Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – ‘Wild ride’ ends

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (L) and his wife, Callista walk together after he suspended his bid for the GOP presidential nomination in Arlington, Virginia, May 2, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The sharpest debater in the 2012 field of Republican presidential candidates exited the race touting a hodgepodge of initiatives that made his failed race so colorful. 

“Suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship,” Newt Gingrich warned in his long-awaited announcement that he was quitting. He then ticked off the vision of America he will continue to pursue as a private citizen:

His fabled U.S. colony on the Moon, holograms in houses, cures for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, not to mention a national energy policy/balanced budget that would free the United States from “radical Islam, Saudi kings and Chinese bondholders.”

The bombastic former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives brought an element of unpredictability to the Republican presidential nominating contest. His come-from-behind victory in South Carolina in January briefly led some to wonder whether Mitt Romney really could be knocked off.

Attorney General Holder says he plans to stick around for a while

Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, has been castigated by liberals and conservatives for his decisions about prosecuting terrorism suspects in criminal courts, defending a law that effectively bans gay marriages and then dropping it, and efforts to go after fraud in the financial markets that have resulted in few senior corporate executives going to jail.

Despite all of that, he still professes a love for the job at the Justice Department and made it clear to reporters on Tuesday that he has no intention of going anywhere, at the very least until his wife says otherwise.

“I’m happy. I’m content. My wife says that I’ve got some more time and as long as she’s in the same place, I’ll be around,” Holder said during his first pen and pad briefing with reporters in over a year. “I like this job. This is my last swing through this great department and a lot of ways is a bittersweet experience.”

Shake-up strikes House Republican legal team for gay marriage ban

After a week of questions and criticism, the legal team hired by Republicans in the House of Representatives to defend a law banning gay marriage suffered a shake-up of sorts on Monday when the law firm dropped the case and the lawyer who was going to lead the effort resigned from the firm.

Just a week ago Paul Clement, U.S. solicitor general during the Bush administration, and his firm King & Spalding signed up to work for  Republicans trying to overturn a court ruling that found the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as between a man and a woman unconstitutional.

After criticism mounted from gay rights advocates, King & Spalding Chairman Robert Hays said the firm was dropping the case because of “vetting” issues.

Former Bush lawyer hired to defend gay marriage ban

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has hired Paul Clement, the former solicitor general during George W. Bush’s presidency, to pick up the ball and defend the law that defined marriage as between a man and woman.

GAYMARRIAGE-CALIFORNIA/The Obama administration decided in February to drop its defense of the 15-year-old law, which was hailed by gay rights advocates but widely panned by many senior Republicans infuriated that the Justice Department would no longer defend the law in court and called it a political move.

In one case in Boston, a federal judge struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act banning gay marriages as unconstitutional.

20th Abramoff scandal conviction, over World Series trip

jackOne of the last remaining cases from the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal that rocked the U.S. capital resulted in another conviction, this one over an all-expenses paid trip to New York City for the first game of the 2003 World Series.

The Justice Department said it brought to 20 the number of lobbyists, lawmakers, congressional aides or federal government officials convicted as part of the influence-peddling scandal that helped Republicans lose control of Congress in 2006.

A jury convicted Fraser Verrusio, a former U.S. House of Representatives staff member, for conspiring and accepting an  illegal gratuity and making false statements by failing to report his receipt of gifts from a lobbyist and the lobbyist’s client on his 2003 financial disclosure statement.

Feds unlikely to launch campaign finance probe anytime soon

For weeks, leading Democrats have castigated pro-Republican special interest groups involved in the current election campaign for what they describe as secretive fundraising practices. USA/

In an effort to call further attention to the activities of groups like American Crossroads GPS, a political fundraising committee which GOP guru Karl Rove helped to set up, some prominent Democrats and non-partisan election watchdogs have written law enforcement agencies demanding official investigations.

But there is little indication that any relevant agency is going to launch an  in-depth probe anytime soon.

GASP! Russia spying on the United States

There’s gambling in Vegas (sharp intake of breath)… Tea grows in China (eyes widen)… Russia spies on the United States (hand over heart stagger backward).

SHOCKING, SHOCKING, SHOCKING! (Get out the hanky and smelling salts).

Well, hold on a minute… it’s not exactly Robert Hanssen is it? The former FBI agent was charged with selling U.S. secrets to the former Soviet Union and then Russia and is now serving a life prison sentence in what was seen as a huge intelligence disaster – Russia penetrated the FBI. RUSSIA-USA/SPYING

In this spy story, a multi-year U.S. investigation into the “illegals” program nabbed 10 “alleged secret agents” in the United States and charged them with conspiring to act as unlawful agents of Russia. A charge that carries a 5-year prison sentence.

A long slog gives way to a ‘good week’ for U.S. Justice Department

After months of trying times, U.S. Justice Department officials are walking with a little spring in their step, describing it as a “good week” after the terrorism suspect accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in the heart of New York’s busy Times Square was nabbed only two days after the failed attack.

TIMESSQUARE/The department has been under fire since last fall over issues ranging from Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to prosecute the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks in the heart of Manhattan to closing the military prison at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And when a Nigerian man was able to sneak a bomb hidden in his underwear aboard a U.S. commercial jet, the dull roar of anger became white hot rage by both Republicans and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats about how the administration handled the situation.

Nobel award to Obama required lengthy U.S. Constitution check

When President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize last October it caught most by surprise and sent his lawyers scurrying to quietly make sure that the president could receive the prestigious award without running afoul with the U.S. Constitution or federal law.

NOBEL-OBAMA/A provision in the Constitution, known as the Emoluments Clause, bars the receipt of any present, emolument, office or title of any kind from a “King, Prince or foreign State”.  When the Nobel prize was established more than a century ago, Alfred Nobel’s will specified that the recipient of the peace award was to be chosen by a committee of five people elected by the Norwegian parliament known as the Storting.

However, Justice Department lawyers told the White House in a 13-page legal memorandum — sent to the White House counsel last December and released late Thursday — that the U.S. Constitution and federal law did not bar Obama from receiving the prize.

4 years later, ex-House aide faces sentencing in Abramoff scandal

More than four years after agreeing to plead guilty in the Abramoff political lobbying scandal that rocked Washington, D.C., the press secretary for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will learn late this summer how much time in prison he will face.

CRIME ABRAMOFF

Michael Scanlon, who left DeLay to work with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty in November 2005 to one count of conspiracy in defrauding Indian tribes of millions of dollars and lavishing gifts upon a member of the U.S. Congress.

He could be required to pay as much as $19.7 million in restitution to the tribes, a $250,000 fine and could face up to five years in prison.