A four-month investigation reveals that dozens of federal judges gave contributions to President Bush and top Republicans who helped place them on the bench. A Salon/CIR exclusive.
Editor's note: This story continues a series by Salon and the Center for Investigative Reporting scrutinizing the federal judiciary under Bush. To learn more about the data and public records cited in this story, and to view CIR's full report, click here.
By Will Evans
At least two dozen federal judges appointed by President Bush since 2001 made political contributions to key Republicans or to the president himself while under consideration for their judgeships, government records show. A four-month investigation of Bush-appointed judges by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that six appellate court judges and 18 district court judges contributed a total of more than $44,000 to politicians who were influential in their appointments. Some gave money directly to Bush after he officially nominated them. Other judges contributed to Republican campaign committees while they were under consideration for a judgeship.
Republicans who received money from judges en route to the bench include Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Gov. George Pataki of New York.
There are no laws or regulations prohibiting political contributions by a candidate for a federal judgeship. But political giving by judicial candidates has been a rarely scrutinized activity amid the process that determines who will receive lifelong jobs on the federal bench. Some ethics experts and Bush-appointed judges say that political giving is inappropriate for those seeking judicial office -- it can appear unethical, they say, and could jeopardize the public's confidence in the impartiality of the nation's courts. Those concerns come as ethics and corruption scandals have roiled Washington, and on the eve of midterm elections whose outcome could influence the makeup of the federal judiciary -- including the Supreme Court -- for decades to come.
Alarm over radioactive legacy left by attack on Lebanon
Published: 28 October 2006
Did Israel use a secret new uranium-based weapon in southern Lebanon this summer in the 34-day assault that cost more than 1,300 Lebanese lives, most of them civilians?
We know that the Israelis used American "bunker-buster" bombs on Hizbollah's Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know - after it first categorically denied using such munitions - that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.
But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory - and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures". Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry - used by the Ministry of Defence - which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.
Dr Busby's initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. "The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ... The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium." A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.
Enriched uranium is produced from natural uranium ore and is used as fuel for nuclear reactors. A waste productof the enrichment process is depleted uranium, it is an extremely hard metal used in anti-tank missiles for penetrating armour. Depleted uranium is less radioactive than natural uranium, which is less radioactive than enriched uranium.
Israel has a poor reputation for telling the truth about its use of weapons in Lebanon. In 1982, it denied using phosphorous munitions on civilian areas - until journalists discovered dying and dead civilians whose wounds caught fire when exposed to air.
I saw two dead babies who, when taken from a mortuary drawer in West Beirut during the Israeli siege of the city, suddenly burst back into flames. Israel officially denied using phosphorous again in Lebanon during the summer - except for "marking" targets - even after civilians were photographed in Lebanese hospitals with burn wounds consistent with phosphorous munitions.
Then on Sunday, Israel suddenly admitted that it had not been telling the truth. Jacob Edery, the Israeli minister in charge of government-parliament relations, confirmed that phosphorous shells were used in direct attacks against Hizbollah, adding that "according to international law, the use of phosphorous munitions is authorised and the (Israeli) army keeps to the rules of international norms".
Asked by The Independent if the Israeli army had been using uranium-based munitions in Lebanon this summer, Mark Regev, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: "Israel does not use any weaponry which is not authorised by international law or international conventions." This, however, begs more questions than it answers. Much international law does not cover modern uranium weapons because they were not invented when humanitarian rules such as the Geneva Conventions were drawn up and because Western governments still refuse to believe that their use can cause long-term damage to the health of thousands of civilians living in the area of the explosions.
American and British forces used hundreds of tons of depleted uranium (DU) shells in Iraq in 1991 - their hardened penetrator warheads manufactured from the waste products of the nuclear industry - and five years later, a plague of cancers emerged across the south of Iraq.
Initial US military assessments warned of grave consequences for public health if such weapons were used against armoured vehicles. But the US administration and the British government later went out of their way to belittle these claims. Yet the cancers continued to spread amid reports that civilians in Bosnia - where DU was also used by Nato aircraft - were suffering new forms of cancer. DU shells were again used in the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq but it is too early to register any health effects.
"When a uranium penetrator hits a hard target, the particles of the explosion are very long-lived in the environment," Dr Busby said yesterday. "They spread over long distances. They can be inhaled into the lungs. The military really seem to believe that this stuff is not as dangerous as it is." Yet why would Israel use such a weapon when its targets - in the case of Khiam, for example - were only two miles from the Israeli border? The dust ignited by DU munitions can be blown across international borders, just as the chlorine gas used in attacks by both sides in the First World War often blew back on its perpetrators.
Chris Bellamy, the professor of military science and doctrine at Cranfield University, who has reviewed the Busby report, said: "At worst it's some sort of experimental weapon with an enriched uranium component the purpose of which we don't yet know. At best - if you can say that - it shows a remarkably cavalier attitude to the use of nuclear waste products."
The soil sample from Khiam - site of a notorious torture prison when Israel occupied southern Lebanon between 1978 and 2000, and a frontline Hizbollah stronghold in the summer war - was a piece of impacted red earth from an explosion; the isotope ratio was 108, indicative of the presence of enriched uranium. "The health effects on local civilian populations following the use of large uranium penetrators and the large amounts of respirable uranium oxide particles in the atmosphere," the Busby report says, "are likely to be significant ... we recommend that the area is examined for further traces of these weapons with a view to clean up."
This summer's Lebanon war began after Hizbollah guerrillas crossed the Lebanese frontier into Israel, captured two Israeli soldiers and killed three others, prompting Israel to unleash a massive bombardment of Lebanon's villages, cities, bridges and civilian infrastructure. Human rights groups have said that Israel committed war crimes when it attacked civilians, but that Hizbollah was also guilty of such crimes because it fired missiles into Israel which were also filled with ball-bearings, turning their rockets into primitive one-time-only cluster bombs.
Many Lebanese, however, long ago concluded that the latest Lebanon war was a weapons testing ground for the Americans and Iranians, who respectively supply Israel and Hizbollah with munitions. Just as Israel used hitherto-unproven US missiles in its attacks, so the Iranians were able to test-fire a rocket which hit an Israeli corvette off the Lebanese coast, killing four Israeli sailors and almost sinking the vessel after it suffered a 15-hour on-board fire.
What the weapons manufacturers make of the latest scientific findings of potential uranium weapons use in southern Lebanon is not yet known. Nor is their effect on civilians.
Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, was sentenced this afternoon to more than 24 years in prison for his role in the energy giant’s collapse.
Michael Stravato for NYT
Jeffrey K. Skilling, center, and his lawyer left federal court in Houston after Mr. Skilling was sentenced.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Jeffrey Skilling, center right, arrived at the federal courthouse today where he was sentenced to 24 years, four months in the harshest sentence yet in the case that came to symbolize corporate fraud in America.
He will be forced to forfeit $45 million, which prosecutors said would effectively wipe out his fortune.
At a hearing here in United States District Court, Judge Simeon T. Lake III said of Mr. Skilling, “His crimes have imposed on hundreds, if not thousands of victims a life sentence of poverty.”
Throughout the hearing, Mr. Skilling reacted impassively. His wife sobbed uncontrollably and hid her face in her hands.
He will be allowed to remain in his home under electronic surveillance until a federal prison is selected to house him, but the judge denied his request to be released on bond pending appeal.
Mr. Skilling was convicted in May of heading a conspiracy to defraud Enron’s investors.
While the sentence of 24 years and four months was the lengthiest yet in the Enron case, it did not surpass the 25-year term that WorldCom’s former chief executive, Bernard J. Ebbers, received for being head of an $11 billion fraud that led to the bankruptcy of the long-distance company.
Mr. Ebbers’s sentence was less than the 30 years to life imprisonment called for in the sentencing guidelines.
Mr. Skilling’s prospects reflect how tough the federal guidelines have become for those convicted of white-collar crimes in the wake of the huge-scale frauds at companies including Enron, WorldCom and Adelphia.
Some legal experts have begun to question the sentences that federal judges are handing down in these cases.
“You can certainly make the case that things have gotten too harsh,” said Samuel W. Buell, a former Enron prosecutor who now teaches law at Washington University in St. Louis. “But the reason why things have gotten so harsh is we went through these years when sentences were too light. Maybe we need a correction in the other direction to get a happy medium.”
Enron was the company that first imploded in the years of corporate scandal, leading to a wave of investigations and calls for tougher regulations and accountability. The sentence to be handed down Monday is likely to underscore that message of deterrence, legal specialists said.
“Enron still stands alone as a brand name of corporate fraud,” said Robert Mintz, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, “and this judge is not going to hesitate to hand down a lengthy sentence in this case.”
Mr. Skilling faced the judge alone, without Kenneth L. Lay, Enron’s founder and Mr. Skilling’s co-defendant in his criminal trial, who died of heart problems in July. His guilty verdict was vacated last week.
Missing, too, was Andrew S. Fastow, the former chief financial officer who pleaded guilty to fraud and stealing from the company. He was sentenced last month to six years in prison, less than the 10 years he could have received as part of his deal to cooperate with prosecutors.
All of that leaves Mr. Skilling as the only top executive through whom Enron’s ultimate punishment will be remembered, Mr. Mintz said.
For Mr. Skilling, this summer was about coping. After the verdict in May, he spent significant time with his three children, traveling to California with his daughter and to a dude ranch with his youngest son, said friends, family members and his lead lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli. Neighbors in Houston said they saw little of Mr. Skilling, although he occasionally rented videos from a store near his home.
Virtually all Mr. Skilling’s net worth, around $55 million, is frozen by the government. He owes O’Melveny & Myers, the law firm that handled his defense, more than $30 million, Mr. Petrocelli said.
Mr. Skilling seemed to stay out of Houston as much as possible, spending time at a condominium he owns in Dallas, where his daughter had been a student at Southern Methodist University. But Mr. Skilling’s coping also meant drinking again, despite a court order that forbade him to do so after a much-publicized night of drunkenness in April 2004 at a Manhattan cigar bar, when Mr. Skilling scuffled with some other patrons.
His summer travel ended after he was arrested in Dallas last month for public intoxication. He pleaded no contest and paid a fine. That night, he was out with his brother Mark and his daughter at a Mexican restaurant and had some margaritas, which did not mix well with his prescription medicine, Mr. Petrocelli said. He was walking home to the condo when he was stopped by a police officer; he spent a night in jail.
Mr. Skilling has said he took solace in the bottle to cope with depression. Not being allowed to have an occasional drink “is unreasonable, considering the stresses he is under,” Mr. Petrocelli said.
But the incident is one more reason, outside lawyers say, why Judge Lake rejected Mr. Skilling’s request to remain free pending appeal.
Supporters of Mr. Skilling have recently reached out, trying to help him. In August, two friends of the Skilling and Lay families, Beth Stier and Terrie James, sent a letter to supporters, urging them to pass along “a pleasant memory, a thoughtful wish or a fond goodbye” to Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay’s family, according to a person who reviewed a copy of the letter. The thoughts were to be collected into books to be given to Mr. Lay’s family and to Mr. Skilling before his sentencing. Ms. Stier declined to say if the Lay and Skilling families had received the books.
Since the Dallas incident, Mr. Skilling has primarily spent time with his family in Houston. On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Skilling — wearing jeans, hiking boots and a small waist bag — walked with his brother near Mr. Skilling’s home in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood of Houston.
“Jeff is sorry for the consequences of Enron’s failure, but he doesn’t believe he committed any crimes,” Mr. Petrocelli said. “And our view is that many of the people that pleaded guilty to crimes at Enron were not guilty.”
For some former Enron employees, that message will not make them feel any sympathy for Mr. Skilling.
“All we ever wanted was for him to take responsibility, and he never did that,” said Deborah DeFforge, who worked at Enron for five years and said she lost about $100,000 in retirement savings. “Until he does that, I could never show him any mercy.”
This represents the view from mid-northern latitudes at about 1:00 a.m. local daylight time around October 21. The red line across the bottom of the image represents the horizon. (Image produced by Gary Kronk using SkyChart III 3.5 and Adobe Photoshop 5.5.)
The Orionid meteor shower is active throughout October and the first week of November. This shower is produced by the inbound particles of the famous Halley's Comet, which last passed through the inner solar system in 1986. The Earth passes closest to the comet's orbit on October 21. At this time the Earth actually only skims the outer fringes of the debris field produced by Halley's Comet. The Orionids can still produce a very entertaining display of celestial fireworks, especially when viewed from rural locations. When seen near maximum activity, an observer from a rural location can count 15 to 25 Orionid meteors per hour.
As October arrives, the first of the Orionid meteors may be noticed. At this time the radiant (the area of the sky where the Orionids seem to originate) is located in northern Orion, just a few degrees north of the tight little group of stars formed by Lambda and Phi Orionis. As the month progresses the radiant travels slightly less than one degree toward the northeast each night. On the morning of maximum activity, October 21, the radiant is then located on the Orion/Gemini border, three degrees west of the bright star Alhena (Gamma Geminorum). As we pass into November the radiant has moved well within the constellation of Gemini. The last traces of the Orionid meteor shower may be seen near November 7 when the radiant lies in south-central Gemini near the faint star Lambda Geminorum.
In mid-October the constellation of Orion rises near 2300 (11pm) local daylight time. LDT is your time local regardless of location. You may see meteor activity during the early evening hours, but they will certainly not be Orionids! The Orionids (like all meteors) cannot be seen until they strike that portion of the atmosphere that is visible from your observing site. This can only occur when the radiant has an elevation of -5 degrees or higher. Minus 5? Yes, meteors can actually be seen when their radiant is slightly below the horizon. At this altitude meteors are able to just skim the upper regions of the atmosphere that is visible from your observing site. These meteors are rare and best seen during the strongest showers. You may get lucky and actually see an Orionid "earthgrazer" during the late evening hours. These meteors are different than your average "shooting star" in that they are very long and also long-lasting. The brightest ones can stretch from horizon to horizon, lasting five seconds or more (an eternity compared to the average duration of 0.3 seconds).
As the night progresses the constellation of Orion and the Orionid radiant will climb higher into the sky. The average Orionid meteor will become appear progressively shorter and faster as they strike the dense portions of the upper atmosphere. The radiant will culminate near 0500 LDT, when it lies on the meridian. This will be the best time to see Orionid activity as the radiant will then be located highest above your horizon. To best view Orionid activity look in the general direction of the radiant with the bottom of your field of view situated just above the horizon. Avoid looking straight up as this direction has the thinnest slice of atmosphere. That's great for telescopic work but not for viewing meteor activity. Aim your view a bit closer to the horizon and you will be viewing though a much thicker slice of the atmosphere, allowing you to see more meteor activity. I would also recommend that you not look directly at the radiant as the meteors seen there are short and easily missed. Keep the radiant off to one side of your field of view, but close enough easily tell the meteor came from Orion. Looking in this direction will also help you see the slow Taurid meteors coming from the west and the swift meteors from Leo Minor, coming from the east. Besides these radiants one can also expect up to fifteen random meteors occurring each hour. This offers a good opportunity to see a wide variety of celestial fireworks, if one can stay awake during the early morning hours.