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

That's right, someone's keeping track. And after last night's bust by Florida cops of a Homeland Security official for soliciting sex from a 14-year-old, we're adding "catching child sex criminals" to that list.

You see, since creating the program three years ago, DHS has actually held up its anti-child-pornography "Operation Predator" as one of its finest accomplishments. From DHS' July 2003 announcement of the initiative:

"Operation Predator integrates the Department's authorities to target those who exploit children," said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "The Department of Homeland Security is coordinating the Department's once-fragmented investigative and intelligence resources into a united campaign against child predators."

... "There is nothing more important than protecting our children - the future of our nation. Through Operation Predator, ICE is in a unique position to carry out this critical responsibility," said Michael J. Garcia, Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

So: if this guy, Brian Doyle, the accused child sex solicitor, is in fact guilty, he was right there under their noses the whole time. According to the Florida sheriff's office, he was even using DHS phones in his efforts.

DHS uses "the full spectrum of cyber, intelligence, investigative, and detention & removal functions" to catch these child exploiters, the agency has claimed. But it took a county sheriff in Florida to bust Doyle. (I called DHS; they confirmed they played no part in the operation.) Does someone lose their job over this? (I mean, besides Doyle.)

DeLay: The Reckoning

The Washington Post's front page piece on DeLay's departure is the best follow-up to DeLay's decision. The Post reports that DeLay had been thinking of dropping out for the last four months, but that he wanted to win the primary in order to ensure that none of his Republican challengers there made it through, since "he considered his three Republican challengers gadflies and traitors."

The decision to drop out was made last Wednesday, following on a poll taken two weeks ago that showed voters in his district were entrenched and it would be expensive to change their minds.

But above all, according to a former aide of DeLay's, "He needed to raise money for the defense fund. That was the bottom line." So he stuck it out long enough to make sure he could pay his lawyers.

Associates of DeLay "acknowledge" that the looming Justice Department investigation had something to do with it, but the Post seems to agree with them that it was merely one factor among many. In other words, if DeLay wasn't polling so badly, he would have stayed in. (WaPo)

Knight Ridder is almost alone in its frank coverage of DeLay's decision to step down. Why'd he do it? Because he's clearly the target of the Justice Department's bribery investigation. (KR)

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The arrest of Homeland Security press official Brian J. Doyle on child sex charges isn't the first incident of its kind in recent days.

Last week, federal agents raided NASA headquarters and siezed computers, CDs and other materials from the office of James Robinson, a program executive with NASA's In-Space Propulsion, Mission and Systems Management Division. Robinson was accused of trading child pornography online using his work computer. As the Smoking Gun Web site reported:

In correspondence with a series of undercover agents, he described his preferences as, "probably priority right now would be boy-on-boy or boy-with-Man, and girl-on-girl. But really, anything is of interest."
Unlike Doyle, Robinson was not arrested.

Tampa Tribune reports:

A Department of Homeland Security deputy press secretary was arrested this evening on charges that he was using a computer to seduce a child.

Brian Doyle, 55, was arrested at 7:45 p.m. in his Silver Springs, Maryland home on 23 charges related to the use of a computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor after a joint investigation by the Polk County Sheriff's office, Florida State Attorney Jerry Hill's office and the Department of Homeland Security.

Speaking today on CNN, Bill Schneider perfectly voiced a growing theme:

There's a key difference between Tom Delay's troubles and those that sent former congressman Duke Cunningham to jail. Cunningham was personally corrupt. Critics link Delay to what they call a system of corruption that was more far-reaching and partisan.

This, of course, is DeLay's own spin: "You can't prove to me one thing that I have done for my own personal gain."

Now, I don't expect that we'll ever find that DeLay was as accomplished as Duke Cunningham at personal enrichment. But really, that's quite a standard to hold anyone to.

DeLay wasn't personally corrupt? How about the $3,200 per month that went to his wife Christine while she worked at Ed Buckham's lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group? This went on for four years, and the timing of her employment (1998-2002) indicates she may have been used as a cutout to move money to DeLay.

Prosecutors have been reported to be very interested in how congressional spouses were used as pass-throughs for bribes. Tony Rudy has already pled guilty to something very similar - his wife was employed by one of Abramoff's nonprofits. So not only is it wrong to say that DeLay was never personally enriched, it's also wrong to say that he may not be prosecuted for it.

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The DeLay Rule was actually not a rule but a rule-bending -- whereas once the GOP prohibited anyone indicted of a felony from serving in a leadership position, the DeLay Rule allowed them to do so until the day they were convicted.

The vote on the rule was done behind closed doors; thankfully, constituents wrote to their representatives demanding to know where they stood on the issue. Three GOP members of the Ethics Committee wrote back, and we have letters from two.

Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Hastings (R-WA) voted for the DeLay rule. Several TPM readers who received his explanation sent word that Hastings had spun his support with some grandiloquent argument:

In the American criminal justice system, individuals who are indicted by grand juries are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The previous Republican Conference rule turned this pillar of justice upside down for Members of Congress.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) was steadfast for letting indictees lead the party. "In America we believe a person is innocent until proven guilty," he wrote, "and we have changed the House Republican rules to reflect that right."

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), though, appears to have been against the DeLay rule. "In the event that any member is charged in a felony indictment, he or she must focus total energy on proving his or her innocence," she wrote.

The difference between the Biggert and the others? For starters, Cole got $15,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC, and kicked back $5000 for DeLay's legal defense fund. Hastings got $6,000 -- and DeLay's assistance grabbing the Ethics chair.

Biggert meanwhile got a mere $1,700 from DeLay, although he campaigned with her in 1998.

You get what you pay for?

Looks like the Federal Election Commission wants to know more about these curious 15-percent "commissions" Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) has been paying his wife, Julie.

According to financial reports on file with the FEC, Doolittle's Superior California Federal Leadership PAC paid $7612.50 to Julie Doolittle's firm, Sierra Dominion Financial Services, during the month of January. In that same period, the PAC brought in $1200 in receipts, those same documents show.

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What will they not do now?

Back when Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) was facing multiple probes from the House Ethics committee, the GOP purged the committee and packed the majority seats with loyalists -- even ousted the chair, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), in favor of a loyalist leader, Rep. Richard Hastings (R-WA).

Four of the five GOP members had taken donations from DeLay's ARMPAC -- reluctantly, we're sure -- and two of the five had shown great generosity by contributing to DeLay's legal defense fund.

Unsurprisingly, the panel meditated quietly on non-being while the biggest ethics scandals in memory have stormed across Capitol Hill. In recent days, plea agreements from a key former DeLay staffer have brought the mess directly to DeLay's office door. The committee, meanwhile, has focused on detaching itself from the trappings of worldy existence. Or at least from investigating.

But if DeLay keeps his promise to exit Congress in a timely manner, the complaints against him will be rendered moot. Their docket will be lightened considerably. What then?

Earlier, we noted that Tom DeLay threatened to have Ronnie Earle's power removed: "[the Texas legislature] can take his power away from him because there was the Texas legislature that gave him this power." He promised action in the next session of the legislature.

Now, Ronnie Earle was elected by the people of Texas, so the legislature can't just boot him. The way I see it, DeLay has two options: he could somehow use the Texas legislature to strip Earle's jurisdiction over the case, but that could get sticky. Or (eureka!) he could have the Texas legislature defund Texas' Public Integrity Unit, which would cut Earle off.

I bet that last one's awful tempting to DeLay. And no one can doubt that he's shameless enough to try it.

As I reported before, if there is a plan afoot, no one has bothered to tell the Speaker of the Texas House. So maybe DeLay is just pounding his chest.

Earle's office wouldn't comment on the matter. But they said a statement was forthcoming about the case now that DeLay has said he will step down from his seat.

Late Update: Here's Ronnie Earle's entire statement:

Tom DeLay's political status has nothing to do with the criminal charges against him. This changes nothing. His criminal cases will proceed just as they would for any other defendant. DeLay's ultimate fate will be decided by the public acting through a jury.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) is the favorite for filling Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) seat on the House Appropriations Committee when DeLay steps down, CongressDaily is reporting.

That name's familiar. In 2004, Calvert accompanied former Rep. (and current convicted felon) Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) to Saudi Arabia. Convicted felon Thomas Kontogiannis, a pal of Cunningham's, joined the two.

Calvert has said he didn't know Kontogiannis' past (nor, certainly, Cunningham's future), but "If I had known his background, I wouldn't have felt very comfortable." As for what they were all doing in Saudi Arabia, Calvert told TPM last November, "the three spent their time in Saudi Arabia meeting with government ministers and exploring ways the Saudis could be more helpful in prosecuting the war on terrorism."