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Here's an update on our report on Rep. Jim Ryun's (R-KS) sweetheart real estate deal.

Yesterday we reported that the U.S. Family Network, a sham nonprofit controlled by former DeLay Chief of Staff Ed Buckham and funded by Jack Abramoff's lobbying clients, sold a Capitol Hill townhouse to Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) at a $19,000 loss. Given the hot real estate market in Washington, D.C. at that time, the low sale price raiseed the question of whether transaction was a de facto gift to Rep. Ryun.

To refresh everyone's memory, the USFN bought the house in January of 1999 for $429,000. Almost two years later, they sold it to Ryun for $410,000.

That sounded low to us -- and legions of TPM readers, a number of whom work in real estate, wrote in to agree. So today we spoke to two real estate appraisers who work in the Capitol Hill area to get a sense of just how low that sounded to them.

Don Boucher, an appraiser who focuses on residential properties in the D.C. area, said that the property should have appreciated “about 15% or more” during that time period, meaning that it would have sold around $500,000.

Another appraiser, who preferred to remain anonymous because he often works with members of Congress, said that the townhouse should have appreciated "by $100,000 at least." He said the low sale price "wouldn't make sense at all unless there was a fire and the place was gutted." He added, "It looks like they gave it away."

There's also a question of whether the house was ever actually formally put on the market as opposed to being sold to the Ryun's in a private sale.

The property was not listed in 2000 on the Metropolitan Regional Information System as are most properties when a realtor is involved. The area real estate professionals we spoke to said that members of Congress frequently ask that properties not be listed on the MRIS out of privacy concerns. In this case, though, the seller (USFN) was a nonprofit tied to a lobbying firm, not a member of Congress, which raises the question of why they opted not to list the property and whether the U.S. Family Network pursued competitive bids.

We again contacted Rep. Ryun's office for comment, but our calls were not returned.

Woe betide the Democrat who violates ethics laws. Especially if he was trying to land a blow on the GOP's top lawmakers.

In 1996 -- that was back when we all used Mosaic browsers on the World Wide Web -- Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) leaked to the press an illegally-taped phone call of several GOP lawmakers, including then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA).

The men were coordinating media strategy for how Gingrich could best weather his ethics problems -- after Gingrich had promised the ethics committee not to do just that.

Current House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), then a higher-up in Gingrich's revolutionary cadre, was on the call, and sued McDermott for violating his privacy rights. (Ironically, Boehner voted for the surveillance-happy Patriot Act in 2002; McDermott voted against it.) McDermott lost the case and appealed; yesterday, he lost the appeal, too.

Now he's been ordered to pay Boehner $60,000 in damages and over $600,000 to cover Boehner's legal fees.

And McDermott's trouble still isn't over! Roll Call reports the House Ethics Committee is expected -- at long last -- to create a special subcommittee to investigate him.

You may remember that a couple of months ago, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) said on Air America that there had been day-traders working out of Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) and Sen. Bill Frist's (R-TN) offices.

Well, today's Wall Street Journal reports that Slaughter and Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) are introducing legislation to stop the practice. Although they're still quiet about who in Frist's office was doing this (and Frist has an entirely separate insider trading investigation to deal with), they've named one culprit: Tony Rudy, DeLay's former deputy chief of staff. According to the WSJ, he "bought and sold hundreds of stocks from his computer in the U.S. Capitol in 1999 and 2000."

If Rudy's name sounds familiar, it's because he's already been implicated in the Jack Abramoff investigation. Among other things, he's accused of taking $50,000 in payments through his wife in exchange for helping Abramoff's clients on two key pieces of legislation. He left DeLay in 2000 to go work for Abramoff.

So Rudy's already in trouble.

But it looks like what he's accused of here wasn't actually illegal. Classic insider trading is when someone uses non-public information obtained from inside a company. That's not the case here, which is why Slaughter and Baird are introducing the bill. Apparently the practice of this brand of insider trading is so widespread that there's a whole industry built up around exploiting insider news about forthcoming legislation that will effect a stock price. So the bill also "would require that companies register with Congress if they sell information about congressional activity to Wall Street investors."

Here's what Rudy was up to while working for DeLay, according to today's WSJ:

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President Bush said last night: "I kind of like being on the same platform as Senator Burns because he makes me sound like Shakespeare. I like a plain-talking fellow."

Now, we've spent a lot of time here at TPMmuckraker laying into Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), Jack Abramoff's favorite senator, but we're prepared to acknowledge his positives too, and it is true that he has a talent for "plain-talking."

So in honor of what may very well be Senator Burns' last campaign, TPMMuckraker offers a compilation of his most colorful comments on Abramoff and the heat he's been taking over the guy:

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The fallout from the Dubai ports deal continues.

The senior exec for DP World, the company at the center of the brouhaha, has asked to withdraw his nomination to head the U.S. agency which overseas ports.

If you recall, critics used President Bush's pick of David Sanborn, director of operations for DP World in Europe and Latin America, to criticize the White House's closeness to the company. Well, you won't have David Sanborn to kick around anymore.

There are good questions to ask about Joshua Bolten, who's replacing Andrew Card as President Bush' s new chief of staff. Over at TPMCafe, Todd Gitlin has one: Would you buy an economic analysis from this man?

A continuing theme in the Jack Abramoff investigation, and one that seems to interest investigators very much, has been the use of wives to channel money to key players. So as a kind of public service, here's a rundown of which wives were on the take.

Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) former chief of staff, Ed Buckham, seems to have been something of a trailblazer with this scheme. As early as 1997, his wife Wendy made $43,000 in "commissions" on contributions to Buckham's sham non-profit the U.S. Family Network. The contributions came from Jack Abramoff's clients - all very eager to win DeLay's favor. I'll let you judge how hard she had to work to win these "commissions."

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Abramoff: a "Selfless Patriot" Scarred by Early Life in Beverly Hills

The defense team for disgraced GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff is pulling out all the stops as his first trial enters its sentencing phase.

They found over 260 people who would still admit to knowing the guy, and got them to write letters expressing varying degrees of support of the man who has come to personify Beltway corruption. In one of the letters acquired by AP, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) tells the judge that Abramoff, who bilked millions from Indian tribes and funneled millions of dollars through a labyrinth of fraudulent charities for personal gain and political leverage, was a "selfless patriot, most of the time I knew him."

In another effort to gin up sympathy for the convicted felon, Jack's defense constructed a farcical hagiography of the guy which stretches both facts and credulity. For instance, when his family moved to Beverly Hills, the defense writes Jack was ''among the non-upper class in a land of spoiled kids." Ah, the poor, destitute non-upper class of Beverly Hills.

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Recently, the Washington Post and TPMmuckraker.com have been reporting on the DeLay-Buckham front group, U.S. Family Network. Ed Buckham, you'll remember, was Tom DeLay's Chief of Staff until he left the Hill to open up his lobby shop, Alexander Strategy Group. USFN purported to be a grassroots activist group pushing causes dear to social conservatives. In fact, it functioned as a slush fund and all-purpose political favor mill through which Jack Abramoff clients (Russian tycoons, Marianas sweatshop owners and the Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe) funneled money to Buckham, his lobbying shop and other DeLay causes.

One thread of the USFN story was the townhouse it bought near Capitol Hill. Called the "Safe House" by former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's aides, it was the headquarters for DeLay's ARMPAC, Buckham's lobby shop, Alexander Strategy Group, and of course it even had a little office for the USFN itself.

By 2000 the FEC was starting to look into the USFN, and the USFN's Capitol Hill neighbors had begun to complain that it was a business operating in a residential area in violation of local zoning laws. In their big piece on the U.S. Family Network yesterday, the Washington Post reported that when Buckham's USFN had to part with the beloved "Safe House" in late 2000 it took a $19,000 loss.

Now, that got us to wondering. A loss of that scale is far from Duke Cunningham territory. But the DC housing market was pretty hot back then and the USFN held the property for just about 2 years.

So who got such a good deal?

The buyer was Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS).

D.C. property records show that the townhouse was sold to Ryun for $410,000 on December 15, 2000. According to the Post, the USFN purchased the townhouse for $429,000; the deed was signed January 12, 1999.

(To confirm that this was the same Jim Ryun, we found this 2004 FEC contribution listing in which a Jim Ryun who identifies his profession as "congressman" lists the former "Safe House" address, 132 D Street, as his place of residence. Roll Call, it turns out, briefly noted Ryun's purchase on June 4th 2001, but long before the scope of Buckham's and Abramoff's bad acts had come to light.)

Property sold to a member of Congress at substantially under market value can, in some instances, be construed as a de facto gift. In this case, that would be from the Buckham-controlled and Abramoff-client-funded front group USFN to Rep. Ryun.

Naomi Seligman of CREW told TPMmuckraker.com that Ryun's house deal should prompt a House Ethics Committee investigation. "Who else in America has lost money on a real estate transaction except [Cunningham contractor felon] Mitchell Wade?"

According to Ryun spokesperson Michelle Schroeder, Rep. Ryun was on a plane Monday and unavailable for comment.

The AP is reporting that the newest indictment in the New Hampshire phone jamming case is Duane Hansen, the former co-owner of the Idaho telemarketing firm that executed the jamming of Democratic phone lines on Election Day, 2002.

Hansen was basically the low-level enforcer - so it looks like we'll have to wait a little longer to see if the investigation bags any more heavies like RNC New England political director James Tobin. As we noted last week, Tobin was in close contact with the White House on the day of the jamming.

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