Friday, February 22, 2008

Rick Renzi Indicted: McCain Co-Chair Hit For Fraud, Extortion

Republican Rep. Rick Renzi (REN-zee) has been indicted for extortion, wire fraud, money laundering and other charges related to a land deal in Arizona.

A 26-page federal indictment unsealed in Arizona accuses Renzi and two former business partners of conspiring to promote the sale of land that buyers could swap for property owned by the federal government. The sale netted one of Renzi's former partners $4.5 million.

Renzi is a three-term member of the House. He announced in August that he would not seek re-election.

Today's indictment comes after a lengthy federal investigation into the land developing and insurance businesses owned by Renzi's family.

In April 2007, federal agents raided a Sonoita (so-no-EE-ta) Arizona business owned by Renzi's wife, Roberta.

Read the indictment here (pdf).

Renzi is listed as an Arizona co-chair McCain's website.

Paul Kiel breaks down the indictment:

The charges boil down to this, basically. Renzi is charged with doing everything he can as a congressman to strong-arm others into buying land from his buddy James Sandlin -- Sandlin then allegedly kicked back sizable chunks of cash back to Renzi in a series of complicated financial transactions (thus the money laundering charge). The main details of these charges were reported by the Arizona papers and The Wall Street Journal last year.

John McCain was asked about the indictment in Indianapolis today:

"I'm sorry obviously, you always feel for the family as you know he has 12 children. But I don't know enough of the details or anything to make a judgment, this kind of thing is always, is always very unfortunate. I rely on our department of justice and our system of justice to make the right outcome."

House Minority Leader John Boehner is pushing for Renzi to resign, according to The Hill:

"I have made it clear that I will hold our members to the highest standards of ethical conduct," Boehner said in a statement Friday. "The charges contained in this indictment are completely unacceptable for a member of Congress, and I strongly urge Rep. Renzi to seriously consider whether he can continue to effectively represent his constituents under these circumstances. I expect to meet with Rep. Renzi at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss this situation and the best option for his constituents, our Conference, and the American people."

Rick Renzi's attorney has released a statement responding to the charges:

"We fear that the Department of Justice may have allowed the investigation to have been influenced by political considerations, which should never have a place in the administration of justice."

According to the indictment, Renzi allegedly paid for his first Congressional race with embezzled funds:

The Federal Election Commission audited now-indicted Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-Ariz.) 2001-02 campaign back in '04 and identified more than $369,000 in "impermissible corporate funds" given by Renzi to his campaign committee. Renzi and his attorneys said that the money was from "personal funds" and thus allowable, and the FEC, despite numerous questions about the source of the funds, took no formal action against him. Renzi had used that disputed money in 2002 to narrowly defeat Democrat George Cordova, winning with only 49 percent of the vote in a close general election race.

Now, however, the Justice Department has a different explanation for where that money came from -- Renzi and a business associate named Andrew Beardall were allegedly skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Renzi-owned insurance company, and Renzi steered more than $400,000 of stolen money into his first run for a House seat. Thus, according to Justice, Renzi -- who raised just over $1.65 million during that cycle -- illegally redirected about a quarter of the money he used to win his race from the customers of one of his companies.

Renzi is set to step down from McCain's campaign, according to MSNBC:

On his weekly blogger conference call, John McCain said that Rep. Rick Renzi (R) would probably step down as co-chair of his Arizona campaign. McCain was unaware of the Arizona congressman's indictment until asked about it this morning after a town hall in Indianapolis, at which point he said that you always think about the family in these circumstances and he would look into Renzi's role in his campaign.

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If Obama Went 0-for-10 . . .

Humor me while we conduct a little thought experiment. Imagine that Barack Obama had lost 10 contests in a row. Imagine that he now trailed Hillary Clinton substantially in the number of Democratic primaries and caucuses won, in total votes cast, in pledged convention delegates, in the overall delegate count, in fundraising and in the ineffable attribute called mojo. Imagine that Obama was struggling, at this late hour, to come up with the right message. What would the conventional wisdom say?

That it was over, of course. That Obama was toast. That staking everything on the March 4 primaries in Ohio and Texas was a starry-eyed hope, not a plan, and that it was time to smell the coffee.

Whenever Obama faced reporters, he'd have to answer tough questions. Why was he carrying on, knowing that he'd have to win by unrealistically large margins in all the remaining states to catch up? Didn't it worry him that relying on the superdelegates -- the Democratic establishment, basically -- to hand him the nomination could divide and weaken the party? Wasn't he concerned that Republican John McCain has such a head start in unifying his party and plotting his general election campaign?

The above, you will have noticed, is an accurate description of where Clinton stands right now. Yet nobody is forcing her to respond publicly to those painful questions. The reason is obvious: She's Hillary Clinton, and history suggests it's foolish to count out a Clinton until the last dog dies.

But history can be a deceptive guide -- and the Clinton campaign's failure to recognize that fact may be what finally dooms her candidacy.

From Obama's solid victory in the Iowa caucuses through his blowout victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii, the Clinton campaign has never acted as if its brain trust seriously entertained the notion that she could actually lose. The Clintons and their advisers knew, better than any other Democrats, how to win the presidency: Just consult the history books.

"Listen, Hillary is going to be the nominee," campaign Chairman Terry McAuliffe told reporters the day after Iowa, as if the result there were just a clerical error.

By the time the campaign realized that Obama was more than a nuisance, he had become a nemesis. When Obama began mesmerizing voters with his simple but powerful message -- change, hope, empowerment -- Clinton's pollster-guru, Mark Penn, responded with slogan after slogan that sought to marry the words "change" or "hope" with Clinton's basic theme of "experience." Slogans had always worked in the past; surely they would work again.

Sigh. To this day, I'm not sure the Clinton campaign understands that no focus-group-tested slogan is going to have the elemental resonance of "Yes, we can" (Obama's homage to César Chávez) or "Change the world." Hasn't anybody on the Clinton team ever read Joseph Campbell on the power of mythic narrative? And while we're on the subject of message, what genius decided it was a great idea to demonize hope?

Some missteps would have been hard to foresee -- chief among them the decision to deploy Bill Clinton, whose ham-fisted intervention in South Carolina is seen by some campaign insiders as the beginning of the end, or at least the end of the beginning.

But it's stunning that the battle-tested Clinton machine allowed itself to be outsmarted and outhustled at the arcane science of winning delegates in caucuses. And it's even more surprising that the campaign has been so careless with its money that it now is resigned to being outspent anywhere and everywhere.

Most striking of all, to me, is that the campaign still can't settle on what kind of candidate Hillary Clinton should be. Does she now have to go negative, or should she try to hitchhike on the hope express? Does she project steely resolve or reveal human vulnerability? The campaign wants to convince voters that they don't know who Obama really is -- yet also insists on fitting Clinton with a new persona every week.

Meanwhile, just about every analyst who has done the math predicts that unless Obama makes some huge blunder, it's highly unlikely that Clinton can catch up in pledged delegates. It is also unlikely that the superdelegates will dare to overturn the verdict of the primaries and caucuses.

Yes, we're dealing with Hillary Clinton, whose picture ought to be in the dictionary beside the word resilient. But after losing 10 in a row, she can't avoid facing -- and we can no longer avoid asking -- those unwelcome questions about whether she does her party more harm than good if she stays in the race until the convention.

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Wooed Wisconsin super delegate makes his decision (updated)

Remember Jason Rae? He's the youngest DNC member, or one of them, I believe. His home base is my county party. I had just joined my local party during the '04 general election when he ran a successful campaign to be one of Wisconsin's four DNC members. The remarkable thing was that he was only 17 years old.

Since then, he's certainly gone places. Recent news has been that that surrogates for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama--including Bill Clinton and John Kerry--have been courting him, trying to sway his vote as a superdelegate. He's certainly been more self-contained and diplomatic than I could have been, had Madeline Albright called me up to chat.

Now he's announced his decision.
rhubarb's diary :: ::

In a dispatch today, Rae noted that there is a huge movement in Wisconsin.

I wanted to write to you today, before you see it in the news, to inform you that I have officially endorsed Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States. This was a difficult decision for me to make. While I had every intention of remaining neutral in the race, Tuesdayʼs primary results showed a huge movement in Wisconsin, a movement of which I want to be a part.

A margin of 17% in a state that gave Kerry a spare 11,000 votes in the '04 general, and Gore an even sparer 2,000 votes really does represent a "huge movement." Good on you, Jason.

As I posted last Saturday, the crowds of young people turning out for Obama have been hard to ignore.

Look at the composition of the long, long line waiting to see Senator Obama speak last Saturday in Eau Claire.
Jason Rae is well attuned to the youth vote.

Back in 2004, I ran for the Democratic National Committee because I wanted to represent Americaʼs next generation of voters. Well, yesterday, that generation spoke. According to CNN exit polls, 73% of 18-to-24 year olds turned out in support of Senator Obama. That is an outstanding number. But it wasnʼt only young people turning out; people all over Wisconsin turned out overwhelming to support Senator Obama. I have a responsibility to listen to the voices that I am representing.

I do firmly believe that we have two qualified, talented candidates seeking the nomination. However, when I see one candidate energizing a new generation like Senator Obama is, I cannot help but be impressed and inspired. As I think about who I want to lead our country and party forward, I cannot think of another candidate to do that than Senator Barack Obama.

Congratulations, Jason Rae, congratulations, Wisconsinites, and congratulations, America. I appreciate a super delegate who is, at heart, a true democrat.

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Police concerned about order to stop weapons screening at Obama rally

Barack Obama speaks Wednesday at a Democratic rally in Dallas' Reunion Arena. Police were told to stop screening people for weapons before the rally began.

DALLAS -- Security details at Barack Obama's rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.

The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.

Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department's homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order -- apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service -- was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena's vacant seats before Obama came on.

"Sure," said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a "friendly crowd."

The Secret Service did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Doors opened to the public at 10 a.m., and for the first hour security officers scanned each person who came in and checked their belongings in a process that kept movement of the long lines at a crawl. Then, about 11 a.m., an order came down to allow the people in without being checked.

Several Dallas police officers said it worried them that the arena was packed with people who got in without even a cursory inspection.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, the order was made by federal officials who were in charge of security at the event.

"How can you not be concerned in this day and age," said one policeman.

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Texans rally against planned Mexico-to-Canada superhighway

As Senators Clinton and Obama prepared to debate in their state, Texans were marching in protest over the NAFTA superhighway known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, or I-69, the primary purpose of which is to speed the delivery of goods coming in from Mexico to proposed inland ports.

The TTC is planned to span the state of Texas from Laredo, on the Mexican border, to Texarkana, on the border with Arkansas, to continue north to Canada. The projected cost is $183 billion over fifty years, with no American companies expressing interest in financing it.

With no public approval required to begin construction, repeated calls against the TTC at public meetings, with seldom a word of support, may easily go unheeded.

"This is about international--global companies that are coming in and having their way with our politicians," says Terri Hall of TexasTURF. "It doesn't matter what does to the people in the path," she continues, "it doesn't matter what it does to our way of life..."

"Citizens here," says an unidentified man at a public hearing, "are not going to bear the burden so Wal-Mart can get their cargo into the U.S. cheaper and faster."

Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) is among opponents of the TTC, doubting the intentions of those planning its construction. He cites millions of acres subject to eminent domain, which the state promises to use against landowners who protest, and also notes that he has yet to encounter a person that supports the TTC.

"Frankly," says Texas Department of Transportation's Phil Russell, "we're in a different day and age right now, and the way we built our roadways fifty years ago simply isn't keeping up with the congestion that we're seeing here in Texas now."

"This is really messing with Texas," quips an incredulous Lou Dobbs to anchor Bill Tucker. "You can't tell me that Governor Rick Perry and the head of the Department of Transportation down there--that they're dumb enough to say that, because all of this traffic's coming out of Mexico, that Texas citizens should be funding the highway that is needed as a result of that traffic. That's absolutely idiotic."

"If people are putting up with this nonsense from their state government, and Governor Rick Perry, and their Department of Transportation," Dobbs continues, "these aren't the Texans that I know, and who I respect mightily."

The report, broadcast on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight on February 19, 2008, is available to view below.

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Bush: no compromise on phone immunity in spy bill

By Deborah Charles

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush said on Thursday he would not compromise with the Democratic-led Congress on his demand that phone companies that took part in his warrantless domestic spying program be shielded from lawsuits.

Bush has demanded Congress protect companies like AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications from civil lawsuits that accuse them of violating Americans' privacy rights in the administration's anti-terrorism program.

The Senate approved a measure that would grant the companies retroactive immunity but the House of Representatives has opposed it. The surveillance program began in 2001 after the September 11 attacks and some 40 lawsuits are pending.

House and Senate Democrats said they would try to find a compromise even as they said their Republican counterparts refused to permit staff to meet with them on Thursday.

"I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection," Bush told reporters as he traveled back from a trip to Africa.

A temporary law expired this weekend that expanded the federal government's power to track communications of suspected terrorism suspects without a court order.

Bush has contended that companies would become increasingly reluctant to help U.S. intelligence agencies without immunity and he argues that without listening to those communications, the United States is in greater danger of attack.

The issue will likely be at the forefront next week when Congress returns from a 12-day recess. Bush said his strategy for breaking the deadlock will be to keep talking about why it should be passed with immunity.

"The American people understand we need to be listening to the enemy," he said.

Democrats have countered that Bush was unnecessarily whipping up fears and said last week they were searching for common ground on the matter. Suggestions have included a secret court look at companies' actions before getting immunity or holding the government liable instead of phone companies.

"While we are disappointed that today's meeting could not reflect a bipartisan effort, we will continue to work and hope Republicans will join us to put our nation's security first," the Democratic lawmakers said in a joint statement.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)

(Writing by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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