Saturday, January 21, 2006

Activists Seek to Evict Souter From Home

Yahoo! News
Activists Seek to Evict Souter From Home

By KATHY McCORMACK, Associated Press Writer

Angered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sided with a Connecticut city that wanted to seize homes for economic development, a group of activists is trying to get one of the justices who voted for the decision evicted from his own home.

The group, led by a California man, wants Justice David Souter's home seized for the purpose of building an inn called "Lost Liberty Hotel."

They submitted enough petition signatures — only 25 were needed — to bring the matter before voters in March. This weekend, they're descending on Souter's hometown, the central New Hampshire town of Weare, population 8,500, to rally for support.

"This is in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party and the Pine Tree Riot," organizer Logan Darrow Clements said, referring to the riot that took place during the winter of 1771-1772, when colonists in Weare beat up officials appointed by King George III who fined them for logging white pines without approval.

"All we're trying to do is put an end to eminent domain abuse," Clements said, by having those who advocate or facilitate it "live under it, so they understand why it needs to end."

Bill Quigley, Weare deputy police chief, said if protesters show up, they're going to be told to stay across the street from a dirt road that leads to Souter's brown farmhouse, which is more than 200 years old. It isn't known if Souter will be home.

"They're obviously not going to be allowed on Justice Souter's property," he said. "There's no reason for anybody to go down that road unless they live on that road, and we know the residents that live there. The last time (Clements) showed up, they had a total of about three or four people who showed up to listen to him."

Clements, of Los Angeles, said he's never tried to contact Souter.

"The justice doesn't have any comment about it," Kathy Arberg, a Supreme Court spokeswoman, said about the protesters' cause.

The petition asks whether the town should take Souter's land for development as an inn; whether to set up a trust fund to accept donations for legal expenses; and whether to set up a second trust fund to accept donations to compensate Souter for taking his land.

The matter goes to voters on March 14.

Clements said participants planned to meet at Weare Town Hall on Saturday morning and divide into teams to go door-to-door to get more petition signatures. He also wants to distribute copies of the Supreme Court's decision, Kelo vs. City of New London, to residents.

The court said New London, Conn., could seize homeowners' property to develop a hotel, convention center, office space and condominiums next to Pfizer Inc.'s new research headquarters.

The city argued that tax revenues and new jobs from the development would benefit the public. The Pfizer complex was built, but seven homeowners challenged the rest of the development in court. The Supreme Court's ruling against them prompted many states, including New Hampshire, to examine their eminent domain laws.

State Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare resident who is sponsoring two pieces of eminent domain legislation in New Hampshire, said he expects the group's proposal to be defeated overwhelmingly.

"Most people here see this as an act of revenge and an improper attack on the judicial system," Kurk said. "You don't go after a judge personally because you disagree with his judgments."

On the Net:

Weare-based Committee for the Preservation of Natural Rights:


Frist calls Alito Democrats' "nightmare"

Frist calls Alito Democrats' "nightmare"

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told Republican Party activists on Friday night that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito was the "worst nightmare of liberal Democrats."

Frist, a Tennessee Republican, made the remark to fellow Republicans during a private tour he gave them of the Senate chamber when the Senate was not in session.

Frist was not available for comment following his remarks.

Asked about the senator's remark, Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson said that Alito "is a thoughtful mainstream conservative jurist who is well respected by his peers, by Democrats and Republicans alike."

Stevenson added, "There are liberals, many of them represented by the outside groups, who will do anything to kill any nominee put forward by this administration."

Democrats have expressed concerns the conservative Alito would push the nation's highest court to the right in areas such as abortion rights, civil rights and presidential powers.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Tuesday on the Alito nomination and the full Senate intends to debate it next week.

Three top Democrats announced this week they would vote against sending Alito to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. They are Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Dick Durbin of Illinois.

No Democrat so far has said he or she would try to block a Senate floor vote on Alito through a procedure known as a filibuster.

The Republican National Committee was holding a winter meeting in Washington this week, and the 50 or so party activists from across the United States were invited by Frist to tour the Senate chamber.


Libby lawyers to subpoena reporters in CIA leak

Libby lawyers to subpoena reporters in CIA leak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney plan to issue subpoenas to journalists and news organizations for documents to be used at his trial involving the leak of a CIA operative's name, according to a court document filed on Friday.

The expected move by attorneys for Lewis "Scooter" Libby was disclosed in a joint status report that defense lawyers and prosecutors filed with the federal judge overseeing the case.

Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of obstructing justice, perjury and lying in the two-year investigation into the leak to the news media of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Plame's identity was leaked to reporters in July 2003 after her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the war in Iraq.

A number of journalists already have testified as part of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the leak and could be called as prosecution witnesses. New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail last year before she agreed to testify.

In the six-page court filing, defense attorneys said the subpoenas to journalists and news organizations would be to obtain additional necessary documents for trial. They did not identify who would be subpoenaed or say what they would be seeking.

They also said there could be litigation before U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who is presiding over the case, and perhaps the U.S. Court of Appeals if the reporters or news organization fight the subpoenas, as expected.

Such a legal battle could delay any trial. The judge has yet to set a trial date.

Libby's lawyers also said that it may be necessary for the defense to issue subpoenas to government agencies but they did not indicate which agencies.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for February 3.


Some House Democrats seek election public funds

Some House Democrats seek election public funds

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Public financing of elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, not lobbying reform, is the best way to end ethic scandals, a top Democrat said on Friday.

"You can talk all you want about nibbling at the margins about ethics and House rules and all the rest, but unless we deal with the nexus between politics and money, damned little is actually going to change over time," Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin said in a telephone interview.

Obey said he and fellow Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts would offer legislation this month requiring that general elections for the 435 House seats be financed purely with public funds.

Obey, senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, conceded he did not expect "any massive instant support for it" in the Republican-controlled Congress.

A senior House Republican aide dismissed Obey's approach saying, "This is exactly the wrong place to go." The aide noted that Republicans were pushing for "more transparency" in lobbying activities, such as their campaign contributions, and added, "What's wrong with people just choosing candidates to give money to?"

Earlier this week, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate offered a series of reforms in response to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Abramoff, who this month pleaded guilty to fraud in a wide-ranging bribery investigation, is cooperating with prosecutors and several lawmakers could be implicated.

Obey noted recent reports that Americans did not want to pay for public financing of campaigns and did not want lobbyists contributing. "What that leaves is campaigns financed through immaculate conception and I don't think that's a reliable financing basis for campaigns," Obey said.


"Intelligent design" debate goes to kids' TV

"Intelligent design" debate goes to kids' TV

By Jamie McGeever

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The debate over whether children should be taught "intelligent design" in U.S. public schools as an alternative to evolution is moving to children's television.

"There's a fight going on the science room," says Linda Ellerbee, presenter of "Nick News," a news magazine on the children's TV cable channel Nickelodeon.

The channel is tackling the subject on Sunday by presenting both sides of the controversy in "God, Science, Politics and Your School."

Supporters of intelligent design say that nature is so complex that it must have been the work of an unnamed creator, rather than the result of random natural selection as outlined in Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

"The goal of this show is not to debate the issues of evolution, intelligent design or creationism," Ellerbee said in a statement.

"We just want to give kids a better understanding of what all the shouting is about. We also want to hear from kids affected by these disputes."

The controversy, stirred by a recent court case in Pennsylvania, centers on whether teaching intelligent design violates U.S. constitutional separation of church and state.

Ellerbee talks to religious, scientific and educational figures on both sides of the debate, who use plain English and simple terms to explain the complex arguments.

She also travels to Dover, Pennsylvania, where the teaching of intelligent design was banned last year, and to Kansas where the State Board of Education recently approved a set of science standards that question the evolution theory.

Ellerbee gives young Kansas teenagers the chance to weigh in on the debate.

"They don't have to say that God made everything but I think they should give intelligent design the benefit of the doubt, really," one boy said.

"Science is about facts and I don't see any facts proving that a higher power has created us," countered one girl.

The vast majority of the scientific community believes that the evolution of human life is explained by natural selection. The Roman Catholic Church, the largest single denomination of the Christian faith in the world, weighed in on the debate this week by restating its support of the theory of evolution.

The Catholic Church has sometimes been considered an ally for those promoting intelligent design. While the church is socially conservative, it has a long theological tradition that rejects fundamentalist creationism.

Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom Inc..


Rove: GOP to Use Terror As Campaign Issue

Rove: GOP to Use Terror As Campaign Issue
AP Political Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Embattled White House adviser Karl Rove vowed Friday to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue in November. He also said Democratic senators looked "mean-spirited and small-minded" in questioning Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

"Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world. And Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world," Rove told Republican activists. "That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean denounced Rove's remarks and renewed his call for the deputy White House chief of staff to be fired for his role in leaking a CIA official's name. "That is both unpatriotic and wrong," Dean said.

Rove, making a rare public address while under investigation in the CIA leak case, joined Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman in warning GOP leaders against falling prey to the corrupting nature of power.

"The GOP's progress during the last four decades is a stunning political achievement. But it is also a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant party - in this case, the Democrat Party - when its thinking becomes ossified; when its energy begins to drain; when an entitlement mentality takes over; and when political power becomes an end in itself rather than a mean to achieve the common goal," Rove told Republican National Committee members ending a two-day meeting.

"We need to learn from our successes," he said, "and from the failures of others."

The admonition reflects growing concerns among senior Republicans that ethics scandals in the Republican-led Congress could hurt the party in November, even among staunch GOP voters who may begin to blame corruption for Congress' runaway spending habits.

Mehlman couldn't have been more blunt: "One of the oldest lessons of history is that power corrupts," he said, telling RNC members that any Republicans guilty of illegal behavior should be punished.

The investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff threatens to ensnare at least a half dozen members of Congress of both parties and Bush administration officials. His ties to GOP congressional leaders and the White House pose a particular problem for Republicans. Abramoff, who has admitted to conspiring to defraud his Indian tribe clients, has pleaded guilty to corruption-related charges and is cooperating with prosecutors.

In an unrelated scandal, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is expected to stand trial in the CIA leak case this summer, just ahead of the midterm elections.

The special prosecutor's inquiry is still under way, leaving the fate of other senior White House officials, notably Rove, in doubt.

Bush's political guru opened his remarks with a joking reference to the unwanted attention the case has brought him. "Anybody want to get their picture in the paper? Come on up here," he said.

In 2002, Rove caused a stir among Democrats when he told RNC members to make the war on terrorism an issue in the midterm elections. "We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America," he said at the time.

Rove made the same case Friday, though his words were a bit more measured. Reading from a prepared text, he began with a call for election-year civility - "Our opponents are our fellow citizens, not our enemies" - and quickly turned to portraying Democrats as weak on defense.

"The United States faces a ruthless enemy - and we need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity that American finds itself in," Rove said. "President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats."

He said some Democrats want to abandon Iraq too soon, which would cause enemies to "laugh at our failed resolve." Rove added: "To retreat before victory would be a reckless act - and this president and our party will not allow it. This is worthy of a public debate."

Rove also criticized Democrats for opposing extension of the USA Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping, before turning to Alito, newly minted Chief Justice John Roberts and their Democratic opponents on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Every effort to smear the name of these good men blew up in the face of those making the malicious charges. Some committee members came across as mean-spirited and small-minded - and it left a searing impression," Rove said. He specifically accused Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., of creating "an ugly display" during Alito's hearing.

Before the RNC members returned to their home states, they approved an immigration resolution supported by the White House. A competing measure backed by hard-line conservatives opposed to Bush's guest worker program was withdrawn under pressure from White House allies.


Rove tells Republicans to run on Bush's record

Rove tells Republicans to run on Bush's record

By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House political adviser Karl Rove on Friday said Democratic critics of the Iraq war were wrong and Republicans should highlight the issue in November's congressional elections.

Most polls show majorities of Americans have lost confidence in President George W. Bush's handling of the war. But Rove, still under the threat of indictment in a CIA-leak probe, said Republicans should emphasize Bush's record on security, the economy and the courts during the November campaign.

"We need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in," Rove told a meeting of the Republican National Committee in a rare public appearance.

"President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats," he said.

Rove, Bush's top political guru, also capitalized on the party's traditional advantage on national security issues to help Republicans sweep to victories in elections in 2002 and 2004, citing new dangers after the September 11 attacks.

This year Rove and Republicans have grown nervous about their prospects in November amid public doubts about the Iraq war and corruption scandals involving prominent party members, including former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay and Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Rove himself remains under threat of indictment in an investigation into who leaked the name of a CIA agent whose husband is a prominent Iraq-war critic.

Rove said a quick pullout from Iraq would be a "reckless act" and criticized demands by some Democrats for a troop withdrawal.

"Republicans have a post-9/11 view of the world and Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world," Rove said. "That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all, but it does make them wrong -- wrong deeply and profoundly and consistently."

Rove made no mention of his own legal jeopardy. The leak probe led late last year to the indictment and resignation of his White House colleague, Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman told the meeting that "if Republicans are guilty of illegal or inappropriate behavior, then they should pay the price and they should suffer the consequences."

But Democratic Party chief Howard Dean said Rove did not have any standing to attack their commitment to security. "Karl Rove breached our national security for partisan gain and that is unpatriotic and wrong," Dean said.

Tackling an issue that has split the party, RNC members passed by voice vote an immigration resolution that called for better border security but included a guest worker program supported by Bush.

A competing resolution that did not include a guest worker program was withdrawn without a vote.


US author's sales jump after Osama mentions book

US author's sales jump after Osama mentions book

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An unexpected endorsement from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has resulted in a huge jump in sales for a book by a critic of U.S. foreign policy.

William Blum's "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower" was ranked 209,000 on's sales list before bin Laden mentioned it in an audiotape released on Thursday. By Friday, the book was No. 30 on the list.

Bin Laden said al Qaeda group was preparing more attacks in the United States but also told Americans, "It is useful for you to read the book 'The Rogue State.'"

"I was quite surprised and even shocked and amused when I found out what he'd said," Blum said on Friday in an interview with Reuters Television in his Washington apartment.

"I was glad. I knew it would help the book's sales and I was not bothered by who it was coming from.

"If he shares with me a deep dislike for the certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy, then I'm not going to spurn any endorsement of the book by him. I think it's good that he shares those views and I'm not turned off by that."

Blum said some friends and family members were afraid the bin Laden endorsement might endanger him but he said there had been no threats and he was not concerned.

Blum's 320-page book, which was published in 2000, begins with a chapter titled "Why Do Terrorists Keep Picking on the United States." The first sentence says, "Washington's war on terrorism is as doomed to failure as its war on drugs has been."

Other chapters in "The Rogue State" are titled "America's Gift to the World -- the Afghan Terrorist Alumni," "The U.S. Versus the World at the United Nations" and "How the CIA Sent Nelson Mandela to Prison for 28 Years."

Blum's other books include "Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II," "Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire" and "West Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Political Memoir."


Democrats Scold White House Over Spying

LaGrande Observer
Democrats Scold White House Over Spying
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic senators took the Bush administration to task Friday for four years of domestic spying, while the president fought back with a planned embrace of the intelligence agency that is carrying out the effort.

In preparation for Senate hearings, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts noted that President Bush asserted in 2004 that "when we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."

That Bush statement came at the same time the National Security Agency was engaging - at the president's direction - in warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.

"If President Bush can make his own rules for domestic surveillance, Big Brother has run amok," Kennedy said in a statement.

Introducing a proposed Senate resolution, Kennedy and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont rejected White House assertions that congressional action after Sept. 11 authorized warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States.

A joint resolution of Congress authorized the use of force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, but it "says nothing about domestic electronic surveillance," Kennedy declared.

Pushing back, Bush plans a Wednesday visit to the NSA, where he will reassert his claim that he has the constitutional authority to let intelligence officials listen in on international phone calls of Americans with suspected ties to terrorists.

"We are stepping up our efforts to educate the American people," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said of the trip to the NSA, based at Fort Meade in Maryland. McClellan called the program "a critical tool that helps us save lives and prevent attacks. It is limited and targeted to al-Qaida communications, with the focus being on detection and prevention."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the new audio tape of Osama bin Laden threatening attacks on American soil "is a vivid reminder why we must continue to intercept communications between al-Qaida overseas and potential operatives in the United States."

On Monday, deputy national intelligence director Mike Hayden, who led the National Security Agency when the program began in October 2001, will speak on the issue at the National Press Club.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is delivering a speech on the program in Washington.

Gonzales also plans to testify Feb. 6 about the secret program before the Senate Judiciary Committee where Kennedy and Leahy are members.

House Democrats said Bush has committed a crime in authorizing the spying and that House Republicans have abdicated their responsibilities by refusing to hold hearings.

Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, and other Democrats met in a basement room of a House office building Friday to hear a panel of lawyers and activists discuss whether Bush had committed an impeachable offense.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department on Wednesday issued a 42-page legal justification for the eavesdropping program, an expanded version of a document the agency sent Congress last month.

"Making their argument longer didn't make it any better," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a Judiciary Committee member. He said Bush's secret approval of warrantless eavesdropping had made congressional debate on the Patriot Act meaningless.

The NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program is "an intelligence operation in search of a legal rationale," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

"What the president ordered in this case was a crime," added Turley, who said House Republicans are establishing a terrible precedent by not holding oversight hearings.

To fend off criticism, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and White House spokesman Scott McClellan referred to statements by John Schmidt, a Clinton administration associate attorney general who defended the program.

Schmidt wrote last month in the Chicago Tribune that Bush's authorization of the NSA surveillance is consistent with court decisions and Justice Department positions under prior presidents.


AP White House reporter Deb Riechmann contributed to this story.


Libby's Lawyers Want to Subpoena Reporters

LaGrande Observer
Libby's Lawyers Want to Subpoena Reporters

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lawyers for a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney told a federal judge Friday they want to subpoena journalists and news organizations for documents they may have related to the leak of a CIA operative's name.

In a joint filing with prosecutors, lawyers for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, 55, warned U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton that a trial likely will be delayed because of their strategy to seek more subpoenas of reporters' notes and other records.

Libby was indicted last year on charges that he lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury about how he learned CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity and when he subsequently told reporters.

Plame's identity was revealed in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak after her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, accused the Bush administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's efforts to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger. The year before, the CIA had sent Wilson to Africa to determine the accuracy of the uranium reports; he concluded they were untrue.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, in announcing the charges against Libby, portrayed Cheney's former chief of staff as the first government official to have shared Plame's name and her work at the CIA with reporters in the summer of 2003.

Libby's defense team did not disclose the names of reporters or news organizations it wants to subpoena.

The filing provides the most concrete indication yet that a large part of Libby's trial strategy will be identifying other government officials who knew Plame was a CIA operative and told reporters about it.

The kind of subpoena cited is for documents or records, not testimony. Such subpoenas usually require records to be turned over before trial so the defense team would have a chance to review them. Libby's team said it expects a delay in the trial while news organizations fight the subpoenas, if Walton agrees to issue them.

Last summer, several reporters were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury investigating the leak of Plame's identity. New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to discuss her source.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the defense's strategy is no surprise but still alarming.

"Every key witness in this case is going to be a reporter," Dalglish said. "It's an absolutely ugly situation, ... putting reporters in a very, very bad position, ... and it should send a chill up the spine of American citizens across the country."

The defense attorneys also told Walton that a significant disagreement is brewing between Libby's team and Fitzgerald's prosecutors over whether reporters heard Plame's name from government sources other than Libby.

Libby's lawyers said information about other sources used by reporters is "material to the preparation of the defense."

No trial date has been set. Walton had requested the update on the prosecution's exchange of evidence with the defense before a Feb. 3 hearing in the case.

Fitzgerald said he has turned over 10,150 pages of classified and unclassified documents to Libby's defense team.

But the defense attorneys said they want more. They said they may subpoena other executive branch agencies - besides the special prosecutor's office and the FBI - if Fitzgerald continues to refuse to turn over information he has from those departments. They did not specify which agencies.

Shortly after Libby's indictment, The Washington Post revealed that one of its editors, Bob Woodward, who achieved fame for his reporting on the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, may have been the first reporter to learn about Plame.

Woodward gave a sworn deposition to Fitzgerald late last year, telling the special prosecutor that a top administration official told him in mid-June 2003 that Wilson was married to Plame.
And here is the rest of it.


Democrats Hear Angry Seniors on Medicare

LaGrande Observer
Democrats Hear Angry Seniors on Medicare

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Friday that "SWAT teams of technicians" were working to improve the new Medicare drug benefit.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, senior citizens and pharmacists complained to Democratic lawmakers of being put on hold endlessly as they tried to get prescriptions filled.

"Unfortunately, the start of the new prescription drug benefit would be described by many patients and pharmacists as a nightmare," said Tim Tucker, a pharmacist from Huntington, Tenn., who is a member of the American Pharmacists Association Board of Trustees.

Tucker spoke at a hearing organized by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Only Democratic lawmakers attended. Tucker said he saw some good things occurring at his pharmacy since the government began subsidizing the cost of prescription drugs.

"Some of my patients are returning to my practice because they are now able to afford their medications," he said.

However, he described the first few weeks overall as a fiasco. And he placed the blame with the prescription drug plans themselves. Many were not prepared, and some have yet to improve, he said.

Leavitt, who visited Wisconsin, Ohio and Alabama on Friday to hear from state officials, agreed with that assessment. "I would also acknowledge that some of the insurance plans did not properly anticipate the level of service that would be required," he said.

Under the drug program, about 42 million senior citizens and disabled are eligible to enroll in private plans run by insurers and pharmaceutical benefit companies. The government subsidizes the drug coverage, with additional subsidies provided for the poor.

Leavitt said two other problems occurred.

First, many participants automatically enrolled by the government into plans found another that they preferred. However, they waited until late December to make the switch. Their status was not updated before Jan. 1, so pharmacists could not locate their files to determine how much to charge them.

Secondly, large data files transferred from states to the federal government, or from the federal government to an insurance plan, contained errors. That meant people who had previously received their drugs through Medicaid did not make it into a Medicare plan.

"It continues to get better every day," Leavitt said.

But Ruth Grunberg from Cortland, N.Y., told Democrats that her pharmacist's computer rejected her card on Jan. 1, as if she didn't even exist, and she spent days trying to rectify the problem.

"I was starting to feel like the people trapped in the incompetency of the response to Katrina," Grunberg said.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Hardball Scandal: Bin Laden = Michael Moore (plus a note to Howard Kurtz)
Hardball Scandal: Bin Laden = Michael Moore (plus a note to Howard Kurtz)
Peter Daou

A blogswarm has erupted over Chris Matthews' comparison of Osama Bin Laden to Michael Moore. John Aravosis, DarkSyde at Daily Kos, Crooks and Liars, Jane Hamsher, Matt Stoller, Digby, Dave Johnson, and others have pointed out that this is not just about Chris Matthews or Michael Moore or Osama Bin Laden, it's about the willingness of a prominent media figure to slander an opponent of the war.

John Kerry has weighed in with a strong statement .
And an apology from Matthews is surely in order.

Equating a prominent conservative activist to a murderous terrorist would bring the wrath of the rightwing machine on Matthews' head. But in today's political environment, Dems and liberals are fair game, either through insidious pro-Bush narratives like "Bush is firm" and "Dems are muddled," or through blatant and vile comments like the one Matthews so glibly foisted on us.

A few days ago I wrote that Democrats need to go after the media institutionally, they need to understand that the deeply-etched storylines that are perpetuated by trusted media figures like Tim Russert and so many others damage them and stifle their message. If myths such as "Bush is likable" or "Bush is firm" or "Democrats don't have a message" or "Democrats are weak on national security" or "Republicans are corrupt but everybody does it" are repeated enough, Americans will internalize them. And they have. Breaking that cycle is exceedingly difficult.

It's obvious to bloggers, who are unabashed media critics, and it's obvious to the right, for whom "liberal media" is virtually a war cry. But it's alien to the Democratic establishment. Who knows why.

Howard Kurtz wondered out loud what I meant by "go after" the media:

"Salon blogwatcher Peter Daou says television blew it:

"A former Vice-President of the United States delivers a major speech accusing George W. Bush of breaking the law. What do all three cable news nets cover under the 'Breaking News' banner? An overturned tanker truck on a New York highway. THIS is the problem for the left. And as I've said a hundred times: if the Dem establishment doesn't go after the media institutionally, things simply will not change. It's astonishing to me that they haven't gotten it yet."

Hmmm . . . I wonder what he means by "go after."

Well, Howie, here's an example: a Democratic outcry over Matthews' disgusting comment would certainly be a start.


Clinton Library Prepares to Open Records

ABC News
Clinton Library Prepares to Open Records
On Fifth Anniversary Since His Presidency, Clinton Library to Open Records to Researchers
The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Researchers can start requesting any of the millions of presidential records at Bill Clinton's library Friday, the fifth anniversary of his departure from the White House.

The library has 80 million pages of documents that will be available to scholars through the Freedom of Information Act.

"For someone like me, this is huge," said Margaret Scranton, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas. "This is big because this begins the process of getting those records."

Clinton has already opened several hundred thousand pages to the public, but most were domestic policy documents of White House staffers. The library has also opened its holdings for some federal court cases, including a lawsuit over Jewish property looted by Nazis in World War II.

Library Director David Alsobrook said getting documents would be a lengthy process. With just 10 archivists to handle requests, the library cannot provide documents quickly.

"It could take months. It could take years," Alsobrook said. "You're going to be bitterly disappointed if you're looking for something immediately."

Complicating Friday's release is an executive order signed by President Bush that requires his consent and the former president's before any documents can be released to the public.

Because of privacy and national security concerns, some of the documents will not be available Friday. But under the Presidential Records Act, those papers will be reviewed again in 12 years and more released.

Alsobrook said he does not know how many of those documents will be restricted from public view. "We won't really know until we get the request and get in there," he said.

Supervisory archivist Melissa Walker said the library is not expecting long lines of researchers. Most requests will come through the mail.

On the Net:

Clinton library


Retired military officers push Bush on torture ban

Retired military officers push Bush on torture ban
By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of retired military officers urged President George W. Bush on Thursday to spell out how he will enforce a ban on the torture of U.S.-held prisoners, complaining he muddied the issue in a statement last month.

Bush reluctantly accepted the ban, pushed by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, after scandals over abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, harsh interrogations at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and reports the CIA ran secret prisons abroad to hold terrorism suspects.

Retired military leaders including Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, who was U.S. Central Command commander-in-chief, said Bush should clarify his stance after making a statement last month that some experts said signaled he would bypass rules for treatment of detainees when he saw fit, even after he signed them into law.

The 22 former military officers in their letter said Bush should ensure that "your administration speak with a consistent voice to make clear that the United States now has a single standard of conduct specified in law that governs all interrogations."

In a telephone news conference, Hoar said Bush's statement last month "diluted the impact of the McCain amendment" by indicating "that there were going to be exceptions and the president has the ability to do that."

McCain, who endured torture as a war prisoner in Vietnam, spearheaded the bill to set standards for detainees' treatment that won big majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Bush's statement, issued on a Friday evening after he signed the bill putting the amendment into law, said the "executive branch shall construe (the law) in a manner consistent with the authority of the president ... as commander in chief."

The statement also said the White House's approach would be "consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the president ... of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, said Bush should "clarify the signing statement so there is no question that the commander-in-chief considers this law binding on all U.S. personnel."

Human Rights First held a news conference on the letter from retired generals and admirals.

Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general, said the McCain amendment reinstated long-standing U.S. policy on the treatment of prisoners. "Then to have a signing statement in which that becomes blurred again causes us great concern," he said.


Top Senate Democrats oppose Alito nomination

Yahoo! News
Top Senate Democrats oppose Alito nomination
By Thomas Ferraro

Three top Senate Democrats said on Thursday they would vote against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito because they feared he would not provide an effective check on what they described as President George W. Bush's bid for expanded power.

While Alito appeared headed toward confirmation by the Republican-led Senate, Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts made the case against Bush's 55-year-old conservative candidate.

In separate speeches, they expressed concern that if confirmed, Alito would push the nation's highest court to the right in such areas as abortion rights and civil rights as well as presidential powers.

Even if Democrats cannot stop Alito from becoming a Supreme Court Justice, they want to set the stage to make him an issue in the November congressional elections, along with Bush's recently disclosed program to eavesdrop on some telephone calls without warrants as part of his war against terrorism.

"I will not lend my support to an effort by this president to move the Supreme Court and the law radically to the right," said Leahy, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which plans to vote on Alito's nomination on Tuesday and send it to the full Senate.

"There is no reason to believe that Judge Alito will serve as an effective check and balance on government intrusion," Leahy said in a speech. "Indeed, his record suggests otherwise."

Durbin, the assistant Senate Democratic leader, said, "Based on his record, I'm concerned that Judge Alito will not be willing to stand up to a president who is determined to seize too much power over our personal lives."

In a speech in Chicago, Durbin also said, "In case after case, he has voted -- often as the lone dissenter on his court -- against the dispossessed, the poor and the powerless."

Kennedy, the leading liberal voice in Congress, declared his opposition to Alito in a speech, saying, "His record just does not show a judge who is committed to equal justice under law."


If confirmed, Alito would replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate conservative who often has been the swing vote on the nine-member court on social issues.

At his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee last week, Alito won praise from Republicans, who noted he received the American Bar Association's top rating for a seat on the high court based on his qualifications, integrity and judicial temperament.

But Alito repeatedly frustrated Democrats.

Democrats were unable to secure a commitment from Alito that if confirmed to the Supreme Court he would uphold its 1973 decision that legalized abortion. He had opposed abortion while a Reagan administration lawyer two decades ago.

Democrats also wrestled with Alito over his views of presidential powers, which they argued were overly broad. Alito deflected questions about the legality of the administration's warrantless eavesdropping on Americans but did say no president was above the law.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record) of Texas said, "Despite the ongoing attacks from the hard left and their allies in the Senate, Judge Alito should be, and will be confirmed.... Judge Alito earned bipartisan support."

So far, just one of the Senate's 44 Democrats, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has announced he will vote for Alito. All but about a half dozen others appear certain to oppose him.

None have threatened a filibuster since they do not appear to have the votes to sustain such a procedural roadblock in the 100-member Senate.


Governors aim to prevent cuts in National Guard

Yahoo! News
Governors aim to prevent cuts in National Guard
By Will Dunham

U.S. state governors called on the Pentagon on Thursday not to make cuts in the National Guard, calling such a move "inconceivable" considering the role played by Guard troops in Iraq, disaster relief and homeland defense.

"We need more Guard troops at this time, not less," the National Governors Association wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a letter signed by Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho and Michael Easley of North Carolina.

The National Guard's part-time troops come under the command of state governors for use in natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and other domestic emergencies, and also can be mobilized by the Pentagon for overseas duty. The Pentagon has relied heavily on Guard soldiers for combat duty in Iraq.

Army Secretary Francis Harvey said on Wednesday the Army had decided to fund the Army National Guard at its current level of 333,000 soldiers rather than the congressionally authorized level of 350,000. But Harvey argued that "there's no cut in force structure of the Guard at all."

Governors also have been concerned by the closure of Air National Guard bases and potential cuts in National Guard aircraft.

Huckabee, chairman of the association, and Kempthorne are Republicans. Napolitano and Easley are Democrats.

The four governors told Rumsfeld that "we hope that the reports about force reductions in the Guard are not true."

"Our National Guardsmen and women have provided nearly 50 percent of the combat forces in Iraq, and the bulk of the U.S. personnel in the Balkans and Sinai Peninsula (peacekeeping missions)," the governors said. "In addition, they comprised about 90 percent of the troops on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

"Given their performance, at this time in our history, it is inconceivable that anyone would seriously consider a reduction in the National Guard force structure."

The Pentagon fiscal 2007 budget and a separate broad assessment of military needs are due to be unveiled next month.

Harvey also said the Army National Guard was being reorganized to have 28 combat brigades, down from a planned 34, while the number of combat support brigades such as military police, civil affairs and engineer brigades would increase, leaving the total number of brigades unchanged at 106.


Gonzales makes legal case for domestic spying

Gonzales makes legal case for domestic spying

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department, facing lawsuits and congressional hearings on President George W. Bush's domestic eavesdropping program, sought on Thursday to persuade congressional leaders the surveillance was lawful and did not violate civil liberties.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who plans to testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on February 6, sent a report to Capitol Hill outlining the legal basis for the National Security Agency's activities that Bush approved after the September 11 attacks.

The highly classified program allows the monitoring of international communications, like telephone and e-mail messages, into and out of the United States of persons linked to al Qaeda or related terrorist groups, without a warrant.

Disclosure last month of the program sparked an outcry by Democrats and Republicans, with many lawmakers questioning whether it violated the U.S. Constitution. Civil liberties groups filed lawsuits challenging the program's legality.

A 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, makes it illegal to spy on U.S. citizens in the United States without the approval of a special, secret court. Bush secretly gave the NSA authority to intercept the communications without such approval.

"These NSA activities are lawful in all respects," Gonzalez said in a letter to Senate leaders in releasing the Justice Department's 42-page legal analysis.

"They represent a vital effort by the president to ensure that we have in place an early warning system to detect and prevent another catastrophic terrorist attack on America," he said.


Four top congressional Democrats sent a letter to Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday, asking the administration to expand beyond a small group of lawmakers briefings about the domestic eavesdropping program to ensure adequate oversight.

"We ask that all future consultations with Congress on this program be open to all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees," said the letter signed by Senate and House Democratic leaders, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, and the senior Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels.

The American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups challenging the program, rejected the administration's legal justifications.

"Any opinion coming from the Justice Department has to be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism," said Anthony Romero, the group's executive director. "Congress must hold open, substantive hearings to let the American public know how their privacy was invaded."

Gonzales maintained that Bush's use of his authority to approve the eavesdropping program was "consistent" with the 1978 law.

He said the program "is also fully protective of the civil liberties guaranteed" by the Constitution protecting against unreasonable searches and seizes of evidence.

Besides Bush's constitutional power as commander in chief, Gonzales said the authorization of military force by the U.S. Congress after the September 11 attacks gave Bush the authority for the domestic surveillance.

A January 5 study by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research arm of Congress, questioned the administration's legal defense of the program but came to no firm conclusion about its legality because so many underlying facts are classified.

The study said it was unlikely Congress had expressly authorized Bush to conduct warrantless surveillance and suggested that Congress had intended the 1978 law to govern electronic surveillance during wartime.

"The history of Congress's active involvement in regulating electronic surveillance within the United States leaves little room for arguing that Congress has accepted by acquiescence the NSA operations here at issue," the study said.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan and JoAnne Allen)


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Feds Seek Google Records in Porn Probe

Yahoo! News
Feds Seek Google Records in Porn Probe

The Bush administration, seeking to revive an online pornography law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, has subpoenaed Google Inc. for details on what its users have been looking for through its popular search engine.

Google has refused to comply with the subpoena, issued last year, for a broad range of material from its databases, including a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department said in papers filed Wednesday in federal court in San Jose.

Privacy advocates have been increasingly scrutinizing Google's practices as the company expands its offerings to include e-mail, driving directions, photo-sharing, instant messaging and Web journals.

Although Google pledges to protect personal information, the company's privacy policy says it complies with legal and government requests. Google also has no stated guidelines on how long it keeps data, leading critics to warn that retention is potentially forever given cheap storage costs.

The government contends it needs the data to determine how often pornography shows up in online searches as part of an effort to revive an Internet child protection law that was struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court on free-speech grounds.

The 1998 Child Online Protection Act would have required adults to use access codes or other ways of registering before they could see objectionable material online, and it would have punished violators with fines up to $50,000 or jail time. The high court ruled that technology such as filtering software may better protect children.

The matter is now before a federal court in Pennsylvania, and the government wants the Google data to help argue that the law is more effective than software in protecting children from porn.

The Mountain View-based company told The San Jose Mercury News that it opposes releasing the information because it would violate the privacy rights of its users and would reveal company trade secrets.

Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government's efforts "vigorously."

"Google is not a party to this lawsuit, and the demand for the information is overreaching," Wong said.


How the Press Played Dumb About the K Street Project

The Huffington Post
Eric Boehlert
How the Press Played Dumb About the K Street Project

One of the most depressing traits of the news media's timid performance during the Bush years has been their newfound fear of facts and the consequences of reporting them. Where Beltway journalists once eagerly corralled facts and dispensed them to the public, scribes today, like youngsters' endless checking to see if it's safe to cross the street, over-think the consequences and end up giving the Bush administration and Republicans a pass.

For instance, in the wake of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty plea on Jan. 3, some press outlets did their best, belatedly, to explain the crooked lobbying empire Abramoff had built with the help of Rep. Tom DeLay. And specifically, some news outlets addressed the K Street Project, the DeLay/Abramoff/Santorum/Norquist pay-to-play money machine that's playing a pivotal role in the GOP's deepening ethical morass. (Read a smart, concise description of the K Street Project here: ) But even then, the media's descriptions have often been half-hearted at best. Appearing on the Don Imus radio show recently, Newsweek's Evan Thomas mentioned, "this thing called the K Street Project," as if he'd just heard about the day before over lunch at The Palm.

In truth, there's not a serious reporter in Washington, D.C. who for the last three years did not know exactly what the K Street Project was. (The GOP openly boasted about it.) The K Street Project was, hands down, the most important behind-the-scenes development in terms of how power/legislation was bought and sold inside the Beltway and represented an epic story with endless angles and repercussions. And yet for the last three years those same serious MSM reporters participated in a virtual boycott of the story, refusing to detail corruption inside the GOP. (Curious, because during the Clinton years the press couldn't stop writing about alleged Democratic funny money scandals that never actually materialized into criminal wrongdoing by prominent Dems.) Only in recent weeks, after Abramoff pleaded guilty and DeLay's grip on power loosened, have reporters felt confident enough to cross the street--to explain what the K Street Project is.

And yes, boycott really is the word that described the MSM's previous don't-ask/don't-tell policy regarding the K Street Project. It's true that on June 10 2002, the Washington Post and the New York Times both published articles detailing the creation of the K Street Project. (Again, GOP leaders were practically advertising it.) But then the cones of silence went up. Between June 10, 2002, and Jan. 3, 2006, here's how many news articles produced by the Times' D.C. bureau mentioned the K Street Project: 4. Here's how many mentioned it three or more times: 0. Between June 2002 and Jan. 3, 2006, here's how many Los Angeles Times articles mentioned the K Street Project three or more times: 0. USA Today: 0. Associated Press: 0. Miami Herald: 0. Chicago Tribune: 0. Boston Globe: 0. Newsweek: 0. Even the Washington Post, which is supposed to meticulously detail the legislative culture of D.C., published just three news articles that contained three or more references to the K Street Project.

As for television news? Here's how many references ABC News made to the K Street Project between June 2002 and Jan. 3, 2006: 1. CBS: 0. NBC: 1. MSNBC: 1. Fox News: 0. CNN: 5. CNN never aired a reported piece explaining what the K Street Project was, although CNN International did. If you do the math for that 2002-to-2006 timeframe, we're talking about thousands and thousands of hours of network and cable news programming aired with a grand total of 8 mentions of the K Street Project.

The MSM were simply afraid of the facts.


Congressional Agency Questions Legality of Wiretaps
Congressional Agency Questions Legality of Wiretaps

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bush administration appears to have violated the National Security Act by limiting its briefings about a warrantless domestic eavesdropping program to congressional leaders, according to a memo from Congress's research arm released yesterday.

The Congressional Research Service opinion said that the amended 1947 law requires President Bush to keep all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of such intelligence activities as the domestic surveillance effort.

The memo from national security specialist Alfred Cumming is the second report this month from CRS to question the legality of aspects of Bush's domestic spying program. A Jan. 6 report concluded that the administration's justifications for the program conflicted with current law.

Yesterday's analysis was requested by Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, who wrote in a letter to Bush earlier this month that limiting information about the eavesdropping program violated the law and provided for poor oversight.

The White House has said it informed congressional leaders about the NSA program in more than a dozen briefings, but has refused to provide further details. At a minimum, the briefings included the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence oversight committees and the two ranking Democrats, known collectively as the "Gang of Four," according to various sources.

"We believe that Congress was appropriately briefed," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement last night.

Bush has publicly acknowledged issuing an order after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that allowed the National Security Agency to intercept telephone and e-mail exchanges between the United States and overseas without court authorization. The cases were limited to people suspected of al Qaeda ties, Bush and his aides said.

Cumming's analysis found that both intelligence committees should have been briefed because the program involved intelligence collection activities.

The only exception in the law applies to covert actions, Cumming found, and those programs must be reported to the "Gang of Eight," which includes House and Senate leaders in addition to heads of the intelligence panels. The administration can also withhold some operational details in rare circumstances, but that does not apply to the existence of entire programs, he wrote.

Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo said, "limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight . . . would appear to be inconsistent with the law."

Also yesterday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center said it would file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit today demanding information about the NSA spying. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed separate lawsuits Tuesday asserting that Bush exceeded his authority and violated Fourth Amendment guarantees in authorizing the NSA surveillance.


Republican Former EPA Chiefs Accuse President Bush of Neglecting Global Warming

ABC News
Ex-EPA Chiefs Blame Bush in Global Warming
Republican Former EPA Chiefs Accuse President Bush of Neglecting Global Warming
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Six former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency five Republicans and one Democrat accused the Bush administration Wednesday of neglecting global warming and other environmental problems.

"I don't think there's a commitment in this administration," said Bill Ruckelshaus, who was EPA's first administrator when the agency opened its doors in 1970 under President Nixon and headed it again under President Reagan in the 1980s.

Russell Train, who succeeded Ruckelshaus in the Nixon and Ford administrations, said slowing the growth of "greenhouse" gases isn't enough.

"We need leadership, and I don't think we're getting it," he said at an EPA-sponsored symposium centered around the agency's 35th anniversary. "To sit back and just push it away and say we'll deal with it sometime down the road is dishonest to the people and self-destructive."

All the former administrators and the EPA's current chief, Stephen Johnson, raised their hands when asked whether they believe global warming is a real problem and again when asked if humans bear significant blame.

Agency heads during five Republican administrations, including the current one, criticized the Bush White House for what they described as a failure of leadership.

Defending his boss, Johnson said the current administration has spent $20 billion on research and technology to combat climate change after President Bush rejected mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief gas blamed for trapping heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

Bush also kept the United States out of the Kyoto international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases globally, saying it would harm the U.S. economy, after many of the accord's terms were negotiated by the Clinton administration.

"I know from the president on down, he is committed," Johnson said. "And certainly his charge to me was, and certainly our team has heard it: 'I want you to accelerate the pace of environmental protection. I want you to maintain our economic competitiveness.' And I think that's really what it's all about."

His predecessors disagreed. Lee Thomas, Ruckelshaus's successor in the Reagan administration, said that "if the United States doesn't deal with those kinds of issues in a leadership role, they're not going to get dealt with. So I'm very concerned about this country and this agency."

Bill Reilly, the EPA administrator under the first President Bush, echoed that assessment.

"The time will come when we will address seriously the problem of climate change, and this is the agency that's best equipped to anticipate it," he said.

Christie Whitman, the first of three EPA administrators in the current Bush administration, said people obviously are having "an enormous impact" on the earth's warming.

"You'd need to be in a hole somewhere to think that the amount of change that we have imposed on land, and the way we've handled deforestation, farming practices, development, and what we're putting into the air, isn't exacerbating what is probably a natural trend," she said. "But this is worse, and it's getting worse."

Carol Browner, who was President Clinton's EPA administrator, said the White House and the Congress should push legislation to establish a carbon trading program based on a 1990 pollution trading program that helped reduce acid rain.

"If we wait for every single scientist who has a thought on the issue of climate change to agree, we will never do anything," she said. "If this agency had waited to completely understand the impacts of DDT, the impacts of lead in our gasoline, there would probably still be DDT sprayed and lead in our gasoline."

Three former administrators did not attend Wednesday's ceremony: Mike Leavitt, now secretary of health and human services; Doug Costle, who was in the Carter administration, and Anne Burford, a Reagan appointee who died last year.

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Memo stokes 'terror flights' row

Memo stokes 'terror flights' row

The US may have used UK airports to transport terror suspects on more occasions than the two so far admitted, a leaked government memo suggests.

The Foreign Office memo, leaked to the New Statesman, warned that the process of "rendition" would be illegal if the suspects were to face torture.

It advises that the government avoid detailed questions on the flights, and stress their anti-terrorist purpose.

Opposition parties have demanded more government transparency on the issue.

'Not aware of more'

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told MPs on 12 December that only two cases, in 1998, had been found where such transfers were approved, and none had been found since 11 September 2001.

But the memo, written in early December and apparently designed to prepare Tony Blair for questions about the flights, said officials were urgently examining the files.

"We cannot say that we have received no such request for the use of UK territory.

"The papers we have uncovered so far suggest that there could be more than the two cases referred to in the House by the Foreign Secretary," it says.

It adds: "It does remain true that we are not aware of the use of UK territory or airspace for the purposes of extraordinary rendition.

"But we think we should now try to move the debate on and focus people instead on (US Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice's clear assurance that US activities are consistent with their domestic and international obligations and never include the use of torture".


The memo suggests that Whitehall officials were worried that US activities may be illegal under international law.

"In the most common use of the term - ie, involving real risk of torture - it could never be legal because this is clearly prohibited by the UN Convention Against Torture," it says.

The Foreign Office and Downing Street both refused to comment on a leaked document.

But a Foreign Office spokesman said Mr Straw had already made clear the UK had not agreed, and would not agree, to help transfer people to places where there were "substantial grounds to believe they would face a real risk of torture".

'Strategic avoidance'

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "This leaked memo requires fresh explanations from the Foreign Office. It is important that any further requests, in addition to those already confirmed by the Foreign Office, are revealed.

"We still need to know from ministers whether they are entirely satisfied that UK airspace and territory has not been used for the transfer of suspects leading to their torture."

The Liberal Democrats have asked for Mr Straw to make a statement to MPs on the latest revelations.

Human rights group Liberty, which had called for the issue to be investigated, said it was "disappointed" in the government for its "strategic avoidance".

Liberty's director Shami Chakrabarti now called for new laws allowing UK police officers to board US flights and if necessary investigate them.

The government should co-operate "more robustly" with the police investigation, and ask some "rather more difficult questions of the Americans than they have in the past".

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Report says Britain doubts legality of CIA flights

Report says Britain doubts legality of CIA flights

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain believes the CIA's reported secret transfer of terrorism suspects to foreign countries for interrogation is illegal, according to a leaked government document published on Thursday.

The Foreign Office memo says the practice, known as extraordinary rendition, "could never be legal" if the detainee is at risk of torture, according to extracts printed in the Guardian newspaper.

It adds that British cooperation "would also be illegal if we knew of the circumstances", according to the newspaper.

Human rights groups have accused the Central Intelligence Agency of running secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere, abducting suspects and transferring them between countries by plane.

President George W. Bush said last month the United States does not secretly move terrorism suspects to foreign countries that torture to get information.

"We do not render to countries that torture, that has been our policy and that policy will remain the same," Bush said.

Washington has come under growing pressure to explain why hundreds of flights by CIA planes have criss-crossed the world, stopping in many European countries.

Britain, a key U.S. ally, has repeatedly sought to play down its role in the rendition controversy.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told parliament on January 10 that Britain has approved only two CIA rendition flights. However, the leaked document, dated December 7, 2005, says the CIA may have used British airports more often.

"The papers we have uncovered so far suggest that there could be more than the two cases referred to in the House (of Commons) by the foreign secretary," the BBC News Web site quoted from an extract of the memo.

It was sent by an official in Straw's department to an aide in Prime Minister Tony Blair's office, the Guardian said.

It was leaked to the New Statesman magazine and parts were reprinted in several British newspapers on Thursday.

The briefing document's author, named as Irfan Siddiq, appears to suggest the British government should seek to sidestep difficult questions over its role in the renditions.

"We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail and to try to move the debate on," he wrote, according to the newspaper."

A spokesman for Blair declined to comment. A Foreign Office spokesman had no direct comment.

"The government does not deport or extradite anyone to another state where there are substantive grounds to believe they would be subject to torture," he said in a statement.


Americans more receptive to idea of woman president

Americans more receptive to idea of woman president
By Catherine Hours, Agence-France Presse

NEW YORK — Americans are getting used to the idea of being led by a female president with political observers dreaming of a showdown between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election.

If polls, a television show about a woman president and a prediction by First Lady Laura Bush are any indication, Americans appear willing to follow Liberia and Chile in electing their first woman president.

Before attending the presidential inauguration of Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female president, Laura Bush predicted last week that a woman would lead the United States someday soon.

"I think it will happen for sure," she said, adding it will "happen probably in the next few terms of the presidency in the United States."

Reality may imitate art in 2008. Commander in Chief, which stars Geena Davis as the first female president, became a hit television series after appearing last year. Davis won a Golden Globe for her role on Monday.

A recent Gallup poll for USA TODAY and CNN showed that 70% of Americans said they would probably vote for a woman in 2008.

But before Clinton and Rice can battle for the ultimate power seat in the Oval Office, they would have to become the first women to win the nomination of the top two American political parties.

Republicans and Democrats have yet to pick a woman as a White House nominee, although Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in Walter Mondale's failed presidential bid in 1984.

Laura Bush has already her view on the subject known. She told CNN last week that Rice would be a great Republican candidate to succeed her husband, President George W. Bush, who marks the first year of his second term Friday.

"I'd love to see her run. She's terrific," she said.

Rice, however, has said she does not want to run for president.

Clinton, who has led potential Democratic candidates in opinion polls, has yet to declare her intentions.

Although neither has said she will run for president, political observers are already pining for a battle between the two powerful women.

Dick Morris, a former adviser to ex-president Bill Clinton, co-wrote a book titled Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.

The book imagines a political duel between "two highly accomplished women, partisans of opposite parties, media superstars, and quintessentially twenty-first-century female leaders."

To Morris, only Rice has the potential to reach across the political spectrum to stop Clinton from winning the 2008 election.

While Rice's boss saw his popularity rating plunge last year, the chief US diplomat remained a popular government figure.

After Johnson Sirleaf's inauguration and Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet's election victory this week, seeing a female US leader is becoming less uncommon, analysts said.

"It's perfectly possible," said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor.

"We're talking on a week in which a woman president was inaugurated in Africa and a woman was elected in Latin America, so this is not any longer so unique," Hess said.

"Here polls show that gender doesn't really make that much difference anymore," he added.

Women have made gains in the U.S. political landscape, although the United States remains in the 63rd spot worldwide in terms of female legislative representation.

There are 69 women in the 435-member House of Representatives and 14 female senators in the 100-member Senate.

Clinton has an edge over Rice because she has won an election, while the secretary of state has never run for office, Hess said.

"The odds are greater that it would be Hillary rather than Condi," he said. "You would have to go very far to find a president of the United States who hadn't been elected to some previous office."

All three individuals who became presidents in their first attempts at winning any kind of election were retired generals: Dwight Eisenhower, president from 1953 to 1961; Ulysses S. Grant, 1869 to 1877; and Zachary Taylor, 1849 to 1850.

Chester Arthur, who became president in 1881 after the death of James Garfield, had never run for election before seeking the vice presidency as part of the Garfield ticket.

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Tribes, 'tired of being used,' reject senator's donation

Tribes, 'tired of being used,' reject senator's donation

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council has rejected a $111,000 donation from the campaign of Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, with some saying the money is tainted because it originally came from lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients.

James Steele Jr., also chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said yesterday that the council voted not to accept the donation, which was made up of contributions from Abramoff, his associates and his tribal clients.

Julia Doney, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community Council, a member of the tribal leaders council, said that some tribes are "tired of being used" and do not want to appear as if they are helping Burns.

In a statement Wednesday, Burns campaign chairman Mark Baker called the decision "disappointing" and said Burns would redirect most of the funds to the tribes that originally donated the money. Burns, a Republican, said in December that he would give away and return $146,700 in donations in order to avoid the appearance of improper connections to Abramoff, who pleaded guilty two weeks ago to federal corruption charges.

Abramoff admitted to conspiring to defraud Indian tribes, which he sometimes directed to make contributions to lawmakers. Since his plea agreement, many lawmakers have rushed to donate money connected to him and his clients or return it.

"To us it's tainted money," Doney said Wednesday. "If he wanted us to have extra money, he would have given it to us in other ways."

Burns returned some of the funds directly to Abramoff's tribal clients. But Baker, the campaign chairman, said last week that they were not able to return some of the larger donations — $20,000 from the Tigua tribe of El Paso, for example — because the account where the money landed has since been closed. A total of $111,000 was designated for the Montana-Wyoming tribal council instead.

Arturo Senclair, governor of the Tigua tribe, said then that Burns should have returned the money by donating to a charity that benefits the Tiguas, who hired Abramoff to help reopen a casino that had been closed down.

In his statement, Baker said Burns will contact the tribes that originally donated the campaign dollars "and determine from their counsel which charitable organization a comparable contribution should be given."

Burns has denied he was influenced by donations from Abramoff.

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Court rules girl has right to die

Court rules girl has right to die

By Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts' officials and doctors were deciding on Wednesday when to end life support for an 11-year-old girl beaten into a vegetative state, following a court ruling that she had a right to die.

Doctors will run tests on Haleigh Poutre after the Supreme Judicial Court, the state's top court, decided on Tuesday that her breathing machines and feeding tubes could be disconnected.

The court's decision adds fuel to America's divisive "right to die" debate and could lead to murder charges against her stepfather, Jason Strickland, a 31-year-old auto mechanic accused of battering Poutre.

The girl's brain was found partly sheared when she was hospitalized on September 11. Her body was covered with burns, cuts and bruises and her teeth were broken.

Strickland had fought to keep Poutre on life support -- a move that would have allowed him to avoid a charge of murder.

"We're getting an update on her current condition. We want to be very clear her condition is unchanged and if it takes complete retesting we will do that," said Denise Monteiro, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Social Services.

Doctors have said the girl would die within a few days once life support is removed.

The state's highest court sided with a juvenile court which decided in September that the Department of Social Services could disconnect Poutre's life support, court documents show.

Strickland's wife -- the child's maternal aunt and sole legal guardian -- was found shot dead on September 22 with her grandmother in an apparent murder-suicide a day after police accused her of hitting Haleigh with a baseball bat.


The case was as much about who has legal rights to the girl, who is now in state custody, as it is about her ultimate fate and whether the state can remove the ventilator and feeding tube keeping her alive.

It carries echoes of the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman taken off life support in March after a legal battle that galvanized the Christian right and drew in President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress.

Strickland's lawyers had asked the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the juvenile court judge's decision that the man has no legal rights over the girl. Strickland, who never adopted the child, wanted to be legally recognized as her defacto father because he lived with her for four years.

If the court had granted his wish, it would have allowed Stickland to decide whether to take Haleigh off life support.

Poutre's birth mother, 29-year-old Allison Avrett, lost custody of the girl when she was four years old because of allegations of abuse, said the Department of Social Services, whose lawyers have consulted Avrett in the case.

Avrett has said she would prefer the removal of Poutre's life support system.

The court heard that Poutre's doctors "have consistent medical opinion about her current condition" and all had agreed she will not regain consciousness.

The Massachusetts case is important because the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to make a definitive ruling on the issue of ending life support, said Louis Aucoin of the Institute for Human Security at Tufts University's Fletcher School.

"It raises the issue of how you interpret constitutions, both state and federal," he said. "It's a very, very important issue in light of current developments in the Supreme Court."

He was referring to debate over how Bush's recent appointments to the Supreme Court will influence how the nation's top court interprets the constitution.


Court: Striking Abortion Law Goes Too Far

Yahoo! News
Court: Striking Abortion Law Goes Too Far

By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer

The Supreme Court steered clear of a major ruling on abortion Wednesday, instead giving New Hampshire a chance to save its parental notification law.

Justices, in a rare unanimous abortion ruling, agreed that the New Hampshire law could make it too hard for some ill minors to get an abortion, but at the same time they were hesitant about stepping in to fix the 2003 statute. They told a lower court to reconsider whether the entire law is unconstitutional.

"Making distinctions in a murky constitutional context, or where line-drawing is inherently complex, may call for a `far more serious invasion of the legislative domain' than we ought to undertake," retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the court.

The New Hampshire case had been expected to be much closer at the high court.

Instead, justices found consensus on narrow grounds, that a lower court went too far by permanently blocking the law that requires a parent to be told before a minor daughter ends her pregnancy.

Civil rights groups predicted that the appeals court would again strike down the law.

"It tells politicians that they must include protections for women's health and safety when they pass abortion laws," said Jennifer Dalven, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

O'Connor, a key swing voter at the court on abortion rights, last year announced plans to retire and she will step down soon if the Senate confirms nominee Samuel Alito.

Alito was questioned extensively last week during his Senate confirmation hearing about his views on abortion, including the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that declared abortion a fundamental constitutional right. He steadfastly refused to agree with assertions by Democrats that Roe v. Wade is "settled law."

O'Connor, who supports Roe, made clear that the court was not going to break new ground in what may be her final days on the bench. "We do not revisit our abortion precedents today," she wrote in the opening of the brief opinion.

David Garrow, a Supreme Court historian at Cambridge University, said the decision "can be read as another step toward a long-term middle-ground truce, or at least stalemate."

The case returns to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which had ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The statute requires that a parent be informed 48 hours before a minor child has an abortion but makes no exception for a medical emergency that threatens the youth's health.

Phyllis Woods, a former state representative from Dover, N.H., who was a main sponsor of the bill, said she was pleased by the ruling but concerned that the appeals court might require a broad health exception. "Our concern has always been that a blanket health exception opens the door and really negates the whole purpose of the bill," Woods said.

New Hampshire's appeal gave the court a chance to clarify when laws pose an "undue burden" on a woman in choosing to end a pregnancy. O'Connor is an architect of the undue burden standard, and was the deciding vote in the last abortion case in 2000, when the justices ruled that a Nebraska law banning a type of late-term abortion was too burdensome. That law did not have an exception to protect the mother's health.

Justices did not deal directly with that question, although O'Connor wrote: "under our cases it would be unconstitutional to apply the act in a manner that subjects minors to significant health risks."

"In the case that is before us ... the lower courts need not have invalidated the law wholesale," O'Connor wrote. "Only a few applications of New Hampshire's parental notification statute would present a constitutional problem."

The opinion, just 10 pages, was a partial victory for New Hampshire in a case that had been closely watched by other states with restrictions. Justices had been told that 24 states mandate a parent's approval and 19, including New Hampshire, demand parental notice.

Another major case awaiting justices is the Bush administration's appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a federal ban on a late-term procedure that critics call "partial birth" abortions. The federal law has no health exception.

The case is Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, 04-1144.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Polling of American Public on Impeachment
Polling of American Public on Impeachment

Among American adults, 53% agreed and 42% disagreed with the statement:
"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

Among Democrats 76% agreed, and 22% disagreed.
Oct. 29 – Nov. 2, 2005, Zogby International poll, commissioned by, +/- 2.9% margin of error.

Among American adults 52% agreed and 43% disagreed with the statement:
"If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment."

Among Democrats 71% agreed, and 24% disagreed. January 9-12, 2006, Zogby International poll, commissioned by, +/- 2.9% margin of error.

Among American adults, 50% agreed and 44% disagreed with the statement:
"If President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should consider holding him accountable by impeaching him."

Many felt strongly: 39% strongly agreed, while 30% strongly disagreed. Among Democrats 72% agreed, 59% strongly agreed, 23% disagreed, and 11% strongly disagreed. Oct. 6-9, Ipsos Public Affairs poll, commissioned by, +/- 3.1% margin of error.

Note on Methodology

The above polls asked about support for impeachment if Bush committed certain acts, rather than asking simply about support for impeachment. Pollsters predicted that asking simply about impeachment without any context would produce a large number of "I don't know" responses. The results may miss significant numbers who support Bush's impeachment for other reasons.

Majority Believes Bush Lied About War

Other polls show a majority of U.S. adults believe that Bush did in fact lie about the reasons for war. A June 23-26 ABC/Washington Post poll found 52% of Americans believe the Bush administration "deliberately misled the public before the war," and 57% say the Bush administration "intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."

Historical Comparison

In August and September of 1998, 16 major polls asked about impeaching President Clinton. On average, 36% of American adults supported hearings to consider impeachment, and 26% supported actual impeachment and removal.


Sept. 11 Workers Die of Health Problems

ABC News
Within 7 Months, 3 Sept. 11 Workers Die
Sept. 11 Workers Die of Health Problems; Direct Link to Ground Zero Unclear
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - James Zadroga spent 16 hours a day toiling in the World Trade Center ruins for a month, breathing in debris-choked air. Timothy Keller said he coughed up bits of gravel from his lungs after the towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Felix Hernandez spent days at the site helping to search for victims.

All three men died in the past seven months of what their families and colleagues say were persistent respiratory illnesses directly caused by their work at ground zero.

While thousands of people who either worked at or lived near the site have reported ailments such as "trade center cough" since the terrorist attacks, some say that only now are the consequences of working at the site becoming heartbreakingly clear.

"I'm very fearful," said Donald Faeth, an emergency medical technician and officer in a union with two of the ground zero workers who died last year. "I think that there are several people who died that day and didn't realize that they died that day."

Some officials say it is too early to draw that conclusion. Doctors running different health screening programs say it will take decades to get a clear picture of the long-term health effects of working at ground zero.

The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is tracking the health of 71,000 people exposed to Sept. 11 dust and debris, said last week that it is too soon to say whether any deaths or illnesses among its enrolled members are linked to trade center exposure.

But Robin Herbert, who directs a medical-monitoring program at Mount Sinai Medical Center for more than 14,000 ground zero workers, said "certainly it is not inconceivable" that a person could die of respiratory disease related to Sept. 11.

Karin DeShore said she does not need scientists to tell her what caused the death of her friend Keller, 41. DeShore was a Fire Department captain who took Keller to the trade center on Sept. 11, and barely escaped the south tower's collapse.

"He came back coughing" two days later, she said. Faeth said that Keller told him that he coughed up debris so violently he could barely breathe on Sept. 11, and later developed emphysema.

Keller went home to Levittown on medical leave in March. He died on June 23 of heart disease complicated by bronchitis and emphysema, the Nassau County medical examiner's office said.

Felix Hernandez, 31, worked on rescue and recovery work at ground zero following the attacks, said his former supervisor, Lt. Regina Pellegrino. In 2002, "it started with a cold he couldn't shake ... and it kept getting worse and worse and worse," she said.

Hernandez was diagnosed with various respiratory diseases and was told by doctors at one point that he may have cystic fibrosis, Pellegrino said. He left the job in 2004 when he became too weak to climb stairs, and died Oct. 23 of respiratory ailments in Florida, said colleagues who spoke with his family.

Both Keller and Hernandez, each with a decade on the job, were nonsmokers and had no previous health problems before Sept. 11, Faeth said.

Zadroga, a 34-year-old New York detective, logged 470 hours at the site in 2001, including Sept. 11, and died Jan. 5. Family members and co-workers said he had contracted black lung disease and had high levels of mercury in his brain. Autopsy results have not been released.

David Worby, an attorney representing more than 5,000 plaintiffs suing those who supervised the cleanup over their illnesses, said 21 of his clients have died of Sept. 11-related diseases since mid-2004. He said he was not authorized to release their names, but represented people who toiled at ground zero, at the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island where trade center debris was moved, and at the city morgue.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Worby said. "Many, many more people are going to die from the aftermath of the toxicity."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose congressional district includes the trade center site, blames some of the illnesses on the failure to provide some workers with proper masks or respiratory protection. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found in 2004 that one in five workers wore respirators while they worked at the site to block out dust laced with asbestos, glass fibers, pulverized cement and other substances.

"All the people exposed should be monitored for life so that we know what happened," Nadler said.


Federal Regulators Investigate Sale of Personal Phone Records to Online Companies

ABC News
Feds Probe Sale of Personal Phone Records
Federal Regulators Investigate Sale of Personal Phone Records to Online Companies
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Federal regulators are investigating whether telephone companies are doing enough to keep customers' records from falling into the hands of unscrupulous online data brokers.

"These records can include some of the most private personal information about an individual," Jonathan Adelstein, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday. "Finding out who people are calling and for how long can be like picking someone's brain about their friends, plans or business dealings."

Fellow Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps also praised the FCC's inquiry. "This must be a priority because every day such a problem exists puts American citizens needlessly at risk," he said.

The head of the commission, Kevin Martin, revealed the investigation in a letter last week to Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has complained about the practice.

Martin said the agency was looking into how the online companies are getting the private records. The agency is coordinating its efforts with the Federal Trade Commission, he said.

In a letter to the FCC and the FTC last November, Markey said the disclosure of phone records without a customer's consent is illegal, and he asked the agencies what they are doing to shut down these operations.

Markey cited concerns about the sale on several Internet sites of customers' wireless and landline phone records, including the date, time and length of calls placed by consumers.

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White House Refuses to Reveal Details of Staff Meetings With Jack Abramoff

ABC News
White House Silent on Abramoff Meetings
White House Refuses to Reveal Details of Staff Meetings With Jack Abramoff
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The White House is refusing to reveal details of tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits with President Bush's staff.

Abramoff had "a few staff-level meetings" at the Bush White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. But he would not say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing or how he got access to the White House.

Since Abramoff pleaded guilty two weeks ago to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion charges in an influence-peddling scandal, McClellan has told reporters he was checking into Abramoff's meetings. "I'm making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that," he said in his press briefing Jan. 5. "And I'll get that to you, hopefully very soon."

McClellan said Tuesday that he checked on it at reporters' requests, but wouldn't discuss the private staff-level meetings. "We are not going to engage in a fishing expedition," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, along with three other Democratic senators, wrote Bush a letter Tuesday asking for an accounting of Abramoff's personal contacts with Bush administration officials and acts that may have been undertaken at his request. "The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale," they wrote.

McClellan has said Abramoff attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House, but corrected himself Tuesday to say there were only two in 2001 and 2002.

McClellan said Bush does not know Abramoff personally, although it's possible the two met at the holiday receptions.

Abramoff was one of Bush's top fundraisers, having brought in at least $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney '04 re-election campaign and earning the honorary title "pioneer." The campaign took $6,000 of the contributions which came directly from Abramoff, his wife and one of the Indian tribes he represented and donated it to the American Heart Association. But the campaign has not returned the rest of the money Abramoff raised.

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