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

Last week, Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) released a statement purporting to prove that the townhouse he purchased from Ed Buckham's U.S. Family Network was sold at fair market price. But his statement (which we've posted here) and its accompanying documentation doesn't prove any such thing. In fact, it only confirms how odd the sale actually was.

Let's review.

As we reported for the first time last Monday, Ryun bought the Capitol Hill townhouse at far below market value in 2000 - as much as $100,000 below, according to experts we spoke to. The seller was the U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit controlled by Tom DeLay's former chief of staff Ed Buckham. The USFN was little more than a front for Buckham, a slush fund pumped full of money ($2.3 million over four years) by Jack Abramoff's clients. (Buckham was recently implicated in Tony Rudy's guilty plea for helping Abramoff bribe Rudy.)

So what's Ryun's defense?

Ryun claims that he found structural deficiencies that effected the price of the townshouse. According to his statement, Ryun consulted a housing inspector who found that "the upstairs master bathroom was in danger of falling through the living room ceiling because of the size of the bathtub put in by the previous owner." He then followed up by speaking with a contractor who estimated the repairs would cost "between $10,000 and $20,000."

But Ryun does not produce documentation for these estimates, nor does he suggest that such documentation ever existed or that he provided it to the U.S. Family Network as part of the negotiations. What he did do, according to his account, was "ask" the USFN to take the contractor's estimate "into consideration." The USFN then apparently voluntarily depressed the sale price based on Ryun's verbal assurances that repairs were needed. That's seems far from a normal process of negotiation. And how many building inspectors produce no written record of their work?

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Here's a blog that raised my eyebrows a bit.

Over at the Cincinnati Enquirer's online site,, there's a blog about Iraq written by military staffer whose job is to generate positive news about U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq.

Grandma in Iraq is the title of the blog, written by Suzanne M. Fournier, a Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The posts are largely upbeat. "Everytime [sic] an Iraqi contractor bids on a reconstruction project. . . it is a sign that democracy is winning here," reads one. "I am confident we'll have another banner year of success for the benefit of the people of Iraq and democracy in the Middle East," another says.

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Here's an underreported angle to the Jack Abramoff investigation: his repeated efforts to undermine democratic elections. At least three instances of this have been reported over the last couple years, and in two of the three, cooperation from Tom DeLay's office was essential to Abramoff's strategy.

Here's how it worked: a lot of Jack Abramoff's business came from small governments like Indian tribes and U.S. territories. In a number of instances, rather than sit on his thumbs while they elected a potentially unfriendly government, he decided to move in and make sure his guy got elected.

As far as I can tell, he tried this at least three times - and was successful twice.

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Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), now serving an extended prison sentence for accepting $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for legislative favors, was a scoundrel if ever there was one. But, as observes, "Some wags say Cunningham is a piker by comparison with other ethically challenged local politicians." Fun stuff.

Probe Moves Closer to DeLay

Federal prosecutors are moving up the food chain to Tom DeLay, as signified by Tony Rudy's plea agreement Friday. Roll Call notes that Rudy, a former DeLay aide, shares his lawyer with former colleague Ed Buckham, who Rudy's plea implicates. "They were Batman and Robin. Tony didn't do anything without Buckham's say-so. ... Buckham was Batman," the NY Daily News quotes an unnamed source. Interesting to see how long the dynamic duo uses the same Bat-Lawyer. (Roll Call, NY Daily News)

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What's that knocking? Ohio's Coingate scandal has arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania. And it wants in.

The White House appointed Tom Noe, the Ohio Bush "Pioneer" facing 53 felony counts of theft and corruption, to a U.S. Mint advisory committee where he became chairman, gaining influence he could use to make money for himself and others, the Toledo Blade reports.

Not only did Mr. Noe use his federal appointment to cultivate relationships at the Mint, and on Capitol Hill, but e-mails show that he used his post to influence policy and seek access to inside information that could benefit him as a rare-coin dealer.

For those new to the Coingate scandal, here's how Noe's scam apparently worked: First, Noe steals millions out of the State of Ohio's insurance fund for injured workers. Then he launders a cut and funnels it to the Bush re-election campaign. That buys access, which wins him a seat on the U.S. Mint's advisory board. That gives him more influence, and access to more information, to make more money. Repeat until indicted.

The Treasury Department's Inspector General is investigating what kind of mischief Noe got into, the Blade says.

On Friday, Paul noted how the guilty plea by ex-DeLay aide Tony Rudy is bad news for a man named Ed Buckham. Buckham's fall -- and what he could tell prosecutors -- would be even worse news for a lot of other people, including many elected officials, Paul pointed out.

Well, recent news reports tell us more about the man who's increasingly looking like the Grand Central Station of recent Congressional scandals, and what prosecutors might know.

Recall that shady house deal Paul reported on between Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) and Abramoff's multimillion-dollar sham charity, the U.S. Family Network? ABC News says Buckham facilitated it. And the Houston Chronicle this morning gives new details on how Buckham, who was both a private lobbyist and head of DeLay's ARMPAC, converted the majority leader's political donors into lobbying clients -- or was it the other way around?

I can never remember. Good thing prosecutors have a thousand emails from Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) office to help them keep track, Newsweek tells us.

What other balls did Buckham have in the air? In addition to running the U.S. Family Network, DeLay's ARMPAC and Alexander Strategy Group, he lobbied for Brent Wilkes, a major figure in the Cunningham bribery scandal; he "employed" DeLay's wife Christine and Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) wife, Julie, in arrangements widely recognized to be channels to pump money to the husbands; and he had a funny habit of being around when DeLay was helping out Abramoff's Choctaw's clients, or DeLay met with Abramoff's shady Russian oil pals. Will he sing like a canary when the heat comes down?

Today's Washington Post profile on Tony Rudy continues the split personality theme in the Jack Abramoff investigation. You know about Abramoff's double identity ("Good Jack" and "Bad Jack") - well, meet Tony Rudy's "darker side":

...according to friends and co-workers, Rudy got involved with a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, and a darker side to the young aide emerged.

And not only did Tony Rudy have two sides, but he represented one side of Tom DeLay:

One GOP lobbyist who worked with DeLay's office and asked not to be identified said Rudy represented DeLay's "harder edge."

One Republican close to DeLay's operation who asked not to be identified called Rudy "the implementer," a practical, no-nonsense aide who made sure the Texas Republican's political vision became reality.

So, for those of you keeping score at home - the Tony Rudy who pled guilty yesterday was "the implementer," the "darker side" of Tom DeLay's "harder edge." I wonder if prosecutors could just indict that portion of DeLay and leave the rest alone?

Yes, that's right. Here's Howard Kaloogian, supposedly on the same trip when he visited his Turkish Baghdad - the caption on his site reads, "Howard in Aremenia, Mount Ararat in the background."

From the San Diego Union-Tribune's Logan Jenkins' April Fool's Day column:

In a snapshot in his photo gallery, Kaloogian is supposedly standing near Mount Ararat in "Aremenia." (Most of us know it as as Armenia.)

Thanks to a biblical blogger with an interest in geology, I have learned that the mountain in the photograph is not Mount Ararat, the post-flood landing platform for Noah's Ark.

No, a close analysis of the outcropping's outline proves that Kaloogian is actually posing in the San Pasqual Valley with a snow-capped Mount Palomar in the background. When told of the error, Kaloogian said, "I can't believe it. Somehow photos from my tour of the Wild Animal Park got switched with those taken on the Iraq trip."

Late Update: And yes, this was an April Fool's Day column in the truest sense. I'll admit - he got me. I blame Kaloogian.

If campaign aides were hair, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) would be bald, the Orlando Sentinel reports this morning:

Harris, who is running against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, is likely to lose her chief political strategist, her campaign manager, her spokeswoman, her director of field operations and even a traveling aide who helps hand out stickers at campaign appearances.

Even the guy who hands out the stickers.

In a preposterous attempt to stem the defections, the Recount Queen apparently is stealing a page from the playbook of. . . a third-rate Eastern European dictator? She's requiring the few staffers staying behind to swear a loyalty oath to her campaign:

[S]ources said Harris met with staffers earlier in the day. . . Campaign workers could stay, she said, but they would have to recommit themselves to the Senate race. She gave them until 5 p.m. Sunday to decide.

Yeah, that'll work.