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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For Now, Obama Proves to Be Elusive Target for G.O.P.

Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

President-elect Barack Obama met with Senator John McCain, his Republican rival, after the election in November.

By ADAM NAGOURNEY

WASHINGTON — It’s not so easy being the loyal opposition these days.

Almost two months after Barack Obama’s election, Republicans are struggling to figure out how — or even whether — to challenge or criticize him as he prepares to assume the presidency.

The president-elect is proving to be an elusive and frustrating target. He has defied efforts to be framed ideologically. His cabinet picks have won wide praise. An effort by the Republican National Committee to link Mr. Obama to the unfolding scandal involving Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and his alleged attempt to barter for Mr. Obama’s Senate seat was dismissed by no less a figure than Senator John McCain, the Republican Mr. Obama beat for the presidency.

The toughest criticism of Mr. Obama during this period — in fact, the real only criticism of him during this period — has come not from the right but from the left, primarily over his selection of the Rev. Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor who is a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.

Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Current Republican criticism of Barack Obama is “ineffective,” Newt Gingrich said, adding that he would offer suggestions.

There are plenty of battles ahead that may provide Republicans with an opportunity to find their footing. They will no doubt find arguments to use against Mr. Obama when, for example, he starts to lay out the details of his economic stimulus plans. While Mr. Obama is the beneficiary of the kind of post-election honeymoon Washington has not seen in at least 16 years, honeymoons tend to end.

Still, this display of Republican uncertainty is testimony to the political skills of the incoming president, and a reminder of just how difficult a situation the Republican Party is in. More than that, though, members of both parties say, it is evidence of the unusual place the country is in: buoyed by the prospect of the inauguration of a president who appears to enjoy great favor with the public, while at the same time deeply worried about the country’s future. It is going to be complicated making a case against Mr. Obama, many Republicans said, in an environment where people want him to succeed and may not have much of an appetite for partisan politics.

“I think the country is so tired right now of a style of Republican attack politics that has become a caricature of itself, they instinctively go, ‘I’m tired of that,’ ” said Newt Gingrich, a Republican and former speaker of the House. “It’s ineffective against Barack Obama right now. The country is faced with serious problems and is about to have a brand new president. You’d have to be irrational not to want the new president to succeed.”

Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and a leading candidate to become the next leader of the Republican National Committee, offered a similar message on his blog. “Where necessary,” Mr. Anuzis wrote, “we should stand for what is right and forcefully be the loyal opposition. But partisan politics in times like these for the sake of politics is not healthy. “

Republican leaders in Congress have made clear that they are looking, at least initially, to work with Mr. Obama, reflecting what they said was the seriousness of the times.

“You’ve seen very little criticism coming out of the gates of the president-elect or his cabinet selections,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said on Tuesday. “We want to work with him on behalf of the American people and hope that he governs in the open and bipartisan way in which he promised.”

The situation Republican leaders find themselves in is reminiscent of the frustration displayed by Mr. McCain and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, in the presidential campaign. As a candidate and as president-elect, Mr. Obama has proved deft at skirting ideological definitions; that has become even clearer as he has put together his cabinet and left open his options on issues like repealing the tax cuts for the wealthy. The presidential campaign clearly taught him how to avoid political mistakes and to clean them up quickly when made: when, at his first news conference as president-elect, he made an unkind remark about Nancy Reagan — a joke about her holding séances in the White House — Mr. Obama called her and apologized before the evening news.

Beyond that, the historic nature of his presidency — of his being the first African-American president, and all the interest that has generated here and abroad — has complicated things even more for an opposition party looking to go on the attack.

The Republican National Committee appears to be having particular trouble in finding the right tone. Since Election Day, it has continued with the daily patter of attacks on Mr. Obama that it offered throughout the general election campaign, a strategy pushed by the national chairman, Mike Duncan, but one that clearly does not have universal support.

The committee’s effort to link Mr. Obama to the corruption investigation in Illinois, through statements and a television advertisement it produced, drew criticism from Mr. McCain as well as Mr. Gingrich.

“It was amazingly wrong,” Mr. Gingrich said.

For his part, Mr. Duncan, who is seeking re-election as chairman when the party gathers here in January, said there was a role for his party to act as “the loyal opposition: to ask questions, agree where you can, but ask questions all the time.”

Mr. Duncan acknowledged that this was not easy, though he suggested it would be easier after Mr. Obama took office and was faced with dealing with problems and fulfilling campaign promises.

“It’s too early,” he said. “We’re still in this honeymoon phase, and we will hold him accountable. We will work with him and try to make sure he keeps his promises.”

The other complications for Republicans is that it is difficult to go on the attack without having a positive program to offer as an alternative. Mr. Gingrich said he would lay out positions in coming weeks that the party could embrace to offer a contrast with Democrats, like suggesting that government needs the same kind of management overhaul that Congress is talking about imposing on the auto industry.

Still, in the wake of the party’s losses in November, Republicans are having trouble reaching any kind of consensus about anything beyond the broadest of generalities. And that does not appear likely to change any time soon, as the party tries to figure out exactly how it should handle this new president.

Original here


Barack Obama to Swear into Office on Homosexual Atheist's Bible

BY: Dennis DiClaudio


Well, it seems to be official. Barack Obama will be taking the Oath of Office on January 20, 2009, with his right hand planted firmly on the Bible owned by a man who neither believed in a personal god nor preferred the company of women in the bedroom.

That's right. He somehow managed to score the same Bible on which fellow Illinoisiate Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president...

"President-elect Obama is deeply honored that the Library of Congress has made the Lincoln Bible available for use during his swearing-in," said Presidential Inaugural Committee Executive Director Emmett Beliveau.

"The President-elect is committed to holding an Inauguration that celebrates America's unity, and the use of this historic Bible will provide a powerful connection to our common past and common heritage."

Such a thumbing of the nose at all the good old fashioned family values on which this country was founded will almost certainly come as a blow to all the decent Americans who were hoping that anti-gay rights Christian Pastor Rick Warren's prayer at the inauguration was a signal to their ranks that he would be continuing the current administration's policy of coddling them.

No such luck. By deliberately choosing the Bible of Abraham Lincoln -- a man who, if not an absolute homosexual, certainly had strong homosexual leanings, and who believed in neither the Bible nor a personal god -- Obama seems to be giving aid and comfort to the enemies of American values.

The day seems to belong to the degenerate heathen sodomites.

Update: Reading through the comments to this post, it occurs to me that yet another tired old stereotype has now been laid to rest...

Liberals are no better at interpreting satire than conservatives are.

Cold, empty, meaningless universe bless America.

Original here

The Untouchables

Diplomatic immunity affords foreign diplomats in America a blank check for bad behavior. Unpaid bills, drunk driving, sex crimes and even slavery - what's the recourse?


Diplomatic Impunity

In early 2005, Virginia police closed in on a suspected child predator -- a man in his 40s who cops say drove four hours to meet a 13-year-old girl he'd met on the Internet, promising to teach her about sex. It turned out the girl was really a cop, and officers arrested the man at a shopping mall.

But then it was the police who got an unpleasant surprise. Their suspect, Salem Al-Mazrooei, was a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates -- and therefore covered by "diplomatic immunity." The cops had to let him go. Days later, Al-Mazrooei left the country, never having spent a night in jail.

Unpaid bills, drunk driving, sex crimes and even slavery -- isn't there any recourse for this conduct?
Diplomatic immunity? Diplomatic impunity is more like it. Thanks to several international treaties observed by most nations, diplomats and embassy workers get special protections and privileges in the places they're posted. Many of them can't be arrested, sued or even taxed by host countries.

Some forms of diplomatic immunity are extremely important. For example, we need to make sure foreign diplomats -- especially our own people overseas -- don't get locked up for political reasons. The problem is that immunity has come to be used as an absurdly broad cover for sleazy or criminal behavior. As a result, many of the 100,000 foreign diplomats and their dependents in America can break laws, blow off bills, even park where they please -- and never pay for it.

While the vast majority act responsibly, some of them -- including citizens of countries that get billions in taxpayer-funded U.S. foreign aid -- behave in ways that would land anyone else behind bars. Immunity, says UN critic Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute, "invites abuse. And sure enough, the invitation has been accepted."

Nobody knows this like the people of New York City, home to the United Nations. The UN rarely gets much done, but somehow its officials are still too busy to park legally. Between 1997 and the end of 2002, foreign diplomats racked up more than 150,000 unpaid parking tickets -- totaling a staggering $18 million. But thanks to diplomatic immunity, the city has no power to collect.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg: The money is even bigger when it comes to property taxes. Diplomats get tax-exempt real estate for their official business, but some use the property to turn a profit. According to New York officials, diplomats from the Philippines, for example, ran a bank, a restaurant and even an airlines office from their Manhattan complex -- for which they neglected to pay more than $1 million in taxes. Since the city can't go after the diplomats directly, it has resorted to suing foreign governments. But when New York sued Turkey for $70 million in back property taxes in 2003, the city wound up settling for a puny $5 million.

Perhaps the most brazen deadbeats, though, were officials from Zaire who stopped paying rent to their private landlord and ran up $400,000 in debt. When the landlord sued, the U.S. State Department defended the Zaireans, saying they were protected by immunity -- and a circuit court agreed. The landlord finally cut off the utilities; that's when the officials fled without paying their back rent. (Later, the landlords reportedly reached an "amicable agreement" with Zaire.)

Then there's behavior that's not only sleazy but also dangerous. Diplomats are famous for driving recklessly and often under the influence of alcohol. According to the New York Police Department, in April, a young Russian attaché, Ilya Sergeyevich Morozov, was allegedly driving drunk when he struck and injured a New York police officer who was trying to stop him from barreling into a closed roadway. Morozov was protected by diplomatic immunity and let go.

Or how about the people who use their protection to smuggle drugs? In July, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the indictment of a UN employee who allegedly had smuggled drugs into the United States in special diplomatic pouches meant for official documents. The law also protects those pouches from inspection by local authorities, leaving us vulnerable not only to drugs coming into the country but also to weapons, chemicals and other destructive materials that can be used by terrorists.

Some of the most shocking crimes involve the way well-heeled diplomats treat their domestic workers. A recent essay by the American Anti-Slavery Group warned of "a growing concern among labor activists that diplomatic immunity has become a convenient cover for slavery."

In 1999, a Bangladeshi woman named Shamela Begum said she was essentially enslaved by a senior Bahraini envoy to the UN and his wife. Begum charged that the couple took her passport, struck her and paid her just $800 for ten months of service -- during which she was only twice allowed out of the couple's New York apartment. But when Begum sued her employers, U.S. Justice Department lawyers argued that the case had to be dismissed because the Bahraini envoy and his wife had diplomatic immunity. Never mind that our Constitution bans slavery. (Begum later reached a settlement with her employers.) An isolated case? Estimates show that hundreds of women have been exploited by their diplomat employers over the past 20 years.

Unpaid bills, drunk driving, sex crimes and even slavery -- isn't there any recourse for this conduct? The State Department is right to worry about retaliation against U.S. diplomats abroad (who aren't always on perfect behavior themselves). And we can't just break our promises in a treaty. But Congress has power here -- either by shaming guests into better behavior through public hearings or by chopping serious foreign aid to countries with troublemaking emissaries.

When Congress took a look at diplomatic immunity in the 1980s, a New York police detective testified about tracking down a suspect in a series of rapes. Although the suspect had been identified by two victims, the police had to let him go after 45 minutes because he was the son of a diplomat from Ghana. As he left, the former detective told The New York Times, "he snickered and said, 'I told you I had diplomatic immunity.' He was looking at the women, too, and laughing." Twenty years later, it sounds like that attitude hasn't changed.
Original here

Let voters pick senators

Edtwo22

Recent events are suddenly making an excellent case for ending a practice that has flourished since early in the last century: letting governors fill empty Senate seats.

In Illinois, law enforcement officials said they arrested Gov. Rod Blagojevich to stop him from selling President-elect Barack Obama's empty Senate seat.

(Kennedy: Wants to enter politics / AP)

And in New York, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President Kennedy, is mounting a curious campaign to get Gov. David Paterson to appoint her to the Senate seat that would be vacated by Secretary of State-nominee Hillary Clinton.

As accomplished as Kennedy might be, there's something distasteful about the prospect of handing her one of the most powerful jobs in American politics largely on the basis of her celebrity. Some of her own supporters say her chief qualification seems to be that she could raise the $70 million or so it would take to keep the seat Democratic in future elections.

There's an easy way to avoid the sorts of shenanigans and controversies arising in Illinois and New York: Let the people decide.

The 17th Amendment gave voters the right to elect senators directly (before 1913, they had been appointed by legislatures) and provided that governors could fill empty Senate seats. Thirty-four states put no restrictions on their governors; five more require the governor to appoint someone from the outgoing senator's party. Only a handful of states have chosen to do this the right way, by holding a special election.

A list of the 181 people who have been appointed to the Senate over the last century contains a handful of notable names (Maine's George Mitchell went on to be majority leader) but is also riddled with undistinguished appointees from both parties. Some governors are unable to resist the call of Capitol Hill: At least five appointed themselves to Senate seats; all later lost re-election. And, in 1972, Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards took nepotism to a new level by naming his wife, Elaine, to fill a vacant Senate seat. In 2002, Frank Murkowski rivaled Edwards by appointing his daughter, Lisa, to his old seat when he became governor of Alaska.

On occasion, governors should have the power to fill Senate seats, particularly when the next regular election is so soon that a special ballot wouldn't be worth the effort and expense. But the rest of the time, if celebrities, relatives or anyon

Original here

Obama, Two Aides Questioned in Probe

Federal prosecutors investigating alleged corruption by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich interviewed President-elect Barack Obama and two of his top advisers last week in connection with the case, according to a memo released Tuesday by the Obama transition team.

[Rod Blagojevich]

Rod Blagojevich

The five-page memo denies any wrongdoing or improper communication between the transition team and Mr. Blagojevich, who prosecutors allege sought to fill Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat in exchange for money or a better job. Prosecutors have said no one on the Obama transition team is a suspect.

Mr. Obama had promised shortly after Mr. Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest to release an accounting of contacts between his staff and the governor's office. Federal agents had been wiretapping conversations by Mr. Blagojevich in October and November as part of their criminal investigation.

The memo released Tuesday said Mr. Obama's incoming White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, contacted Mr. Blagojevich and his staff at least five times after Election Day, and produced a slate of suggested replacements for Mr. Obama's vacated Senate seat. Mr. Emanuel spoke about four times to Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris to discuss the Senate seat.

Neither Mr. Emanuel nor other Obama aides and confidants heard of Mr. Blagojevich's alleged efforts to auction the Senate appointment to the highest bidder, the report said.

Mr. Blagojevich was arrested on suspicion of using his authority as governor to wrest campaign donations and other favors in exchange for signing legislation into law. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Messrs. Obama and Emanuel, as well as top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, were interviewed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on Dec. 18, 19 and 20 -- an extraordinary outreach from law enforcement during a presidential transition. The interviews lasted two hours, and their lawyers were present.

The Obama audit of contacts between aides and Mr. Blagojevich's staff revealed considerably more discussions between the two camps than previously divulged, and it described an apparently concerted effort by the governor to crack the Obama circle.

Union Role

One effort apparently involved the head of the Service Employees International Union in Illinois, Tom Balanoff. He approached Ms. Jarrett and related the governor's desire to be named Health and Human Services secretary while also mentioning the governor was considering her for the Senate seat, according to the Obama memo. Mr. Balanoff didn't say Mr. Blagojevich was linking the two, the memo said.

"Ms. Jarrett viewed that as a ridiculous proposition and waved it off," said Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama's choice for White House counsel, who led the audit and wrote the memo. He spoke to reporters in a conference call Tuesday.

In another instance, a deputy Illinois governor approached one of Mr. Obama's best friends, Eric Whitaker, to talk about the Senate seat, the memo said. Mr. Craig said at no point did it become clear those approaches were intended to open negotiations over the seat. "If [the governor] was actively seeking a response from the president-elect's people, he was not overt or explicit about that in any way, shape, or form," Mr. Craig said.

The Obama memo was issued as the president-elect vacationed in Hawaii, and Mr. Emanuel began a holiday trip to Africa. Obama aides said the timing of the release was dictated by Mr. Fitzgerald, who had requested a delay related to the investigation. Mr. Craig said he was ready to release his audit on Dec. 15 but was asked to wait until Christmas week.

Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant urged Mr. Obama to release internal documents and emails to back up the audit's findings.

"While Obama certainly deserves some credit for releasing his team's contacts with Gov. Blagojevich, it remains unfortunate he acted only after political pressure was exerted," Mr. Conant said in a statement. "Hopefully, President-elect Obama's promises of transparency related to this matter will extend to all communications, including written."

The report's conclusions are based on the recollections of Obama aides, not on federal wiretap recordings of Mr. Blagojevich, his aides and his advisers, which make up the heart of the federal arrest affidavit, Mr. Craig said. He said the law-enforcement tapes weren't available to the legal staff that canvassed the Obama team.

By his recollections, Mr. Emanuel had one or two phone conversations with Mr. Blagojevich between Nov. 6 and Nov. 8, as Mr. Emanuel was deliberating whether to resign his House seat, representing Chicago's North Side. Soon after, Mr. Emanuel called the Illinois governor again to say he would leave Congress to take a White House post. The conversation included talk about the merits of candidates for the Senate seat, especially those of Ms. Jarrett, whom Mr. Emanuel believed the president-elect favored, according to the memo.

The two men didn't discuss any potential appointment for Mr. Blagojevich -- either to the cabinet, a political nonprofit organization or "any other personal benefit for the governor," according to the memo. The federal arrest affidavit alleged the governor had talked about such a trade with his aides and advisers.

In subsequent conversations with Mr. Harris -- after Ms. Jarrett took herself out of the running to take a White House job -- Mr. Emanuel produced a slate of favored candidates with the president-elect's authorization. The names included Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

In later telephone conversations, Mr. Emanuel added Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson.

Meanwhile, on Nov. 7, the SEIU's Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett he had spoken with the governor about her possible selection for the Senate. Then he said Mr. Blagojevich had raised the possibility of an appointment as Health and Human Services secretary.

"Ms. Jarrett did not understand the conversation to suggest that the governor wanted the cabinet seat as a quid pro quo," the memo said.

[Key Dates]
Reaching Out

In another approach, Illinois Deputy Governor Louanner Peters called Mr. Whitaker, Mr. Obama's close friend, shortly after the election. He said that Mr. Blagojevich was hearing from people about candidates they wanted to take Mr. Obama's Senate seat, according to the memo. She then asked Mr. Whitaker who could speak on Mr. Obama's behalf. Mr. Whitaker spoke with the president-elect, who said no one was authorized to discuss the issue, the memo said.

Mr. Emanuel's spokeswoman said he couldn't be reached for comment because he was traveling. Ms. Jarrett said in an email that Mr. Craig "answered everything completely." Mr. Whitaker couldn't be reached.

The Blagojevich controversy has been an early test for the incoming Obama administration, which has promised to be the most transparent in history.

Obama aides have accused news reporters of unfairly insinuating wrongdoing despite Mr. Fitzgerald's assurances that the president-elect and his staff were not suspects.

Critics have said the Obama team fumbled the issue and allowed those insinuations to ripen by not being forthcoming.

Republican and Democratic lawyers have said Mr. Fitzgerald had no legal authority to keep Mr. Obama from speaking out earlier.

The federal affidavit made clear that Obama aides would not participate in Mr. Blagojevich's alleged schemes to sell the Senate seat.

—Cam Simpson and David Kesmodel contributed to this article.

Write to Jonathan Weisman at jonathan.weisman@wsj.com

Original here

Exclusive: Cheney’s admissions to the CIA leak prosecutor and FBI

Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a still-highly confidential FBI report, admitted to federal investigators that he rewrote talking points for the press in July 2003 that made it much more likely that the role of then-covert CIA-officer Valerie Plame in sending her husband on a CIA-sponsored mission to Africa would come to light.

Cheney conceded during his interview with federal investigators that in drawing attention to Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s Africa trip reporters might also unmask her role as CIA officer.

Cheney denied to the investigators, however, that he had done anything on purpose that would lead to the outing of Plame as a covert CIA operative. But the investigators came away from their interview with Cheney believing that he had not given them a plausible explanation as to how he could focus attention on Plame’s role in arranging her husband’s trip without her CIA status also possibly publicly exposed. At the time, Plame was a covert CIA officer involved in preventing Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, and Cheney’s office played a central role in exposing her and nullifying much of her work.

Cheney revised the talking points on July 8, 2003– the very same day that his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, met with New York Times reporter Judith Miller and told Miller that Plame was a CIA officer and that Plame had also played a central role in sending her husband on his CIA sponsored trip to the African nation of Niger.

Both Cheney and Libby have acknowledged that Cheney directed him to meet with Miller, but claimed that the purpose of that meeting was to leak other sensitive intelligence to discredit allegations made by Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, that the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information to go to war with Iraq, rather than to leak Plame’s identity.

That Cheney, by his own admission, had revised the talking points in an effort to have the reporters examine who sent Wilson on the very same day that his chief of staff was disclosing to Miller Plame’s identity as a CIA officer may be the most compelling evidence to date that Cheney himself might have directed Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to Miller and other reporters.

This new information adds to a growing body of evidence that Cheney may have directed Libby to disclose Plame’s identity to reporters and that Libby acted to protect Cheney by lying to federal investigators and a federal grand jury about the matter.

Still, for those in search of the proverbial “smoking gun”, the question as to whether Cheney directed Libby to leak Plaime’s identity to the media at Cheney’s direction or Libby did so on his own by acting over zealously in carrying out a broader mandate from Cheney to discredit Wilson and his allegations about manipulation of intelligence information, will almost certainly remain an unresolved one.

Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007 of four felony counts of lying to federal investigators, perjury, and obstruction of justice, in attempting to conceal from authorities his own role, and that of other Bush administration officials, in leaking information to the media about Plame.

One of the jurors in the case, Dennis Collins, told the press shortly after the verdict that he and many other jurors believed that Libby was serving as a “fall guy” for Cheney, and had lied to conceal the role of his boss in directing information about Plame to be leaked to the press.

The special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in both opening and closing arguments that because Libby did not testify truthfully during the course of his investigation, federal authorities were stymied from determining what role Vice President Cheney possibly played in directing the leaking of information regarding Plame that led to the end of her career as a covert CIA officer, and jeopardized other sensitive intelligence information.

Speaking of the consequences of Libby’s deceit to the FBI and a federal grand jury, Fitzgerald, who is also the U.S. attorney for Chicago, said in his Feb. 20, 2007 closing argument: “There is talk about a cloud over the Vice President. There is a cloud over the White House as to what happened. Do you think the FBI, the Grand Jury, the American people are entitled to a straight answer?”

The implication from that and other comments made by Fitzgerald while trying the case was that Libby had lied and placed himself in criminal jeopardy to protect Cheney and to perhaps conceal the fact that Cheney had directed him to leak information to the media about Plame.

Although it has been widely reported in the media that Cheney and Libby have denied that Cheney directed Libby ever to speak to reporters about Plame, those reports have been erroneous. As Washington Post.com columnist Dan Froomkin wrote in this largely overlooked column, Libby instead had told both the FBI and a federal grand jury that he was uncertain as to whether or not Cheney had directed him to talk to reporters about Plame.

An FBI agent testified at Libby’s trial, as Froomkin pointed out, that Libby had told the FBI that during a July 12, 2003 conversation that Libby had with Cheney, the two men possibly discussed “whether to report to the press that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.”

That conversation occurred exactly four days after Cheney ordered the revision of the talking points and Libby had his conversation with Judith Miller about Plame.

And immediately after that July 12, 2003 conversation between Cheney and Libby, Libby spoke by phone with Matthew Cooper, then a correspondent for Time magazine, and confirmed for Cooper that Plame worked for the CIA and that she had played a role in sending her husband to Niger.

A contemporaneous FBI report recounting the agents’ interview with Libby also asserts that Libby had refused to categorically deny to them that Cheney had directed him to leak information to the press about Plame. A heavily redacted copy of Libby’s interviews with FBI agents was turned over this summer to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) wrote Attorney General Michael Mukasey on June 3, 2008, reiterating an earlier request that Mukasey turn over to the committee the FBI report of its interview of Vice President Cheney in regards to the Plame matter:

“In his interview with the FBI, Mr. Libby states that it was `possible’ that Vice President Cheney instructed [Libby] to disseminate information about Ambassador Wilson’s wife to the press. This is a significant revelation and, if true, a serious matter. It cannot be responsibly investigated without access to the Vice President’s interview.”

Mukasey declined to release the Cheney report to Waxman in particular, and Congress in general.

But a person with access to notes of Cheney’s interview with federal investigators described to me what Cheney said during those interviews. Later the same person read to me verbatim portions of the interview notes directly relevant to this story.

***

At the time of the leak of Plame’s identity, Cheney, Libby and other Bush administration officials were attempting to discredit Wilson because of the charges that he was making that the White House had manipulated intelligence information to take the nation to war with Iraq. Wilson, a retired career diplomat and former ambassador, had traveled to Niger in February 2002 on a CIA- sponsored mission to investigate allegations that Saddam Hussein’s regime had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation. Wilson reported back to the CIA that the allegations were most certainly untrue.

Despite numerous warnings from the CIA and elsewhere in government that the Niger allegations were most likely false or even contrived, President Bush cited them in his 2002 State of the Union address as a rationale to go to war with Iraq.

On July 6, 2003, Wilson published an op-ed in The New York Times charging that the Bush administration had “twisted” intelligence when it cited the alleged Niger-Iraq connection in the president’s State of Union earlier that year. At the time, U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq could not find out weapons of mass destruction. Wilson’s allegations were among the first from an authoritative source that the administration might have misled the nation to go to war.

A central part of the effort to counter Wilson’s allegations entailed discrediting him by suggesting that his slection for the trip had been a case of nepotism. Cheney, Libby, then-White House political adviser Karl Rove, and other White House officials told reporters that Wilson’s wife, who worked at the CIA, had been primarily responsible for selecting him to go to Niger.

The day after Wilson’s op-ed, on July 7, 2003, Cheney personally dictated talking points for then-presidential secretary Ari Fleischer and other White House officials to use to counter Wilson’s charges and discredit him.

A central purpose for writing the talking points was to demonstrate that the Vice President’s office had played little if any role in Wilson being sent to Niger and that Cheney was not told of Wilson’s mission prior to the war with Iraq.

In talking points Cheney dictated on July 7, Cheney wrote as his first one: “The Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger.” The three other talking points asserted that the “Vice President’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission”; that Cheney’s office was not briefed about the trip until long after it occurred, and that Cheney and his aides only learned about the trip when they received press inquiries about it a full year later.

***

About a month prior to Wilson having written his own op-ed for the Times, he had told his story of his mission to Niger to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote a detailed account of Wilson’s trip and his allegations.

In reaction to that column, Cheney personally made inquiries about the matter to both then-CIA director George Tenet and then-CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, apparently on either June 11 or June 12, 2003, according to evidence made public at Libby’s federal criminal trial. Both Tenet and McLaughlin told Cheney of Plame’s role (in reality, a tenuous one) to the selection of her husband for the Niger mission.

On June 12, Cheney and Libby spoke, and Cheney told Libby about Plame’s supposed role.

In notes that Libby took of the conversation, Libby wrote that Cheney said he been told by the CIA officials that Wilson’s mission to Niger “took place at our behest”-in reference to the CIA. More specifically, the notes indicted the mission was undertaken at the request of the CIA’s covert Counterproliferation Division. The notes said that Cheney told Libby that he had been informed that Wilson’s “wife works in that division.”

Cheney then instructed Libby, according to the notes, to ask the CIA to set the record straight by saying that the Vice President’s office “didn’t known about [the] mission” and “didn’t get the report back”, in reference to the fact that Cheney’s office never received a copy of a CIA debriefing report of Wilson after he returned from Niger.

Surprisingly, despite the prominence of Kristof in particular, and the Times in general, the column was largely ignored– at least for a while.

But Wilson’s own July 6, 2003 Times op-ed column by rekindled the issue. Stoking the flames, Wilson then also appeared on Meet the Press that same morning to discuss his column.

Wilson’s column, prosecutor Fitzgerald asserted at Libby’s trial, ignited a “firestorm.”

Wilson’s charges, Fitzgerald went on to say, “came in the fourth month of the war in Iraq, the fourth month when weapons of mass destruction were not found. Coming as they did, they ignited a media firestorm… the White House was stunned.”

In a handwritten notation at the bottom of the July 6 op-ed, Cheney wrote out several rhetorical questions regarding Wilson and Plame: “Have they [the CIA] done this before? Send an Amb. to answer a question? Do we ordinarily send people out pro-bono to work for us? Or did his wife send him on a junket?”

The next day, July 7, Cheney crafted talking points to be distributed to the media which emphasized that his office had not requested that Wilson go to Niger, that the CIA had not told him about Wilson’s findings, and that he personally only learned of the matter long after the U.S. invaded Iraq– from press reports.

The four talking points dictated by Cheney to his press aide, Catharine Martin, stated:

*The Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger.
* The Vice President’s office was not informed of Joe Wilson’s mission.
*The Vice President’s office did not receive a briefing about Mr. Wilson’s mission after he returned.
*The Vice President’s office was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press reports accounted for it.

Martin, in turn, sent those talking points on to, among others, Ari Fleischer, the-then White House press secretary, who utilized them in his briefing or “gaggle” for the press that morning.

Fleischer told reporters that same day, according to a transcript of the briefing: “The Vice President’s office did not request the mission to Niger. The Vice president’s office was not informed of his mission and he was not aware of Mr. Wilson’s mission until recent press accounts… accounted for it. So this was something that the CIA undertook… They sent him on their own volition.”

Also hat same day, Fleischer, who was planning to leave his position as White House press secretary, had lunch with Libby, during which, according to Fleisher’s testimony at Libby’s trial, Libby spoke extensively about the role of Plame in sending her husband on the Niger mission.

At the lunch, Fleischer would testify, Libby told him: “Ambassador Wilson was sent by his wife. His wife works for the CIA.” Fleischer testified that Libby even referred to Wilson’s wife by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.

“He added it was `hush-hush’, and on the QT,’ and that most people didn’t know it,” Fleisher testified.

The very next morning, on July 8, Libby met with reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times for two hours for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington in an effort to staunch the damage done by Wilson’s column.

Miller testified at Libby’s trial during the breakfast Libby told her that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and that Plame had played a role in selecting him for his Niger mission.

In testimony before the federal grand jury in the CIA leak case, Libby testified that Cheney had instructed him before the breakfast to “get everything out.” Regarding the allegations that he leaked information to Miller about Plame, Libby told federal investigators that he had never done so.

During the same breakfast, Libby also disclosed to Miller portions of a then-still classified National Intelligence Estimate which Cheney believed demonstrated that the CIA was to blame for robustly endorsing the Niger information as accurate.

President Bush had personally and secretly declassified portions of the NIE for the specific purpose of leaking them to Miller. In disclosing selective portions of the NIE to Miller, only the President, the Vice President, and Libby knew about the secret declassification.

“So far as you know, the only three people who knew about this would be the President, the Vice President, and yourself,” Libby was asked by Fitzgerald during one session by Libby before the federal grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case,

“Correct, sir,” Libby answered.

Also that same day, July 8, 2003, Cheney met again Cathy Martin– this time on Cheney’s office on Capitol Hill. During the meeting, according to an account Martin gave federal investigators, Cheney told Martin that he wanted some changes and additions made to the talking points devised the previous day that had already been disseminated to Fleischer and other White House communications aides.

Martin told investigators that Cheney dictated the changes to her, and in each case, she took down word for word what the Vice President said. (Martin later repeated this same account under oath during Libby’s trial.)

Cheney told Martin that he wanted the very first of the talking points to now read: “It is not clear who authorized Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.”

Cheney, of course, knew that the CIA had authorized Wilson’s trip and had sent Wilson to Niger. Both Cheney and Libby had been told by a large number of CIA and State Department officials by then that such was the case, according to the sworn testimony of those officials at Libby’s trial. And the day before, Fleisher had told the press that Wilson’s mission to Niger was “something that the CIA undertook” and that they had also “sent him on their own volition.”

Why would Cheney change the talking points from the day before if he knew that the CIA had sent Wilson and he and his staff had encouraged Fleischer to say that the day before? Obviously, saying it was unclear who had authorized Wilson’s trip to Niger was not only untrue, it also pointed reporters in the direction of asking about Plame.

Asked about this during his FBI interview, Cheney was at a loss to explain how the change of the talking points focusing attention on who specifically sent Wilson to Niger would not lead reporters might lead to exposure of Plame’s role as a CIA officer.

There was a matter, as well, as to why Cheney changed the talking points to say it was unclear who sent Wilson when in fact he had admitted earlier during the same interview with investigators that he clearly knew it was the CIA.

Finally, of course, there was the fact that on the very same day that Cheney changed the talking points that Libby was meeting with Miller and telling Miller that Plame worked for the CIA and had sent her husband to Niger.

In his closing argument during the Libby trial, however, Fitzgerald did mention the issue briefly. None of the media covering the trial, however (with the sole exception once again being Dan Froomkin), appeared to understand its significance or broader context, and did not report it.

Noting the change of Cheney’s July 7 and July 8, 2003 talking points, Patrick Fitzgerald said: “The question of who authorized became number one. That’s a question that would lead to the answer: Valerie Wilson.”

***

Four days later, on July 12, 2003 Cheney and Libby strategized again as to how to beat back Wilson’s allegations. They had traveled together, and with thief families, to the Norfolk Naval Station for the commissioning of the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.

On the flight home, Cheney pressed Libby to talk to reporters to once again, hoping to beat back Wilson’s allegations and discredit the former diplomat. Immediately after landing, Libby spoke to then-Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper and confirmed for him that Plame worked for the CIA and had played a role in sending her husband to Niger. It was regarding that conversation that Libby told the FBI it was “possible” that Cheney might have told him to discuss Plame.

On July 2, 2007, President Bush commuted Libby’s thirty month prison sentence, saying he was doing so out of compassion for Libby’s family and because he believed that he believed that the sentence was excessive. The White House declined to say whether Bush might consider a full pardon for Libby.

In the next few days, it will become known whether Libby will in fact be pardoned by President Bush in his final days in office.

In the meantime, what the Vice President and the President told the FBI during their own FBI interviews during the Plame investigation will not be officially disclosed by the White House. Despite the fact that prosecutor Fitzgerald has said told Congress that he has no objections to the provision of the reports to Congress, the Bush administration has refused to follow through.

Special thanks to David Neiwart for editing assistance.

Readers can contact Murray Waas by leaving a comment below or through his Facebook account.

Original here

CBS: KBR knowingly exposed troops to toxic dust

David Edwards and Muriel Kane

A CBS News investigation has obtained evidence that a subsidiary of Halliburton, the giant energy company formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, knowingly exposed United States soldiers to toxic materials in Iraq.

CBS interviewed Commander James Gentry of the Indiana National Guard, who is dying of a rare form of lung cancer that he believes is the result of "months of inhaling hexavalent chromium" after his battalion was assigned in April 2003 to protect contractors from Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) working in Iraq at a local water plant. Other members of his unit are also suffering from cancers or rashes associated with the toxic chemical, which was all over the plant.

"We didn't question what we were doing," a grief-stricken Gentry told CBS. "We just knew we had to provide a security service for the KBR. ... We would never have been there if we would have known."

CBS has obtained documents which indicate that KBR knew about the danger months before the soldiers were informed. KBR employee depositions show there were "concerns about the toxins in one part of the plant as early as May of 2003," while later minutes detail symptoms of exposure, including bloody noses and rashes.

It wasn't until the end of August that the Indiana National Guardsmen were informed that the plant was contaminated, and some say they have only just learned about it this year.

Indiana Senator Evan Bayh told CBS, "I think the burden of proof at this point is on the company to come forward and very forthrightly explain what happened, why we should trust them, and why the health and well-being of our soldiers should continue to be in their hands."

KBR has issued a statement saying, "We deny the assertion that KBR harmed troops and was responsible for an unsafe condition."

KBR, which was spun off by Halliburton in 2007 as a separate corporation, has previously been accused of providing contaminated water to troops in Iraq, taking kickbacks, and sending workers to Iraq against their will.

The full CBS story can be read here.


This video is from CBS's Evening News, broadcast Dec. 22, 2008.




Original here

Ohio TV station: Was Connell crash an accident or murder?

David Edwards and Muriel Kane

The death of Republican "IT guru" Mike Connell last Friday in a fiery plane crash has been the subject of intense speculation online about whether it might have been murder -- but very little of that speculation has made it into the national media. Now one local TV station in Connell's home state of Ohio is acknowledging that there are questions about his death.

"Well, this sounds like a made up story," Scott Taylor of 19 Action News in Cleveland began. "One man rigging state elections to help his boss, President George Bush. After it's done, power players in Washington say 'Get rid of the guy.' Do I believe it? No -- for now."

Taylor noted that "bad weather could have played a part in the crash" but "some in Washington have a different opinion."

"Some say Connell was about to reveal embarrassing details involving senior members of the Bush Administration," Taylor explained, "including their involvement in destroying incriminating emails and rigging elections. Connell died on impact, and was only 3 miles from the Akron-Canton Airport. He was an experienced pilot. Was it an accident, or murder?"

Connell had played a central role in two separate Bush administration scandals. He had created the website for the Ohio secretary of state's office which some have linked to suspected election fraud during the 2004 presidential race. He also set up the domains which White House staff used for their off-the-books emails concerning the firing of US Attorneys, emails which are now said to have been destroyed.

In a press release cited by 19 Action News, the website Velvet Revolution revealed that "a person close to Mr. Connell has recently been discussing with a VR investigator how Mr. Connell can tell all about his work for George Bush. Mr. Connell told a close associate that he was afraid that the George Bush and Dick Cheney would 'throw [[him] under the bus.' A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell’s life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife."

19 Action News also reported on Sunday that Connell had previously been warned by a friend that his plane might be sabotaged and had canceled two flights because of suspicious problems.

BradBlog notes that although the Velvet Revolution press release has appeared on the New York Times website, that paper has not offered any comment of its own on Connell's death, nor have US media in general reported on the growing speculation -- although even the British press has mentioned it -- which makes the Action News coverage all the more striking.

"Was it an accident -- or murder?" Taylor wondered, before concluding that the crash "was probably not a conspiracy."


This video is from 19 Action News, broadcast Dec. 22, 2008.




Download video via RawReplay.com


####

Transcript from 19 Action News:

What prompted conspiracy theorists in Washington, D.C. to say that an Ohio man with White House connections was actually murdered this weekend?

Here's Scott Taylor to tell us if it's true or not.

Taylor: "Well this sounds like a made up story, one man rigging state elections to help his boss, President George Bush. After it's done, power players in Washington say 'Get rid of the guy.' Do I believe it? No. For now.

45 year-old Michael Connell died Friday night after his plane crashed into this vacant house near Union Township in Stark County, Ohio.

Connell was a political power player in Washington, D.C., and in the White House. He was the vision behind President George Bush's, and John McCain's internet sites.

Initial reports say bad weather could have played a part in the crash.

Hartville resident Mary Lou Lankford: " I guess the plane just flew apart."

Taylor: Some in Washington have a different opinion. The website 'Velvet Revolution' believes someone sabotaged Connell's plane.

It appears he was trying to land the plane here, he hit a large flag pole and then, he struck the house.

Velvet Revolution claims to have been tipped off that Connell's life was in danger. Who was threatening Connell? According to the website, a senior advisor of President George Bush, Karl Rove.

Some say Connell was about to reveal embarrassing details involving senior members of the Bush Administration, including their involvement in destroying incriminating emails, and rigging elections.

Connell died on impact, and was only 3 miles from the Akron-Canton Airport. He was an experienced pilot. Was it an accident, or muder?

Harville resident Ron Lankford: "It's really hard to believe. I really don't know the full story, and I've just heard...and what I've seen in the paper, and on the news."

Taylor: I spoke to Michael's family today in person. They are grieving. A visitation is planned for tonight.

Many in his neighborhood say this was a good man who devoted his time to the worldwide community, and loved his family very much.

19 Action News' investigation concludes that the plane crash that killed GOP operative Mike Connell was probably not a conspiracy.

Original here

Lesbian's brutal gang rape investigated in Calif.

By LISA LEFF Associated Press


SAN FRANCISCO — A woman in the San Francisco Bay area was jumped by four men, taunted for being a lesbian, repeatedly raped and left naked outside an abandoned apartment building, authorities said Monday.

Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The men, who ranged from their late teens to their 30s, made comments indicating they knew her sexual orientation, said Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan.

"It just pushes it beyond fathomable," he said. "The level of trauma — physical and emotional — this victim has suffered is extreme."

Authorities are characterizing the attack as a hate crime but declined to reveal why they think the woman was singled out because of her sexual orientation. Gagan would say only that the victim lived openly with a female partner and had a rainbow flag sticker on her car.

The 45-minute attack began when one of the men approached the woman as she crossed the street, struck her with a blunt object, ordered her to disrobe and sexually assaulted her on the spot with the help of the other men.

When the group saw another person approaching, they forced the victim back into her car and took her to a burned-out apartment building, where she was raped again inside and outside the vehicle. The assailants took her wallet and drove off in her car. Officers found the car abandoned two days later.

The woman sought help from a nearby resident, and she was examined at a hospital. Although the victim said she did not know her attackers, detectives hope someone in the community knows them. One of the men went by the nickname "Blue" and another was called "Pato," according to authorities.

Richmond police are offering a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest of the attackers.

Gay rights advocates note that hate crimes based on sexual orientation have increased nationwide as of late. There were 1,415 such crimes in 2006 and 1,460 in 2007, both times making up about 16 percent of the total, according to the FBI.

Avy Skolnik, a coordinator with the New York-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, noted that gay, lesbian and transgender crime victims may be more reluctant than heterosexual victims to contact police.

"Assailants target LGBT people of all gender identities with sexual assault," he said. "Such targeting is one of the most cruel, dehumanizing and violent forms of hate violence that our communities experience."

Skolnik said the group plans to analyze hate crime data to see whether fluctuations may be related to the gay marriage bans that appeared on ballots this year in California, Arizona and Florida.

"Anytime there is an anti-LGBT initiative, we tend to see spikes both in the numbers and the severity of attacks," he said. "People feel this extra entitlement to act out their prejudice."

Original here

GOP consultant killed in plane crash was warned of sabotage: report

John Byrne, David Edwards and Stephen Webster

The Republican consultant accused of involvement in alleged vote-rigging in Ohio in 2004 was warned that his plane might be sabotaged before his death in a crash Friday night, according to a Cleveland CBS affiliate.

45-year-old Republican operative Michael Connell was killed when his single-passenger plane crashed Friday into a home in a suburb of Akron, Ohio (PREVIOUS REPORT). The consultant was called to testify in federal court regarding a lawsuit alleging that he took part in tampering with Ohio's voting results in the 2004 election.

Without getting into specific details, 19 Action News reporter Blake Renault reported Sunday evening that 45-year-old Republican operative and experienced pilot had been warned not to fly his plane in the days before the crash.

"Connell...was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged," Renault said. "And twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, cancelled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane."

Renault called Connell's death "untimely."

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are now investigating the crash. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, no new information has been made available since the incident occurred.

Connell was the subject of a lawsuit by liberal lawyer Clifford Arnebeck, perhaps most well known for suing on behalf of 37 Ohio residents to block Bush's electoral college victory in 2004. Arnebeck had alleged Connell's involvement in a ploy to "flip" votes from then Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry to then-President George W. Bush.

Connell was ordered to testify in the suit in October, and told a federal court that he had no involvement and knew of no plan to switch votes in Ohio in 2004.

The Plain Dealer made no mention at all of the suit in their article Monday.

Connell was the founder of Ohio-based New Media Communications, which created campaign Web sites for George W. Bush and John McCain.

Arnebeck warned the Justice Department that Connell's safety was in jeopardy earlier this year. In July, he wrote an email to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, requesting witness protection for the GOP operative, which was carbon copied to Democratic Congressmen John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who were sympathetic to his 2004 lawsuit over Ohio's electoral votes.

"I have informed court chambers and am in the process of informing the Ohio Attorney General's and US Attorney's offices in Columbus for the purpose, among other things, of seeking protection for Mr. Connell and his family from this reported attempt to intimidate a witness," Arnebeck wrote. "Because of the serious engagement in this matter that began in 2000 of the Ohio Statehouse Press Corps, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, C-Span and Jim VandeHei, and the public's right to know of gross attempts to subvert the rule of law, I am forwarding this information to them, as well."

Connell's exploits as a top GOP IT 'guru' have been well documented by RAW STORY's investigative team.

The interest in Mike Connell stems from his association with a firm called GovTech, which he had spun off from his own New Media Communications under his wife Heather Connell’s name. GovTech was hired by Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to set up an official election website at election.sos.state.oh.us to present the 2004 presidential returns as they came in.

Connell is a long-time GOP operative, whose New Media Communications provided web services for the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Republican National Committee and many Republican candidates.

Alternative media group ePlubibus Media further discovered in November 2006 that election.sos.state.oh.us was hosted on the servers of a company in Chattanooga, TN called SmarTech, which also provided hosting for a long list of Republican Internet domains.

“Since early this decade, top Internet ‘gurus’ in Ohio have been coordinating web services with their GOP counterparts in Chattanooga, wiring up a major hub that in 2004, first served as a conduit for Ohio's live election night results,” researchers at ePluribus Media wrote.

A few months after this revelation, when a scandal erupted surrounding the firing of US Attorneys for reasons of White House policy, other researchers found that the gwb43 domain used by members of the White House staff to evade freedom of information laws by sending emails outside of official White House channels was hosted on those same SmarTech servers.

RAW STORY Investigative Editor Larisa Alexandrovna said Connell's death should be examined carefully in a blog post Sunday, but stopped short of alleging foul play. She reported on Arnebeck's lawsuit and Connell's enjoined testimony earlier this year.

"He has flown his private plane for years without incident," Alexandrovna wrote. "I know he was going to DC last night, but I don't know why. He apparently ran out of gas, something I find hard to believe. I am not saying that this was a hit nor am I resigned to this being simply an accident either. I am no expert on aviation and cannot provide an opinion on the matter. What I am saying, however, is that given the context, this event needs to be examined carefully."

This video is from 19 Action News, broadcast Dec. 21, 2008.




Download video via RawReplay.com


RUSH TRANSCRIPT: "The fatal plane crash of Michael Connell was certainly untimely. The 45-year-old local man was accused of rigging the 2004 election for President Bush, a claim that Connell denied under oath. But under closer examination from civil attorney Clifford Arnebeck, wanted Connell placed under federal protection. Arnebeck was worried that if Connell told all that he knew about President Bush and the 2004 campaign, Connell's life would be in jeopardy. Arnebeck said that he received confidential information that Republican operative Karl Rove threatened Connell and his wife if Connell told all that he knew.

"So who exactly is Michael Connell? Well he worked here as a Republican computer specialist and consultant. Basically he is accused of taking votes in 2004 from then-candidate John Kerry and diverting them to president bush throughout the state of Ohio. And last month under oath in a federal court, Connell denied having any knowledge of manipulating votes. Records show that the Bush campaign paid Connell's business $800,000 in 2004, but it's unclear for what. Connell though was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged. And twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, canceled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane.

"And now yet another problem was ... but this one took his life. It's too early to tell if the federal investigation into Connell's death has any kind of ties from the work he provided from this office to the president."

With earlier reporting by Stephen Webster.

Original here

The Interview: Person Of the Year Barack Obama

On Friday, Dec. 5, the President-elect sat down with TIME managing editor Richard Stengel, editor-at-large David Von Drehle and Time Inc. editor-in-chief John Huey in Obama's spartan transition offices in Chicago to discuss his plans for the coming months, the improbability of his victory and how he's fighting to stay in touch with the real world from inside the presidential bubble. Excerpts from their conversation:

What kind of mandate do you have?
Well, I think we won a decisive victory. Forty-seven percent of the American people still voted for John McCain. And so I don't think that Americans want hubris from their next President. I do think we received a strong mandate for change ... It means a government that is not ideologically driven. It means a government that is competent. It means a government, most importantly, that is focused day in, day out on the needs and struggles, the hopes and dreams, of ordinary people. And I think there is a strong mandate for Washington as a whole to be responsive to ordinary Americans in a way that it has not been for quite some time.

When voters look at your Administration two years from now, in the off-year election, how will they know whether you're succeeding?
I think there are a couple of benchmarks we've set for ourselves during the course of this campaign. On [domestic] policy, have we helped this economy recover from what is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Have we instituted financial regulations and rules of the road that assure this kind of crisis doesn't occur again? Have we created jobs that pay well and allow families to support themselves? Have we made significant progress on reducing the cost of health care and expanding coverage? Have we begun what will probably be a decade-long project to shift America to a new energy economy? Have we begun what may be an even longer project of revitalizing our public-school systems so we can compete in the 21st century? That's on the domestic front.

On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively? Have I drawn down U.S. troops out of Iraq, and have we strengthened our approach in Afghanistan — not just militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of development? And have we been able to reinvigorate international institutions to deal with transnational threats, like climate change, that we can't solve on our own?

And outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient." Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.

When you look at the economic issues that you ran on in the campaign, does [all the bad financial news] change your priorities about how quickly you've got to act on, say, jobs vs. energy?
Fortunately, most of the proposals that we made apply not only to our long-term economic growth but also fit well into what we need to do short term to get the economy back on track. I have talked during the campaign about the need to rebuild our infrastructure, and that obviously gives us an opportunity to create jobs and drive demand at a time when the economy desperately needs jobs and demand. I've talked about a tax cut for 95% of working families, and that fits into a stimulus package, and we can get that money out into people's pockets fairly quickly. I've talked about the need for us to contain health-care costs, and it turns out there's some spending that has to be done on information technology, for example, that we can do fairly swiftly. So there's no doubt that most of the priorities that I had are ones that will serve our short-term economic needs as well as our long-term economic needs.

The drop in oil prices, I do think, makes the conversation about energy more difficult, not less necessary. More than ever, I think, a wholesale investment in transforming our economy — from retrofitting buildings so that they're energy-efficient to changing our transportation patterns and thinking about how to rebuild our electricity grid — those are all things that we're going to need now more than ever. But with people not paying $4 a gallon for gas, it means it drops on their priority list. And that makes the politics of it tougher than it might have been six months ago.

So how long and how deep a recession should the American public be ready for?
I don't have a crystal ball, and economists are all over the map on this. I think we should anticipate that 2009 is going to be a tough year. And if we make some good choices, I'm confident that we can limit some of the damage in 2009 and that in 2010 we can start seeing an upward trajectory on the economy. But this is a difficult hole that we've dug ourselves into. You know, Japan found itself in a somewhat similar situation in the '90s, made some poor decisions, didn't squarely face some of the problems in its banking system and, despite significant stimulus, still saw this thing drag on for almost a decade. On the other hand, you've got countries like Sweden that went through this and acted forcefully and boldly and in two years were back on track and were growing at a really healthy clip. So the decisions we make are going to have an impact on it. But next year's going to be tough.

You made a very bold choice for Secretary of State. If she were sitting here with you now and you were to say, "Madame Secretary, here are the three stops I want you to make on your itinerary once you get in the job," what would those three places be?
Well, since we're literally having that conversation, I think, a day or two after this publication comes out, I'm not going to have her read it in TIME magazine. But I mentioned to you earlier some of our key priorities. There's no doubt that managing the transition in Iraq is going to be a top priority. Managing a more effective strategy in Afghanistan will be a top priority. Recognizing that it is not simply an Afghanistan problem but it's an Afghanistan-Pakistan-India-Kashmir-Iran problem is going to be a priority. Sorting through our policy with respect to Iran effectively — that will be a priority. Dealing with our transatlantic alliance in a more constructive way and trying to build a more effective relationship with the newly assertive and, I believe, inappropriately aggressive Russia, when it comes to the invasion of Georgia — that is going to be a priority. And seeing if we can build on some of the progress, at least in conversation, that's been made around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.

Now, I mention those things, but keep in mind that some of the long-term priorities I identified in the campaign remain just as urgent today. I already mentioned nuclear proliferation. I already mentioned climate change. I think dealing with development and poverty around the world is going to be a critical component of our foreign policy. It's good for our security and not just charity. And so, part of the goal that Senator [Hillary] Clinton and I both share — as do [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [National Security Adviser nominee] General [James] Jones — is moving our foreign-assistance agenda to the center of our national-security conversations as opposed to the periphery. Paying more attention to Latin America. You know, we have neglected our neighbors in our own hemisphere, and there is an enormous potential for us to work with other countries — Brazil, for example, which is in some ways ahead of us on energy strategies. That, I think, would be very important. And finally, managing our relationship with China and the entire Pacific Rim, I think, is something that will keep not just me busy but my successor busy.

Was there ever a point in the election when you thought you were going to lose?
Sure.

When was it?
Well, let me say it this way: There were multiple points throughout the election when I thought I could lose. Including the day I announced. And honestly, you know, we had a bunch of ups and downs in the campaign. I'll tell you what, though: the way Michelle and I talked about it before we made the decision to get in this race was, if we run the kind of race that I wanted to run, if we were engaging people and exciting people and bringing new people into the process, if I was speaking honestly and truthfully about what I thought my priorities were, then I always thought we had a good chance of winning. And if we lost, that wouldn't be such a terrible thing. And that's why I think I stayed pretty steady throughout this race, despite the ups and downs.

There weren't that many occasions during this campaign — there were a few, but not that many — where I wasn't proud of what we were doing or felt somehow that I was making compromises of my core principles. Michelle and I pledged that whatever happened, we'd come out of this thing whole. And there wasn't any point in this campaign where I thought we were in danger of losing who we were.

You went through a long and grueling campaign, and you won. At what point after your victory did you realize, "I can't do a traditional kind of transition."
It was about a month before the election. Not that I assumed that I was going to win. We had a healthy fear up until election day. But what I was absolutely convinced of was that, whether it was me or John McCain, the next President-elect was going to have to move swiftly. And so we've tried to accelerate all of our timetables: in appointments, not just on the Cabinet but also our White House team; in structuring economic plans so that we can start getting them to Congress and hopefully begin work, even before I'm sworn in, on some of our key priorities around the economy; on laying the groundwork for a national security team can take the baton in a wartime transition. We've been busy, and that's why I have not taken the traditional post-election holiday.

Does that bother your wife?
No, no, I think she wants me to take care of business. We'll take a little bit of a break over the Christmas holidays, but we want to make sure that I've got a team in place and that we've got a clear sense of direction.

Now that you're faced with the enormity of it, is there any one thing that really weighs on you as being perhaps an intractable problem?
I don't think there are problems that are intractable. But there are a couple of problems that are extraordinarily difficult.

It is not clear that the economy's bottomed out. So even if we take a whole host of the right steps in terms of the economy, two years from now it may not have fully recovered. I'm confident about our ability to get the economy back on track, but we've got a big hole to dig ourselves out of. And I will be inheriting at least a trillion-dollar deficit even before you start talking about a significant stimulus. And you've got a structural deficit that is in place that will require some very difficult decisions. So managing jump-starting the economy in the short term and setting up a responsible fiscal policy over the long term, at a time when families are hurting and we've got all these unmet needs-that is a huge problem. And I don't think there's some magic trick to dealing with it. It's going to require a careful balancing of priorities and we'll probably make some mistakes along the way. Because some of those choices will engender political resistance, from not just Republicans but also members of my own party.

I'll just lay out some of the other things that keep me up at night. I think Afghanistan is going to be a challenge. I'm confident that it's the right thing to do to draw down our troops in Iraq. I think we can do so in a responsible way and stabilize the situation there. We're going to have to make a series of not just military but also diplomatic moves that fully enlist Pakistan as an ally in that region, that lessen tensions between India and Pakistan, and then get everybody focused on rooting out militancy in a terrain, a territory, that is very tough — and in an enormous country that is one of the poorest and least developed in the world. So that, I think, is going to be a very tough situation.

And then the third thing that keeps me up at night is the issue of nuclear proliferation. We are going to have to take leadership in stitching back together a nonproliferation regime that has been frayed. We're going to have to do it at the same time as the Internet has made technology for the creation of weapons of mass destruction more accessible than ever before, and at a time when more countries are going to be pursuing nuclear power. That, I think, is going to be a great challenge.

And then the final thing, just to round out my Happy List, is climate change. All the indicators are that this is happening faster than even the most pessimistic scientists were anticipating a couple of years ago. It is going to require an enormous effort on the part of the global community to deal with it. And it is not going to come without cost. Trying to bring about that transformation — which I think offers huge opportunities for economic growth and job creation over the long term, but will entail some costs in the short term — you know, that's the hardest thing to do in politics, right? To make big investments in things that have long-term payoffs. I'll stop there.

What's the best piece of advice that you've gotten from someone about being President, about how to go about it, about how that feels?
Well, precisely because it's sui generis, the only people that really know are the collection of ex-Presidents that we have. And I want to protect the confidentiality of those conversations since I expect to go back to them for advice, and I want to feel that they can give me unvarnished advice. I can tell you that all of them have said that it is important to carve out time to think and not spend your entire day reactive. Because there's always a crisis coming at you, there's always a meeting you could be doing, there's always a press conference or a group of supporters that you could be responding to. And so I think maintaining that kind of discipline is important.

Something that I have already experienced, and I have not fully solved, is how to break out of the bubble, which is extraordinarily powerful ... As a consequence of the security concerns surrounding this office, it is very hard for me to do what ordinary people do. That is the biggest adjustment, and that is not an adjustment I've made yet. And I'm not sure I'll want to make it entirely. The inability to go to the gas station and pump your own gas. Or go to the store and buy groceries. Or take your kids to the park. Those are experiences that aren't just intrinsically good, but they also keep me in touch with what Americans are going through. And so I'm trying to negotiate more space and do so in a way that doesn't put Secret Service members in more jeopardy. I'm trying to negotiate hanging on to some sort of electronic communication with the outside world. And so far, between the lawyers and the Secret Service and the bureaucrats, I'm not sure I'm winning that battle.

Given the economic situation, the picture you've painted of '09, are there any taxes that can be raised in this environment?
Well, I have said that I will be providing a net tax cut. Ninety-five percent of working Americans will be getting a tax cut. In part to pay for the tax cut for people who desperately need it, I've proposed that people who are making more than a quarter-million dollars a year lose the tax cuts they received from George [W.] Bush and that we go back to the rates they had in the 1990s. And that is a pledge I intend to keep.

But is that by letting them expire in '10 or by repealing them in '09?
Well, one way or another, they are going to lose those tax breaks under my Administration. My economic team is reviewing right now what the best option is.

Considering the economic hole we're in, and particularly the joblessness crisis right now, does that move health care up or down on the agenda in terms of real structural reform of providing health care?
I think it keeps it right where it is, which is one of my top three domestic priorities. How we sequence a movement toward affordable, accessible health care may vary because of the current economic situation.

What is it about your executive style that makes you good at standing up to big organizations to meet unprecedented challenges — whether it's the way you ran your campaign or now — so quickly?
I don't think there's some magic trick here. I think I've got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I've got a pretty healthy ego, so I'm not scared of hiring the smartest people, even when they're smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing, and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other, and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you've got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done.

Do you ever get angry, and if you do, how would we know it?
If you want to tail me and [spokesman Robert] Gibbs for a few days, I could tell you, we've had it out a couple times. You know, my staff knows when I get angry. I'm not a shouter. I find that what was always effective with me as a kid, and Michelle and I find it effective with our kids, is just making people feel really guilty. Like "Boy, I am disappointed in you. I expected so much more." And I think people generally want to do the right thing, and if you're clear to them about what that right thing is, and if they see you doing the right thing, then that gives you some leverage. Hollering at people isn't usually that effective. Now, there are exceptions. There are times where guilt doesn't work, and then you have to use fear.

Now for a deeply personal question, which you may not feel comfortable answering. Did your grandmother die confident that you were going to be President?
You know, I don't know. But I know she voted for me. The last week of her life, she was in and out of consciousness. But I'd say three weeks before the election — or was it two weeks? About two weeks before the election, I think at that point, you know, the signs were that I might pull this off. (See pictures of Barack Obama's family tree.)

She was incredulous, I think, until the very end. I mentioned this in another interview. My grandmother would not have believed that this was possible. Not because of the race issues but because she was just a very Midwestern, steady person who generally was skeptical of these kinds of things and would have preferred I'd never gone into politics and done something sensible like try to become a judge or something after law school. My mother, on the other hand, I think would've never had a doubt because she was absolutely convinced that her son and her daughter were perfect. So it's a reflection more on their personalities.

But you think about my grandmother's life. I mean, here's a woman who was born in, let's see, 1912 or '22 — I've got to do my math — she was 86, so '22, rather. She really grew up in the Depression, in a small town in Kansas, and never got a college degree. Somehow found herself in Hawaii. Somehow found her daughter marrying an African guy. Raised this mixed kid who got in all kinds of trouble during his teenage years. You know, the likelihood of that little boy ending up President of the United States was pretty low.

So in some ways her life tracks this American — this remarkable American journey, where all of these different forces and cultures can come together and the possibility of upward mobility and opportunity for successive generations is a reality. Maybe not as much as we'd like it to be. Maybe not as fast as we'd like it to be. But it's there nonetheless.

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