United States News Digest
Lautenberg: Don't Give Immunity to Plame Leakers
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sent a letter Aug. 3 to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the chairmen, respectively, of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, telling them not to use planned Congressional hearings on the Plame leak to undermine special prosecutor Fitzgerald's investigation and any possible prosecutions. Lautenberg recalls that the grant of immunity to Iran-Contra figures by Congress allowed Oliver North and John Poindexter to have their convictions overturned. Lautenberg wrote:
"It is my understanding that both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees intend to conduct hearings on our nation's intelligence agencies and the use of covert agents. While I applaud your Committees' efforts to investigate the Plame affair, I urge you to not provide an opportunity for any wrongdoers to escape culpability for criminal actions that may have put our national security at risk.... Although Congress can and should independently investigate this leak and any efforts to cover up the leak in the White House, such an investigation should not serve to relieve any White House official of culpability for criminal wrongdoing."
Roberts said recently that Valeria Plame Wilson would be the star witness at his upcoming hearing. Roberts' spokesman indicated that the hearings would be investigating Fitzgerald's probe, and Cox News noted that this followed a Wall Street Journal editorial which called Fitzgerald a "loose cannon" and an "unguided missile."
Levin Puts Hold on Justice Department Nominee
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich) has put a hold on the nomination of Alice Fisher to head the Justice Department's Criminal Division, Newsweek Online reported August 3. Levin, along with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Ted Kennedy, want to question Fisher about her knowledge of FBI complaints about torture and illegal interrogation methods used at Guantanamo. A May 10, 2004 FBI e-mail recounting the dispute between FBI agents and top military officials at Guantanamo, lists Fisher as a participant in DoJ discussions of Defense Department interrogation tactics which the FBI considered to be in violation of the Federal Anti-Torture statute.
Fisher is a protégé of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and has no prosecutorial experience, making her an odd choice to head the Criminal Division.
DoJ Running 'Anti-Corruption' Campaign To Terrorize Congress
According to well-informed sources in Washington, the White House is targetting members of Congress with Justice Department investigations, in retaliation for Congressional resistance to Administration policies. The campaign of intimidation and terror targets both Republicans and Democrats.
In late June 2005, a Federal grand jury in San Diego began hearings on the financial and personal ties of eight-term Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif) to a defense contracting firm's owner; a few weeks thereafter, FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the IRS conducted raids at Cunningham's home and at the contractor's home and business. Two weeks later, Cunningham announced he was not running for re-election. Cunningham is a Vietnam veteran (Navy fighter pilot) and staunch conservative; he is on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
On Aug. 3, 2005, FBI agents raided the D.C. and Louisiana homes of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-La), reportedly searching for evidence that Jefferson had used his Congressional influence in business dealings. Jefferson, also an eight-term Congressman and a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and its trade subcommittee, was the first African-American to be elected to Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction. He is also chairman of the board of directors for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
As in the ABSCAM-BRILAB operations run against Congress and labor in the early 1980s, the real issue is not one of politicians' real or imagined corruption. The DoJ and the Defense Department have exhibited no strong concern, for example, over Halliburton's massive overbilling of the government. Who are they trying to kid, about fighting public corruption?
State Department Issues Worldwide Terror Alert
"Americans are reminded that demonstrations and rioting can occur with little or no warning," warned an "update" on the threat of terrorism, issued Aug. 3 by the U.S. State Department. It continued: "Ongoing events in Iraq have resulted in demonstrations and associated violence in several countries; such events are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.... Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics to include assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings. Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. The latter may include facilities where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate or visit, including residential areas, business offices, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels, and public areas."
The warning is, in fact, credible, given the process which the Bush Administration's aggressive war against Iraq and so-called radical Islam has set loose internationally.
Democrat Near-Win in Ohio a Harbinger of 2006?
In a de facto referendum on Cheney/Bush policies, Democrat Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran, who heavily attacked Bush's war in Iraq in his campaign, came close to winning the special election for Ohio's second Congressional District seat on Aug. 2, against a heavily funded Republican, Jean Schmidt. This was the closest race in Ohio since 1974, in a district that has voted overwhelmingly Republican for years. Last November, Republican Rob Portman had won the Congressional seat, in the Cincinnati area, with about 72% of the vote. On Aug. 2, Schmidt garnered only 52% of the vote to Hackett's 48%. About 25% of those registered voted in the special election to replace Portman. The GOP-leaning Enquirer described the results as "nothing short of astounding."
The blunt-speaking Hackett, a Marine, just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq; during the campaign, he raised the "chickenhawk" charge against Bush and Cheney, and described Bush's November 2003 "Bring 'em on!" line as "the most incredibly stupid comment I've ever heard a President of the United States make." He did not run a single issue campaign, however, making a strong point on the economy and education as well as the war.
While Schmidt claimed her victory as a vindication of Bush Administration policies, in fact, her election was a victory for Karl Rove's organized-crime machine in Ohio. Schmidt lobbied Republican Governor Taft's office on behalf of Games, Inc., an on-line lottery ticket operation financed by "coin dealer" Tom Noe. Games Inc., in turn, contributed to her Congressional campaign. (See InDepth: "Ohio 'Pay-for-Play' Scandal Probed," for more on this story.)
Rove Cronies Hauled Before Grand Jury
ABC News's political newsletter reported on Aug. 2 that "it appears that at least two witnesses testified before the grand jury investigation the Plame leak July 29, both close associates of Karl Rove.... [O]ne was Susan Ralston, Rove's long-time right hand. The other ... was Israel "Izzy" Hernandez, Rove's former left hand (and now a top Commerce Department official)."
Ralston previously was Jack Abramoff's personal assistant, before she took a similar position under Rove at the White House.
Hernandez is described as a long-time friend of the Bush family, who has worked for George Bush and Rove since 1994. He has often been called upon to look after the Bush twin daughters, and was assigned to keep Jenna Bush company during Laura Bush's May trip to Europe.
Military Prosecutors Protest 'Rigged' Trials
Major U.S. media broke the story on the first of August, and two Air Force lawyers assigned to the office of the chief prosecutor for the military tribunals at Guantanamo, had quit last year, rather than take part in trials that they considered "rigged" to ensure convictions of detainees. An e-mail message from one of the lawyers, Major John Carr, said that the chief prosecutor "repeatedly said to the office that the military panel will be hand-picked and will not acquit these detainees."
Another, Major Robert Preston, wrote that he considered that pressing ahead with the tribunals with "marginal cases" was "a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people." He also said that he could not continue to work on a process that he considered to be morally, ethically, and professionally intolerable.
Military lawyers assigned to defend detainees have made similar charges, but they were dismissed as just statements of lawyers aggressively defending their clients.
The Defense Department said that the prosecutors' complaints had no basis, and were "much ado about nothing." However, a DoD statement said that an "operational assessment of the chief prosecutor's office, made in response to the charges, had recommended a restructuring and some personnel changes."
Democrats Charge that Administration Puts Vets on Hold
In the official Democratic Party response to President Bush's Saturday radio address on July 30, Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hi) blasted the Administration for the failure to pass legislation to reverse cutbacks in services to U.S. troops and veterans. Inouye said that while "Senators on both sides of the aisle were set to talk about getting our troops the resources they need, funding veterans health care in the years to come, and strengthening our national defense at a time of war, ... Senate Republicans had a different idea. They set the discussion aside and took up the business of the gun lobby." Inouye, who lost his right arm in combat in 1945, contrasted the care he had received, with the much-reduced service being offered to today's wounded, due to budget cuts.