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

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.


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."

I guess everyone has their price. For Grover Norquist, it was $4.3 million.

Two weeks ago, Grover Norquist's non-profit Americans for Tax Reform was exposed in The Boston Globe as a lobbying front - maybe you missed it. The piece had the misfortune to land on a busy news day (Tony Rudy pled guilty), but, man, is it good.

For years, journalists have been trying to get their hands on ATR's donor list, to no avail. But the Globe finally got it, and found, as many have suspected for quite awhile, that "contributors include an array of special interests ranging from tobacco companies to Indian tribes to a Las Vegas casino." ATR is a big-time lobbying firm posing as a nonprofit. But that's not even the good part.

The biggest contributor to ATR was Richard Scruggs, a Democratic lawyer from Mississippi. He put in $4.3 million. What was he after?

Scruggs' law firm had won a $1 billion fee for their work on a lawsuit that resulted in a $246 billion settlement against tobacco companies (some of whom were also ATR donors). He wanted to keep his money. But Republicans were making noises in Congress of passing legislation that would limit legal fees. So:

Scruggs decided that he needed to hire a prominent Republican antitax activist to fight what he viewed as a tax on legal fees. "'There is an expression, 'If you need a thief, take him from the gallows,' " Scruggs said.

And just so there was no ambiguity about what the money was for, here's what Scruggs wrote as a bookeeping note when he made the $4.3 million transfer:

Did Scruggs get his money's worth? The Globe tersely notes, "The effort to reduce legal fees never became law. It is unknown what, if anything, Norquist did to help Scruggs."

Hmm... one would imagine that there was at least some understanding between Norquist and Scruggs of what this money was for. Norquist is probably not too accustomed, after all, to being the recipient of a multimillion dollar donation from Democrats.

Says Scruggs: "I paid a lot of money.... I thought that was the way the game was played."

As Josh has mentioned, the GOP is claiming that Democrats have voted to make illegal immigration a felony crime. Exactly the opposite is the case. Ken Mehlman's RNC is even running ads based on this lie.

Here's what happened: Late last year GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) wrote and sponsored a bill that makes illegal immigration a felony. It's currently a civil offense.

After he got the bill out of committee, it caused such a hue and cry that Sensenbrenner tried to backpedal, and offered an amendment to soften his language, and make illegal immigration just a misdemeanor crime. (That's still worse than a civil offense.)

Over 190 Democrats joined 65 Republicans in voting against that amendment because they didn't think it should be criminalized at all.

The bill went to the floor with the felony language included; it passed on overwhelming Republican support.

The RNC wouldn't return my calls, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-TN) office was closed. When I reached a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), he told me that the GOP claim was based on the committee's vote on the amendment: "It was based on the 191 dems voting on the Sensenbrenner amendment to change it from a felony to a misdemeanor."

So while a GOP Chairman came up with the idea of making immigration a felony, introduced a bill to make it a felony, and pushed it through the House on Republican votes, the Democrats' refusal even to make it a misdemeanor means they're the ones who want to make it a felony.

On the topic of the RNC footing James Tobin's legal bills, remember that their support didn't stop there. Tobin was also tapped to be the New England chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, run by Ken Mehlman.

And he remained in that position until he was forced to resign, shortly after his role in the scheme was made public.

This despite the fact that the RNC knew, at least as early as the summer of 2003, that Tobin was mixed up in the jamming - that's when the two other key players pled guilty and fingered Tobin, who was being represented by an RNC lawyer at the time.

A new piece from Murray Waas reveals yet another leak of a classified document to discredit Joseph Wilson. This document was a March 2002 CIA report, a "debriefing of Wilson by the CIA's Directorate of Operations after Wilson returned from a CIA-sponsored mission to Niger to investigate claims."

Cheney directed the leak on July 12, 2003 says Waas. This is in addition to the September 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which was leaked with President Bush's authorization.

Read all about it.