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Hagel to announce retirement.

Sat, 2007-09-08 08:05

“Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) will announce Monday he’ll not seek re-election next year. Hagel also will tell an Omaha news conference he does not intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008, clamping a lid on speculation he might be pondering a late-inning presidential bid.”

EXCLUSIVE: Former Sen. Intel Chair Reports White House Misled About Wiretap Briefings

Sat, 2007-09-08 07:10

One of the long-standing deceptions involved with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program is the White House claim that they fully briefed Congress prior to conducting these activities.

After the domestic surveillance program was revealed in 2005, former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) said that White House briefings that he attended in the Vice President’s office failed to disclose that the administration was spying on Americans:

There was no reference made to the fact that we were going to…begin unwarranted, illegal — and I think unconstitutional — eavesdropping on American citizens.

Shortly thereafter, Cheney fired back at Graham, arguing, “Well that’s not true. [Graham] knew.” The White House accused him of “misremembering the briefings.”

In a recent interview with ThinkProgress, Sen. Graham told us that, after the controversy erupted in late 2005, the White House provided him with dates when they alleged Graham had been briefed. Graham said he consulted his famous spiral bound notebooks and determined he had not been briefed on these dates:

When I got those dates, I went back to my notebooks and checked and found that on most of the dates there were no meetings held. In fact, in several of them, I wasn’t in Washington when the meetings were supposed to have taken place. So I stand by what I said.

Listen to it:

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Graham said the White House ultimately acknowledged “we had the wrong dates.” But the deception didn’t end there.

After our interview with Graham, the AP reported a four-page memo authored by then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte which claimed to assert dates on which members of Congress were briefed about the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” The document alleged that Graham was briefed on four dates: October 25, 2001; November 14, 2001; April 10, 2002; and July 8, 2002.

ThinkProgress went back to Graham and asked if he could verify that he was briefed on those dates. Graham said that on two of the dates (10/25/01 and 4/10/02), there were no meetings. On two others (11/14/01 and 7/8/02), he did attend White House meetings, but he stands by his earlier statements that he was never informed about domestic surveillance.

Graham wryly noted, “The White House needs to hire itself an archivist.” His revelations should raise greater concerns about the information the White House has released claiming that members of Congress were fully briefed on the wiretapping program.

Grand Old Prosecutors.

Fri, 2007-09-07 18:41

In written answers to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bradley Schlozman, the former Justice Department official who headed the Civil Rights Division, “admitted that he’d once urged hiring certain prosecutors for his office based on their political affiliation. It’s against civil service laws to do so.” Today marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Civil Rights Division. For six years under the Bush administration, it has been the seat of corruption. Read more in today’s Progress Report. (To subscribe, type your email address in the box on the right hand side of the ThinkProgress sidebar.)

Senate okays aid to overseas groups that support abortion.

Fri, 2007-09-07 16:11

The Senate yesterday defied a White House veto threat and overturned “a long-standing ban on U.S. funding for overseas family planning groups that support abortion.” Seven Republicans joined 44 Democrats in reversing the ban, which was first implemented by President Ronald Reagan. President Clinton rescinded it, but it was then reinstated by Bush. (Bush v. Choice has more.)

Doolittle: My critics are ‘weasels.’

Fri, 2007-09-07 15:37

Today, Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) denounced his critics as “weasels,” even “as his chief of staff appeared before a federal grand jury investigating Doolittle’s ties to jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” In the past, Doolittle has compared himself to the Duke students who were falsely accused of rape, stating “that the destruction of the reputations of innocent people can occur.”

Thompson: Osama Bin Laden Is ‘More Symbolism Than Anything Else’

Fri, 2007-09-07 14:37

Speaking to reporters in Iowa today aboard his “brightly colored campaign bus,” Fred Thompson spoke about the war in Iraq and the war against terrorist networks. He claimed — without any evidence — that “Americans are beginning to move in his direction in their support for the war in Iraq.” He also dismissed the threat of Osama bin Laden:

Bin Laden is more symbolism than anything else. I think it demonstrates to people once again that we’re in a global war.

Thompson’s statement echoes the sentiments of President Bush, who in March 2002 said, “I truly am not that concerned about” bin Laden, and Ann Coulter, who said in Aug. 2006 said that bin Laden is “irrelevant.”

Yet bin Laden — the man who masterminded the attacks on 9/11 — is more than just a “symbol.” Today he issued a new videotape promising to “escalate the killing and fighting against you.”

In May, U.S. News reported that “bin Laden already has a safe haven in Pakistan — and may be stronger than ever” as al Qaeda “retains the ability to organize complex, mass-casualty attacks and inspire others.” Bin Laden is behind much of this resurgence:

The broader movement inspired by al Qaeda has only grown bigger, largely because of the group’s powerful propaganda machine. Bin Laden and Zawahiri have been able to fill in the gaps between their megaplots with a rising stream of smaller-scale, homegrown attacks.

U.S. intelligence officials are also now admitting that they overestimated the “damage they had inflicted on al Qaeda’s network,” with the war in Iraq serving as an “undeniable boon for al Qaeda.”

UPDATE: Kicking Ass notes that today on Good Morning America, Thompson said, “I think the point is clearly he’s there, clearly he’s somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and clearly he’s still giving orders.” Watch it:

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Bush acting like George Allen is still a senator.

Fri, 2007-09-07 13:55

Yesterday, President Bush nominated E. Duncan Getchell, Jr for a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) issued a statement criticizing the appointment, noting that Getchell was not on a list of nominees recommended by him and Sen. John Warner (R-VA). Instead, President Bush relied on an outdated list created by Warner and former Sen. George Allen (R-VA), whom Webb defeated in 2006:

Warner and then-Sen. George Allen, R-Va., recommended him on a list sent to the White House last year.

But Getchell’s name was not on a list of five people that Warner and Allen’s successor, Webb, sent to the White House this June recommending appeals court candidates.

“Today, despite our good faith, bipartisan effort to accommodate the president, the recommendations that Senator Warner and I made have been ignored,” Webb said last night.

“The White House talks about the spirit of bipartisanship. . . . The White House cannot expect to complain about the confirmation of federal judges when they proceed to act in this manner,” Webb added. […]

Warner said in a terse statement, “I steadfastly remain committed to the recommendations stated in my joint letter with Senator Webb to the president, dated June 12, 2007, and I have so advised in a respectful, consistent manner in my consultations with the White House senior staff.”

(Hat tip: TPM)

A loyal Bushie to the very end.

Fri, 2007-09-07 13:29

Yesterday, in one of his final speeches as Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales “spent almost an hour” at the Coast Guard Academy “defending the legal decisions his office and the president made to oppose terrorism.” From the Hartford Courant:

He also defended the holding facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the legal protections of its inmates and said, “Never before in our nation’s history have we given such robust protection to combatants picked up on the field of battle.”

In a question-and-answer session with cadets, he briefly mentioned his decision to resign, announced Aug. 27. “Leaving this position was a difficult decision,” he said. “I’ve had the ride of a lifetime,” though he latter added, “The past several months have been difficult for me personally.” […]

One cadet asked Gonzales when the war will be considered finished. Gonzales replied, “What I say is: It’s not over today. There are people still plotting against Americans today. I can’t tell you when it’s going to be over.”

Graham: We’re ‘Kicking Ass’ In Iraq, Political Reconciliation Likely ‘Within Weeks’

Fri, 2007-09-07 12:40

Yesterday, prominent Iraq war proponents were featured at a panel at the American Enterprise Institute, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a vocal supporter of President Bush’s escalation.

Graham cheerfully explained that in his eight visits to Iraq, he has never come back as optimistic as after his most recent one. Graham claimed political reconciliation is on the horizon and is now “all over the country.”

Within the next weeks, not months, there will be a major breakthrough on the benchmarks regarding political reconciliation. And after the last two weeks of being a reservist, you could see Sunnis and Shia and Kurds taking a second look at Iraq.

Watch a compilation of Graham’s remarks:

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Using lofty phrases like “the surge has worked” and “the people are war weary,” Graham conveniently dodged empirical evidence to back up his assertion of reconciliation at “breakneck speed.”

Graham has placed himself at odds with every observer — including the Bush administration — of the Iraq war, all of whom see little to no political progress in Iraq:

Gen. Petraeus: “[T]angible political progress…has not worked out as we had hoped.” [9/7/07]

White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten: “[D]isappointment is the right word for…the Iraqi federal government.” [9/5/07]

Government Accountability Office: Iraqi government “has met only one of eight political benchmarks.” [9/4/07]

Congressional Research Service: “[T]he Iraqi government is in essential collapse.” [9/6/07]

National Intelligence Estimate: The government “will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months.” [8/23/07]

With Shi’as composing 75 percent of Baghdad today and 85 percent of the Iraqi national police, there is no near prospect for political reconciliation.

Despite these realities, Graham concluded his remarks at AEI — to loud applause — proclaiming that the United States is “kicking their ass,” a statement sure to make Bush proud.

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Court Strikes Down Gag Rule for National Security Letters

Fri, 2007-09-07 12:28

Yesterday, in a well-reasoned decision, a federal judge in New York struck down under the First Amendment a particularly extreme provision in the Patriot Act — the “gag rule” that applied to National Security Letters (NSLs). As discussed in my Senate Judiciary testimony this April, NSLs are subpoenas issued by the FBI, with no judicial oversight. They require phone companies, banks, and Internet service providers to turn over customer records. The “gag rule,” in the court’s words applied to “the mere fact that the FBI issued an NSL” and also, “most troubling to the Court, statements critical of the way that the government uses NSLs.”

When it comes to gag rules in the future, the court made two holdings:

1) “The government’s use of nondisclosure orders must be narrowly tailored on a case-by-case basis.” In other words, no blanket gag orders that apply to all NSLs.

2) “The nondisclosure orders must be subject to meaningful judicial review.” The revised Patriot Act had “judicial review” provisions that were too weak to pass constitutional muster.

This case is good news for creating the right set of rules around national security searches. It will be a good precedent to cite in other cases where the government is claiming that “national security” should trump the Constitution. It also will improve use of NSLs, which were the subject of a scathing report by the Department of Justice Inspector General earlier this year.

Here’s what we need to do next on NSLs:

– Especially in light of the court decision, Congress should consider the better checks and balances contained in bipartisan efforts such as the SAFE Act, introduced in the last Congress as S.737.

– Recipients of an NSL should receive a “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” This Statement would prevent over-reaching by the FBI. It would inform the recipient on issues such as the right to consult an attorney; the right to appeal an NSL to a court; and the limited scope of records that an NSL can cover.

Peter Swire

Right wing outraged by correct labeling of Iraq report.

Fri, 2007-09-07 11:37

Yesterday, the Washington Times reported that Congressional leaders have begun calling the upcoming Iraq assessment “the Bush report” rather than crediting it to Gen. David Petraeus — a change that the paper and other right wingers claim is an effort to “undermine” Petraeus’ credibility. But, as TPM’s Greg Sargent points out, the legislation calling for the report specifically mandated that it come from the President, not the top commander in Iraq.

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Fri, 2007-09-07 11:12

U.S. force levels in Iraq, an “all-time high.” Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, director of operational planning for the Joint Staff, said that “the arrival of more combat brigades will temporarily push the total to as high as 172,000 over the coming months before it falls back to about 160,000 troops by November or December as other units leave.”

Right Wing Attacks Zakaria For Stating Facts About Ethnic Cleansing In Iraq

Fri, 2007-09-07 10:20

On ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson on Wednesday, Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria said that fears of genocide in Iraq after an American withdrawal are misplaced because large-scale ethnic cleansing has already occurred:

One of the dirty little secrets about Iraq is that Iraq has increasingly been ethnically cleansed. It’s sad to say, but the American Army has presided over the largest ethnic cleansing in the world since the Balkans. When people say bad things are going to happen if we leave, bad things have already happened. Where were you for the last four years?

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, one of the architects of Bush’s escalation plan, attacked Zakaria’s fact-based assertion. “You are really not describing what’s happening in Iraq. I mean, you’re in the past, to be quite frank about it,” said Keane before claiming the “surge” is working. Watch it:

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Keane’s response to Zakaria has been heralded by the right wing. NewsBusters championed the “rebuke.” The Media Research Center, NewsBuster’s parent organization, approvingly reprinted the post in a cyber alert. The Washington Times’ Greg Pierce highlighted the exchange today.

None of Keane’s supporters note, however, that Zakaria is correct on the facts when he says “Iraq has increasingly been ethnically cleansed.”

Since the initial invasion of Iraq, more than 4.2 million Iraqis have left their homes, with roughly 2.2 million internally displaced while more than 2 million have fled to neighbouring states. Bush’s escalation, which Keane calls “very very encouraging,” has actually increased the pace of ethnic cleansing.

As the Center for American Progress’ Brian Katulis and Anita Sharma write today, the situation in Iraq now comprises “the biggest refugee crisis in the middle east since 1948.” But you won’t learn that reading right-wing diatribes against Zakaria.

Transcript: (more…)

Schmidt caught plagiarizing in newspaper column.

Fri, 2007-09-07 09:43

In her recent column on bus safety, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) warned school children to “never bend down near or under the bus to pick something up that has fallen.” An observant Ohio blog, The Daily Bellwether, noticed that parts of Schmidt’s column were strikingly similar to columns written by former Ohio State Highway Patrol Col. Paul McClellan. The Cincinnati Enquirer confirmed Schmidt’s cut-and-paste plagiarism today:

If Rep. Jean Schmidt’s latest column on school bus safety looked familiar, there’s a good reason why.

Six sentences from her column of last Tuesday appear to be cut and pasted in identical form from a column written in October 2005 by then-Ohio State Highway Patrol Col. Paul McClellan. […]

For example, Schmidt’s column says: “When exiting the bus, care should be taken to check that clothing with drawstrings and book bags with straps do not get caught in the handrails or doors. Additionally, students should never go back for anything left on the bus, and never bend down near or under the bus to pick something up that has fallen.”

McClellan’s column says: “When exiting the bus, care should be taken to check that clothing with drawstrings and book bags with straps do not get caught in the handrails or doors. Additionally, students should never go back for anything left on the bus, and never bend down near or under the bus to pick something up that has fallen.”

This isn’t the first time Schmidt has been caught passing off other people’s words as her own. In September 2006, Schmidt appropriated passages from Rep. Deborah Pryce’s (R-OH) press releases for a column on Medicare.

Petraeus on Iraq: ‘It has not worked out as we had hoped.’

Fri, 2007-09-07 09:17

In anticipation of the White House’s report next week, Gen. David Petraeus sent a letter to U.S. troops today. Brandon Friedman, who served in Iraq and is now a senior adviser to Vote Vets, obtained a copy of the letter and notes that most of it “essentially says what everyone expects him to say.” On the second page, however, Petraeus admits that “tangible political progress” on the ground “has not worked out as we had hoped”:

Earlier this week, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten also admitted that “success” on the political benchmarks has not been “as large as we would have hoped.”

New Twist In Saga Over ‘Petraeus Report’: There Will Be No Report

Fri, 2007-09-07 08:29

In the latest twist to the ongoing saga over the Petraeus White House report, a senior military official tells the Washington Times today that there will actually be no report at all:

A senior military officer said there will be no written presentation to the president on security and stability in Iraq. “There is no report. It is an assessment provided by them by testimony,” the officer said.

The only hard copy will be Gen. Petraeus’ opening statement to Congress, scheduled for Monday, along with any charts he will use in explaining the results of the troop surge in Baghdad over the past several months.

To recap, first the public was incorrectly led to believe that Gen. David Petraeus would issue his own report about the situation on the ground in Iraq. Then the Los Angeles Times reported that the so-called “Petraeus report” would “actually be written by the White House.”

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) then suggested the White House would probably “tweak” the “Petraeus report.” In an effort to put the controversy to rest, Gen. David Petraeus assured lawmakers that the White House was not going to be involved in the “writing” of the report:

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), told reporters Thursday that Petraeus said he and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had briefed the administration on the situation in Iraq, but added that “as far as [Petraeus] is concerned … he is writing his recommendations of that report and testimony.”

Now, apparently there will be no written report from Gen. Petraeus at all. While Petraeus’ statement to Congress will be made available, the public will not know what information he is providing to President Bush. The lack of transparency over Petraeus’ “report” will only intensify the high level of skepticism surrounding his statistics.

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UPDATE: In a recent hearing, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) said he recently met with Gen. Petraeus and was shown “the data.” Coleman said the data is “very clear about a reduction in violence. General Petraeus has those charts,” Coleman explained. Apparently, those charts will not be for public consumption.

Rohrabacher claims China’s president is trying to kill Bush.

Fri, 2007-09-07 08:04

This week, President Bush met with China’s President Hu Jintao in Australia at the APEC summit. In “his usual understated way,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) issued a statement yesterday asking: “If this were 1936, would President Bush be anxious to sit next to Adolf?” “One bit of advice, Mr. President,” Rohrabacher said, “I wouldn’t be so anxious to use the toothpaste in your hotel room.”

67 percent:

Fri, 2007-09-07 06:50

Number of citizens around the world who “think US-led forces should leave Iraq within a year, according to a BBC World Service poll of 23,000 people across 22 countries. Just one in four (23%) think foreign troops should remain in Iraq until security improves.”

ThinkFast: September 7, 2007

Fri, 2007-09-07 06:06

Though Gen. David Petraeus has told President Bush “that he wants to maintain heightened troop levels in Iraq well into next year,” a senior U.S. official says the general is willing to consider a slight drawdown of “between 3,500 and 4,500 U.S. troops from Iraq early next year.”

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) lashed out at Senate Republican leaders yesterday over their efforts to force Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) to resign. “I hope I never stub my toe and they throw me under the bus,” said Simpson. “It kind of makes you wonder what party you want to be a member of,” he added, noting he has no intention of switching parties.

“American intelligence agencies are expecting Osama bin Laden to issue a triumphant message to Al Qaeda followers on the sixth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks boasting of Al Qaeda’s growing numbers and success in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.” The al-Qaida leader has not appeared in new video footage since October 2004.

Seven U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, including four in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said on Friday.” The deaths take to more than 3,750 the number of U.S. soldiers killed since the start of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Yesterday, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division announced that he will be leaving in two weeks. His departure “will leave only two of the department’s six key litigation divisions headed by Senate-confirmed officials.” Once Alberto Gonzales steps down, all three of the Justice Department’s top positions will also be filled by “acting” officials. (more…)

Gen. Jones: ‘Yes,’ we can begin to withdraw from Iraq.

Thu, 2007-09-06 19:57

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing this afternoon, Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) asked Gen. James Jones to comment on his report’s recommendation that the U.S. should reduce its footprint in Iraq. The Jones report suggests “significant reductions” in the “size of our national footprint in Iraq.” Skelton asked Jones if this is a call to reduce troop levels, and Jones answered yes:

JONES: [W]e can consider taking a look at our footprint, taking a look at how many people we have in Iraq, how many bases we have, how many locations we have, and begin to think about ways in which we can realign the force, retask the force, and even remission it, so that we can gradually adjust our footprint and our military commanders can do it.

SKELTON: Does that mean reduce?


SKELTON: Does that mean reduce our force?

JONES: It means — it means finding efficiencies and it means — yes, it means making a candid assessment of who’s over there, who absolutely needs to be there, critically, and making sure that we are operating at peak efficiency and don’t have excessive capacity simply over there because it’s their time to go.

Watch it: