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

Roll Call newspaper notes this morning that the Senate Finance Committee's got its hands on new documents relating to disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. It's a part of the story worth keeping an eye on, for a couple reasons.

The committee is probing Jack's ties to nonprofits, as well as the involvement and knowledge of Jack's employers, lobby firms Greenberg Traurig and Preston Gates and Ellis, in his corruption. To date, those firms have largely dodged the bullet, pleading ignorance of Jack's misdeeds. But scandal-watchers say that's hard to swallow. We'll be following up on that in the future (if the Finance Committee doesn't beat us to it.)

Also worth noting: the Finance Committee is chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who's in the habit of keeping talented investigators on his staff. If he sets them on the Abramoff case in earnest, there's no telling what they will unearth.

That said, Grassley isn't committing to public hearings, which means he may want to keep some of the good stuff under wraps. That's understandable -- all roads from Jack lead eventually to lawmakers' offices. Who wants to be the guy whose committee hearings bring down a colleague, even if he's tainted? Here's to hoping they'll let the sun shine in.

Ronnie Earle's DeLay Subpoenas Thrown Out

Ronnie Earle, the Travis County prosecutor in Texas who indicted Tom DeLay on money laundering charges, has been engaged in a litigation war with DeLay's attorneys ever since that indictment. Yesterday, DeLay's side won one battle when an appeals court ruled that Earle should have stopped issuing subpoenas back in December - the case was halted then in order to hear an appeal on one of the disputed charges against DeLay.

So all those subpoenas issued over the past few months - to DeLay's various and sundry associates, to associates of crooked defense contractor Brent Wilkes - are null and void. This doesn't mean that Earle can't go back and subpoena these people later after the appeals process is sorted out, but it does mean that there will be no more news from his investigation until March 22nd, when the appeals court will hear arguments on that disputed charge against DeLay. (Houston Chronicle, AP)

Katherine Harris Speculation Update

No one knows quite what her major announcement this week will be - whether she'll drop out of the race for Senate or not, but here's a fresh suggestion that seems to be credible. From the Times:

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Over on, Josh observes a bizarre twist to the case of sticky-fingered White House aide Claude Allen: he may have an evil twin, who used his identity in his scam:

As you know, we've been following the bizarre case of Claude Allen, former top advisor to President Bush who was arrested a few days ago and booked and charges stemming from a lengthy shoplifting spree.

Now, here late this evening I got an email from TPM Reader WH who directed my attention to today's All Things Considered on NPR in which Michele Norris interviews Michael Fletcher, a reporter with the Post who's been covering the story.

Now, right at about 1:40 into the interview comes this exchange ...

Norris: We should note something, Michael. Apparently Claude Allen has a twin brother?

Fletcher: Yes, he does. He has an identical twin brother who even close friends can’t tell them apart when they see them. And people have seen him and close friends say that Mr. Allen has indicated to them that maybe his brother holds the key to this entire puzzling affair.

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This would seem to be a pecadillo by Tom DeLay's standards, but a whopping fine from the FEC is not what he needs with all his financial strife at the moment. Remember, he's got a defense fund to worry about.

It seems that the FEC had its curiosity piqued when it came across a disclosure for the sale of ARMPAC's (DeLay's political action committee) mailing list to DeLay's Congressional Committee. The disclosure said that the list was worth $3,138.87. That seemed fishy to the FEC; and outside observers agree that it sounds way low. DeLay's committee responded Friday to their inquiry by saying that the list was "valued by several vendors." We'll see if that satisfies the FEC.

Gary Bauer's committees got hit with a $46,000 fine last year for a similar problem. $46,000...that's at least two weeks' worth of lawyering, no?

As Josh noted a couple weeks ago, the CIA Inspector General has opened an investigation into Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, a CIA career official with ties to Brent Wilkes, the crooked defense/intel contractor who bribed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) with more than half a million dollars.

Foggo, a "lifelong friend" of Wilkes, has been involved in contracting at the CIA for much of his career, including support for 'operations.' In other words, making sure spies in the field have what they need to complete their missions. Support people are supposed to find ways to get the mission done, and Foggo's said to have had a willingness to bend the rules to get what he wanted.

But it appears now that Foggo may have taken that a step further; Newsweek reports the CIA IG is examining Foggo's involvement in landing a $2 million to $3 million contract for a company connected to his pal Wilkes to deliver bottled water to CIA operatives in the field.

For now the Foggo investigation is focused on a single contract -- but there is widespread speculation that he had more going on than that. And with a career spanning more than 20 years, most of them in contracting-related positions, it's not a stretch. We hear talk, for instance, that he pressured underlings to support his efforts, including pushing other intelligence offices to use Foggo's favored contractors. "He had the reputation of being an operator, in the negative sense of the word," one former agency official told me. "Foggo tends to be a Boss Tweed type person," said another.

If you're a DOJ lawyer looking for a promotion these days, seems one of the best things to do is be in the midst of a major corruption investigation.

The prosecutor who has headed the office at the center of a number of high-profile GOP corruption investigations - Jack Abramoff, David Safavian, Michael Scanlon, and Mitchell Wade - is moving on. He's been there since May of 2004.

Kenneth Wainstein, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, has been tapped to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

You might remember that another key prosecutor in the Abramoff case, Noel Hillman of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Sector, was recently nominated to a federal judgeship in New Jersey, sparking calls for a special prosecutor. I wouldn't be surprised if that effort was renewed.

Wainstein's office is at the center of the Abramoff investigation, along with a number of other agencies, including the DoJ's Public Integrity - Abramoff and Scanlon both pled guilty in the U.S. District Court in D.C. And it is his office that is prosecuting David Safavian. His office is also busy carrying on the investigation into crooked defense contractor Mitchell Wade's full-fledged corruption; as the Post reported a couple of weeks ago, that investigation has spread into the Department of Defense.

(Ed. Note: Thanks to TPM Reader KM for the tip.)

There was such a wealth of muck in David Margolick's Vanity Fair piece on Jack Abramoff last week that it was possible to let the occasional morsel slip by. The piece mentions, for instance, that Ken Mehlman (who, like many, was uncomfortably close to Abramoff) got his hands dirty:

"...according to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged email with Abramoff, did him political favors (such as blocking Clinton-administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job)..."

Now, this parenthesis is news; as far as I can tell, it hasn't been reported before. So the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, who like everyone else says he barely knows Abramoff was actually killing nominations for him only a few short years ago.

Now, to properly appreciate its delectability, you need a little more backstory on Stayman. So let me give you some more of the background details.

Stayman had been on Abramoff's hit list for a long, long time, because, as a higher-up at the Interior Department, he had been an ardent advocate for bringing the sorts of labor and immigration reforms to the Northern Mariana Islands that Abramoff had been hired to squelch. How do I know that Abramoff wanted Stayman gone? Because Abramoff said so in one of his famous emails - this one leaked long before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee began investigating him.

From the Washington Post, back in 1998:

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The New Republic has an interesting story on the feud between Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Grover Norquist, the Republican power broker and head of Americans for Tax Reform, who has extremely close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

McCain, who has spearheaded an investigation into Abramoff's misdeeds, appears to be letting Norquist off the hook, despite the fact that Norquist's fingerprints are all over Jack's dealings.

Norquist and McCain have hated each other for about a decade, since McCain started pushing for campaign finance reform, TNR's Ryan Lizza tells us. Norquist, whose livelihood depends on the sizeable GOP power base he maintains in part by directing donations to various candidates and organizations, doesn't take kindly to McCain trying to swipe his lunch money. Hence, feud.

When McCain, head of the Indian Affairs Committee, heard of Abramoff's misdeeds, he jumped at the chance to investigate them, knowing of Jack's ties to Norquist.

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It's all about the perks. Corporate jets, junkets...and you can add publicly funded luxury cars.

House members are provided the opportunity to lease cars on the taxpayers' dime, and Knight Ridder reports that many have taken full advantage of it. "Lexuses, Lincolns, Cadillacs, an Infiniti, even a BMW 530i" are among the spoils - the leases ran to over $1 million total last year. Curious as to who has the most expensive wheels? Here's a list. We were cheered to see Muckraker favorites Reps. Bob Ney (R-OH) and John Doolittle (R-CA) make the top ten with a Lincoln and Toyota Highlander, respectively. No word on who bagged the BMW.* (KR)

Justice Department Leaves Some Clues

The Justice Department pulled the financial disclosure records of several lawmakers and staffers involved in the Abramoff scandal last year, providing some confirmation of who interests them....

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Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) says she will make a "major announcement" regarding her campaign for Senate in Florida. Harris, who struggled for support throughout the race, has been dogged by questions regarding her involvement with a key figure in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

She begged off an appearance at a GOP conference this weekend:

"While there has been much speculation in recent days concerning my campaign, and our party faces challenges in this mid-term election, I am confident with your dedication and commitment, we shall be victorious in November," Harris said.

"Unfortunately, I am unable to join you this weekend, as I prayerfully prepare with my family, friends and advisers to finalize the strategy for a major announcement next week concerning my candidacy for the U.S. Senate."

No time or place has been set for the announcement.


I'm here!