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Another thought on the

Another thought on the Abramoff story.

People tend to think of this story as the DeLay crew finally getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. And some of the immediate causes of Jack Abramoff's troubles were some Indian elections that went bad for him. But there's another part to this story that will be important to keep an eye on.

There are many theories about who's leaking on who in generating all these revelations about Abramoff and his associates. But it's clear that a big factor in all of this -- a big factor in generating a lot of these stories -- is a division between different groups of ex-DeLay aides -- particularly, the one surrounding Abramoff (the one that has everyone rushing for the exits, if they can find an open door) and that around Ed Buckham.

With Jack Abramoff under

With Jack Abramoff under indictment, a number of readers have suggested that now he might flip and try to offer the feds some figures higher up the food-chain. (Remember, this indictment is not from the DC-based grand jury we've mainly been hearing about; it's a separate grand jury in Florida, tied to alleged fraud in the purchase of a casino boat line. Jack really gets around.)

But I hear it's a bit different. I hear Abramoff has already tried to do that, and been rebuffed. And this gets us into questions I think we'll be talking about a lot.

Why would he be rebuffed?

Decisions like that go right to the top. And since Abramoff's shenanigans are closely tied -- to be generous -- not just to members of Congress (DeLay, Ney, Burns, et al.) but to key GOP power players (Norquist, Reed, et al.) and quite probably Karl Rove himself, you can see why he (i.e., Abramoff) might have a harder time than your usual perp cutting a deal to implicate those above him.

That DC grand jury investigation of Abramoff can't go on forever. Eventually the lawyers at the Public Integrity Section will go to their bosses with some decisions about just who they want to indict. That's when Al Gonzales will have to show his cards.

Thats an interesting approach.

That's an interesting approach.

Charles Alfred Dreyling Jr., 24, was caught Wednesday trying to Delta Airlines jet bound for Attanta with a pipe bomb in his luggage. It was equipped so that it could be detonated with his cell phone.

When asked, Dreyling told investigators that he had made the bomb, but that it was for recreational purposes (blowing them up with friends in rural Oklahoma) and that he had forgotten that it was in his suitcase.

Only yesterday when I

Only yesterday, when I was reporting on Jack Abramoff's part ownership of now-bankrupt SunCruz -- a casino boat operation down in Florida -- I was told there was a decent chance Abramoff would get indicted for fraud some time soon in that case too. And mind you, this is a different case, a different grand jury, than the one looking into his other shenanigans in DC and elsewhere.

And sure enough, the AP just moved a story saying that Abramoff will be indicted later today.

For those of you keeping score, this is the casino boat company in which one of Abramoff's co-owners was later whacked in a gangland style hit after the things started to go South.

And yes, there's also a Conrad Burns connection. SunCruz was the company Abramoff used to bring Burns' staffers to the Super Bowl back in 2001.

A TPM Reader whos

A TPM Reader (who's a lawyer) asked whether it might not be the case that the RNC is paying Jim Tobin's legal bills in the New Hampshire phone-jamming case because they are under some legal or contractual obligation to do so.

Now, as I wrote earlier, it seems to me that the demonstrable evidence of Tobin's guilt, would absolve them of such an obligation. And, just to be clear, Tobin's defense doesn't seem to rest on his being innocent of the deeds in questions but rather on claims that no laws cover what he did or that he has immunity from prosecution. I'd be curious to hear from other lawyers with experience in this area what they think.

But the thing is, Tobin's legal bills -- $700,000 and counting -- are being paid by the Republican National Committee. And he wasn't working for the Republican National Committee. He was working for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. These are two different organizations. They may have a common interest in Tobin's silence. But I cannot see why the RNC has any obligation, legal or ethical, to foot the bill for Tobin's defense.

Kathleen Sullivan Chair of

Kathleen Sullivan, Chair of the New Hampshire Democratic party, speaks out about the latest on 2002 phone-jamming scandal and asks why the RNC is paying the ringleader's legal bills.

Big News ... did

Big News ... did I say Big News?

For years -- literally years now -- we've been telling you about the Republican election-tampering scam from New Hampshire on election day 2002. This was the case in which the state Republican party hired a company to jam the phones of Democratic and union phone banks doing get out the vote work on election day in what was expected to be a tight race between now-Sen. John Sununu and then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

Election-tampering pure and simple.

The then-executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party and a consultant involved in the scheme are now doing time for their role in the caper. And though the DOJ has done about everything it can to drag its feet on the case, as we first reported last year the kingpin in the case, NRSC northeast regional director James Tobin himself was finally indicted.

Now, Tobin was then the Northeast Regional Director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, working under then-Chairman Bill Frist. (Later he became the regional chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004; he stepped down when he was indicted.)

Frist has refused ever to answer questions about what he knew about the scam. And various RNC officials going back almost three years now have disavowed any knowledge of the case at all. Had nothing to do with it, just a rogue operation, etc.

And now, finally, we have proof that all along the RNC has continued to pay Tobin's legal bills -- already totalling more than $700,000 before the man has even gone to trial.

This one is simply a no-brainer. Yes, an organization may be morally or even legally obligated to pay an employees legal bills for trouble they got in to in the course of their work. But that doesn't apply if he broke laws and was acting without authorization and in express contravention of his employers' wishes. It's true that Tobin hasn't been convicted yet. But his guilt or innocence -- in the colloquial sense of the terms -- is not at issue. His defense has centered entirely on claims that his acts didn't violate any laws or that he has immunity for various reasons.

Put simply, the fact that the RNC is paying Tobin's legal bills means either that he was acting under authorization or, frankly, that they're trying to keep him quiet. There's really no other reasonable explanation of this.

Reporters from the big news outlets have never taken this story very seriously. And they've never found the time to press Bill Frist to answer even the most basic questions about this, despite the fact that Tobin was working for Frist when this happened.

Now's the time.

If you'd like to find out more about the backstory on this, here's a list of our reporting on it going back to 2003. If you'd like to discuss, we'll be discussing it in this thread.

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