They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

From a Washington Post editorial today, "A Blank Check to Spy":

In an op-ed in these pages Monday, [Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen] Specter described his proposal as a compromise with President Bush to ensure judicial review of the NSA program, which he called "a festering sore on our body politic." Yet his legislation would essentially respond to this festering sore by shooting the patient. . . .

Under Mr. Specter's bill. . . [Congress] would be explicitly acknowledging an alternative source of authority for snooping. It would thereby legitimize not only whatever the NSA may now be doing but lots of other surveillance it might dream up.

In his op-ed piece, Mr. Specter challenged critics of his bill to present "a better idea for legislation that would resolve the program's legality." Ironically, several better ideas are already out there, from legislators who, unlike Mr. Specter, have actually been briefed on the NSA program. These proposals vary a lot, from more modest authorizations of the program to efforts to streamline FISA and provide resources so that authorities could get warrants more quickly. Remarkably, none of the legislators who have received detailed briefings has put forward a proposal as dramatic as Mr. Specter's. That should tell senators something.

New polls are out for the Florida Senate race, and they show support for Rep. Katherine Harris dropping -- among the hardcore GOP voters, especially.

Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, said "it is apparent" that the Harris campaign has "gone into a free fall."

A new Strategic Vision poll, meanwhile, puts Nelson up by 38 points. It has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

But perhaps more striking than Nelson's lead is the crumbling of support for Harris, R-Longboat Key, among party members likely to vote in the GOP primary.

Just 36 percent now say they would vote for Harris, down from 72 percent four months ago, according to Mason-Dixon.

As usual, the view from inside Harris' campaign is markedly different from the one outside.

Inside: Harris spokeswoman Jennifer Marks dismissed the poll numbers, saying Harris had a "history of gracefully rebounding despite negative predictions and questionable polls."

Outside: "I've never seen a candidate implode in slow motion, like she has," said Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "She's become this walking, talking political time bomb, and she lit the fuse herself."

Surveilling Arlen Specter "Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has begun to resemble a living bookend to Frank Capra's fictional Mr. Smith, the naive everyman who went to Washington with an incontrovertible aversion to compromise. For Specter, "compromise" has become another term for victory, not defeat. . . .

"'On the one hand, he seems to know that [the NSA domestic spying program] is wrong,'" explains Lisa Graves, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union who previously worked on the Judiciary Committee's Democratic staff. "But on the other hand, he is unable to stop himself from helping to ratify it.'" (Salon)

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From the AP:

Citing national security, a federal judge Tuesday threw out a lawsuit aimed at blocking AT&T from giving telephone records to the government for use in the war on terror.

"The court is persuaded that requiring AT&T to confirm or deny whether it has disclosed large quantities of telephone records to the federal government could give adversaries of this country valuable insight into the government's intelligence activities," U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said.

So the Hill newspaper came out with its annual "50 Most Beautiful People of Capitol Hill" feature. Guess what? More than half are Republicans. A mere 17 are Dems; the rest are unaffiliated -- police officers, lobbyists, a reporter or two. What's up with that?

By our rudimentary calculations, that makes Republicans 59 percent hotter than Democrats -- not adjusting for disparities in overall staff levels. Is that right?

"I think there are a lot of hot Republicans, [but] I think there's a lot of hot Democrats," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C.-based group which watchdogs congressional spending. "Beauty is bipartisan."

"Jesus Christ, my wife's going to kill me," Ashdown added.

Where does a muckraker go on his summer vacation?

I had a few days off last week, and decided to go to a place that should be almost a spiritual home to us rakers: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. That's the charming seaside town where a lifeguard and a waitress met each other, fell in love -- and appear to have triggered a chain of events that led to the biggest scandal to shake Capitol Hill in decades.

From the beginning: In 2002, Michael Scanlon was making millions as GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff's "evil elf," as he has since been described. He had earlier left a job under Tom DeLay, where he was known as the former House majority leader's "dirty tricks guy."

Every summer from 2002 to 2005, he took a break from throwing elections, laundering cash and pulling other stunts for Abramoff to be his own man, working as a lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach -- for $11.35 an hour.

In 2002, Scanlon was engaged to Emily Miller, a press secretary for DeLay. But at Rehoboth's Big Fish Grill, another woman caught his eye: 24-year-old waitress Brandy McMahon.

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If Tom DeLay was hoping to draw a panel of friendly conservative judges for his appeal, he didn't get what he hoped for. The three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals who'll be hearing DeLay's case has been named - and it consists of two Clinton appointees.

One of the GOP's first strategic moves in the case was to move it from state to federal court, where it could be heard by a judge they thought was reliably conservative. But in a harshly worded opinion, the George H.W. Bush-nominated Sam Sparks ruled against them.

A decision is expected sometime in the first two weeks of August.

Last week we learned the Feds have hit up Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) for information about her dealings with Mitchell Wade, the fraudster who's confessed to giving fraudulent "straw" donations to Harris, former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), and a third lawmaker: Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA).

Bad news hit Goode's re-election campaign this weekend, when an employee of Wade's old company, MZM, pleaded guilty to making fraudulent contributions to Goode's campaign, and agreed to cooperate with investigators. To date, Justice has stated only that they do not have any indication Goode was aware the donations were fake. But the plea deal from senior MZM exec Richard Berglund raises the question: what if he knows something?

Duke's in jail, of course; and Harris is clearly an object of scrutiny for the Feds. But Goode, who took something close to $90,000 from Wade and other employees of his company, MZM -- and helped win them a sweet deal for a Defense Department facility in Goode's district -- insists the Feds have yet to reach his doorstep.

"He has not been" contacted by the DoJ, Goode spokesman Linwood Duncan told me this morning. That's about as flat a denial as one could ask for. Duncan had been more shaded in his comments to reporters this weekend, saying only that "as far as I know, nothing has changed" since March, when Goode had that he hadn't been contacted by investigators.

It sounds like some GOPers are wheeling out a new wishful deus ex machina to keep their hopes alive for the Florida Senate race: Harris might drop out as soon as she wins the GOP primary. Courtesy of the Bradenton (FL) Herald:

An interesting rumor floating around both local and D.C. political circles has a little bit of intrigue and one big hole.

If Katherine Harris can win the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, and then drop out, then the Republican Party of Florida would be permitted to enter a candidate of its own choosing against Democrat Bill Nelson who, one year ago, was referred to as vulnerable, but is now cruising with a 30-point lead in the polls.

Hm. Sound familiar?

(The aforementioned "hole" in the rumor is, of course, that Harris shows no sign of getting out, despite months of overt and covert pressure from her party.)

Specter Prepping Bill to Sue Bush ""We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will...authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the Senate floor. Specter's announcement came the same day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action." (AP)

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