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

The ink's not dry on Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's nomination papers to be Interior Secretary, and folks are already cracking wise on the man who bounced a $111 check for a haircut.

"Now that's what I call FANCY!" writes reader KM. And from reader KC: "Do you mean to say that the hair cut displayed in your picture of Gov. Kempthorne is what $111 buys in Boise? Dude, go to the Hair Cuttery in DC! For $14 you can't possibly look worse."

And my favorite: "You mean he paid $111 to get a haircut? Which one?"

All right, nobody sent that one in. It's just my favorite haircut joke.

As in Florida, government prosecutors in D.C. and Jack Abramoff's defense lawyers have agreed that he needs much more time to tell the government what he knows - only this time the judge has said OK. According to court documents, a status conference that had been set for March 24th has been pushed back to June 6th, when Abramoff should find out his sentencing date for the bribery investigation. In the meantime, he's talking away....

He's due to be sentenced for the SunCruz fraud March 29th. That should be a good show, and possibility a glimpse of what's to come. Remember his lawyer promised that he'll "name names."

It can be no surprise that President Bush has selected someone wtih an incredibly dismal environmental record to head up the Department of Interior. But it appears that he's gone one step further and found someone who will follow through on Gale Norton's legacy of overseeing a department that was rife with muck.

Norton's Interior was Jack Abramoff's personal playground. Now, Kempthorne doesn't have any ties to Abramoff as far as I can tell (and you never know), but he does know how to creatively entertain a special interest or two.

Somehow missed in all the news reporting about Kempthorne's career as governor of Idaho was a scandal there back in 2003 over his use of corporate campaign contributions for extra perks. Here's how it went: there was a loophole in Idaho law that allowed donors to exceed the contribution limit by donating to Kempthorne's "office account." It was supposed to be for general expenses. But eight corporations all chipped in and, beyond the $5,000 each had already paid to his campaign, paid him a total of $23,000 for this special "office account."

But this didn't go to staplers, paper clips and water coolers, no. He used the money for "restaurant meals, travel, National Governors Association activities, flowers, books and a haircut." And at least one of those donors, Qwest, got a lot of help from Kempthorne on a key piece of legislation that year.

After an uproar in the Idaho press and legislature, the Idaho Attorney General moved to pass a law that closed the loophole.

And it seems that Kempthorne really suffered for it. Last year, he bounced a $111 check paying for a...haircut.

Hmm...I wonder who it will be covering Kempthorne's haircut now that he's at Interior?

From the Helena Independent Record:

Bob Keenan, the top Republican leader in the Montana Senate, said Thursday he is considering challenging Sen. Conrad Burns in the primary election because he is "concerned" about Burns' re-election chances because of a lobbying scandal.


The Montana Democrats have done an excellent job of making the case against Burns, who was really tied in to Jack Abramoff (See our bio here for just how tied in). But last week's Vanity Fair piece has really sent the Republicans into a panic. It's easy to see why:

"Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns' committee] we got. Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used Signatures as their cafeteria."

I don't know how much of a chance this guy's got, but it sure would be fun.

A third Democrat has entered the race for Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) seat: Michael Hamersley, who's best known for blowing the whistle on his superiors at KPMG for sham tax shelters. It resulted in a big criminal investigation, he was removed from his job, etc. In his press release, he calls himself a "Tax and Ethics Expert," and it sounds like he's going to be running hard on integrity.

Doolittle, you'll remember, has remarkably managed to be a big part of both the Abramoff and the Cunningham scandal - Tom DeLay is the only other congressman who was so ambitious.

Yesterday we reported that Mitchell Wade's company, MZM, had at least one contract with an intelligence office within the Department of Energy. What does it mean?

One point jumps out: The stain is bigger than we thought. This deal between Wade -- who's confessed to bribing now-jailed Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) -- and DoE's Office of Counterintelligence adds a third government body to the list of those who used Wade. First were two offices within the Defense Department, then the White House, and now Energy.

But, like an episode of 'Lost,' it raises more questions than it answers. What was MZM doing for DoE's CI office? How did they land the deal? Was it related to MZM's arrangements with the White House and DoD? We don't know. We aim to find out. If you have any leads, don't be shy -- drop us a line.

"Cardinals" Try to Rein In Earmarks

House appropriations chiefs are doing the reform dance -- limiting the number of earmarks a lawmaker can insert to ten. That's less than half of 25, the average number of earmarks per legislator in recent years. That's still 4,350 earmarks too many.

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We've known for a while that Mitchell Wade's bribery scheme won him contracts with the Pentagon.

But now we've discovered that Wade's company, MZM Inc., had at least one contract with an intelligence office inside the Department of Energy, according to a document obtained by TPMmuckraker.com.

Wade pleaded guilty two weeks ago to several felony counts of bribery and conspiracy. He was a key player in the corruption scandal of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), who took $2.4 million from contractors, MZM's Wade foremost among them, in exchange for government contracts.

To date, MZM's involvement with the Energy Department has not been reported.

But an invoice we obtained shows MZM performed "support services" to the agency's Office of Counterintelligence.

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As you know, Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-KS) Senate intelligence committee has been sitting on the "phase two" of its inquiry into WMD Iraqi intel for two years now -- the part that's supposed to look into whether the White House overstated the intelligence when making its case for war.

Roberts popped his head up two days ago to say his team was "making progress" on the report -- an odd announcement for a couple reasons. First, the matter's been out of sight and mind for most Americans; with the situation in Iraq worsening and the president's poll numbers plummeting, why bring back an old nightmare?

Second -- it's been two years, chief. Everybody knows if it was up to Roberts this would have been dropped long ago. Who is he kidding?

Here's the scuttlebutt: Democrats on the committee were preparing to make public complaints about Roberts' continued foot-dragging, and the chairman made the announcement as a pre-emptory strike. (Big surprise, the Dems wouldn't call back to confirm. Neither would Roberts' office.)

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