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Updated: 2 hours 28 min ago

Doolittle’s former top aide working with feds.

Mon, 2007-06-25 19:35

David Lopez, former chief of staff for Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), has provided “several hundred pages” of documents to federal prosecutors “investigating Doolittle and his wife in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal.”

Lopez’s name has previously surfaced in connection with Abramoff. He took a trip to Puerto Rico in 2001 paid for by Abramoff’s firm, although House rules prohibited trips paid for by registered lobbyists; Lopez said he’d consulted with the Ethics Committee and intended to abide by the rules.

Lopez was also referenced in an e-mail Ring wrote to Abramoff in 2000 about finding work for Doolittle’s wife, Julie, who went on to work for Abramoff on retainer. Julie Doolittle’s fundraising and event-planning company, which she ran out of the couple’s Virginia home, was the focus of the FBI’s subpoena in April.

Lugar: U.S. Must Reduce Military Presence In Iraq

Mon, 2007-06-25 18:14

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, tonight announced his support for an immediate shift in Iraq policy, calling on President Bush “to downsize the U.S. military’s role in Iraq and place much more emphasis on diplomatic and economic options.”

In a major speech on the Senate floor, Lugar said that “victory” in Iraq as defined by President Bush is now “almost impossible.” The current course of the war “has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond,” he said.

Lugar warned that “persisting indefinitely” with Bush’s escalation strategy “will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.” He specifically rejected claims that withdrawing U.S. forces will increase instability. Downsizing the U.S. military presence in Iraq would “strengthen our position in the Middle East, and reduce the prospect of terrorism, regional war, and other calamities,” Lugar said. Watch it:

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Also today, the Center for American Progress released its latest detailed Iraq exit strategy, Strategic Reset, which calls for virtually all U.S. troops to be redeployed out of Iraq within one year. Read more about the report, and analysis from Matthew Yglesias and Spencer Ackerman.

UPDATE: Full text of Lugar’s speech is HERE.

“Guantanamo is a symbol of our resolve.”

Mon, 2007-06-25 17:20

– former governor Mitt Romney, who added that the Guantanamo “plays an important role in protecting our nation from violent, heinous terrorists.” (Via Steve Benen)

Vote to defund Cheney’s office to be held this week.

Mon, 2007-06-25 16:32

Reacting to the Office of the Vice President’s assertion that it is not an “entity within the executive branch,” Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) announced that he will introduce an amendment to cut off funding to Cheney’s office. Emanuel discussed the legislation on MSNBC tonight:

[Cheney] is acting like he’s unaccountable to anybody…and he’s taking an unbelievable step saying he’s not a member of the executive branch, he’s a member of the legislative branch, therefore he doesn’t have to provide information. … So I said, If that’s your logic, then we shouldn’t be funding you through the executive branch. Either Wednesday or Thursday my amendment will be on the floor, because the funding for the executive branch is on the floor. And I’ll strike the money for the Vice President’s Office. He can live off the Senate presidency budget that funds him up here. And that’s fine. But if he’s going to be funded in the executive branch, he complies with the rules that apply to everybody. He is not above the rules of the executive branch.

Watch the segment:

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Mon, 2007-06-25 16:18

Estimated number of Iraqi refugees, “many alarmingly young,” now employed as sex workers and prostitutes in Syria.

Matthews explains Coulter segment: ‘She sells books.’

Mon, 2007-06-25 14:52

MSNBC is heavily promoting an appearance by Ann Coulter on tomorrow’s Hardball. Coulter hasn’t appeared on Hardball since July 27, 2006 when she called Vice President Al Gore a “total fag.” Tonight, host Chris Matthews made an odd justification for booking the conservative bombthrower: “Say what you will, she sells books.” Watch it:

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Gale Norton urges leniency for Abramoff crony.

Mon, 2007-06-25 14:30

Former U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton is urging a federal judge to show leniency in sentencing her former top deputy, J. Steven Griles, who pleaded guilty to “lying to the Senate about his relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” Norton also received $50,000 from Jack Abramoff, and the former lobbyist funneled more than $500,000 to one of Norton’s former political aides, Italia Federici, to gain access to her department.

White House: It Would Be ‘Awkward’ If Bush Were Investigated By Executive Agency

Mon, 2007-06-25 13:42

White House spokesperson Dana Perino struggled again today to explain why Vice President Cheney was exempted from a presidential order meant to safeguard classified national security information.

Perino stuck by her argument from Friday that President Bush never intended for the executive order to apply to Cheney any differently than it applies to the president’s own office. Asked why Bush was exempted, Perino claimed it would be “awkward” for the president to ask an executive branch agency “to come in and investigate himself.”

On Friday, Perino refused to say whether Cheney is a member of the executive branch. Today, she returned with an answer: like “every vice president,” Cheney has “legislative and executive functions.” Does that mean he is a member of the executive branch? “Look, I’m not a legal scholar,” Perino said, again calling it an “interesting constitutional question.” Watch it:

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Perino claimed ignorance about other key questions in this scandal. She said she didn’t know when President Bush had altered the executive order to exempt Cheney, or why the order was amended in 2003.

Also, Perino rejected a call today from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recuse himself from the Justice Department’s internal debates over whether Cheney is violating the executive order. “No, I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Perino.

Transcript: (more…)

McCain to hold fundraiser with Swift Boat Vet.

Mon, 2007-06-25 13:40

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who in 2004 called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements “dishonest and dishonorable,” will hold a fundraiser tomorrow hosted by former Swift Boater Paul Galanti. Galanti never served with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), but surfaced in 2004 to call Kerry a “traitor,” and appear in television commercials with “those who stooped to questioning the seriousness of Kerry’s war wounds.”

Right-Wing Radio Hosts Hewitt, Boortz Advising Senators On Immigration Bill

Mon, 2007-06-25 12:32

“Talk radio is running America,” Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) recently told the New York Times. “We have to deal with that problem.”

Since Lott uttered his comment about right-wing talk radio’s disproportionate influence on the Senate immigration debate, he has become a pariah on talk radio and in the conservative blogosphere.

Unfortunately, the radio talkers have become more influential as well, with some even helping to craft legislation:

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the key conservative negotiator behind the compromise bill, told reporters Friday that California-based radio host Hugh Hewitt “had several ideas” that “we are trying to include” in amendments to be offered in an upcoming series of crucial votes.

Hewitt, a conservative who has criticized many aspects of the bill, had Kyl as a guest on Thursday and asked: “Does the bill provide for any separate treatment of aliens, illegal aliens from countries of special concern?”

Kyl replied: “It’s going to, as a result of your lobbying efforts to me.”

Hewitt isn’t the only right-wing talker to directly influence a senator. After Atlanta-based host Neal Boortz “popped” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) over his “qualified support” of the immigration bill, Boortz was brought in to consult with Chambliss, “even though the senator was not an on-air guest during the debate.” Chambliss now opposes the bill.

Both Hewitt and Boortz hold positions that are well out of the mainstream. On his blog, Hewitt has suggested that former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) would be an ideal Supreme Court justice. Regarding immigrants, Boortz has said, “Give ‘em all a little nuclear waste and let ‘em take it on down there to Mexico.”

Though conservatives may take up 91% of the talk radio airwaves, talk radio is not representative of the American people, who broadly support the key components of the legislation.

Karl Rove bucks up conservatives

Mon, 2007-06-25 12:30

during a speech in Michigan on Saturday: “Now is not the time to go in the fetal position and whine.”

Cheney Author: 9/11 Didn’t Change Cheney, Gave Him Opportunity ‘To Put His Views Into Action’

Mon, 2007-06-25 10:59

The Washington Post’s four-part series on the influence and power of Dick Cheney reveal the tactics of a stealthy operator who prizes secrecy, kneecaps opponents, stifles dissent, and dogmatically pursues a rigid hard-right agenda.

Cheney has argued that his quest for war in Iraq, pursuit of torture, denial of due process to detainees, and advocacy for illegal wiretaps were all precipitated by the events of 9/11:

CHENEY: In a sense, 9/11 changed everything for us. 9/11 forced us to think in new ways about threats to the United States, about our vulnerabilities, about who our enemies were, about what kind of military strategy we needed in order to defend ourselves. [12/23/03]

CHENEY: I think 9/11 changed things to the point where we could no longer afford to ignore what was going on in Iraq. [2/23/07]

This morning on Washington Post radio, Barton Gellman — the co-author of the Cheney series — argued that based on his research of Cheney, he found “no evidence” that “9/11 exerted a profound psychological change on the Vice President.” Instead, Gellman argued, “[Cheney] has not changed his views very much over the years. What has changed is he has a greater opportunity to put them into action.” Listen to the interview:

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GELLMAN: It’s been often speculated that 9/11 exerted a profound psychological change on the Vice President. But we did not find evidence that that’s true.

There’s a moment in the story in which we’ve got witnesses who are watching him watch the World Trade Center collapse. Everyone else in the room is groaning. And he doesn’t blink his eyes. He turns around and starts working the phones again.

And what he’s doing is he’s finding that 9/11 confirms some long-held beliefs of his. And it gives him the opportunity to press through some long-desired changes. He has not changed his views very much over the years. What has changed is he has a greater opportunity to put them into action.

Washington Times:

Mon, 2007-06-25 10:58

Sen. John Warner (R-VA) is “giving clear indications that he will not return for another term.”

“Tony Blair’s appointment

Mon, 2007-06-25 10:53

as an international envoy for the Middle East looks set to be formally agreed on Tuesday — a day before he leaves office — amid signs that the move is causing deep unease in some quarters.”

CNN Dumps Michael Moore For Paris Hilton

Mon, 2007-06-25 10:14

Yesterday, CNN proudly announced that it has scored the first post-jail interview with Paris Hilton. To make room for Paris on Wednesday, CNN canceled its interview with Michael Moore about his new health care documentary SiCKO:

Hotel heiress and reality TV star Paris Hilton will give her first post-jail interview on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Wednesday, the show’s spokeswoman said on Saturday.

“She will be on for the hour,” Bridget Leininger told Reuters. “We had (filmmaker) Michael Moore originally scheduled for that time.”

CNN, the “most trusted name in Paris news,” continues to sink to new lows in its “assault on reason.” Hilton is the latest “serial obsession,” though the network recently hired a reporter devoted to “covering things like Britney, as well as the Michael Jackson memorabilia.” Now CNN has ditched coverage of America’s broken health care system in favor of an hour-long interview of an incarcerated socialite.

ThinkProgress spoke with Moore’s team, who confirmed that CNN has not yet rescheduled the interview. SiCKO, which opens nationwide this Friday, sheds light on the health care crisis that the media covers poorly, when it covers it at all.

UPDATE: ThinkProgress has confirmed that Moore’s interview with Larry King has been rescheduled for Friday.

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Mon, 2007-06-25 10:12

Percentage of Americans who believe “Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001,” according to a new Newsweek poll. The number is up 5 points from Sept. 2004. Twenty percent of Americans say they believe today that the U.S. has found chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.

Surge of suicide blasts leaves 27 dead.

Mon, 2007-06-25 09:34

“Suicide bombers struck a central Baghdad hotel and four other targets across Iraq on Monday, in a surge of attacks that left at least 27 people dead, authorities reported.”

REPORT: Stop Training Iraqi Security Forces And Redeploy U.S. Troops

Mon, 2007-06-25 08:53

A new Center for American Progress report titled Strategic Reset calls for the withdrawal of virtually all U.S. troops within one year, and for the United States to “phase out its training of Iraq’s national security forces and place strict limits on further arming and equipping Iraq’s forces.”

Training security forces has been one of the main tenets of President Bush’s Iraq strategy. Bush has repeatedly stated, “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down” and the United States has already invested $20 billion into training Iraq’s national army and police force. Other major Iraq strategies — including the Iraq Study Group and Congress’s war funding bill — also advocate continuing to fund Iraqi security forces.

But Strategic Reset charts a new course, arguing that this approach is actually contributing to the violence in Iraq:

First, the United States is arming up different sides in multiple civil wars that could turn even more vicious in the coming years. Second (and more important to America’s strategic interests) billions of dollars of U.S. military assistance is going to some of the closest allies of America’s greatest rival in the Middle East — Iran. The Shi’a-dominated Iraqi national army and security forces could quite quickly turn their weapons against American troops and allies in the region. […]

Training and skill-building are not crucial for Iraq’s security forces. In fact many of them have more training than hundreds of U.S. soldiers being deployed as part of this surge. Rather, the Iraqi forces’ problems are related to motivation and allegiance. In the past three years, the size of Iraq’s security forces and the levels of violence have both grown steadily, even as the U.S. troop presence remained constant.

Other highlights of Strategic Reset:

– Redeployment of U.S. troops: U.S. troops would begin withdrawing from Iraq by the summer of 2007, at the latest. “U.S. troop levels in Iraq could decline to about 70,000 by January 2008, with a full redeployment completed by September 2008.” Troops would rotate to Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, back to the United States, or to other “critical missions outside of Iraq.”

– Engage in global/regional diplomatic initiatives: The Bush administration needs to participate in regional conferences and engage in bilaterial discussions with Iran, ensuring that “the costs of intervening to exploit Iraq’s internal divisions are much higher than the benefits gained from working collectively to contain, manage, and utimately resolve Iraq’s internal conflicts.”

– Active leadership on the Arab-Israeli conflict: Bush should appoint a special Middle East envoy who would have the support of two senior ambassadors devoted to resolving Middle East conflicts. Not only does the United States need to negotiate with Iran and Syria to solve these issues, but it must also “remove any roadblocks it may have inappropriately placed in Israeli exploration of Syrian intentions.”

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman at TPMmuckraker has more analysis.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias also has more.

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See chart below for the correspondence between the levels of Iraq’s security forces and the violence in Iraq: (more…)

76 percent:

Mon, 2007-06-25 08:47

Number of Americans who believe the United States “is playing the role of world policeman more than it should be,” according to a new PIPA poll.

Supreme Court Sides With Administration, Corporations In New Decisions

Mon, 2007-06-25 07:51

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Bush administration, corporations, and a “pro-life” group in a series of decisions announced today, reaffirming the conservative, business-friendly bent the Court has taken under Chief Justice John Roberts

EPA’s responsibility to protect endangered species weakened:

In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the federal government can avoid its responsibility to protect species under the Endangered Species Act by handing off authority to the states. The EPA routinely delegates administration of the Clean Water Act to states. The Court’s decision means the EPA does not have to ensure that states abide by the federal Endangered Species Act when they issue Clean Water Act permits. [National Association of Home Builders v. Defenders of Wildlife and a companion case]

Ordinary taxpayers cannot challenge Faith-Based Initiative:

In a 5-4 decision, the Court “barred ordinary taxpayers from challenging a White House initiative helping religious charities get a share of federal money.” A taypayers’ group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued eight Bush administration officials, including the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, objecting to “government conferences in which administration officials encourage religious charities to apply for federal grants.” [Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation]

Campaign finance restrictions weakened for corporate- and union-funded ads:

In a 5-4 decision, the Court loosened restrictions on corporate- and union-funded television ads that air close to elections, “weakening a key provision of a landmark campaign finance law.” The court “upheld an appeals court ruling that an anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections.” [Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right-to-Life]

UPDATE: In all three decisions, the majority was formed by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy.

UPDATE II: In implicit criticism of President Bush’s recent appointees Roberts and Alito, Justice David Souter chose to read his dissent in the campaign finance case from the bench “to signal his displeasure with the changing court.”

“The court (and, I think, the country), loses when important precedent is overruled without good reason, and there is no justification for departure from our usual rule of stare decisis here,” he said, referring to the court’s rule of following past judgments.

UPDATE III: Steve Benen has an excellent wrap-up.

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