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

We've been following up on Monday's story about a possible connection between the White House and Mitchell Wade's curious Iranian democracy non-profit.

If you recall, Wade -- who's facing several years in the big house for bribery, fraud, tax evasion and more -- registered the "Iranian Democratization Foundation" in April 2004. Two months later, the White House signed the first of three contracts with Wade's company MZM for "intelligence services." In all, Wade's contracts with the Executive Office of the President were worth $250,000. His foundation has since been dissolved.

We've called the White House three times asking for more information about the contracts, but they have yet to call us back. Meanwhile, a cursory check has turned up no other filings for Wade's nonprofit: no employer ID number, 990 filing, or anything else. Nexis shows no mention of the group in any news coverage.

What was Wade doing for the White House?

Opening with a double-page bleed-to-the-edge photo of a smiling Jack Abramoff golfing with Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), the April issue of Vanity Fair (hitting next week) devotes nine pages to the disgraced lobbyist and his attempts to set the record straight. Paticularly on all those who have forsaken him:

President Bush, who claims not to remember meeting Abramoff - the lobbyist says Bush once joked with him, "What are you benching, buff guy?"

RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, who said he didn't really know Abramoff - it turns out he had Sabbath dinner at Abramoff's house, did him political favors, and even offered to pay Abramoff's tab at Signatures, the lobbyist's restaurant.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who says Abramoff never influenced him - "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."

Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose spokesman says Newt wouldn't have known Abramoff "if he fell across him" - "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife."

You wouldn't know it from his folksy manner, but Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) is in deep with the telecom lobby, where a whole stable of his ex-aides have gone on to thrive, with good return:

For nearly a decade, a group of former top aides to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) have successfully used personal and professional connections to Burns, Montana State University's Burns Technology Center and other institutions associated with him to secure more than $20 million in lobbying fees for themselves, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in federal research contracts, tax breaks and subsidies for their clients.

Read More →

How times change. How votes change.

As I mentioned in the Daily Muck, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is rolling out his Internet Gambling Prohibition Act again, and prospects are bright, now that Jack Abramoff isn't around.

Back in October, the Washington Post had a gruesome blow-by-blow account of Abramoff's victory in 2000, when he narrowly defeated the bill. It would have put his client, eLottery, Inc. out of business. He rounded up some holy soldiers, Ralph Reed and Rev. Louis Sheldon, and had them attack, armed with his brilliant spin that the anti-gambling bill was actually soft on gambling because it made an exception for horse racing and jai-alai.

Then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) played a key role in killing the bill. And there were a number of other Republicans who crossed over to oppose it, bringing Abramoff's team great glee.

But things are different this time around. Goodlatte's bill now boasts a whopping 118 co-sponsors.

And remember, this is the same bill. According to Goodlatte's office, the current version is the same piece of legislation that failed in 2000 with only a few minor changes.

So - same bill. And as I noted before, Tom DeLay is a co-sponsor this go-around. We wondered who else had changed their mind, so we compared the roll call for the vote in 2000 with the list of co-sponsors. We found that eight members, seven Republicans and one Democrat, have changed their mind. They are:

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) Rep. William Jenkins (R-TN) Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-MN) Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA)

Now, there might be a perfectly legitimate explanation for changing one's vote. But whatever it is, it's not because the substance of the bill has changed. So inquiring minds want to know: is there any other explanation than that this time, Abramoff wasn't against it? What is it?

Some of you wrote in with questions -- and observations -- about Katherine Harris' new lawyer, Ben Ginsberg. Is he that Ben Ginsberg, of Florida Recount fame? Oh, and how.

Ginsberg was chief outside counsel to both Bush-Cheney campaigns, and a key player in the Florida Fiasco. Players of Trivial Pursuit: TPM Edition may recall that in 2004, he was caught representing the "independent" Anti-Kerry Swift Boat campaign, while holding on to his Bush-Cheney gig, creating the impression that the two groups may have illegally coordinated their efforts. Ginsberg resigned from the president's campaign.

He's a player's player, by DC standards: a $500-an-hour lawyer and a friend of Karl Rove, with a pedigree of GOP assignments to turn any red-stater green with envy.

Read More →

Here's the kind of lede you never want to see as a candidate, particularly if you're a makeup-happy Republican running for Senate in Florida: "Katherine Harris has seen better days."

Or try this one: "If you heard a big implosion during the weekend, it may have been the sound of Katherine Harris' campaign."

Or, my favorite: "A yet-to-be-identified Hawaiian has almost as much of a chance of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate as Longboat Key Republican Katherine Harris[.]"

A yet-to-be-identified Hawaiian? Ouch. It was just a few checks, and dinner with a dirty contractor! And an attempted earmark. . . and. . .

Whatever words they use, it seems the press corps have spoken: Get a fork out, Mabel. I think she's just about done.

If you want more evidence Harris is on the ropes -- or if you ever wondered if politics is like junior high -- here's this: the latest blow to the Harris campaign is that Dick Cheney didn't say her name at a recent Florida event.

In the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal, the Duke-Stir himself was the first to fall. One crooked contractor, Mitchell Wade, has already pled guilty and will head to the pokey soon.

But with a scandal as complex and far-reaching as Cunningham's, there will be others to go we don't yet know about. Who could they be?

Defense contractors are one possible target: Time Magazine reported in January that the "big chinchilla" wore a wire, and while his lawyers insisted he never used it to tape other public officials, they said nothing about his conversations with businesspeople. There's speculation the Feds are on to bribes from other companies we haven't heard about yet.

Read More →

Here's one arm of the supposedly wrecked DeLay machine that seems to be humming along quite well.

Three years ago, Gov. Perry gutted the state's lobbying office, the Office of State-Federal Relations, and replaced it with private Republican lobbyists. Drew Maloney, a former DeLay aide, and Jim Hyland, a former aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), got the contract. When Hyland was dropped in 2004, Todd Boulanger, formerly of Team Abramoff, got the call. The contracts will run to $1.2 million in total by August of next year.

At least $75,000 of that was effectively cycled back to Republican congressional committees by Drew Maloney, who was suddenly infected by the urge to donate after receiving the contract.

As the Houston Chronicle reports today, Perry is still standing by his contract. Democrats there have been understandably skeptical, pointing out that Texas had the Presidency, the Majority Leader, a sizeable delegation in the House, in addition to their Senators to plead for Texas' needs.

Skeptical with good reason, it turns out.

Read More →

Yesterday at TPM we noted the fact that in April 2004 Mitchell Wade -- the guy who paid off Duke Cunningham for help bagging contracts -- registered as the 'registered agent' for an outfit called the "Iranian Democratization Foundation."

That was on April 5th, 2004.

Now, during 2004, the Federal Procurement Data System lists 444 procurement contracts for the Executive Office of the President (that's the official name for what we colloquially refer to as 'the White House'). Most of those contracts are what you'd expect for a large office complex -- computer services, shipping, office supplies, etc.

But three stand out: three contracts, for a total of $254,437, for unspecified "intelligence services."

Those three contracts were awarded to Mitchell Wade's MZM, Inc.

Read More →

One key cog in Brent Wilkes' appropriations machine was a corporate jet that he used to fly around key members of Congress - Duke Cunningham, then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, among them.

Well, Laura Rozen reports that Wilkes might have been trying to move from flying Congressmen to flying CIA detainees. Wilkes had several large contracts coming to him through the CIA, much larger than he'd had before...

...what were the forthcoming contracts for? According to a source, they were to create and run a secret plane network, for whatever needs the CIA has for secret fleets of planes. Presumably, that might include "extraordinary renditions," e.g. to fly terror suspects off the radar to locations for interrogation.

The CIA has launched an investigation into the connection between the CIA's No. 3 Kyle "Dusty" Foggo and Brent Wilkes, who were very, very close (best-man-at-each-other's-weddings close). No doubt this will be part of it.