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

Today, President Bush rolled out his brave plan to roll back billions in tax breaks for energy companies. But you wouldn't know from the coverage so far that what he's really talking about is rolling back some of the more disastrous measures of the energy bill he himself signed into law last year.

Here's the key snippet from his speech today:

Record oil prices and large cash flows also mean that Congress has got to understand that these energy companies don't need unnecessary tax breaks like the write-offs of certain geological and geophysical expenditures, or the use of taxpayers' money to subsidize energy companies' research into deep water drilling. I'm looking forward to Congress to take about $2 billion of these tax breaks out of the budget over a 10-year period of time. Cash flows are up. Taxpayers don't need to be paying for certain of these expenses on behalf of the energy companies.

The 2005 energy bill included $14.5 billion in tax breaks. It's not clear just which "unnecessary tax breaks" in particular he's talking about repealing, but he'll be hard pressed to find any that he himself didn't sign into law.

The only measure that he mentions specifically here, the "use of taxpayer money to subsidize energy research into deep water drilling," refers to former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's pet project, a $1.55 billion boondoggle to benefit the Texas Energy Center in Sugar Land that DeLay inserted into the energy bill. It was part of the bill that Bush signed, but now that DeLay's out of the picture, Bush can safely cut it out.

So what other "unnecessary" measures will Bush find in his own one-year old bill? Stay tuned.

Boy, does this guy know how to choose his battles.

Even by Congressional standards, Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC) is a world champion waffler and equivocator. Rather than take a stand on the controversial CAFTA vote, he came up with the lame excuse that his voting card had failed. And rather than admit that he'd gotten special attention from Jack Abramoff, he quibbled over whether a group of lobbyists all getting together to give him money was indeed a "fundraiser."

But when the families of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 want a federal grant to build a memorial, Taylor's there to be seemingly the only man in government standing in the way. Why?

For Taylor, a large landowner in the mountains of western Carolina, the issue comes down to principle: The federal government is already the largest landowner in the country, and he believes that no additional tax dollars should go to more land buying for this or any other memorial.

The requested sum is $10 million, which would be used to build the memorial in the field near Shanksville, PA where the plane crashed.

Remember that this is the guy who inserted a $3 million earmark for Abramoff's client the wealthy Saginaw Chippewa to build a new school. The tribe needed the money so badly that they've since refunded it.

But $10 million to the victims of 9/11? Naw. Do they even have a lobbyist?

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), the main Democratic co-sponsor of a controversial bill that would give control of the Internet to big phone companies, is in AT&T's pocket, critics are charging.

Over the past five years, the phone giant has given $1 million to a charity tied to Rush, funding the construction of the "Bobby L. Rush Center for Community Technology," the Chicago Sun-Times reports this morning.

"It is a clear conflict of interest for Rep. Rush to weigh in on this bill," Sheila Krumholz, acting executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, told the paper. "People can disagree about where to draw the line on contributions and abstaining from votes, but $1 million is definitely over that line."

Both Rush and his wife, Carolyn, are board members of the Rebirth of Englewood CDC, which took AT&T's money, the Sun-Times says. Rush's son, Flynn, works for the center.

Oddly, the technology program has yet to get off the ground, the paper finds. But it is "now expected to open in the next 12 months."

The Washington Post is as excited as we are about the upcoming trial of Claude Allen, the former White House adviser who confessed to shoplifting thousands of dollars in merchandise from stores in the D.C. area.

"The Enigmatic Man" headlines the paper's mega-takeout on Allen this morning. Already it's bad: don't expect much insight from a profile that uses "enigma" in its headline. But it's got a couple choice nuggets.

Allen, of course, didn't talk for the article, nor did his lawyers. A lot of old friends and co-workers talked, mostly about how he was a decent guy but there seemed to be part of him they couldn't know. So the article is really several thousand words on how little we know about the guy.

There's a great anecdote from the executive director of the Virginia NAACP, King Salim Khalfani. In 2000, his group threatened the state of Virginia with a boycott if then-Gov. James Gilmore didn't end the state's recognition of "Confederate History Month." Claude Allen -- then the state's secretary of health and human resources -- was tapped to help smooth things out.

What was his ploy? He gave Khalfani a poster portrait of Confederate leader Gen. Robert E. Lee.

One other bit of information stood out: as we recall, he has an identical twin brother, Floyd. What I didn't know, but the Post reported, was this: Floyd works in retail security. That's an interesting twist, no?

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.