Posts filed under ‘Uncategorized’

Aide wanted Fitzgerald fired

CHICAGO SUNTIMES

March 30, 2007

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ top aide once advised that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald be fired — a suggestion that was ripped Thursday.

Kyle Sampson testified that as chief of staff, he made the recommendation about the future of Fitzgerald, who is the top federal prosecutor in Chicago and hailed by some as the nation’s best.

Sampson said he made the suggestion to force out Fitzgerald to White House counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy.

”They looked at me as if I had said something totally inappropriate, and I had,” Sampson said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Fitzgerald’s spokesman wouldn’t comment on the testimony, but Sen. Dick Durbin blasted it.

“This confirms Americans’ worst fears — that truly independent prosecutors were under fire in this administration,” Durbin said in a statement.

While Fitzgerald was not fired, eight other U.S. prosecutors were dismissed last year, setting of a storm of criticism. The Senate and House are investigating whether the prosecutors were fired for political motives.

Sampson, who has quit, said Thursday the firings were based on legitimate policy issues. But he also contradicted his former boss Gonzales, who had said he wasn’t involved in the firings. ”The attorney general was aware of this process from the beginning in early 2005,” Sampson said.

Sampson’s testimony for the first time put Gonzales at the heart of the firings, undercutting him further.

Sun-Times wire reports

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March 30, 2007 at 2:04 pm Leave a comment

Hackers target TK Maxx customers

BBC

In a statement to US watchdogs the firm said it did not know the full extent of the theft and its effect on customers.

TJX added that the security breach may also have involved TKMaxx customers in the UK and Ireland.

But the company added that at least three-quarters of the affected cards had expired or data had been masked.

Question marks

The company also told the BBC that 100 files were moved from its UK computer system in 2003, and two files were later stolen.

However, a spokesperson admitted that the firm may never know what was in those files.

“We don’t know what was in those files – the technology the hacker used prevents TJX from knowing, and also the fact that TJX system routinely deletes files,” the spokesperson added.

The data was accessed on TJX’s systems in Watford, Hertfordshire, and Massachusetts over a 16-month period from July 2005 and covers transactions made by credit and debit card dating as far back as December 2002.

Sandra Quinn from the Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs) told the BBC there had been a “massive” compromise of security – on a scale not seen before.

However, she said that that for most people, the card details stolen would no longer be relevant.

“If they were doing transactions with TK Maxx between those dates they will generally now have a brand new credit or debit card in their wallet, so they can be sure that it will be the old details of their card that has been compromised, not their current card.”

Customers who discovered they had been victims of fraud, would be able to get money back from their banks, she added.

Chip and pin

The company, which discovered the problem three months ago and reported it two months ago, said that a lot of questions remained about the attack.

“There is a lot of information we don’t know, and may never be able to know, which is why this investigation has been so laborious,” spokeswoman Sherry Lang said.

In its filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the group said it believed “the intruder had access to the decryption tool for the encryption software utilized by TJX”.

It also admitted it did not know who, or how many people, were behind the attack, or whether there had been one breach or many.

The papers also said that a further 455,000 customers who returned merchandise without receipts had personal data stolen – including driver’s licence numbers.

However, the firm does not believe return customers at its UK stores were affected – or that chip and pin data in the UK was accessed as none is stored on the systems in Watford.

The company warned many of its operations could be affected.

Hackers managed to access information from its TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods shops in the US and Puerto Rico, Bob’s Stores in the US, and Winners and HomeSense shops in Canada.

Ben Cammarata, TJX chairman and acting chief executive, urged customers to check their credit and debit cards statements and any other account information for unauthorised use.

“We are deeply concerned about this event and the difficulties it may cause our customers,” he added.

“Since discovering the crime, we have been working diligently to further protect our customers and strengthen the security of our computer systems.”

March 30, 2007 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

When Politics Is Performance

By Sarah Wheaton NY TIMES

There is little difference between politics and performance, D. Kyle Sampson told a Senate panel today. But can a move that’s largely political, though not necessarily partisan, pass the smell test? As the recently resigned chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales both contradicted and defended his boss today, the nuance of his claim became apparent in the context of the ouster of Carol C. Lam, one of eight United States attorneys whose dismissals called into question the credibility of the Bush Justice Department.

“The distinction between political- and performance-related reasons for removing a U.S. attorney is, in my view, largely artificial,” Mr. Sampson said in his opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district, is unsuccessful.”

He added, “The limited category of improper reasons includes an effort to interfere with or influence the investigation or prosecution of a particular case for political or partisan advantage.”

That is, of course, precisely the Democrats’ accusation. During the voluntary testimony, Mr. Sampson denied the charge, but took responsibility for the department’s “badly mishandled” response. Here’s The Times’s coverage of the hearing.

The case of Ms. Lam, the former U.S. attorney in San Diego, is among the most high-profile. She was in charge of the public corruption investigation into former Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Republican, and she had broadened the probe shortly before being let go. Indeed, the day after she informed the Justice Department that she was seeking a search warrant for two new figures, Mr. Sampson wrote an email about the “real problem we have right now with Carol Lam” that heightened the need to replace her as soon as her term expired.

Mr. Sampson denied knowing about her warrant notification and said he was referring to her failure to adequately pursue immigration cases.

He elaborated later in the day-long hearing in an exchange with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a freshman Rhode Island Democrat and former U.S. attorney:

MR. WHITEHOUSE: And I ask you, with respect to the immigration prosecutions undertaken by her district, what was the problem “right now” that fits into that temporal urgency that is — that is described in your e-mail? What “right now” made something different about the immigration thing?

MR. SAMPSON: What I remember was going on at that time was there was a robust debate going on in the Congress about comprehensive immigration reform, and a robust debate going on within the administration about how the administration could show that we were doing everything we could with regard to securing the border. I remember…

MR. WHITEHOUSE: So the problem was not so much a change in her conduct, as with outside atmospherics that affected your view of the importance of the immigration issue?

MR. SAMPSON: I remember the attorney general felt some exposure because the department was being criticized soundly for not doing enough to enforce the border. And there was a debate going on in the administration about how to show that the administration was doing more to enforce the border. And at that very time there was discussion between the department and the White House about the notion of militarizing the border. And in fact, on May 15 the president announced that he was going to send National Guard troops to the border.

I remember also that — I believe at around that time, I think even on May 11 there was a meeting that had been scheduled to meet with House Republicans who had expressed concern about border enforcement, with either the attorney general or the deputy attorney general.

I don’t know that that meeting ever happened. But I remember, at the time, there was real discussion, in the senior management offices of the Department of Justice, about how we could fix that problem, how we could get some immigration deliverables.

And I remember, at our senior management meeting, some time in the weeks before that, there was a specific discussion about the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego.

And Bill Mercer, who, I think, at the time, was the principal associate deputy attorney general, came to the meeting and had pulled a bunch of statistics from the sentencing commission, comparing the offices along the Southwest border, and was adamant about Carol Lam and that office’s failure to understand what was going on politically and reorient resources to bring more border enforcement, notwithstanding the fact that she had been the recipient of a lot of criticism from members of Congress.

And there was a view expressed, at the time, that Ms. Lam just had her own independent views about what kind of cases she wanted that office to work on, and had not pushed her office to follow the attorney general’s priorities with regard to immigration. And also, in the background of that, was with gun cases.

The administration has a long way to go before persuading Democrats that it was performance on the issue of immigration, and not the corruption case against Republicans, that motivated Ms. Lam’s dismissal. But would it even matter? Is prosecutorial independence, as Mr. Whitehouse claimed, the higher value, or is it more important to let the president wield his authority to achieve policy and political priorities within his own administration? Is there a difference between policy and political priorities? What do you think?

March 30, 2007 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

Pork in the War Bill

By Kate Phillips NY TIMES

President Bush and the Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate have complained about many of the additions to the emergency war bill that would provide billions of dollars for domestic projects.

Although the Senate is about to vote on its version of the spending bill, it seems unlikely that resolving the House and Senate versions will occur before the Congressional recess next week. Mr. Bush has threatened to veto any version that includes a date for withdrawal of the troops, and says money will start running out by mid-April.

Mr. Bush also criticized the bill for including about $19 billion more than he asked for in funds unrelated to the war.

You’ve heard about a few of those projects recently; in the House version, there is $24 million for spinach growers and millions for peanut storage. During a speech Wednesday, Mr. Bush drew widespread laughter when he remarked on the millions listed for tours of the Capitol to see “how Congress works.”

Courtesy of The Times’s Jeff Zeleny, here is a more complete list of those domestic priorities, tucked in to help persuade on-the-fence lawmakers to go along with language for a withdrawal date:

* $4.2 billion in agriculture assistance.
* $3 million for funding for sugar cane (goes to one Hawaiian co-op).
* $24 million for funding for sugar beets.
* $2 million to the University of Vermont Education Excellence Program.
* $25 million for the Safe and Drug Free Schools program.
* $48 million for disaster reconstruction for NASA.
* $13 million for mine safety research.
* $25 million for asbestos abatement and tunnel repair at the Capitol Power Plant.
* $640 million for LIHEAP.
* $500 million for wildfire suppression.
* $13.2 million for avian flu research and monitoring.
* $3.5 million related to guided tours of the U.S. Capitol.
* $12 million for forest service money (requested by the president in the non-emergency FY2008 budget).
* $22.8 million for geothermal research and development

March 29, 2007 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

Senate Passes War-Spending Bill With Iraq Deadline

By DAVID STOUT NY TIMES Published: March 29, 2007 WASHINGTON, March 29 — The Senate narrowly approved a war-spending bill today that calls for most American combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008, and in so doing defied a veto threat by President Bush. The 51-to-47 vote endorsed a $122 billion spending package, most of which would go to the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, although some domestic spending is included. Even as the roll-call was under way, President Bush was meeting with House Republican leaders. Immediately after the meeting, he renewed his pledge to veto any measure “that restricts our commanders on the ground in Iraq,” a fault he sees not only in the Senate bill but in the significantly different House version. “We stand united,” Mr. Bush said outside the White House with Representatives John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, the minority whip. “We expect there to be no strings on our commanders.” Asserting again that both the House and Senate bills have unnecessary spending tucked into their language, Mr. Bush added, “We expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people’s money.” The Senate and House bills must now be reconciled through negotiations between the chambers. A key difference is that the Senate bill sets a nonbinding goal for withdrawing troops by March 31, 2008, while the House version demands that they be out by September 2008. Today’s Senate vote was slightly anticlimactic, in that it was foreshadowed by a similarly narrow vote on Tuesday that rejected a move to strip the withdrawal-date language from the bill. But it was nonetheless politically significant as a reflection of Congressional Democrats’ solidarity against the president’s war policy, even though Democrats do not have enough votes to override Mr. Bush’s veto. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, immediately issued a statement disputing the president’s assertion that the Senate bill, like its House counterpart, is larded with unnecessary spending. “If the president uses his veto pen, he will be the one denying funding for the troops,” Mr. Reid said, adding that the bill includes money needed for homeland security, disaster relief and children’s health care in addition to military needs. Two Republican senators, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, joined Democrats in voting for the bill today. Their “yes” votes had been expected, since both have been highly critical of the conduct of the war. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who sides with the Democrats on most issues but supports the president on the war, voted against the bill. (Senator Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming was absent because of a family illness; Senator Tim Johnson, Democrat of South Dakota, is hospitalized.) With both houses of Congress now firmly on record in favor of withdrawing from Iraq, President Bush has vowed not to negotiate a timetable with Democrats. “Now, some of them believe that by delaying funding for our troops, they can force me to accept restrictions on our commanders that I believe would make withdrawal and defeat more likely,” Mr. Bush told an audience of cattlemen and ranchers on Wednesday. “That’s not going to happen.” Mr. Bush and Congressional Democrats are already deadlocked over the Democrats’ demands for testimony from top White House officials in an inquiry into the firing of federal prosecutors. Now, Mr. Bush is in the difficult position of fighting the new Democratic majority on two fronts, both the war spending and the prosecutors. On Wednesday, he seemed in no mood to back down from the war spending fight. As he quoted a newspaper editorial — from The Los Angeles Times, though he did not mention it by name — accusing Democrats of “the worst kind of Congressional meddling in military strategy,” Mr. Bush appeared almost eager for a battle. And Democrats seemed eager to give it to him. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House speaker, said Mr. Bush should “calm down with the threats,” and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said his impression was that Mr. Bush “doesn’t want anything other than a confrontation.” The president has been saying for weeks that he will veto any war spending bill that contains a withdrawal date. He reiterated that threat on Wednesday, taking particular aim at Democrats for loading the military spending bills with unrelated special interest projects above the $100 billion he has asked for the war, including $3.5 million for visitors to “tour the Capitol and see for themselves how Congress works,” and $6.4 million for the House of Representatives’ “salaries and expense accounts.” “I don’t know what that is,” Mr. Bush said wryly, “but it’s not related to the war and protecting the United States of America.”

March 29, 2007 at 5:28 pm Leave a comment

2008: The Gallup Poll

By Megan Thee NY TIMES

A common theme among pollsters so far in the 2008 presidential race has been the Republicans’ lack of enthusiasm about their party’s candidate. A recent Gallup/USA Today poll suggests that one prospective candidate might stir things up a bit in the Republican race should he decide to run — former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson.

Mr. Thompson, who has expressed some interest in entering the race, was included for the first time in the nationwide Gallup/USA Today poll conducted March 23-25, 2007. In the poll, Mr. Thompson placed third behind Rudy Giuliani and John McCain among Republicans. Mr. Thompson appears to have gained support from those who previously said they would vote for Mr. Giuliani. Yet, Mr. Giuliani remains the standout Republican candidate with regard to popularity among Republicans with 74 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him.

The Democratic race has remained constant among Democrats with Hillary Clinton currently leading the field followed by Barack Obama, Al Gore (who is not running at this point) and John Edwards, although Mr. Edwards has gained a bit more support recently. The poll was conducted after Elizabeth Edwards’ announcement that her cancer had returned and she wanted her husband to continue with his bid for the Presidency suggesting that the decision has had little effect on Democratic voters’ intentions.

These results are based on nationwide telephone interviews with 1,007 adults conducted. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for the full sample and plus or minus 5 percentage points for each Democrats and Republicans.

The entire poll results can be found at http://www.galluppoll.com/content/Default.aspx?ci=27019&VERSION=p

March 28, 2007 at 5:55 pm 1 comment

Britain Freezes Business with Iran Until Sailors Released

By Sonja Pace newsvoa.com
London

Britain says it is freezing bilateral business with Iran, except efforts to gain the release of 15 British naval personnel seized by Iranian forces last Friday. As VOA’s Sonja Pace reports from London, Iran is hinting at a possible release.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told the House of Commons the government would focus all its bilateral efforts with Iran on gaining the release of the British sailors.

“We will therefore be imposing a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until this situation is resolved,” she said. “We will keep other aspects of our policy with Iran under close review and continue to proceed carefully.”

Beckett’s announcement is part of stepped-up activity by Britain to pressure Iran to release the naval crew.

Earlier in the day, Vice Admiral Charles Style presented maps and coordinates, from positioning satellites, of the British patrol boats and the merchant vessel the British personnel had just finished searching when they were seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

“The position was 29 degrees, 50.36 minutes north; 48, 43.08 minutes east, and this places her 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi territorial waters,” he said.

The vice admiral said the Iranians provided two different coordinates where they said the British patrol boats were. He said the first ones still showed the boats in Iraqi waters, while the second, corrected coordinates showed them to be inside Iranian waters.

Iran insists the patrol boats were in Iranian waters.

Speaking in parliament, Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was no justification for the detention of the British sailors.

“It was completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal,” he said. “We had hoped to see their immediate release. This has not happened. It is now time to ratchet up the diplomatic and international pressure in order to make sure the Iranian government understands their total isolation on this issue.”

Speaking on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said the issue can be resolved and he said the woman sailor among the 15 detained would be released soon.

“The subject is under consideration and I think it will be solved based on rules and regulations, but the lady will be released very soon,” he said.

The Iranians have said the British naval personnel are being treated well.

But British consular officials have not been granted access to them.

March 28, 2007 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

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