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Yesterday I mentioned an

Yesterday I mentioned an intriguing angle to the Jack Abramoff-Tom DeLay relationship that hasn't gotten very much attention. The House Ethics Committee is set to dig into the Abramoff-related allegations against DeLay this fall, and I'm curious to know how carefully the panel will explore the shadowy NaftaSib angle.

NaftaSib is a Russian oil and gas company which apparently underwrote a six-day "fact-finding" trip to Moscow that DeLay took with Abramoff in 1997, during which the two met with NaftaSib executives for reasons that remain unknown. The trip and DeLay's meeting with NaftaSib officials was widely reported earlier this year. What I never saw was any follow-up on additional evidence released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on June 22 that shed some additional light on Abramoff's relationship with NaftaSib, and on the company's true nature.

That evidence included an eye-popping 2001 email between Abramoff and a Russian man named Vadim. The email concerned the purchase of paramilitary equipment, apparently including night vision goggles, that Abramoff intended to send to his Israeli West Bank settler friends.

A close read of the emails shows that this Vadim fellow had -- you guessed it -- a naftasib.com email address. What's more, Vadim's email signature identified him as "Assistant to Ms. Nevskaya" -- presumably one Marina Nevskaya, a NaftaSib executive who reportedly had been an instructor at a Russian military intelligence school. The Washington Post has reported that NaftaSib "has business ties with Russian security institutions." According to the Post's sources, DeLay met with Nevskaya in Moscow and subsequently in Washington.

It would be awfully interesting to know how aware Abramoff and DeLay were of these NaftaSib connections at the time of the 1997 Moscow trip. It would also be interesting to know whether Abramoff had been discussing the sub rosa purchase of military equipment back then, and whether DeLay himself knew anything about it. And, of course, it'd be useful to know why just DeLay was meeting with these people in the first place.

Just some of about a hundred fascinating questions for the House Ethics Committee to tackle in the months ahead.

P.S. You can read the most recent trove of Abramoff emails here and here. Nuke up some popcorn and enjoy yourself, it's great stuff. Vadim's note can be found on page 79 of the first PDF, embedded in a longer message from Abramoff to his settler friend Schmuel Ben-Zvi.

I only vowed to

I only vowed to mostly resist my current pet obsessions while squatting here. And now Ross Douthat forces me to speak up on the astonishing new documentary Grizzly Man, which he declares "the movie of the year" with a wonderfully sophisticated (but readably short) argument about nature, religion, and, well, getting eaten by a bear.

Is it really such

Is it really such a surprise that the credibility of the Able Danger story is in so much doubt? Not if you know much about the chief advocate of the theory, Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, one of Washington's most eccentric freelance diplomats and self-styled terrorism experts.

It's interesting to note that this controversy comes just days after Weldon -- who was furious about not getting the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee in 2000 -- publicly claimed he had House Speaker Dennis Hastert's backing to assume the job in a couple of years. If the Able Danger story turns out to be a huge embarassment for Weldon, you have to wonder if he'll still be Hastert's guy.

P.S. Yes, that is assuming Republicans keep the House for a while. But that's hardly a crazy assumption.

The Houston Chronicle reports

The Houston Chronicle reports on a "hush-hush" September fundraiser for Tom DeLay featuring Dick Cheney. This is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows that the Bush administration remains totally supportive of DeLay (although it's duly noted that Cheney and not Bush is the attendee). Second, it suggests that Republicans believe DeLay will have a serious re-election fight on his hands next year and needs mondo cash to wage it.

And now for something

And now for something completely different: From a letter to the Times of London, here's a creative, of-the-moment argument against exending pub hours in the UK:

Effects of new drinking hours

Sir, I turned teetotal having seen, as a barrister, many lives destroyed by alcohol: those of both otherwise law-abiding citizens, who committed acts of violence when drunk, and their victims.

Like Judge Charles Harris, QC, and the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges (report, August 10), my many Muslim friends also see large-scale loutish alcoholism, and the society which permits it, as decadent.

Allowing pubs to open round the clock will increase Muslim disaffection and support for those fighting such decadence. Extended drinking hours may cause more terrorism.

ANDREW M. ROSEMARINE Salford, Manchester

I wonder what Richard Clarke thinks of this idea...

(Thanks to reader Alex Massie)

As journalism grows ever

As journalism grows ever more fractured and shallow, The Washington Monthly remains one of the industry's truly noble institutions. Its sense of public service and the national welfare isn't often rewarded with the kind of "buzz" that magazine editors obsessively pursue -- to the detriment of our collective IQs. Which is why it's great to see the Monthly's ingenious and inspiring take on the silly ritual of college rankings rewarded with a big Washington Post write-up. (You can thank the magazine's visionary founder, Charlie Peters, by checking out his well-received new book.)

Id be remiss if

I'd be remiss if I guest-hosted Josh's site and didn't mention this story from The Hill: House Republicans are holding a fundraiser on Wednesday to benefit the legal defense fund of two DeLay associates indicted on money laundering charges. What sort of fundraiser, you ask? A golf tournament, naturally!

US News World Report

US News & World Report has a big Jack Abramoff piece this week. I've followed the Abramoff story closely, and this installment is a pretty familiar rehash of the basic narrative. But a couple of things in it struck me. One is that the Justice Department has been poring through fully 500,000 of Abramoff's emails. That's a reminder of just how much of the conservative lobbyist's enthralling secret world remains unrevealed, despite all the national coverage to date. (It's also a reminder of Sam Rosenfeld's understandable surprise at why Democrats on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee haven't released more Abramoff emails and generally pushed the story harder.)

And in the wake of Abramoff's indictment earlier this month for his role in an allegedly fraudulent Florida business deal, there was also this interesting passage on the current state of the DOJ's investigation into Abramoff's general lobbying and political activities:

Prosecutors often like to use criminal charges from one inquiry as leverage in another, and that may well happen with the investigation underway in Washington. But people familiar with the investigations say prosecutors aren't in a big hurry. "There is no need to rush into this thing," says a person familiar with the Washington inquiry. "It is almost a foregone conclusion that [the grand jury] could indict him anytime [it] wanted to. For now, he spent a night in jail [in relation to the Florida charges]. Let's see what his mind-set is." Prosecutors would ultimately like to secure Abramoff's cooperation, the source added. With more than 40 FBI agents assigned to the case, there is every indication that prosecutors are interested in more than just a couple of lobbyists. The source also confirmed a recent Washington Post report that Scanlon, a former press aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has been in discussions with Justice Department lawyers.

The Washington buzz about Abramoff has subsided for now. But this story is a long way from over. Later today or tomorrow we'll look at a question that has largely slipped through the media cracks about Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and potential Russian arms dealers. <$NoAd$>

The Sheehan Effect Tappeds

The Sheehan Effect? Tapped's Garance Franke-Ruta flags a new ARG poll that shows Bush's approval rating has plummetted to an astonishing 36 percent -- down six points from a month ago.

Update: A reader notes that the recently reliable Rasmussen poll (which almost precisely forecast the 2004 presidential vote) shows Bush at a far healthier 48 percent, which is up five points from early last week. (That's right around when the conservative anti-Sheehan backlash really got rolling, by the way.)

Incidentally, Rasmussen also shows that Americans aren't too crazy about Cindy Sheehan, and that nearly four in ten (and a clear majority of Democrats) think it's time to bring the troops home.