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

A former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer is expected to plead guilty to illegally obtaining the credit report of MD Senate GOP candidate Michael Steele.

With the plea, Lauren Weiner's expected to avoid hard time in the pokey, but that doesn't mean her trouble's run its course -- Steele's threatening to sue her personally for damages.

Here's a TV show worth canceling your weekly Friday Night Pancakes-n-Beer Extravaganza: Tonight, PBS' NOW is going to try to explain -- at least partially -- what goes on at the obscure Pentagon office called Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA).

It's surprising that for all the heat focused on the place, it hasn't faced much light until now: after all, CIFA awarded contracts to Mitchell Wade, who bribed congressman-turned-inmate Randy "Duke" Cunningham. In December we learned CIFA has maintained a database on anti-administration protesters within the United States, infuriating civil libertarians. And questions linger about how the product of the NSA's domestic surveillance program may have fed into CIFA.

CIFA Director David Burtt will be on the show -- I'm eager to hear what he's got to say -- as well as Bill Arkin, a Washington Post blogger (one of the good ones!) who broke the story of CIFA's domestic spying. Check it out - PBS NOW at 9 p.m.

Update: Reader BW notes that PBS affiliates air the show at different times, so be sure to check your local listings.

The Post puts a positive spin on it:

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the the practice of journalism.

News from Florida, where the three henchmen who allegedly gunned down SunCruz owner Gus Boulis are standing trial for murder.

Two of the accused murderers, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello and Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari were on SunCruz's payroll, and the question has always been how much Abramoff and Kidan knew about this. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe not.

In any case, Big Tony's lawyer doesn't think it was and wants to hear what Jack Abramoff and his partner Adam Kidan know - or will admit to. He's subpoenaed them to find out.

Their "SunCruz purchase is 'at the heart' of the murder case", says Big Tony's attorney.

More Texas fun.

Either Texas Governor Rick Perry laundered state funds through a secret, possibly illegal lobbying contract, or Comptroller Carole Strayhorn, who's running against Perry for governor, is deliberately misconstruing the facts in order to make Perry look bad. Either way, it's a good story.

As I noted yesterday, Strayhorn halted the state's lobbying contract with Cassidy & Associates, a $15,000/month arrangement through Texas' Office of State-Federal Relations. Todd Boulanger, formerly of Team Abramoff, was the lead lobbyist for Cassidy. She wouldn't say why she'd stopped it, only that her audit had raised "enough questions."

Enough questions? We've been asking plenty of questions about the contract - about, for example, how it's a bald attempt to route taxpayer money to Republican lobbyists. But Stayhorn, in her few comments, raised a new, much more serious question.

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What's going to happen to the Washington Post's new blogger? We're trying to find out ourselves, but folks who know have gone to ground.

The blogosphere put on its research hat yesterday and dug up at least half a dozen instances of apparent plagiarism by Ben Domenech, the conservative blogger whose recent hiring by the Washington Post sparked a firestorm in the blog world.

DailyKos has some examples, and then some; Atrios has a few more -- oh, and more.

We've been calling the Washingtonpost.com to find out what its thinking on their new hire is, but they haven't gotten back to us. Domenech himself has not yet replied to our email.

The Washingtonpost.com has, however, gone ahead and launched his page. Be forewarned -- all the biting comments take a while to load.

The Post's Howard Kurtz mentioned the brewing fiasco in an article this morning, but treaded lightly:

Late yesterday, the liberal Web sites Daily Kos and Atrios posted examples of what appeared to be instances of plagiarism from Domenech's writing at the William & Mary student paper. Three sentences of a 1999 Domenech review of a Martin Scorsese film were identical to a review in Salon magazine, and several sentences in Domenech's piece on a James Bond movie closely resembled one in the Internet Movie Database. Domenech said he needed to research the examples but that he never used material without attribution and had complained about a college editor improperly adding language to some of his articles.


Look up -- does anybody see another shoe, and does it appear to want to drop?

According to a Washington Post article this morning, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Stephen Cambone has ordered an internal Pentagon review ostensibly to find out how MZM got its contracts to work in CIFA, DoD's highly classified domestic counterintelligence office.

MZM had other Pentagon contracts, however. TPMmuckraker.com has learned that the company, once owned by admitted felon Mitchell Wade, provided staff to an unidentified ops center within the Pentagon's homeland defense operations.

According to unclassified govenrment documents, MZM provided at least three "watchstanders" and two administrative assistants to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale. Watchstanders work in operations centers, monitoring reports and sounding alerts when necessary, according to a GSA description of the position.

Our calls to McHale's office were not immediately returned.

This isn't the only MZM-Pentagon contract in which Cambone has little interest; MZM did work for the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center, which does not appear to be part of Cambone's internal investigation. We'll be following this closely.

At PA Religious Group, HHS Grants Go In, Campaign Help Comes Out

Here's a neat trick, courtesy Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA): earmark $250,000 over three years to your favorite quasi-religious abstinence charity; come election time, they can work your get-out-the-vote efforts. God helps those who help themselves. (Philly Daily News)

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James Tobin, the RNC's regional political director in 2002, was convicted for his part in orchestrating a scheme to jam Democrats' phone lines on Election Day, 2002. Turns out he was in more or less constant contact with the White House Office of Political Affairs through much of that day. You figure the phone jamming effort ever came up in their many conversations?

Tobin's and his fellow conspirators' phone records were introduced as evidence at his trial, and for a long time, the Senate Majority Project has been busily analyzing them to figure out just who Tobin was speaking to.

They're not done yet. But here's what we can tell you from their preliminary analysis. Tobin called the White House Office of Political Affairs, which was run by now-RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, more than 75 times from Sept. 30 to Nov. 22 of 2002. That much was reported today in New Hampshire's Union Leader. You can see the analysis that was based on here. He was also in touch with the White House on the day the phone-jamming was taking place.

First, a bit of backstory to catch everyone up. Chuck McGee, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Republican Party, hatched the plan in October of 2002 and brought in Tobin for help in carrying it out. Tobin brought in Allen Raymond of GOP Marketplace, who arranged for an Idaho call center to call Democratic phone lines and hang up repeatedly from 7:45 AM until 9:10 AM.

The question has always been if the scheme went any higher than that. As we mentioned earlier this week, the government thought that Tobin's superior at the RNC, Terry Nelson, knew enough that he was placed on their witness list. And these phone records show that Tobin was very closely tapped in with the White House.

He called the White House twelve times on the day of the phone jamming, the first time at 11:20 AM -- not long after Verizon intervened to shut down the scheme. The conversation was five minutes long. Do you think it ever came up?

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