A Slow Leak in the Senate Judiciary Committee

By Al Kamen
Friday, March 30, 2007

Round up the usual suspects! A leak has sprung on Capitol Hill! And some folks at the Senate Judiciary Committee are most unhappy about it.

Seems Jennifer Leathers, a committee hearing clerk, sent an e-mail to the committee's staff on Wednesday at 10:20 a.m.: "Attached is the written testimony and CV of D. Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to the attorney general, for tomorrow's hearing titled 'Preserving Prosecutorial Independence: Is the Department of Justice Politicizing the Hiring and Firing of U.S. Attorneys? -- Part III.' "

Nine minutes later, a clearly concerned Bruce A. Cohen, the committee's chief counsel, sent a follow-up to everyone: "Please do NOT release the testimony in advance of the hearing. Mr. Sampson's lawyer has asked that it NOT be released, NOT be made public. This is for Judiciary senators and their staffs to prepare for the hearing and NOT to be released."

Then came the inevitable e-mail from Cohen at 6:40 p.m.: "I hear that the AP has a copy of the Sampson testimony. If you provided it to the AP or provided [it] to someone who provided it to the AP please come forward and identify yourself to me or Mike immediately." (That's Michael O'Neill, the committee's minority chief counsel.) So far, no confessions.

It turns out the first "flash" from AP came at 5:49 p.m., 7 1/2 hours after Leathers's e-mail. We are conducting a full Loop investigation as to why it took so long to leak. Anyone who deliberately sat on the testimony or gave it to someone who failed to leak it, please come forward and identify yourself.

'Totally Paranoid,' but Paranoid Enough?

The cameras are off, but that doesn't mean the microphones are off, too. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan on Wednesday over allegations that she tried to give a no-bid job to a business associate, intervened in a contract dispute with a technology company, and had a White House official brief top political appointees at the agency on targeting Democrats and helping Republicans in 2008. All that in just 10 months running the agency.

After a couple of hours, Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), had to call for a quick recess so members could go to the House floor for a vote. The camera lights went off as the lawmakers scurried out and folks at the hearing milled about.

Doan, apparently not realizing her microphone was still on, turned to an aide and said: "Take my water, and my glass. I don't want them to track my fingerprints. They've got me totally paranoid." (To listen to the audio snippet, go to washingtonpost.com and click on today's In the Loop column.) Doan's husband and her chief of staff both have a military-intelligence background, and she has sold surveillance equipment to the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies -- so she knows how these things work.

As "CSI: Miami" fans would know, however, it was too late. She had rubbed her hands on the arms of her chair, so committee staffers could easily get her DNA from her epithelials.

But she's not paranoid. They really are out to get her.

Bush, Smiling With the 'Butcher of Chechnya'

Red-faced Bush administration officials were trying to explain yesterday how it was that no one noticed that that fine Russian general -- and alleged war criminal -- who met with President Bush and retired Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong on Monday in the Oval Office has been accused of overseeing some of the most notorious atrocities against civilians in Chechnya.

Bush met with Foglesong, now head of Mississippi State University, and Gen. Vladimir Shamanov in their capacities as co-chairs of a U.S.-Russian commission on missing soldiers.

In 1999, Russian troops under Shamanov killed 17 civilians in a village in Chechnya, then looted homes and shot those who got in the way, including a woman who was more than 100 years old, human rights investigators said.

"Fairy tales," Shamanov told our colleague Peter Baker in Moscow in 2004, suggesting that human rights groups planted the bodies and then tried to raise money for their organizations.

"When people try to raise funds to draw attention to their groups, they use anything," he said. The Kremlin gave him a medal rather than prosecuting him -- a medal kind of like the one he wore in the Oval Office.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday that Bush "was not aware of the allegations made against" Shamanov -- although they were outlined in a Pentagon biography of Shamanov and folks inside and outside the White House knew about them. Unclear why no one bothered to tell Bush. Anyone familiar with the war in Chechnya would know who Shamanov, who has been called the "Butcher of Chechnya," is.

Perino said that "due to the information about the current Russian commission leadership, we are going to review how best to move forward with that important work, without future photo ops."

"Would he have met with him if he'd known about these allegations?" a reporter asked.

"Unlikely," Perino said.

Burning the 3 a.m. Oil for Drugmakers

Loop Fans were saddened when colorful former Louisiana congressman Billy Tauzin (R) took his fine Cajun Web site and left the House to be head of PhRMA, the drug lobby.

But Tauzin continues to delight. CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday will have a piece by Steve Kroft on the high price of prescription drugs in this country, tracing it back to the infamous House vote in the dead of night to pass the Medicare prescription drug bill. Tauzin, who chaired the committee overseeing the pharmaceutical industry, was working hard to pass the measure, which made it illegal to import cheaper drugs from Canada or Mexico.

Asked why the vote was taken about 3 a.m., Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) told Kroft: "Well, I think a lot of the shenanigans that were going on that night they didn't want on national television in prime time."

And Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), recalls the arm-twisting by the GOP leadership to get Republican defectors to fall in line. "I've been in politics for 22 years, and it was the ugliest night I have ever seen in 22 years," Jones says in the segment.

"Well, he's a young member," Tauzin responds jokingly. "Had he been around for 25 years, he'd have seen some uglier nights."

15 Long Months at DHS

George W. Foresman, Homeland Security's undersecretary for preparedness, will resign effective no later than June 1, continuing the organizational churn at the four-year-old department, our colleague Spencer S. Hsu reports.

Foresman joined DHS 15 months ago to help fix what Hurricane Katrina showed was broken, before Congress handed much of his portfolio to a souped-up Federal Emergency Management Agency. Battles over grants, terrorist target lists and a border entry-exit tracking system followed. Foresman is a former vice chairman of a congressional advisory panel on terrorism and was a homeland security aide to Virginia governors Jim Gilmore (R) and Mark R. Warner (D). He said he was leaving to spend more time with his family.

To Have and to Hold and to Brief

Spinmeisters engaged! Chris Taylor, Republican National Committee Midwest press secretary, and Rachel Bauer, press secretary for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) recently took a quick weekend trip to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Taylor worked up the courage to ask Bauer to spend the rest of her days collaborating with him on GOP message. Would be first marriage for each. Wedding date and place to be determined.

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