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ThinkFast: December 4, 2007

Tue, 2007-12-04 07:00

When intelligence analysts briefed Bush administration officials on Iran in July, the officials refused to believe that Iran had stopped its weapons program. They “expressed skepticism” about an intercept from “a senior Iranian military official” complaining “that the nuclear program had been shuttered,” believing it was “part of a clever Iranian deception campaign.”

The IAEA says that the new NIE on Iran’s halted nuclear weapons program is “validation of its own long-standing conclusion that there is ‘no evidence‘ of an undeclared nuclear program in Iran.” Glenn Greenwald notes that the IAEA has long been attacked for its conclusions.

Israel publicly challenged the U.S. intelligence consensus that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program. “It’s apparently true that in 2003 Iran stopped pursuing its military nuclear program for a time. But in our opinion, since then it has apparently continued that program,” Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told army radio.

Iran welcomed the U.S. intelligence report and said it was becoming clear the Islamic republic’s plans were peaceful. Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister, “The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.”

“Fifty-two percent of Americans say the economy and health care are most important to them in choosing a president, compared with 34% who cite terrorism and social and moral issues, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. That is the reverse of the percentages recorded just before the 2004 election.” (more…)

Prominent Stem Cell Researcher Praised By Bush Rips White House’s Stem Cell Policies

Mon, 2007-12-03 19:00

Last month, University of Wisconsin professor James Thomson — the first scientist to successfully isolate embryonic stem cells — and his colleagues published a paper in Science Magazine stating that human skin cells could be “reprogrammed” into embryonic stem cells.

President Bush has refused to directly fund embryonic stem cell research, twice vetoing such legislation. The White House was therefore quick to herald Thomson’s work, claiming it vindicated Bush’s position:

President Bush is very pleased to see the important advances in ethical stem cell research reported in scientific journals today. By avoiding techniques that destroy life, while vigorously supporting alternative approaches, President Bush is encouraging scientific advancement within ethical boundaries.

Right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer declared, “The verdict is clear: Rarely has a president — so vilified for a moral stance — been so thoroughly vindicated.” “An official of one group fiercely opposed to destroying embryos said the “scientists should thank ‘pro-life voices’ for pushing them to find alternatives.”

But Thomson and American Association for the Advancement of Science President Alan Leshner could care less about the administration’s approval. In a Washington Post op-ed today, the duo slams the right-wing response to their work, stating that the Bush administration’s restrictive stem cell policies are “counter to both scientific and public opinion” and are inhibiting potential treatments:

At a time when nearly 60 percent of Americans support human embryonic stem cell research, U.S. stem cell policy runs counter to both scientific and public opinion. President Bush’s repeated veto of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which has twice passed the House and Senate with votes from Republicans and Democrats alike, further ignores the will of the American people. […]

[U]nder the policy President Bush outlined on Aug. 9, 2001, at most 21 stem cell lines derived from embryos before that date are eligible for federal funding. American innovation in the field thus faces inherent limitations. Even more significant, the stigma resulting from the policy surely has discouraged some talented young Americans from pursuing stem cell research.

As Science Progress noted, the skin cell research could not have been accomplished without the knowledge from prior embryonic stem cell research.

Furthermore, Thomson and Leshner emphasized that it “remains to be seen whether reprogrammed skin cells will differ in significant ways from embryonic stem cells…it’s too early to say we’re certain.”

In June, then-White House spokesperson Tony Snow said Bush’s veto of stem cell research was evidence of him “putting science before ideology.” In reality, the scientific community — including Bush’s own science advisers — thinks the opposite.

McCain dodges Bush comparison with awkward laugh.

Mon, 2007-12-03 18:00

On MSNBC’s Hardball today, host Chris Matthews asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, “should the Bushies vote for you because you’re the closest thing to keeping him in for a third term.” McCain reacted by laughing awkwardly for several seconds before catching his breath to say, “I hope they would vote for me because they recognize the challenges, particularly in national security.” McCain refused to say whether people who like Bush will like him or not. Watch it:

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Hadley: Bush Learned Of NIE’s Findings ‘In The Last Few Months,’ But Continued To Ratchet Up Rhetoric

Mon, 2007-12-03 16:24

This afternoon, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley held a press briefing on the new National Intelligence Estimate, which concludes that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. As ThinkProgress has documented, Bush administration officials — despite knowing of the NIE — have been ratcheting up their rhetoric on Iran in the past couple of months.

The central question in today’s briefing for Hadley was whether White House officials intentionally disregarded the intelligence community’s findings in order to bang the war drums against Iran. Reporters repeatedly pressed Hadley on the specific date when the White House learned about the NIE’s findings. Yet incredibly, he refused to give a “precise answer,” instead stating that it was within the “last few months.” From the briefing:

QUESTION: Steve, what is the first time the president was given the inkling that something? I’m not clear on this. Was it months ago, when the first information started to become available to intelligence agencies? […]

HADLEY: [W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October — August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.

On at least five different occasions, Hadley said the White House learned of the NIE sometime in the “last few months.” Watch a compilation:

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The issue is whether the President himself lied to the public about Iran’s intentions, despite knowing that Iran was even “less determined to develop nuclear weapons.” In October, Bush told a reporter that Iran was trying to “build a nuclear weapon“:

Q But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so long — until they suspend and/or make it clear that they — that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. […]

So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.

So to recap: Sometime in the “last few months,” Bush learned that Iran is “less determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Yet as late as October, Bush was still claiming that Iran “wants to build a nuclear weapon.” What did Bush know and when did he know it?

Time for Boehner to update his website on Iran.

Mon, 2007-12-03 14:48

House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) website contains a section on “Winning the Global War on Terror,” which warns that Iran is “governed by a fanatic and actively building nuclear weapons”:

After today’s NIE, looks like Boehner will need to change his site. (Contact his office HERE.)

Fox News won’t run pro-Constitution ad.

Mon, 2007-12-03 14:19

The Center for Constitutional Rights recently produced an ad called “Rescue the Constitution” that criticizes the Bush administration for “destroying the Constitution” through the use of tactics like renditions and torture. Fox News is refusing to air the ad, claiming that it needs “documentation” that the constitution “is indeed being destroyed.” Watch the ad:

Fox has previously refused to run an ad that was critical of then-Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito Jr., which was seen as an “effort to shield President Bush’s choice for the high court.”

Despite Knowledge That Iran Halted Nuke Program, White House Continued To Warn Of False Threat

Mon, 2007-12-03 13:09

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released today concludes that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” It adds that “Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007,” and the country is “less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.”

The assessment, which relies on data collected through Oct. 31, was reportedly completed in 2006, but was blocked by administration officials who wanted it to be more in line with Vice President Cheney’s hardline views.

As The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum notes, the NIE’s “basic parameters were almost certainly common knowledge in the White House” at least by last year, when the document was finished. Yet even in the past two months, the administration has continued to push its faulty, inflammatory rhetoric and claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Some examples:

“So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.” [Bush, 10/17/07]

“Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions. … The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.” [Cheney, 10/21/07]

“The problem is Iran, and Iran has not stepped back from trying to pursue a nuclear weapon, and — or reprocessing and enriching uranium, which would lead to a nuclear weapon.” [White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, 10/26/07]

“We talked about Iran and the desire to work jointly to convince the Iranian regime to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions, for the sake of peace.” [Bush, 11/7/07]

“We’re in a position now, clearly, especially when we look at Iran, where it’s very, very important we succeed in our efforts, our national security efforts, to discourage the Iranians from enriching uranium and producing nuclear weapons.” [Cheney, 11/9/07]

“We are convinced that they are developing nuclear weapons.” [Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, 11/13/07]

The White House isn’t yet ready to give up its spin. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley will be speaking to the press at 3:15 PM EST today, and has already claimed that the NIE “confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons.”

UPDATE: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said, “It would be a strategic calamity to attack Iran at this time.”

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Beck: Bush has Abraham Lincoln-like honesty.

Mon, 2007-12-03 12:30

In an interview with the Deseret Morning News, right-wing pundit Glenn Beck described a recent meeting with President Bush which left him “stunned and awestruck by Bush’s command of the situation”:

“The thing is,” Beck says, “he’s not the guy you see on TV. I talked to (CNN’s) Wolf Blitzer, and he said the exact same thing. It’s amazing.”

“He is clear and focused, and there are no hems and haws. I would not want to sit across the table from him as an enemy. He said a few things that were breathtaking, and my immediate response was, ‘Why are you not saying this?’ and he explained. I can’t quote him. All I can say is that he has Abraham Lincoln-honorable reasons … he has chosen not to say certain things. But (the Iraq war) is going much better than people think.”

In contrast to Beck’s belief that Bush is in total control behind the scenes, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said that a recent meeting with the President left him “very underwhelmed.”

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Afghan criticism of U.S. efforts rises.

Mon, 2007-12-03 12:08

A new ABC News/BBC/ARD poll finds that Afghan dissatisfaction with the United States has sharply increased since 2005. For the first time, “more than half of Afghans disapprove of U.S. efforts.” Additionally, “42 percent of Afghans say the Taliban has gained strength in the past year — far more than say it’s weakened.”

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NIE: Iran ‘Halted’ Nuclear Weapons Program In 2003, Unlikely To Develop A Weapon In This Decade

Mon, 2007-12-03 11:10

A new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released today concludes with “high confidence” that “in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.” From the report’s findings:

We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.

We continue to assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon.

Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.

The intelligence community’s 2005 assessment concluded, inaccurately, that “Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons” and “could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade.” But as the new NIE finds, Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability until after 2015 “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.”

This new NIE is long overdue. It was reportedly completed a year ago, but blocked by the White House. IPS reported:

A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear programme, and thus make the document more supportive of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney’s militarily aggressive policy toward Iran.

As ThinkProgress has documented, the White House’s manipulation of the Iran NIE bore a striking resemblance to the controversies that played out over pre-war Iraq intelligence.

But even with Cheney’s meddling, this NIE makes it clear that there is no imminent danger from Iran’s nuclear program. Newsweek’s Howard Fineman recently reported that the intelligence community is trying to send a message to “slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president” in what they “want to do in Iran.”

UPDATE: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley “quickly issued a statement describing the N.I.E. as containing positive news rather than reflecting intelligence mistakes. ‘It confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons,’ Mr. Hadley said.” View his full statement here.

UPDATE II: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Iran NIE “indicates that we should do what I have talked about doing for more than a year now: Follow the Ronald Regan theory of diplomacy. … What did Ronald Reagan do? He started his diplomats working with the evil people in the Soviet people, as he referred to, to work something out. And he did. He met with the leaders of the Soviet Union he didn’t particularly like. And that’s what we should be doing with Iran. We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran. And based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea.”

Embattled Larry Craig Escapes To Bali To Stall Global Warming Treaty

Mon, 2007-12-03 10:37

Currently the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation, continued allegations of being gay, and stripped of his leadership positions on the Veterans’ Affairs and Appropriations Committees, Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) is seeking temporary solace in the tropical resort island of Bali.

Craig is traveling to Bali this week for the U.N.-led climate change conference as the “Republican representative from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee,” which is led by chief global warming denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

Prior to his travels, Craig attacked EPW Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for creating “all-pain, no-gain” climate change legislation that would call for caps on greenhouse gas emissions. It “demonstrates nothing more than her intent to revert the United States to a developing country,” he asserted:

I’ve been to three of the last six “COP” conferences, so I’d expect the COP-13 crowd will be singing a familiar tune. Sen. Boxer will be welcomed as the liberator, and Al Gore will probably receive another award, but in the end, the only impact the conference will have will be the pollution and consumption they all create in traveling to Bali in the first place…we can avoid suffering for symbolism, and continue to keep things cool in our own backyard, even if there’s nothing but hot air in Bali.

Notably, Boxer is also the Chairwoman of the Senate Ethics Committee, which is investigating “allegations of sexual misconduct” by Craig and is currently “continu[ing] to conduct its preliminary inquiry into the matter.”

Craig has long history of climate change denial. Some highlights:

— Denied that global warming was at all responsible for the California wildfires. [LINK]

– In 1998, said Kyoto Protocol was “unnecessary response to an exaggerated threat the vice president himself [Al Gore] is caught up in making.” [LINK]

– Claims “scientists are not certain how much man contributes to climate variability compared to nature.” [LINK]

Isolated from his own party and now “a wisp of his former self in the Senate,” Craig will have to rely on the support of fringe, discredited global warming deniers.

WH blocking Fitzgerald cooperation in Plame probe.

Mon, 2007-12-03 09:56

House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) today wrote to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and urged him to allow Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity. From his letter:

As the recent disclosure from former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan underscores, there remain many unanswered questions surrounding this incident and the involvement of the President, the Vice President, and other senior White House officials in the security breach and the White House response.

The Special Counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, has been cooperating with the Committee’s investigation. Over the summer, Mr. Fitzgerald agreed to provide relevant documents to the Committee, including records of interviews with senior White House officials. Unfortunately, the White House has been blocking Mr. Fitzgerald from providing key documents to the Committee. […]

I ask that you personally look into this matter and authorize the production of the documents to the Committee without any further delay.

Emptywheel has more.

Daschle Rebuts Rove: He’s A ‘Joke’ Who Is ‘Trying To Sell Some Books’

Mon, 2007-12-03 09:04

On the Bill Press Show this morning, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) dismissed Karl Rove’s false claim that Democrats in Congress — not the Bush administration — forced a war vote prior to the 2002 midterm elections. Daschle called Rove’s “outrageous statements” a “joke” and a clear effort to “sell some books”:

Well, I was called last week a couple of times and I literally thought it was a joke. I thought somebody was trying to pull my leg. I can’t believe that anybody would make such an outrageous statement and I was interested in that several of the former Bush high level people have now disputed it as well. But, he’s saying it and I guess he’s trying to sell some books.

Daschle also reiterated the fact that he had “directly” asked President Bush to delay the vote on the war in September 2002:

I reminded the President that his father waited until after the election for the 1991 war. It was a wise thing to do and allowed him to build consensus around the world and de-politicize it here at home. I turned to him and said that he ought to do the same thing. I wish you’d consider that. He looked at the Vice President. They smirked a little bit and then looked at me and said. “Can’t do that.”

Listen to it:

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Despite the fact that he has been contradicted by three members of the Bush administration who were involved in pre-war planning, Rove continues to push his “far-fetched” and “not-credible” story.

On Fox News Sunday yesterday, Rove cherry-picked old quotes by Daschle that he claimed as proof that Daschle wanted the pre-election vote as much as Bush did. But as Think Progress noted and Daschle reiterated today, the former Senate Majority Leader repeatedly sought to delay the vote.

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Protestors prepare for Rove speech.

Mon, 2007-12-03 08:33

Karl Rove will speak tonight at 6 PM EST at Duke University. “A Conversation with Karl Rove,” which will feature a Q-and-A session, will explore the topics of “the future of American politics, the 2008 presidential election and emerging challenges for the country at home and abroad.” Protestors plan to wear “orange Guantanamo Bay-imitation detention camp jumpsuits” and plan to highlight the Bush administration’s lack of “respect for basic human rights.”

Wolfowitz Returns To Bush Administration As WMD Adviser

Mon, 2007-12-03 07:45

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reports that Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz has been rewarded with a new position in the Bush administration which will allow him to oversee classified intelligence and inform policies on WMD issues:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered Wolfowitz, a prime architect of the Iraq War, a position as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board, a prestigious State Department panel, according to two department sources who declined to be identified discussing personnel matters. The 18-member panel, which has access to highly classified intelligence, advises Rice on disarmament, nuclear proliferation, WMD issues and other matters. “We think he is well suited and will do an excellent job,” said one senior official.

Prior to the Iraq war, Wolfowitz established the Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon to skirt the intelligence community and peddle the most egregiously false claims of Iraqi WMD. In a Jan. 2003 speech, Wolfowitz referenced “Iraqi efforts to procure uranium from abroad” despite the fact that the claim had already been discredited by the CIA. A few months after the Iraq invasion was launched, Wolfowitz admitted that claims of Iraqi WMD was used as a political tool to achieve consensus for the war:

The truth is that, for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason [to go to war].

When Wolfowitz left the World Bank in disgrace and landed at the American Enterprise Institute, he said he was leaving “open the possibility of rejoining the government.” Brookings analyst Philip Gordon speculated at the time that “the need for Senate confirmation would be a big political obstacle” for Wolfowitz to be named to another senior government post. Laura Rozen notes, however, that Wolfowitz’s new position “doesn’t require Senate confirmation.”

Paul Wolfowitz’s career continues to shine as a stunning example of what Paul Krugman has called the “comprehensiveness and generosity of the neocon welfare system.”

UPDATE: Siun at FDL has more.

UPDATE II: Andrew Sullivan comments: “He’s advising Condi on WMDs. Curveball wasn’t available?

ThinkFast: December 3, 2007

Mon, 2007-12-03 07:00

Don Imus’ morning radio program returned to the air this morning on ABC Radio Networks, with a new cast featuring two black comedians, Karith Foster and Tony Powell. Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and John McCain, as well as Democratic candidate Chris Dodd and political consultant James Carville, were all slated to make appearances this morning.

56 percent: Percentage of likely Alabama voters who “believe it is somewhat likely or very likely that the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman was politically motivated.”

House Democratic leaders say they are “hopeful” that the full House will consider a motion of contempt against former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten before the end of the year.

$1 million: Amount the national debt expands per minute, totaling approximately $1.4 billion a day. The debt is up from $5.7 trillion when President Bush took office in January 2001 and it will top $10 trillion sometime right before or right after he leaves in January 2009.”

The U.S. military is “join[ing] the green movement.” “On Dec. 17, the Air Force will dedicate the largest solar array in North America at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, on the same day that a C-17 transport plane makes the Air Force’s first cross-country flight using a blend of synthetic fuel. Giant wind turbines rise from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.” (more…)

Craig: I’m still not gay.

Sun, 2007-12-02 20:08

After the Idaho Stateman reported five separate new accounts of gay men claiming to have encounters with Larry Craig (in addition to three earlier reports), the Idaho senator has responded by sticking with his claim that he’s never been gay. A statement from Craig:

It is unfortunate that the Idaho Statesman has chosen to continue to lower itself to the standards of what can best be described as tabloid journalism. Like its previous coverage, these latest allegations are completely false and have no basis in reality.

In fact, the paper itself states that these baseless accusations contain no definitive evidence yet they still decided to print them anyway. However, despite the fact the Idaho Statesman has decided to pursue its own agenda and print these falsehoods without any facts to back them up, I won’t let this paper’s attempt to malign my name stop me from continuing my work to serve the people of Idaho.

In August, Craig said it was the Idaho paper’s fault that he pled guilty to disorderly conduct.

Gregory: Blogs are to blame for polarization.

Sun, 2007-12-02 16:00

At a National Press Club event earlier this week, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory argued that, because is so much polarization in politics today, “people try to divine or assign our motives” for asking certain questions at the White House press briefings. When Helen Thomas asked Gregory what was responsible for the polarization, Gregory answered:

I think it’s because of the internet largely. The polarized atmosphere in the internet and blogs and whatnot have been a major contributor to that.

Watch it:

In February — at a similar event at the Press Club — Gregory pointed the finger at blogs for the reason that “politics and political coverage has become so polarized.” Glenn Greenwald wrote at the time:

The reality, of course, is that most media-criticizing bloggers do not want journalists to be “political advocates.” They want them to do what journalists are supposed to do — which is not…sit around with their good, trustworthy, nice-guy friends in the White House and simply “ask questions” and “get information,” but instead to scrutinize that information, treat it with doubt, investigate it before passing it along to determine whether it’s true.

And the reason bloggers want them to do that, the reason that bloggers demand more of journalists…is not because bloggers are enraged, confused, unreasonable partisans. It’s because bloggers are American citizens who are deeply concerned about what has happened to their country over the last six years.

Gonzales speech canceled: ‘students would not attend.’

Sun, 2007-12-02 12:31

Students at Pomona College were considering bringing former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to speak on campus, but have now rejected that idea. “It was a combination of not having the funding and the impression that students would not attend this event,” said Kelly Schwartz, the chairperson of the Speakers Committee of the Associated Students of Pomona College. According to Pomona’s Student Life newspaper, Gonzales “asked the school to pay him $35,000 in addition to first-class accommodations.”

Four gay men describe encounters with Sen. Craig.

Sun, 2007-12-02 11:45

The Idaho Statesman reports that “four gay men, willing to put their names in print and whose allegations can’t be disproved, have come forward since news of U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s guilty plea. They say they had sex with Craig or that he made a sexual advance or that he paid them unusual attention.” The Statesman has audio clips of the men’s accounts. A fifth unidentified man described a separate encounter at the Denver International Airport in September 2006. (HT: Atrios)

UPDATE: On Aug. 28, the Statesman reported the accounts of three other anonymous males who claimed to have encounters with Craig.