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Eric Holder: Torture Inquiries, Ted Stevens Prosecutorial Misconduct Investigations Almost Finished

Eric Holder is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. [watch here]

In response to two questions from Orrin Hatch, Eric Holder revealed that the John Durham investigation into torture and the Office of Public Responsibility investigation into the prosecutorial misconduct in the Ted Stevens case are both nearing their end.

While none of the Senators asked for Holder to make the results in the torture investigation public, Hatch, Pat Leahy, and DiFi all asked for the Stevens report to be made public.

Let me predict for them what that report will say: While problematic, the behavior of DOJ’s own does not merit punishment. Love, David Margolis.

DOJ PIN Head Steps Into More Malfeasance Poo

Central to the prosecutorial misconduct directly resulting in the criminal charges against former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens being dismissed was Brenda Morris, the Principal Deputy Chief of the DOJ Public Integrity Section (PIN). The misconduct was so egregious, and the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) so infirm, the trial judge, Emmet Sullivan, appointed a special court investigator to handle a criminal contempt probe.

Has the DOJ itself taken any action in light of the heinous conduct? No, of course not, they never do at the Roach Motel that is the OPR. Instead, the DOJ banished Morris to the Atlanta USA office apparently still as some kind of functioning authority in the Public Integrity (PIN) section. The DOJ is nothing if not consistent, whether under Bush or Obama.

Morris has promptly inserted herself into another high charged political mess, and done so with questionable ethics and curious basis for involvement. From Joe Palazzolo at Main Justice:

Brenda Morris, a veteran trial lawyer in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, was among a group of federal law enforcement officials who met with Alabama legislators on April 1 to inform them of the probe, which is related to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize electronic bingo.

The investigation has inflamed tensions between state Democrats and Republican-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, who prosecuted former Gov. Don Siegelman (D) and whose husband has close ties to Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who strongly opposes the amendment. Canary’s office and the Public Integrity Section are jointly investigating bingo proponents’ quest for votes in support of the amendment, which the Senate passed on March 30.

The state House of Representatives has yet to vote. Alabama Democrats sent a letter to the Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, charging that the “unprecedented” disclosure of the investigation was meant to have a “chilling effect” on state legislators who otherwise might have voted for the amendment.

Here, from the Alabama Press Register, are a few quotes from local Alabama legal experts familiar with the facts and history:

Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney now in private practice in Birmingham, called the private meeting a “virtually unprecedented” break from standard FBI procedures.

“I can’t think of a legitimate law enforcement purpose to do something like this,” said Jones, who represents members of the Alabama Democratic Caucus.

“I have never, in all my years of practicing law, heard of an event like what happened (on Thursday)” said Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. “It was stunning to me.”

Former U.S. Attorney William Kimbrough of Mobile said he’d seen nothing like it in a legal career that spans nearly five decades.

So what in the world was Brenda Morris doing smack dab in the middle of such a contentious political mess and how could the Obama/Holder DOJ think it appropriate? The answer is hard to fathom. Morris was supposed to have been tasked to the Atlanta US Attorney’s office as a litigation attorney while she is being investigated by the court for criminal contempt from her last case. You really have to wonder who is running the asylum at DOJ Main to think that there could ever be positive optics from Morris being involved in anything politically contentious.

You also have to wonder how exactly it is the Obama Administration has seen fit to leave Leura Canary, the Karl Rove acolyte who persecuted Don Siegelman, in office as the US Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Local blogs are not amused; from Legal Schnauzer:

According to press reports, representatives from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama played a key role in Thursday’s meeting. Bush appointee Leura Canary, who oversaw the prosecution of former Democratic governor and Bob Riley opponent Don Siegelman, remains in the charge of that office. Alabama’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, have scuttled various Obama nominees for the position, and the White House, so far, has chosen not to fight for the two candidates (Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest) favored by Democrats.

Canary’s lingering presence in office almost certainly is driving the bingo investigation. Angela Tobon, an FBI special agent in Mobile, Alabama, told The Birmingham News that the Public Integrity Section (PIN) of the Justice Department is leading the inquiry. Tobon refused to elaborate when contacted by a reporter from the Montgomery Advertiser.
….
Does that mean Leura Canary was able to take advantage of a leaderless organization, contacting “loyal Bushies” still embedded in the Justice Department to help get PIN involved in a bogus Alabama operation?

It sure looks that way.

I honestly do not know enough to make the call on the underlying electronic bingo investigation, but the locals sure look to be raising a lot of very good questions about how it is being used to manipulate the local political landscape. Irrespective of the merits of the underlying investigation, leaving tainted authorities, of questionable ethics, like Leura Canary and Brenda Morris to be the face of this unusual and politically charged matter is simply inexcusable.

Republicans Appropriating Torture

As I reported some weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi suggested one way the Bush Administration worked around the intelligence committees on torture and wiretapping was via the Appropriations Committees.

Q: Does this call into question the value of the briefing then, if they are not telling you fully…

Speaker Pelosi. I have questioned the values of the briefings over and over and over again. We only know what they choose to tell us and the manner and time in which they tell us. And that is why when people are talking about – whether they are talking about torture, or whether they are talking about wiretapping, or whatever you are talking about, we really have to have a change now in how Congress can do its oversight, because we expect and demand the truth.

And that’s why I, when I became Speaker, established this joint committee between the Appropriations Committee and the Intelligence Committee, because the fact is they really were not fully briefing the Intelligence Committee. And they have to answer to the Appropriations Committee because that’s where their funding comes from.

It is a long story, it’s an evolution. It used to be the Intelligence Committee – you couldn’t appropriate unless the Intelligence Committee authorized. It was almost effectively an appropriation. Over time the Intelligence in the Bush years became part of supplementals so there was absolutely no sharing of information. They would just stick the request in the supplementals. We said, "Okay, if they are going right to appropriations, we will have members of the Intelligence Committee serve in this hybrid committee, part Intelligence, part Appropriations." [my emphasis]

Now, the Appropriations briefing for torture actually came much later than it did for wiretapping (three years after the start of the program, rather than immediately after). But look at what CIA’s amazingly self-serving list of briefings describes having happened:

October 18, 2005: Interrogation techniques briefed. Ted Stevens, Thad Cochran

September 19, 2006: Briefing on full detainee program, including the 13 EITs. Bill Young, John Murtha (John Murtha did not stay for EIT portion of briefing)

October 11, 2007: The Director discussed the number of detainees subjected to EITs and discussed EITs. John Murtha

First, note the timing of these. The first Appropriations briefing took place during the debate on the Detainee Treatment Act, at a time when there were a significant number of Republican-only briefings: two for Fristie, one for McCain, one for Duncan Hunter, one for Crazy Pete Hoekstra, and the briefing for "Appropriations." 

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Pre-Coffee Deep Thought

If Emmett Sullivan, the judge that is considering vacating Toobz Stevens’ conviction because the government withheld critical information also demands the government free Aymen Saeed Batarfi, a Gitmo detainee from whom the government withheld exonerating information…

"To hide relevant and exculpatory evidence from counsel and from the court under any circumstances, particularly here where there is no other means to discover this information and where the stakes are so very high . . . is fundamentally unjust, outrageous and will not be tolerated," Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

"How can this court have any confidence whatsoever in the United States government to comply with its obligations and to be truthful to the court?"

[snip]

"The sanction is going to be high," he said. "I’ll tell you quite frankly if I have to start incarcerating people to get my point across I’m going to start at the top."

…Does that mean Sarah Palin will call for a special election to let Batarfi run for elected office? Or, at the very least, will Palin allow Batarfi to settle in Alaska, since Palin is so convinced that prosecutorial misconduct equates to innocence on the part of the accused?  

Uncle Toobz? Are You Obstructing Oversight of TARP?

POGO notes something I hadn’t seen reported elsewhere–the last paragraph of a Chris Dodd statement regarding the selection of Neil Barofsky as Inspector General for the TARP bailout funds.

Unfortunately, the confirmation has been delayed by at least one Senator. That delay is regrettable and not in the best interest of American taxpayers.  It is my sincere hope that those who are blocking this nomination will reconsider their actions and confirm Mr. Barofsky at the earliest opportunity.

I posit Ted Stevens as one potential source of the hold only because he has been known to put holds on finance oversight in the past. Plus, he’s probably been in an ornery mood of late.

But there are plenty of other Republicans who like to obstruct good legislation. There’s John Kyl’s hold on FOIA reforms.  John Ensign’s hold on electronic filing of Senate disclosure forms. And there’s Tom Coburn’s hold on just about everything–though to be fair to Coburn, his MO is usually to obstruct things he finds culturally offensive, not matters pertaining to oversight.

Still, someone’s out there making sure that no one is watching over our $700 billion dollars. 

Now why would some corporate shill want to do that?

Palin Suggests She Doesn’t Want Uncle Toobz’ Seat

She notes that she didn’t do too well under the "white hot" spotlight of DC.

MATT LAUER: Let me talk about your future. There is a possibility that, in the state of Alaska, there will be a special election. If Ted Stevens goes back the Senate, and his colleagues decide to banish him, then the state of Alaska has to come up with a new senator. And it is conceivable that you could run for that seat. Are you interested?

SARAH PALIN: I’m not planning on that.

MATT LAUER: That’s a good politician’s answer. Most people say, "I’m not planning on it." But the people of Alaska said, "You’d be the right person"?

SARAH PALIN: No, I’m not planning on it because I think the people of Alaska will best be served with me as their governor. Making sure that we are prudently spending the tax dollars. That we are making sure that our resources are being developed responsibly and ethically. And all those things that are a part of my agenda as governor. I think the people of Alaska appreciate me where I am today as their governor.

MATT LAUER: But wouldn’t there be some sense that you’d just seen what it was like in the White House spotlight. And doesn’t some part of you, I mean, I read an article about you that said you’re pretty ambitious. Doesn’t some part of you want more of that?

SARAH PALIN: You know, when you talk about that white hot spotlight– that’s not really attractive to me. Because, again, you know, you gave some examples of– look what that white hot spotlight

MATT LAUER: It’s a double edged sword.

SARAH PALIN: …does to one’s family, you know. And does to one’s credibility and record and word. So that’s not the attraction to me. The attraction is where can I best serve people whom I work for and am accountable to. Right now I am accountable to the people of Alaska. They hired me as their governor. I’m blessed to have the opportunity that I have to serve them as governor. It’s a great job. I love it. [my emphasis]

Shorter Sarah: I’m going back to Alaska where I can hide my incompetence, ethical issues, and ignorance behind my pretty face. Also.

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It Must Be Something in the (Melting) Icebergs

Sarah Palin:

… the report that came out also was very clear in that there was no unethical or unlawful behavior on my part.

[snip]

No abuse of power there at all.

Sarah Palin’s mentor, Ted Stevens:

With just four days before the election and Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens insisting he’s not a felon, the U.S. Senate race is white hot. 

"I’ve not been convicted yet," Stevens said Thursday in a meeting with the editorial board of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Did I Mention Bush Is Preparing His Pardon Pen?

John McCain has called on Uncle Toobz to resign (ignoring, of course, that he may be guilty of the same crime himself), Mitch McConnell has piled on, and even Sarah Palin has decided it is safe to take on her mentor.

But the Bush Administration? Dana Perino’s no comment sounds remarkably like the "no comment"s we got just before Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence. 

Will McCain Declare His Gambling Winnings or Follow Stevens Down the Toobz?

John McCain has called on Toobz Stevens to resign from the Senate.

Yesterday, Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of corruption. It is a sign of the health of our democracy that the people continue to hold their representatives to account for improper or illegal conduct, but this verdict is also a sign of the corruption and insider-dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation’s capital.

It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down. I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all.

Note how McCain stresses that Stevens was found guilty of insider-dealing. But that’s not correct. Rather, Stevens was convicted of not declaring gifts on his Senate Financial Disclosure Forms. From Toobz’ indictment:

Beginning in or about May 1999, and continuing to in or about August, 2007, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, in a matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch of the United States Government and subject to the legislative function exception, STEVENS, while a sitting United States Senator, knowingly and willfully engaged in a scheme to conceal a material fact, that is, his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of things of value from a private corporation and its chief executive officer by, among other things, failing to report them, as was required, on STEVENS’ required yearly Financial Disclosure Forms.

[snip]

STEVENS knew the requirements of the Financial Disclosure Forms, and knowingly and intentionally sought to conceal and cover up his receipt of things of value by filing Financial Disclosure Forms that contained false statements and omissions concerning STEVENS’ receipt of these things of value.

All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001(a)(1) and (c)(1) and (2).

It’s funny McCain should make that mistake, given that he himself appears to be guilty of similar omissions in his Senate Financial Disclosure Form. Despite public reports of McCain gambling–and, at times, winning–large sums, he has never reported his gambling winnings on his Senate Financial Disclosure Forms.

Given McCain’s call on Ted Stevens to do the right thing, isn’t it time McCain himself avoid the crimes Stevens just got convicted of?

Sarah Sends Uncle Toobz to His Room without Any Dinner

Sarah Palin on her mentor Uncle Toobz’ felony conviction:

"This is a sad day for Alaska and a sad day for Senator Stevens and his family," she said on the tarmac at Richmond International Airport. "The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company up there in Alaska that was allowed to control too much of our state. And that control was part of the culture of corruption that I was elected to fight, and that fight must always move forward regardless of party affiliation or seniority or even past service.

"As Governor of the State of Alaska, I will carefully now monitor the situation and I’ll take any appropriate action as needed. In the meantime, I ask the people of Alaska to join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system and I’m confident that Senator Stevens from this point on will do the right thing for the people of Alaska," she also said. [my emphasis]

Sounds to me like the purportedly corruption-fighting governor is vouching that Toobz will be on his best behavior going forward, and Alaskans should all trust Sarah to keep him on the straight and narrow.

I can’t help but wonder whether Sarah is thinking about the fact that her own running mate failed to disclose his gambling winnings on his Senate disclosure forms, that she herself was probably saved from an illegal $150,000 gift (in the form of Neiman Marcus togs) by the embarrassment of having it exposed, and that she was recently found to have her own corruption problems in using state government to achieve her own personal vendettas. Oh, and don’t forget the free house she and Todd may have gotten, courtesy of the contractors who built the over-budget hockey rink in Wasilla. 

After all, when you and your running mate are at risk of being busted for the same kinds of things Uncle Toobz got busted for, forgiveness going forward must look awfully smart.