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

Here's some interesting midday reading: Over at Harpers Magazine's new blog, Washington editor Ken Silverstein sharpens the focus on a fuzzy period of Jack Abramoff's biography, his time working with South Africa's apartheid regime. Everything Jack knew about dirty tricks -- "cut-outs, bogus charities, financial trickery, and double- and triple-budgeted projects" -- he learned from apartheid-era spooks, Silverstein says. Check it out.

Pegged on Jay Rosen's anointment of Murray Waas as "the Bob Woodward of Now," the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz does a thumbnail profile of the National Journal reporter who has dug deeper into the current administration, and its use and misuse of classified information, than just about anyone else. To Waas, a Muckraker salute.

Former GOP Gov. George Ryan of Illinois found guilty of racketeering. . .

The newly-enterprising New York Sun got its hands on a key State Department memo from 2003 that identifies Valerie (Plame) Wilson as the wife of Joe Wilson. It's an informative new piece of the Plame puzzle -- only the Sun uses it to prove pretty much the exact opposite of what it shows. At least that's what an high-ranking intel source familiar with the memo tells us.

Here are the basic details.

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Over the weekend, a new profile by Copley News Service added to our understanding of former GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's "Co-conspirator #3," the mysterious Thomas Kontogiannis. Today, we can add a bit more.

Recall that Kontogiannis bribed Cunningham through purchasing a yacht from the congressman -- and paying several hundred thousand dollars more than it was worth. His finance company also handled some of Cunningham's questionable mortgages.

But reporters and investigators have struggled to understand what Kontogiannis was getting from Duke for all the money he spent on the lawmaker.

The latest theory seems to be that Duke was introducing him to world leaders. As Copley reports:

Cunningham "introduced him to people. It was like he had a congressman on retainer," [a Justice Department official] added.


The Copley story notes that he twice accompanied Cunningham to the White House, and kept a picture of himself meeting President Bush in his house. Now, TPMmuckraker has learned he apparently met the man who would shortly become king of Saudi Arabia.

It's been known that Kontogiannis, a wealthy businessman and two-time felon, in 2004 accompanied Cunningham and a Saudi constituent, San Diego real estate mogul Ziyad Abduljawad, to Saudi Arabia. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) also went. Abduljawad paid for the trip.

Until now, we haven't known much about the trip -- who the group met with, why, what they talked about. Cunningham is said to have gone in order to promote U.S.-Saudi ties, or some other such pap. Beyond that, we've had nothing.

I called Calvert last week to ask him more about the trip. (He's the only one of the crew who's talking these days: Cunningham's in the pen, Abduljawad declined an interview, Tommy K's lawyer doesn't return calls.) Calvert's memory wasn't perfect, but he had some details to share. The group met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah -- then the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and now its king.

Kontogiannis was at the meeting, Calvert recalled, although "he didn't say anything, as I remember," the lawmaker told me.

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On Friday we wrote about a Homeland Security Department bulletin warning corporations of "terrorist tactics" used by animal and environmental extremists. Among the groups' repertoire, DHS said, was "tying up company phone lines to prevent legitimate calls."

A number of readers noted the irony that escaped me at the time. As reader KM succinctly put it:

Phone-jamming is a terrorist tool. Ergo, Republicans are terrorists, at least in New Hampshire.


Touche.

Phone Jamming -- Conspiracy Weed Edition

Phone jamming is now a felony in the state of New Hampshire -- on Election Day, anyway. The state senate voted unanimously to make it that way, in response to the simmering scandal over GOP operatives' dirty tricks in the 2002 election. Speaking of which, former NH GOP chair Jayne Millerick again insists she knew nozzing.

"These liberal groups are smoking too much conspiracy weed," said attorney and GOP activist Charles Douglas, one of the lawyers who received some of Millerick's Election Day calls, which have fueled speculation that GOP higher-ups knew of the scam. We assume Douglas and Millerick, by contrast, smoke just the right amount of conspiracy weed -- which would explain Millerick's repeated phone calls to the same people throughout Election Day 2002. "You high?" "Yeah." (later) "You high?" "You just called me." (later) "You high?" Repeat until polls close.

Elsewhere, the New York Times soberly muses on whether the New Hampshire phone jamming scandal is our generation's Watergate. (NH Union Leader, NH Union Leader, NYTimes)

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It looks like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and his wife are in for a banner year.

You'll remember that Julie Doolittle gets 15 percent of every contribution raised by her husband's political committees. Well, it turns out that they're on a record breaking pace. From today's Washington Post:

Overall, in the 2005-2006 election cycle, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, Sierra Dominion [Julie Doolittle's consulting firm] has collected $82,127 from the Doolittle committees. That is already ahead of the $77,947 in commissions in the 2003-2004 cycle, even with nine months to go until the election.


Impressive! And this is without any contributions in the last year from corrupt defense contractor Brent Wilkes or Jack Abramoff.

When asked by the Post about the propriety of their scheme, Doolittle's spokesman stood by it, saying that it was "consistent with that of other fundraisers" (which is wrong - only one other member of Congress has a similar arrangement) and that it "was designed to avoid the appearance that Sierra Dominion is compensated for anything other than its tireless and effective work." Got that? So it appears to everyone else as if the Doolittles are profiting personally from every single contribution made to his committees, providing a perfect method for funneling bribes, but actually, this setup was chosen to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Oh, the irony.

The House Armed Services Committee is expanding its probe into the work of former member Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), who is now serving an eight-year sentence in federal prison on corruption charges, Copley News Service reports.

Committee chair Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a former ally of Cunnigham's, ordered the panel's investigator to review all of the panel's documents from Cunningham's time in Congress, from 1991 to his departure in 2005. Initially, the probe was only for the years 2003 through 2005.

As Copley points out, it's nice but it's not enough. Cunningham appears to have done most of his dirty work not from the Armed Services panel but from the House Appropriations Committee. Yet inexplicably, Appropriations chair Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) refuses to open any sort of investigation into the disgraced lawmaker's activities.

The drip, drip, drip of incriminating Abramoff details continues.

This time, prosecutors dropped 278 emails that detail the kind of chummy chicanery that fallen superlobbyist Jack Abramoff shared with former General Services Administration official David Safavian.

A sample excerpt, courtesy of WaPo:

On May 14, Abramoff wrote: "Can I host a party for you at Sigs [Signatures, a restaurant Abramoff owned]? Something like cocktails? Let me know if that is allowed. I really want to do it."

Safavian replied: "No, but you can join me for a drink at the happy hour being thrown for me on Monday night at Bullfeathers on the Hill."

Abramoff: "Bullfeathers?! What?! Can you move it to my restaurant?"

The e-mails suggest that the Signatures party never occurred, but 10 days later, on May 24, Abramoff got down to business: "I have a gsa question. There is a facility which is under the control of the GSA in silver Spring Maryland . . . I was wondering if it is possible to get some of the property for a school. Do you know if that is doable and how? Thanks."

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