Posted at 1:36 PM ET, 01/ 8/2009

The Blair House Witch Hunt Project

The morning after a leading member of President Bush’s coalition of the willing was exposed as a member of Washington’s coalition of the homeless, former Australian prime minister John Howard defended his role in keeping President-elect Barack Obama and his family from checking in early at Blair House.

The Aussie press was abuzz yesterday after we revealed that Howard will be Bush’s only overnight visitor during the first two weeks in January, when the Obamas had hoped to occupy the presidential guest manse.

Howard will be there Monday, the day before Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Howard, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe — all close political allies of the current president. Blair and Uribe have made other accommodations and will not stay at the 119-room Blair House.

Howard, through a spokesman, told the newspaper the Australian that he would pick up his own tab to travel to the United States. The newspaper noted, however, that since Howard was “turfed from office” he has run up more than $186,164 (in U.S. dollars) in taxpayer-funded travel expenses.

“Mr. Howard will be staying for one night as per the invitation,” his spokesman told the Aussie paper. “There’s no entourage; it’s just Mr. and Mrs. Howard. None of it is at the expense of Australian taxpayers.”

Even so, Aussies appeared to be decidedly opposed. A Melbourne newspaper, the Age, in an online poll, found that, of 11,360 respondents, 82 percent said he didn’t deserve the medal. (Prior winners were Tommy Franks, George J. Tenet and J. Paul Bremer.)

And of 2,170 respondents, 76 percent said Howard should “give up his rooms” for the Obamas. Giving up the rooms might be a way for Howard to, as Bush might put it, “unthaw” his non-relationship with Obama after saying in 2007 that Osama bin Laden should be “praying as many times as possible” for an Obama victory.

(Meanwhile, dedicated Loop readers pointed out that we referred yesterday to Howard and Blair as former heads of state. They are merely heads of government, as Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. We regret having bestowed such a lofty title on the former prime ministers.)

Adviser for Clinton?

Job announcements seem to be coming from everywhere these days. For example, yesterday the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the pro-9Israel think tank, put out a news release saying it was delighted that one of its senior officials, Dennis Ross, was going to be “ambassador-at-large and senior advisor to Secretary of State-9designate Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

The institute said that the job, “designed especially for him,” will make him Clinton’s top adviser on a “wide range of Middle East issues, from the Arab-Israeli peace process to Iran.”

But there’s more detail. Ross is not going to “reprise his previous role as special Arab-Israeli peace envoy,” a post he held in the Clinton administration. Someone else, of lesser note, will get that. Rather, “he will be working closely with both the special envoy and the secretary.”

The Obama transition team declined to comment.

From Justice to Security

David S. Kris, a Justice Department veteran and prominent legal scholar, is the leading candidate to oversee the department’s national security division in the Obama administration.

Kris has been wandering the halls at the department in recent weeks, overseeing the transition team’s national security work and meeting with career lawyers and political appointees. The division, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, handles some of the department’s most sensitive issues, including electronic surveillance warrants.
Kris has criticized the Bush approach to certain counterterrorism strategies, and he and other Justice veterans have called for a sweeping overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to take into account new technological realities and legal sensitivities, a step that would require heavy lifting by Congress.

Kris, who has worked most recently at the Washington office of Time Warner, worked at the department from 2000 to 2003.

Moving to Treasury

Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy F. Geithner, working on his confirmation hearing next week, is also putting together his team of top aides. They’ll probably be announced by Stephanie Cutter, who’s the money guru’s pick for assistant secretary of public affairs at the agency, a front-burner post these days.

Cutter, now chief spokesperson for the Obama transition, had been a senior adviser on the campaign and Michelle Obama’s chief of staff. Before that, the highly regarded Cutter had worked as senior adviser to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), as deputy communications director in the Clinton White House, and as communications director for Sen. John F. Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Tomorrow’s Phrase Today

Throughout the campaign, the buzzword was “change.” Then our absolute all-time favorite governor, Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.), changed the term of the moment to “pay-to-play.”

A variant popped up Tuesday when Obama backers got an e-mail from the incoming first lady reminding them that midnight tonight is the deadline for their chance to get a “ticket to history.” The Obama inaugural committee is bringing 10 “grassroots” supporters here to attend the swearing-in at the Capitol, the inaugural parade and an inaugural ball.
The first winner is Cynthia Russell, a home builder from Newberry, Fla., who wrote about how the president-elect “gives me hope.”

But the Obama folks “need to select 9 more supporters like Cynthia,” the incoming first lady writes, “and I would love for you to be one of them,” Michelle Obama writes. “Make your donation of $5 or more before midnight on Thursday, January 8th.”

“You could be there to celebrate your amazing accomplishments and give a strong start to the change you fought so hard for. Please make a donation of $5 or more and help us celebrate everything you did to make this day possible,” the e-mail says, adding a handy online link.

Already tapped out? Not to worry. There’s a “P.S.” at the bottom saying that you can join in even if you don’t fork it over. You can “participate now by telling us what this Inauguration means to you.”

So this would be pay/write to play?

The Fix Is In?

A recent job posting for a top-level public affairs job at the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection shop raised a few eyebrows. It’s a fine job, deputy assistant commissioner, a career job, level GS-15, with a salary range extending to $153,200 a year.

But the “open period” seemed curiously brief: “Wednesday, December 31, 2008 to Monday, January 05, 2009.” Not much time, given the holiday and the weekend involved. And that led folks to thinking that it was wired for a political person to burrow in.
Maybe. We’re told, however, that a brief application period, especially when there are only one or two jobs to fill and a likely high number of qualified applicants, was probably okay. So we’ll just have to see who gets the job.

Another possibility, given what we’ve been hearing of late, is that the job may be wired for a career employee who just happens to have been supportive of the current administration’s policies. The idea would be that when the Obama teams walk in, they may find the top career people somewhat less than enthusiastic about changing things.
Just guessing.

Recycle, Reuse

The government apparently can find a place to use all its assets. These might be drug dealers’ cars or a money launderer’s file cabinets. The Department of Justice’s official tally of asset forfeiture items put into official service by various agencies (that is, not the stuff that was sold or liquidated, but items the agencies put to use themselves) had curious entries. Among the listed items, we find that the FBI apparently found official uses for about $120,000 in jewelry and $134 worth of pornography.

Sting operation?

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 12:26 PM ET, 01/ 7/2009

119 Rooms, 70,000 Square Feet and One Lucky Australian

The veil is lifted. We now know who is booked at Blair House, kicking President-elect Barack Obama and his family to the waiting list and across Lafayette Square to the Hay-Adams Hotel.

The only overnight visitor at the presidential guest manse is none other than John Howard, a former Australian prime minister and leading member of President Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq.

Howard and his entourage will be bunking at Blair House on Jan. 12, the night before he, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe are to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bush, said Sally McDonough, a spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush. The three current and former heads of state are longtime political allies of the president's, and Blair and Howard were key partners in the Iraq war.

Blair and Uribe also were invited to stay at Blair House but declined Bush's invitation, said a second White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Blair, who traditionally stays at the British Embassy, and Uribe apparently found other accommodations, the source said.

There are other scheduled events at Blair House, but no other overnight visits between now and Jan. 15, when the Obama family is scheduled to move in, McDonough said.

Today, Laura Bush will hold a private reception honoring members of the administration's Global Cultural Initiative, 80 of whom are in the diplomatic corps, McDonough said. The reception will be hosted by Protocol Chief Nancy Brinker.

"This has been a long-planned celebratory event at the Blair House," McDonough said.


She added that there are several other planned parties at Blair House.

The incoming first family requested an early move-in at the 70,000-square-foot, 119-room mansion across the street from the White House so the children could settle in to start school this week at Sidwell Friends School. But the Obamas was told the residence had been booked, so they took a suite at the Hay-Adams.

At the time, the White House would not say which events were bumping the Obamas.

Maybe Howard might offer his digs on Craigslist in exchange for the presidential-elect suite at the Hay?

As Seen on TV

What do you know? The chatter we noted yesterday about CNN's Sanjay Gupta as Obama's pick for surgeon general was real! This has led to much speculation that the incoming administration might be looking at other excellent media candidates for top jobs.

There's always Judge Judy, should an opening occur later this year on the Supreme Court; Dr. Phil looks good for assistant to the president and director of the new White House Office on Stress and Mental Health (OSMH); Suze Orman could step in as commerce secretary, though she's a better pick for the Fed; and, of course, CNN's Lou Dobbs could be a solid contender to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Dept. of Saying No

One week before confirmation hearings are set to begin for Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. and things on Capitol Hill are already heating up.

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, took to the floor yesterday to raise "character" questions about Holder, dating back to his days as the Justice Department's second in command during President Bill Clinton's administration, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.

Specter said he wants to use the hearings to ensure that Holder has "the stature and the courage to say no" to the White House. He cited concerns about Holder's advice to the president in the Clinton-era pardons of fugitive financier Marc Rich and several members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN who were involved in a $7 million bank robbery. Specter also wants Holder to explain why he did not push harder for an independent counsel to investigate alleged campaign finance abuses involving then-Vice President Al Gore.

"I will approach these hearings with an open mind to give Mr. Holder a chance to explain his actions and his record," Specter said.

Meanwhile, leaders of several civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, the national Council of la Raza and the National Women's Law Center, announced they would appear on Capitol HIill today to support the nomination of Holder, who would be the first African American attorney general.

After Richardson, the Deluge

Obama's search for a new nominee to head the Commerce Department has breathed new life into the competition among interest groups to have their candidates considered. Latino advocates are clamoring for Obama to pick one of their own to replace New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who had been poised to be the new administration's most prominent Latino official.

Gay advocates, shunned when Obama passed over openly gay and lesbian contenders for his Cabinet, hope he may tap an openly gay nominee at Commerce. And women's groups have been disappointed that just five of Obama's 20 Cabinet choices are women.

As Denis Dison, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, joked: "It would be nice if we had an openly gay female Latino. That would make everybody happy."

Several minorities are said to be serious contenders to replace Richardson. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who turned down Obama's offer to be U.S. trade representative, is said to be back in the mix for Commerce. Latino advocates also are lobbying for Gilbert Casellas, a vice president at Dell Computer and chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Clinton administration. Casellas has a wealth of private- and public-sector management experience and offers an added distinction: He would be the first Latino of Puerto Rican descent to serve in a Cabinet job.

"What they're looking for is somebody with some governing experience and some private-sector experience," Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latino American Citizens, said of Obama's transition team. "There was a lot of interest in the possibility of Gil Casellas."

Other Latino contenders include George Muñoz, who ran the Overseas Private Investment Corp. under Clinton and now works in the private sector, and businesswoman Linda Alvarado.

"We hope that the Obama team will see this still as an opportunity to set the historical precedent and have three Hispanics in the Cabinet," said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza.

Gay advocates are pushing for Fred Hochberg, an entrepreneur who sits on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and served as acting administrator of the Small Business Administration under Clinton. "He is the community's best hope for the commerce secretary position," Dison said.

Obama could check another box by tapping another African American, someone like former Time-Warner chief executive Richard D. Parsons, for the post. We're hearing that prior vetting would be a substantial plus.

Mondays Aren't All Bad

Not exactly another day at the office Monday for WilmerHale partner David W. Ogden. He was nominated to be deputy attorney general. Baby Natalie Sylvie Ogden, weighing in at 8 pounds 2 ounces, showed up at 7:04 p.m. (Natalie's mom, Anne Harkavy, is also a lawyer at the firm.) It would have been his late father's 84th birthday. And he won a major case in federal court in Miami blocking a $100 million judgment by a Nicaraguan court against his client, Shell Oil, and another company.

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 01/ 5/2009

For NASA Administrator, This Mission Is a Tad Personal

Democrats, as would be expected, are lobbying intensely for senior jobs in the new administration. It’s a bit more unusual to see top Bush administration officials lobbying to keep their jobs.

But that appears to be the case with NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.

Just before the election, Griffin sent a letter to Barack Obama saying he was “deeply grateful to you, personally, for your leadership” on the vote to allow NASA’s use of Russian spaceships, the Associated Press reported. And last week NASA sent out priority mail packages, at $6.75 apiece, containing copies of a new agency book titled “Leadership in Space: Selected Speeches of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, May 2005-October 2008.”

And there’s an online drive, launched by a former NASA official, asking for people to petition Obama to consider keeping Griffin at the agency. Griffin’s wife, Rebecca, e-mailed friends and family asking them to sign the petition.

Griffin’s press secretary, David Mould, told the Associated Press that Griffin isn’t campaigning and expects the incoming president to name a new administrator. But Griffin would be “honored” to be asked to stay on, Mould said. “A lot of people seem to like and support Mike and think he’s doing a good job,” he said.

Hmmm. Somehow we’re thinking that “a lot of people” does not include the president-9elect’s folks.

A Lavish Bathroom at Interior

If Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) is confirmed this month as interior secretary, he’ll have a snappy, scarcely used bathroom in his fifth-floor office, thanks to Dirk Kempthorne, the outgoing secretary.

Seems Kempthorne spent about $235,000 in taxpayer funds renovating the bathroom a few months ago, which included installing a new shower, a refrigerator and a freezer and buying monogrammed towels, department officials told our colleague Derek Kravitz.

The General Services Administration approved and partially funded the project, an Interior Department official said. Kris Kolesnik, an assistant inspector general for external affairs. GSA paid about half the cost to refurbish aging plumbing, which needed to be replaced within four years.

But department officials say much of the money was spent on lavish wood paneling and tile. Among the choice items found in the new bathroom: wainscot wood panels extending from floor to ceiling and cabinet doors revealing a working refrigerator and freezer.

“If Gale Norton needed to shower, at least she was conservative enough to go to the gym in the basement of the building,” one career employee quipped, referring to Kempthorne’s predecessor.

An initial investigation by the department’s inspector general, Earl B. Devaney, found no wrongdoing on the secretary’s part because GSA had approved the project.

Kempthorne, who took office in May 2006 after Norton resigned, declined to comment on the spending, as did his office’s spokesman//per reporter A department spokesman, Shane Wolfe, did not return messages seeking comment.

Incoming Cabinet officials often waste absurd amounts of money redecorating perfectly posh offices to their tastes. Watchdogs generally decry the waste of money. But if the projects are part of the stimulus package .....

Hands Full With Hearings

March Madness is nothing compared with Confirmation Chaos. That’s what’s about to happen in the Senate as committees there, with Jan. 16 as a deadline, try to hold hearings on most, if not all, of President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet picks. Not all dates are fixed, but here are some.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has lined up former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, named to head the Department of Health and Human Services, for a chat Thursday. Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.), the nominee for labor secretary, has a date there Friday. And Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan is on tap for Jan. 13, the same day that Steven Chu, the energy secretary nominee, is before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The frenzied schedule for the week beginning Jan. 12 continues as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hears from Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); Treasury nominee Timothy Geithner may be cuffed about a bit over the stimulus package by the Senate Finance Committee; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano talks about the Department of Homeland Security with the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The Environment and Public Works Committee hears from Environmental Protection Agency nominee Lisa P. Jackson on Jan. 14, and the Veterans Affairs Committee hears from Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Veteran Affairs nominee, the same day.

Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), up for interior secretary, is expected to have a smooth ride Jan. 15 from his colleagues on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but there could be fireworks when Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. goes that day before the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans are said to be preparing a hard look at him on issues such as his role in the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and his role in the Elian Gonzalez affair.

Unease Over Possible AIDS Pick

Quiet but determined resistance is mounting to the prospect of Nils Daulaire taking over as international HIV/AIDS coordinator in the incoming administration, our colleague Ceci Connolly reports. Daulaire, a physician who will soon finish his stint as president and chief executive of the Global Health Council, is said to be a bit too cozy with the pharmaceutical industry for many in the AIDS and international relief circles.

Most opponents are unwilling to speak publicly — out of fear of upsetting President-elect Barack Obama’s team. But James Love, director of the nonprofit research organization Knowledge Ecology International, said there is concern that Daulaire would not be a strong enough advocate for patients, particularly the poorest of the poor.

Activists also complain that over the years Daulaire has been a weak voice in debates over controversies such as clean needle exchanges and abstinence-only policies.
Steven Sinding, former head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said he can understand concerns that Daulaire would focus more on prevention and less on treatment. But Sinding said he thinks Daulaire would strike the right balance. “I know he would do everything in his power to ensure there is no backsliding on treatment,” Sinding said.

Daulaire reportedly interviewed with transition team leader Gayle Smith shortly before Christmas.

Old Faces at ForeignPolicy.com

Foreign Policy, the international affairs magazine acquired by The Washington Post in October, is rebooting its online presence with a host of new features. Our favorite is one called “Shadow Government: Notes from the loyal opposition.”

It’s a daily group blog, founded and edited by Foreign Policy senior editor Christian Brose, a former Condoleezza Rice speechwriter, on which former high-profile conservative foreign policy types assess the new administration’s international strategy. The group will include former Sept. 11 commission executive director Philip Zelikow; ex-senior White House aide Peter Feaver; top Pentagon official Dov Zakheim; Steve Biegun, a foreign policy adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign; Mitchell Reiss, former secretary of state Colin Powell’s policy planning chief; former Dick Cheney aide Aaron Friedberg; and other top Bush administration aides soon to exit government.

It’s the old team regrouping at ForeignPolicy.com to smack around the new team or, more elegantly, to provide an intellectual assessment of the Obama foreign policy.

There’s also “The Best Defense,” which is our former colleague Tom Ricks’s daily take on national security. Ricks, the best-selling author of “Fiasco,” an extraordinary look at the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, will write a daily blog that examines the fallout from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and contemplates the conflicts of the future.
A must-read site for the foreign policy set.

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 4:36 PM ET, 12/23/2008

Henry Kissinger and Poet Allen Ginsberg in the Buff?

LOOP FAN ALERT! Some of the following material may be shocking. We’ll alert you at the appropriate point.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University, after protracted legal and bureaucratic wrangling, has released 15,502 documents and over 30,000 pages of transcripts of telephone conversations between former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford and many other senior government officials, foreign officials and media and show business figures

Many shed light on some of the more important diplomatic events from 1969, when Kissinger was in the White House, to early 1977, when Kissinger left the State Department.

In one conversation in November 1975, after White House chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld allegedly engineered the cabinet shake-up known as the “Halloween Massacre” so he would become Secretary of Defense and his pal Dick Cheney moved up to be chief, Kissinger is chatting with Treasury Secretary William Simon.

Simon tells Kissinger that he’d insisted to reporters that Kissinger had not been behind the moves and that he thought the move would be worse for Kissinger.

“The guy that cut me up inside this building isn’t going to cut me up any less in Defense,” Kissinger told Simon, referring to Rumsfeld.

“It is going to be worse, Henry,” Simon said.

“Huh?

“It’s going to be worse,” Simon repeated.

“That’s right,” Kissinger said.

This next excerpt is not for the squeamish.

On April 23, 1971, just before the “May Day” anti-war demonstrations in Washington, beat poet Allen Ginsberg called Kissinger, saying he was “calling at the request partly of Senator [Eugene] McCarthy."

Ginsberg said he wanted “to arrange a conversation” or meeting between Kissinger, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), “maybe even Nixon” and Ginsberg and McCarthy and various anti-war leaders.

Kissinger said he’d met with peace groups before, but they just rush out afterwards and blab to the press. He told Ginsberg he “would be prepared to meet in principle” but “on a private basis.”

Ginsberg said it was “difficult to set limits” on the unruly group but “we can try to come to some kind of understanding.”

“You can set limits to what you say publicly,” Kissinger observed, a bit irrationally given the crowd involved.

“It would be even more funny to do it on television,” Ginsberg said.

“What?” Kissinger responded.

“It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television,” Ginsberg offered.

“K: (Laughter)” the transcript says.

We warned you.

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Posted at 9:34 PM ET, 12/18/2008

Diversity, Alacrity, Fraternity

President-elect Barack Obama’s expected announcement today of his last three Cabinet-level picks — outgoing Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) as secretary of transportation, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk as U.S. trade representative and Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.) as secretary of labor — ends the first phase of what, so far, has been a smooth-running transition process.

White males, as they were in Bill Clinton’s first Cabinet, will find themselves again in the minority in the Obama regime. Of the 20 Cabinet-level positions, nine are to be filled by white men, two by white women (Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano), two by Asian Americans (Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Steven Chu), three by Latinos (New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Ken Salazar and Solis), and four by African Americans (Eric H. Holder Jr., Susan E. Rice, Lisa P. Jackson and Kirk.)

The Obama transition team has also posted the fastest completion time for a Cabinet in 32 years, beating his recent predecessors by at least four days.
(It could be argued, however, that the current president’s truncated transition was even faster, filling 12 key posts in the first two weeks after the Supreme Court decision determined that George W. Bush had won the election, according to transition expert Paul C. Light. “Of course, it could be argued that Barry Bonds broke the home run record,” he added.)

And it appears the Obama team has also begun filling in the sub-Cabinet ranks much more quickly, with nominees for regulatory agencies, science positions and such, something that was “unprecedented,” Light said. Obama has also filled a substantial number of White House positions, even down to the deputy assistant level, giving those staffers ample time to learn their jobs.

Cabinet Classmates

Speaking of diversity, the Obama team has shown it can go very broad. But it’s been less noticed how adept it is at going narrow, very narrow, as in nominating two members of the same Harvard class of 1987, Shaun Donovan for secretary of housing and urban development and Arne Duncan for secretary of education.

But not just the same class. They also lived in the same Harvard dorm (they prefer to call them “houses”), Leverett House. In addition, their pictures are right next to each other’s in the Leverett House yearbook, where we learn further details on their merits for the job.

For example, Donovan has been acclaimed of late as the highly regarded housing administrator for New York City, a former top HUD official in the Clinton administration and an expert on affordable housing.

We find from the yearbook that he’s an expert on all manner of housing, with his home address at the time listed as 1040 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, an exquisite location, overlooking Central Park and the reservoir and a stone’s throw from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Okay, maybe a little traffic noise on 85th Street, but you can’t have everything.)

And right below Donovan’s picture there’s Duncan, a basketball-playing pal of the president-elect’s. He has that important credential presaged in the yearbook, where it’s noted that he was co-captain of the varsity basketball team.

Brownie, We Hardly Knew Ye

Many folks heading to Washington for the inauguration — and all of us who are already here — are most concerned about whether a few million additional people will send the town into complete paralysis.

Well, not to worry — the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the case, ready to make sure everything works out.

In preparing for the worst — an attack on millions of Obama’s guests on Jan. 20 — FEMA seems to have forgotten to plan for its own.

FEMA managers apparently will require 50 to 60 workers on Inauguration Day to staff the National Response Coordination Center, just steps from the Mall. But we’re told the brains behind the operation have not given employees any clues as to plans for feeding, sheltering and transporting them amid the chaos that will consume downtown Washington.

“There are no plans for feeding people, sheltering people — anything,” said Leo Bosner, head of FEMA’s employees union. “Given the poor planning we’ve seen out of our bosses the last couple of years, we’re kind of worried.”

FEMA spokeswoman Debbie Wing said it is not 100 percent certain that the agency will staff the downtown facility, and FEMA is considering staffing response coordinators at an alternative facility in the suburbs. Nonetheless, Wing said, managers will ensure that employees have what they need.

“We have made contingency plans for food and meals for the employees to be catered and also made accommodations for facilities, showers and cots and blankets,” Wing said.
So everyone just calm down. FEMA will naturally share those plans with its employees. There’s still more than a month to go.

Gracious Remark of the Week

The winner is Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who rejected an offer to be U.S. trade representative. People who reject jobs offered by a president-elect often wax on and on about how deeply, deeply honored they are to be offered such a wonderful job, the job of their dreams, but family, other personal commitments or such things make it simply impossible to accept.

Not Becerra, an eight-term congressman who’s said to be eyeing the speakership. According to news reports, he told the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion that he declined to be considered because he didn’t think trade was important to the new administration.

“My concern was how much weight this position would have and I came to the conclusion that it would not be priority number one, and perhaps, not even priority number two or three,” he said.

That’s going to make Ron Kirk, who’s taking the job, feel all warm and toasty.

Witt Isn’t Returning

Speaking of FEMA, former chief James Lee Witt has taken himself out of the running — apparently for business and personal reasons — for his old job. Witt is said to be backing Mark Merritt, an ex-FEMA official who now works for Witt in their consulting firm. Former congressman Nick Lampson (D-Tex.), who won — and then lost — the House seat that former majority leader Tom DeLay once held, had been looking at the FEMA slot, we were told, but is now drifting toward some other options.

Let Us Know

Don’t forget: If you’ve gotten an invitation to one of those “previously scheduled” and important events at Blair House between Jan. 4 and Jan. 15, events so important that the White House couldn’t accommodate a request by the president-elect and his family to bunk there in that period, please send them to movingout@9washpost.com.

If you’ve got news and tips on who may be getting jobs in the new administration, send those, too, to movingin@9washpost.com. Any news on where Bush administration folks are headed? Send it to movingout@9washpost.com.

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 9:45 PM ET, 12/16/2008

Obama’s List Doesn’t Quite Match Emily’s

Perhaps the plummest appointment in President-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet went to a woman: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was nominated for secretary of state. But his track record on picking women for his Cabinet is no different than from that of the two presidents who that preceded him.

With his 20-member Cabinet nearly filled, Obama has tapped four women — Clinton, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (homeland security secretary), New Jersey official Lisa P. Jackson (head of the Environmental Protection Agency) and Susan E. Rice (U.N. ambassador) — and women’s advocates are clamoring anew for the president-elect to nominate more women.

At the start of his first term, President Bush nominated four women to his Cabinet. Bill Clinton had five women in his Cabinet at the start of his presidency, and George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan each had two women when they entered office, according to research conducted by New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service in partnership with The Washington Post.

“So far the numbers of women don’t look great,” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said of Obama’s Cabinet picks. “George Bush started off with this many, and Bill Clinton, at the height of his presidency, had nine out of 19.”

Ellen Malcolm, president and founder of Emily’s List, said Obama “obviously started off with a bang, with Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice.” She added: “We’ve been disappointed to see women suggested for some [other] positions and not chosen.”

So where could Obama place more female candidates? Only three Cabinet positions remain open, and all bets are that a woman could land at the Labor Department, where the two leading contenders are women: Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and Mary Beth Maxwell, the founding executive director of American Rights at Work, a pro-union advocacy group.

Granholm, who is serving her second term, is rumored to be itching for a one-way ride out of Michigan. But asked yesterday whether Granholm would take a position in the administration, spokeswoman Megan Brown said only that “the governor is looking forward to serving as governor of Michigan with a partner in the White House.”

Maxwell, a longtime outspoken advocate for labor unions and blue-collar workers, has the enthusiastic backing of David E. Bonior, the former Michigan congressman and House Democratic whip who is believed to have been Obama’s top choice for the job before taking he took himself out of the running. A lesbian, Maxwell would become the first openly gay member of Obama’s Cabinet. (Nancy Sutley, also openly gay, was appointed to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which is not Cabinet-level.)

In the Mix

Meanwhile, our favorite former Dallas mayor remains in the mix for one of the remaining three posts. Ron Kirk is said to be a leading contender for both U.S. trade representative and transportation secretary. After Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Obama’s leading candidate for the trade post, bowed out, the buzz turned to Kirk for the position. Kirk declined to comment on the speculation, but the FBI was rumored to have been knocking on his door this week to check him out.
Young Guns

At 44, Education Department nominee Arne Duncan adds to the swelling corps of 40-somethings in the Cabinet — which grew even larger yesterday when Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, nominated to be Office of Management and Budget director, turned 40.

Aid From an Aide

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, now tasked with, among other things, overhauling the nation’s health care system, apparently will be able to count on former aide Mark Childress to help him. Childress is to be his chief of staff and deputy director of the new White House Office of Health Reform. Childress had been Daschle’s chief counsel and policy director when he was in the Senate.

The Message Guru Is In

Word from Obama inauguration folks is that Erik Smith, who was a top aide to former House speaker Richard Gephardt and more recently worked on the Obama presidential campaign’s advertising portfolio, has been named creative director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He’s what they call the “message guru,” a source said, whose job is to make sure inaugural events reflect Obama’s themes of unity and such.

Hey! Maybe he’s got some tickets?

Moving In .....

Vice President-elect Joe Biden, putting more touches on his White House staff, is bringing in his Senate communications director and former press secretary, Elizabeth Alexander, to be his press secretary. Alexander, who’s worked for Biden since 2006, earlier worked for the United Nations Foundation and for former Democratic National Committee chairman Terence R. McAuliffe in the 2004 campaign.

Annie Tomasini, who had been on Biden’s personal office staff in the Senate and worked in Chicago for the Obama campaign, has been picked to be his deputy press secretary, a position she now has on the transition team.

Moving On .....

Former Food and Drug Agency officials use words like “suffering” or at the “tipping point” to become a failed agency, saying morale has plummeted. For half of the past eight years, the Food and Drug Agency Administration has been led by acting commissioners, leading critics to say it’s desperately in need of new leadership. Even so, there were reports that Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach might want to stay on.

Not so.

Von Eschenbach, in a statement Monday to all employees, said he had fallen “in love” with the agency but that he wanted everyone to know that he was leaving on Jan. 20. We were told he sent the letter out early in order to clarify that he was not looking to stay on and he had always intended to leave then. It seems most unlikely that the new administration would want to keep him on.

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 10:45 PM ET, 12/15/2008

The Cabinet: Who’s Next?

With five days to go before President-elect Barack Obama jets to Hawaii for his Christmas vacation, just a handful of his Cabinet-level posts remain open. Based on the race so far, here’s how the slate looks as Obama tries to assemble a diverse administration of nominees from various political constituencies.

Obama has tapped three African Americans, two Asian Americans and one Latino, and look for the president-elect to pick a Latino for at least one of the remaining posts. His transition team has assured the politically powerful community that he will have at least two Latinos in the Cabinet, but thus far he has named just one: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, for commerce secretary.

Men outnumber women in the Cabinet by more than 2 to 1, so count on Obama to tap more women to accompany the four already nominated: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, Susan E. Rice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for secretary of homeland security and New Jersey official Lisa P. Jackson for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama’s Cabinet is heavily weighted with East Coasters, with half of his nominees hailing from Washington, New York or New Jersey. He has two nominees from the Midwest and four from the West Coast, but no nominee from the South. Sure, there aren’t many Democrats left down South, but Obama probably wouldn’t want to become the first president in generations to snub Southerners.

Obama will have an unusually young Cabinet, with six of his nominees in their 30s and 40s. The youngest member, Peter Orszag, who will be director of the Office of Management and Budget, is 39. He will be joined in the kids’ club by Shaun Donovan, 42, at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Rice, 44. The two elder statesmen both have military experience: Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, 66, who will be secretary of veterans affairs, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, 65.

Obama has nominated two governors and two members of Congress and reached into the world of academia in naming Steven Chu as energy secretary, whom the president-elect said Monday was at the “cutting edge” of technology.
During the campaign, Obama waxed poetic about bringing Republicans into his administration. But Gates — the lone holdover from the Bush administration — is the only representative of the GOP in the new Cabinet. It wouldn’t surprise us to see Obama fill one more post with a Republican. Unless business as usual has trumped change we can use.

Plans Change .....

Speaking of appointments, Latino activists were sounding alarms anew last week as a couple of prominent Cabinet possibilities fell off the front burner. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who had been talked about as a leading contender for U.S. trade representative — he met recently with Obama to talk about the job — may no longer be in the mix, having opted to stay in the House, we’re told.

Monica C. Lozano — Los Angeles businesswoman, major political player and publisher of La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language paper in the country — had been seen as a possibility for the Small Business Administration, not quite a Cabinet job but kind of. That doesn’t appear to be happening, either. There’s talk that Annette Taddeo, a Colombian-born business executive who lost last month to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), may be in the mix for the SBA.

So that left only Richardson, plus a handful of Latinos on the White House staff, even including Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr., who is on tap to head the new White House office of urban affairs.

Given the importance of the Latino vote these days — 29 electoral votes in the Southwest, of which 19 went to Obama, plus 27 in Florida — the Obama transition has been most sensitive to that influential bloc. Transition chief John D. Podesta met with a group of Hispanic leaders earlier this month to discuss appointments with them.

But after Monday's announcements, the field is growing even smaller. (Smaller still, once Chicago public schools chief Arne Duncan is named secretary of education today.) That may be why they’re looking to see if a Latino can be found to chair or co-chair the Democratic National Committee. Relations may improve on the Latino front when Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) is announced as secretary of the interior later this week.

The Interior Department slot had been difficult to fill, with various contenders popping up and then going down in the last month. The leading contenders last week were Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-N.M.) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). But hunters and fishermen thought Grijalva too green. Enviros, however, thought Thompson too close to hunters and fishermen and maybe too close to Madam Speaker Nancy Pelosi, especially geographically.

So, rather than offend, Obama is calling on Salazar — though some enviros are unhappy with his support for some oil shale drilling. Hill folks said they were stunned that Salazar would give up a Senate seat — especially a seat the Democrats could easily lose in 2006. But he came into the Senate and sits there right by — you guessed it — Barack Obama. Salazar’s office says his plans for this week are to remain in Colorado. Plans change.

Stealing Obama’s Thunder

We were waiting by the television yesterday for Obama to tell us who the next secretary of energy was going to be. But more than an hour before Obama took the stage, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory broke the news about their director: “President-Elect Barack Obama has nominated Steve Chu ..... to be Secretary of Energy.”

Holding Up Holder Talks

Seems Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has prevailed. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced yesterday that it is delaying the confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., by about a week, scheduling it for Jan. 15 and giving Specter and other Republicans more time to parse Holder’s record. (And for Specter to recover from his arduous trip to Europe and the Mideast.)

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s chairman, said in a statement that the delay is to “accommodate the Republicans” and added: “It is disappointing to me that they are insisting that we delay at a time when the nation needs its top law enforcement officer and national security team in place and working.”

Holder’s confirmation hearing should be a relative blockbuster, what with his role in President Bill Clinton’s 2001 pardon of financier Marc Rich.

(Pardon the Interruptions)

The official White House transcript of the shoe-throwing incident during President Bush’s news conference Sunday in Baghdad simply calls it “(Audience interruption.)” Though Bush joked about it.

And in his news conference in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai, the press pool report said that Bush faced a pointed question from a reporter who said his comments about Afghanistan were a lie and that the Taliban “were laughing across the border” in Pakistan.

This, too, was “(Not translated)” on the White House transcript.

Yet Bush’s answer was faithfully recorded: “I respectfully disagree with you. The Taliban was brutalizing the people of Afghanistan. And they’re not in power. And I just cited the progress that is undeniable.”

Maybe he speaks Pashtun or Urdu?

With Philip Rucker


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Posted at 7:40 PM ET, 12/11/2008

When It Comes to Holder, Specter Has Reservations

A plan by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold confirmation hearings Jan. 8 for Eric H. Holder Jr., the nominee for attorney general, is coming under fire from committee Republicans.

The panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), appeared on the Senate floor Wednesday to call for a delay of at least two more weeks to review Holder’s record as a local judge, federal prosecutor and then deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Among other things, Specter reported that Holder’s extensive nominee questionnaire and FBI background check were not yet complete, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.

“I am looking for a very constructive engagement to determine the qualifications of Mr. Holder,” Specter said.

Specter’s remarks ignited a tit-for-tat letter-writing exchange in which Leahy said he was “confounded” by his colleague’s position. “The need for new leadership at the Department of Justice is as critical today as it ever has been,” Leahy wrote, and he noted that the pre-inauguration hearing was standard operating procedure.

Prominent GOP advisers, including former White House aide Karl Rove, have criticized Holder for his role in a last-minute 2001 pardon that President Bill Clinton bestowed on fugitive financier Marc Rich. But more moderate Republicans say that the pardon issue alone will not be enough to jeopardize Holder’s confirmation.

We had assumed Specter’s request was the traditional ploy to draw things out so opponents would have more time to find dirt on the nominee.

But then Leahy delivered a shot, implying that Specter, one of the Senate’s best-traveled members, actually wanted a schedule change to accommodate an overseas trip over the holidays.

Leahy noted that he had asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “facilitate your 14-day trip to 10 countries from December 25 through January 7.” He then asked Specter, “Please do let me know who the other Senators are who will be accompanying you.”

Hmmm. Leahy, as Judiciary chairman, probably authorized Specter’s congressional delegation, though it’s possible he didn’t know that the “delegation” was just Specter and his wife and an aide, who are taking a military jet to Europe and the Middle East over the holidays. The itinerary includes stops in England, Israel (his 26th visit), Syria (18th) and Austria. The Austria stop is for a chat with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

This sparring could get ugly come the confirmation hearing.

Transportation Shortlist

With President-elect Barack Obama rounding out his Cabinet, and most all nominees expected to be announced before Christmas, attention is turning to the race to become transportation secretary, a plum perch from which to influence an issue atop the new administration’s agenda: the economic stimulus infrastructure plan.

Obama is down to a small group of finalists, and Steve Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees transportation planning and financing in the nine-county San Francisco Bay area, is said to be in the rail position.
Sources said that Heminger, who declined to talk to In the Loop, has met with Obama. (He declined to talk yesterday.)

But the list is also said to include two transportation officials from the Clinton administration: Jane Garvey, who ran the Federal Aviation Administration, and Mortimer Downey, a deputy transportation secretary.


Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk is said to also be under consideration for this or another job in the administration. Reached yesterday at his Houston law office, Kirk said he did not know whether he would land the post. “As General [Colin] Powell said, if the president feels that there is a role that I can play in the administration, that is something I would have to consider,” Kirk said.

Heminger, a technical expert on infrastructure issues, has the backing of powerful members of California’s congressional delegation, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The Fix Is In

The Senate and the House, in voice votes Wednesday last night that left no fingerprints, quietly approved a measure to reduce the secretary of state’s pay to its 2007 level, from $191,300 to $186,600. The measure now goes to President Bush. The White House says he’ll sign it.

The resolution, popularly known as the “Saxbe Fix,” is an effort to deal with the Constitution’s quite explicit emoluments clause, which says that no member of Congress shall be named to any office “the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during his term.”

So Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in the Senate when the pay last increased, will lose $4,700 a year when she takes the job, in an ploy to accommodate the Founding Fathers’ wishes. This could hurt, especially if Bill’s speechmaking income incoming takes a hit from possible future restrictions because of his wife’s post.

Madison wept.

An Addition to the Family

The Pentagon issued a 56-page report last week titled the “Joint Operating Environment 2008: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force.” A real page-turner, you see, but our attention flagged somewhere between Page 8 and Page 9. After all, who reads this stuff?

The crafty North Koreans do. For there, on Page 32, was this sentence: “The rim of the great Asian continent is already home to five nuclear powers: China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Russia.”

Time for fireworks and celebrations in Pyongyang. It’s long been the stated policy of the United States that it would never, never, never acknowledge that North Korea was a nuclear power. Yet here it was, baldly stated, in a Pentagon document, our colleague Glenn Kessler reports.

KCNA, the slightly loony news agency of the North Korean government, issued a triumphal statement noting the event. “It is the first time that the U.S. officially recognized [North Korea] as a nuclear weapons state and announced it in its government report,” KCNA said.

The Pentagon quickly backtracked, saying the whole thing was a mistake. “As a matter of policy, we do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state,” a spokesman declared. Apologies were sent to U.S. allies.

Of course, allies all privately think the United States has decided to live with North Korea as a nuclear power, so this will simply further feed their paranoia.

Viva Las Vegas

The first report of the Congressional Oversight Panel for Economic Stabilization, which was set up to monitor the administration of the Troubled Assets Recovery Program (TARP), better known as the Wall Street bailout, is not riveting reading.

Then we came to Page 34 of the 38-page report, titled “Future Oversight Activities.” The panel said it “will hold a series of field hearings to shine light on the causes of the financial crisis, the administration of TARP, and the anxieties and challenges of ordinary Americans.”
And where’s the first hearing? Vegas!

In all fairness, Las Vegas is ground zero for home foreclosures, but still .....

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 2:10 PM ET, 12/11/2008

The Fix Is In

The Senate and then the House, in voice votes last night that left no fingerprints, quietly approved a measure to scale the Secretary of State’s pay back to its 2007 level, down from $191,300 to $186,600 a year. The measure now goes to President Bush. The White House says he’ll sign it.

The move, popularly known as the “Saxbe Fix,” is an effort to deal with the Constitution’s quite explicit emoluments clause, which says that no member of Congress shall be named to any office "the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during his term."

So Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in the Senate when the secretary's salary was last increased, will be taking a pay cut of $4,700 a year when she takes the job. This could hurt, especially if Bill’s speechmaking income takes a hit from the new arrangements.

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Posted at 11:19 AM ET, 12/11/2008

Sweet Home Chicago Will Stay That Way for Obama

We learned some new details about President-elect Barack Obama yesterday, including that he will maintain his home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood as a White House getaway for the first family. Kinda like Crawford, Tex.,added this because my first thought was “crawford who” but i may be way wrong but without the brush.

“My Kennebunkport is on the South Side of Chicago,” Obama said, referring to President George H.W. Bush’s getaway in Maine during an interview with reporters from the Tribune Co. “Our friends are here. Our family is here. We are going to try to come back here as often as possible, ..... at least once every six weeks or couple months.”

Obama did the interview in his sparsely furnished Chicago transition office with two basketballs on a bookshelf and another by the door. With most transition officials working in Washington, the Secret Service agents outnumbered the Chicago staff, the Tribune staffers reported.

When he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, Obama said he plans to be sworn in using his full name: Barack Hussein Obama.

“I think the tradition is that [presidents] use all three names, and I will follow the tradition,” Obama said. “I’m not trying to make a statement one way or another. I’ll do what everybody else does.”

Obama said that he and his wife have not started looking shopping for a church in Washington but noted that he receives regular prayer phone calls from T.D. Jakes, pastor of a Dallas mega-church; Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback, a California mega-church; and Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Crashing the Party

The rotten economy has caused many businesses and non-profits to cut back on holiday parties. So a few dozen of the younger-ish foreign policy geeks who are members of the Council on Foreign Relations decided to throw their own bash at the super-trendy chocolate bar Co Co. Sala in Penn Quarter.

The crowd, mostly in their 30s, was hanging out, having a good time, talking Darfur, Mumbai, Kirkuk and Putin, when some noticed a shaggy-haired, familiar-looking guy, boyish despite his gray hair, standing by the door waiting for someone. Knew him from somewhere but .....
Then in comes Santa himself in the form of one Kurt Campbell, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific, head of the Center for a New American Security, and most critical for for job-seekers in this holiday season, an important player on the Pentagon transition effort. Turns out the other fellow was James Steinberg, reported to be the pick for deputy secretary of state.

The duo came to the attention of the party-goers, who scrambled for their résumés, but Steinberg and Campbell, showing superb battlefield awareness — and recognizing an asymmetric power balance — beat a hasty but dignified retreat to find a safer strategic environment where they could eat unmolested by importuners.

Podesta in the Pool

To Team Obama workers, it seemed the whole transition inexplicably slowed for a few hours there yesterday morning. No one could figure out why. Turns out, transition chief John Podesta was not in. He was cooling his heels down in D.C. Superior Court, waiting to see if he would be called for jury duty.

D.C has a one-day-or-one-trial system, in which residents spend a day in the jury pool and, if not picked, are off the hook for a couple of years. If picked, you’re there for the duration of the trial. You can, as Podesta did, get one deferment. After that, you’ve got to gotta show.

So there he was, sitting in that big room with scores of other local residents, doing his civic duty. We’re told he even got so far as to be called for voire dire for a criminal trial. A kindly judge let him off the hook until after the inauguration. Podesta got back shortly after lunch and the transition train chugged off down the track.

Straight Talk Excess

Run, don’t walk, to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign headquarters in Arlington for an amazing Blowout Sale! Computers, BlackBerrys, televisions, desks, you name it — everything must go. Hurry while the offer lasts!

Our colleague Mary Ann Akers reports on her fine blog, Tthe Sleuth, that the failed McCain-Palin campaign is having a fire sale this week on leftover equipment. An e-mail sent over the weekend to all campaign staff, which was subsequently forwarded to The Sleuth, reads:

“Starting Monday December 8, 2008 the prices will be slashed to 36% of the original price for furniture, office supplies, blackberries, and many campaign computers,” announced the e-mail. “This is a great opportunity to own a piece of history, finish your Christmas shopping, or simply replace your old laptop.”

The hot deals on the price sheet include a Dell Latitude D620 laptop for $417 , a fine Brother printer for $189, a BlackBerry 8700c for $30, and folding chairs for $3.60 each. But wait! There’s plenty more, including flat-screen TVs, a black microfiber sofa, lamps, end tables and a mission-style coffee table from Target (at the low, low price of blue light special rate of $60).

Alas, nothing from the Sarah Palin $180,000 extreme makeover paid for by the Republican National Committee.

Short on cash? No problem. “We accept cash, checks, and credit cards,” the price sheet says.

Moving Out

National Archivist Allen Weinstein, who has Parkinson’s disease, has submitted his resignation effective Dec. 19, citing health reasons. Weinstein’s 2005 appointment by President Bush sparked controversy, especially over concerns that he would be an independent archivist. There were allegations that President Bush sacked his predecessor for political reasons.

While the archivist is keeper of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, he also is charged with making sure that highly sensitive presidential papers are open and available to the public.

In that regard, said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, Weinstein “always rose to the challenge.” When his group found the CIA trying to reclassify already-open, public documents, he said, “Allen put a stop to it. When we caught the Nixon library pulling the plug at the last minute on a conference” because they didn’t want Nixon critics to attend, “Allen used it as leverage to get the Nixon library to agree to restore” numerous records Nixon had gotten the courts to remove from public access.

On the other hand, Blanton felt Weinstein didn’t change the Archives’ “inferiority complex and use its leverage by law” to block the current administration from dropping its archiving system of e-mails.”

Deputy Archivist Adrienne Thomas will serve as acting archivist until a successor is named and approved by the Senate, most likely next year.

With Philip Rucker

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Posted at 1:23 PM ET, 12/10/2008

Live From Iceland, or Possibly Greenland, It's the DipNote Tweet Show!

There’s only six weeks left in the Bush administration, but Loop Fans know that political appointees are not about to collect their paychecks and just kick back in local bars. Au contraire! They’re going hyperspeed to fulfill their duties before the inauguration.

Take Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy, formerly the academic director and associate professor at the London Law Program for Pepperdine University School of Law. She received international fame of a sort in 2006 when she was quoted saying that the suicides of three Guantanamo Bay detainees were a “good PR move.”

Graffy is overseas as we speak, working to spread the word of America’s fine foreign policy. And the State Department, aware of your short attention span, has a simple way to make sure you know how she’s earning her keep. Here’s the note on the official blog, DipNote.

“Do you twitter? You can follow a diplomat in real-time and learn more about America’s public diplomacy by catching the ‘tweets’ of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy.” Tweets are very brief messages, 140 characters max, letting people know what you’re doing.

“She is tweeting now,” the Friday night DipNote said, “as she prepares this weekend to depart for Iceland, Croatia and Armenia. She will chat with bloggers, meet with the spokesperson at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, compare notes with journalists, talk with university students, hear about the Fulbright program, have pizza with representatives of the youth wings of political parties and more.”

Her first tweets:

-- “it’s official — Dipnote announces I’m twittering my trip to Iceland, Croatia and Armenia. Now to pack! http://tiny.cc/CGDipnote1”

-- .“Dashing in to State Dept to pick up tickets, briefing books — white knuckle time — gotta catch that flight!”

-- “in Boston now boarding flight to Iceland! forgot gym clothes, forgot bathing suit (possible Blue Lagoon visit). advice: don’t pack in 30 min”

-- “Arrived at Reflavik airport — beautiful! Clever — u can buy duty free AFTER landing — big shop open while u wait for luggage. quel marketing!” (She probably meant Keflavik airport, or maybe Reykjavik.)

-- “met by PAO [public affairs officer] Kathy Eagen at airport. checking into hotel. Photos here: http://tiny.9cc/9CGflkrIS Click on them to get description”

--“on the ‘Blue Lagoon Express’ it is only light between 11am and 3pm here in Iceland so better make the most of it — sleep later”

--“Renting a bathing suit and getting ready to take the plunge into the geothermal hot springs and smear silica mud on my face”

-- “Small world — ran into DCM [deputy chief of mission] Neil Klopfenstein just before plunge into Blue Lagoon. Bathing suit not my sartorial choice for first meet! Ack!”
Seems everyone who’s anyone meets at the lagoon?

Amba$$ador Opponents

Speaking of matters diplomatic, the American Foreign Service Association, the career officers’ union, is once again trying to get more qualified people into ambassadorial jobs. The union sent the Obama transition team a letter Monday noting that a federal law says ambassadorial nominees “should possess clearly demonstrated competence to perform the duties of a chief of mission, including ..... useful knowledge of the language ..... and understanding of the history, the culture, the economic and political institutions, and the interests of that country. ..... Contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor.”

Given President-elect Barack Obama’s “commitment to change instead of business as usual, now is the time to end the spoils system,” the union argues.

About 30 percent of ambassadorships — the ones to posh posts — traditionally go to pals and fat-cat contributors. AFSA wants to cut it down “to a maximum of 10 percent,” which would go a long way toward “ending the unchecked spoils system under which scores” of political hacks and others are picked for jobs “for which they are unqualified.”

A noble thought. Fat chance.

Condi’s Choice

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was interviewed yesterday on CBS Radio, where she made a long statement about how great it is to have a black president.

“May I take it,” she’s asked, “that you actually preferred a victory for Senator Obama rather than John McCain?”

“I have constantly told people,” she said, “that I was secretary of state and I was not going to get into a partisan debate and I would vote by — vote by ballot in a secret way, as all Americans do. But I just want to acknowledge that when the election took place and after the election took place, it was a special time for Americans.”

So that’s a yes?

It’s Gotta Be Brangelina

Buzz is that President-elect Barack Obama may announce, maybe even as early as today, that Clinton administration Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner, now a principal at the Albright Group, will hold a new White House position as head of environment, energy, climate and related matters.

Unclear if any of the related agency chiefs within her portfolio are going to be named. Chatter intensified yesterday that a big-name “knock your socks off” pick was on tap to take over the Energy Department — touching off speculation that it had to be Brangelina or California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) or former secretary of state Colin Powell. But several sources insisted it was not Schwarzenegger. His office maintained yesterday that he’s staying in California. “He plans to stay in office until the end of his term,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said. A Powell confidant said most unlikely. No comment so far from Brangelina.

Say Hi to Gov. Ryan for Us!

For a short time yesterday, Obama’s Senate seat was available for sale on eBay. Bids started at just 99 cents. “From the mouth of Blago himself, ‘It’s a (bleeping) valuable thing. You just don’t give it away for nothing.’ Happy bidding!” the eBayTRIM listing reportedly said.

The seller self-identified as “a poor student journalist in need of grocery money,” according to reports. Just hours later, the listing was stripped from eBay.
At Amazon.com, meanwhile, a “wish list” was created for the soon-9to-9be-9former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D), featuring such titles as “How to Open Locks With Improvised Tools” and “Who Moved My Soap?: The CEO’s Guide to Surviving in Prison,” as well as the DVDs of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Prison Break: Season One.”

Quote of the Week .....

We have a winner. It is, of course, the outgoing Illinois governor, quoted in Chicago newspapers yesterday morning. “I don’t believe there’s any cloud that hangs over me. I think there’s nothing but sunshine hanging over me,” the governor said Monday. Got a tad cloudier at 6 a.m. Tuesday, with a chance of incarceration.

With Philip Rucker

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