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Updated: 2 hours 29 min ago

“White House budget director Rob Portman is resigning

Tue, 2007-06-19 09:19

and will be replaced by former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.”

UPDATE: “As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Nussle earned the nickname “Knuckles” for his often stubborn, short-tempered manner.”

UPDATE II: Portman, a former congressman from Ohio, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that leaving the administration allows him to “do more politically,” which could include “the possibility of” running against Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in 2010 or Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in 2012.

Giuliani Prioritizes Fundraising Over Iraq Strategy

Tue, 2007-06-19 08:23

Newsday reports new details behind Rudy Giuliani’s departure from the Iraq Study Group last May, after serving just two months on the panel. Giuliani failed to show up for a single official meeting of the group, prompting the chairman of the panel — James Baker — to “give him a stark choice: either attend the meetings or quit.”

Giuliani resigned in a May 24 letter to Baker, explaining that “my previous time commitments do not permit me the full and active participation that the Iraq Study Group deserves.”

Newsday reports that Giuliani’s alleged “previous time commitments” were simply fundraisers that conflicted with the Iraq Study Group’s meetings. The ISG held three sessions during Giuliani’s tenure in 2006 but that he did not show up for: working sessions on April 11 and 12, and May 18 and 19. “The sessions at times conflicted with Giuliani’s lucrative speaking tour that garnered him $11.4 million in 14 months.”

Giuliani failed to show up for a pair of two-day sessions that occurred during his tenure, the sources said — and both times, they conflicted with paid public appearances shown on his recent financial disclosure. Giuliani quit the group during his busiest stretch in 2006, when he gave 20 speeches in a single month that brought in $1.7 million.

On one day the [Iraq Study Group] gathered in Washington — May 18, 2006 — Giuliani delivered a $100,000 speech on leadership at an Atlanta business awards breakfast. Later that day, he attended a $100-a-ticket Atlanta political fundraiser for conservative ally Ralph Reed, whom Giuliani hoped would provide a major boost to his presidential campaign.

The month before, Giuliani skipped the [Iraq Study Group’s] session to give the April 12 keynote speech at an economic conference in South Korea for $200,000, his financial disclosure shows.

Giuliani’s campaign said that the former New York mayor did participate in Iraq Study Group activities but refused Newsday’s repeated requests to explain how.

Stephen Hess, a scholar at Brookings, said quitting the group is a reflection of Giuliani’s poor leadership and decision-making. “Leaving that study group was not exactly an act of courage.”

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“Certainly not. Obviously, I’m not a fan.”

Tue, 2007-06-19 07:49

– Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), on whether Karl Rove “still holds the same stature among Republicans that he once enjoyed.” Others are much more positive:

“I personally don’t know anyone who is as smart or more skillful when it comes to politics,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a personal friend of Rove.

“There’s no one in the current aspect of politics who has a better read on the country than Karl Rove,” said Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), the former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. “Not only does he know exactly what’s going on politically by regions of the country, he knows the people back in the states on a first name basis. Considering his orbit to the president, that’s pretty solid juice.”

Rove “now visits the Hill less often than he did earlier in Bush’s presidency,” Roll Call reports.

White House lifts sanctions on Abbas-led government.

Tue, 2007-06-19 06:49

“The Bush administration lifted its economic and diplomatic embargo on the Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, trying to solidify his hold on power after a stunning advance by a rival group claiming to represent the Palestinians.” (Find out more about the Palestinian situation in the Middle East Bulletin.)

ThinkFast: June 19, 2007

Tue, 2007-06-19 06:01

“Eight months after President Bush signed a bill authorizing the CIA to resume using ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on terrorism suspects, the administration has been unable to agree on what constitutes ‘humiliating and degrading treatment‘ of detainees.”

Meanwhile, President Bush’s nominee for CIA counsel John Rizzo — who as acting CIA counsel approved the legality of the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation tactics and “extraordinary rendition” program — is expected to face “tough questioning” today in a Senate confirmation hearing.

Several conservative House members who last week “vociferously” (and falsely) attacked Rep. David Obey (D-WI) for weakening earmark disclosure rules have chosen to keep their lists of personal earmarks secret. They include House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Dan Burton (R-IN), Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

A truck bomb ripped through a Shiite mosque in central Baghdad today, killing 75 people and wounding more than 200. The thunderous explosion came after government officials on Sunday lifted a curfew aimed at preventing retaliatory violence after last week’s bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra.

“Sunni families remaining in Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad are being forced to flee their homes: A 72-hour deadline announced by militants for them to leave these areas or face death” expired yesterday. One aid official said, “Dozens of Sunnis have been assassinated in their homes” since last week’s bombing of the Samara mosque. (more…)

Woodward questions Thompson role in Watergate.

Mon, 2007-06-18 22:12

Former senator Fred Thompson was the Senate Watergate Committee’s chief minority counsel in 1973 and 1974, and is often credited with asking a question during the Watergate hearings “that led to the disclosure of the fact that President Nixon had installed recording devices in the Oval Office.” But in an online chat yesterday, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward disputed this history:

The veteran journalist, whose early reporting was instrumental in uncovering the scandal, said that when Thompson asked the question, he already “knew the answer — because three days before the public testimony, lawyers and investigators for the committee got Butterfield to reveal the existance of the secret tape-recording system. Though Thompson seems to get public credit for asking this critical question, it was the work of others on the committee staff who dug out Butterfield’s revelation in a lengthy interview on a hot Friday afternoon on July 13, 1973.”

State officials in Iraq ‘too young,’ ‘not qualified.’

Mon, 2007-06-18 21:23

“Ryan C. Crocker, the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, bluntly told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a cable dated May 31 that the embassy in Baghdad — the largest and most expensive U.S. embassy — lacks enough well-qualified staff members and that its security rules are too restrictive for Foreign Service officers to do their jobs.”

The unclassified cable underscores the State Department’s struggle to find its role in the turmoil in Iraq. With a 2007 budget of more than $1 billion and a staff that has expanded to more than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals, the embassy has become the center of a bureaucratic battle between Crocker, who wants to strengthen the staff, and some members of Congress, who are increasingly skeptical about the diplomatic mission’s rising costs. […]

“He’s panicking,” said one government official who recently returned from Baghdad, adding that Crocker is carrying a heavy workload as the United States presses the Iraqi government to meet political benchmarks.

“You could use a well-managed political section of 50 people” who know what they are doing, the official said, but Crocker does not have it because many staffers assigned to the embassy are “too young for the job,” or are not qualified and are “trying to save their careers” by taking an urgent assignment in Iraq.

Sen. Warner: I’ll keep quiet until August.

Mon, 2007-06-18 21:17

From an AP profile of Sen. John Warner (R-VA): “[W]ith Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq not showing the results many hoped, Warner said in an interview he is willing to stick by Bush at least until August after visiting troops in Baghdad. ‘Following that, I will come back and publicly more fully discuss my views,’ he said.”

CNN’s John Roberts:

Mon, 2007-06-18 20:37

“We do definitely know that Mitt Romney is pro-family.”

Following Bush Signing Statements, Federal Agencies Ignore 30 Percent Of Laws Passed Last Year

Mon, 2007-06-18 19:52

Federal agencies ignored 30 percent of the laws Bush objected to in signing statements last year, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office. In 2006, President Bush issued signing statements for 11 out of the 12 appropriations bills passed by Congress, claiming a right to bypass a total of 160 provisions in them.

In a sample set of 19 provisions, the GAO found that “10 provisions were executed as written, 6 were not, and 3 were not triggered and so there was no agency action to examine.”

The report, which was requested by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-WV), gives the first indication of the impact that President Bush’s signing statements have had on the enforcement of laws passed by Congress.

In a statement, Byrd said the report shows the Bush administration’s desire to grab as much power as possible:

The White House cannot pick and choose which laws it follows and which it ignores. When a president signs a bill into law, the president signs the entire bill. The Administration cannot be in the business of cherry picking the laws it likes and the laws it doesn’t. This GAO opinion underscores the fact that the Bush White House is constantly grabbing for more power, seeking to drive the people’s branch of government to the sidelines….We must continue to demand accountability and openness from this White House to counter this power grab.

Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has issued signing statements challenging over 1,100 laws, claiming that he has the right to bypass them if they interfere with his alleged presidential powers. Though signing statements have been utilized by most presidents, Bush has used them to object to more laws than all previous presidents combined.

Here are a few of the laws Bush has controversially issued signing statements about:

- In 2005, after Congress passed a law outlawing the torture of detainees, Bush issued a signing statement saying that he would “construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief,” which experts say means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions.

- In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Administration in response to FEMA’s poor handling of Hurricane Katrina. When Bush signed the law, he issued a statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions and appoint a FEMA chief based on whatever qualifications he wanted.

- In 2006, Bush signed a statement saying he would view a ban on “the transfer of nuclear technology to India if it violates international non proliferation guidelines” as “advisory.” Indian newspapers reported that the government of India took note of Bush’s statement, “raising the possibility it would not take the ban seriously.”

The GAO report makes a point of noting that although “the agencies did not execute the provisions as enacted,” it cannot necessarily be concluded that “agency noncompliance was the result of the President’s signing statements.” It does, however, provide creedence to claims that confusion created by differing congressional and presidential interpretations of laws could lead increased laxity in the proper enforcement of the law.

UPDATE: “We expect to continue to use statements where appropriate, on a bill-by-bill basis,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

Pentagon hires ABC journalist ‘to improve PR.’

Mon, 2007-06-18 19:20

“The Pentagon will announce this week that Geoff Morrell, previously a White House correspondent for ABC News, has been hired as the Defense Department’s on-camera briefer… Morrell, 38, will become a familiar face of the administration on television and the Web. The official said that a working journalist was chosen by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in an effort to improve press relations at a time when the administration is under pressure to show progress in Iraq.”

Bush administration trying to ‘muzzle’ hurricane director.

Mon, 2007-06-18 15:21

Bill Proenza, head of the National Hurricane Center, recently spoke out and warned that the “federal government is spending millions of dollars on a publicity campaign that could be used to plug budget shortfalls hurricane forecasters are struggling with.” Because of his statements, officials are now “trying to muzzle him and could be setting him up for termination.”

Lift the ban.

Mon, 2007-06-18 15:10

Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films has released a new video at documenting how the U.S. military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers has compromised our national security by worsening our shortage of Arabic linguists. Watch the video:

At least 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out of the U.S. military because they were gay. Sign the petition to have your Member of Congress sign on to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban.

Sens. Kennedy, Whitehouse Demand Justice Dept. Investigation Into ‘Caging’

Mon, 2007-06-18 14:02

This afternoon, Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, calling on him to promptly investigate allegations that the Republican National Committee and its former research director Tim Griffin may have been involved in voter suppression tactics.

In 2004, BBC News published a report showing that Griffin, the former Rove protege who was placed as a U.S. attorney in Arkansas, led a “caging” scheme to suppress the votes of African-American servicemembers in Florida. In response, Griffin said recently, “I didn’t cage animals, I’m not a zookeeper.” Former RNC researcher Monica Goodling, who dismissively characterized “caging” as a “direct-mail term,” acknowledged discussing concerns about Griffin’s involvement in caging with Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty in preparation for his testimony before Congress.

In their letter today calling for an investigation of the RNC’s voter suppression tactics, Kennedy and Whitehouse underscored the seriousness of “caging” and explained what it entails:

Caging is a voter suppression tactic whereby a political campaign sends mail marked “do not forward” to a targeted group of eligible voters. A more aggressive version involves sending mail to a targeted group of voters with instructions to sign and return an acknowledgment card. The campaign then creates a list of those whose mail was returned undelivered and challenges the right of those citizens to vote — on the ground that the voter does not live at the registered address. […]

It is very disturbing to think that senior officials were aware of this practice and did nothing to refer their information to relevant officials within the Department for investigation and a determination as to whether it was a violation of a consent decree or law within the Department’s jurisdiction to enforce.

We, therefore, ask the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility to conduct an investigation to determine who in DOJ knew about Mr. Griffin’s potentially unlawful activity before he was named interim U.S. Attorney, and whether appropriate action was taken on that knowledge, and to recommend whatever action is appropriate.

At a time when the Department’s political independence and its commitment to enforcement of civil rights statutes have been called into doubt, it is vitally important that the Department thoroughly investigate these allegations of unlawful voter suppression, and the apparent failure of Department employees to forward to the appropriate authorities information they had about this practice.

Read the full letter here.

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ABC’s Charles Gibson slams Fox News

Mon, 2007-06-18 13:52

in a commencement address at Union College on Saturday:

[D]on’t disparage the mainstream media. The editor of your hometown newspaper or the producers of network newscasts don’t have 30 or 40 years of experience for nothing. When you see a news organization get fixated on non-stop coverage of Paris Hilton, or Anna Nicole Smith, or Michael Jackson, go elsewhere.

When an announcer says, “It’s a report you have to see,” you probably don’t. When an anchor says, “shocking details,” they probably aren’t. When a reporter claims his news is “fair and balanced,” it probably isn’t. And, when politicians say, “I’m going to level with you,” they probably won’t.

Snow: ‘I Don’t Know’ If Iraq War Has Helped Stabilize Middle East, It’s ‘Hard To Say’

Mon, 2007-06-18 13:03

In November, months before President Bush announced the troop escalation, Jordan’s King Abdullah predicted that three civil wars could erupt in the Middle East in 2007. “We’re juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it’s the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq,” he said.

With the eruption of violence recently in Lebanon and Gaza, Abdullah’s prediction has manifested into a bloody reality.

During today’s press briefing, CNN correspondent Ed Henry asked White House spokesman Tony Snow whether the “war in Iraq has helped push the peace process forward in any way.” Snow’s response: “Don’t know. … Hard to say.” Echoing his claim last week attacks in Iraq were “signs of success,” Snow suggested that the increased violence in the region is a by-product of “pro-democracy movements…making some progress.” Watch it:

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But the White House’s uncertainty marks a stark departure from Bush’s confidence in the early stages of the war. In July 2003, Bush stated:

A free Iraq will not destabilize the Middle East. A free Iraq can set a hopeful example to the entire region and lead other nations to choose freedom. And as the pursuits of freedom replace hatred and resentment and terror in the Middle East, the American people will be more secure.

Yesterday on CBS’ Face the Nation, Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton offered a very different take than Snow. “The Middle East is in flames,” Hamilton said. “Everywhere you look, there’s deep trouble — Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinians, the peace process, Iran.” Asked whether the instability was linked to the war, Hamilton replied, “Of course they’re linked.”

Transcript: (more…)

Escalation architect Fred Kagan

Mon, 2007-06-18 12:36

two months ago, on how Iraq was “turning the corner.”

The new effort to establish security in Iraq has begun. At this early stage, the most positive development is a rise in hostility to al-Qaida in the Sunni community. … [O]n balance, there is reason for wary optimism. … The most that can be said now is that we seem to be turning a corner.

Fred Kagan now: “More Time Needed.”

Kagan recommended waiting until the end of the year before judging the operation’s success. Even then, he added, it might be some months before Iraqis make the political compromises necessary to bring lasting stability to the country.

Parts of the White House evacuated

Mon, 2007-06-18 12:12

after K-9 units pick up a suspicious scent, several news sources are reporting.

UPDATE: The AP notes that it was a “bomb scare.” Security in the area was “heightened because of the visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.”

Blair feared U.S. would ‘nuke the sh*t’ out of Afghans.

Mon, 2007-06-18 12:04

“Britain joined the United States’ invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001 because it feared America would ‘nuke the shit’ out of Afghanistan, the former British ambassador to Washington reportedly told a television documentary to be screened Saturday.”

Christopher Meyer said that fear explained why Prime Minister Tony Blair chose to stand with US President George W. Bush in his decision to invade Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — to temper his aggressive battle plans.

Blair’s real concern was that there would be quote unquote ‘a knee-jerk reaction’ by the Americans … they would go thundering off and nuke the shit out of the place without thinking straight,” Meyer reported told the documentary, according to the Mirror.

Tony Snow:

Mon, 2007-06-18 11:51

President Bush “impressed and reassured by the progress [Iraq is] making on political, security and economic reforms.”