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The Hammer Falls

As you've no doubt heard by now, Tom DeLay has decided to not seek re-election. Because he has already won the Republican primary, he can't simply drop out or the Republicans will have no candidate. So he has to be disqualified. "To be disqualified he must die, be convicted of a felony or move out of the state." Although DeLay may very well be convicted of a felony before November, his apparent plan is to pull up stakes and move to Virginia. He will retire from Congress sometime in late May or mid-June.

As for the reasons for DeLay's choice, most outlets buy the general storyline that polls were showing him facing a very tough race - and so DeLay selflessly decided to bow out so Republicans could retain the seat. The NY Times is one of the few to cite legal troubles as the reason:

One DeLay ally said that the lawmaker had been considering leaving Congress since he gave up his leadership post in January and that he had been persuaded to make the break last week, when his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

R. Jeffrey Smith of The Washington Post points out one advantage to DeLay's quitting the race now: he can convert all of the campaign money he would have spent on a close election to his legal defense fund. Contributions to the fund had been dropping late last year.

(WaPo, The Fix, WaPo, NYT, Galveston Daily News, Time, Time Q&A, Thinkprogress, USA Today, LA TImes)

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Embattled former House speaker Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) is dropping out of his House race, MSNBC reports.

Update: Time has the story. DeLay says he won't just drop out of his House race, he'll also resign from his seat before his term is up -- "likely. . . before the end of May," the magazine says.

The Capitol Police have requested an arrest warrant for Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), on unspecified charges. Abramoff-chaser U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Wainstein, on his way out to become Assistant Attorney General for National Security, is "reviewing the merits" of the case, his spokesperson says.

This one's for all you hard-core scandal fans.

As a few of you have no doubt noted, the record disagrees on how many e-mails Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) turned over to prosecutors.

In Newsweek's April 10 edition (available online now), DeLay's lawyer Richard Cullen is quoted saying the majority leader has turned over 1,000 e-mails to Justice lawyers handling the Abramoff scandal.

But Roll Call this morning attributes to Cullen a comment that DeLay has "voluntarily turned over to federal investigators about 100 e-mails written by DeLay staffers over the years that had to do with Abramoff."

Well, which is it -- one hundred? One thousand? We emailed Cullen. "It was about a thousand," the lawyer Blackberried back.

The number, of course, isn't the point. If DeLay turned the e-mails over, it's a fair bet they don't implicate him. (Cullen told Newsweek the congressman doesn't even use e-mail.) They may implicate the little fish, but Justice has most of them on ice already. We asked Cullen how his team decided which emails to provide and which to hold; we haven't heard back.

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.