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

The Homeland Security Department takes a break from protecting the nation's fax machines -- to protect itself from media scrutiny.

Last month, a security officer who guards DHS headquarters went on NBC Nightly News to blow the whistle on lax security practices there. The very next day, his fellow guards were told to sign secrecy oaths, called "non-disclosure agreements," Congressional Quarterly's Patrick Yoest reports.

"The timing raises questions about whether DHS and Wackenhut [the guard's employer] misused the agreements and ignored whistleblower protections in an effort to prevent the guards from disclosing additional information about security lapses at DHS headquarters," notes Yoest.

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Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) has shown a talent for creative cop-outs - well, here's another.

On April 9, 2003, Taylor sat down for a lunch with several lobbyists from Greenberg Traurig. Reliable sources say they met at Signatures, although we couldn't confirm it. Two days later, Taylor's campaign deposited checks from six members of Team Abramoff for $500 each, along with a $2,000 check from Jack Abramoff himself and $1,000 from his client, the Saginaw Chippewa tribe of Michigan. One month later, Taylor wrote a letter to the Interior Department to help the Saginaw land a hefty school construction grant.

The AP, in their piece on Taylor's work for Abramoff, reported that this was a fundraiser. But Taylor, trying desperately to deny that he's ever done anything for Abramoff, is not admitting the fundraiser took place - and since this is Charles Taylor we're talking about here, you can be sure that it's not a straight denial.

Taylor admits sitting down with at least six members of Team Abramoff on the date in question. But he's questioning whether the event could be called a "fundraiser." Why? Because he doesn't recall getting any money on the spot - he says he "received no checks there."

Of course, Taylor can't plead ignorance that his campaign actually received checks - but since they weren't waved under his nose then and there, it's an open question for him whether this was a fundraiser. Maybe it was a coincidence. But the AP saw no room for ambiguity: "Abramoff's firm threw Taylor a fundraiser."

But the cop-out doesn't stop there.

According to Joel Burgess, the Asheville Citizen-Times reporter who interviewed Taylor, he also won't admit that the event was held at Abramoff's restaurant Signatures... but he won't deny it, either.

And Taylor says he can't remember why he met with the lobbyists. But (it's funny the way memory works) he can remember why he didn't meet with them: it was "not to raise money or discuss the tribe." And yet he ended up raising money, some of it from the tribe.

Taylor's in for a really tight race this November and will be hit hard on his shilling for Abramoff - seems to me that his story could use some improvement between now and election day.

Call your bookie! CQ is changing the Ohio 18th District Congressional race -- that's Bob Ney's (R) seat -- to "no clear favorite." The Q had been calling it "leans Republican."

As the news org puts it, "A close past association with now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has put long-popular Republican Rep. Bob Ney at risk as he seeks a seventh term in Ohio's 18th District."

The Nation has a chilling new story up about how the U.S. security contractor Blackwater cut corners on the safety of its men in Iraq, at the same time it was rabidly overcharging its clients.

Among other shockers, the magazine reveals that Blackwater removed language in one of its contracts that would have ensured all its personnel would travel in armored vehicles. Families of four slain employees are suing the company because of the change.

"When they took that word 'armored' out, Blackwater was able to save $1.5 million in not buying armored vehicles, which they could then put in their pocket," an attorney in the suit tells the magazine.

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"Has Rove's security clearance been revoked?" mused John Podesta over at yesterday. He noted that if Karl Rove was found to have been involved in leaking the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, Bush would be forced to restrict his access -- which would force him out of many policy discussions.

At a press briefing later that afternoon, a reporter asked Bush spokesman Scott McClellan if Rove would keep his security clearance when he's moved out of his policy job; "Absolutely, yes," McClellan answered.

We can believe McClellan, of course, because he's a truth-teller. But the question left some wiggle room. Rove's clearance may have been downgraded in recent days, for instance, or a revocation may be in the works, but we wouldn't know it from McClellan's answer. A better phrasing might have been: what is the level of Rove's current security clearance, has it changed since he has been at the White House, and is it expected to change in the near future?

I guess that's three questions. (I flunked the math section of the White House Correspondents' Exam.)

Family members and close "family friends" of Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), a powerful member of the Armed Services Committee, share an uncanny ability to get hired by large companies fishing for U.S. defense contracts, the new investigative blog at Harper's magazine reports. His daughters Kim and Karen, and "family friend" Cecelia Grimes, have all landed jobs or contracts with Boeing, two divisions of Italian industrial firm Finmeccanica, as well as other firms. Company reps assured Harper's that their hires' connection to the congressman was sheer coincidence.

Lawmaker to Constituent: "I Think You're An. . . "

The truth hurts. Missourian Bill Jones opened a letter from his congresswoman, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), in which the lawmaker wrote, "I think you're an" followed by "a profane, seven-letter insult," the AP reports, which our New York Times crossword dictionary tells us is "asshole."

Emerson says she can't figure out how it got in there or how it got mailed, although she did sign the letter personally and hand-write at the bottom, "P.S. - please forgive the delay in responding." Something tells me there's a 22-year-old constituent services assistant who will never work in Washington again. (AP)

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To the Burberry ramparts!

The man Bush tapped to fill Karl Rove's spot as his policy wizard is none other than Joel Kaplan, who took part in the infamous "Brooks Brothers riot" of 2000. That's when a bunch of Washington GOP operatives, posing as outraged Floridians, waved fists, chanted "Stop the fraud!" and pounded windows in an effort to intimidate officials engaged in the Florida recount effort.

In George Bush's Washington, there's no shame in staging a fake protest to undermine a democratic election, apparently: last year, the Washington Post's Al Kamen noted that "the "rioters" proudly note their participation on resumes and in interviews." Kaplan was even the one to cheekily dub the fracas the "Brooks Brothers Riot."

Over at ThinkProgress, John Podesta notes Rove's changing role and asks an intriguing question: Did Bush's Brain have his security clearance pulled?

This morning's newspapers are ablaze with the outrageous news that the FBI was trying to get its hands on over 200 boxes of files once belonging to legendary investigative journalist Jack Anderson.

What the papers didn't report was the truly ugly extent to which the bureau has gone to achieve their goal -- such as manipulating Anderson's elderly widow to sign a document she apparently didn't understand.

I spoke with Jack Anderson's son Kevin yesterday. He's an attorney, and acts as the family's representative with the FBI. He told me that the lead agent in this case, Leslie Martell, went behind his and his siblings' backs to get his elderly mother, Olivia, to sign a form that would allow FBI agents to review and remove documents from her husband's files.

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