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Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson Waste Taxpayer Dollars Looking for Foreign Hackers the One Place They Aren’t

Last Wednesday, majority staffers for the Senate Finance and Homeland Security Committees wrote Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson a memo that purports to update those Committee chairs of the status of an investigation into —  well, the purpose of the investigation is actually not clear, but ultimately it’s an investigation designed to keep hopes of finding some smoking gun in Hillary’s servers that several other investigations haven’t found, an investigation that Grassley has been pursuing for four years.

As the memo describes, the most recent steps in this “investigation” involve some interviews that were completed and all related backup documentation obtained in April, four months ago.

We pursued this issue by requesting interviews with the two ICIG officials. On December 4, 2018, your staff, along with staff from Senators Feinstein and McCaskill, interviewed ICIG employees Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian. On December 20, 2018, you transmitted a copy of an interview summary of the Majority’s questions and the witness’s answers to the ICIG for a classification review. On January 30, 2019, the ICIG provided classified and unclassified versions of the interview summary, and the Office of Senate Security redacted the classified information. On February 28, 2019, the ICIG provided documentary evidence including copies of emails and notes from meetings. On April 9, 2019, the DOJ IG and ICIG provided a summary of their findings related to these Chinese hacking allegations.

The staffers use these investigative steps, completed four months ago, to make two insinuations: that State tried to classify Hillary’s emails as deliberative rather than classified (something long known, and easily explained by the known debate over retroactive classification for the emails).

In addition, the staffers report that one but not a second Intelligence Committee Inspector General employee remarked that FBI Agents seemed non-plussed by their concerns that China had hacked Hillary. The description of that claim in the topline of the memo drops Peter Strzok’s name as its hook.

[A]ccording to one ICIG official, some members of the FBI investigative team seemed indifferent to evidence of a possible intrusion by a foreign adversary into Secretary Clinton’s non-government server. The interview summary makes clear exactly what information Mr. Rucker and Ms. McMillian knew regarding the alleged hack of the Clinton server, as well as the information they shared with the FBI team, including Peter Strzok, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in charge of the Clinton investigation.

Wow, that Peter Strzok is some devious asshole, showing no concern about Hillary being hacked by a foreign government, huh? Presumably, that’s the headline the taxpayer funded staffers wanted: BREAKING Peter Strzok doesn’t care about foreign hacking or State trying to protect Hillary.

To the credit of press outlets that did cover this report, they did get what the more relevant conclusion to these documents is: After spending a year double-checking the work of the FBI, these Senate staffers found that the FBI was right when it said it had found no evidence Hillary’s server had been hacked.

What the backup actually shows is that an ICIG Inspector, Phil Rucker, found an “anomaly” while reviewing Hillary Clinton’s emails, an unknown Gmail for a company called Carter Heavy Industries in her email headers, which he thought could have been used to steal her emails as sent. At a meeting largely designed to explain the ICIG efforts to review Hillary’s email for classified information to Strzok, who had just been promoted to the DAD position at FBI a week earlier, Rucker shared what he found with Strzok and the FBI agent he had already been liaising with, Dean Chappell. The FBI already knew of it, and that same day would confirm the explanation: that tech contractor Paul Combetta had used a dummy email to copy over Hillary’s emails as he migrated Hillary’s email onto a Platte River server.

When interviewed about all this three years later, after Peter Strzok had become the villain in Donald Trump’s Deep State coup conspiracy, Rucker accused Strzok of being “aloof and dismissive” of his concerns.

Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Chappell was normal and professional as he had come to know him to be, but that he didn’t know anything about Mr. Strzok prior to the meeting. Mr. Rucker said that Mr. Strzok seemed to be “aloof and dismissive.” He said it was as if Mr. Strzok felt dismissive of the relationship between the FBI and ICIG and he was not very warm. He said that Mr. Strzok didn’t ask many questions including any about SAP related issues. He said the meeting lasted approximately 30 to 60 minutes and that only people from the FBI attended; there were no employees from DOJ. Mr. Rucker said that he knows that an FBI attorney was present, but he cannot remember the person’s name or even whether it was a man or a woman.

[snip]

Mr. Rucker said that he discussed SAP with the FBI. He said he discussed another of Secretary Clinton’s emails that they were never able to quite figure out. He said he verbally presented this information to Mr. Strzok which lasted only for a minute or so. He said that he doesn’t think he mentioned Carter Heavy Industries by name, but only the appearance of a Gmail address that seemed odd. He said that Mr. Strzok seemed “nonplused” by the info, and that he didn’t ask any follow-up questions. He said that Mr. Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery and he felt like Mr. Chappell was walling Mr. Rucker off intentionally as an investigator would, to protect the investigation.

That last detail — that Chappell seemed familiar with the discovery — is key. In fact, the emails sent in advance of the February 18, 2016 meeting reveal that several weeks earlier, Rucker had already shared this anomaly with Chappell, and Chappell had told him then that he already knew about it.

Along with making accusations about Strzok, Rucker changed his story about how strongly he believed that he had found something significant. The day before Chappell told him the FBI was already aware of the email, Rucker had emailed him that the anomaly was probably nothing.

Additionally, he wanted me to run something that I found in my research of the email metadata past you or someone on the team. It’s probably nothing, but we would rather be safe than sorry.

But when interviewed last year by Senate staffers seeking more evidence against Strzok, Rucker claimed that until a news report explained the anomaly in 2018, he had 90% confidence he had found evidence that China had hacked Hillary’s home server, and still had 80% confidence after learning the FBI had explained it.

Rucker: Mr. Rucker said that he didn’t find any evidence in the remainder of the email review they conducted, but that based on the subpoena issued by the FBI in June 2016 which he learned about this year through a news article, it decreased his confidence level from 90% to 80%.

Meanwhile, the one other ICIG employee interviewed last year, Jeanette McMillan, described what Rucker claimed was dismissiveness as adopting a poker face.

[T]hey provided the information to Mr. Strzok who found it strange. Even before their meeting with Mr. Strzok, Dean Chappell of the FBI informed them that he was aware of the Carter Heavy Industries email address. She said that she doesn’t know whether Mr. Chappell knew before they dropped off the original packet in January 2016, or if he learned of it afterward. News of this email address being found on Secretary Clinton’s emails wasn’t shocking to them, she said, but they took It seriously.

[snip]

[T]he FBI employees in attendance were “poker faced.”

In other words, what the backup released last week actually shows is a tremendous waste of time trying to second guess what the FBI learned with the backing of subpoenas and other investigative tools. To cover over this waste of time, Grassley and Johnson instead pitch this as a shift in their investigation, this time to examine claims that Strzok wasn’t concerned about State arguing that emails weren’t classified (and probably an attempt to examine the document, believed to be a fake, suggesting Loretta Lynch would take care of the Hillary Clinton investigation).

Staff from the Intelligence Community Inspector General’s office (ICIG) witnessed efforts by senior Obama State Department officials to downplay the volume of classified emails that transited former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized server, according to a summary of a bipartisan interview with Senate investigators.

In fact, in the “summary” released, McMillan told Senate investigators that, “If anything, there were problems at State with upgrading of information,” exactly the opposite of what Grassley and Johnson claim in their press release.

And that word — summary — should raise a lot of questions. It’s not a transcript; in most cases, the report is a paraphrase of what the witnesses said. Moreover, it’s only a “summary” of what Majority staffers asked. Minority staff questions were not included at all, as best demonstrated by this nearly hour-long gap in the “summary.”

Because of the way Grassley brought this “investigation” with him when he assumed the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee, this release — from Chuck Grassley as Finance Committee Chair and Ron Johnson as Homeland Security Chair — effectively did not involve the Ranking members of the committees that did the work — Dianne Feinstein as Judiciary Ranking member and Claire McCaskill as HSGAC Ranking member.

To put what a colossal misuse of taxpayer funds this is, consider, first of all, that Grassley has been pursuing this for over four years.

Last fall, Majority staffers actually asked Rucker how ICIG came to be involved in the Hillary investigation.

How did ICIG come to be involved with the Secretary Clinton email investigation?

Rucker: – Mr. Rucker said ·that on March 12, 2015, the Senate sent a letter to ICIG requesting assistance regarding a Russian hacker who allegedly broken into Sidney Blumenthal’s email account. He said that the Sidney Blumenthal emails looked legitimate and were not at the SSRP level. He said that [redacted], a former CIA employee who worked with Blumenthal, was the author of most of the material. That was determined in part, he said, based on his writing style. Shortly after wards, he said, ICIG received another Senate request for assistance, this timein relation to the email practices of several former Secretaries of State including Secretary Clinton. He said that through ICIG, he was brought in to assist State in reviewing the email information in June 2015.

But they knew the answer to that. As their own staffers tacitly reminded Grassley and Johnson, Grassley has been pursuing this since 2015.

Your investigation began in March 2015 with an initial focus on whether State Department officials were aware of Secretary Clinton’s private server and the associated national security risks, as well as whether State Department officials attempted to downgrade classified material within emails found on that server. For example, in August 2015, Senator Grassley wrote to the State Department about reports that State Department FOIA specialists believed some of Secretary Clinton’s emails should be subject to the (b)(1), “Classified Information” exemption whereas attorneys within the Office of the Legal Advisor preferred to use the (b)(5), “Deliberative Process” exemption. Whistleblower career employees within the State Department also reportedly notified the Intelligence Community that others at State involved in the review process deliberately changed classification determinations to protect Secretary Clinton.1 Your inquiry later extended to how the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) managed their investigation of the mishandling of classified information.

That means that this effort — to misrepresent an interview conducted in December as a way to introduce new (and obviously bogus) allegations against Strzok — is a continuation of Barbara Ledeen’s efforts to prove some foreign government had hacked Hillary’s home server, as laid out in the Mueller Report.

Ledeen began her efforts to obtain the Clinton emails before Flynn’s request, as early as December 2015.268 On December 3, 2015, she emailed Smith a proposal to obtain the emails, stating, “Here is the proposal I briefly mentioned to you. The person I described to you would be happy to talk with you either in person or over the phone. The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies. That would demonstrate what needs to be demonstrated.”269

Attached to the email was a 25-page proposal stating that the “Clinton email server was, in all likelihood, breached long ago,” and that the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian intelligence services could “re-assemble the server’s email content.”270 The proposal called for a three-phase approach. The first two phases consisted of open-source analysis. The third phase consisted of checking with certain intelligence sources “that have access through liaison work with various foreign services” to determine if any of those services had gotten to the server. The proposal noted, “Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign[.]” Smith forwarded the email to two colleagues and wrote, “we can discuss to whom it should be referred.”271 On December 16, 2015, Smith informed Ledeen that he declined to participate in her “initiative.” According to one of Smith’s business associates, Smith believed Ledeen’s initiative was not viable at that time.272

[snip]

In September 2016, Smith and Ledeen got back in touch with each other about their respective efforts. Ledeen wrote to Smith, “wondering if you had some more detailed reports or memos or other data you could share because we have come a long way in our efforts since we last visited … . We would need as much technical discussion as possible so we could marry it against the new data we have found and then could share it back to you ‘your eyes only.'”282

Ledeen claimed to have obtained a trove of emails (from what she described as the “dark web”) that purported to be the deleted Clinton emails. Ledeen wanted to authenticate the emails and solicited contributions to fund that effort. Erik Prince provided funding to hire a tech advisor to ascertain the authenticity of the emails. According to Prince, the tech advisor determined that the emails were not authentic.283

Remember, Ledeen was willing to reach out to hostile foreign intelligence services to find out if they had hacked Hillary, and she joined an effort that was trawling the Dark Web to find stolen emails. She did that not while employed in an oppo research firm like Fusion GPS, funded indirectly by a political campaign, but while being paid by US taxpayers.

Chuck Grassley is now Chair of the Finance Committee, the Committee that should pursue new transparency rules to make it easier to track foreign interference via campaign donations. Ron Johnson is and has been Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, from which legislation to protect elections from foreign hackers should arise.

Rather than responding to the real hacks launched by adversaries against our democracy, they’re still trying to find evidence of a hack where there appears to have been none, four years later.

Update: For some reason I counted 2015-2019 as five years originally. That has been fixed.

Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson Thinks It Scandalous that Lawyer of Hacking Victim Talks to FBI about Hack

In the never-ending scandal industry of Republican members of Congress trying to make a huge deal out of the fucking Steele dossier, Senate Homeland Security Chair Ron Johnson is demanding that Christopher Wray provide more information (including on the John Doe investigations into Scott Walker’s corruption in WI). Johnson never went to such lengths to obtain information from the FBI during the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing, but I guess he has different priorities.

Among the things he’s demanding are details of a conversation that Perkins Coie attorney Michael Sussmann had with then FBI General Counsel James Baker.

According to public reports, former FBI General Counsel James Baker met with Michael Sussman, [sic] an attorney with the Perkins Coie law firm, which retained Fusion GPS in 2016 to research allegations about then-candidate Donald Trump. Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, author of the Steele dossier–and Mr. Sussman allegedly provided the FBI with information “related to Russian interference in the election, hacking and possible Trump connections.”

The John Solomon piece that has gotten Ron Johnson all hot and bothered about this contact says that Sussmann gave Baker some materials on Russian hacking and possible Trump connections with it.

Baker identified lawyer Michael Sussman, [sic] a former DOJ lawyer, as the Perkins Coie attorney who reached out to him and said the firm gave him documents and a thumb drive related to Russian interference in the election, hacking and possible Trump connections.

Michael Sussmann has been publicly identified as the person that helped the DNC respond to the Russian hack since June 14, 2016, the day the hack first became public.

Chief executive Amy Dacey got a call from her operations chief saying that their information technology team had noticed some unusual network activity.

“It’s never a call any executive wants to get, but the IT team knew something was awry,” ­Dacey said. And they knew it was serious enough that they wanted experts to investigate.

That evening, she spoke with Michael Sussmann, a DNC lawyer who is a partner with Perkins Coie in Washington. Soon after, Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor who handled computer crime cases, called Henry, whom he has known for many years.

His role in helping the DNC help respond to the hack was further described by the NYT’s magnum opus on it.

No one knew just how bad the breach was — but it was clear that a lot more than a single filing cabinet worth of materials might have been taken. A secret committee was immediately created, including Ms. Dacey, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, Mr. Brown and Michael Sussmann, a former cybercrimes prosecutor at the Department of Justice who now works at Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm that handles D.N.C. political matters.

“Three most important questions,” Mr. Sussmann wrote to his clients the night the break-in was confirmed. “1) What data was accessed? 2) How was it done? 3) How do we stop it?”

Mr. Sussmann instructed his clients not to use D.N.C. email because they had just one opportunity to lock the hackers out — an effort that could be foiled if the hackers knew that the D.N.C. was on to them.

“You only get one chance to raise the drawbridge,” Mr. Sussmann said. “If the adversaries know you are aware of their presence, they will take steps to burrow in, or erase the logs that show they were present.”

The D.N.C. immediately hired CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, to scan its computers, identify the intruders and build a new computer and telephone system from scratch. Within a day, CrowdStrike confirmed that the intrusion had originated in Russia, Mr. Sussmann said.

The NYT even describes Sussmann and DNC executives meeting with “senior F.B.I. officials” — a description that would fit the FBI’s General Counsel, Baker, whom Sussman would have known from when they worked on national security cases at DOJ together.

The D.N.C. executives and their lawyer had their first formal meeting with senior F.B.I. officials in mid-June, nine months after the bureau’s first call to the tech-support contractor. Among the early requests at that meeting, according to participants: that the federal government make a quick “attribution” formally blaming actors with ties to Russian government for the attack to make clear that it was not routine hacking but foreign espionage.

“You have a presidential election underway here and you know that the Russians have hacked into the D.N.C.,” Mr. Sussmann said, recalling the message to the F.B.I. “We need to tell the American public that. And soon.”

In other words, there has been public reporting for years that Sussmann spoke to the FBI, reporting that even explains why he was involved — because he was the guy with experience working on cybersecurity. But in spite of that, the Chair of one of the committees most centrally involved in cybersecurity is now suggesting that victims of nation-state hacking and their lawyers should not talk to the FBI about that hacking.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Folks Who Picked the Stupid Seven Banned Countries Say the Muslim Ban Is Stupid

Buried in a declaration written by a bunch of former national security officials in the Washington v Trump suit opposing Trump’s Muslim ban is this passage:

Because various threat streams are constantly mutating, as government officials, we sought continually to improve that vetting, as was done in response to particular threats identified by U.S. intelligence in 2011 and 2015. Placing additional restrictions on individuals from certain countries in the visa waiver program –as has been done on occasion in the past – merely allows for more individualized vettings before individuals with particular passports are permitted to travel to the United States.

These officials, which include (among others) former Deputy CIA Director Avril Haines, former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Homeland Security Czar Lisa Monaco, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice argue that the practice is to tweak immigration rules based on changing threat patterns rather than impose broad bans not driven by necessity and logic. They argue that additional restrictions imposed on certain immigrants in 2015 were “in response to particular threats identified by U.S. intelligence.”

That’s really interesting because the 2015 change they reference is the basis of the Trump list that excludes countries that are real threats and includes others (especially Iran) that are not. Here’s how CNN describes the genesis of the seven countries covered by Trump’s ban.

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law a measure placing limited restrictions on certain travelers who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011. Two months later, the Obama administration added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen to the list, in what it called an effort to address “the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters.

The restrictions specifically limited what is known as visa-waiver travel by those who had visited one of the seven countries within the specified time period. People who previously could have entered the United States without a visa were instead required to apply for one if they had traveled to one of the seven countries.

Under the law, dual citizens of visa-waiver countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria could no longer travel to the U.S. without a visa. Dual citizens of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen could, however, still use the visa-waiver program if they hadn’t traveled to any of the seven countries after March 2011.

Now, Haines, Kerry, Monaco, and Rice might be excused for opposing Trump’s ban on seven poorly picked countries that themselves had a hand in picking. After all, the changes derived from bills presented by Republicans, Candace Miller and Ron Johnson, which got passed as part of the Omnibus in 2015. Obama can’t be expected to veto the entire spending bill because some Republicans wanted to make life harder on some immigrants.

Except that, as far as I understand, the Obama Administration extended the restrictions from the original law, which pertained only to people from or who had traveled to Syria and Iraq, to Iran and Sudan. And then (as CNN notes) they extended it again to three other countries, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen (notably, all countries we destabilized).

So it’s partly the fault of Haines, Kerry, Monaco, and Rice that Iran, which hasn’t targeted the US in real terrorism for decades, is on the list. It’s partly the fault of Haines, Kerry, Monaco, and Rice that countries with actual ties to terrorists who have attacked inside the US — most notably Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — are not on the list.

I have no doubt that the argument presented in the declaration (which was also signed by a bunch of people who weren’t part of Obama’s second term national security team) is right: Trump’s Muslim ban is badly conceived and makes us less safe. But one reason they likely know that is because their own visa restrictions were badly conceived and did little to make us more safe.

Trump is pursuing a lot of stupid policies. But we should remain honest that they largely build on stupid policies of those who came before.

Update: Corrected that this is not an amicus, but a declaration submitted with state opposition.

The Play on the Scalia Replacement: Remember the Lame Duck

Within minutes after the public announcement of Antonin Scalia’s death, Senator Mike Lee’s flack Conn Carroll started predicting Obama would have zero chance of successfully naming a successor. After Carroll, one after another actual Senator followed that sentiment, including Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell, both of whom would have the ability to stall any Obama nominee. From that point, the GOP was pretty much committed, they said, to preventing any Obama nominee from being confirmed.

That led to a bunch of bad comparisons — between judges like Robert Bork who was rejected and Miguel Estrada who never got a vote — and simply going a year without acting on a President’s nominee. Even the comparison with Anthony Kennedy (who was nominated in November after two other nominees, including Bork, failed) is inapt, as he was nominated earlier than any Obama pick would be (though in a sense that fetishizes the year that would pass without a nominee).

I, like bmaz, believe Obama will pick someone fairly centrist, probably someone who has been recently confirmed by big margins.  I agree the most likely nominee will be Sri Srinivasan, who in 2013 was confirmed to the DC Circuit with a 97-0 vote — though I’m also mindful of the wisdom (given the GOP unanimity about obstructing this nominee) of picking someone who drive Democratic turnout — an African-American woman, for example. Though I highly doubt Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, as some have suggested, not least because the fight over releasing data on HSBC’s continued money laundering will draw more attention as it moves toward appeal, which might focus attention on her role in administering the wrist slap in the face of egregious drug cartel and terrorist supporting money laundering.

After some reflection, some conservatives have suggested that the GOP would have been better served if they had simply not managed to pass Obama’s nominee, rather than making such a big stink about it.

I think that ignores how much both parties look forward to using this nominee to drive turnout — and regardless of who the respective nominees are, the GOP have a much bigger challenge in getting enough voters to turn out to elect a GOP president in November, so I’m sure they’re quite happy to have an issue that (they presumably hope) might flip some conservative Latino votes — though one likely outcome of an extended 8-member court is that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling staying Obama’s immigration orders will be upheld after a 4-4 tie on the court, which might have the opposite effect.

Furthermore, I think it ignores one other factor. Srinivasan has been predicted to be Obama’s most likely SCOTUS appointment for almost 3 years (few people consider how such predictions might have influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision not to retire). The Republicans probably presume he’s the most likely candidate as well.

The presumption Srinivasan — or someone similar — would be the nominee easily justifies the GOP’s immediate promise they won’t confirm a nominee. That’s because they need to explain why someone they just overwhelmingly confirmed, someone who faced more opposition from the left than the right, suddenly became unacceptable.

More importantly, I presume the GOP wants to keep open the possibility of confirming Srinivasan or whatever centrist Obama appoints during the Lame Duck. Here’s why:

Barring any replay of Bush v. Gore, both sides will know on November 9 who would get to pick Scalia’s replacement if Obama’s pick failed. Both sides will also know the makeup of the Senate. Because of the demographic issues I mentioned earlier, the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is most likely to win. That’s not to say I think she’s necessarily the strongest candidate — even ignoring the potential the email scandal will taint close advisors like Huma Abedin or Jake Sullivan, I think it likely the economy will be crashing by November in a way that would favor Trump if he were the GOP nominee facing Hillary. But I think electoral demographics suggest the GOP will have a harder time winning this year, particularly after a year of Trump branding the GOP with bigotry.

Plus (ignoring my suspicion the economy will be crashing by November), we’re likely to have a more Democratic Senate after November. Harry Reid is the only retiring Democrat where the replacement race is currently perceived to be toss-up, whereas Marco Rubio, Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and Ron Johnson are all deemed to be likely toss-ups, if not Dem-favorable. It’s still most likely the GOP will have a slight majority, but a smaller one, in the Senate, one where people like Susan Collins could make more of a difference. But it is likely to be more Democratic.

If Hillary wins (the most likely outcome) and Democrats win the Senate (unlikely, but feasible), then the Republicans will have good reason to want to confirm an Obama nominee perceived to be centrist. Whereas Srinivasan looks far worse than Scalia to the Republicans, he would all of a sudden look far preferable to a Hillary choice with the time to wait out the Senate. The GOP would have time between November 9 and the Christmas break to confirm whatever Obama nominee has been languishing.

In other words, I think the GOP have provided a way to stall someone (like Srinivasan) they have recently confirmed, while leaving the possibility of confirming that person if November makes it likely the next nominee will be more liberal.

One more thing: Commentary on this process has presumed that McConnell and Grassley (and Obama) learned of Scalia’s death when we all did. I would hope that Obama, at least, got word well before that, particularly given the involvement of at least the US Marshals and according to some reports the FBI. But I also wouldn’t leave out the possibility that one of the 39 other still unidentified guests at the ranch this weekend gave the Republican leadership a heads up as soon as a hearse showed up. So it’s possible that what looked like quick knee-jerk response on the part of Republican leadership was instead more considered, along the lines I’ve just laid out.

Tuesday Morning: Chasing the Clouds Away

Hope by this afternoon all the major thoroughfares are clear and transportation nearly back to normal along the east coast. You’d think by now we’d have developed and installed self-maintaining highways that melt ice and snow, right?

For now, let’s dig.

A former Goldman Sachs exec parts company with CenturyLink
They called it “creating an environment that was unproductive,” and maybe it was — a diversified telecom organization may not be a great fit for an investment banker, leading to some less-than-productive discussions. But a nearly unanimous vote said Joseph Zimmel, retired GS exec, should not apply for re-election to CenturyLink’s board of directors. Wonder if the rumored-but-not-completed acquisition of Rackspace had anything to do with this rocky situation?

Retail Mixed Bag: Wal-Mart retrenches, Staples rethinks, Shoes.com kicks butt
The Arkansas-based retailer is closing up its 102 Wal-Mart Express stores, as well as a few of its full-sized stores. Were the smaller stores simply too much overhead, or were they cannibalizing sales from larger stores, or did Amazon finally cut into Wal-Mart’s sales enough that Wal-Mart needed to reduce?

Staples, one of the two largest big box office supply retailers, changed up some of its senior management while indicating it may back out of its proposed merger with the other mega office supply retailer, Office Depot. The merger has not received approval yet from the USDOJ. This unresolved deal may be a bigger liability in terms of expense by now, especially when all retail sales have slowed down.

Shoes.com is looking for cash to make some acquisitions. This Canadian online shoe retailer is bucking the retail trend with a strong uptick in sales in spite of stiff competition from Zappos and Amazon.

All three retailers mirror a turn-down in consumption — even Shoes.com. If retail was doing well, there’d be less need to close brick-and-mortar stores or buy up market share.

Six GOP Senators suck up to ISPs while annoying broadband users
Quel surprise: a handful of GOP Senators sent a letter to the FCC saying that standard broadband speeds are arbitrary, and most users don’t need the current baseline speed.

I’d like to know why some tech media won’t name names. Fortunately, The Hill listed the signatories. Senators Roy Blunt (MO), Steve Daines (MT), Deb Fischer (NE), Cory Gardner (CO), Ron Johnson (WI) and Roger Wicker (MS) wrote,

“Looking at the market for broadband applications, we are aware of few applications that require download speeds of 25 Mbps … Netflix, for example, recommends a download speed of 5 Mbps to receive high-definition streaming video, and Amazon recommends a speed of 3.5 Mbps.”

The stupid, it burns almost as much as the visible corporate whoring. Like nobody in their world has multiple users in a household sharing service or online gamers or emerging technology which does need increasingly higher speeds. Hope these folks aren’t on committees for cybersecurity issues — wait, what? Every one of these six dipschitz is on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet. ~screaming into pillow~

I can’t with this. I must change gears or go insane. Keep the wheels on the road, kids.

The Inspectors General Bring Out the Space Heroes to Defend Full Access

John GlennA few weeks back, I noted that Office of Legal Counsel had finally released its opinion on whether DOJ had to share everything its Inspector General requested, or could hold things (and investigations) up until the Deputy Attorney General decided such disclosure would be in the interest of DOJ.

OLC ruled against the Inspector General, finding that rules limiting dissemination of wiretap, grand jury, and financial data required DOJ’s preferred arrangement, even given Congress’ recent appropriations instructions to give Inspectors General what they need.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson and Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers expressed concern about the opinion when it was released. Grassley now has a hearing — titled “‘All’ Means All: The Justice Department’s Failure to Comply with Its Legal Obligation to Ensure Inspector General Access to All Records Needed for Independent Oversight” — tomorrow to address the issue.

In anticipation of that hearing, the Inspectors General have brought out the big guns.

First, retired Senator and space hero wrote a letter, reminding that the intent when he and others in Congress passed the Inspector General act in 1978, they intended IGs to get access to everything.

The success of the IG Act is rooted in the principles on which the Act is grounded–independence, direct reporting to Congress, dedicated staff and resources, unrestricted access to agency records, subpoena power, special protections for agency employees who cooperate with the IG, and the ability to refer criminal matters to the Department of Justice without clearing such referrals through the agency. We considered these safeguards to be vital when we developed the Act and they remain essential today.

In addition, yesterday the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency sent a letter to Ron Johnson, Tom Carper, Jason Chaffetz, and Elijah Cummings asking for immediate legislation to fix the problem created by the OLC memo. In addition to expressing concern about the impact of the memo for DOJ’s Inspector General (that IG, Michael Horowitz, is Chair of CIGIE, so that’s sort of him reiterating his concerns), the other agency IG’s worried that the memo might affect their ability to conduct their own work, as well.

The OLC opinion’s restrictive reading of the IG Act represents a potentially serious challenge to the authority of every Inspector General and our collective ability to conduct our work thoroughly, independently, and in a timely manner. Our concern is that, as a result of the OLC opinion, agencies other than DOJ may likewise withhold crucial records from their Inspectors General, adversely impacting their work. Even absent this opinion, agencies such as the Peace Corps and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) have restricted or denied their OIGs access to agency records on claims of common law privileges or assertions that other laws prohibit access.

[snip]

Uncertainty about the legal authority of Inspectors General to access all information in an agency’s possession could also negatively affect interactions between the staffs of the Offices of Inspector General and the agencies they oversee. Prior to this opinion, agency personnel could be confident, given the clear language of Section 6(a) of the IG Act, that they were required to and should share information openly with Inspector General staff, and typically they did so without reservation or delay. This led to increased candor during interviews, greater efficiency of investigations and other reviews, and earlier and more effective detection and resolution of waste, fraud, and abuse within Federal agencies. We are concerned that witnesses and other agency personnel, faced with uncertainty regarding the applicability of the OLC opinion to other records and situations, may now be less forthcoming and fearful of being accused of improperly divulging information. Such a shift in mindset also could deter whistleblowers from directly providing information about waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement to Inspectors General because of concern that the agency may later claim that the disclosure was improper and use that decision to retaliate against the whistleblower.

Neither FBI Director Jim Comey nor Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are appearing at tomorrow’s hearing. FBI Associate Deputy Director Kevin Perkins and Associate Deputy Attorney General Carlos Uriarte have pulled the unpleasant duty of appearing on a panel with Horowitz. But I imagine Grassley intends tomorrow’s hearing to be rather aggressive.

The Danger of Someone Criticizing Political Pork Landing on the Capitol Lawn

The WaPo has a good review of how postal service worker Doug Hughes managed to fly his gyrocopter onto the Capitol lawn without being spotted by the Secret Service or other security forces.

But the best part of the story cites corporate sucklings Chuck Schumer and Ron Johnson expressing dismay that the security theater draping DC didn’t prevent Hughes from landing a harmless aircraft on their lawn.

On Capitol Hill, there was less concern Thursday about Hughes’s message than how he delivered it — flying into the heart of the nation’s capital and alighting on the Capitol lawn about 1:30 p.m. in what amounts to an airborne go-cart, powered by something like a lawn mower engine, and kept aloft by an overhead rotor and a small propeller.

“How did it happen?” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wondered aloud. “How did the helicopter get through? Why weren’t there alarm bells that went off? Why wasn’t it intercepted? Did we know about it? How far from the Capitol grounds did we know?”

Schumer, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, added: “Just saying it’s a little helicopter, or it’s one person, or it was harmless, does not answer these questions. And we need to know what happened.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement: “I am deeply concerned that someone has the ability to fly for over an hour through the most restricted airspace in our country, past the White House, and land on the lawn of the Capitol.”

He added that he wants “a full accounting by all federal organizations entrusted with securing the United States from this and similar events.” That Hughes was able to pull off the stunt, Johnson said, is “a reminder that the risk to America and Americans is ever present.”

As Nancy Pelosi noted in comments yesterday (which were almost, but not quite, this shrill), there are reasons to want the Capitol to remain fairly open. And it is fairly open — easier to get into than an airport, for example. That makes it accessible to the thousands of local lobbying and school groups who want to see their Representatives’ office.

But it also makes it permeable by lobbyists.

The big money lobbyists, of course, do far more damage to this country than a gyrocopter ever could, damage that Schumer and Johnson are enthusiastic participants in.

Which is sort of Hughes’ point.

I expect more ironic symbolism from this event going forward, as a bunch of security-industry intoxicated Congressmen take as a lesson from this that they need to insulate themselves even more from the people warning about them insulating themselves form their constituents.

Fat Al Gore Menaces the Homeland and Homeland Security Experts Don’t Care

Six days ago, Fat Al Gore (my shorthand for climate change) attacked the Philippines, killing as many 10,000 and leaving 250,000 homeless.

It was Fat Al Gore’s most successful attack thus far.

With Fat Al Gore’s growing success in mind, consider these data points.

Senate Homeland Security Committee doesn’t recognize Fat Al Gore as a threat

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on “Threats to the Homeland.” It is focused almost entirely on what witnesses describe a dispersed Al Qaeda threat (which doesn’t have the ability to attack in the US), self-radicalized extremists who don’t have the ability to conduct large-scale attacks, and cybersecurity (though Carl Levin did bring up corporate anonymity as a threat, and Republicans brought up Benghazi, which isn’t the “Homeland” at all; also, Ron Johnson leaked that Secret Service officers have proven unable to keep their dick in their pants in 17 countries).

None of the three witnesses even mentioned climate change in their testimony.

Obama’s Chief of Staff threatened to “kill” Steven Chu for admitting islands would disappear because of climate change

Meanwhile, the lead anecdote of this mostly interesting (but in parts obviously bullshit) profile of how Obama disempowered his cabinet ministers tells how Rahm went ballistic because Steven Chu (whose energy initiative created a bunch of jobs) publicly admitted that some islands will disappear because of climate change.

In April 2009, Chu joined Obama’s entourage for one of the administration’s first overseas trips, to Trinidad and Tobago for a Summit of the Americas focused on economic development. Chu was not scheduled to address the media, but reporters kept bugging Josh Earnest, a young staffer, who sheepishly approached his boss, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, with the ask. “No way,” Gibbs told him.

“Come on,” Earnest said. “The guy came all the way down here. Why don’t we just have him talk about all the stuff he’s doing?”

Gibbs reluctantly assented. Then Chu took the podium to tell the tiny island nation that it might soon, sorry to say, be underwater—which not only insulted the good people of Trinidad and Tobago but also raised the climate issue at a time when the White House wanted the economy, and the economy only, on the front burner. “I think the Caribbean countries face rising oceans, and they face increase in the severity of hurricanes,” Chu said. “This is something that is very, very scary to all of us. … The island states … some of them will disappear.”

Earnest slunk backstage. “OK, we’ll never do that again,” he said as Gibbs glared. A phone rang. It was White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel calling Messina to snarl, “If you don’t kill [Chu], I’m going to.”

Much later the story notes that Heather Zichal is on her way out too.

Even blue-chip West Wingers such as economic adviser Gene Sperling and climate czar Heather Zichal are heading for the exits.

Washington insiders applaud fracking while ignoring climate change

Meanwhile, also as part of its big new magazine spread, Politico has two related pieces on DC insiders views.

There’s this “Real Game Changers” piece capturing the “big forces they see shaking up U.S. politics.” David Petraeus talks about “the ongoing energy revolution in the U.S.” Jeb Bush promises, “With natural gas as an exponentially growing source, we can re-industrialize.” And while several thinkers describe the problem of economic inequality, only Al Gore talks about Fat Al Gore.

Carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is changing our climate and transforming our world. From more destructive and more frequent climate-related extreme weather events, floods and droughts, melting ice and rising sea levels, to climate refugees, crop failure, higher asthma rates and water scarcity, the consequences are profound. As citizens, we’re already paying the high costs. Billions of dollars to clean up after extreme weather events. Rising insurance bills. Lives lost.

Meanwhile, former respectable energy historian turned shill Daniel Yergin congratulates America on being almost energy independent.

Here’s his only mention of the word “climate.”

In a major climate speech this past June, he declared, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

Yes, we’re going to fight climate change by burning carbon (gas) instead of carbon (coal).

To be fair to the DC elite, the reason we’re embracing fracking is to give ourselves space to ditch the terrorist funding Saudis. So there is a real national security purpose to it.

But of course, it’s a purpose that addresses a far less urgent threat than that terrorist Fat Al Gore, who just killed 10,000 people.