The Note: (F.B.)I. Spy



The most significant political story in the newspapers today is the Wall Street Journal's must-read front-pager on how the 2006 economy is expected to do.

The most significant unknown for the Republican House Conference is not who will win the Leader race, but why the winner will win.

The most significant political question of the day we can't answer is -- between Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, which one got coverage in the last 24 hours more in line with what they intended (and expected)?

The most significant para-political question of the day is (still) will the Senate hearings on domestic spying be the real deal or kabuki?

And the most significant 2006 event of the day will come out of the Deep South. Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) is expected to announce whether or not he will seek reelection to the Senate this year. It's a two-stop announcement tour. First, Lott will be in his hometown, Pascagoula, MS, at the La Font Inn at 12:00 pm ET. He will then head up to Jackson, MS to repeat his intentions.

If Sen. Lott decides to head to the private sector, expect the Mississippi Senate contest to become one of the most closely watched of the cycle. Many local and national Democrats believe their likely nominee, former Attorney General Michael Moore, represents the party's best shot at making some Democratic inroads into traditionally (well, recent tradition) Republican turf.

President Bush has two Oval Office meetings this morning. First up is the Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium at 9:10 am ET. Reporters will have the chance to get some presidential feedback on Al Gore's speech when the two leaders chat with the pool at the conclusion of their meeting. Then the President meets with the National Commander of the American Legion at 9:55 am ET. There will only be still photos of that event.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights plan to file separate lawsuits against the Bush Administration today over its domestic spying program to determine whether the operation was used to monitor 10 defense lawyers, journalists, scholars, political activists, and other Americans with ties to the Middle East. These are the first major court challenges to the warrantless domestic eavesdropping program.

Due to a Specter/Leahy agreement, the executive business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee that was scheduled for 11:00 am ET at which the Committee was "expected" to vote on the Alito nomination will now take place one week from today on Tuesday January 24.

First Lady Laura Bush met with the President of Ghana this morning. The First Lady continues her travels through Africa today as she heads to Nigeria where she will meet with President Obasanjo tomorrow morning.

Vice President Cheney travels in Egypt and Saudi Arabia today. He is scheduled to meet with President Mubarak in Cairo and King Abdullah in Riyadh. These are the rescheduled meetings from his trip to the region in December that needed to be cut short so he could cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate. The Vice President is also scheduled to travel to Kuwait before returning home.

Speaker Hastert and Rep. Dreier (R-CA) will attempt to trump the much-publicized Reid/Pelosi unveiling of the Democratic lobbying reform agenda set for tomorrow with their own unveiling of the Republican lobbying reform agenda at a 2:00 pm ET press conference today.

We expect to hear more about President Ford's condition later today and we wish him the best for a speedy and complete recovery. LINK

Gov.-elect Jon Corzine (D-NJ) gets sworn in as the Garden State's 54th governor at noon ET at the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ. Sen.-designee Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is expected to be sworn into his new job tomorrow.

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee and SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger host a 12:30 pm ET press conference call to unveil a new advertising campaign -- part of the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities' (ECAP) grassroots and public relations activity leading up to the final vote in congress on the budget and tax cut plan on February 1.

The Supreme Court of the United States is expected to issue anywhere from one to four decisions beginning at 10:00 am ET, per ABC's Manny Medrano.

At 10:30 am ET at the State Department, Secretary of State Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff are expected to announce a plan to improve border security while streamlining security processes and facilitating travel for U.S. visitors.

After hosting President Bush for his viewing of the Emancipation Proclamation yesterday, the Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein will be a guest on "Ask the White House" at at 4:00 pm ET. LINK

Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) heads to Los Angeles, CA for the Education Commission of the States' Governor's Commission on the Arts in Education at the Getty Center.

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) delivers his "State of the State" address in Santa Fe, NM.

Gov. Jim Doyle (D-WI) delivers his "State of the State" address in Madison, WI.

Gov. Pataki (R-NY) delivers his annual budget address in Albany, NY at 11:00 am ET.

Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) attends the Iowa Association of School Boards legislative conference at 10:30 am ET in Des Moines, IA.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) holds a 11:30 am ET town hall meeting in Glen Ellyn, IL.

And if he were still alive, Ben Franklin would have turned 300 today.

Trent Lott's announcement:

Per the AP, "Republican insiders believe Lott, 64, is likely seek a fourth term. They cite his recent remark at the state Capitol that he'd stay in Washington 'as long as it takes to get the job done for Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, at the very minimum.'" LINK

Politics of spying:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded to Gore's criticism during the morning gaggle by saying: Al Gore's hypocrisy knows no bounds. As Attorney General Alberto Gonzales ahs said, the Clinton-Gore Administration allowed warrantless physical searches. For example -- the Aldrich Ames case.

McClellan added that Gorelick testified before the House Intelligence Committee in 1994 that the President had the inherent authority to approve warrantless physical searches.

"If Al Gore is going to be the Democratic voice on national security matters," McClellan continued, "we welcome it."

ABC News' Jessica Yellin reports that Gorelick has since claimed that when she testified in 1994, FISA did not apply to physical searches on foreign intelligence investigations. A year later Congress amended FISA to require court approval for such searches. Gorelick has claimed that Clinton supported the change to FISA and that he never circumvented that law.

The New York Times leads the paper with a look at how effective the NSA domestic warrantless wiretapping program may or may not be for the Bush Administration. LINK

"More than a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, including some in the small circle who knew of the secret program and how it played out at the F.B.I., said the torrent of tips led them to few potential terrorists inside the country they did not know of from other sources and diverted agents from counterterrorism work they viewed as more productive," reports the Times.

And be sure to Note FBI Director Mueller's initial questioning of the legality of the program.

ABC News' Jessica Yellin has one senior Bush Administration official reacting to the New York Times report that the NSA program eavesdropped on innocent Americans by saying this morning: "This is exactly what we're not interested in doing. The program is for preventing attacks and listening to terrorists and those with ties to terrorists. "

The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have separately filed the first two major lawsuits challenging the legality of the Bush Administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program. Eric Lichtbau of the New York Times has more. LINK

In his write-up of former Vice President Al Gore's wire-tapping speech, USA Today's David Jackson writes that the former Vice President didn't go as far as some Democrats who have called for the President's impeachment. LINK

But although Gore did not call for impeachment in his public remarks, he clearly thinks that impeachment might be in order, according to an exclusive.

Asked by ABC News following his speech whether President Bush's domestic spying program constituted an impeachable offense, Gore said it might be and pointed to one of the three Articles of Impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee approved against President Nixon on July 27, 1974. LINK

"That's a legal determination for the Congress to make," Gore told ABC News. "But Article II of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was warrantless wiretapping that the President said was 'necessary' for national security."

"It can be" an impeachable offense, he added.

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein on Gore's speech. LINK

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza Notes that Gore "steered away from any discussion of his future national ambitions, offering only a wry smile in response to a 'Gore '08' shout from a man in the crowd." LINK

Blunt v. Boehner v. Shadegg:

Quick weekend recap: Rep. Blunt claims to have more than the votes needed to ascend to Majority Leader, but refuses to release a full list of that support publicly --thereby keeping Reps. Boehner and Shadegg in the race.

"The real test of 'reform' will be if the Members are willing to discipline themselves. That's a good standard for measuring the race for House GOP Majority Leader, too," writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board which goes on to suggest ending earmark spending items and revising the 1974 Budget Act among other things.

With Rep. John Shadegg in the race, "the leadership contest has a chance to be about policy and Republican principle, rather than about personalities and fund-raising prowess," continues the editorial.

Rep. Boehner invokes Duke Cunningham, Michael Scanlon, and Jack Abramoff in the opening paragraph of his Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he calls for earmark reform. LINK

In Human Events online, Jack Kemp writes that he finds Rep. Shadegg's entrance into the race "encouraging." LINK

GOP leadership:

Per the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman, Hastert's job "appears safe for now" but there are "rumblings" among "some lawmakers and aides" that he waited "too long to act" and that his prior conduct has "eluded close inspection," even when the former wrestling coach himself "rubbed elbows with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his clients." LINK

"'I suppose that DeLay was simply a much more inviting target for the [Democrats], so Hastert is left alone,'" said Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ). 'Maybe people will start focusing on Hastert now.'"

Wethinks many reporters will likely take on Rep. Flake's not-so-subtle assignment.

From Rep. Thaddeus McCottor's (R-MI) "Dear Colleague" letter seeking support for his bid to replace Rep. Shadegg as the House GOP Policy Committee Chairman. LINK

"I never envisioned seeking such a position, because I'm a bald, guitar twanging back-bencher on four 'B-committees' from a borderline district in a 'blue state.' I'm also not a member of the Republican Study Committee nor the Republican Main Street Partnership -- and, oh, did I mention I lack a leadership fund? (Though, in the interests of full disclosure, the K Street lobbyists do take all my calls just so they can testify they've told someone 'no.')"

Follow the Leader(ship race):

Jessica Boulanger, Congressman Blunt's spokeswoman, has this to say about the State of the Race:

"Maybe you discussed it at Campbell and Dan's party. Or over brunch at Hank's Oyster Bar. "Did you hear about Blunt? Says he's got the votes." Here's the truth: he does. And while you'll no doubt blame your editors who will demand proof we're not gonna give (that pesky Member trust thing), we don't blame you for trying to keep it a horserace. The SCOTUS swing-vote drama didn't really pan out either."

"Because Halperin's word limit is cutting me off like the timekeeper at the Golden Globes, let's roll the credits:"

"Akin, Alexander, Baker, Barton, Blackburn, Bonilla, Bonner, Boozman, Bradley, Brady, Brown-Waite, Burgess, Burton, Camp, Carter, Capito, Cole, Conaway, Crenshaw, Culberson, J. Davis, G. Davis, T. Davis, Dent, L. Diaz-Balart, M. Diaz-Balart, Deal, Doolittle, Duncan, Emerson, Everett, Ferguson, Fitzpatrick, Foley, Fortuno, Frelinghuysen, Gohmert, Goodlatte, Granger, Graves, Hall, Harris, Hulshof, Hunter, Issa, Jindal, Johnson, Kingston, Kirk, Kuhl, Leach, LoBiondo, McCaul, McHenry, Mica, Miller, Murphy, Myrick, Neugebauer, Norwood, Peterson, Petri, Poe, Putnam, Reichert, Renzi, Ros-Lehtinen, Schwarz, Shaw, Shays, Shuster, Sherwood, C. Smith, L. Smith, Sullivan, Taylor, Tancredo, Upton, Walden, Walsh, Weldon, Weller, Westmoreland, Wicker, Wilson."

Kevin Smith, Congressman Boehner's communications director, weighs in with this:

Mr. Boehner said in today's Wall Street Journal that to restore trust in the House and our commitment to governing, we must recognize that most of the current ethical problems arise from one basic fact: government is too big and controls too much money. Dismantling the culture that produced Abramoff means you must reform how Congress exerts power. Earmarks have fueled the growth of the lobbying industry. John's proposals for earmark reform are resonating with members because it's clear we must establish principles by which worthy projects can be distinguished from worthless pork. As the House moves forward with lobbying reforms, earmark reform will be a top priority. John welcomed Mr. Shadegg into the race for this very reason. The two of them will make this race about reform and renewal. As for rumors of inflated vote tallies, we'll await the secret ballot. That vote will not be held open.

In his inaugural contribution to "Follow the Leader(ship race), Congressman Shadegg's Michael Steel has this to say:

As other candidates' dialing fingers shivered in the DC cold this weekend, Congressman Shadegg continued to work the phones in sunny Phoenix, lining up supporters and basking in the kudos that followed his successful appearance on Fox News Sunday.

I hope Acting Majority Leader/Whip Blunt has recovered from the quiet disbelief that greeted his announcement Saturday that he had lined up 117 votes, but still wouldn't give up his Whip position because, well, just because.

In any case, the newest candidate in the field continues to gather support and spread his message of a clean break and real reform. Though he got a late start, Shadegg is finding plenty of members who were unhappy choosing between Blunt and Boehner. It's a whole new ballgame.

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

With Judiciary Committee Democrats not wanting to cast their votes until after the Senate Democratic caucus meets on Wednesday, Specter and Leahy agreed Monday evening to wait until Tuesday, Jan. 24 to schedule the Senate Judiciary Committee vote, the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein reports. LINK

Frist chief of staff Eric Ueland says the Senate Majority Leader plans to start debate over Alito in the full Senate on Jan. 25, the day after the Judiciary Committee votes.

Charles Hurt of the Washington Times points out Republicans' disapproval of Democrats having delayed the Alito vote to next week after having made a "good-faith" agreement to vote today: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called the delay a "breach of trust" while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's chief of staff firmly stated, "Justice delayed will not be a justice denied." LINK

Sen. Ted Kennedy pulls his membership from Harvard's Owl Club this week, the Boston Herald reports. LINK

Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe reports that, "conservative judicial activists say that Republicans no longer need to nominate ''stealth" Supreme Court nominees whose views on abortion rights are unknown." LINK

Note to White House allies: it's a BIT early, per Steve Schmidt, for the public victory lap.

The National Italian American Foundation is up with a radio ad this week in Rhode Island bemoaning what it sees as a lack of dignity in the confirmation process and urging listeners to call Sen. Chafee (R-RI) to tell him to vote to confirm Samuel Alito.

The Abramoff affair:

Anne Kornblut of the New York Times details the allegations swirling around Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH) and reports Ney's lawyers have provided prosecutors with receipts from Abramoff's restaurant "Signatures" to help demonstrate he was paying his own way. Ney's attorneys are also combing through emails in an effort to show prosecutors that no bribery scheme every existed in writing. LINK

Kornblut concludes thusly: "But it may now be Mr. Ney's word against that of Mr. Abramoff, who has publicly ridiculed Mr. Ney's claim of having been victimized. In an interview in The New York Times Magazine last year, Mr. Abramoff said: "Ney told the press, 'I was duped'? It's crazy!" Mr. Abramoff has given similar accounts to prosecutors."

The State has Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the new chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, saying, "If the Justice Department is allowed to pursue this investigation, Watergate will be a Sunday school picnic in comparison. This will be the biggest scandal since the Teapot Dome." LINK

Lobbying reform:

Time Magazine's Michael Duffy calculates the odds that six types of lobbying reform are passed before Groundhog Day. Place your bets now. LINK

The Houston Chronicle's Hedges and Roth look at the challenge of passing lobbying reform that makes a difference. LINK

Bush agenda:

The New York Times' Richard Stevenson on the President's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day remarks and the "clear political undertones" on display throughout the day, although he, like others, isn't entirely clear on what the presidential endorsement of the Voting Rights Act meant exactly . LINK

Washington Times' Bill Sammon has the First Lady dismissing charges of corruption, offering to campaign for Republican candidates in 2006, and expressing her disappointment that the Alito vote is being delayed. LINK

The economy:

"Economic growth slowed late last year, fueling a debate over whether higher interest rates, higher energy costs and a cooling housing market will damp the U.S. expansion this year," writes Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal in your mustest-read of the day.

Many observers believe the slowdown is temporary, Ip writes, "But a handful of forecasters see a marked slowdown in the works, predicting that economic growth will fall this year to its lowest rate since 2002, pushing up unemployment."

"After 16 consecutive quarters of economic growth, pay is rising at a slower rate than in any similar expansion since the end of World War II. Companies are paying less of their cash gains in the form of wages and salaries than at any time since the Great Depression, according to government figures," reports Bloomberg's Torres and Tanzi. LINK

"Such a disparity, partly the result of globalization of the labor market, helps explain why the Bush administration is struggling to muster support for lower trade barriers even with the jobless rate at a four-year low. The imbalance has also triggered a debate between Bush's Treasury Department and the Fed about how low unemployment can go without kindling inflation."

Politics of Iraq:

"More than 18 months after the Pentagon disbanded the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran Iraq, neither the Justice Department nor a special inspector general has moved to recover large sums suspected of disappearing through fraud and price gouging in reconstruction," reports the Wall Street Journal's Paltrow.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne chides Murtha's "right-wing critics" for questioning the circumstances surrounding the awarding of two Purple Hearts to Murtha because of wounds he suffered in the Vietnam War. LINK

Plantation politics:

Let the blogging and analysis begin!

Speaking at an MLK Day event in Harlem, Sen. Clinton assailed the Bush Administration as one of history's worst and compared the GOP-controlled House to a "plantation where dissenting voices are squelched," the AP reports. LINK

The New York Post has GOP Senate candidate John Spencer responding to Sen. Clinton's "plantation" remark thusly: "That's outrageously dishonest about our government, and typical Hillary Clinton pandering by the use of a word like that ['plantation'] on Martin Luther King Day and then insidiously saying, 'You know what I mean.' " LINK

Sen. Clinton's remarks were greeted with derision from the RNC, but black Democrats are firmly behind the Senator's remarks, per the New York Times' Ray Hernandez. LINK

A Democrat familiar with New York politics observes the following to The Note this morning: If Sen. Clinton is offending anyone, it's Republicans like Rep. Peter King and Rep. Vito Fossella -- not people of color. The people in the room loved it, and the African American leaders who commented echoed her point.

The New York Daily News has a host of responses to Sen. Clinton's rhetoric. Among the comments: Rev. Al Sharpton joking that the Senator stole his material, and saying, "I absolutely defend her saying it because I said it all through the '04 elections." LINK

The New York Daily News has a full analysis of the brouhaha and the effect they may have on the Senator's political future. LINK

Newsday: LINK

2008: Republicans:

In a National Journal piece looking at whether GOPers want a third Bush term in 2008, James A. Barnes writes that "the most anticipated" message of any Republican '08er "may well be McCain's."

In the Palmetto State yesterday, McCain previewed his 2008 message at the Spartanburg GOP Dinner.

McCain aped the President's determination to win in Iraq while distancing himself from the borrow-and-spend policies that currently prevail in GOP-dominated Washington.

"So how come the party that believes in the principle of small government has begun to adopt the practices of our opponents who believe the bigger the government the better?" McCain asked in his speech. "I'm afraid it's because at times we value our incumbency more than our principles."

McCain called on Congress to address the corruption that stems from earmarking. He also touted his opposition to the troubled prescription drug benefit.

In a Mark Leibovich profile for the Washington Post's Style section, Gov. Huckabee laments that his band, the Capital Offense, doesn't have any groupies of the young, female variety. LINK

"'I keep hearing about these bands that have girls throwing their underwear onstage,' he says, bemoaning that Capital Offense doesn't have any groupies. 'But given our demographics, we're more likely to have old men throwing their Depends at us.'"

When Gov. Pataki introduces his final budget today, the package will include tax credits for parents who send their kids to private schools, the New York Post reports. LINK

In a New York Post op-ed, Robert Ward has answers for each argument against tax cuts. LINK

A Wall Street Journal editorial is semi-pro Pataki.

The New York Post has Secretary Rice repeating her lack of interest in running for president: "I've spoken to this. I know what I'm good at, I know what I want to do, and that's not it." LINK

Gov. Mitt Romney's (R-MA) press secretary had no immediate comment after the Governor was booed on stage following his remarks on the educational racial divide in Massachusetts. LINK

The Boston Herald has more on the "loud boos and polite applause." LINK

While speaking about MLK's legacy, Sen. George Allen (R-VA) touted his education initiatives, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. LINK

2008: Democrats:

The Washington Post's ed board salutes ex-Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) for putting the controversy surrounding Roger Keith Coleman's guilt or innocence to rest. LINK

In his State of the State address, Gov. Richardson plans to lay out the details of his minimum-wage proposal. LINK

If New Mexico raises its minimum wage above the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour, it would be the 18th state to do so.


Former Gov. Tom Kean's son has an 11 point lead over Congressman Robert Menendez (D) in the New Jersey Senate race, according to a poll released by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind Poll. LINK

With $4.3 million raised over the past year and $4.9 million in cash on hand (far more than previous gubernatorial candidates), the AP reports that Baltimore's Democratic Mayor is in the running to replace Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R-MD). LINK

Ehrlich will announce his fundraising numbers later today.

The New York Times wraps many fundraising figures for statewide candidates in New York including Eliot Spitzer's impressive $19.1 million on hand heading into the election year. LINK


The New York Daily News on Spitzer's coin. LINK

In his State of the State address tonight, Gov. Jim Doyle (D-WI) is expected to announce plans to bring 10 percent of the stem cell research market to Wisconsin by 2015. LINK

The State's Lee Bandy gives us a quick tour of Gov. Mark Sanford' (R-SC) fundraising efforts. LINK

Sanford is set to give his fourth State of the State address on Wednesday. LINK

Dean's Democrats:

In light of the less than stellar reviews Democrats received during the Alito confirmation hearings, former Lieberman communications director Dan Gerstein takes to the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal to fire up the liberal base vs. the "mainstream" center debate which often dominates the Democratic Party.

"We think that if we simply call someone conservative, anti-choice and anti-civil rights, that's enough to scare people to our side. But that tired dogma won't hunt in today's electorate, which is far more independent-thinking and complex in its views on values than our side presumes."

More Gerstein: "We do badly need leaders with courage -- the courage, that is, to push our party (to borrow a phrase) to move on, to accept that we can't win with the same lame ideological arguments in post-9/11 America, and that we must develop an alternative affirmative agenda that shows we can keep the country safer, make the economy stronger, and govern straighter than the ethically challenged Republicans. Then we can worry about picking the nominees instead of fighting them."

The Schwarzenegger Era:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R-CA) address yesterday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast garnered an unexpectedly warm response from "A-list Democrats" and community leaders, with only one or two boos from the hundreds of attendees, reports the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci. LINK

Politics of Katrina:

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said yesterday that God surely "doesn't approve" of the United States being in Iraq "under false pretenses. But surely he is upset at black America also. . . " LINK

The New York Daily News on the same. LINK

Clintons of Chappaqua:

Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun reminds us all that Thursday marks the expiration of the five-year suspension from the Arkansas bar for former President Bill Clinton. Gerstein reports it is unclear whether or not the FPOTUS will seek reinstatement. LINK


The 10,000 Republicans who turned out for Iowa's precinct caucuses on Monday night were rewarded with the opportunity to evaluate the party's two candidates for governor: Congressman Jim Nussle (R-IA) and Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats. LINK

Iowa Democrats heralded higher than normal interest -- about 15,000 -- thanks to a crowded, wide-open, and unpredictable field of candidates for governor, the Des Moines Register reports. LINK

Politics of immigration:

Latino ministries are worried about an immigration bill passed by the House and headed to the Senate next month that would "make it a criminal offense for anyone to 'direct or assist' an immigrant with the knowledge that the person crossed the US border illegally," the Washington Post's Darryl Fears reports. LINK