Another Bush Administration Official Indicted Over Abramoff

June 29, 2006

From The Washington Post:

An Interior Department official who has acknowledged receiving meals and tickets to sporting events from former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been charged with filing a false financial disclosure report.

Roger G. Stillwell, an employee of the department’s Insular Affairs Office, was charged with a single misdemeanor count of making a false filing, according to papers filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Federal officials said he is expected to enter a guilty plea at a court appearance set for July 21 before Magistrate Deborah A. Robinson.

Stillwell is an officer on the desk that handles the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory whose government hired Abramoff as a lobbyist. The Washington Post reported in December that Stillwell was among the Interior officials whom Abramoff’s team tried to cultivate.

Stillwell could not be reached to comment yesterday, and his lawyer, Justin Murphy, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Stillwell is accused of falsely certifying that he did not receive gifts from a prohibited source in a financial disclosure report filed in October 2004 covering the previous fiscal year.

Stillwell told The Post last year that he accepted dinners at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures, and tickets to Washington Redskins games. He justified those actions by saying they occurred while he was a contract employee at Interior, not a federal employee.

He told The Post that he had sent Abramoff copies of e-mails he sent to his boss. Stillwell said he saw “nothing wrong with doing that” because they did not contain confidential information. “I don’t feel it was a conflict of interest,” Stillwell told The Post.

During the 1990s, before Stillwell joined the Interior Department, his communications firm did work for the Marianas government, according to an audit by the island government.

Stillwell, a Democrat, said in the interview with The Post that he worked closely with Abramoff when their representation of the island government overlapped beginning in 1995.

Stillwell is the first Interior official charged in the probe. The case against him is being brought by the Justice Department task force investigating the Abramoff lobbying scandal, which includes criminal investigators from the office of Interior’s inspector general. Abramoff and three lobbying associates have pleaded guilty in the wide-ranging corruption investigation, which focuses in part on their dealings with the Interior Department and with Congress on behalf of their tribal and territorial clients.

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ABA To Investigate Bush’s Signing Statements

June 4, 2006

From The Boston Globe:

The board of governors of the American Bar Association voted unanimously yesterday to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office.

Meeting in New Orleans, the board of governors for the world's largest association of legal professionals approved the creation of an all-star legal panel with a number of members from both political parties.

They include a former federal appeals court chief judge, a former FBI director, and several prominent scholars — to evaluate Bush's assertions that he has the power to ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Bush has appended statements to new laws when he signs them, noting which provisions he believes interfere with his powers.

Among the laws Bush has challenged are the ban on torturing detainees, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and “whistle-blower" protections for federal employees.

The challenges also have included safeguards against political interference in taxpayer-funded research.

Bush has challenged more laws than all previous presidents combined.

The ABA's president, Michael Greco, said in an interview that he proposed the task force because he believes the scope and aggressiveness of Bush's signing statements may raise serious constitutional concerns. He said the ABA, which has more than 400,000 members, has a duty to speak out about such legal issues to the public, the courts, and Congress.

“The American Bar Association feels a very serious obligation to ensure that when there are legal issues that affect the American people, the ABA adopts a policy regarding such issues and then speaks out about it," Greco said. “In this instance, the president's practice of attaching signing statements to laws squarely presents a constitutional issue about the separation of powers among the three branches."

The signing statements task force, which was recruited by Greco, a longtime Boston lawyer who served on former Governor William F. Weld's Judicial Nominating Council, includes several Republicans. Among them are Mickey Edwards , a former Oklahoma representative from 1977 to 1993, and Bruce Fein , a Justice Department official under President Reagan.

In interviews, several of the panel members said they were going into the project with an open mind, but they expressed concerns about Bush's actions.

“I think one of the most critical issues in the country right now is the extent to which the White House has tried to expand its powers and basically tried to cut the legislative branch out of its own constitutionally equal role, and the signing statements are a particularly egregious example of that," Edwards said. “I've been doing a lot of speaking and writing about this, and when the ABA said they were looking to take a position on signing statements, I said that's serious because those people carry a lot of weight."

William Sessions , a retired federal judge who was the director of the FBI under both Reagan and President George H.W. Bush , said he agreed to participate because he believed that the signing statements raise a “serious problem" for the American constitutional system.

“I think it's very important for the people of the United States to have trust and reliance that the president is not going around the law," Sessions said. “The importance of it speaks for itself."

Another member, Patricia Wald, is a retired chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, appointed by President Carter.

She said she had monitored the use of signing statements by previous administrations, but “the accelerated use in recent years presents a real question about separation of powers and checks and balances."

Wald also said she was especially interested in studying how signing statements affect the federal bureaucracy. As a judge, Wald said, she dealt with many cases involving challenges to decisions made by administrative agencies. She said that courts are deferential to such decisions because they are supposed to be made by objective specialists in the agencies. But a heavy use of signing statements could call that assumption into question.

“If Congress passes a law telling the people in the bureaucracy that `this is what you should do,' and the president signs it but attaches a statement saying `I don't want you to do it,' how is that going to affect the motivation of the bureaucracy?" she said.

The task force also includes several prominent legal scholars, such as Harold Koh , dean of Yale Law School and a former official in the Reagan and Clinton administrations; Kathleen Sullivan , former dean of Stanford Law School; Charles Ogletree , a Harvard law professor; and Stephen Saltzburg , a professor at George Washington University Law School.

Saltzburg — who was a Justice Department official under Reagan and the first president Bush, as well as a prosecutor in the Iran-Contra scandal — said he did not believe that signing statements were unconstitutional.

But, he said, frequent use of them could create bad perceptions about whether the US government obeys the rule of law.

“The president can say anything he wants when he signs a bill," Saltzburg said. “[But] what does it say about respect for the Constitution and for the notion of checks and balances to have the president repeatedly claim the authority not to obey statutes, which he is signing into law?"

Rounding out the panel are Mark Agrast , a former legislative counsel for Representative William D. Delahunt , Democrat of Quincy, and Thomas Susman, who worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under both Presidents Johnson and Nixon , and was later counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Susman said he agreed to serve out of intellectual curiosity: “I think it's a fascinating subject," he said. The task force is chaired by Neal Sonnett , a former federal prosecutor. Earlier this year, Sonnett chaired a similar ABA panel of bipartisan specialists who studied the legality of Bush's warrantless spying program.

The earlier panel unanimously concluded that Bush should obey a law requiring warrants for such surveillance, or he should ask Congress to change the law, rather than simply ignoring it.

In February, the ABA House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to endorse the surveillance task force's recommendations, enabling Greco to testify about the program before Congress.

Sonnett said he planned to run the task force in a similar fashion. The group will discuss the issues in telephone conference calls. They will also divide up issues to research for the report that will accompany any of their recommendations, circulating drafts until they reach a consensus.

The task force will make its recommendation this summer, Greco said, and the 550-member ABA House of Delegates will vote on whether to adopt its findings at a meeting in August.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, promised to hold a hearing on Bush's use of signing statements.

Specter pledged the action after an article in The Boston Globe described the scope and details of Bush's assertions concerning the laws in them.

Greco and Sonnett also said the Globe's coverage of signing statements had persuaded them to launch the task force


AG Gonzales Threatens To Resign Over Congressional Document Seizure

May 27, 2006

I say "Good Riddance!"

From The Washington Post:

The Justice Department signaled to the White House this week that the nation's top three law enforcement officials would resign or face firing rather than return documents seized from a Democratic congressman's office in a bribery investigation, according to administration sources familiar with the discussions.

The possibility of resignations by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; his deputy, Paul J. McNulty; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was communicated to the White House by several Justice officials in tense negotiations over the fate of the materials taken from Rep. William J. Jefferson's office, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Justice prosecutors and FBI agents feared that the White House was ready to acquiesce to demands from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and other lawmakers that the materials be returned to the Louisiana congressman, who is the subject of a criminal probe by the FBI. Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David S. Addington, was among the leading White House critics of the FBI raid, telling officials at Justice and on Capitol Hill that he believed the search was questionable, several sources familiar with his views said.

Administration officials said yesterday that the specter of top-level resignations or firings at Justice and the FBI was a crucial turning point in the standoff, helping persuade President Bush to announce a cease-fire on Thursday. Bush ordered that the Jefferson materials be sealed for 45 days while Justice officials and House lawmakers work out their differences, while also making it clear that he expected the case against Jefferson to proceed.

Spokesmen for the White House, Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment, saying they would not discuss internal deliberations.

White House officials were not informed of the search until it began last Saturday and did not immediately recognize the political ramifications, the sources said. By Sunday, however, as the 18-hour search continued, lawmakers began lodging complaints with the White House.

Addington — who had worked as a staffer in the House and whose boss, Cheney, once served as a congressman — quickly emerged as a key internal critic of raiding the office of a sitting House member. He raised heated objections to the Justice Department's legal rationale for the search during a meeting Sunday with McNulty and others, according to several sources.

The talk of resignations adds another dramatic element to the remarkable tug of war that has played out since last Saturday night, when about 15 FBI agents executed a search warrant on Jefferson's office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The raid — the first physical FBI search of a congressman's office in U.S. history — sparked an uproar in the House, where Hastert joined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in demanding that the records be returned because they viewed the search as an illegal violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

Hastert wrote in an article published in USA Today yesterday that House lawyers are working with the Justice Department to develop guidelines for handling searches of lawmakers' offices. "But that is behind us now," Hastert wrote. "I am confident that in the next 45 days, the lawyers will figure out how to do it right."

Also yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) met with Gonzales at the senator's Capitol Hill office.

"We've been working hard already, and we'll continue to do so pursuant to the president's order," Gonzales told reporters on his way into Frist's suite just off the Senate floor.

Jefferson, 59, has been under investigation since March 2005 for allegations that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his congressional influence to promote business ventures in Africa. Two people have pleaded guilty to bribing him, including Brett Pfeffer, one of his former aides, who was sentenced yesterday to eight years in prison by a federal judge in Alexandria.

An FBI affidavit released this week alleged that Jefferson was videotaped taking $100,000 in bribe money and that a search of his Washington apartment turned up $90,000 of that money wrapped in foil inside his freezer. Jefferson, who has not been charged, has denied any wrongdoing.

The unprecedented FBI raid on Jefferson's office triggered an extraordinary chain of events. Hastert, long one of the president's staunchest allies in Congress, and his chief of staff, Scott Palmer, were immediately angered by the tactic. On Monday, Hastert pushed Bush strongly on the issue during a trip the two shared on Air Force One coming back from Chicago. "Hastert was white-hot," said a senior administration official.

Bush expressed sympathy but did not take sides, the official said: "He did not say, 'I share your view.' He said, 'Look, we're going to try to work with you to help resolve this.' "

The view of the emerging political landscape was notably different at Justice, where officials feared they were quickly losing the debate. Prosecutors and FBI agents felt the materials were obtained from Jefferson through a lawful and court-approved search and that returning them — as demanded by Hastert and others — would amount to an intolerable political intervention in the criminal justice process.

Justice had one ally at the White House in Frances Fragos Townsend, the homeland security adviser and former prosecutor, who spoke in defense of the raid's legality at a meeting on Monday, according to two sources familiar with her remarks. Townsend was not invited to participate in subsequent discussions on the issue, however. A senior administration official said she would not normally be involved in the topic.

At a particularly contentious meeting Monday night at the Capitol, Palmer angrily upbraided William E. Moschella, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, and two other Justice officials, saying they had violated the Constitution, several sources said.

As the week progressed, the confrontation escalated further. At some point in the negotiations, McNulty told Palmer that he would quit if ordered to return the materials to Jefferson, according to several officials familiar with the conversation.

McNulty, a former Alexandria prosecutor who was recently named Gonzales's deputy, was a central player in the contentious negotiations with Capitol Hill and the White House, sources said. He had also worked in the House for 12 years, as chief counsel for both the majority leader's office and a crime subcommittee.

A message that McNulty might quit was passed along to the White House, along with similar messages for Gonzales and Mueller. Sources familiar with the discussions declined to say which Justice officials communicated those possibilities to the White House.

The discussion of Gonzales and the others resigning never evolved into a direct threat, but it was made plain that such an option would have to be considered if the president ordered the documents returned, several sources said. "It wasn't one of those things of 'If you will, I will,' " one senior administration official said. "It was kind of the background noise."

"One of the reasons the president did what he did was these types of conversations and other types of conversations in the House were escalating," the official said, referring to murmured threats by some House Republicans to call for Gonzales's resignation.

The desire to do something before the Memorial Day recess also created an "artificial deadline" that Bush considered counterproductive. "As the week moved on," the official said, "there's no question emotions were running high on both sides. . . . People had a gun to their head, and it was really making people not more flexible but more intense. It was his view to say let's get more time."

The White House grew especially concerned about a House Republican Conference meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday and later rescheduled for 3:30 p.m. In the heat of the moment, it could have gotten out of hand and wound up with some sort of resolution demanding that Gonzales step down. "You never know what's going to happen in a conference," the official said.

Bush decided to head off the situation. He summoned Cheney, Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, counselor Dan Bartlett, legislative director Candida Wolff, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy White House Counsel William K. Kelley and some other staff members to the Oval Office on Thursday morning and announced that he had decided to seal the Jefferson documents.

"I'm going to put an end to the escalation," one official quoted Bush as saying. "We've got to calm this down."

Bush directed Cheney to inform Hastert, while Bolten told Gonzales.

Bush aides were also worried about a war with the Republican House if the president did not act.

"If you tell the House to stick it where the sun don't shine, you're talking about a fundamentally corrosive relationship between two branches of government," the senior administration official said. "They could zero out funding; they could say, 'Okay, you can do subpoenas, so can we.' "


Foggo-Wilkes Probe Widens

May 18, 2006

From ABC News:

Sources close to the widening probe of official corruption in Washington tell ABC News that investigators are studying travel records of expensive trips to Hawaii and Europe taken by top CIA official Dusty Foggo and San Diego defense contractor Brent Wilkes.

Prosecutors want to know who paid for the lavish trips to European castles and top end Hawaiian resorts, including this $7,000 a night Honolulu beachfront mansion, owned at one time by hair stylist super-star Paul Mitchell.

Wilkes, a close personal friend of Foggo is suspected of paying bribes to Congressman Duke Cunningham, who recently pled guilty in the corruption investigation.


FBI Raids Foggo’s House

May 13, 2006

From ABC News:

Foggo: First Public Corruption Case in CIA History

The FBI raid on the home and office of the Executive Director of the CIA took place this morning, seizing business records, computer hard drives and other information in what is the first significant public corruption scandal in the history of the nation's premier intelligence agency.  Officials said the raid took place at 6 a.m. Agents from the FBI, the IRS, the Criminal Investigative Division of the Pentagon and the CIA's Inspector General's office were involved in the raid.

The outgoing Executive Director of the CIA, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, announced his resignation last Monday — the first business day after his boss, CIA Director Porter Goss, stepped down. In itself the move was unusual. In the past, the senior operational officers have always remained in place for several weeks or months while a new director moves in and acclimates to the Langley Virginia based agency's culture.

News of Foggo's hasty departure was first reported by ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, along with disclosures of a career marked by ethical lapses and documented insubordination long before Foggo's current place at the center of an FBI probe into sweetheart sole-source government contracts signed or overseen by Foggo and the possibility of kickbacks.

The Foggo criminal probe is being conducted parallel to an internal investigation by the CIA Inspector General, which is said to be reviewing each and every contract Foggo signed or oversaw during the time he headed a CIA administrative section and during a period where he was the chief logistical support officer at the CIA's largest resupply base which is located at a Frankfurt, Germany airbase.


CIA #3, Under Investigation, Quits Agency

May 9, 2006

First Porter Goss, now Kyle Foggo.  It makes me wonder how senior members of the Bush administration are not considering jumping out of windows.  Damage control mode must be in overdrive in the west wing.

–DS

From MSNBC:

…Earlier today, the agency circulated an internal announcement that agency’s third ranking official, Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, has decided to step aside. News of Foggo’s departure inevitably will be overshadowed by the Hayden nomination, but its effects will continue to resonate within the agency. As NEWSWEEK first reported, the CIA’s inspector general has been investigating whether Foggo helped steer agency contracts to companies run by Brent Wilkes, a defense contractor who was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator when former San Diego congressman and ex-Navy air ace Randy (Duke) Cunningham pleaded guilty in a Congressional bribery scandal. The CIA has acknowledged that its internal watchdog is investigating whether Foggo helped steer any contracts to Wilkes, an old friend. The inspector general was looking into at least one specific contract, worth between $2 million and $3 million, which a CIA base in Germany granted to a company run by a relative of Wilkes. At the time the contract was issued, Foggo headed the CIA base’s logistics office, though he did not sign the contract.


CIA Nominee Hayden Linked to MZM

May 9, 2006

From The TPM Muckraker:

While director of the National Security Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden contracted the services of a top executive at the company at the center of the Cunningham bribery scandal, according to two former employees of the company.

Hayden, President Bush's pick to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA, contracted with MZM Inc. for the services of Lt. Gen. James C. King, then a senior vice president of the company, the sources say. MZM was owned and operated by Mitchell Wade, who has admitted to bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham with $1.4 million in money and gifts. Wade has also reportedly told investigators he helped arrange for prostitutes to entertain the disgraced lawmaker, and he continues to cooperate with a federal inquiry into the matter.

King has not been implicated in the growing scandal around Wade's illegal activities. However, federal records show he contributed to some of Wade's favored lawmakers, including $6000 to Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) and $4000 to Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL).

Before joining MZM in December 2001, King served under Hayden as the NSA's associate deputy director for operations, and as head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

King worked at NSA Headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, in 2004 and 2005, both sources told me. "King was out there working on same floor as Hayden," one former employee with firsthand knowledge of the arrangement said. "He was doing special projects for Hayden as an MZM employee." Neither former employee knew details of King's work for Hayden; one said he thought he was doing "special projects" for the director, while the other speculated it was "high-ranking advisory work."

The NSA did not immediately respond to my request for comment. Hayden left the NSA in April 2005 to take the post of Deputy Director of National Intelligence. The DNI office referred my call on the matter to the NSA.

As an MZM employee, King was involved in a number of controversial projects. In 2002, he was a key adviser to the team creating CIFA, the Pentagon's domestic surveillance operation. In 2004, he was one of three MZM staffers who worked on the White House Robb-Silberman Commission, which recommended expanding CIFA's powers.

NSA is home to its own controversial project, of course — the post-9/11 warrantless domestic wiretapping operation known as the "terrorist surveillance program." There is no indication that King has been involved in that project.

"I don't see anything nefarious" about King's work for Hayden, one employee told me, although he conceded he did not know what projects King worked on. "I think Hayden needed help."

King became president of MZM when Wade left the company in June 2005, following revelations he bribed Cunningham to win lucrative federal contracts. The company has since been sold and renamed Athena Innovative Solutions. It did not return my call for comment.