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Ethics: Beyond Larry Craig

Conservatives' efforts to cut ties with Craig while remaining silent over Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) similarly lewd behavior have revealed a glaring "homophobic hypocrisy" in dealing with improper personal behavior. More importantly, it has showcased the unwillingness of lawmakers to display a similar desire to root out the existing corruption.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, and Jeremy Richmond
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ETHICS

Beyond Larry Craig

Conservative elected officials such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), and others, quickly sought to distance themselves last week from Sen. Larry Craig (R) after the longtime Idaho lawmaker pled guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The ethically-challenged former House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay (R-TX), proudly heralded Craig’s temporary resignation as an example of conservatives’ efforts to deal with ethics issues. “You see,” DeLay explained, conservatives “kick out” lawmakers with “problems.” Yet corruption continues to stain the House and Senate chambers despite the departures of DeLay, former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), and others. Conservatives’ efforts to cut ties with Craig while remaining silent over Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) similarly lewd behavior have revealed a glaring “homophobic hypocrisy” in dealing with improper personal behavior. More importantly, it has showcased the unwillingness of lawmakers to display a similar desire to root out the existing corruption. The Progress Report highlights just a few “problems” that persist:

ALASKA’S WILD CORRUPTION: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) had his home “raided by the FBI this summer, and news reports also have linked Rep. Don Young (R-AK) to the public corruption probe, raising questions about the future of two men who have served Alaska for more than three decades.” Stevens’s investigation involves his efforts to steer multi-million dollar contracts to an oil company executive who also helped oversee the remodeling of Stevens’s home. Young is also being investigated for his ties to the oil company, but his troubles extend even further and involve numerous other earmarking favors he has done for his friends and allies.

LEWIS PROBE STALLED: Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee (and former chairman), is under investigation for earmarking millions of dollars in public funds for individuals who donated heavily to his political action committee. In 2006, Los Angeles federal prosecutors were in the middle of a wide-ranging investigation into Lewis. Due to a budget squeeze put on the U.S. Attorneys’ offices by Alberto Gonzales, the federal criminal investigation has stalled for nearly six months due to a lack of funds, according to former prosecutors. “The lead prosecutor on the inquiry and other lawyers departed the office, and vacancies couldn’t be filled.” Lewis recently announced that he’ll seek a 16th term, putting to rest speculation that he would retire amid the ongoing probe.

ABRAMOFF PROBE ONGOING: Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-CA) Virginia home was raided this past April by the FBI. Investigators are seeking information regarding suspicious amounts of money that he paid his wife through his political action committees. His wife, Julie Doolittle, and her company received a subpoena from the grand jury investigating Abramoff. Most recently, Doolittle’s “chief of staff and deputy chief of staff have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury in a federal probe into ties between Doolittle, his wife and jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff.” Another congressman, Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), was recently questioned by the FBI “about his dealings with Jack Abramoff as part of its ongoing investigation into the lobbyist convicted of defrauding clients.” Abramoff paid for Feeney’s lavish 2003 trip to Scotland. Ironically, when Doolittle stepped down from his seat on the appropriations committee due to the Abramoff investigation, conservatives replaced him with Feeney.

COLD HARD CASH: In May 2006, the FBI raided Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-LA) congressional office. In June, federal officials unveiled a 16-count indictment against him, involving allegations that Jefferson solicited bribes. He has pled not guilty, claiming he is “absolutely innocent.” Jefferson stepped down from his seat on the Small Business Committee and was stripped of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee in June 2006 due to the federal investigation. Due to his efforts to fight the indictments, Jefferson has been unable to serve as an effective representative for a district in dire need of strong representation, and he “should consider resigning for the good of his constituents.”

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — BUSH KNEW BEFORE INVASION THAT SADDAM HAD NO WMD: Two former CIA officers have confirmed to Salon that President Bush was told in Sept. 2002 that Saddam Hussein did not possess any weapons of mass destruction. According to the officer, CIA director George Tenet provided Bush with top-secret information that “detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissible material, which they didn’t, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons.” Bush reportedly dismissed the warning immediately. According to one of the officers, “Bush didn’t give a f*ck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up.” Tenet never brought up the information again; in fact, only a few months later he infamously referred to the case that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction as a “slam dunk.” The intelligence about the lack of weapons of mass destruction was never provided to Congress before their vote to authorize military operations in March 2003, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair depended on this faulty information to make his decision to support the Iraq war. “Blair was duped,” said one of the CIA officers. “He was shown the altered report.” Even though Bush finally publicly admitted in 2004 that “Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there,” he continued to believe that they were. In his new book on Bush, Robert Draper writes that the President repeated conviction that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction “to Andy Card all the way up until Card’s departure in April 2006.”

JUSTICE — SEN. WHITEHOUSE SEEKS TO RESTRICT EXCESS WHITE HOUSE INTERFERENCE IN DOJ INVESTIGATIONS: In April, during testimony by outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) revealed that during the Bush administration, the number of White House officials allowed to intervene in pending criminal investigations by the Justice department increased by 10,325 percent, from four to 417. In a subsequent hearing in July, Whitehouse also revealed that Gonzales had given Vice President Cheney’s office increased access. Whitehouse is now seeking to limit “the number of people in the White House who can be briefed by Justice on pending criminal matters.” His bill, which is co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “states that only certain ‘covered officers‘ in both the Justice Department and White House may discuss ongoing criminal or civil investigations carried out by the Justice Department. The bill also requires the Attorney General and President to notify the Senate and House Judiciary Committees when new covered officers are designated.” The Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss the bill in a business meeting today.

IRAQ — UPSET OVER GAO’S FINDINGS ON IRAQ, CONSERVATIVES ATTACK AGENCY’S QUALIFICATIONS: Now that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported little to no progress in Iraq and the administration may be cooking the books on levels of violence, conservatives are desperately trying to attack the agency’s credibility. Yesterday at a House International Relations Committee hearing, ranking member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) complained, “I just feel uncomfortable listening to a report by the Government Accountability Office about a war effort.” GAO Comptroller General David Walker explained the work his agency does is based on “looking at hard data, interviewing qualified individuals, and appropriate parties have an opportunity to review and comment on our work,” he said. “It’s my understanding that Secretary of Defense Gates does not have any military experience either.” Ros-Lehtinen has had no problem citing the work of the GAO in a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff or enlisting the GAO’s resources to pursue her agenda. Similarly, Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon, a staunch war supporter, attacked the GAO’s work as “flat-out sloppy.” It’s only when the right wing doesn’t like the agency’s conclusions that it finds fault with the work of the office.

THINK FAST

Al Gore is working on a new environmental book entitled The Path to Survival, a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth that offers a blueprint on what can be done to fight global warming. The book will be released on Earth Day, April 22, 2008.

Intelligence analysts dispute the Bush administration’s claims that sectarian violence has dropped in Iraq, noting the selective way the military categorizes deaths. “If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” a senior intelligence official said. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.”

Global warming “is already affecting the nation’s parks, forests, marine sanctuaries and monuments” and the federal government needs to do a “better job” addressing the issue, according to a new Government Accountability Office report to be released today.

“[T]he program devised to rebuild Iraq at the provincial level has gone through three directors in the past four months, and much of the staff hired to organize the effort in Baghdad has left.” Just “29 of the 610 people deployed in Iraq as part of the provincial reconstruction program have extensive knowledge of Arabic culture, history and language.”

“One day after Rep. John Doolittle’s (R-Calif.) top two aides revealed that they had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury” in the Jack Abramoff corruption probe, “Alisha Perkins, Doolittle’s office manager, told the chamber Wednesday that she too had been called by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to give testimony.”

Identifying 171 “performance expectations,” a new report from the Government Accountability Office concludes that the “Homeland Security Department has failed to meet even half its performance expectations in the four years it has been in existence.”

And finally: Move over, Singing Senators. Seven House members “backed up gospel singer BeBe Winans in a rendition of ‘America the Beautiful'” on Wednesday during a tribute to music legend Quincy Jones. One observer reported that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) “ducked into the event to give Jones a bear hug that seemed to last eons.”

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GOOD NEWS

Responding to Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) hold on “a measure mandating the screening of all veterans for suicide risk,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised yesterday that he would bring the bill, known as the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, to the Senate floor for a vote.

STATE WATCH

NEW JERSEY: New Jersey police win praise for efforts to eliminate racial profiling.

LOUISIANA: New Orleans’s first inspector general begins his job with “no car, no staff, no city office, no city phone” and no clear budget.

FLORIDA: Largest budget shortfall in two decades likely to mean cuts to health care and human services.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) caught shifting his own benchmarks on escalation.

TAPPED: The U.S. military’s Iraqi civilian casualty count appears to exclude “casualties caused by U.S. action.”

POLITICAL ANIMAL: The myth of al Qaeda in Iraq.

DAILY GRILL

“If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said three out of four, if you ask me now, I think it is one out of four.”
— Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), 8/28/07, on the “odds” of President Bush’s escalation succeeding

VERSUS

“The surge is working. … It’s a huge success!”
— Shays, 9/4/07