The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Frank Rich - All the President’s Press

All the President’s Press


SOMEHOW it’s hard to imagine David Halberstam yukking it up with Alberto Gonzales, Paul Wolfowitz and two discarded “American Idol” contestants at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Before there was a Woodward and Bernstein, there was Halberstam, still not yet 30 in the early 1960s, calling those in power to account for lying about our “progress” in Vietnam. He did so even though J.F.K. told the publisher of The Times, “I wish like hell that you’d get Halberstam out of there.” He did so despite public ridicule from the dean of that era’s Georgetown punditocracy, the now forgotten columnist (and Vietnam War cheerleader) Joseph Alsop.

It was Alsop’s spirit, not Halberstam’s, that could be seen in C-Span’s live broadcast of the correspondents’ dinner last Saturday, two days before Halberstam’s death in a car crash in California. This fete is a crystallization of the press’s failures in the post-9/11 era: it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows. Such is literally the case at the annual dinner, where journalists serve as a supporting cast, but it has been figuratively true year-round. The press has enabled stunts from the manufactured threat of imminent “mushroom clouds” to “Saving Private Lynch” to “Mission Accomplished,” whose fourth anniversary arrives on Tuesday. For all the recrimination, self-flagellation and reforms that followed these journalistic failures, it’s far from clear that the entire profession yet understands why it has lost the public’s faith.

That state of denial was center stage at the correspondents’ dinner last year, when the invited entertainer, Stephen Colbert, “fell flat,” as The Washington Post summed up the local consensus. To the astonishment of those in attendance, a funny thing happened outside the Beltway the morning after: the video of Mr. Colbert’s performance became a national sensation. (Last week it was still No. 2 among audiobook downloads on iTunes.) Washington wisdom had it that Mr. Colbert bombed because he was rude to the president. His real sin was to be rude to the capital press corps, whom he caricatured as stenographers. Though most of the Washington audience failed to find the joke funny, Americans elsewhere, having paid a heavy price for the press’s failure to challenge White House propaganda about Iraq, laughed until it hurt.

You’d think that l’affaire Colbert would have led to a little circumspection, but last Saturday’s dinner was another humiliation. And not just because this year’s entertainer, an apolitical nightclub has-been (Rich Little), was a ludicrously tone-deaf flop. More appalling — and symptomatic of the larger sycophancy — was the press’s insidious role in President Bush’s star turn at the event.

It’s the practice on these occasions that the president do his own comic shtick, but this year Mr. Bush made a grand show of abstaining, saying that the killings at Virginia Tech precluded his being a “funny guy.” Any civilian watching on TV could formulate the question left hanging by this pronouncement: Why did the killings in Iraq not preclude his being a “funny guy” at other press banquets we’ve watched on C-Span? At the equivalent Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association gala three years ago, the president contributed an elaborate (and tasteless) comic sketch about his failed search for Saddam’s W.M.D.

But the revelers in the ballroom last Saturday could not raise that discrepancy and challenge Mr. Bush’s hypocrisy; they could only clap. And so they served as captive dress extras in a propaganda stunt, lending their credibility to the president’s sanctimonious exploitation of the Virginia Tech tragedy for his own political self-aggrandizement on national television. Meanwhile the war was kept as tightly under wraps as the troops’ coffins.

By coincidence, this year’s dinner occurred just before a Congressional hearing filled in some new blanks in the still incomplete story of a more egregious White House propaganda extravaganza: the Pat Tillman hoax. As it turns out, the correspondents’ dinner played an embarrassing cameo role in it, too.

What the hearing underscored was the likelihood that the White House also knew very early on what the Army knew and covered up: the football star’s supposed death in battle in Afghanistan, vividly described in a Pentagon press release awarding him a Silver Star, was a complete fabrication, told to the world (and Tillman’s parents) even though top officers already suspected he had died by friendly fire. The White House apparently decided to join the Pentagon in maintaining that lie so that it could be milked for P.R. purposes on two television shows, the correspondents’ dinner on May 1, 2004, and a memorial service for Tillman two days later.

The timeline of events in the week or so leading up to that dinner is startling. Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004. By the next day top officers knew he had not been killed by enemy fire. On April 29, a top special operations commander sent a memo to John Abizaid, among other generals, suggesting that the White House be warned off making specific public claims about how Tillman died. Simultaneously, according to an e-mail that surfaced last week, a White House speechwriter contacted the Pentagon to gather information about Tillman for use at the correspondents’ dinner.

When President Bush spoke at the dinner at week’s end, he followed his jokes with a eulogy about Tillman’s sacrifice. But he kept the circumstances of Tillman’s death vague, no doubt because the White House did indeed get the message that the Pentagon’s press release about Tillman’s losing his life in battle was fiction. Yet it would be four more weeks before Pat Tillman’s own family was let in on the truth.

To see why the administration wanted to keep the myth going, just look at other events happening in the week before that correspondents’ dinner. On April 28, 2004, CBS broadcast the first photographs from Abu Ghraib; on April 29 a poll on The Times’s front page found the president’s approval rating on the war was plummeting; on April 30 Ted Koppel challenged the administration’s efforts to keep the war dead hidden by reading the names of the fallen on “Nightline.” Tillman could be useful to help drown out all this bad news, and to an extent he was. The Washington press corps that applauded the president at the correspondents’ dinner is the same press corps that was slow to recognize the importance of Abu Ghraib that weekend and, as documented by a new study, “When the Press Fails” (University of Chicago Press), even slower to label the crimes as torture.

In his PBS report last week about the journalism breakdown before the war, Bill Moyers said that “the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses.” That’s not universally true; a number of news organizations have owned up to their disasters and tried to learn from them. Yet old habits die hard: for too long the full weight of the scandal in the Gonzales Justice Department eluded some of the Washington media pack, just as Abu Ghraib and the C.I.A. leak case did.

After last weekend’s correspondents’ dinner, The Times decided to end its participation in such events. But even were the dinner to vanish altogether, it remains but a yearly televised snapshot of the overall syndrome. The current White House, weakened as it is, can still establish story lines as fake as “Mission Accomplished” and get a free pass.

To pick just one overarching example: much of the press still takes it as a given that Iraq has a functioning government that might meet political benchmarks (oil law, de-Baathification reform, etc., etc.) that would facilitate an American withdrawal. In reality, the Maliki “government” can’t meet any benchmarks, even if they were enforced, because that government exists only as a fictional White House talking point. As Gen. Barry McCaffrey said last week, this government doesn’t fully control a single province. Its Parliament, now approaching a scheduled summer recess, has passed no major legislation in months. Iraq’s sole recent democratic achievement is to ban the release of civilian casualty figures, lest they challenge White House happy talk about “progress” in Iraq.

It’s our country’s bitter fortune that while David Halberstam is gone, too many Joe Alsops still hold sway. Take the current dean of the Washington press corps, David Broder, who is leading the charge in ridiculing Harry Reid for saying the obvious — that “this war is lost” (as it is militarily, unless we stay in perpetuity and draft many more troops). In February, Mr. Broder handed down another gem of Beltway conventional wisdom, suggesting that “at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback.”

Some may recall that Stephen Colbert offered the same prediction in his monologue at the correspondents’ dinner a year ago. “I don’t believe this is a low point in this presidency,” he said. “I believe it is just a lull before a comeback.” But the fake pundit, unlike the real one, recognized that this was a joke.

After Katrina, U.S. Did Not Accept Most Offers of Aid

After Katrina, U.S. Did Not Accept Most Offers of Aid

By John Solomon and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 29, 2007; A01

As the winds and water of Hurricane Katrina were receding, presidential confidante Karen Hughes sent a cable from her State Department office to U.S. ambassadors worldwide.

Titled "Echo-Chamber Message" -- a public relations term for talking points designed to be repeated again and again -- the Sept. 7, 2005, directive was unmistakable: Assure the scores of countries that had pledged or donated aid at the height of the disaster that their largesse had provided Americans "practical help and moral support" and "highlight the concrete benefits hurricane victims are receiving."

Many of the U.S. diplomats who received the message, however, were beginning to witness a more embarrassing reality. They knew the U.S. government was turning down many allies' offers of manpower, supplies and expertise worth untold millions of dollars. Eventually the United States also would fail to collect most of the unprecedented outpouring of international cash assistance for Katrina's victims.

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

In addition, valuable supplies and services -- such as cellphone systems, medicine and cruise ships -- were delayed or declined because the government could not handle them. In some cases, supplies were wasted.

The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government's difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Administration officials acknowledged in February 2006 that they were ill prepared to coordinate and distribute foreign aid and that only about half the $126 million received had been put to use. Now, 20 months after Katrina, newly released documents and interviews make clear the magnitude of the troubles.

More than 10,000 pages of cables, telegraphs and e-mails from U.S. diplomats around the globe -- released piecemeal since last fall under the Freedom of Information Act -- provide a fuller account of problems that, at times, mystified generous allies and left U.S. representatives at a loss for an explanation. The documents were obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a public interest group, which provided them to The Washington Post.

In one exchange, State Department officials anguished over whether to tell Italy that its shipments of medicine, gauze and other medical supplies spoiled in the elements for weeks after Katrina's landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and were destroyed. "Tell them we blew it," one disgusted official wrote. But she hedged: "The flip side is just to dispose of it and not come clean. I could be persuaded."

In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: "sent letter of thanks" and "will keep offer on hand," the new documents show.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain and Israel, according to a 40-page State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January 2006.

"There is a lack of accountability in where the money comes in and where it goes," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the public interest group, which called for an investigation into the fate of foreign aid offers. She added: "It's clear that they're trying to hide their ineptitude, incompetence and malfeasance."

In a statement, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that the U.S. government sincerely appreciated support from around the world and that Katrina had proved to be "a unique event in many ways."

"As we continue our planning for the future, we will draw on the lessons learned from this experience to ensure that we make the best use of any possible foreign assistance that might be offered," Casey said.

Representatives of foreign countries declined to criticize the U.S. response to their aid offers, though some redirected their gifts.

Of $454 million in cash that was pledged by more than 150 countries and foreign organizations, only $126 million from 40 donors was actually received. The biggest gifts were from the United Arab Emirates, $100 million; China and Bahrain, $5 million each; South Korea, $3.8 million; and Taiwan, $2 million.

Bader Bin Saeed, spokesman for the Emirates Embassy in Washington, said that in future disasters, "the UAE would not hesitate to help other countries, whether the U.S. or any other state, in humanitarian efforts."

Kuwait, which made the largest offer, pledged $100 million in cash and $400 million in oil. But the Kuwaitis eventually gave their money to two private groups: $25 million to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, a project of the former presidents, and another $25 million to the American Red Cross in February 2006. They still plan to contribute another $50 million, said the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, Salem Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah.

"It was based on my government's assessment of the fastest way to get money to the people that needed it," he said. "The Red Cross was on the ground and action-oriented."

In the White House's February 2006 Katrina report, U.S. officials said Kuwait's $400 million oil donation was to be sold for cash. Sabah said it was an in-kind pledge made when it appeared that U.S. refining capacity was devastated and that the American public would need fuel.

"We have to see what we have to do with that. When you pledge something in-kind, your intention is to give it in-kind. I do not think now the American people are in need of $400 million of fuel and fuel products," he said.

Of the $126 million in cash that has been received, most has not yet been used. More than $60 million was set aside in March 2006 to rebuild schools, colleges and universities, but so far, only $10.4 million has been taken by schools.

Half the $60 million was awarded last fall to 14 Louisiana and Mississippi colleges, but five have not started to claim the money. Only Dillard University in Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College have tapped their full awards, worth $6 million, U.S. Education Department officials said Friday.

Another $30 million was sent to Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes in Louisiana and to the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans to build libraries, laboratories and other facilities for 130 public schools.

But none of that money has been used yet, said Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Education. Allocations were just approved by the state board last week, she said, "so the money should start to flow."

The first concrete program officials announced in October 2005 -- a $66 million contract to a consortium of 10 faith-based and charity groups to provide social services to displaced families -- so far has assisted less than half the 100,000 victims it promised to help, the project director said.

The group, led by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has spent $30 million of the money it was given to aid about 45,000 evacuees. Senate investigators are questioning some terms in the contract proposal, including a provision to pay consultants for 450 days to train volunteers for the work the committee was paid to do.

Jim Cox, the program director, said that the project is "right on track" but that its strategy of relying on volunteers foundered because of burnout and high turnover. He acknowledged that more people need help than are receiving it and said the program will be extended to March to use available funds.

"The resources aren't there, but these resources certainly are coming," Cox said.

Justice Department official resigns as Abramoff probe heats up

Justice Department official resigns as Abramoff probe heats up

By Marisa Taylor and David Whitney
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - A senior Justice Department official has resigned after coming under scrutiny in the department's expanding investigation of convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case.

Making the situation more awkward for the embattled Justice Department, Robert E. Coughlin II was deputy chief of staff for the criminal division, which is overseeing the department's probe of Abramoff.

Spokesman Bryan Sierra said Coughlin had recused himself from the Abramoff investigation and "played no role in any aspect of the investigation during his tenure in the criminal division."

Coughlin stepped down effective April 6 as investigators in Coughlin's own division ratcheted up their investigation of lobbyist Kevin Ring, Coughlin's longtime friend and a key associate of Abramoff.

Coughlin held two senior staff positions at Justice while Ring was lobbying the department on behalf of Abramoff's clients.

When contacted at his home in Washington, Coughlin said he resigned voluntarily because he was relocating to Texas. "I was not asked to resign," he said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers. "It's important to me that it's made clear that I left voluntarily."

He said he couldn't comment on the Abramoff investigation or on whether he has a job lined up in Texas. And he declined to say where he was moving to in Texas. He referred all other questions to friend Michael Horowitz.

Horowitz, a criminal defense attorney and former Justice Department official and public corruption prosecutor, didn't respond to questions, including whether he's representing Coughlin. Coughlin also wouldn't say whether he had hired a lawyer.

The law enforcement officials asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case.

The disclosure of Coughlin's resignation was another blow to a Justice Department already struggling to recover from the controversy over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Democrats and a number of Republicans have criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his handling of the ousters, which critics charge were politically motivated.

Coughlin is at least the second Justice Department official to come under scrutiny in the wide-ranging Abramoff probe, which has implicated five congressmen, a deputy Cabinet secretary, a White House aide and eight others. Sue Ellen Wooldridge, a top environmental prosecutor at the Department of Justice, resigned in January.

Abramoff is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to three counts in the corruption probe and could face up to 11 years in prison.

It was unclear whether Coughlin is a target in the investigation, which would mean that he's under intense scrutiny, or whether he's a subject in the investigation, which would mean that investigators haven't determined whether he committed any wrongdoing. Justice spokesman Sierra declined to respond to any questions about the Abramoff investigation because it is ongoing.

Ring's attorney, Richard Hibey, also has declined comment on the investigation.

Ring was in frequent contact with the Justice Department, according to lobbying records that Abramoff's law firm, Greenburg Traurig, submitted to the Senate. The reports show more than a dozen contacts with the agency between 2000 and 2004, half of them for Indian tribes that Abramoff represented on casino issues. The reports don't disclose whom he talked to.

At the time of Ring's lobbying of the Justice Department, Coughlin was special assistant to the assistant attorney general in the office of legislative affairs and later deputy director of the office of intergovernmental affairs.

In November 2003, he left the department, but returned in the spring or early summer of 2005, Sierra said.

Before he began working for the Justice Department, Coughlin worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee under then-Sen. John Ashcroft from November 1999 to February 2001, according to committee records. Coughlin joined the Justice Department in March 2001 after President Bush tapped Ashcroft to become attorney general.

Sierra refused to release a copy of Coughlin's resume.

According to a Justice Department press release, Coughlin was given an award for fraud prevention by the attorney general on Sept. 12, 2006.

General William Odom - Bush Has Gone AWOL

Bush Has Gone AWOL
by General William Odom

The following is a transcript of the Democratic Radio Address delivered by Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.) on Saturday April 28, 2007:

“Good morning, this is Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army, retired.

“I am not now nor have I ever been a Democrat or a Republican. Thus, I do not speak for the Democratic Party. I speak for myself, as a non-partisan retired military officer who is a former Director of the National Security Agency. I do so because Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, asked me.

“In principle, I do not favor Congressional involvement in the execution of U.S. foreign and military policy. I have seen its perverse effects in many cases. The conflict in Iraq is different. Over the past couple of years, the President has let it proceed on automatic pilot, making no corrections in the face of accumulating evidence that his strategy is failing and cannot be rescued.

“Thus, he lets the United States fly further and further into trouble, squandering its influence, money, and blood, facilitating the gains of our enemies. The Congress is the only mechanism we have to fill this vacuum in command judgment.

“To put this in a simple army metaphor, the Commander-in-Chief seems to have gone AWOL, that is ‘absent without leave.’ He neither acts nor talks as though he is in charge. Rather, he engages in tit-for-tat games.

“Some in Congress on both sides of the aisle have responded with their own tits-for-tats. These kinds of games, however, are no longer helpful, much less amusing. They merely reflect the absence of effective leadership in a crisis. And we are in a crisis.

“Most Americans suspect that something is fundamentally wrong with the President’s management of the conflict in Iraq. And they are right.

“The challenge we face today is not how to win in Iraq; it is how to recover from a strategic mistake: invading Iraq in the first place. The war could never have served American interests.

“But it has served Iran’s interest by revenging Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s and enhancing Iran’s influence within Iraq. It has also served al Qaeda’s interests, providing a much better training ground than did Afghanistan, allowing it to build its ranks far above the levels and competence that otherwise would have been possible.

“We cannot ‘win’ a war that serves our enemies interests and not our own. Thus continuing to pursue the illusion of victory in Iraq makes no sense. We can now see that it never did.

“A wise commander in this situation normally revises his objectives and changes his strategy, not just marginally, but radically. Nothing less today will limit the death and destruction that the invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

“No effective new strategy can be devised for the United States until it begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq. Only that step will break the paralysis that now confronts us. Withdrawal is the pre-condition for winning support from countries in Europe that have stood aside and other major powers including India, China, Japan, Russia.

“It will also shock and change attitudes in Iran, Syria, and other countries on Iraq’s borders, making them far more likely to take seriously new U.S. approaches, not just to Iraq, but to restoring regional stability and heading off the spreading chaos that our war has caused.

“The bill that Congress approved this week, with bipartisan support, setting schedules for withdrawal, provides the President an opportunity to begin this kind of strategic shift, one that defines regional stability as the measure of victory, not some impossible outcome.

“I hope the President seizes this moment for a basic change in course and signs the bill the Congress has sent him. I will respect him greatly for such a rare act of courage, and so too, I suspect, will most Americans.

“This is retired General Odom. Thank you for listening.”

General Odom has served as Director of the National Security Agency and Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the Army’s senior intelligence officer. In his address, General Odom will discuss why he believes President Bush should sign the conference report on the Iraq Accountability Act.

Bush official resigns over escort links

Bush official resigns over escort links

By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic WriterSat Apr 28, 8:10 AM ET

Randall Tobias, head of the Bush administration's foreign aid programs, abruptly resigned Friday after his name surfaced in an investigation into a high-priced call-girl ring, said two people in a position to know the circumstances of his departure.

It was Tobias' own decision to resign, according to one of the people, who said the issue came up only in the past day or so. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way.

Tobias submitted his resignation a day after he was interviewed by ABC News for an upcoming program about an alleged prostitution service run by the so-called D.C. Madam.

ABC reported on its Web site late Friday that Tobias confirmed that he had called the Pamela Martin and Associates escort service to have women come to his condo and give him massages. More recently, Tobias told the network, he has been using a service with Central American women.

Tobias, 65, who is married, told ABC News there had been "no sex" during the women's visits to his condo. His name was on a list of clients given to ABC by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who owns the escort service and has been charged with running a prostitution ring in the nation's capital.

U.S. officials would not confirm the information. A message left on Tobias' voice mail seeking comment was not returned.

Friday evening, the State Department put out a statement announcing Tobias' resignation, saying he "informed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today that he must step down as Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator effective immediately."

"He is returning to private life for personal reasons," the statement said.

Tobias held two titles: director of U.S. foreign assistance and administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. His rank was equivalent to deputy secretary of state.

Rice named Tobias to head the two programs in January 2006, and on Wednesday was at the White House, where President Bush praised his efforts coordinating global AIDS relief. Tobias had been the White House's coordinator for global AIDS relief before taking the USAID post.

On Wednesday, Tobias attended a luncheon at the State Department with Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes and actress Angelina Jolie, who was in Washington pushing for more U.S. education aid for developing countries.

Before joining the administration, Tobias was a director and chairman of Eli Lilly and Co., the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company.

"The lives saved and made better around the globe by Randy's work at the State Department constitute a rich legacy on which he can look back with justifiable pride," department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

Tobias was the second public figure identified as a customer of Palfrey's service. Palfrey recently made good on her threat to identify high-profile clients, listing in court documents a military strategist known for his "shock and awe" combat theories.

Palfrey, 50, was indicted in March by a federal grand jury on charges of running the alleged call-girl ring from her home in Vallejo, Calif. She has denied the escort service engaged in prostitution.

Palfrey claimed she has 46 pounds of phone records involving clients. Efforts to reach her late Friday were unsuccessful. Montgomery Blair Sibley, an attorney who represents Palfrey in non-criminal cases, declined to comment.

In court records, prosecutors estimate that her business, Pamela Martin and Associates, generated more than $2 million in revenue over 13 years, with more than 130 women employed at various times to serve thousands of clients at $200 to $300 a session.

Palfrey had threatened to sell phone records that would identify 10,000 clients to pay for her criminal defense, but a federal judge ordered her not to release them. Palfrey, however, gave them to ABC News before the order took effect.

Prosecutors have accused Palfrey of trying to intimidate potential witnesses by exposing them publicly.;_ylt=As_YpEjNcxpBbSGZAdbISU2WwvIE

The White House Scales Back Talk of Iraq Progress

The White House Scales Back Talk of Iraq Progress

WASHINGTON, April 27 — The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Mr. Bush’s top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

That prospect would entail a dramatically longer commitment of frontline troops, patrolling the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad, than the one envisioned in legislation that passed the House and Senate this week. That vote, largely symbolic because Democrats do not have the votes to override the promised presidential veto, set deadlines that would lead to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of March 2008.

On Friday, during an appearance with Japan’s prime minister at Camp David, President Bush said that he would invite congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday, immediately after his expected veto message, to talk about a “way forward.”

Several American officials who have spoken recently with Mr. Maliki say they believe that he would like to achieve the kind of political reconciliation that Mr. Bush outlined in January as the ultimate goal of the troop increase. But they say the Iraqi prime minister appears to have little ability to manage the required legislation, including bills requiring fair distribution of oil revenues among Iraq’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and reversing the American-led de-Baathification that barred many Sunnis from participation in the new government.

Even as administration officials have been telling Congress that Mr. Bush would accept no time limits on success, they have been pushing Mr. Maliki to move faster.

“He is trying to fight fires coming from every direction,” Ryan C. Crocker, the newly arrived American ambassador to Iraq, said of Mr. Maliki this week, speaking by telephone. “We have to be clear to him on where our priorities are, so that we can buy him the time he needs. And we have to buy the time now because he is going to need it in the future.”

Mr. Crocker said that he had told Mr. Maliki that evidence of progress “is important in American terms” because “to sustain American support we have to be able to see that Iraqis are stepping up to hard challenges.”

But the new view of Mr. Maliki’s limitations was put bluntly by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, who spent the week pressing Congress not to put limits on either the timing or conduct of his operations, as he described what he discovered upon returning to Iraq after a two-year hiatus.

“He’s not the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Iraq,” General Petraeus said of Mr. Maliki on Thursday. “He does not have a parliamentary majority. He does not have his ministers in all of the different ministries,” and they “sometimes sound a bit discordant in their statements to the press and their statements to other countries. It’s a very, very challenging situation in which to lead.”

Mr. Bush was careful when he announced his new strategy in January to avoid public estimates of how quickly Mr. Maliki might take steps toward political reconciliation. Even now, White House officials are being careful not to describe with any precision the mix of benchmarks they expect Mr. Maliki to deliver.

By the time Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus complete a comprehensive assessment of progress in September, three months after the troop increase has been fully in place, American officials are hoping that some of the pieces of crucial legislation will have passed.

But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates found himself pressing Mr. Maliki last week to keep Parliament from taking a two-month summer break. If lawmakers remain in Baghdad, said one senior American official who did not want to be identified because he was discussing internal White House deliberations, “we’ll have some outputs then.”

He added, “That’s different from having outcomes,” drawing a distinction between a sign of activity and a sign of success, which could take considerably longer.

In public, Mr. Bush has remained enthusiastic about Mr. Maliki, with whom he talks over a secure video link every few weeks. But Mr. Bush was also publicly supportive of several of Mr. Maliki’s predecessors, even though White House officials now dismiss many of them as ill-suited for the job.

In January, Mr. Bush characterized Mr. Maliki as an architect of the troop increase plan, even while telling visiting Congressional leaders that “I said to Maliki this has to work or you’re out,” according to two officials who were in the room. Pressed on why he thought the new strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back, “Because it has to.”

That, in short, is the same position he is taking now with Congress. In interviews, his aides said Mr. Bush is convinced that once he vetoes the troop funding plan, because of its timetable for withdrawal, he will have the upper hand in negotiations.

“There is a segmented market” among the Democrats, the senior American official said. “Harry Reid has declared the war is lost, but there are a lot of people in his own party who have said they do not agree. Some of them are telling us privately that if they see some progress by the fall they would support us, because they do want this to succeed.”

But the Democrats say that if there is no measurable success by August, they believe several more Republicans will defect from Mr. Bush’s camp and vote for a staged pullout. Moderate Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who grudgingly backed the administration in the Senate vote this week, have said they are not willing to back an open-ended commitment.

Other Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to explain the political strategy more clearly, arguing that the troop increase is merely a tactic, and not one that can be sustained for long.

“We’ve tried that with the president several times,” said a Republican who spoke with him about the issue in the past week. “But he knows that it doesn’t pay to say what you expect Maliki to get done.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Clock Winds Down

The Clock Winds Down

By James Kitfield and Brian Friel, National Journal
© National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, April 20, 2007

The Frenchman had it right. Fractious at the best of times, democracies become polarized and paralyzed when mired in unpopular wars. Bombarded with daily images of bloodshed and spent treasure, nations see emotions rise and positions harden. The essential middle ground of political compromise narrows and then disappears altogether. For the first time in a generation, the American body politic has stumbled into this predicament, lacking the consensus either to sustain a costly war or to plausibly end it.

Consider the increasing isolation of President Bush, who is buying time to stave off congressional Democrats but is most afraid of rising defections in his own party and of the faltering loyalty of the nation's military elite. When the administration recently floated the new job of "war czar," not only did at least five retired four-star generals turn down a wartime president -- an almost unheard-of vote of no confidence -- but one general dramatically shattered civil-military protocol by publicly excoriating the commander-in-chief's leadership. "The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they are going," retired Marine Corps Gen. John (Jack) Sheehan told The Washington Post.

For their part, congressional Democrats are torn between a desire to politically punish the Bush administration and to force a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and a fear of overreaching and owning the ugly endgame of a lost war. The party went down that road with Vietnam in the early 1970s and bore the brand of "weak on defense" for decades. Today, tensions are flaring between the party's liberal base that wants out of Iraq now and Democratic presidential candidates who worry about inheriting the blowback of a precipitous exit.

In the meantime, U.S. military leaders have one eye trained on a determined enemy in Iraq and the other on faltering political support back home, even as the war dangerously saps their forces' strength. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, talks about a conflict waged almost in parallel dimensions, one that runs on Washington time and the other dictated by events in Baghdad. "The Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock," Petraeus said in a televised interview. "So we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit to produce some progress on the ground that can, perhaps ... put a little more time on the Washington clock."

This, then, is a story about when and how -- not if -- the Washington clock runs down. If Bush is successful, the time on that clock will expire after the November 2008 election, when he passes the Iraq problem to the next president and surrenders his legacy to history. Democrats are determined to make the sands run out on Bush's "surge" strategy much sooner -- the better to begin the long homeward march of U.S. troops on the watch of the president who sent them to Iraq in the first place.

What U.S. military experts know about those discordant timelines, but what many of their fellow Americans seem to hardly grasp, is that regardless of when it occurs, the expiration of the political clock will not be the end. Rather, it will mark the beginning of the most challenging and potentially calamitous phase of the Iraq war.

"There's an old military adage that the most dangerous and hazardous of all military maneuvers is a withdrawal of forces while in contact with the enemy. That's the operation all of us soldiers fear the most," retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College, told National Journal.

Some experts argue that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq will remove a major irritant and thus facilitate a resolution to the conflict, Scales noted, and others believe that a U.S. pullout could prompt chaos, massive bloodletting, and even genocide. "And if anyone insists that they know which it will be," he said, "they are lying. The truth is, we don't have enough understanding or insight into the thousands of intangibles to know what forces will drive the dynamic inside Iraq once we begin pulling out."

Running Out the Clock
On April 12, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sat on a cushioned chair in his Capitol conference room with other party leaders, contemplating the question of withdrawal timelines. He looked up at the reporters squeezed into the room, their tape recorders humming on the coffee table before him. "Twenty more months," he said, referring to the remaining time in Bush's term. "It doesn't matter whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected president, that timeline is very clear. We'll be gone from Iraq for sure by then. The question is, what do we do in the interim?"

The numerous Democratic presidential contenders have made no secret of what they would like to do. In a recent online discussion hosted by the anti-war group, they offered their competing timetables for American troop withdrawals from Iraq. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio: begin immediately. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.: start in three months. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: get out by the end of this year. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.: start on May 1, and wrap up by the end of March 2008.

Because the Democrats want out and Bush wants to stay, the congressional leaders' goal for ending the war is either to force the president to change his strategy through legislation, or to persuade him to change through political pressure. Their central argument is that the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is fueling, not quelling, the violence. But the math and the politics are simple: Democrats need Republicans, either to enact legislation or to exert pressure.

To pass legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other House Democratic leaders must come up with only a simple majority, which they have found twice so far on Iraq. On February 16, they passed a nonbinding resolution by a 246-182 vote that disapproved of Bush's 20,000-plus troop increase, and on March 23, they eked out a 218-212 victory to approve their fiscal 2007 war supplemental spending bill that included an August 2008 deadline for a troop pullout.

But in the Senate, Reid maintains a razor-thin 51-49 majority, and he needs a supermajority of 60 votes, or the consent of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to even move controversial legislation. Reid got neither of those on two votes earlier this year to bring up the nonbinding Iraq troop-surge resolution. In fact, McConnell consented to a vote on the Senate's version of the supplemental, which included the nonbinding withdrawl deadline of March 2008, only because he knew Bush would veto it. The Senate passed the spending bill 51-47 on March 29, with two Republicans voting for it and with Democrats' losing only Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn.

At this point, neither Reid nor Pelosi has anywhere near the two-thirds majority -- 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House -- needed to override the looming Bush veto, because most Republicans still stand by their president. Indeed, Reid cannot yet reach the lower threshold of 60 votes to invoke cloture and overcome GOP filibusters. Lieberman will vote against him on Iraq and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is not voting while he continues to recover from brain surgery.

Sitting with Reid in his conference room recently, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the No. 3 party leader, explained the Democrats' strategy for picking up Republican support for a withdrawal timetable: Make them vote over and over on an unpopular war until their resolve crumbles. "We're going to keep at it, and at least it's my belief that they're going to have to break," Schumer said. "It's not going to prevail on one vote, or two, but it will after five, six, seven ..."

The Democrats plan to ratchet up the pressure steadily on Republicans through the fall -- a time when many lawmakers have indicated that they expect to see results from Bush's troop increase. The pressure, which started with the anti-surge resolutions in January and February and carried into the war supplemental debate in March and April, will continue as Congress takes up the fiscal 2008 Defense authorization and appropriations bills beginning in May and June. Some Democrats have even suggested that, after a Bush veto, they will pass a reduced supplemental with funds lasting only a few months, forcing a debate and vote on another supplemental later on.

Democrats may attach a variety of war-related proposals to those bills -- or to any other legislation that hits the Senate floor -- to force Republicans to cast difficult votes. These include measures to limit tours of duty, impede the deployment of units that are rated less than 100 percent ready, and provide firm political benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet or else pay the consequences. Democrats also intend to use their oversight powers to keep the heat on the administration, with hearings already planned on a number of war issues.

Democrats are emboldened in their confrontational approach by polls showing that the American public is on their side. In a late-February ABC News/Washington Post poll, 56 percent of respondents said they strongly opposed Bush's troop increase and wanted U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq. A more recent ABC/Post poll, published on April 17, found that respondents trusted Democrats' handling of Iraq over Bush's, 58 percent to 33 percent; 51 percent supported an August 2008 withdrawal deadline.

Schumer on April 12 cited polls showing that when red-state respondents are told that their senator has voted with the president on Iraq, his or her public support drops. "The war in Iraq is a lead weight attached to their ankles," he said of Republican lawmakers.

The Difficult Math
Regardless of that increasing weight, Democrats eager for an Iraq withdrawal timeline are nonetheless facing a tough road to get to 60 votes in the Senate, and an even tougher one to get to 67. Assuming Democratic unity, minus Lieberman and Johnson, Reid has 49 votes, so he needs 11 Republican votes to shut down filibusters.

Reid won over only seven GOP defectors in the February vote to bring up the resolution opposing Bush's troop increase. Two of those seven, Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., also voted for the supplemental's withdrawal timelines, and they have been the most vocal GOP critics of the president's war strategy. Hagel is a White House contender, and Smith is up for re-election next year in a politically competitive state. That's also the case for three of the other Republicans who voted with the Democrats on the nonbinding resolution, Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Susan Collins of Maine, and John Warner of Virginia. The other two are moderates who have expressed concerns about the progress of the war, Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Even with those seven GOP votes, Reid is four shy of 60. To get those, he would need to tap into the next tier of Republicans who have doubts about the war, including Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Some of these lawmakers, however, defer to the president's role as commander-in-chief and have reacted against what they see as the Democrats' Bush-bashing. Even if Johnson were well enough to vote, finding 17 Republicans to vote with Reid to override a Bush veto would be a tall -- perhaps impossible -- order.

If Democrats cannot reach a veto-proof majority, some lawmakers still believe a compromise might ultimately be possible on Iraq. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has suggested that Democrats could find common ground with the president if he agreed to enforce benchmarks for the Iraqi government with real consequences, in exchange for the Democrats' dropping demands for a withdrawal deadline.

"The issue is, will the president keep the commitment that he made to the American people in January that the Iraqi leaders are going to meet the benchmarks for political settlement that they set for themselves, such as sharing resources, sharing power, getting a de-Baathification law passed, and 14 other things," Levin told National Journal. "That's the issue. There is no funding issue. We're going to fund the troops."

Stalling for Time
Vice President Cheney wasn't exactly talking compromise during his April 15 appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation." He said he was "willing to bet" that Democrats, whom he repeatedly criticized, would eventually submit to Bush's demands for a war spending bill with no strings attached. "I do believe that positions that the Democratic leaders have taken, to a large extent now, are irresponsible," he said.

Cheney's message was in keeping with the White House's strategy of stalling for time on Iraq: provide red meat to the Republican base that still supports Bush's policies, thus minimizing likely GOP defections in Congress; use the veto pen and the bully pulpit to condemn Democrats as micromanaging the generals in Iraq and starving the troops of needed funds, capitalizing on the public's strong backing for the U.S. military; and keep up the troop surge in Baghdad in hopes of improving conditions and lowering the temperature on the war debate back home.

Cheney's repeated castigating of Democrats as "irresponsible" reveals the White House's calculation that under Reid and Pelosi's leadership, the opposition has badly overplayed its hand in attacking the president and trying to legislate withdrawal deadlines. "That was just too much for Republicans to swallow," said a White House official who asked to speak on background. The Democrats "overreached, big-time."

The ultimate success of the White House strategy may largely depend on what happens in Iraq between now and the fall, when even many Republicans have said they will be looking for signs of quantifiable progress. During a recent speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, for instance, McConnell insisted that the surge has to be given a chance to succeed.

"Success doesn't mean an instant, Western-style democracy, but a success, you know, means at least a reasonably functional capital city in Baghdad, where the government has a chance to succeed," he said. In response to a question from National Journal, McConnell cited reports that things are getting better in Baghdad, but he offered a familiar caveat. "It's still a very tough city, and we see reports every day of atrocities of one kind or another," he said. "No one would argue that the city is entirely secure or that the surge mission has yet been completed."

The potential Achilles' heel of the White House strategy is that it relies on events in Iraq that are, to a large degree, outside of U.S. control. In a move that further weakened an already shaky Iraqi government, for instance, six Cabinet members loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr quit their jobs on April 16 to protest the government's unwillingness to back a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Administration officials and congressional Republicans also know that a catastrophic attack like the 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra could dramatically weaken their position, a calculation that is also likely to have occurred to Al Qaeda in Iraq. Such a setback could fatally undermine political support for the Bush surge and fast-forward a Washington clock that is already winding down on Iraq.

"I'm a believer that the war stops when Republicans go to the president and say, 'Stop the war,' " said John Isaacs, executive director and president of the anti-war Council for a Livable World. Isaacs and others point to such historical precedents as Democrats urging President Johnson to begin a pullback from Vietnam after the Vietcong's 1968 Tet offensive, and key Republicans urging President Nixon to resign to avoid impeachment over Watergate.

On the other hand, if the surge were widely perceived as having worked, possibly boosting a strong war supporter such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., into the Oval Office, then significant time could be added to that clock and to the deployment of significant numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Planning Window Is Closing
Whenever the Washington clock finally winds down, the U.S. military will almost certainly turn to the crack strategists at the Army's School for Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The fabled "Jedi Knights" of SAMS were instrumental in designing both the Desert Storm campaign to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 and the Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime in a matter of weeks in 2003. In terms of complexity and risk, the campaign to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq may well upstage both.

"This will be a much harder exercise than the actual invasion," said retired Col. Richard Sinnreich, a noted SAMS graduate who served on both the Joint Staff and the National Security Council. "During an invasion, the curve representing your capabilities and relative strength goes steadily up, and the situation becomes safer and safer as the operation progresses. As you pull forces out, it reverses, and your strength curve goes down, and the situation becomes steadily more dangerous. It's most dangerous for the very last squad that leaves the country. That's why you saw helicopters on the rooftops of the Saigon embassy in 1975."

The military could take a host of steps to help mitigate the risks of a U.S. troop drawdown, including staging a carefully phased and deliberate withdrawal; continuing U.S. support, and accelerated training and equipping, for the Iraqi forces that must fill the security vacuum; and keeping a residual, albeit smaller, U.S. military presence inside Iraq or around its periphery. But all of those options require the careful planning and hard decision-making that Sinnreich fears are being stymied by the deadlock in Washington. "The downside of this political theater in Washington, and the disingenuous refusal to admit that we've lost the political will to keep American troops heavily engaged in Iraq indefinitely," he said, "is that it keeps military planners from developing a timetable and a deliberate plan for withdrawal."

It's almost impossible for the military to seriously plan for a contingency -- withdrawal -- that the commander-in-chief won't even discuss, Sinnreich noted. "The probability that it would leak to the press is too high, and no one in uniform wants to take that chance," he said. "Yet only with deliberate planning will we be able to take some of the sting out of what will surely be seen as a U.S. retreat. My point is, there are defeats -- and then there are defeats."

Knowledgeable Pentagon sources say that some planning for a possible drawdown in Iraq is in the "conceptual" stage, but they concede that the vast majority of the military's energy and effort is focused on implementing the troop surge and Petraeus's counterinsurgency campaign in Baghdad. If the campaign is successful, it will certainly set the conditions for a more orderly withdrawal. Yet some experts recall a similar lack of serious advance planning for "Phase 4" stability operations in Iraq, even as the 2003 invasion loomed. That lack of careful planning and preparation for what came after Saddam's ouster led to a series of strategic and tactical blunders that bedeviled the U.S. operation in Iraq almost from the moment the dictator's statue fell in Baghdad.

"God, I hope they're already doing the planning for a withdrawal, because only after working through the various scenarios and all of the possible branches and sequels can the military planners explain to their civilian masters what's needed to do this in an orderly way," said retired Maj. Gen. William Nash, who led NATO forces into Bosnia in the mid-1990s. "It's like I once told a superior who said not to worry about building refugee camps for the aftermath of Desert Storm: 'We can do this organized, or we can do it disorganized. Which way do you want it, sir?' The same goes for exiting Iraq. 'Which way do you want it, Mr. President?' "

Time's Up
Whoever is commander-in-chief on the day the Washington clock expires on Iraq is going to face agonizing decisions that are well above the pay grade of anyone in uniform. A withdrawal of major combat forces would arguably mean a pullout from urban areas such as Baghdad and Anbar province, with units probably consolidating at first in a few large operating bases in isolated regions, for better force protection. Civilian reconstruction teams and thousands of civilian contractors may have to be withdrawn from the field, and evacuation plans would have to be put in place for embassy personnel -- and for the thousands of Iraqis who have closely aided U.S. forces and may not want to gamble on staying behind when the Americans leave.

Because the Iraqi government will have to fill the resulting security vacuum, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and even a number of Democratic proposals have called for a continued U.S. mission of supporting and training Iraqi security forces. Military experts widely acknowledge that even under the best of circumstances, the Iraqi forces will require U.S. logistical, command-and-control, and airpower support for years to come. American training and mentoring teams now embedded with Iraqi units would be extremely vulnerable in the event of a major pullout of U.S. combat forces, and retaining this mission almost certainly will require keeping a significant rapid-reaction force behind to bail them out in the event of trouble.

"Because we've never really put our national will and sufficient resources behind the mission of training and equipping Iraqi forces, we're going to have to leave a sizable U.S. military component behind to provide over-watch of those forces in what could be a very dangerous environment," said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who headed the effort to stand up the Iraqi army. "That means leaving a large-scale, rapid-reaction, and possible evacuation force somewhere nearby. If you don't plan that very carefully, you could end up with an operation that looks like Dunkirk."

Most withdrawal proposals also call for a residual U.S. capacity to strike at Al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorists in Iraq and to deny them an uncontested sanctuary. The Special Operations and intelligence units involved in the terrorist hunt would likewise require backup from a rapid-reaction force as well as significant logistical support. If U.S. forces had to execute that mission from outside the country, many experts believe that they would be no more effective in Iraq than they've been in hunting down Qaeda and Taliban operatives along the isolated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The ineluctable logic of the military's strength curve applies: The more forces you withdraw and the farther away they are from the point of any required action, the more risk you assume in terms of their effectiveness and vulnerability. Any proposal to pull nearly all American forces out of Iraq in the next 12 to 18 months will run up against that reality.

"I think the Baker-Hamilton proposal that we yank combat forces from Iraq but retain the missions of training Iraqi forces and hunting for terrorists was always unrealistic," said Kenneth Pollack, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and former Middle East analyst for the CIA. Given the likely size of the forward operating bases, rapid-reaction forces, and logistical footprint required to adequately conduct those missions, Pollack estimates that the United States would still need many tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. "Because I think things are going to get ugly very fast as the bad actors see a major reduction in U.S. forces, I also fear that the rapid-reaction forces we leave behind in Iraq will begin to look like a fire brigade at an arsonists' convention."

Containing Spillover
In a January 2007 report, "Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover From an Iraq Civil War," Pollack and co-author Daniel Byman studied 11 civil wars, from Lebanon in the 1980s and Afghanistan and the Balkans in the 1990s, to Somalia and the Congo today. In nearly every case, they found that civil wars and collapsed states attracted the military intervention of neighbors who saw their interests threatened. Although all-out civil war in Iraq is not preordained, if it were to follow in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal, a similarly negative gravitational pull would likely arise.

"If U.S. forces withdraw, there's a good chance the Iraqi conflict is going to escalate, and that will almost certainly draw in neighbors who feel compelled, for opportunistic or defensive reasons, to get involved," said Byman, a former CIA analyst who directs the security studies program at Georgetown University. A redeployment scheme that seeks to contain that "spillover" effect, he said, would at a minimum leave U.S. forces on Iraq's borders, certainly in Kuwait, maybe in Jordan, and possibly even in Iraq's relatively peaceful Kurdish north to stave off a move toward independence by the Kurds that would likely incite conflict with Turkey.

Such a withdrawal to the north and south of Baghdad, military experts say, would have the added advantage of giving U.S. forces someplace nearby to redeploy to. "The United States should also posture itself to deal with a major refugee crisis," Byman said. "The numbers could easily double the 2 million people who have already been displaced by the conflict."

How many resources and U.S. forces should be detailed to contain a possible refugee crisis is one more difficult decision that awaits the commander-in-chief when time runs out on Washington's political clock. "If we pull our forces out of Iraq, a major refugee crisis is not just a possibility, it's a probability," retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner told National Journal. Garner headed the effort to aid more than 1 million mostly Kurdish refugees after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and was the first U.S. overseer in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. "The midgrade civil war we've already got in Iraq will most likely turn into a full-scale civil war," he said.

Following the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia, the country quickly descended into chaos and a civil war that drew in its own neighbors. Michele Flournoy, a Pentagon official in the Clinton administration who helped to manage the Somalia mission, looks to that example today. "As we contemplate withdrawing from Iraq, we'd better think through what happens if there is wholesale slaughter and genocide, with Shiite militias going into Sunni areas and killing every man, woman, and child," said Flournoy, who is president of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan think tank.

If the commander-in-chief at that time believes that the United States has a moral obligation to intervene in the face of such slaughter, she said, then that, too, will shape the decision on how many forces to leave inside the country and in the region. "Everyone had better understand that this period of withdrawal from Iraq will be a time of very high risk, with difficult choices and operational challenges, and no good options," Flournoy said. "I fear our most challenging days in Iraq are still ahead of us."

Such are the risks of wars of choice that fracture national unity and are fought on diverging timelines. Whenever the political clock finally strikes midnight in Washington, it will set into motion a U.S. withdrawal whose momentum will be difficult, at best, to reverse. On the ground in Iraq, another blood-red day will be dawning, illuminating a volatile landscape that no one can foresee, but which all the world will view as the legacy of America's intervention.

Paul Krugman - Gilded Once More

Gilded Once More


One of the distinctive features of the modern American right has been nostalgia for the late 19th century, with its minimal taxation, absence of regulation and reliance on faith-based charity rather than government social programs. Conservatives from Milton Friedman to Grover Norquist have portrayed the Gilded Age as a golden age, dismissing talk of the era’s injustice and cruelty as a left-wing myth.

Well, in at least one respect, everything old is new again. Income inequality — which began rising at the same time that modern conservatism began gaining political power — is now fully back to Gilded Age levels.

Consider a head-to-head comparison. We know what John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in Gilded Age America, made in 1894, because in 1895 he had to pay income taxes. (The next year, the Supreme Court declared the income tax unconstitutional.) His return declared an income of $1.25 million, almost 7,000 times the average per capita income in the United States at the time.

But that makes him a mere piker by modern standards. Last year, according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, James Simons, a hedge fund manager, took home $1.7 billion, more than 38,000 times the average income. Two other hedge fund managers also made more than $1 billion, and the top 25 combined made $14 billion.

How much is $14 billion? It’s more than it would cost to provide health care for a year to eight million children — the number of children in America who, unlike children in any other advanced country, don’t have health insurance.

The hedge fund billionaires are simply extreme examples of a much bigger phenomenon: every available measure of income concentration shows that we’ve gone back to levels of inequality not seen since the 1920s.

The New Gilded Age doesn’t feel quite as harsh and unjust as the old Gilded Age — not yet, anyway. But that’s because the effects of inequality are still moderated by progressive income taxes, which fall more heavily on the rich than on the middle class; by estate taxation, which limits the inheritance of great wealth; and by social insurance programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which provide a safety net for the less fortunate.

You might have thought that in the face of growing inequality, there would have been a move to reinforce these moderating institutions — to raise taxes on the rich and use the money to strengthen the safety net. That’s why comparing the incomes of hedge fund managers with the cost of children’s health care isn’t an idle exercise: there’s a real trade-off involved. But for the past three decades, such trade-offs have been consistently settled in favor of the haves and have-mores.

Taxation has become much less progressive: according to estimates by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, average tax rates on the richest 0.01 percent of Americans have been cut in half since 1970, while taxes on the middle class have risen. In particular, the unearned income of the wealthy — dividends and capital gains — is now taxed at a lower rate than the earned income of most middle-class families.

Those hedge fund titans, by the way, have an especially sweet deal: loopholes in the law let them use their own businesses as, in effect, unlimited 401(k)s, sheltering their earnings and accumulating tax-free capital gains.

Meanwhile, the tax-cut bill Congress passed in 2001 set in motion a complete phaseout of the estate tax. If the Bush administration hadn’t been too clever by half, hiding the true cost of its tax cuts by making the whole package expire at the end of 2010, we’d be well on our way toward becoming a dynastic society.

And as for the social insurance programs —— well, in 2005 the Bush administration tried to privatize Social Security. If it had succeeded, Medicare would have been next.

Of course, the administration’s attempt to undo Social Security was a notable failure. The public, it seems, isn’t eager to return to the days before the New Deal. And the G.O.P.’s defeat in the midterm election has put on hold other plans to restore the good old days.

But it’s much too soon to declare the march toward a New Gilded Age over. If history is any guide, one of these days we’ll see the emergence of a New Progressive Era, maybe even a New New Deal. But it may be a long wait.

Tenet: "Slam Dunk" Comment Misused

Tenet: "Slam Dunk" Comment Misused

April 26, 2007(CBS) Ex-CIA Director George Tenet says the way the Bush administration has used his now famous "slam dunk" comment — which he admits saying in reference to making the public case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — is both disingenuous and dishonorable.

It also ruined his reputation and his career, he tells 60 Minutes Scott Pelley in his first network television interview. Pelley's report will be broadcast Sunday, April 29, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The phrase "slam dunk" didn't refer to whether Saddam Hussein actually had WMDs, says Tenet; the CIA thought he did. He says he was talking about what information could be used to make that case when he uttered those words. "We can put a better case together for a public case. That's what I meant," explains Tenet.

Months later, when no WMDs were found in Iraq, someone leaked the story to Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, who then wrote about a Dec. 21, 2002, White House meeting in which the CIA director reportedly "rose up, threw his arms in the air [and said,] 'It's a slam dunk case.' " Tenet says it was a passing comment, made well after major decisions had already been made to mobilize the nation for war.

The leak effectively made him a scapegoat for the invasion and ended his career.

"At the end of the day, the only thing you have … is your reputation built on trust and your personal honor and when you don't have that anymore, well, there you go," Tenet tells Pelley.

He says he doesn't know who leaked it but says there were only a handful of people in the room.

"It's the most despicable thing that ever happened to me," Tenet says. "You don't do this. You don't throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection. Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me."

Tenet says to have the president base his entire decision to go to war on such a remark is unbelievable.

"So a whole decision to go to war, when all of these other things have happened in the run-up to war? You make mobilization decisions, you've looked at war plans," says Tenet. "I'll never believe that what happened that day informed the president's view or belief of the legitimacy or the timing of this war. Never!"

Tenet says what bothers him most is that senior administration officials like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continue using "slam dunk" as a talking point.

"And the hardest part of all this has been just listening to this for almost three years, listening to the vice president go on 'Meet the Press' on the fifth year [anniversary] of 9/11 and say, 'Well, George Tenet said slam dunk' as if he needed me to say 'slam dunk' to go to war with Iraq," he tells Pelley. "And you listen to that and they never let it go. I mean, I became campaign talk. I was a talking point. 'Look at the idiot [who] told us and we decided to go to war.' Well, let's not be so disingenuous … Let's everybody just get up and tell the truth. Tell the American people what really happened."

In the broadcast, Tenet says the intelligence extracted from terror suspects in the agency's "High Value Detainee" program, which includes so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," was more valuable than all the other terror intelligence gathered by the FBI, the National Security Agency and the CIA.

The nation's former top spy denies that any torture took place, but tells Pelley that the program saved lives and allowed the government to foil terror plots.

The High Value Detainee program uses "enhanced" techniques said to include sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and water boarding, in which suspects reportedly are restrained as a steady stream of water is poured over their faces, causing a severe gag reflex and a terrifying fear of drowning.

In Sunday's interview, Pelley challenges Tenet on the "enhanced interrogations," a topic that gets little play in his much-anticipated book, "At the Center of the Storm."

"Here's what I would say to you, to the Congress, to the American people, to the president of the United States: I know that this program has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots," he tells Pelley. "I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together, have been able to tell us."

The new program for interrogation came after the 9/11 attacks. When pressed by Pelley about whether interrogations included water boarding, Tenet insists he does not talk about techniques, and that what he means by "enhanced interrogation" is not torture. Whatever it is, it's justified in his mind.

"We don't torture people," he says. "I want you to listen to me. The context is it's post-9/11. I've got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are gonna be blown up, planes that are gonna fly into airports all over again, plot lines that I don't know. I don't know what's going on inside the United States, and I'm struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur. Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know."

When 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in a raid in Pakistan, the "enhanced interrogations" apparently were a surprise to him. According to Tenet, the captured terrorist told CIA interrogators, "I'll talk to you guys when you take me to New York and I can see my lawyer." Instead, he reportedly was flown around the world, kept in secret prisons and water-boarded. Tenet repeated his denial again and again: "Let me say that again to you. We don't torture people. OK?"

But when asked by Pelley why the "enhanced interrogation" techniques were necessary, Tenet says, "Because these are people who will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who's responsible for the next terrorist attack … [who] wouldn't blink an eyelash about killing you, your family, me and my family and everybody in this town."

When Pelley presses, asking whether he lost sleep over the interrogations, Tenet says, "Of course you lose sleep over it. You're on new territory."

Army Officer Accuses Generals of 'Intellectual and Moral Failures'

Army Officer Accuses Generals of 'Intellectual and Moral Failures'

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2007; A04

An active-duty Army officer is publishing a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there.

"America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq," charges Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "The intellectual and moral failures . . . constitute a crisis in American generals."

Yingling's comments are especially striking because his unit's performance in securing the northwestern Iraqi city of Tall Afar was cited by President Bush in a March 2006 speech and provided the model for the new security plan underway in Baghdad.

He also holds a high profile for a lieutenant colonel: He attended the Army's elite School for Advanced Military Studies and has written for one of the Army's top professional journals, Military Review.

The article, "General Failure," is to be published today in Armed Forces Journal and is posted at Its appearance signals the public emergence of a split inside the military between younger, mid-career officers and the top brass.

Many majors and lieutenant colonels have privately expressed anger and frustration with the performance of Gen. Tommy R. Franks, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other top commanders in the war, calling them slow to grasp the realities of the war and overly optimistic in their assessments.

Some younger officers have stated privately that more generals should have been taken to task for their handling of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, news of which broke in 2004. The young officers also note that the Army's elaborate "lessons learned" process does not criticize generals and that no generals in Iraq have been replaced for poor battlefield performance, a contrast to other U.S. wars.

Top Army officials are also worried by the number of captains and majors choosing to leave the service. "We do have attrition in those grade slots above our average," acting Army Secretary Pete Geren noted in congressional testimony this week. In order to curtail the number of captains leaving, he said, the Army is planning a $20,000 bonus for those who agree to stay in, plus choices of where to be posted and other incentives.

Until now, charges of incompetent leadership have not been made as publicly by an Army officer as Yingling does in his article.

"After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public," he writes. "For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq."

Yingling said he decided to write the article after attending Purple Heart and deployment ceremonies for Army soldiers. "I find it hard to look them in the eye," he said in an interview. "Our generals are not worthy of their soldiers."

He said he had made his superiors aware of the article but had not sought permission to publish it. He intends to stay in the Army, he said, noting that he is scheduled in two months to take command of a battalion at Fort Hood, Tex.

The article has been read by about 30 of his peers, Yingling added. "At the level of lieutenant colonel and below, it received almost universal approval," he said.

Retired Marine Col. Jerry Durrant, now working in Iraq as a civilian contractor, agrees that discontent is widespread. "Talk to the junior leaders in the services and ask what they think of their senior leadership, and many will tell you how unhappy they are," he said.

Yingling advocates overhauling the way generals are picked and calls for more involvement by Congress. To replace today's "mild-mannered team players," he writes, Congress should create incentives in the promotion system to "reward adaptation and intellectual achievement."

He does not criticize officers by name; instead, the article refers repeatedly to "America's generals." Yingling said he did this intentionally, in order to focus not on the failings of a few people but rather on systemic problems.

He also recommends that Congress review the performance of senior generals as they retire and exercise its power to retire them at a lower rank if it deems their performance inferior. The threat of such high-profile demotions would restore accountability among top officers, he contends. "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war," he states.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Richard Clarke - Put Bush's 'puppy dog' terror theory to sleep

Put Bush's 'puppy dog' terror theory to sleep


Wednesday, April 25th 2007, 4:00 AM

Be Our Guest

Does the President think terrorists are puppy dogs? He keeps saying that terrorists will "follow us home" like lost dogs. This will only happen, however, he says, if we "lose" in Iraq.

The puppy dog theory is the corollary to earlier sloganeering that proved the President had never studied logic: "We are fighting terrorists in Iraq so that we will not have to face them and fight them in the streets of our own cities."

Remarkably, in his attempt to embrace the failed Iraqi adventure even more than the President, Sen. John McCain is now parroting the line. "We lose this war and come home, they'll follow us home," he says.

How is this odd terrorist puppy dog behavior supposed to work? The President must believe that terrorists are playing by some odd rules of chivalry. Would this be the "only one slaughter ground at a time" rule of terrorism?

Of course, nothing about our being "over there" in any way prevents terrorists from coming here. Quite the opposite, the evidence is overwhelming that our presence provides motivation for people throughout the Arab world to become anti-American terrorists.

Some 100,000 Iraqis, probably more, have been killed since our invasion. They have parents, children, cousins and fellow tribal clan members who have pledged revenge no matter how long it takes. For many, that revenge is focused on America.

At the same time, investing time, energy and resources in Iraq takes our eye off two far more urgent tasks at hand: one, guarding the homeland against terrorism much better than the pork-dispensing Department of Homeland Security currently does the job; and two, systematically dismantling Al Qaeda all over the world, from Canada to Asia to Africa. On both these fronts, the Bush administration's focus is sorely lacking.

Yet in the fantasyland of illogic in which the President dwells, shaped by slogans devised by spin doctors, America can "win" in Iraq. Then, we are to believe, the terrorists will be so demoralized that they will recant their beliefs and cease their terrorist ways.

In the real world, by choosing unnecessarily to go into Iraq, Bush not only diverted efforts from delivering a death blow to Al Qaeda, he gave that movement both a second chance and the best recruiting tool possible.

U.S. military raids in Iraq have uncovered evidence that Iraqis are planning attacks in America, perhaps to be carried out by terrorists with European Union passports that require no U.S. visas. But such attacks here over the next several years are likely now no matter what happens next in Iraq - and that is because of what Bush has already done, not because of any future course we choose in Iraq.

But we can be sure that when the next attacks come in the U.S., if Bush is down on the ranch cutting trees, he and whatever few followers he retains by then will blame his successor. You can almost hear them now: If only hissuccessor had left enough U.S. troops in the Iraqi shooting gallery to satisfy the blood lust of the enemy, as Bush did, then they wouldn't have come here.

The truth: If not for this administration's reckless steps to push America into war - and strategic blunder after strategic blunder that has satisfied the blood lust of the enemy - fewer evildoers would follow us home like the dogs that they are.

Clarke served as chief counterterrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He is now chairman of Good Harbor Consulting.

DOJ Stalls Anthrax Investigation

DOJ Stalls Anthrax Investigation

by cal in cali (dailykos)
Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 04:07:24 PM CDT

Democratic Representative Rush Holt (NJ-12) has been stonewalled in his efforts to get answers from the DOJ and the FBI about the status of investigations into the 2001 anthrax attacks on the federal government. The anthrax letters originated from his district.

On December 11, 2006, Holt and a bipartisan group of Congressmen requested that Attorney General Gonzales “direct the FBI to provide Congress with a comprehensive briefing on the status of the five year-old anthrax investigation.” The DOJ refused.

On March 2, 2007, he sent this request to Henry Waxman and John Conyers:

“The Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation have openly asserted their belief that Congress should be kept in the dark on this vital national security issue. Mr. Chairman, I ask for your help in determining why we have been unable to bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice. It is time to provide effective oversight of the Department of Justice and the FBI.”

Why would the DOJ and FBI stonewall this Congressman's request for information on their investigations into a crime committed in his own district?

I was surprised and intrigued by a comment from DKos member 'joanneleon' that the anthrax attacks came around the time of the Patriot Act was passed. Was this true?

I did a quick little research and - surprise - it is true.

The anthrax letter sent to Democrat Tom Daschle was opened by an aide on October 15, 2001. Nine days later the House passed the Patriot Act. Apparently, some of them didn't read it -- or at least, didn't read it during the reauthorization in 2006, as we know from the revelation about the US Attorney clause that was slipped in by the DOJ.

Did the hysteria and fear caused by the anthrax attacks play a factor in the passage of the Patriot Act?

* Anthrax letters sent to Congress on October 9
* Tom Daschle letter opened on October 15
* 31 Capitol workers test positive for the presence of anthrax on October 17
* Patriot Act passed the House on October 24 (Yeas: 357; Nays: 66)
* Patriot Act passed the Senate on October 25 (Yeas: 98; Nays: 1)
* Patriot Act signed into law by President Bush on October 26

The 31 Capitol workers include five Capitol police officers, three of Democratic Senator Russ Feingold's staffers and 23 of Democratic Senator Tom Daschle's staffers. Including the victims of the earlier letters sent to media outlets, more than 22 people ultimately developed anthrax infections. Five people died from inhalation anthrax.

Rep. Holt says:

“The FBI’s refusal to brief Members of Congress raises serious concerns about the status of this investigation and whether it is a true priority of the FBI, which appears to be no closer to solving this act of bioterrorism than they were five years ago."

Holt wants answers about an act of bioterrorism conducted in his district. The FBI and DOJ refuse to answer. Since the DOJ benefited from the passage of the Patriot Act, isn't this just a little bit suspicious?

Don't we need some oversight into this?

Another Dubious Firing

Another Dubious Firing
The New York Times | Editorial

Thursday 26 April 2007

Congressman Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican, was locked in a close re-election battle last fall when the local United States attorney, Paul Charlton, was investigating him for corruption. The investigation appears to have been slowed before Election Day, Mr. Renzi retained his seat, and Mr. Charlton ended up out of a job - one of eight prosecutors purged by the White House and the Justice Department.

The Arizona case adds a disturbing new chapter to that scandal. Congress needs to determine whether Mr. Charlton was fired for any reason other than threatening the Republican Party's hold on a Congressional seat.

Mr. Renzi was fighting for his political life when the local press reported that he was facing indictment for a suspect land deal. According to The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators met unexpected resistance from the Justice Department in getting approval to proceed and, perhaps as a result, the investigation was pushed past the election.

Mr. Renzi's top aide, Brian Murray, admitted this week that when reports surfaced that his boss was being investigated, he had called Mr. Charlton's office asking for information. Mr. Charlton's office did the right thing, according to Mr. Murray's account: it refused to comment. Weeks later, Mr. Charlton was fired.

There is reason to be suspicious about these events. Last week, all Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could offer was weak excuses for the firing - that Mr. Charlton had asked Mr. Gonzales to reconsider a decision to seek the death penalty in a murder case and that he'd started recording interviews with targets of investigations without asking permission from Justice Department bureaucrats.

Beyond that, this story line is far too similar to one involving a fired prosecutor in New Mexico. Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican, asked the prosecutor there, David Iglesias, about the status of an investigation of prominent Democrats. If Mr. Iglesias had brought indictments before the election, it could have helped Heather Wilson, a Republican congresswoman locked in a tight re-election battle. He didn't. Mr. Domenici reportedly complained to the White House. Mr. Iglesias was fired.

Since this scandal broke, the White House has insisted that the firings were legitimate because United States attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the president." They do. But if prosecutors were fired to block investigations, that might well be obstruction of justice, which is itself a federal crime.

Yesterday, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, wrote to Mr. Gonzales to request all White House and Justice Department communications about the Renzi investigation. Given what has already come out, the burden is now on the Justice Department to show that Mr. Charlton's firing was legitimate.

Congress stepped up this investigation in other ways yesterday. The House authorized immunity for Monica Goodling, a former Justice Department official who has invoked her right against self-incrimination. And the Senate approved a subpoena for Sara Taylor, a top aide to Karl Rove.

These interviews are important, but the major players need to testify. The Senate has approved subpoenas for Mr. Rove; for Harriet Miers, who was the White House counsel; and for other officials who seem deeply involved in the firings. It is time to serve them.

Go to Original

Renzi Didn't Reveal $200K
By Alexander Bolton
The Hill

Thusday 26 April 2007

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) failed to disclose a $200,000 payment he received from a business partner in 2005 in apparent violation of House ethics rules. Prosecutors could use the omission as evidence that Renzi intended to conceal a transaction he knew to be controversial or even improper.

The $200,000 was a payment from James Sandlin to settle a debt related to a previous business transaction involving land in northeast Arizona, one of the lawmaker's attorneys, Grant Woods, told a newspaper last week.

This explanation might have been expected to dispel suspicion that Sandlin gave Renzi an illegal gift in exchange for action Renzi took to help Sandlin sell a $4 million parcel of land.

But Renzi's claim that Sandlin's $200,000 payment was a legitimate business transaction is weakened by the fact that he failed to disclose it in his personal financial disclosure report for 2005 filed with the House clerk.

Renzi's spokesman did not respond to several requests for comment. Renzi's attorney also failed to respond to requests for comment.

The lawmaker's 2005 report lists only one transaction: the sale of Renzi's wine company, Renzi Vino Inc., which the congressman reportedly sold to his father for between $500,000 and $1 million. According to a filing with the state of Arizona, Rep. Renzi was the only major shareholder in Renzi Vino before he sold it.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the FBI is investigating the Sandlin payment to determine whether Renzi profited from a land deal he may have advanced through his position on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Failure to disclose a large payment properly would be a violation of House ethics rules, but more significantly, prosecutors could use it as evidence that Renzi knew the transaction was illegal and tried to hide it.

"Speaking generally, failure to disclose is always a signal to investigators of an intent to conceal," said Stan Brand, an ethics lawyer who has advised many lawmakers on how fill out their personal financial disclosure reports.

"You're always better off listing a transaction, even if it falls in a gray area, and I don't think this falls in a gray area," he said of the reported $200,000 payment to Renzi. "Failure to disclose always sets you up for a charge of intent to conceal.

"I don't see how you avoid that," he said of reporting such a large payment. "It's hard for me to imagine how you avoid disclosing that if you have interest in a transaction. If you're getting proceeds, how do you avoid reporting that?"

Brand noted that indictments related to the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff cited failures to report gifts on disclosure records as evidence of intent to conceal conduct.

Another disclosure report filed with the House clerk indicates that Sandlin's $200,000 payment to Renzi likely stemmed from a previous transaction involving a jointly held real-estate company. Sandlin and Renzi became business partners in 2001 when Sandlin bought shares of Fountain Realty & Development, according to the Journal. During the following two years, Sandlin bought Renzi's stake in the business for between $1 million and $5 million, according to House financial disclosure records.

In June of 2004, Renzi amended his filing to alert the House clerk that the deal included an agreement to share future proceeds with the buyer of Fountain Hills Realty & Development.

That agreement appears to be the basis of payment related to the previous land transaction to which Renzi's lawyer discussed when he explained Sandlin's May 2005 payment.

Woods said Sandlin made the payment to Renzi's wine company shortly before Renzi sold it.
An ethics expert with Skadden Arps, Kenneth Gross, said if the $200,000 transaction was unrelated to the wine business it likely would have to be disclosed in ethics filings.

"If for example it was a personal debt or unrelated to the wine company, then it would raise the question as to why it was paid in that fashion and whether the payment to wine company was to avoid disclosure," Gross said.

If the payment involved business related to the wine company, however, it might be sufficient for Renzi merely to report the total value of the company, Gross explained.

The Renzi Vino winery, which includes at least two parcels of land, according to an Associated Press report, is located in Sonoita, Ariz., about 25 miles from the Mexican border in the southeastern part of the state. The business's far-south location makes it unlikely that it had a direct connection to the land deal in northeast Arizona Woods discussed as the reason for the payment to Renzi.

The Journal reported that Renzi pressured officials at Resolution Copper Co., a joint-venture between two mining companies, to buy Sandlin's plot of land in exchange for help in getting Congress to approve a federal land swap that would give the companies access to 3,000 acres of public lands, surrounding Apache Leap, a cliff formation standing atop what is believed to be one of North America's biggest copper lodes.

After Resolution refused to buy the land, which it considered overvalued, Renzi helped another group of investors, the Petrified Forest group, to execute a separate federal land swap.

Unlike Resolution, the Petrified Forest group agreed to buy Sandlin's property. It paid $4 million for the parcel, about $3 million more than Sandlin paid for it in 2003. Renzi dropped his support of Resolution's proposed federal land swap after Petrified Forest bought Sandlin's property, the Journal reported.

Woods told the Journal that Renzi did not know of his former partner's stake in the land when he pressured Resolution Copper to buy it.

In response to the growing scandal, Renzi Tuesday resigned from the Natural Resources and Financial Services Committees. Last week, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), who is also embroiled in an ethics scandal, resigned from Appropriations. So far, GOP lawmakers are giving both lawmakers the benefit of the doubt.

One senior house Republican lawmaker said Renzi and Doolittle made the right decision to step down from their respective committees but stopped short of calling for either lawmaker to resign.