Friday, May 11, 2007

New Scandal Brewing at DOJ?

Today, there is a hearing in Denver, CO. On Monday, there is a hearing in Chicago, IL. Depending on the Judge, the Justice Department could find itself in major legal trouble. While I can't discuss everything about the case, I'll give you the basic story.

Here's the background. The Justice Department has been investigating someone for corporate reimbursement. This is one of around a hundred cases being pursued by the Justice Department, citing a Federal law that allows them to criminally prosecute campaign finance violations.

That's where the scandal starts. The law that DOJ has been citing is outdated. A newer law requires a referral from the Federal Election Commission in order for the DOJ to pursue it criminally. The reason for this is that over 99% of campaign finance violations are settled by the FEC by fines. Only the most egregious ever are prosecuted criminally. Think about it. When is the last time you heard of criminal charges for campaign finance reasons?

Today, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington just today announced that they are filing a complained against Senator Mel Martinez for violations in his 2004 campaign. He also serves as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. See their release here to see how far reaching his violations were. So far, there is no criminal prosecution of him. Hmmmm.....I wonder why.

I don't know how many of those hundred cases being pursued by DOJ are against Democrats. Nobody does because they won't tell us. There is probably a reason for that.

So, because they have been using an outdated law to investigate and prosecute, the Attorney General is being sued in Federal Court in several jurisdictions. The first hearings are the ones in Denver and Chicago. This could lead to the dismissal of all pending investigations.

However, it could be a watershed moment for another reason. Because of the recent oversight given to the Executive Branch, we now know that the Justice Department has circumvented the legal process and issued tens of thousands of "national security letters." These documents allow DOJ/FBI to forgo getting a Judge's approval for a subpoena. In other words, it allows bureaucrats to violate the Constitutional rights with no Judicial oversight. It is also done in secret.

But, there are indications that national security letters were issued in these campaign finance investigations. It is possible that this Justice Department abused the law to go on a crusade to investigate Democratic donors. So far, the Government has been unwilling to provide an answer to the question of whether or not this is true. If we're lucky, a Federal Judge in Denver or Chicago will seek the truth and uphold the spirit of the law and our Constitution.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

New Iraq Spending Plan: Details and Opinion

Since Congressional Republicans continued to stick with "thirty-something W" and voted to uphold his veto of money for our troops and accountability for his handling of the Iraq war, we've waited with baited breath to see how Democrats would respond. Now we know.

Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey has drafted two separate emergency supplemental appropriations bills. The first deals with Military funding, Katrina recovery, Children's Health Insurance Program, Veterans Health care, and a few other things. The second bill deals with Agriculture assistance and Western States appropriations.

It would have been nice to send him a bill ONLY with military spending, so he can't find some ridiculous reason to veto it again. But, I'm going to concentrate just on the Military piece, since that's what this is really all about.

The total military spending contained in the new Iraq Accountability Act totals about $96 billion. Some of this is only available through September of this year, just under $56 billion to be exact. The rest is available to be spent through either September 2008 or 2009. Most of this funding is for things like procurement of armored vehicles and new airplanes or special programs like eradicating land mines. This adds up to almost $40 billion, which is NOT subject to any timetable.

To get some of this money, the President will have to prepare a report to Congress and have it approved. Here is the language detailing what Congress is expecting:

SEC. 1330. The President shall transmit to the Congress a report in classified and unclassified form, on or before July 13, 2007, detailing—

(1) the progress the Government of Iraq has made in—
(A) giving the United States Armed Forces and Iraqi Security Forces the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias;
(B) delivering necessary Iraqi Security Forces for Baghdad and protecting such Forces from political interference;
(C) intensifying efforts to build balanced security forces throughout Iraq that provide even-handed security for all Iraqis;
(D) ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi Security Forces;
(E) eliminating militia control of local security;
(F) establishing a strong militia disarmament program;
(G) ensuring fair and just enforcement of laws;
(H) establishing political, media, economic, and service committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan;
(I) eradicating safe havens;
(J) reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq; and
(K) ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi Parliament are protected; and
(2) whether the Government of Iraq has—
(A) enacted a broadly accepted hydro-carbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis;
(B) adopted legislation necessary for the conduct of provincial and local elections, taken steps to implement such legislation, and set a schedule to conduct provincial and local elections;
(C) reformed current laws governing the de-Baathification process to allow for more equitable treatment of individuals affected by such laws;
(D) amended the Constitution of Iraq consistent with the principles contained in article 137 of such Constitution; and
(E) allocated and begun expenditure of $10 billion in Iraqi revenues for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.

Should the President fail to conform with this requirement and his report be approved by a joint resolution of both Houses of Congress, then approximately $50 billion in spending will not be approved. Some of that $50 billion is meant to be spent by September of this year.

Aside from the money issues, there are provisions that require that all troops be deemed combat ready according to DOD regulations before being deployed. The bill also prevents the deployment of troops to be extended beyond one year. Further, it requires that troops be home for a minimum of 210 days before being deployed for an additional tour of duty.

Unfortunately, it allows the President to waive any of these provisions of the law with a notification to Congress that it is because of national security needs. This ability to waive that requirement takes a lot of the teeth out of what this could have been. It is, however, consistent with the first bill passed by the Congress.

So, what should we make of all this? I'll have to say, at first glance, I was pretty mad that there was no timeline for withdrawal in this bill. But, after really taking a look at it and seeing how the funding mechanisms are built in, it looks like a decent compromise. Many Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, taking a cue from General Petreus, have established September as an informal deadline for knowing if any progress will be made under this new leadership and the President's so-called "new" strategy.

Our ultimate goal should be to end the war as soon as possible. While I have advocated not caving to the President on a single point, I think this is something we should support.

First, it requires the President to go on the record on many issues which are pertinent to the stewardship of the war in Iraq. It also requires DOD to provide the Congress with a complete report on Contractor activity in Iraq. This is something that has not been required previously. With this, we can learn how much money is going to the troops and how much is lining the pockets of Corporate America. Most importantly, it funds the war until September, at which time, we will likely have much more support for putting an end to this atrocity.

As impatient as I am, I can live with this. I can only hope that moderate Republicans come to their senses and get behind this. There is a better chance of this happening than the arrogance in the White House being won over by sound reason and compromise. I urge everyone to put pressure on these Republicans to team up with Democrats to make this legislation a reality.

Speaker Pelosi has talking points on the legislation on her website here. It includes something that I failed to see when I went over the legislation which strengthens my support for the bill. Here it is:

Those procedures would also guarantee a vote in the House on an amendment to provide that defense funding related to Iraq could only be used to plan and execute the redeployment of troops within 180 days of enactment. The only exceptions to this troop redeployment would be for troops protecting American diplomatic facilities and American citizens, including members of the U.S. armed forces; serving in roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions; engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach; or training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces.