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

GOP's Bilbray: Calling Opponent a Kiddie Porn-Lover Was "A Little Over the Top"

Responding to TV ads aired last week calling Democratic Congressional candidate Francine Busby a "dangerous liberal" for having "praised a teacher reported to have child porn," a spokesman for Busby's GOP opponent, Brian Bilbray, admitted the ad was "a little over the top."

The ads were not paid for by Bilbray but by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Bilbray's spokesman told The Hill newspaper that the group did not coordinate with the Bilbray campaign, and that he wished "the NRCC had given us a heads-up on this." (The Hill)

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Not everybody affiliated with the White House agreed with the WMD Commission's findings on the Bush administration's false Niger claims. In fact, a group of advisors closer to the Oval Office privately told President Bush in 2003 he was at fault.

In December 2003, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board -- a discreet panel of administration friends and national security experts -- quietly advised President Bush that he shared blame with the CIA for using the false claims, according to a Washington Post article an anonymous TPMm reader passed along.

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Mary McCarthy, the former CIA official who was fired late last week for allegedly leaking sensitive information to reporters, says (through a surrogate) she didn't do it, Newsweek reports.

Here's the kicker: even intelligence officials now admit that the most damaging CIA-related stories have been based on so-called "open source" information:

A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to Newsweek today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and "rendition" operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.

Hard to keep a secret these days. Especially when it ain't secret.

As The Washington Post reported yesterday, ethics should prove a big issue in elections this November. It got me to wondering - in just how many races will ethics be a defining issue?

This is the year of Jack Abramoff, after all, and though lobbying reform itself has turned into a joke, corruption itself should loom large as a political issue. But how large?

Here's where we need some help from you, the reader. Is your rep feeling heat about a lobbyist-funded junket, a particularly egregious instance of cronyism, or a sweet kickback deal? Let us know about it. We'll be compiling a master list of muck-heavy races to keep an eye on as part of our upcoming Elections 2006 project.

To help, send in your rep's name, a brief description of the muck, and, if possible, a link to a supporting article.

Our preliminary count looks like this:

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I'm still rubbing my eyes over this.

Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller appeared on CBS News' "60 Minutes" last night to talk about what he knew of the Niger uranium fiasco. As Drumheller tells it, nobody at the CIA believed Iraq was buying uranium from Niger to begin with. The forged documents were considered inconsequential to the facts of the matter -- until the White House wanted to use them as evidence.

Drumheller says he told the same story to the White House-appointed WMD Commission. This morning I glanced back at its report, and compared bits of its Niger discussion with Drumheller's revelations last night.

Here's a sampling of what I found. In its best light, the panel appears to have engaged in some subatomic-level hair splitting that -- coincidentally -- points the blame at the intelligence community for the president's use of the Niger claims:

From last night's "60 Minutes":

[I]n early January 2003, the National Intelligence Council, which oversees all U.S. intelligence agencies, did a final assessment of the uranium rumor and submitted a report to the White House. Their conclusion: The story was baseless. . .

Just weeks later, the president laid out his reasons for going to war in the State of the Union Address -- and there it was again.

From the White House WMD Commission report:
The Intelligence Community failed to authenticate in a timely fashion transparently forged documents purporting to show that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Niger.

From last night's "60 Minutes":
Drumheller says many CIA analysts were skeptical [of the Niger uranium story]. "Most people came to the opinion that there was something questionable about it," he says.

Asked if that was his reaction, Drumheller says, "That was our reaction from the very beginning. The report didn't hold together."

Drumheller says that was the "general feeling" in the agency at that time.

From the White House WMD Commission report:
At the time of the State of the Union speech, CIA analysts continued to believe that Iraq probably was seeking uranium from Africa, although there was growing concern among some CIA analysts that there were problems with the reporting.

And, of course, this, from "60 Minutes":
"It just sticks in my craw every time I hear them say it's an intelligence failure. It's an intelligence failure. This was a policy failure," Drumheller tells Bradley.

Vs. the White House WMD Commission report:
The [Intelligence] Community's failure to undertake a real review of the documents -- even though their validity was the subject of of serious doubts -- was a major failure of the intelligence community."

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Bloomberg joined the fray today with a piece on the New Hampshire Phone Jamming, bringing word that Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) have written USAG Alberto Gonzales, seeking answers:

Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts wrote U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on April 20 seeking information on any links Abramoff or the White House may have had to the phone-jamming scheme.

Bloomberg also brings us the new Republican talking point in response to the scandal:

"Democrats are trying to stir up crap," said Joe Gaylord, a Republican consultant.

...or in other words, there has been a good bit of muckraking going on.

More bad news for Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH).

Since last fall he's known he is a target of a federal investigation, having been accused of accepting bribes by Jack Abramoff and two of Abramoff's minions. That's weighed heavily on his re-election campaign.

And it appears to be hurting his fundraising efforts, too: Of 50 incumbents in key races, he's raised the second-least amount of money this year, the Hotline on Call reports.

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The more you learn about this, the more brazen it seems.

Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) pays his wife 15 cents of every dollar he raises for his campaign. It's a direct line from contributors to Doolittle's pocket.

Doolittle's defense had been that the arrangement was "consistent within the industry" and "consistent with the history of Congressman Doolittle's own campaigns."

As for the industry, that's been proven false - the fundraising industry in general rejects working on commission altogether and only one other member of Congress pays a family member via commission.

And as for Doolittle's prior campaigns, Doolittle had paid a flat fee to fundraisers prior to hiring his wife for the jobt, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Doolittle is running out of excuses. He swears that the House ethics committee OK'd the arrangement, but won't produce a copy of the opinion. We called the ethics committee on Friday to check that story, but didn't get a call back. We'll continue to try.

The pressure's continued to mount on Doolittle - he can't afford to simply repeat the same debunked justifications much longer.

When it comes to stretching a one- or two-day story into a weeks-long fiasco, Katherine Harris takes the cake. Or in this case, the wine.

We learned some weeks ago she shared a pricey dinner with admitted felon Mitchell Wade, after which she tried (and failed) to win a $10 million earmark that would have benefited Wade and his company, MZM Inc.

First Harris insisted she paid for her meal. But we later discovered she didn't -- which is a violation of Congressional ethics rules.

Then we learned that the meal was for a whopping $2,800. Harris: I only ate $100 worth, and in lieu of payment I contributed $100 to charity. Her explanation for the size of the bill? Wade bought two $1000+ bottles of wine, and took the unfinished portions with him.

Now, the St. Petersburg Times gives that explanation a hearty hell-no. Via its blog:

One problem with that story? Patrons can't take bottles from the restaurant. Citronelle maitre d' Jean-Jacques Retourne told us that would have violated the restaurant's liquor license. "You cannot take a bottle out."