Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Attacking Waxman

House Republicans plan to begin a concerted press and public relations campaign today to discredit investigations by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, according to an aide to House GOP leaders.

“House Republicans will call Chairman Waxman to the mat with a sustained series of press conferences, news releases, broadcast radio appearances etc.” said a talking-points memo titled “House GOP Coordinated Attack on Waxman,” which was sent to House Republican leaders yesterday and obtained by The Washington Times.

Mr. Waxman, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will hold votes today on whether to subpoena Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to testify about pre-war intelligence.

Mr. Waxman also will hold a vote on whether to subpoena former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to testify about the disclosure of former CIA employee Valerie Plame’s identity.

The House GOP memo instructs Republican leaders to point out that Miss Rice is currently “in the midst of planning for next week’s Iraq Neighbors conference — precisely the sort of regional diplomacy that so many on both sides of the aisle support.”

Brian Kennedy, spokesman for Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said that Mr. Waxman’s subpoena threats were “tantamount to harassment.”

Obama’s friend

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he had no idea longtime friend and now-indicted fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko was behind problem buildings in the South Side Chicago district that Mr. Obama once represented as a state senator.

“Should I have known these buildings were in a state of disrepair? My answer would be that it wasn’t brought to my attention,” Mr. Obama told newspapers Monday.

Mr. Rezko’s Rezmar Corp. obtained millions in government funds to rehabilitate apartment buildings for the needy, the Associated Press reports.

Court and city documents show 30 of the apartment buildings owned and managed by Rezmar have since been subject to foreclosures, code violations and lawsuits filed by the city, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in its Monday editions. About a third of those 30 buildings were in Mr. Obama’s Illinois Senate district.

“One of the perils of public life is that you end up being responsible for, or you’re held responsible for, associations that you didn’t necessarily know were a problem,” Mr. Obama said.

Tax-free diplomats?

Supreme Court justices yesterday cast a skeptical eye on claims that U.N. diplomats should not pay property taxes to New York City, despite a lawyer’s warning that a ruling for the city could mean higher bills for U.S. sites around the world.

The court heard arguments from two countries being sued for taxes that New York City claims it is owed on high-rise apartments that house mission offices and residences for diplomatic workers, the Associated Press reports.

“Whatever happens in this case to India and Mongolia is likely to happen to the United States around the world,” warned John Howley, a lawyer representing the two countries.

“You mean we’ll have to start paying our taxes?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked.

“I’m afraid so,” Mr. Howley said.

Michael Cardozo, a lawyer for the city, argued that a decision against the city would mean foreign governments with property in the United States could flout local tax laws with impunity. “If we can’t bring this lawsuit,” he said, “this lawsuit can’t be brought anywhere.”

The court must decide whether the city is allowed to sue foreign countries to collect property taxes from countries that operate offices and house their employees in the same building.

Under U.S. treaties, embassies and other diplomatic buildings are generally tax-exempt, but the city claims countries are refusing to pay taxes on property used for nondiplomatic purposes, such as staff residences. The missions of India and Mongolia house their staffs on floors above their offices.

The city filed suit in 2003 seeking $16.4 million from India and $2.1 million from Mongolia for what it claims are unpaid real estate taxes on residential space. The two countries — and the State Department — want the court to declare that foreign missions have immunity from such a lawsuit.

Guarding the Guard

A new law that expands the president’s authority to use a state’s National Guard without the consent of that state’s governor seriously undermines the ability of states to respond to local disasters, several witnesses testified yesterday on Capitol Hill.

The Republican-controlled Congress last year quietly inserted the provision into the 2007 Defense Authorization Bill to amend the Insurrection Act, a little-used 200-year-old law that governs a president’s ability to deploy troops within the United States.

The National Governors Association, as well as top National Guard officials, said they were not consulted by Congress or the Bush administration on the change in the law, and were unaware of the proposal until just before its passage.

“The nation’s governors unanimously opposed the inclusion of this section in the [defense] bill because managing the Guard within a state must rest with the governor,” North Carolina Gov. Michael F. Easley, a Democrat, told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy has introduced a bill to repeal the president’s new power over the National Guard.

A two-timer?

Two months after Merle Haggard unveiled a song to promote Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton, rival candidate John Edwards is handing out a CD featuring a Haggard tune.

Donors who contribute $50 or more to Mr. Edwards’ presidential campaign will receive an advance copy of “Moneyland,” a collection of songs about the plight of rural America. The CD includes a duet with Mr. Haggard and Marty Stuart called “Farmer’s Blues.”

Meanwhile, on his Web site, Mr. Haggard is prominently advertising his new song “Hillary,” which praises Mrs. Clinton and declares, “Let’s put a woman in charge,” the Associated Press reports.

Political football

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid believes “the war is lost,” but people in his home state of Nevada are hearing a different story from an Iraq war veteran who thinks Mr. Reid’s remarks hurt U.S. troops.

“Our troops in harm’s way deserve better than to be treated like a political football by a Washington politician,” Army Capt. Emory “Trip” Bellard says in a new radio ad to be aired this week on Las Vegas and Reno radio stations by the Republican National Committee.

“When Harry Reid said last week the war in Iraq was lost, he told our enemies that he thinks they have won,” Capt. Bellard says in the radio spot.

“Senator Reid’s remarks undercut the morale of our soldiers and undermine our troops on the ground,” the Army officer says.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or

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