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

The muddying has begun.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) is in political (and legal) trouble because he was a favorite of Jack Abramoff's - but there's been one earmark in particular that's made him look particularly bad, and that's the $3 million grant he inserted for Abramoff's client the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan.

Dems have harped on this because it makes for a great sound bite: Burns delivered $3 mil to an Abramoff client, a filthy rich tribe that's not even in his state. Every member of the Saginaw gets $70,000 a year in gambling profits. The grant was from a program intended to help poor tribes repair dilapidated schools; but Burns forced the funding through over the objections of the Interior Department. What a filthy, filthy man.

Recently there's been an offensive of sorts to muddy the waters, to keep Burns from looking so bad. The Hill reported yesterday that Burns was simply helping out his Democratic colleagues, Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan. And today there's an AP piece about Stabenow's money from Abramoff.

So was Burns bought? Let's review the facts.

Read More →

You'd think that it would be pretty easy to pass a lobbying reform bill that accomplishes nothing. But as I reported before, the Republicans have been forced to pull the bill, because they don't have the votes to push it forward.

Here's the sticking point: one measure of the bill (the only with any real teeth) reforms the way earmarks are inserted into appropriations bills. But Republican appropriators don't like it, so House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) has mounted a revolt with their help. He says they won't vote for the bill unless the reform is broadened to other forms of earmarks - pork comes in a variety of forms and can be tacked on to other kinds of bills besides appropriations.

That sounds like a good idea, right? It doesn't make sense to target one form of earmark, but leave the others untouched. But of course, the broader the reform, the more Republicans would be affected, making the reform bill even less popular.

So is Lewis doing this for the high-minded reason of ensuring stronger reform legislation? Or is this a canny effort to tank earmark reform altogether? As he well knows, the leadership needs every vote they can get, since Democrats plan to vote against it.

Republicans apparently think they won't be penalized at all in November for passing a weak bill - they say voters don't care. So don't be surprised if they solve this problem the easy way: just kill the controversial reform.

Update: Here's the AP's version of today's debacle. Republicans are now in a closed-door meeting, trying to get the votes together.

The new CIA -- now, dissent-free:

The CIA has imposed new and tighter restrictions on the books, articles, and opinion pieces published by former employees. . . According to several former CIA officials affected by the new policy, the rules are intended to suppress criticism of the Bush administration and of the CIA. The officials say the restrictions amount to an unprecedented political "appropriateness" test. . .

The CIA acknowledged for the first time last week that the Publications Review Board subjects former officials under contract to a two-part test. "First, material submitted for publication cannot contain classified information," CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano wrote in an e-mail. "Second, it cannot impair the individual's ability to do his or her job or the CIA's ability to conduct its mission as a nonpartisan, nonpolicy agency of the executive branch."


What? Agency officials are being forced to hew to the administration line? I thought that didn't happen.

House Republicans were supposed to vote today on their watered down lobbying reform legislation, but it seems that they can't even muster the votes to pass that.

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) has just pulled the resolution from consideration, and the House has gone into recess. I guess they're going back to the drawing board.

More on this soon.

Pleading guilty is for chumps like Mitchell Wade, apparently.

Brent Wilkes, that's Duke Cunningham's Mr. Coconspirator #1 to you, will not plead guilty, according to today's WSJ expose. That must be very good news to Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), his buddy at the CIA, and others whom Wilkes had bought into.

Even though prosecutors have a fair amount on Wilkes, somehow he thinks he can beat this rap. And he's in for a long, expensive haul. Maybe that's why in February, he took out a $1.5 million loan on his home.

Expect more juicy details (eeew) on the Cunningham sex scandal shortly.

I'm told that while the Wall Street Journal was first to press with details on the prostitute angle of the Cunningham-Wade-Wilkes scandal, at least two other publications have been delving into the matter for months. What's more, they've got details that are a good deal more salacious than what the WSJ reported. I'd look for them to rush what they've got into print as soon as it gets past the lawyers.

We may soon have more details of our own, so stay tuned. . .

FBI Thinks Several Lawmakers Got Hookers through Wade, Wilkes

The FBI is probing whether now-imprisoned Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and other lawmakers spent time with prostitutes arranged for and paid by Mitchell Wade, former head of defense-intelligence contractor MZM Inc., and Brent Wilkes, of ADCS. Both men are accused of bribing Cunningham; Wade has admitted it, and is cooperating with prosecutors.

The FBI's also curious about staff members who may have joined in on the action, which is said to take place in the Westin Grand and -- yes, the second time is farce -- the Watergate. (WSJ)

Read More →

The Wall Street Journal reports today that admitted briber Mitchell Wade of MZM, Inc. helped procure prostitutes for former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) -- and possibly for others:

According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Mr. Wade told investigators that Mr. Cunningham periodically phoned him to request a prostitute, and that Mr. Wade then helped to arrange for one. A limousine driver then picked up the prostitute as well as Mr. Cunningham, and drove them to one of [two] hotel suites, originally at the Watergate Hotel, and subsequently at the Westin Grand.


. . . [I]nvestigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others.


Wade says his mentor and fellow Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes had set up the ring -- rented the hotel rooms, found the limousine company and the hookers. According to the WSJ, Wade says he usually passed off Cunningham's requests to Wilkes to set up.

More on this later. . .

Here's a curious story, courtesy of Harper's new investigative blog, which adds a new star to our firmament of muck: Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN).

Last year, four defense firms moved into a new "business incubator" based in Merrillville, Indiana, of all places, Harper's Ken Silverstein reports.

At first blush, that's quite a coincidence -- four defense firms relocating to the same spot, right in middle of nowhere. What are the odds? But it gets weirder.

Silverstein says all four companies hired the same Washington, D.C. lobbying firm to help them win defense contracts, a shop called the PMA Group.

He also found that they all gave lots of money to the same congressman to help pry government money loose. (That's right, Pete Visclosky.)

It is no surprise, then, that Merrillville is smack dab in the middle of Visclosky's district. Or that Visclosky built the business center that houses those firms with $7 million in earmarks. Or that his former chief of staff, Richard Kaelin, is now a lobbyist with the PMA Group.

Read More →

Here's an interesting in-depth profile of a woman at the center of the DeLay empire who has remarkably escaped notice (until now): Susan Hirschmann, one of DeLay's top aides from 1997 to 2002. She was at the center of the scandal: she went on the infamous Scotland junket in 2000, as well as the Russia trip in 1997. Yet she's not a target of Justice investigators.

Maybe she's clean. In the many stories of scams that cut through DeLay's office, none have yet mentioned Hirschmann. But many of the characters who perpetrated those scams worked for Hirschmann when she was chief of staff, so she must have been aware, to some degree, of what was under her nose.

It raises an interesting question: Did Hirschmann cooperate with Justice folks from the early days of the scandal? The profile -- from the Influence section of Legal Times, which tracks the lobbying world -- doesn't directly touch on the matter. But it would certainly explain how a figure as central as Hirschmann could stay so far behind the scenes, while her former colleagues face harsh public scrutiny.

(Ed. note: Updated 4:54 P.M.)

LiveWire