler notes that DOJ has sought dismissal of court challenges to targeted killing by claiming “the appropriate check on executive branch conduct here is the Congress and that information is being shared with Congress to make that check a meaningful one,” but “we have yet to get any response” to “several requests” for the OLC memo authorizing targeted killing. He also renews his request for the briefing Holder had promised. (10)

July 19, 2012: Both Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley complain about past unanswered requests for OLC memo. (Grassley prepared an amendment as well, but withdrew it in favor of Cornyn’s.) Leahy (but not Grassley) votes to table John Cornyn amendment to require Administration to release the memo.

July 24, 2012: SSCI passes Intelligence Authorization that requires DOJ to make all post-9/11 OLC memos available to the Senate Intelligence Committee, albeit with two big loopholes.

Congress Can’t Legislate Oversight for Fear of Legal Challenges That’d Accomplish Oversight Congress Can’t Legislate

Julian Sanchez has his own rebuttal to former DOJ official Carrie Cordero’s claims that FISA has plenty of oversight (see mine here). You should definitely read it, which is wonky and interesting. But I wanted to add my non-wonky answer to a question Sanchez poses.

I’ll grant Cordero this point: as absurd as it sounds to say “we can’t tell you how many Americans we’re spying on, because it would violate their privacy,” this might well be a concern if those of us who follow these issues from the outside are correct in our surmises about what NSA is doing under FAA authority. The only real restriction the law places on the initial interception of communications is that the NSA use “targeting procedures” designed to capture traffic to or from overseas groups and individuals. There’s an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest that initial acquisition is therefore extremely broad, with a large percentage of international communications traffic being fed into NSA databases for later querying. If that’s the case, then naturally the tiny subset of communications later reviewed by a human analyst—because they match far narrower criteria for suspicion—is going to be highly unrepresentative. To get even a rough statistical sample of what’s in the larger database, then, one would have to “inspect”—possibly using software—a whole lot of the innocent communications that wouldn’t otherwise ever be analyzed. And possibly the rules currently in place don’t make any allowance for querying the database—even to analyze metadata for the purpose of generating aggregate statistics—unless it’s directly related to an intelligence purpose.

A few points about this.  First: assuming, for the moment, that  this is the case, why can’t NSA and DOJ say so clearly and publicly?

Sanchez dismisses a bunch of lame excuses that the government might provide. But he doesn’t consider another obvious answer.

The government can’t tell us it can’t tell us how many Americans get spied on after every foreign telecommunication gets sucked up because if it did, then it’d be a lot easier for the plaintiffs in Amnesty v. Clapper to get standing. And the government can’t have that–particularly not before SCOTUS hears the case on October 29–because if so it would allow the plaintiffs to actually challenge the underlying surveillance, and possibly even to challenge what I’ve called the database exception.

So the government can’t answer Ron Wyden’s questions before the FISA Amendments Act gets extended because the government is not about to let this extension wait until after the election, which is, after all, just a week after SCOTUS hears Clapper. And since the House is planning to leave DC for the election on October 5, it means the public simply can’t be told the underlying facts of this spying program, because it’d give Amnesty and the ACLU more than three weeks to figure out how to win their standing case at SCOTUS.

Which brings me to another piece of oversight we can’t have. Read more

Dianne Feinstein Undermines John Cornyn’s Effort to Get Transparency on Targeted Killing

As I noted a few weeks ago, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to prevent John Cornyn from adding an amendment to the FISA Amendments Act Extension. I will have to hunt down the language of his amendment tomorrow, but it would basically have required the Administration to share the memos authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki–with targeted killing addressed specifically–with the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. [Update: The Amendment is below.]

The Senate Intelligence Committee just passed the language that–DiFi promised–would address the issue. And it still leaves the Administration leeway to do what it has been doing for two years–withholding the actual memo from the committees that oversee it.

That’s because the legislation passed as part of the Intelligence Authorization allows the government to withhold opinions from people not read into covert programs.

(a) REQUIREMENT TO PROVIDE.—Except as provided in subsections (c) and (d), not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, shall provide to the congressional intelligence committees a copy of every classified opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice that was provided to an element of the intelligence community on or after September 11, 2001.

[snip]

(c) EXCEPTION FOR COVERT ACTION.—If the President determines that it is essential to limit access to a covert action finding under section 503(c)(2) of the National Security Act (50 U.S.C. 413b(c)(2)), the President may limit access to information concerning such finding that is subject to disclosure under subsection (a) or (b) to those members of Congress who have been granted access to the relevant finding under such section 503(c)(2).

(d) EXCEPTION FOR INFORMATION SUBJECT TO EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE.—If the President determines that a particular opinion subject to disclosure under subsection  (a) or listing subject to disclosure under subsection (b) is subject to an executive privilege that protects against such disclosure, the Attorney General shall not be required to disclose such opinion or listing, if the Attorney General notifies the congressional intelligence committees, in writing, of the legal justification for such assertion of executive privilege prior to the date by which the opinion or listing is required to be disclosed.

This is, frankly, an outrage both specifically and generally.

First, nothing in this language guarantees the committees will get the memos in question. That’s because the Administration has long been withholding the information even from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee based on claims that it is too secret to share with those who oversee intelligence and the Constitution.

Furthermore, both the Bush and Obama Administrations have fairly routinely withheld OLC memos–particularly drafts–on the basis they’re deliberative and have nothing to do with the basis on which the Administration makes the final decision. The language on Executive Privilege here codifies that practice. Further, in the case of targeted killing, the government went out of its way to get ACLU to agree not to ask for the drafts of their opinions on targeted killing. And remember, before they finalized the memo we think was ostensibly used to authorize the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, they had already tried to kill him, at a time when FBI, at least, didn’t have evidence showing he was operational. The authorization they used for the earlier kill attempt–if it exists–almost certainly looks nothing like the authorization described in the government’s recent transparency theater.

And then there’s this: the 6 months it allows the government to sit on this. That gets the Administration beyond the election, but also beyond the time when, if Obama loses, he’ll leave office. So if there’s anything really embarrassing, he can use late Administration game playing to clean it up.

This is disgusting. Really, really pathetic, even for the serially pathetic Senate Intelligence Committee.

Update: Here’s Cornyn’s amendment. His amendment would have gotten just the targeted killing opinions, shared with just the oversight committees (I had forgotten it included the Armed Services committees, too). But it also would have gotten the opinions within a month (and therefore before the election).

Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit, in classified or unclassified form, all legal analysis in effect on the date of the enactment of this Act related to the President’s authority to target and kill United States citizens overseas to—

(1) the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate;

(2) the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate;

(3) the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate;

(4) the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives

(5) the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives; and

(6) the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives.

Targeted Killings: When John Cornyn Makes Better Sense than Democrats …

Things got a little crazy when the Senate Judiciary Committee FISA Amendment Markup turned to targeted killing.

John Cornyn used the opportunity of this must-pass intelligence bill to propose an amendment to require the Administration to share its authorization for targeting killing. Cornyn rather modestly said that “I think all of troubled w/o further explanation” for the authority. [All quotes in this post are my inexact transcription] Chuck Grassley went further, saying something to the effect of “We [the Administration] has got a license to kill, and we don’t know about that license and we won’t get it until we legislate it.”

But Democrats prevented Cornyn and Grassley from attaching legislation mandating the Administration share the authorization with Congress.

Now, Cornyn claimed (incorrectly, given his inaction on Bush’s torture and wiretapping) that he wasn’t pushing for legislation on this just because the President is a Democrat; he would have done so if the President were a Republican too. To which Dick Durbin reminded him of all the times he refused to back legislation requiring oversight and transparency under Bush.

Which was Dick Durbin’s opportunity to call for writing a letter on this issue rather than legislating. Pat Leahy suggested he could just use his letter, which was already sent and ignored. Then Grassley reminded he has sent a letter on this subject too, and been ignored.

It was a bunch of Senators recounting the number of letters demanding oversight into the President’s unchecked authority to kill, including American citizens, only to be blown off. America, fuck yeah!

Again, John Cornyn came off sounding like the adult. “We’re not mere supplicants of the Executive Branch. It is insufficient to say, “Pretty please, Mr President, please tell us about the legal authorization.”

Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent Dianne Feinstein from promising that the Senate Intelligence Committee would include language about this in their authorization, and insisting that they let SSCI, not SJC, impose requirements. She suggested (though did not make explicit) that such a requirement belongs in SSCI because targeted killing is a covert program. Which is how the entire effort got tabled, leaving everyone to write more letters.

Cornyn had one more measure, requiring the President provide notice to the Gang of Eight. Dianne Feinstein, as she has repeatedly, assured her colleagues that she and Saxby Chambliss provide all the oversight on this front that is needed. To which Cornyn asked, “Is notice of targeted killing given before or after killing?” DiFi responded, “Sometimes before, sometimes during, sometimes just after.” Cornyn replied, “I don’t think Congress should delegate all authority to one or two members. Make sure not just you, but bicameral gang of eight.”

Curiously, DiFI had no response to that, leaving the impression that the Obama Administration, even on the matter of targeted killing of US citizens, has continued the Bush Administration violation of the National Security Act by briefing just the Gang of Four, not the Gang of Eight (which would add Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell to the Intelligence Committee heads being briefed).

But again, Democrats voted to table that amendment on a party line vote.

This is a problem. Not only is it taking legislation to even get the Senate Intelligence Committee adequately briefed on this topic, but Democrats are using partisan obstruction to prevent the Judiciary Committee from learning enough to assess for themselves whether the targeted killing of a US citizen violates the Constitution.

“You can play that game when it doesn’t matter.”

Apparently (according to Senator Johnny Isakson), all the posturing the Republicans have done to rip up the safety net and push families into bankruptcy over the last 8 years didn’t really matter. In the last two weeks–since Isakson returned home to Georgia and realized such policies have real consequences for real constituents–they matter.

"Unless every member of the Senate was in a cave over the two-week recess, it’s pretty obvious that gas prices and housing crisis are the two most important issues to the American public," said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), a former real estate broker who was among those urging Republican leaders to stop blocking the legislation. "You can play that game when it doesn’t matter. But people’s lives, their fortunes, their largest single asset is at stake."

Though I suppose I shouldn’t be churlish with Isakson’s recent epiphany, since he is pushing the Republican caucus to actually negotiate with the Democrats.

That said, here’s how the proposed compromise would divvy up money, per the WaPo:

$300 billion guarantee: Allow the FHA to insure refinanced mortgages for homeowners who had become upside-down on their previous mortgages; lenders would have to forgive the previous loan and accept a loan that is no more than 85% of the value of the previous loan (BushCo wants to accomplish this through administrative means, but Republicans are coming around to this Dodd-Frank proposal)

$30 billion: Reimburse the Fed for any losses relating to its Bear Stearns bailout

$14.5 billion: Give people who buy a newly built home, home in foreclosure, or a home whose owner has defaulted on a mortgage in the next year a $5,000 tax credit for the next three years (this is Isakson’s proposal; and in case you’re wondering, yes, Isakson was a realtor before he became a full time politician)

$10 billion: Finance tax-exempt bonds that could be used to finance distressed subprime mortgages

$4 billion: Allow communities to buy and redevelop properties in foreclosure, thereby preventing entire neighborhoods from declining (The White House says this $4 billion–about the cost of paying for two weeks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–is too expensive)

$200 million: Finance additional counselors to help those at risk for foreclosure

No cost: Require lenders to tell borrowers what the highest possible rate for ARMs would be

No cost: Permit bankruptcy judges to change interest rates on mortgages of those in bankruptcy proceedings (this measure is opposed by Republicans)

Read more

SJC Mukasey Hearing, Part Three

Leahy: Updates people in the stimulus package, and 15-day extension. So that’s why not everyone is here right now.

"Box Turtle" Cornyn: Office of Government Information Services, FOIA reform. Concerns about moving that office to DOJ, or somewhere else. I wanted to let you know I have reservations. My opinion is that the legislation forecloses moving the office.

"Box Turtle": FISA reform. 15-day extension is kicking the can down the road. Let me just talk about this in human terms. Talked to the father of soldiers who had been kidnapped by Al Qaeda. And his father says if we had an easy FISA law, his son might be alive. Do you think we need to make it easier for people to go through FISA?

[Shorter Box Turtle: I’m going to pretend, once again, that FISA forced a delay of wiretapping, when in fact it was just DOJ disorganization.]

MM: You put a human face on the problem we’re trying to prevent from recurring. We want to lower the burden on the govt in all its presentations to FISA just to make sure that what gets approved are procedures. I hope that DOJ acted with all the speed it could act.

[Interesting dodge by Mukasey, not agreeing that DOJ moved as fast as it could.]

"Box Turtle": I’m okay with a relative basis for torture.

MM: There are clearly circumstances where waterboarding is illegal. I’m not going to get into an abstract discussion of when it’d be legal. Nor am I going to call into question what people do or have done, when it’s not necessary to do so.

Whitehouse: In your analytical stance in your letter, you have assumed the role of a corporate counsel to the Executive Branch. You have taken steps to make sure nothing illegal has happened, but you are unwilling to look back and dredge up anything that may be a problem. That’s not a proper stance, you are also a prosecutor, Prosecutors do look back, dredge up the past, in order to do justice. It’s the mission statement of the DOJ to seek just punishment of those guilty of illegal behavior. Duty of USG, whose interest is that justice shall be done. The president has said we will investigate all acts of torture, you have said if someone is guilty of violating the law. [Cites code on torture] You are the sole prosecuting authority for that statute, the DOJ. Read more