The New York Times
Ruling Sets Off Tug of War Over Private Property
By TIMOTHY EGAN
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - More than a month after the Supreme Court ruled that governments could take one person's property and give it to another in the name of public interest, the decision has set off a storm of legislative action and protest, as states have moved to protect homes and businesses from the expanded reach of eminent domain.
In California and Texas, legislators have proposed constitutional amendments, while at least a dozen other states and some cities are floating similar changes designed to rein in the power to take property.
But at the same time, the ruling has emboldened some cities to take property for development plans on private land. Here in Santa Cruz, for example, city officials started legal action this month to seize a parcel of family-owned land that holds a restaurant with a high Zagat rating, two other businesses and a conspicuous hole in the ground and force a sale to a developer who plans to build 54 condominiums.
Far from clarifying government's ability to take private property, the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision has set up a summer of scrutiny over a power that has been regularly used but little-discussed for decades.
"The intense reaction - this backlash - has caught a lot of people off guard," said Larry Morandi, who tracks land use developments for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Connecticut, where the court case originated, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, has likened the reaction to the Boston Tea Party and called for a moratorium on land takings until the legislature can revisit the law.
California's proposal would prohibit the use of eminent domain, a process in which governments force a sale of someone's property, in cases like Santa Cruz's.
"This decision opens a new era when the rich and powerful can use government to seize the property of ordinary citizens for private gain," said State Senator Tom McClintock, a Republican who proposed the amendment.
In Congress, liberals like Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, have joined conservatives like Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House majority leader, in criticizing the ruling. The House voted 365 to 33 to pass a resolution condemning the decision, and proposals in both the House and the Senate would prevent the federal government from using eminent domain for private development, as well as local governments using federal money on such projects.
The Fifth Amendment allows the taking of land for "public use" with "just compensation," and governments have long used the practice to build roads and schools and to allow utilities to run service lines. In its June 23 ruling regarding efforts by the City of New London, Conn., to condemn homes in an old part of town to make way for a private development, the Supreme Court said public use could mean something that brings a public benefit - like jobs or increased tax revenue.
But at the same time, the court invited states to tailor their own laws. While only one state, Delaware, has changed its law, most states are likely to have a proposed change by next year, Mr. Morandi said.
"The initial outcry after the court case was: Nobody's house is safe, we've got to do something now," he said. "But as more states take a look at this they will respond in some form, but they won't want to take away a valuable tool."
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry added the issue to a special legislative session initially called for education. Both houses passed bills limiting eminent domain with some exceptions, including one allowing the City of Arlington to condemn homes for a new Dallas Cowboys football stadium, a project already under way. The two versions of the bills were not reconciled before the session ended.
But some cities view the ruling as blessing their redevelopment plans; Arlington filed condemnation lawsuits against some holdout property owners this month. Officials in Sunset Hills, Mo., outside St. Louis, voted to condemn a cluster of homes to make way for a shopping center, despite the pleas of some elderly homeowners who said they had nowhere else to go and no desire to move. Officials in Oakland, Calif., evicted a tire shop and an auto repair shop to make room for a development that is part of Mayor Jerry Brown's plan to bring 10,000 residents to the central part of the city.
In Santa Cruz, the plans pit one family against the city's long effort to redevelop a downtown hit by the 1989 earthquake. With the Supreme Court's ruling, city officials here said they felt free to seize a 20,000-square-foot lot they considered a blight.
To the city, the lot owned by the Lau family is a drag on other businesses, because the hole, left by the earthquake, has never been redeveloped. To the family, the seizure is legalized theft and shows how the court decision can be used to take anyone's property under the broad rubric of public use.
"My family has owned this land for 36 years," said Eric Lau, who laid bricks to shore up the building that would become his thriving restaurant, which is adjacent to the hole. "And now they're trying to erase us from this place, to take it and say we don't have any choice."
The ruling has struck a chord; in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month, the legal issue that Americans said most concerned them was "private property rights," ahead of parental notification for minors' abortions or the right-to-die debate.
Property rights groups have united with more liberal organizations in arguing that taking property for economic use usually favors the rich over the poor.
"Typically, you have these corporate lobbyists who go down to a city council and say, 'Take this person's property and we'll build you a shopping center,' " said Timothy Sandefur, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian-leaning legal group that helped draft the proposed California amendment.
Opponents of the Supreme Court decision also point to San Diego, where Ahmed Mesdaq lost his prosperous cigar and coffee shop in the trendy Gaslamp Quarter to a hotel project, which the city said would bring more tax revenue.
Many city officials say eminent domain is crucial for creating jobs, expanding tax bases and keeping their communities economically viable.
"Redevelopment is sometimes the only tool a community has to jump-start revitalization of downtrodden, blighted communities," officials at the California League of Cities wrote in a response to the proposed amendment.
Mayor Brown of Oakland said it was inevitable that some small businesses would have to be relocated, and he urged caution in any efforts to pass laws. "I understand the horror of urban renewal," he said. "But you don't want to take away a tool that a city has to reform itself. If you did, Oakland would suffer greatly."
During the 1970's, the Lau property, with its bookstore and cafe in the pre-Starbucks age, was a central hangout in funky Santa Cruz, neighbors say. Eric Lau watched his father's bookstore come to life and then die in the Loma Prieta earthquake, which destroyed the building.
The family's restaurant, Oswald, would not be considered blight by many standards. There is ivy on the outside walls, art on the inside, and the tables are covered with fresh-pressed linen. The restaurant is packed on most nights, neighbors say. And it has consistently been voted one of the best places to dine in Santa Cruz, a beach town of 54,000 people south of San Jose, known for its university and the carpet of redwoods on its fog-shrouded hills.
Ron Lau, who is 69, has long tried to build something on the undeveloped part of the property - the hole in the ground. The problem, city officials say, is that Mr. Lau has proposed hard-to-build, idealistic plans, involving alternative energy sources and unusual designs, that have never gotten off the ground, angering some nearby property owners.
"We do not use eminent domain frivolously," said Ceil Cirillo, executive director of the Santa Cruz Redevelopment Agency. "I feel we have been very fair and very patient."
Taking the Lau property would serve the public good, Ms. Cirillo said, "because there is a hole in the center of our retail district."
Eric Lau and his sister Lani say the city is taking their property simply because their father took so much time to try to build something unusual.
"My dad was hellbent on getting his dream project built, nothing less, and that has been his biggest weakness," Eric Lau said.
The city agency has offered the family $1.6 million for the property, and the Laus plan to fight it. It is unclear whether the amendment would protect the Laus, but they hope to hang on to the property long enough to find out. A vote on the amendment would come no sooner than next June, legislative leaders say.
Meanwhile, the Laus say they are willing to modify their plans and build something close to what the city has agreed to with a developer.
But city officials say that they have run out of patience and that it is too late for the Laus to come up with new designs. They have an exclusive agreement, Ms. Cirillo said, with a developer, Bolton Hill, to take over the property and build on it.
"The project is moving forward," Ms. Cirillo said. "The Supreme Court gave us reassurance of our ability to proceed."
As for Laus and their restaurant, Ms. Cirillo said there might still be a place for them in the new development - after they sell out.
"Ideally, we would like to see them relocated in some way to the project," she said.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
The New York Times
The New York Times
The Roots of Prisoner Abuse
This week, the White House blocked a Senate vote on a measure sponsored by a half-dozen Republicans, including Senator John McCain, that would prohibit cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment of prisoners. Besides being outrageous on its face, that action served as a reminder of how the Bush administration ducks for cover behind the men and women in uniform when challenged on military policy, but ignores their advice when it seems inconvenient.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who has shown real political courage on this issue, recently released documents showing that the military's top lawyers had warned a year before the Abu Ghraib nightmare came to light that detainee policies imposed by the White House and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld violated American and international law and undermined the standards of civilized treatment embedded in the American military tradition.
In February 2003, Maj. Gen. Jack Rives, the deputy judge advocate general of the Air Force, reminded his civilian bosses that American rules on the treatment of prisoners had grown out of Vietnam, where captured Americans, like Mr. McCain, were tortured. "We have taken the legal and moral 'high road' in the conduct of our military operations regardless of how others may operate," he wrote. Abandoning those rules, he said, endangered every American soldier.
General Rives and the other military lawyers argued strongly against declaring that Mr. Bush was above the law when it came to antiterrorism operations. But the president's team ignored them, offering up a pretzel logic that General Rives and the other military experts warned would not fool anyone. Rear Adm. Michael Lohr, the Navy's judge advocate general, said that the situation at the American prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba might be so legalistically unique that the Geneva Conventions and even the Constitution did not necessarily apply. But he asked, "Will the American people find we have missed the forest for the trees by condoning practices that, while technically legal, are inconsistent with our most fundamental values?"
General Rives said that if the White House permitted abusive interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, it would not be able to restrict them to that single prison. He argued that soldiers elsewhere would conclude that their commanders were condoning illegal behavior. And that is precisely what happened at Abu Ghraib after the general who organized the abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo went to Iraq to toughen up the interrogation of prisoners there.
The White House ignored these military lawyers' advice two years ago. Now it is trying to kill the measure that would define the term "illegal combatants," set rules for interrogations and prohibit cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners. The president considers this an undue restriction of his powers. It's not only due; it's way overdue.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:40 PM
The New York Times
Senate Makes Permanent Nearly All Provisions of Patriot Act, With a Few Restrictions
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, July 29 - The Senate voted unanimously on Friday to make permanent virtually all the main provisions of the law known as the USA Patriot Act, after Republican leaders agreed to include additional civil rights safeguards and to forestall any expansion of the government's counterterrorism powers.
The House passed a bill of its own last week that would also extend the law's surveillance and law enforcement powers, which the Bush administration considers critical to combating terrorism. While the House and Senate bills are not identical, the differences are modest enough that Congressional officials said they were confident that they could work out a compromise.
The Patriot Act has become a target of criticism since it was passed in the weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with more than 300 communities voicing formal concerns about what they see as its chilling effect on civil liberties. But many opponents of the law, as well as many supporters, said the Senate bill was an acceptable compromise after months of heated debate over the scope of the government's authority to track and eavesdrop on terror suspects.
Senate Republican leaders had been eager to win approval of their measure before leaving Washington for a monthlong recess. They rushed the bill to the Senate floor Friday evening after persuading Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who leads the Intelligence Committee, to sign on to the plan, Congressional officials said. The action came by unanimous consent as the Senate wrapped up its business.
Mr. Roberts had been pushing for changes that would have expanded the Patriot Act to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to demand records in terror investigations through administrative subpoenas, without a judge's order, and to have sole discretion in deciding whether to monitor the mail of terror suspects. He had argued that the changes would strengthen the F.B.I.'s ability to deter terrorist attacks.
The Bush administration had pressed for the expanded subpoena powers as well. But Congressional officials said that after several days of private discussions among Senate leaders, Senator Roberts agreed not to pursue the administrative subpoenas or other measures endorsed by the Intelligence Committee in order to ensure quick reauthorization of the Patriot Act in some form.
Senator Roberts "had a desire to move the bill, no matter how defective he thought it might be," said a senior Republican aide in the Senate who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations. But Republican officials said that the senator still planned to seek the expanded subpoena power for the F.B.I. through separate legislation, and that he had received assurances in this week's discussions that Republican leaders would back those efforts if and when he decided to revisit the issue.
The bill approved Friday by the Senate makes permanent 14 of the 16 antiterrorism provisions of the Patriot Act that were set to expire at the end of the year. The two remaining sections - particularly controversial provisions that allow the government to conduct roving wiretaps and to demand records from institutions like libraries - are to expire in four years unless Congress acts to reauthorize them.
The legislation also puts in place several new restrictions on the government's powers, including a higher standard of proof for the government in demanding library and business records, greater judicial oversight and increased reporting to Congress on antiterrorism operations, time restrictions on the use of secret searches, and limits on roving wiretaps. Civil rights advocates saw the new limits as welcome steps.
Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "We think this is a positive step and puts in place significant restrictions over the current law. It doesn't fully safeguard constitutional freedoms, but it's a significant improvement."
President Bush had pushed repeatedly for the quick reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and Congressional officials said Republican leaders wanted to get the bill approved before the recess to avoid a drawn-out debate in the fall that might have pitted the Judiciary Committee bill against Mr. Roberts's version.
"I don't think anyone wanted to be responsible for missing our deadline on an issue this critical," said a senior Republican aide on the Judiciary Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity because this week's negotiations were conducted in private.
While Mr. Roberts and others had pushed for greater F.B.I. power, the aide said, "I think they realized that it might not be worth the fight if you're probably not going to win anyway, and people much preferred a safe reauthorization now to a risky one later on."
Meanwhile, in a federal court decision released Friday involving the Patriot Act, a judge in Los Angeles ruled that portions of the law regarding the definition of "material support" to terrorism were too vague and thus unconstitutional.
Congress had tried to fix the problem by amending the language as part of last year's intelligence reform bill, after the same district judge, Audrey Collins, ruled twice that the wording raised constitutional problems. Judge Collins said in her latest ruling that the changes by Congress adequately clarified what constituted providing "personnel" to banned terrorist groups, but that the wording on providing "training" and other support remained "impermissibly vague."
David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University who had argued the case on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the decision was an affirmation of Americans' right to support lawful, nonviolent causes associated with even those groups that the United States has banned. "This law is so sweeping that it makes it a crime for our clients to provide medical services to tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka and to provide assistance in human rights advocacy to the Kurds in Turkey," Professor Cole said.
The Justice Department said it was pleased that the judge had ruled in its favor in four of the five claims over the material support law. The department said in a statement that "the judge's ruling affects only one small aspect of the Patriot Act" and that the law remains critical to fighting terrorism.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:38 PM
The New York Times
Bolton Not Truthful, 36 Senators Charge in Opposing Appointment
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON, July 29 - Charging that John R. Bolton was "not truthful" in answering questions about his record, 36 senators urged President Bush on Friday not to make a recess appointment of Mr. Bolton as United Nations ambassador after the Senate's failure to confirm him for that job.
But one Republican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the president has not announced his decision, said Mr. Bush would probably appoint Mr. Bolton next week.
In a letter to Mr. Bush, the senators cited the disclosure on Thursday that Mr. Bolton had been interviewed by the State Department's inspector general in an investigation of intelligence failures related to Iraq, even though he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March that he had not been involved in any such inquiry.
Mr. Bolton "did not recall this interview" when he assured the committee that he had not been questioned by any investigators, according to a letter sent Friday from the State Department to Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations panel.
The letter from the senators, all Democrats except for the Senate's sole independent, who usually votes with them, was the latest escalation of the battle over Mr. Bolton.
He has run into heavy opposition in the Senate because of his history of criticizing the United Nations and over charges that he tried to influence intelligence assessments to conform with his own views.
Mr. Bolton's nomination has the support of the majority of senators, but fewer than the 60 needed to head off a filibuster that Democrats say they would mount until specific questions about Mr. Bolton's activities were answered, particularly his use of classified intelligence about conversations involving administration colleagues.
The State Department has admitted that, as Mr. Biden charged, Mr. Bolton had been interviewed in a previous inquiry into one particular intelligence failure on Iraq, the finding that Iraq had tried to buy raw uranium from Niger for a nuclear arms program. That finding turned out to be based on forged documents.
Administration officials appeared shaken by the disclosure, and some worried openly that it might hurt Mr. Bolton's chances of a recess appointment, a tactic that a president is permitted use once Congress is in recess in August. The appointment would expire at the end of next year, however.
In a final gesture of opposition, Democratic senators indicated that they would use a parliamentary maneuver to formally send Mr. Bolton's name back to the White House once the Senate adjourns, rather than have it remain pending at the Senate.
That move was seen as symbolic, but one reflecting the growing bitterness of Democrats and their hopes that by standing firm they would make it more politically awkward for Mr. Bush to give Mr. Bolton the interim appointment.
Republicans, on the other hand, said Mr. Bush would likely go ahead and make the appointment as early as next week.
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:37 PM
The New York Times
Senate Approves Bill Protecting Gun Businesses
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON, July 29 - The Senate agreed to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from liability lawsuits on Friday, as Congress broke for a monthlong recess after sending President Bush energy and transportation bills that had been years in the making.
Long sought by the gun lobby, the Senate measure - approved 65 to 31 - would prohibit lawsuits against gun makers and distributors for misuse of their products during the commission of a crime. Senate supporters said the plan was needed to protect the domestic firearms industry from a rash of lawsuits that threatened its economic future.
"This bill is intended to do one thing and that is to end the abuse that is now going on in the court system of America against law-abiding American businesses when they violate no law," Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican who is a chief advocate for gun-rights causes in Congress, said Friday.
Democratic opponents of the bill disputed the assertion that a lawsuit crisis threatened the industry and said that the measure was simply a reflection of the National Rifle Association's influence over Congress.
"This is about politics, the power of the N.R.A. to dictate legislation," said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, who led the opposition.
But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, and 13 other Democrats joined 50 Republicans and one independent to support the bill; it now goes to the House, where its prospects for approval are good when Congress returns. Twenty-nine Democrats and two Republicans opposed it.
The gun measure was just one of the significant pieces of legislation to advance as Congress cleared its plate for a fall that will initially be consumed, in the Senate at least, by consideration of a Supreme Court nominee. Before leaving, Senate Republicans and Democrats also agreed on the schedule for confirmation hearings.
Ending a long policy struggle, the Senate passed and sent to Mr. Bush a broad piece of energy legislation, fulfilling an early domestic policy goal of his administration.
After extinguishing one last policy flare-up, the House and Senate also gave final approval to a $286.4 billion highway measure stuffed with special projects for virtually every Congressional district in the nation. Congress also finished its first two spending bills of the year, delivering $1.5 billion in emergency money to cover a shortfall in spending on veterans' health care.
And in an unexpected development, the Senate renewed its version of the antiterror USA Patriot Act.
It was a blistering pace compared to the usual level of legislative activity. "We either do nothing or everything at once," said Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia.
The House adopted the highway measure on Friday morning by 412 to 8; the Senate agreed to it later in the day by 91 to 4. The bill had been delayed for years by disputes between the administration and Congress over the level of spending and fights over the formula for distributing money among the states. Its authors said the bill would help to ease traffic congestion around the country, improve safety, provide thousands of jobs and strengthen the economy.
"Modern highways and efficient transportation are essential to maintaining America's competitive edge," said Representative Thomas E. Petri, a Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the highways subcommittee. "It has been a struggle to craft this bill and to be fair to every region, but its importance would be hard to exaggerate."
Critics in both the House and Senate as well as watchdog groups criticized the measure for its price tag and the wide variety of special projects - nearly 6,000 by one count - including multimillion-dollar highways and bridges, museums and recreational trails, and even transportation improvements at the Bronx Zoo.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is a frequent critic of such spending, spent almost 30 minutes on the Senate floor, singling out dozens of projects for ridicule, including $2.2 million to make landscape improvements to the Ronald Reagan freeway in California.
"I wonder what Ronald Reagan would say," Mr. McCain said, noting that the late president was a critic of such Congressional largesse.
House members had hoped to approve the transportation bill on Thursday, but several lawmakers objected to a Senate plan they said was an effort to circumvent the closing of an Air Force base in Montana. Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic senator from the state, disputed that assertion but agreed to withdraw the provision.
The energy plan was stalled two years ago by a filibuster, but senators on Friday endorsed the energy policy, 74 to 26. It includes $14.5 billion in industry and energy efficiency tax breaks along with provisions that seek to increase domestic use of renewable fuels, reinvigorate the nuclear power industry and bolster the nation's electric grid. Its passage was made possible when House Republicans dropped a push to grant producers of a gasoline additive protection from pollution lawsuits.
Senator Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who was a chief author of the bill, dismissed complaints that it did too little to lower gas prices or reduce consumption.
"The problem is far bigger than gasoline prices tomorrow morning," Mr. Domenici said. "It is what will be the state of energy in 5 and 10 years from now in the United States. I can tell you, we will be safer. We will have more jobs, we will have an electricity system that is safe and sound. We will have diversity of energy sources and supplies built in our country for us."
Mr. Bush also welcomed the energy bill, which passed Congress more than four years after an administration task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney called for a new national energy approach.
"The bipartisan energy bill passed today will give America a comprehensive national energy strategy for the first time in more than a decade and is critically important to our long-term national and economic security," Mr. Bush said in a statement.
Other lawmakers and conservation groups continued to criticize the measure, saying it was too generous to industry and too timid when it came to addressing consumption.
"Our nation's energy crisis has reached historic levels," said Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. "We need policy whose boldness is commensurate with that crisis. But that's not what we're getting. Instead, we're getting a pork-laden, lobbyist-driven dream bill."
On the gun legislation, Democrats offered a series of amendments but were beaten back, except in pressing for a measure that would permit lawsuits in cases in which a weapon lacked child-safety locks. Mr. Craig said that change was acceptable to both the industry and the House since such locks were now virtually an industry standard.
Congressional Democrats had been able to scuttle the bill in the past, but Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, employed a procedural maneuver to limit amendments. Democrats said the Republican argument that protecting gun companies was a national security priority because of supplies to the military and police was disingenuous.
"Guess what," said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, "the bulk of contracts to arm our country's military and law enforcement are already held by foreign manufacturers based in Austria, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Jordan and Belgium. And lawsuits have nothing to do with that."
But supporters said the proposal was modest and would not protect gun makers or dealers from lawsuits in cases where they acted illegally. "America's crime problems will be solved not by unjustly targeting the gun industry for the criminal actions of others, but by targeting the unjust criminals," Mr. Frist said.
As the Senate moved through the day's votes, some lawmakers urged their colleagues to hurry so they could begin their summer break or, in the case of Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, attend to other pressing matters.
"Could we please cut down on the rhetoric so that we might be able to get along with the people's business and cast our votes?" Mr. Roberts asked. "I make this request not only as a senator from Kansas but as the father of a young lady that I will be walking down the aisle tomorrow."
Posted by politicalstuff at 4:27 PM
Friday, July 29, 2005
The New York Times
Case of C.I.A. Officer's Leaked Identity Takes New Turn
By DOUGLAS JEHL
WASHINGTON, July 26 - In the same week in July 2003 in which Bush administration officials told a syndicated columnist and a Time magazine reporter that a C.I.A. officer had initiated her husband's mission to Niger, an administration official provided a Washington Post reporter with a similar account.
The first two episodes, involving the columnist Robert D. Novak and the reporter Matthew Cooper, have become the subjects of intense scrutiny in recent weeks. But little attention has been paid to what The Post reporter, Walter Pincus, has recently described as a separate exchange on July 12, 2003.
In that exchange, Mr. Pincus says, "an administration official, who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities, veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention" to the trip to Niger by Joseph C. Wilson IV "because it was a boondoggle arranged by his wife, an analyst with the agency who was working on weapons of mass destruction."
Mr. Wilson traveled to Niger in 2002 at the request of the C.I.A. to look into reports about Iraqi efforts to buy nuclear materials. He later accused the administration of twisting intelligence about the nuclear ambitions of Iraq, prompting an angry response from the White House.
Mr. Pincus did not write about the exchange with the administration official until October 2003, and The Washington Post itself has since reported little about it. The newspaper's most recent story was a 737-word account last Sept. 16, in which the newspaper reported that Mr. Pincus had testified the previous day about the matter, but only after his confidential source had first "revealed his or her identity" to Mr. Fitzgerald, the special counsel conducting the C.I.A. leak inquiry.
Mr. Pincus has not identified his source to the public. But a review of Mr. Pincus's own accounts and those of other people with detailed knowledge of the case strongly suggest that his source was neither Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's top political adviser, nor I. Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and was in fact a third administration official whose identity has not yet been publicly disclosed.
Mr. Pincus's most recent account, in the current issue of Nieman Reports, a journal of the Nieman Foundation, makes clear that his source had volunteered the information to him, something that people close to both Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby have said they did not do in their conversations with reporters.
Mr. Pincus has said he will not identify his source until the source does so. But his account and those provided by other reporters sought out by Mr. Fitzgerald in connection with the case provide a fresh window into the cast of individuals other than Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby who discussed Ms. Wilson with reporters.
In addition to Mr. Pincus, the reporters known to have been pursued by the special prosecutor include Mr. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, was the first to identify Ms. Wilson, by her maiden name, Valerie Plame; Mr. Cooper, who testified before a grand jury on the matter earlier this month; Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, and who was interviewed by the prosecutor last year; Glenn Kessler, a diplomatic reporter for The Post, who was also interviewed last year, and Judith Miller of The New York Times, who is now in jail for refusing to testify about the matter. It is not known whether Mr. Novak has testified or been interviewed on the matter.
Both Mr. Pincus, who covers intelligence matters for The Post, and Mr. Russert have continued to report on the investigation after being interviewed by Mr. Fitzgerald about their conversations with government officials.
Mr. Pincus wrote in the Nieman Reports article that he had agreed to answer questions from Mr. Fitzgerald last fall about his July 12, 2003, conversation only after "it turned out that my source, whom I still cannot identify publicly, had in fact disclosed to the prosecutor that he was my source, and he talked to the prosecutor about our conversation."
In identifying Ms. Wilson and her role, Mr. Novak attributed that account to two senior Bush administration officials. One of those officials was Mr. Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, according to people close to Mr. Rove, who have said he merely confirmed information that Mr. Novak already had.
But the identity of Mr. Novak's original source, whom he has described as "no partisan gunslinger," remains unknown.
Mr. Cooper of Time magazine, who wrote about the matter several days after Mr. Novak's column appeared, has written and said publicly that he told a grand jury that Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove were among his sources. But Mr. Cooper has also said that there may have been others.
Ms. Miller never wrote a story about the matter. She has refused to testify in response to a court order directing her to testify in response to a subpoena from Mr. Fitzgerald seeking her testimony about a conversation with a specified government official between June 6, 2003, and June 13, 2003.
During that period, Ms. Miller was working primarily from the Washington bureau of The Times, reporting to Jill Abramson, who was the Washington bureau chief at the time, and was assigned to report for an article published July 20, 2003, about Iraq and the hunt for unconventional weapons, according to Ms. Abramson, who is now managing editor of The Times.
In e-mail messages this week, Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, and George Freeman, an assistant general counsel of the newspaper, declined to address written questions about whether Ms. Miller was assigned to report about Mr. Wilson's trip, whether she tried to write a story about it, or whether she ever told editors or colleagues at the newspaper that she had obtained information about the role played by Ms. Wilson.
The four reporters known to have been interviewed by Mr. Fitzgerald or to have appeared before the grand jury have said that they did so after receiving explicit permission from their sources, most notably Mr. Libby, who was the subject of the interviews involving Mr. Russert, Mr. Kessler, Mr. Pincus and Mr. Cooper. They have declined to elaborate on their statements, citing Mr. Fitzgerald's request that they and others not speak publicly about the matter.
Mr. Russert, Mr. Kessler and Mr. Pincus have indicated in statements released by their news organizations that their conversations with Mr. Libby were not about Ms. Wilson.
In his article in the Summer 2005 issue of Nieman Reports, Mr. Pincus wrote that he did not write about Ms. Wilson when he first heard the account "because I did not believe it true that she had arranged" Mr. Wilson's trip.
Mr. Pincus first disclosed the July 12, 2003, conversation with an administration official in an Oct. 12, 2003, article in The Washington Post, but did not mention in that article that he himself had been the recipient of the information. He wrote in Nieman Reports that he did not believe the person who spoke to him was committing a criminal act, but only practicing damage control by trying to get him to write about Mr. Wilson.
David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson contributed reporting for this article.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:16 AM
Energy Bill Won't Cut Oil Imports, Critics Say
The measure is expected to do little in the short term to boost supplies or reduce gas prices.
By James F. Peltz and Richard Simon
Times Staff Writers
The energy bill nearing passage in Congress, promoted by the Bush administration as an important step toward making the U.S. less reliant on foreign oil, would do little in the short term to boost the nation's energy independence or provide relief for motorists paying record gasoline prices, analysts said Wednesday.
The U.S. petroleum industry, already enjoying record profits from skyrocketing oil and natural gas prices, lobbied aggressively for the legislation and received billions in tax breaks and other incentives partly designed to encourage drilling projects.
But based on those incentives alone, the industry is unlikely to start sinking new wells — projects that require years of development before they add fresh oil and gas to the market, experts said.
"The energy bill is not going to make a meaningful difference in U.S. supplies," said Steve Enger, an analyst at Petrie Parkman & Co., an energy investment bank in Denver.
The bill, the first overhaul of national energy policy in more than a decade, is expected to be approved by the House of Representatives today and the Senate on Friday. President Bush, a former Texas oilman, has pushed for the energy bill since taking office in 2001 and is expected to sign it.
Some critics say the legislation represents a giveaway to the energy industry.
With crude trading near $60 a barrel, oil companies "don't really need much more encouragement" to launch exploration projects, said Rick Mueller, senior oil analyst at Energy Security Analysis Inc. "Companies already are looking anywhere they can to find additional barrels."
Moreover, the energy legislation wouldn't do much to quench America's thirst for oil. Rising demand in the U.S. — the world's biggest consumer of petroleum — as well as in China, India and elsewhere has been a major factor in keeping global oil markets tight and pump prices high.
"There's very little in the bill, really, to address that," Mueller said.
Even Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman cautioned Wednesday that motorists should not expect a quick decline in gasoline prices.
"There are no magic bullets in this law that will change energy prices in the next day, week or month," Bodman told reporters. "It's going to take a number of months, if not years, to deal with energy prices."
The bill's $11.5 billion in tax breaks over 10 years are not just aimed at generating more oil and gas supplies. They also include the first-ever production tax credit for nuclear power companies, as well as measures to promote conservation and energy efficiency.
However, lawmakers rejected language — opposed by U.S. automakers — requiring the federal government to adopt tougher fuel economy standards for sport utility vehicles and other gas guzzlers and to look for other ways to cut U.S. oil consumption.
Still, the Bush administration hailed the bill as laying the groundwork for energy independence.
"For over four years, the president has called for a national energy strategy for our national and economic security," and getting Congress "to come to an agreement is definitely an achievement," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
Concerns about U.S. energy security increased last month when a Chinese oil company jumped into the bidding for El Segundo-based Unocal Corp.
The U.S., which consumes about 20.7 million barrels of oil a day, depends on imports from sources including Canada and the Middle East for about 58% of that oil, according to the Energy Department. That dependence on foreign oil has jumped from about 45% a decade ago.
About 30% of the 5.4 million barrels of oil produced in the U.S. each day comes from the waters of the outer continental shelf. Most of that is in the Gulf of Mexico; production off the coasts of Alaska and California is also included.
The energy bill's oil-related incentives, which include reduced royalties that companies pay on oil pumped from under U.S. waters, mainly affect deep-water projects in the Gulf of Mexico, where companies have stepped up exploration activities without the promise of additional tax breaks. Production in the gulf is expected to surge 33%, to 2 million barrels a day, by the end of the decade, Mueller said.
The incentives provide "an incremental step" toward boosting exploration in the gulf, said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's trade group in Washington. The measures included in the bill "could be the marginal difference between whether to do it or not."
Russ Roberts, spokesman for Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest U.S. oil company, called the bill "an important step toward providing consumers with reliable and affordable energy supplies, while addressing the need for conservation and energy efficiency."
Oil, utility and other energy companies have spent more than $314 million over the last 2 1/2 years lobbying federal officials on energy-related legislation and other industry concerns, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a website that tracks lobbying expenses.
But energy companies didn't get everything they wanted — at least not yet. For example, in the face of opposition from environmentalists, a provision that would have opened Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling does not appear in the energy bill. Still, when Congress returns from its August recess, it is expected to vote to open a portion of the refuge to energy exploration.
Critics complained that the oil industry was receiving tax breaks at a time when it was enjoying record profit because of the surge in energy prices.
In the last three months of 2004, for instance, Exxon Mobil's profit shot up 27% from a year earlier to $8.4 billion — the largest quarterly profit ever for a U.S. public company. The oil giant's full-year profit was a company record $25.3 billion.
"While the energy bill does not decrease dependence on foreign oil, it does increase dependence on federal handouts," said Tom Schatz, president of the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, a private watchdog group.
The global oil industry is expected to spend $60 billion to $75 billion on worldwide exploration and production this year, up about 20% from 2004. Despite the companies' gusher of profits, they remain cautious about ratcheting up that spending, because their projects can take several years to bear fruit — and oil prices can change dramatically in the meantime.
"Yes, oil is at $60 a barrel today, but only six years ago it was at $11," Felmy said.
Among other things, the energy bill would reduce or eliminate the royalties that oil companies pay the federal government for production in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The petroleum institute estimates that the industry pays about $8 billion a year in royalties to the U.S. government for oil and gas production.
The cost of finding and developing an oil well in the gulf averages roughly $5 a barrel, so a field that has 100 million barrels of reserves could require spending $500 million for drilling wells, erecting a production platform and other costs, Petrie Parkman's Enger said.
More than half of the exploratory wells produce dry holes. But once a successful project starts pumping oil, Enger said, about 16 or 17 cents of every $1 of oil sold would go to Uncle Sam in royalties. Being able to save those royalties might persuade a company to drill a marginal well, "but it's typically not the most important factor" for overall exploration.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:12 AM
State Dept. Now Says Bolton Interviewed
State Dept. Says Bolton Inaccurately Told Congress He Had Not Been Interviewed in Investigation
By MARK SHERMAN
The Associated Press
Jul. 29, 2005 - John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.N. ambassador, mistakenly told Congress he had not been interviewed or testified in any investigation over the past five years, the State Department said Thursday.
Bolton was interviewed by the State Department inspector general in 2003 as part of a joint investigation with the Central Intelligence Agency into prewar Iraqi attempts to buy nuclear materials from Niger, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said.
The admission came hours after another State Department official said Bolton had correctly answered a Senate questionnaire when he wrote that he has not testified to a grand jury or been interviewed by investigators in any inquiry over the past five years.
The reversal followed persistent Democratic attempts to question Bolton's veracity just days before Bush may use his authority to make him United Nations ambassador after Congress adjourns for its summer recess. For months, Democrats have prevented the Senate from confirming the fiery conservative to the post.
"It seems unusual that Mr. Bolton would not remember his involvement in such a serious matter," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "In my mind, this raises more questions that need to be answered. I hope President Bush will not make the mistake of recess appointing Mr. Bolton."
The new information does not change the Bush administration's commitment to Bolton's nomination, said a senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the subject.
When Bolton filled out a Senate questionnaire in March in connection with his nomination, "he didn't recall being interviewed by the State Department's inspector general. Therefore, his form, as submitted, was inaccurate," Clay said. "He will correct it."
Clay said Bolton, formerly undersecretary for arms control and international security, had no role in a separate criminal investigation into the leak of an undercover CIA official's identity.
The response came after Biden wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserting Bolton had been interviewed and suggesting he had not been truthful in his questionnaire.
Biden learned about the interview by asking the inspector general's office, according to a Democratic committee aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the aide was not authorized to be identified in news reports.
Democrats have tried to turn up the pressure on Bolton, hoping to persuade Bush not to appoint him on a temporary basis while Congress is on its summer recess.
Rice and other officials refused to rule out a recess appointment for Bolton. "What we can't be is without leadership at the United Nations," Rice said on the PBS' "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."
While the State Department and criminal investigations are independent, they spring from the same source intelligence that Iraq was trying to buy materials in Africa to produce nuclear weapons.
In the criminal probe, a federal grand jury is investigating who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the news media. Biden had earlier asked Rice about a report that Bolton was among State undersecretaries who "gave testimony" about a classified memo that has become an important piece of evidence in the leak investigation.
Plame is the wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was sent by the CIA in 2002 to check out the intelligence about Iraqi nuclear intentions. Wilson could not verify it and his public criticism of Bush's Iraq policy in July 2003 set in motion a chain of events that led to an ongoing criminal investigation and the jailing of a New York Times reporter who refused to cooperate with it.
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, citing unidentified Bush administration officials, was the first to disclose in July 2003 that Plame worked for the CIA and suggested her husband for the Niger trip. Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper wrote a subsequent story and included her name.
It can be illegal to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA official. Wilson has accused the White House of trying to discredit him because he accused the White House of twisting intelligence to justify an Iraq invasion.
It is unknown whether Novak has cooperated with investigators, but prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said in court papers that his investigation was complete as far back as October 2004, except for the testimony of two reporters Cooper and the Times' Judith Miller.
Cooper has since testified before the grand jury. Miller has been in jail since July 6 for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald.
Bush political aide Karl Rove and vice presidential chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby were among Cooper's sources, he reported following his grand jury appearance. They are among several high-ranking administration officials who have given grand jury testimony.
While Rove has not disputed that he told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked for the agency, he has insisted through his lawyer that he did not mention her by name.
Among the many mysteries in this case is that there was apparently at least one other government official who disclosed to a reporter that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Walter Pincus, a Washington Post reporter, wrote in the summer edition of the Nieman Foundation publication Nieman Reports that the official talked to him two days before Novak published his column.
Pincus did not disclose his source. But he said he has cooperated with prosecutors and that his source also has been interviewed.
Associated Press reporters Anne Gearan, George Gedda and Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:04 AM
Frist to Back Funding of Stem Cell Study
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to Back Funding of Stem Cell Research
By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
Jul. 29, 2005 - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, breaking with President Bush, plans to announce support of legislation to expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research, increasing the possibility Congress will enact the measure, a Senate aide knowledgeable about Frist's plans said late Thursday.
Frist, who last month said he did not at this time support expanded federal financing of such research, is expected to explain his decision to now support such financing in a speech on the Senate floor on Friday morning.
Frist plans to say that he has reservations about disagreeing with Bush's policy that stringently limits taxpayer financing for stem cell research, but will support the legislation anyway, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a reluctance to undercut Frist's formal announcement.
Bob Stevenson, the majority leader's spokesman, declined to comment beyond saying that Frist planned remarks on stem cell research when the Senate resumes business Friday.
Frist could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Frist's decision was first reported Thursday by The New York Times on its Web site.
It quoted Frist as saying in the text of his planned speech that the limitations put in place by the Bush administration in 2001 on stem cell research "will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases."
"Therefore, I believe the president's policy should be modified," the newspaper quoted Frist, a surgeon, as planning to say.
Bush has threatened to veto legislation for expanded financial support for stem cell research.
A bill to finance more stem cell research has passed the House, but has been stalled in the Senate.
The shift in views could impact Frist's presidential prospects since it would put him in conflict with not only the White House but also Christian conservatives, whose support he has been courting.
The Times said that Frist, in his speech, will reaffirm his position on abortion and say he can reconcile his position on stem cell research with his pro-life views.
"I believe human life beings at conception," he is quoted as saying. "I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported."
In 2001, Bush announced his position on stem cell research, saying that the government should pay only for research of stem cell colonies, or lines, that were created by that date where the "life or death" decision already has been made.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:55 AM
Eric Muller: It’s Hirabayashi, Not Korematsu
On his “Is that Legal?" blog (isthatlegal.org), Chapel Hill professor Eric Muller -- a leading expert on the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II -- writes:
Here's the question I'd ask Judge Roberts at his confirmation hearing, if I had the chance:
"When the United States was at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy in 1942, the Army imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew along the West Coast for U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry, but no curfew anywhere in the United States for U.S. citizens of German or Italian ancestry. In Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), a unanimous Supreme Court held that the curfew did not violate the due process rights of the affected Americans.
"Was Hirabayashi correctly decided?"
Muller also notes that:
Senators might waste their time on questions about Korematsu v. United States (1944), which, although never overruled, is considered by nearly everyone to be one of the Court's four or five worst decisions ever. (Korematsu concerned not the curfew, but the wholesale exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.) A Korematsu question will be easy for Roberts, and his answer won't tell us much.
For anyone interested in better understanding the Justice-to-be's views on executive power, race discrimination, and the balance of liberty and security in wartime, Hirabayashi is the money question.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
From: The Blog of the American Constitution Society
The House of Representatives narrowly passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The vote on the bill, which passed 217-215, took place late last night and featured heavy lobbying from Bush Administration officials.
Newly disclosed documents show that, in 2003, military lawyers vigorously dissented from Bush Administration officials who claimed that the President had authority as commander in chief to order "harsh interrogations" of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The documents include one advising the administration task force that several of the "more extreme interrogation techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law" as well as military law.
The Department of Agriculture is investigating another possible domestic case of mad cow disease, its chief veterinarian said yesterday. The department would not say where the cow was from.
The Environmental Protection Agency made a last-minute decision Tuesday to delay the planned release of an annual report on fuel economy. The report shows that American automakers produce cars and trucks that are significantly less fuel-efficient than they were in the late 1980's. "Something's fishy when the Bush administration delays a report showing no improvement in fuel economy until after passage of their energy bill, which fails to improve fuel economy," said Daniel Becker, the Sierra Club's top global warming strategist.
According to the New York Daily News, Jason Epstein, husband of jailed New York Times reported Judith Miller, was recently spotted on a star-studded Mediterranean cruise. All while his wife remains incarcerated in an Alexandria, VA, detention facility.
Meanwhile, Arianna Huffington theorizes on what may actually be going on behind the scenes of the Judith Miller situation.
A Utah judge has ruled that personalized license plates reading "GAYSROK," "GAYWEGO," and "GAYRTS" should be issued and that a "reasonable person" would not find the terms "offensive to good taste." The Utah Department of Motor Vehicles had previously denied the issuance of the plates, saying that personalized plates are not a place for the expression of controversial opinion. A Utah woman had requested the plates to show support for her gay daughter and gay friends.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:46 AM
Thursday, July 28, 2005
By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Ever since it started becoming clear that the war in Iraq was based on exaggerated and inaccurate assertions about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the Bush White House has found itself, every once in a while, furiously trying to deflect the blame.
The effort has not been entirely successful. Polls show that a majority of Americans now believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about WMDs.
But then again, President Bush did win reelection.
One of the more furious bursts of blame-deflection, of course, came after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV disclosed in July 2003 that U.S. intelligence officials had plenty of reason to know that there was no evidence to support allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger -- but that Bush chose to assert as much in his 2003 State of the Union speech anyway.
White House officials launched a dual attack -- both of which involved the CIA. On one front, they began assailing Wilson, a process that eventually led to press leaks outing his wife as a CIA agent. On the other front, they forced the CIA to take responsibility for not having insisted that Bush remove the famous "16 words" from his address.
No official body has thus far investigated the White House's use of intelligence in the run-up to war, or whether it was fair for the White House to blame the CIA and other agencies, instead of taking the blame itself. The Senate intelligence committee chose to put that issue off indefinitely and the Silberman-Robb "WMD Commission" was explicitly not authorized to do so.
But now comes today's news from Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei on the front page of The Washington Post: "The special prosecutor in the CIA leak probe has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than was previously known, part of an effort to determine whether anyone broke laws during a White House effort two years ago to discredit allegations that President Bush used faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq war, according to several officials familiar with the case. . . .
"In doing so, special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald has asked not only about how CIA operative Valerie Plame's name was leaked but also how the administration went about shifting responsibility from the White House to the CIA for having included 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium from Africa, an assertion that was later disputed."
So in addition to those we knew about before, who has talked to prosecutors? "[F]ormer CIA director George J. Tenet and deputy director John E. McLaughlin, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, State Department officials, and even a stranger who approached columnist Robert D. Novak on the street," Pincus and VandeHei write.
"Based on the questions they have been asked, people involved in the case believe that Fitzgerald looked into this bureaucratic fight because the effort to discredit Wilson was part of the larger campaign to distance Bush from the Niger controversy."
There's lot of new details there, including this one: "Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with [columnist Robert] Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed."
Novak Speaks, Says Nothing (Again)
You may remember that Novak gave an extended on-air no comment to his CNN colleagues last month. (See my June 30 column.)
CNN's Candy Crowley sweetly sought some scraps yesterday.
"CROWLEY: I wanted to talk to you about the CIA leak story, because a couple of things have come out that I wanted to see if I could get you to talk about. The first one is that there is a story out there that Karl Rove testified that you were the one that told him that Valerie Plame was at the CIA.
"NOVAK: Well I can't talk about anything that I have done. But I would say that it's, to me, very interesting that all these leaks on the grand jury are not coming from the grand jury, or, as far as I know, or from the special prosecutor, they are coming from lawyers for various people who are participating in it, or the participants themselves. Which is a little bit on the unusual side. . . .
"I noticed that this has revived the whole story which is the reason I haven't been on television very much lately. . . . [A]nd the Democrats are trying to make a lot of it. But I think this is a hard story to keep alive until the grand jury and special prosecutor came up with something.
"CROWLEY: Well outside whether you testify -- I assume you can't tell us whether you testified at the grand jury or still won't tell us. Outside of that, can you tell us whether you ever told Karl Rove about Valerie Plame's status?
"NOVAK: I can't tell anything I ever talked to Karl Rove about, because I don't think I ever talked to him about any subject, even the time of day, on the record."
But the liberal Think Progress blog notes what it calls an outright lie right off the bat: Novak never talked to Rove on the record? Then how come he quoted Rove at least twice?
And here are some questions that Novak should be asked, forcefully and directly because as the person who initially published the leak he has a unique obligaion to provide the public with his understaning of what's going on.
· Have you been notified that you are a target of the special prosecutor's investigation?
· It seems pretty obvious, from the fact that you are not currently in jail, that you have cooperated with investigators. Have you indeed met with prosecutors and/or testified before the grand jury? How many times? Under what circumstances?
· Have you disclosed your two sources to the prosecutors and/or grand jury?
· Did you get some sort of waiver from your sources before doing so?
· You have said your lawyer has told you not to comment about the case, even to say whether or not you have testified at all. What, specifically, is his concern? Can we talk to him to confirm that?
· Are you refusing to talk because you're afraid of putting yourself in legal jeopardy? Are you in legal jeopardy? Or is it because Fitzgerald has asked you not to comment? If so, why are you honoring that request?
· Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper felt free to describe his grand jury testimony in detail, including what sorts of questions he was asked. That was a boon to all journalists covering the case. Why won't you do the same?
That's just for starters. Back to you, Candy.
I'll be Live Online today at 1 p.m. ET, taking your questions and comments .
Gallup provides some more details on the poll I wrote about yesterday : "A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finds that George W. Bush's personal honesty rating is the lowest of his term, but his ratings apparently have not suffered much, if at all, as a result of the probe into White House leaks of classified information. Only about half of Americans are following the controversy closely, but the prevailing sentiment is that Bush adviser Karl Rove did something unethical, if not illegal, when he revealed the identity of a CIA operative to reporters. . . .
"The July 22-24 poll finds 54% of Americans saying Bush is honest and trustworthy and 44% saying he is not. That is essentially unchanged from a 56% honesty rating found in April, long before the White House leak controversy erupted. In fact, Bush's image on this dimension has been quite stable since the beginning of 2004."
I asked yesterday whether the fact that half of Americans were following the Rove story closely was a lot or a little.
Reader Matthew S. Nelson pointed me to a recent Pew Research Center poll , which reached a similar finding about public interest in the case. Pew wrote: "The survey finds that attention to the Rove story is comparable to interest in past Washington controversies, including the 1997 ethics charges against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's resignation in 2003 following remarks at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. . . . But the story has much greater resonance than the recent ethics complaints made against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay."
Pew has summarized news interest for different stories over the past 20 years here . That page tracks the number of people following a story "very closely" -- that's 23 percent for the Rove story. Consider this: Only 34 percent of American were very closely following the Clinton impeachment in late 1998, when the House was actually voting.
Rove the Headliner
Matthew Mosk writes in The Washington Post: "Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele hosted the first major fundraiser in his as-yet-undeclared bid for U.S. Senate last night, attracting presidential adviser Karl Rove to headline a $1,000-a-person cocktail party in Washington. . . .
"Democrats dispatched about 35 protesters to the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill to heckle Steele."
All About Ari
Anne E. Kornblut writes in the New York Times: "For the two years since he left the White House -- on the very day in July 2003 that Robert D. Novak printed the name of a Central Intelligence Agency operative in his syndicated newspaper column -- [Ari] Fleischer has been caught up in the investigation of who supplied that information to the columnist and whether it was a crime. . . .
"One person familiar with Mr. Fleischer's testimony said he told the grand jury that he was not Mr. Novak's source."
And Kornblut adds this about Fleischer's boss: "Dan Bartlett, the most senior communications strategist in the White House, has also told investigators that he did not know who Ms. Wilson was, according to a person who has been briefed on the case. . . .
"A background briefing during the trip in which Mr. Bartlett spoke with reporters on an airport tarmac and urged them to look into the C.I.A.'s role in sending Mr. Wilson to Niger has not drawn substantial interest from prosecutors recently."
An excerpt from yesterday's briefing by spokesman Scott McClellan:
"Q Scott, in the wake of the Valerie Plame incident, on which you will not comment, intelligence officials have indicated there's a growing concern among operatives in the field, a fear that they might be the targets of political manipulation. And they have indicated that something must be done on the part of the White House to help allay these fears. And given that these people are in the forefront of the war on terror, isn't it necessary to do something more than simply stonewalling all discussion of the incident in order to restore confidence?
"MR. McCLELLAN: And I'll reject your characterization. What we're doing is helping to advance the investigation forward. And the President said he's not going to get into trying to draw conclusions based on reports in the media. Let's let the investigators complete their work."
The 12-Hour Gap
Democrats are calling for answers about the 12-hour lead time White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. got from then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, before Gonzales officially notified the White House staff that there was a criminal inquiry into the Plame matter and that all relevant records should be preserved. (See yesterday's column .)
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer wants answers from Card himself. Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr. wants them from the Justice Department's inspector general.
Plame Likes Springsteen
Timothy J. Burger and Massimo Calabresi write in Time.com that "another minor wrinkle emerged that may further draw partisan lines. The Wilsons last year attended an anti-Bush fundraising concert featuring Bruce Springsteen last fall. Federal Election Commission records show the tab: $372 . . . to America Coming Together, a political committee that worked hard to oppose President Bush's re-election, for two floor seats. 'It was great,' Joe Wilson said, returning a call for his wife. 'Remember, this was a year and a half after the Administration compromised the identity of my wife, and it was no great secret that I was doing my bit to educate the American public as to the flaws in the Bush Administration's foreign policy.' "
Turd Blossom Troubles
David Twiddy writes for the Associated Press: "About a dozen newspapers have objected to use of toilet humor in Tuesday's and Wednesday's 'Doonesbury' comic strip, and some either pulled or edited the strip.
"Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes the strip to around 1,400 newspapers, said it had received some complaints from editors about a reference to presidential aide Karl Rove."
Here's Tuesday's strip , introducing Rove, AKA "Turd Blossom" -- which is, indeed, one of Bush's nicknames for him. (See the final item in my December 10 column for Rove's explanation. )
In today's strip , Turd Blossom gets a promotion.
Monday's strip was by comparison tame: A look at the newly assertive White House press corps.
Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Most Americans don't believe the United States will succeed in winning the war in Iraq or establishing a stable democracy there, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll.
"But an ambivalent public also says sending troops to Iraq wasn't a mistake, a sign that most people aren't yet ready to give up on the war."
Among the other findings: "For the first time, a majority of Americans, 51%, say the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason Bush emphasized in making the case for invading. The administration's credibility on the issue has been steadily eroding since 2003."
A new Quinnipiac University national poll finds Bush's approval rating at an all-time low of 41 percent.
Eric Lichtblau writes in the New York Times: "President Bush's nominee for the second-ranking spot at the Justice Department shed new light Tuesday on the 2002 development of the administration's positions on the treatment of terrorism detainees, but characterized some of the legal conclusions as 'sophomoric.'
"The nominee for deputy attorney general, Timothy E. Flanigan, was at the center of the administration's policies on torture as deputy White House counsel through late 2002.. . . .
"Mr. Flanigan said he was reluctant to state whether he considered several interrogation techniques, including mock executions and the simulated drowning of a prisoner, to be inappropriate or to constitute torture."
James Kuhnhenn writes for Knight Ridder: "The Senate's Republican leader Tuesday derailed a bipartisan effort to set rules for the treatment of enemy prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and other military detention camps by abruptly stopping debate on a $491 billion defense bill."
Social Security Watch
Jackie Calmes writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Mr. Bush, in a pep talk for a few hundred college students and business backers, said he is 'more committed than ever' to creating personal accounts from Social Security and reducing future scheduled benefits so the program is permanently solvent, according to several attendees."
Jim Abrams writes for the Associated Press: "In a rare piece of lobbying on Capitol Hill, President Bush appealed personally to fellow Republicans Wednesday to close ranks behind a free trade agreement with Central America that faces a very close floor vote."
Paul Blustein and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "Cajoling, deal-cutting and browbeating were always in the cards for CAFTA because it is by far the most controversial trade agreement in years. . . .
"A defeat would deal a major setback to President Bush's second-term agenda, exposing him as vulnerable to Republican defections at a time when his political clout has increasingly been called into question. It would also deepen doubts about the ability of DeLay, who has been hobbled by ethics charges, to keep his troops in line."
Christopher Lee writes in The Washington Post: "Andrew H. Card Jr. had some candid advice for 2,000 Washington interns who gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building on Monday evening to hear him speak at an event intended to recruit talented people into the federal civil service. Some of you should go corporate, the White House chief of staff told them."
Susan Page writes in USA Today: "Add to President Bush's list of worries: the 2008 presidential race.
"That's not because he'll be running; he can't. Vice President Cheney insists he's not, either. But the administration has been forced to keep the next campaign in mind because numerous contenders, many of them in the Senate, have presidential bids on their minds as they debate everything from the Iraq war to the Supreme Court."
Line of Succession
The Associated Press reports that the Senate has passed a bill changing the order of those in line to assume the presidency if President Bush is unable to serve.
CBS White House correspondent John Roberts takes questions online, including this one: "I am very happy to ask this question to a White House reporter: Why are some reporters so rude? Why don't the reporters wait for an answer before running ahead to the next question?"
Roberts's reply: "I guess it's all a matter of what you consider 'rude.' The job of any White House Correspondent worth his or her salt is to attempt to get to the truth. This White House is extraordinarily adept at sticking to the message and not imparting any information during the briefing that it doesn't want out there. The Press Secretary comes to the briefing with a set of talking points and sticks to them fastidiously. So the reporters try to knock him off point, usually to no avail."
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:30 AM
Judy Miller: Do We Want To Know Everything or Don't We?
Not everyone in the Times building is on the same page when it comes to Judy Miller. The official story the paper is sticking to is that Miller is a heroic martyr, sacrificing her freedom in the name of journalistic integrity.
But a very different scenario is being floated in the halls. Here it is: It's July 6, 2003, and Joe Wilson's now famous op-ed piece appears in the Times, raising the idea that the Bush administration has "manipulate[d]" and "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted, and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war -- and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the info about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby (Newsday has identified a meeting Miller had on July 8 in Washington with an "unnamed government official"). Maybe Miller tells Rove too -- or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out.
This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her "source" at the White House -- because she was the source. Sure, she first got the info from someone else, and the odds are she wasn't the only one who clued in Libby and/or Rove (the State Dept. memo likely played a role too)… but, in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn't an innocent writer caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it. This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn't to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson's motives. Which Novak did.
This version of events has divided the Times into two camps: those who want to learn everything about this story, and those who want to learn everything as long as it doesn't downgrade the heroic status of their "colleague" Judy Miller. And then there are the schizophrenics. Frank Rich is spending his summer in the second camp, while at the same time writing some of the most powerful and brilliant stuff about the scandal: "This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit… is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped up grounds… That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war."
But this unmasking -- if it is to be complete -- has to include Judy Miller and the part she played in the mess in Iraq. Of course, the division over Miller is nothing new… it predates her transformation into media martyr by many months. For an early look at this riff, check out Howard Kurtz' May 2003 reporting on the way Miller ferociously fought to keep Ahmad Chalabi, her top source on WMD, to herself and the anger it caused at the paper. And also the paper's extraordinary mea culpa from May 2004, in which its editors admitted that the Times' reporting on Iraq "was not as rigorous as it should have been" -- yet steadfastly refused to even mention the less-than-rigorous reporter whose byline appeared on 4 of the 6 stories the editors singled out as being particularly egregious. "It looks," the Times' public admission concluded, "as if we, along with the administration, were taken in." And yet just two month earlier, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller called Miller, who was one of the main reporters "taken in" a "smart, well-sourced, industrious and fearless reporter." Nothing about her less than "rigorous" reporting. Nothing about her reliance on Chalabi being less than "well-sourced."
Any discussion of Miller's actions in the Plame-Rove-Libby-Gonzalez-Card scandal must not leave out the key role she played in cheerleading for the invasion of Iraq and in hyping the WMD threat. Re-reading some of her pre-war reporting today, it's hard not to be disgusted by how inaccurate and pumped up it turned out to be. For chapter and verse, check out Slate's Jack Shafer. For the money quote on her mindset, look to her April 2003 appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, where, following up on her blockbuster front page story about an Iraqi scientist and his claims that Iraq had destroyed all its WMD just before the war started, Miller said the scientist was more than a "smoking gun," he was the "silver bullet" in the hunt for WMD. The "silver bullet" later turned out to be another blank -- and the scientist turned out to be a military intelligence official.
Amazingly, however, even as her reporting has been debunked -- and her sources discredited -- Miller has steadfastly refused to apologize for her role in misleading the public in the lead up to the war. Indeed, in an interview with the author of Bush's Brain, James Moore, she, in the words of Moore, "remained righteously indignant, unwilling to accept that she had goofed in the grandest of fashions", telling him: "I was proved fucking right."
As recently as March 2005, in an appearance at Berkeley, she stubbornly refused to express regret. Indeed, she showed that she shares a key attitude with the Bush administration: an unwillingness to admit mistakes when faced with new realities. She even compared herself to the president, saying that she was getting the same information he was getting… and suggested that since he hadn't apologized, why should she? Maybe she's angling for the Tenet treatment: promote faulty intel, get a Medal of Freedom. Miller also echoed the words of Don Rumsfeld ("You go to war with the Army you have") when she justified her flawed reporting on WMD by saying "You go with what you've got". Really? Wouldn't it be better to wait until what you've got is right?
It's nice that Bill Keller is visiting Judy in jail giving updates about how hard this is for her, having to be away from her family and friends. But it would be even nicer if we'd had some acknowledgement from Miller of her complicity in sending 138,000 American soldiers away from their family and friends. And, unlike Miller, they won't be returning home in October. Indeed, as of today, 1,785 of them won't be returning home at all.
This story gets deeper with every twist and revelation, including the reminder (via Podhoretz) that Fitzgerald had a previous run in with Miller over her actions in a national security case, and the speculation (via Jeralyn at Talk Left) that Fitzgerald is considering seeking to put Miller under criminal contempt, rather than the civil contempt she's now under.
But one thing is inescapable: Miller -- intentionally or unintentionally -- worked hand in glove in helping the White House propaganda machine (for a prime example, check out this Newsweek story on how the aluminum tubes tall tale went from a government source to Miller to page one of the New York Times to Cheney and Rice going on the Sunday shows to confirm the story to Bush pushing that same story at the UN).
So, once again, the question arises (and you can't have it both ways, Frank): when it comes to this scandal, do you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth or do you want the truth -- except for what Judy Miller wants to keep to herself?
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:28 AM
Iraq Wants Quick Pullout of U.S. Troops
By ROBERT BURNS
AP Military Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's prime minister said Wednesday he wants U.S. troops ``on their way out'' as soon as his government can protect its new democracy. The top American general in the country said he hopes to begin significant withdrawal by next spring.
At the same time, in an unannounced visit, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Iraqi security forces should take on more tasks now performed by U.S. troops.
American military commanders have repeatedly expressed hopes in recent months that they could begin major troop reductions next year, depending on the intensity of the insurgency. Even so, Wednesday's remarks seemed to signal a new willingness to discuss specific ways American troops might exit an increasingly unpopular war in which nearly 2,000 have died.
There was a subdued reaction in Congress. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, ``I remain concerned about establishing timetables and raising expectations. However, I have not seen the data that the general had before him.''
Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican on the committee, said he agreed with Gen. George Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that withdrawal will be possible only when conditions permit.
``I'm sure that the security situation at the time will dictate what they need to do,'' McCain said.
Al-Jaafari, speaking at a joint news conference with Rumsfeld, said, ``The great desire of the Iraqi people is to see the coalition forces on their way out.''
However, comments by Casey drew the most notice. He told reporters that a ``fairly substantial'' withdrawal of U.S. troops could go ahead in the spring and summer of 2006 if the Iraqi political process is not derailed and the insurgency does not grow.
Pentagon officials have provided little detail in discussing the possible withdrawal of forces from Iraq. The most specific estimate has come from Lt. Gen. John Vines, who runs day-to-day military operations in Iraq. He said in June that a reduction of ``four or five brigades'' - perhaps 20,000 troops out of the current 135,000 - was possible sometime next year.
More than 1,780 American troops have died since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. The Bush administration has refused to set deadlines for withdrawal, saying U.S. soldiers will remain as long as needed until Iraqi troops and police can defend the country on their own.
``The president wants to see our troops come home, but we've got an important mission that we need to complete,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday.
McClellan said Bush depends on his commanders to say how many troops they need, ``And they make decisions based on the conditions and the progress that's being made on the ground.''
Car bombings, roadside bomb attacks and other violence against U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians have increased in recent months, and al-Jaafari and his cabinet face constant threats. Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq was not announced ahead of time for fear of attack.
Still, the United States points to successful elections in Iraq in January and formation of a democratic government as evidence both that the Iraqis are on the path to independence and that the U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein was worthwhile.
Rumsfeld did not comment on al-Jaafari's remarks, but later told reporters that the country's political leaders need to do more to relieve the burden on American forces. He said Iraqis need to start taking responsibility for guarding the estimated 15,000 U.S.-held prisoners, and should meet the Aug. 15 deadline for completing a draft constitution.
``It would be very harmful to the momentum that's necessary'' if the constitution is not finished on time, he said. ``We have troops on the ground there. People get killed.''
More than half of Americans, 55 percent, who were polled in early July for The Associated Press by Ipsos, said they disapprove of the U.S. government's handling of Iraq. Thirty-seven percent said in AP-Ipsos polling in June that they thought the United States should bring its troops home immediately.
The presence of U.S. troops is increasingly unpopular in Iraq as well. Forty-six percent of Iraqis polled in a survey conducted in March and April said the U.S.-led war had done more harm than good. At the same time, 61 percent said Saddam's ouster was worth the price.
Forty-seven percent of respondents in that CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll said attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq are unjustified, while 52 percent said those attacks could be justified some or all of the time.
``We desire speed in that regard,'' al-Jaafari said of a U.S. pullout, but added that no specific timetable exists for a handover.
``We do not want to be surprised by a withdrawal that is not in connection with our Iraqi timing,'' he said, speaking through a translator.
At the Pentagon, officials say they have prepared a range of scenarios, from increasing the size of the force to reducing it substantially. Drawdowns could be accomplished by bringing home troops ahead of schedule, or rotating in fewer replacements when a unit returns to its home base.
Casey and other officials mention spring or summer as possibilities because the U.S. military will need time to assess the effects of the December elections on the insurgency, defense officials said. Iraq's security forces are also expected to be in better shape by then.
On the Net:
Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:25 AM
Subcontractor's Story Details Post-9/11 Chaos
New Company Had Little Oversight
By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Three years ago, Sunnye L. Sims lived in a two-bedroom apartment north of San Diego, paying $1,025 in monthly rent. Then she landed a dream job, with $5.4 million in pay for nine months of work.
Now she owns a $1.9 million stucco mansion with lofty ceilings on a hilltop, featuring sun-splashed palm trees and a circular driveway.
"She really went uphill," said Jerry Collins, a maintenance man at her former apartment complex who recalled Sims talking about her ambitions.
Sims is not a Hollywood starlet. She is a meeting-and-events planner who built her fortune on a U.S. government contract. In 2002, her tiny company secured a no-bid subcontract to manage logistics on an urgent federal project to protect the nation's airports in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Sims, now 42, recruited hundreds of people to help hire a government force of 60,000 airline passenger screeners on a tight deadline. With little experience, her tiny company was asked to help set up and run screener-assessment centers in a hurry at more than 150 hotels and other facilities. Her company eventually billed $24 million.
The company, Eclipse Events Inc., was among the most important of the 168 subcontractors hired by prime contractor NCS Pearson Inc. The cost of the overall contract rose in less than a year to $741 million from $104 million, and federal auditors concluded that $303 million of that spending was unsubstantiated.
Spurred by that audit, federal agents are examining the entire contract and focusing on Eclipse, according to government officials and Pearson. Investigators at the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General are trying to determine how and why Eclipse obtained the work and whether the company overcharged the government or submitted false claims.
The story of how Sims vaulted from relative obscurity into a key role overseeing tens of millions of dollars in government spending is still unfolding. A deeper examination of the Eclipse subcontract illustrates the chaos that accompanied homeland security initiatives after the terrorist attacks and shows how contractors were allowed to operate with little government oversight.
Eclipse came out of nowhere, starting as a one-woman operation based in Sims's apartment. She was hired in a hurry, through word of mouth, recommended by someone who did not review her background in detail. She had worked for more than a decade as an event planner for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. But her company, Eclipse, did not exist as a corporation until Sims got the Pearson subcontract; two weeks later, she filed incorporation papers. Over the next several months, Sims hired hundreds of freelance meeting planners, many of them sight unseen.
As the number of hotel assessment sites expanded -- the Transportation Security Administration doubled the number of screeners to be hired -- Eclipse's subcontract grew to $24 million from $1.1 million. The company's authority to spend money on behalf of Pearson and the government also expanded -- in addition to its direct billings, Eclipse approved millions of dollars more in hotel charges by Eclipse employees and spending by other subcontractors, the audit shows.
"Eclipse did not have any other work, before, during, or after the completion of this subcontract," according to the Defense Contract Audit Agency, which was hired by the TSA to examine spending under the contract. A copy of the audit was obtained by The Washington Post.
Eclipse was hired as a field manager to coordinate with hotels for meeting spaces, conference rooms and food, as well as to act as the go-between with hotels and other vendors and subcontractors, such as local security companies. Eclipse employees later said they did the best they could under the most difficult of circumstances. But they also said Sims and her colleagues seemed overwhelmed.
"Did I think money was being spent wisely?" asked Christopher Bryson, an aspiring filmmaker who worked as an Eclipse logistics coordinator. "My answer is no. It just wasn't well managed."
The auditors said $15 million in expenses submitted by Eclipse could not be substantiated. For example, auditors were able to find supporting documents for only $326,873 of the $5.8 million that Eclipse spent directly on accounting, administration, consulting, management and contract labor.
The auditors noted that Sims not only paid herself $5.4 million in compensation as "President/Owner" but also that she gave herself a $270,000 pension.
In addition to focusing on the direct Eclipse expenses, auditors raised concerns about expenses Eclipse employees charged to separate accounts at the hotels chosen by Pearson. Auditors highlighted scores of other expenses run up or approved by Eclipse: hundreds of thousands of dollars for valet parking, unexplained cash advances, dry cleaning and other spending at the hotels, many of which were high-end or resort-style establishments.
Sims and her business associate, Eclipse Vice President Nita Sullivan, declined repeated requests for interviews. A Washington lawyer hired to help the women respond to questions from federal auditors said they have cooperated with authorities and have nothing to hide. The lawyer, Pamela J. Mazza, declined to discuss the contract or the current investigation.
"Eclipse Events completed its work on time and to the satisfaction of the prime contractor at the fixed price negotiated between Eclipse Events and NCS Pearson," Mazza said in a statement.
Pearson officials said they "believed that Eclipse's rates were reasonable" and "that Eclipse did a good job." In response to the audit, Pearson said, "However, TSA's frequent changes and revised requirements greatly impacted [Pearson] and its subcontractors as they both struggled to meet TSA's ever-changing demands and schedule changes."
But Pearson officials also had concerns about the Eclipse bills. Pearson officials negotiated a $1.5 million discount from Eclipse after a Pearson contracting official questioned Eclipse's expenses. Pearson officials pointed out to The Post that $6 million in Eclipse expenses were "recognized or reimbursed by the government." The Pearson officials also said that the $15 million in expenses highlighted by the auditors was factored into negotiations with the government that resulted in a reduction of Pearson's final contract amount to $741 million.
On the specific point of Sims's $5.4 million compensation, the company said that it did not have access to Eclipse's records and that it "cannot validate how much Eclipse paid to its principal. If [the $5.4 million] is accurate, the personal enrichment is outrageous."
Former Eclipse associates interviewed by The Post in recent weeks described Sims as bright, charming and capable. Her friends dismissed the possibility of impropriety, saying she and Sullivan are both devout Christians who would never take advantage of the government for personal gain.
Sullivan, who lives near Orlando, and Sims have known each other for years. Corporate records show that they have operated at least six related companies in Florida and California in the past five years, all of them registered at their home addresses or post office boxes.
When Sims got the Pearson subcontract, she turned to Sullivan and made her vice president of Eclipse, the audit said. Midway through the work, Sullivan created a new company, WJS Consulting Inc., out of her Florida home. WJS received $5.2 million in consulting fees from Eclipse, the audit said. Sullivan said she used the money to hire labor for the project.
Kathy Artandi worked with Sullivan on the passenger-screener contract out of Sullivan's Florida home. She said Sullivan now works as a youth mentor at a church and lives with her ailing mother.
"It's not like she went out and bought a million-dollar place," said Artandi, who called Sullivan one of her best friends. "That's not Nita. She's very old-fashioned."
Today, Sims helps run a program for recovering alcoholics and drug abusers at Seacoast Community Church, an Evangelical Free church by a freeway in Encinitas, Calif. Pastor Dave Simonson credits Sims with changing the lives of some church members.
"She's an extremely competent, caring and compassionate person," Simonson said. "She's very good at what she does: organizing, handling things, following through. She's very gifted. People like her. She's humble. I would characterize her as a servant-leader."
'Two or Three Names'
Sims grew up in Texas and graduated from Texas State University in San Marcos in 1988 with a degree in interior design and architecture. For more than a decade, she worked for the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, starting as an assistant lounge manager in Austin.
In the early 1990s, she went to work for the Four Seasons in Hawaii. She then transferred to the Four Seasons Aviara resort north of San Diego. In 1998, she moved into a two-bedroom apartment at a complex in northern San Diego County, not far from where she worked, apartment records show.
"I found California by way of Texas then Hawaii," Sims said in a biographical sketch posted on the Seacoast Community Church Web site. "My whole family still lives in Texas and they visit as often as they can. Seems there is never a shortage of visitors when you live in Southern California. I have lived in Carlsbad for 8 years and in that time God has blessed me with a special 'California family' that I have come to love as my own."
"I feel so fortunate to live so close to the Pacific Ocean and spend as much time as possible enjoying the beach and the year round sunshine!" she wrote in the sketch. "I love hiking, skiing, concerts and travel."
Sims left the Four Seasons and in 2000 began doing business as a meeting planner under the name Eclipse Events.
In early 2002, Sims was contacted by Pearson, an educational-testing division of Pearson PLC, a media and publishing company based in England.
Pearson was in a jam. It had just received a contract to test, fingerprint and medically evaluate candidates for jobs as federal airport passenger screeners. Originally, Pearson had planned to use hundreds of its own testing facilities to screen the candidates. But within weeks, TSA officials decided to change the contract and told Pearson to create assessment centers from scratch at hotels and other facilities close to airports, according to Pearson company documents and federal auditors.
Pearson suddenly needed help to carry the huge logistical load.
Sims and Eclipse were among "two or three names" passed on to Pearson by David Gallagher, an executive at HelmsBriscoe Inc., which was helping Pearson book hotel space. Gallagher said in a recent interview that he had heard Sims was sharp and that she had access to a large database with names of meeting planners around the country.
The database was the core element of a business the two women ran called the International Travel Directors Association. For a $100 fee, the association's Web site said, travel and event planners could sign up to be listed in the association's directory of member profiles.
"Established to unite Travel Directors & Meeting Planners -- worldwide!" said the Web site.
The site said the association was located in Suite 147 at 10151 University Blvd. in Orlando. The actual address was at P.O. Box 147 in the UPS Store at 10151 University Blvd. State incorporation records show the company's address at Sullivan's home outside Orlando.
Because he was pressed for time, Gallagher said, he did not thoroughly check Sims's credentials before passing her name along to Pearson officials. At the time, in March 2002, Pearson and HelmsBriscoe had to open passenger-screener assessment centers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Memphis on tight deadlines.
"I honestly don't remember who recommended her," Gallagher said.
Pearson said it tried out both Eclipse and one other recommended company at a few sites and selected Eclipse based on cost and performance. Pearson officials said they did not hire Eclipse to meet any obligation to include businesses owned by women.
Auditors describe Eclipse's subcontract as a no-bid arrangement.
On March 13, 2002, Pearson struck a deal with Sims estimated at the time to be worth $1.1 million.
According to the government audit, the assignment was to "provide on-site logistical support for each assessment location," including "managing arrangements with hotel staff, ground suppliers and other vendors" and "services for security, communications, and supplies."
It was a tall order. Eclipse did not yet exist as a corporation. Sims formally incorporated the company as Eclipse Events Inc. on March 28 -- two weeks after she had the subcontract in hand. On state incorporation papers, she used her apartment north of San Diego as the company's address.
'The Pressure Was On'
Over the course of the nine-month project, as the work expanded beyond the first three assessment-center cities, Eclipse hired more than 700 freelance event and meeting planners to help manage more than 150 centers where 328,051 passenger-screener candidates were assessed and 63,681 were hired.
Several Eclipse employees said in interviews that Sims seemed polite, caring and attentive. When someone needed to go home, Sims made sure he got a ticket and had a job upon return, they said.
Patrick Murray, a meeting planner in San Francisco, said he was impressed with Sims, though he never met her face to face. Murray said Sims dealt with extraordinary demands with aplomb and was always available to talk on the phone about logistical troubles.
"The pressure was on," said Murray, who oversaw logistics at 40 assessment centers. "She was asked to get all these staff, and she got them. I have nothing but the highest respect for her."
Others described the project as chaotic and lacking in oversight and accountability. Some of the workers had years of experience, but others had little or none. One former employee, Andrea Schulte, said the circumstances created opportunities for waste and abuse. Schulte worked in Ohio, Kansas and Michigan. She said some of the hotels took advantage of the situation.
"There's a lot of blame to go around," Schulte said. "There was too much pressure, and there was a lot of money flying around."
Bryson, the aspiring film director and former Eclipse employee, was among those who said Sims hired him over the phone. Although he was happy with the money he made working seven-day weeks, Bryson said he was not impressed by Eclipse's management.
He also said the hotels added charges at every turn: for setting up banquet rooms, for sodas that had not been ordered, for unnecessary podium rentals and cleaning crews. One hotel tried to charge Eclipse $800 in rental fees for a slide projector, a charge Bryson said he refused to accept.
"It was crazy," Bryson said.
Others said they were uncomfortable with Sims's tendency to approve first-class tickets and other apparent extravagances, such as the valet parking and dry cleaning bills, cited in the audit report.
"It was like Roosevelt's New Deal," said Roger Manson, an Eclipse contract employee from California. "The tech bubble burst. 9/11 happened. No one was flying. Hotels were empty. This was a way to put a lot of people back to work. It wasn't really done in the best possible way, but it sure was good to be working again."
For Manson, the passenger-screener contract couldn't have come at a better time. He had been laid off by an information technology company and received a call from a friend about a logistics firm that was hiring hundreds of people.
Manson had experience in the customer service field, so he called an Eclipse representative and sent over his résumé. "He called me back and said, 'When can I put you on a plane?' There was no background check. No formal interview. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Birmingham, Alabama."
Manson said some Eclipse workers would fly home for weekends and keep their hotel rooms, billing the company, and ultimately the government, for unused rooms. He said Eclipse workers were permitted to take out cash advances from the hotels.Eclipse workers charged the advances against a government account and used the cash as tip money for hotel staffers and others.
Some former Eclipse workers said that the practice is commonplace in the events-planning business and that they were careful to account for the cash. But Manson and others said they were not sure that others were as vigilant with the advances because there were so few financial controls.
Midway through the Pearson contract, Sims, Sullivan and several of their colleagues decided to leverage their new contacts and experience to create a more ambitious meeting-and-planning company. Called Eclipse Partners Inc., the new company was registered in January 2003, listing the company address as a post office box north of San Diego.
Richard Weaver, who listed himself as "chief inspiration officer" of his own company, was hired as a consultant to help guide Eclipse Partners into the future. Weaver said in a recent interview that he arranged for the founders of Eclipse Partners to meet at a "dreams and vision" session in San Diego in 2003, months after the work on the passenger-screener contract had been completed.
But he said that Sims seemed to lose interest and that the new company never got off the ground.
"She wanted to go in another direction," Weaver said. "I had heard she wanted to focus on her life in her church."
Researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
Posted by politicalstuff at 2:23 AM