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

Three down, more to come in the New Hampshire phone jamming case.

According to a piece that ran in today's New Hampshire Union Leader (the piece isn't available online), prosecutors there have said that another indictment is forthcoming in "about four weeks." No word yet on who the lucky contestant is.

We'll keep you posted.

Duke was even dirtier than you thought.

Gearing up for tomorrow's sentencing, the government has issued their rebuttal to Cunningham's request for a mere 6 years imprisonment. No way, says the government - Duke was looking at life in prison if he'd gone to trial, so 10 years is lenient enough.

Why? Oh, there are plenty of reasons. From Roll Call:

Read More →

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday suggesting that the IRS bowed to political pressure by investigating a Texas public interest group that crossed swords with Tom DeLay. The investigation came at the request of DeLay's crony, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), who himself was put up to making the request by a lawyer tied to DeLay's fundraising schemes.

But we think there's more to the story. In fact, there are indications that established rules to prevent political abuse of the IRS may not have been followed.

According to IRS rules, a request like Johnson's must be reviewed by a three-member panel set up to ensure that investigations are conducted for fair, nonpartisan purposes. But there doesn't appear to be any evidence that such a review ever took place.

Under the rules, the committee must keep a record of each of its decisions. As the Post reported yesterday, Texans for Public Justice Director Craig L. McDonald asked for all documents relating to his group’s case. McDonald shared those documents with us -- and they contain no record the IRS committee had reviewed Johnson’s letter or referred it for investigation.

In its reply to McDonald, the IRS said it had held back three pages, citing a law which allows them to withhold information if it "would seriously impair Federal tax administration." But the agency would not say what those three pages were.

We followed up with IRS spokesman Eric Smith. But we didn't get any further than McDonald.

Smith would not explain what had been withheld, or make a member of the IRS disclosure office available. (Reached independently, IRS disclosure officer Valerie Barta, whose name pops up in McDonald's IRS documents, told us she was prohibited from discussing the matter.)

We asked Smith whether a review had taken place. He would not answer directly, but said the review panel is “the process that we use for all cases.” We again asked him to confirm it was used for Johnson's request; Smith said he was prohibited from discussing specific cases.

Is the IRS withholding evidence of what the review panel decided? Or is the evidence missing because the mandated review never took place? One way or another, why isn't any evidence of this review or reference to it included into the documents released to TPJ?

Remember, this isn't just any audit. It's one the IRS was put up to by a political ally of Tom DeLay for the pretty clear purpose of cracking down on an organization that was creating problems for the then-Majority Leader.

We can't see any reason why the IRS won't say whether they followed their own rules in this case. And if they did, why can't they provide some evidence or documentation about what the review panel decided?

The Democrats want to run as the party of reform? Then they can't afford days like today.

Today, the Senate Rules Committee voted on two different reform proposals. One was the Democrats' Honest Leadership and Open Government Act; the other was an earmark and lobbying reform bill by Sen. Lott (R-MS). The Democrats' bill went down on party lines, 10-8. Lott's bill passed unanimously. In other words, in one short committee meeting, the Republicans completely co-opted the issue.

Meanwhile, Sen. Obama (D-IL), who's supposed to be the point man on this, introduced a measure three weeks ago that would create a Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission, an exterior agency that would handle ethics investigations and then make recommendations to the ethics committees. Sounds like a pretty sound idea, right? Especially given the shambles that the ethics committees are in right now, you would think.

Well, Sen. Obama (D-IL) sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter February 10th (read the letter here). The response? As today's Hill reports, it's been...underwhelming. As of yesterday, he had one co-sponsor, Sen. Reid (D-NV). Today, according to Sen. Obama's office, he added Sen. Kerry (D-MA). So that's two - not very impressive support. Why? As The Hill puts it: "lawmakers appear to view the medicine as too strong."

A glimpse into a day in the life of a Duke Cunningham staffer.

Roll Call tracked down Cunningham's former chief of staff, David Heil, who's referred to in the Justice Department's filings against Cunningham as a senior aide who confronted Duke over his shady dealings. Heil, "one of the few ethical bright spots" in this tale and now a lobbyist with the firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, is unique in that he's apparently one of a small number of Cunningham staffers who hasn't run as far as he could from the Hill:

...although he keeps in touch with some of his former Capitol Hill colleagues, Heil described an overwhelming feeling of disenchantment and bitterness among some of Cunningham’s former aides. Several have left politics or sought a future outside of Washington.

Heil gives an idea why: 

At one point in late 2004, after a showdown with his boss, Heil threatened to quit unless Cunningham himself left Congress — either by resigning or announcing his retirement....When Cunningham balked at Heil’s ultimatum, Heil quit.<snip>

“How else do you define when someone looks you in the eye and lies to you on several occasions?” Heil asked. “But then again, he did that to everybody.”<snip>

...in 2003, Cunningham bought a 1999 Suburban truck from Wade for only $10,000. Heil said he became worried about the price, which was thousands of dollars below the market value. According to the Justice Department, when Heil, who was not named in any official document, “raised the matter with the Congressman, Cunningham furiously slammed his hand on his desk, twice, and yelled at the staffer to ‘Stay the f--- out my personal business.’”

Read More →

We've been banging the Don Young drum for a little while here at TPM, because it's just not clear to us that Rep. Young (R-AK) really had "no personal or professional relationship" with Jack Abramoff, as he has claimed.

Now, it's been reported already that Rep. Young used Abramoff's skyboxes for fundraisers before Abramoff's fall from grace. But to date, Rep. Young or his office has sort of muddled the significance of those ties by claiming that his campaign didn't know in whose suite those events were held. (Never mind that the plaque at the door to the MCI Center suite said "Jack Abramoff").

Today, however, we're publishing a Team Abramoff email which puts those claims into further doubt.

The email is from Jennifer Calvert to Jack Abramoff and his then-assistant Susan Ralston.

At the time, Calvert was a member of Team Abramoff at Preston Gates, the law firm where Abramoff ran his operation until the end of 2000. In the email, Calvert tells Abramoff, "Don Young has asked for the use of our suites for some upcoming fundraisers". (You can read the actual email here.)

That email seems pretty straightforward to us. Young apparently asked Calvert to ask Abramoff if he could use one of his skyboxes for his fundraisers. And that seems like some sort of a relationship.

We went back to Young's office to get comment on this latest revelation. But the response seemed a bit off-point.

Young spokesman Grant Thompson emailed us back this reply:

"Mr Young does not feel it appropriate to comment on emails that are generated within a corporation. When you find communications from Mr Young or his staff, we will consider responding."


We're not sure what the problem is with commenting on emails "that are generated within a corporation." And, as a response, it's not exactly a denial - it's more of a challenge. In fact, we appreciate Rep. Young's confidence that we will ultimately find these communications. We'll do our muckraker best not to let him down.

At MZM, Inc., it really was all in the family.

In today's Daily Muck, I noted that in their story on Mitchell Wade's guilty plea, The Washington Post identified the anonymous Defense Department "Official" as Robert Fromm. In that they differed from the Times and the SDUT, each of whom said that the unnamed official was William S. Rich, Jr.

According to the plea, after Wade arranged for his son to work for MZM, the "Official" gave Wade all sorts of help in winning contracts with the Defense Department. This went on for at least a year and a half until the "Official" decided just to go ahead and make things official and moved over to MZM himself.

This seemed like a perfect description of Rich, whose son worked for MZM and who himself eventually moved over to MZM.

I thought so too, and said this morning that I thought the Post had got it wrong.

But it turns out there was just so much corruption at MZM that it's hard to keep the father-son sweatheart deal duos straight. In other words, yes, there was another father/son combination.

Walter Pincus at the Post, who reported on Rich's work for MZM last year, told me that according to his sources, Robert Fromm's son went to work for MZM in February, 2002. That matches up with the facts in the plea, which also says February, 2002. Rich's son, William Scott Rich III, didn't go to work for MZM until December 2002. Furthermore, Rich left the Pentagon to work for MZM in September 2003, long before the "Official" in the plea agreement, who left for MZM in July, 2004.

So there you have it: two defense officials, both in a position to help Wade win contracts, both of whom had sons go to work for Wade, and then went over themselves to work at MZM.

According to Pincus' story last year, at least 16 Defense Department employees made their way over to MZM. Who knows how many other father/son or mother/daughter combinations were united there?

All apologies to the Post - and as for Robert Fromm, he'll be making his Grand Ole Docket debut later in the day.

(Late Update: We've added the "Statement of Offenses" from Wade's guilty plea to the TPM Document Collection. And Fromm has arrived in the Grand Ole Docket.)

Duke Deconstructed.

On Friday, Duke Cunningham's defense lawyers issued their Sentencing Memorandum, asking for six years incarceration. The memorandum included a psychiatric evaluation. Enter Duke's mind:

A psychiatrist says Randy “Duke” Cunningham's fall from Vietnam War hero to corrupt politician grew out of “an outsized ego and a mantle of invulnerability” that allowed him to rationalize his behavior.

That mindset evolved from a military career in which Cunningham was taught to embrace aggressive tactics and ignore danger signs and enabled him to perform heroically during the Vietnam War, the doctor said.

Those traits, imperative for fighter pilots, were so engrained in Cunningham that although he was expected to behave differently in Congress “the psyche cannot make such a U-turn easily,” said Dr. Saul Faerstein....

Faerstein said Cunningham's “extraordinary deeds in the service planted a subconscious sense of entitlement which fed his rationalization to accept these gifts for his sacrifices.”


Read More →

Mitchell Wade, owner of MZM, Inc. and part-owner of Duke Cunningham, will plead guilty today. He's been cooperating with prosecutors for months. As Josh notes, "we'll be very interested to see what gets mentioned in his plea agreement and how far (and how high -- as some close to the case have long speculated) he takes this into the Pentagon." We'll get you details as soon as we learn them.

But there is plenty of other muck to be had today: 

Read More →

The Russian connection gets stronger. 

Another subpoena has been issued in the Abramoff investigation.

The investigators want to know more about Jack Abramoff and his work for his Russian clients. He represented two top Naftasib executives, Alexander Koulakovsky and Marina Nevskaya. Naftasib is a Russian energy giant, and a major supplier to the Russian military.

But wait! There's more: investigators also want to know more about Tom DeLay's work for the Russians. This is the second subpoena to name DeLay. So no bones about it - he is under investigation.

From today's Boston Globe:

Read More →

TPMLivewire