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Far be it from

Far be it from me to come to the defense of Jack Abramoff. But I think the direction of the story, for the foreseeable future, will largely be a matter of how well various of the DC GOP's power-players will be able to distance themselves from Abramoff. As I've said before, this whole tangle of transactions was an organized operation that went way beyond Jack Abramoff. It was a slush fund, part of a patronage operation that helped run the DC Republican machine. (As we wrote a few days ago, just what were California and Mississippi Indian tribes doing maxing out to the New Hampshire Republican party just a few days before the 2002 election?)

So now, with Abramoff pinned down under multiple different federal investigations, we can watch the big players in that machine try to retrospectively cut themselves off from all connections to Jack and cauterize the resulting wound as best they can.

So who are the players to watch?

First, of course, Tom DeLay. Then Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed (on a quixotic run for state-wide office in Georgia), Karl Rove (a central part of the whole operation), Bob Ney, Conrad Burns, all the members of Congress who were sending those messages to Abramoff begging for yet more access to the SunCruz-funded skyboxes, the mid-level cabinet appointees Abramoff owned.

This is where to watch.

An end to the

An end to the Likud? Reuters has a piece out this morning reporting that the perrenial opportunist and bad-actor Benjamin Netanyahu has just launched a bid to replace Ariel Sharon as head of the Likud.

The Gaza pullout has had strong majority support in Israel, albeit with a sizeable and extremely vocal minority against it. But as this article points out, Sharon would almost certainly lose a primary battle with Netanyahu for control of the Likud -- at least if it were held today. So rumors are now circulating that Sharon might leave the Likud and form a new center-right or centrist party or bloc to contest the next general election, which he seems to be in commanding position to win.

WhamoGov. Ernie Fletcher R

Whamo!

Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) of Kentucky and a slew of people from his adminsitration have been embroiled for some time now in a big government personnel scandal. And he just called a press conference and basically pardoned everybody.

I think this is what Republicans call decisive leadership.

Fletcher says he'll appear before the grand jury himself tomorrow; but he won't talk.

Have thoughts you want to share on this? We just set up this discussion thread over at the Republicans discussion table. Particularly interested in hearing from Kentuckians who've been watching this unfold up close.

Late Update: This turns out to be a bit more complicated than it looked on first glance. The BlueGrassReport has the running details.

Ohio tends to get

Ohio tends to get top billing these days when it comes to ethics-imploding GOP state political machines. But Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) of Kentucky seems unwilling to let his state take second place to the folks north of the border.

Fletcher has been wrangling for a while over the terms under which he'll appear before the grand jury in his own scandal. And a story just out from the Herald-Leader has this snippet about a press conference the governor has scheduled to 6 PM local time (emphasis added)...

The grand jury so far has indicted nine current or former Fletcher officials for violating state personnel laws. Under those laws, decisions about merit jobs cannot be based solely on politics.

Fletcher has scheduled a 6 p.m. news conference in the Capitol Rotunda to talk about the grand jury investigation. Television station WHAS in Louisville is reporting the governor will issue pardons to those already indicted, but the report couldn't be verified.


We'll let you know more when we hear it.

Its been a slow

It's been a slow day here at TPM. I've been busy on some Abramoff-related reporting. Actually, a lot of Abramoff-related reporting. More soon. If you're hankering for a GOP corruption fix, don't miss this piece in today's Times about a twenty-year army contracting official who was just demoted after questioning pricey no-bid contracts for Halliburton.

Wes Clark just did

Wes Clark just did his first post for the week over at TPMCafe on Iraq, Darfur and presidential leadership. He hopped on a plane after posting apparently. But he says he'll be responding to questions and comments down in the comments section later today after he lands. Check it out.

I have to confess

I have to confess that I was off in my own little world this last week. And it wasn't until I got back home this afternoon that I realized that this storm bearing down on New Orleans wasn't just one of these big hurricanes we hear about every year to two. Hopefully all the predictions will prove to be in some measure over blown. But we're only hours away from the predicted landfall and the predictions, with all the most current data, really do sound catastrophic, as overused as that word can be.

First, if you're anywhere near what's coming tomorrow morning, good luck and be safe.

If you've already evacuated and are fortunate enough to have good shelter and a passable Internet connection, let us know what's happening, what you saw, what you're hearing.

For those at a distance just looking to find out more, here's the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and here are a few of their live-on-the-scene webcams, for the curious at heart.

Department of small worlds.Many

Department of small worlds.

Many of you know that for years, I've been following the November 2002 New Hampshire election-tampering case, in which the state Republican party hired folks to sabotage Democratic and union phone-banks. So recently I looked at a copy of the NHGOP's funding receipts in the week or so before election day, mainly to get some angle on how the money for the scam was funnelled to the state party.

But look who sent in $5000 checks the week before election day: the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

What interest exactly did these Jack Abramoff clients from Mississippi and California have in this election?

Most of the Jack

Most of the Jack Abramoff story we've heard has been tied to lobbying for Indian casino interests and garment manufacturers in US Pacific island protectorates. But there's an overseas portfolio only starting to get attention. And along those lines, some details that could use some more attention...

Things started to go bad for Jack Abramoff in early 2004. He got fired or 'resigned' (take your pick) from Greenberg Traurig in March. And from there he went from high-voltage influence peddler to corruption coverboy in the Post, the Times and other news outlets.

But Abramoff did more than start readying his defense after he left Greenberg Traurig. He immediately signed up with Cassidy & Associates. And if you're not familiar with them, Cassidy is one of the glitz names in the foregin lobbying business in Washington.

Then in July, he left Cassidy. Everybody put out gracious press releases. But you figure that by the summer Abramoff was even too hot to handle for them.

But he still wasn't quite done. Upon leaving Cassidy Abramoff set up his own company, Middle Gate Ventures.

As near as I can figure there's only one mention of the firm that ever appeared in the US press -- a short piece in the Washington Post's 'Special Interests' column on July 8th, 2004.

You can find other references to it Middle Gate with a google search. But they all seem to cite back to this little squib in the Post. And the Post said that Middle Gate would be Abramoff's "vehicle for pursuing such business opportunities as energy projects, real estate development and motion picture production."

Abramoff made pretty clear that his bridges were burned in the DC lobbying game. So what remained were his overseas contacts and opportunities.

I hear that pretty much immediately after setting up Middle Gate he was using the company to get deeply involved in some 'energy projects' on the west coast of Africa.

I'm trying to put together different pieces of this puzzle. But if you have any more pieces, I'd love to hear from you.

First let me thank

First, let me thank Michael Crowley and Steve Clemons for filling in while I was away. It's much appreciated. More shortly on other matters.

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