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

From the Helena Independent Record:

Bob Keenan, the top Republican leader in the Montana Senate, said Thursday he is considering challenging Sen. Conrad Burns in the primary election because he is "concerned" about Burns' re-election chances because of a lobbying scandal.

The Montana Democrats have done an excellent job of making the case against Burns, who was really tied in to Jack Abramoff (See our bio here for just how tied in). But last week's Vanity Fair piece has really sent the Republicans into a panic. It's easy to see why:

"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."

I don't know how much of a chance this guy's got, but it sure would be fun.

A third Democrat has entered the race for Rep. John Doolittle's (R-CA) seat: Michael Hamersley, who's best known for blowing the whistle on his superiors at KPMG for sham tax shelters. It resulted in a big criminal investigation, he was removed from his job, etc. In his press release, he calls himself a "Tax and Ethics Expert," and it sounds like he's going to be running hard on integrity.

Doolittle, you'll remember, has remarkably managed to be a big part of both the Abramoff and the Cunningham scandal - Tom DeLay is the only other congressman who was so ambitious.

Yesterday we reported that Mitchell Wade's company, MZM, had at least one contract with an intelligence office within the Department of Energy. What does it mean?

One point jumps out: The stain is bigger than we thought. This deal between Wade -- who's confessed to bribing now-jailed Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) -- and DoE's Office of Counterintelligence adds a third government body to the list of those who used Wade. First were two offices within the Defense Department, then the White House, and now Energy.

But, like an episode of 'Lost,' it raises more questions than it answers. What was MZM doing for DoE's CI office? How did they land the deal? Was it related to MZM's arrangements with the White House and DoD? We don't know. We aim to find out. If you have any leads, don't be shy -- drop us a line.

"Cardinals" Try to Rein In Earmarks

House appropriations chiefs are doing the reform dance -- limiting the number of earmarks a lawmaker can insert to ten. That's less than half of 25, the average number of earmarks per legislator in recent years. That's still 4,350 earmarks too many.

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We've known for a while that Mitchell Wade's bribery scheme won him contracts with the Pentagon.

But now we've discovered that Wade's company, MZM Inc., had at least one contract with an intelligence office inside the Department of Energy, according to a document obtained by

Wade pleaded guilty two weeks ago to several felony counts of bribery and conspiracy. He was a key player in the corruption scandal of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), who took $2.4 million from contractors, MZM's Wade foremost among them, in exchange for government contracts.

To date, MZM's involvement with the Energy Department has not been reported.

But an invoice we obtained shows MZM performed "support services" to the agency's Office of Counterintelligence.

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As you know, Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-KS) Senate intelligence committee has been sitting on the "phase two" of its inquiry into WMD Iraqi intel for two years now -- the part that's supposed to look into whether the White House overstated the intelligence when making its case for war.

Roberts popped his head up two days ago to say his team was "making progress" on the report -- an odd announcement for a couple reasons. First, the matter's been out of sight and mind for most Americans; with the situation in Iraq worsening and the president's poll numbers plummeting, why bring back an old nightmare?

Second -- it's been two years, chief. Everybody knows if it was up to Roberts this would have been dropped long ago. Who is he kidding?

Here's the scuttlebutt: Democrats on the committee were preparing to make public complaints about Roberts' continued foot-dragging, and the chairman made the announcement as a pre-emptory strike. (Big surprise, the Dems wouldn't call back to confirm. Neither would Roberts' office.)

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So it looks like we're going to have one more round of journalists fighting subpoenas in the Plame case. The Times reports today that Scooter Libby's attorneys have subpoenaed Judy Miller and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, Matt Cooper of Time, and Tim Russert of NBC. According to the Times, Miller's lawyer will be fighting her subpoena.

Lost in all of the reporting about former domestic policy advisor Claude Allen's trouble with the law is his remarkable political career, which got going with his work as spokesman for Sen. Jesse Helms' re-election campaign in 1984 and reached its height with his position as the abstinence czar in the Department of Health and Human Services during Bush's first term. Much more on that later in the day.

But back in 1984, when Allen was still a freshfaced GOPer, he hadn't quite mastered the art of understatement, code-speak and spin that a right-wing operative needs to do his work. During the campaign in '84, a reporter from the Greensboro News-Record called to ask him about Helms' strategy; he replied that Helms' opponent was vulnerable because of his links "with the queers." He went on:

We could expound on and undertake a campaign against Jim Hunt's [Helms' opponent] connections with the homosexuals, the labor union connection, the radical feminist connection, the socialist connection.... We could go back and do the same thing with the queers.

Now, Allen went up for a judgeship in 2003, and during the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Feingold (D-WI) used the opportunity to ask him about this little indiscretion. Allen's defense? This may sound familiar - it was all a big misunderstanding. He'd been misquoted:

"I said, 'I'd been on the campaign for two years and I have seen a lot of very strange, abnormal, out-of-the-ordinary individuals and groups working across the campaign, sir.'

And, in fact, I did use the word queer. I used the word queer, in my mind, I think at the time, in the dictionary, it was described as odd, out of the ordinary, unusual. I did not use the word as a pejorative; I did not use the word to denigrate any individual or any group.

More later on Allen's political career.

Over on, Josh noted that the administration is being pushed to hire former Congressman Fred Thompson, whose gravitas and experience could stabilize a White House that's begun to list sharply.

Thompson's gravitas and experience are already in use, however -- on the hit television series Law and Order, where he plays District Attorney Arthur Branch. And as was noted previously, one of the Law and Order shows (Criminal Intent) is going to be investigating the brutal murder of a Secret Service agent, which spreads into an investigation of the Abramoff affair, although it's TV so they don't call it the Abramoff affair.

Conflict of interest? Thompson doesn't actually act on Criminal Intent, so any information discovered in the course of shooting the show (photos of TV-Abramoff and TV-Bush?) probably aren't relevant. And he would not have to TV-recuse himself from any TV-prosecution that might touch the TV-White House.

But he's got one possible disqualifier: Having become accustomed to Law and Order's "ripped from the headlines" scripts, Thompson is probably used to working with material that's more closely based on reality than the stuff the White House reads off of, most days. Could he make the transition?