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Do you remember back in January when there was all that hysteria about that Jack Abramoff character? The House Republicans rushed to the microphones (beating the Democrats by a couple of days) in order to present their lobbying reform plan. Speaker Dennis Hastert said serious things like:

I think we need to tighten even further the gift rules. A Member of Congress should be able to accept a ball cap or a t-shirt from the proud students at a local middle school, but he or she doesn't need to be taken to lunch or dinner by a lobbyist... I think members can probably function very well in this town without having to go out lunch with a lobbyist or to dinner with a lobbyist. They can pay for it for themselves, they have means to be able to do that, if that's what we have to do.


How times have changed. Now the Abramoff investigation seems to be in a lull, the public is concentrating on other things, and so today the House Republicans revealed their new and improved lobbying reform proposal. No more talk of banning gifts and meals - now the tough measure is that lobbyists would be responsible for disclosing them. And they've hit on the genius stroke of using this opportunity to go after 527 organizations, political groups like MoveOn that have been very effective for the Democrats (and for Republicans - think Swift Boat Vets - though less so). As the AP puts it, "More recently, Republicans strategists have expressed concern about the efforts by Soros and others to boost Democratic prospects in the congressional midterm elections."

So they've done away with one of the pillars of their reform effort they made so much noise about in January and tacked on a measure that's a transparently political gambit. Crafty. Let's see if that's noticed in any of the papers' coverage tomorrow morning.

As I mentioned yesterday, the pressure's building on Grover Norquist, an even more significant player in the Republican machine than Jack Abramoff.

But I didn't go into detail on how he collected his fees for laundering money for Jack's tribal clients (why the laundering? Because Ralph Reed didn't want it to be known who he was working for). Norquist's non-profit, Americans for Tax Reform, made a pretty penny on the transactions - at least $60,000 that we know of.

There's one transaction that's particularly sketchy, and which Norquist has never adequately explained. In early 2000, Abramoff was trying to funnel money to Reed in order for him to start one of his anti-gambling jihads down in Alabama - the Mississippi Choctaw were footing the bill. The Choctaw's money went to Reed (through ATR) in three payments of $300,000. Of the first $300,000, Abramoff wrote Reed in an email, "I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter." ATR then wrote a check for $275,000 - so $25,000 was Grover's fee. But it seems Abramoff thought that fee would apply for the total of the money funneled through ATR, so when Grover took another $25,000 off the second payment of $300,000, Abramoff wrote to himself in an email, "Grover kept another $ 25K!" If Abramoff wasn't totally expecting Grover to keep this money, it's hard to believe that the Indians were.

When Time asked him about this last year, Norquist vaguely replied that he had permission: "He says a Choctaw representative--he can't remember who-- instructed him on two occasions to keep $ 25,000 of the money for his group."

If the CREW complaint results in an IRS investigation, and the Senate Finance Committee really starts asking questions in their investigation of Abramoff's shenanigans with non-profits, Norquist is going to have to sharpen up his answers. From the pieces out today, it appears that he's decided to hunker down and wait out the storm following the complaint. Usually talkative, he didn't respond to requests for comment, although ATR has promised an "official" reaction later. Can't wait.

Here's an interesting -- but overlooked -- detail of the Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) saga: one of the crooked contractors who bribed the Duke Stir was apparently involved in a Total Information Awareness-like data-mining operation that looked at U.S. citizens' data.

Mitchell Wade, former CEO of MZM Inc., pleaded guilty to several conspiracy and bribery charges a few weeks ago in connection with the Cunningham scandal. But a little-noticed piece of his history goes into one of the most sensitive domestic spying operations we have heard of to date: the Pentagon's Virginia-based Counterintelligence Field Activity office (CIFA).

Wade got over $16 million in contracts with CIFA by bribing Duke Cunningham, who forced earmarks in to Defense appropriations bills on his behalf. Furthermore, Wade's second-in-command was a consultant to the Pentagon on standing up the operation.

In its brief life -- it was created in 2002 -- CIFA has had trouble keeping its nose clean. Despite the ink that's been spilled on the center, little is actually known about what it does, and how MZM serviced it.

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On Monday, we noted that RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman had killed an appointment in the State Department as a favor to Jack Abramoff, and yesterday we lavished you with several examples of Mehlman's scorn for corruption and rank hypocrisy exhibited by...people like himself. But here's another that's particularly galling: during an interview in January, Mehlman was asked about a meeting Bush had with the President of Gabon, Omar Bongo, in 2003. The details have never been quite nailed down, but it is known that Bongo had been in negotiations with Jack Abramoff to procure such a meeting for the fee of $9 million.

Here's how Mehlman responded when asked:

"That's absurd," he tells me, waving his hand dismissively. "Utterly absurd. I have worked with George W. Bush from 1999 to 2004. The notion that anyone could set up a meeting is ridiculous."


Of course, we do know that the Prime Minister of Malaysia was able to do just that through Abramoff for the fee of $1.2 million. And Prime Minister Mahathir was a very happy customer - and a little more candid about how things are done in the Bush White House:

"I did not touch the money at all. In the US, it is a practice that if you want to meet their leader, you have to go through a lobbyist and the lobbyist has to be paid... That is their system. It is not corruption at all and it is very open, but they don't reveal names."

Mark your calendars...

As the trial dates now stand, there will be two, count 'em two former administration officials on trial at the end of April. David Safavian, the former head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy who was indicted for lying about his ties to Jack Abramoff, is set to start his trial April 18th. Claude Allen, the former domestic policy advisor to Bush arrested for creative shopping, is set for an April 27th trial.

The ACLU has posted to the web FBI documents detailing its surveillance of a nonviolent peace group in Pittsburgh, PA. A representative sample, dated Nov. 29, 2002:

The Thomas Merton Center. . . is a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism.

TMC holds daily leaflet distribution activities in downtown Pittsburgh and is currently focused on its opposition to the potential war with Iraq.


The report is about as outrageous as any Communists-under-the-floorboards dispatch from the Hoover era. But the real outrage is that it was written just a year out from the 9/11 attacks. Remember, tips were still pouring in about possible terrorist activities from all sources. We were still heeding warnings of a shadowy enemy who could strike at any time.

Amid that climate of immediate fear, at least one FBI special agent was assigned to spending several hours surveilling a political group, taking notes, and typing up reports on what he or she saw.

With Washington's ops centers and situation rooms still reeling with the very real concern of another terrorist attack, how could someone assign an agent several hours of watching (and writing about) a nonviolent political group? How many leads could that agent have run down, if political surveillance was not the priority of his or her superiors?

Then I saw an email from reader MM -- and keep in mind, this is all before my first coffee of the day -- which quoted RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman's latest note to supporters:

"Our President has no more basic responsibility than to protect the American people and fight terrorists who want to kill us. . . . Democrat leaders never miss an opportunity to put politics before our nation's security. Make your voice heard. Tell Democrat leaders to stop playing politics with national security."


I couldn't help but wonder: if an FBI agent got assigned to tail Ken Mehlman, what would the report read like?

Tax Cheats Making Millions off Federal Government

Over 3,800 companies won contracts with the federal government despite owing a total of $1.4 billion in taxes, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee revealed yesterday.

It takes a special sort of CEO to get the government as a client even though he owes it money. But, as the panel pointed out, it takes a truly rare individual who will then use his profits to buy himself a fancy car, a new boat, or a million-dollar property. (USA Today)

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Yesterday, Roll Call had a story that Justice Department investigators had gone down to the House and Senate to pull certain lawmakers' financial disclosure records. A number of those members we knew to be in trouble - Abramoff investigation luminaries like Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). No surprises there - although it makes it that much harder for them to claim that rumor of their investigation is just a liberal conspiracy. (Burns' spokesman gets a brownie point for some excellent spin here - saying the DoJ poring over Burns' records is "good news for us," since the earlier Burns is investigated, the earlier he'll be cleared.) A number of Burns' aides, a DeLay aide, and a Doolittle aide also came up - again, no surprise there.

But, according to the piece, there was a handful of lawmakers that didn't make sense. They were: Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), as well as Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa). What was the DoJ looking for? Paul Kane, the reporter at Roll Call, didn't have a good reason, and neither did any of those lawmakers' offices.

But it's actually not so mysterious.

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The "Evil Twin" defense? One big misunderstanding? Claude Allen's lawyers are going to have to work harder than that.

The Washington Post reported today that Claude Allen admitted that he was committing fraudulent returns when he was initially caught by a store manager. They cited a "charging document."

Well, we have the charging document here. Read it for yourself. It makes for a pretty devastating case against Allen, since he was caught on video making the returns - and this can be matched up with his credit card records.

On Claude's admission, the document reads "Allen had receipts from previous purchases at Target stores and admitted to Agent Schomburg [a "Target loss prevention manager," according to the Post] that he was committing fraudulent returns."

Seems pretty clear to me.

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