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

So the AP picked up our story on Rep. Jim Ryun's (R-KS) townhouse deal. Let's look at what he came up with in his statement - he refused to be interviewed about it. There are some gaping holes in his story.

To repeat the facts: the U.S. Family Network bought the house in 1999 and sold it about two years later for a $19,000 loss, when they should have sold it for about a $100,000 gain in that market, according to experts we spoke to.

And the USFN wasn't just any old political organization - they were a front group that Ed Buckham used to funnel in $2.3 million from Jack Abramoff's clients. The money propped up Buckham's lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group, paid for the townhouse which also housed Tom DeLay's political committee, and generally helped fund Abramoff's and DeLay's political machine.

So let's just focus on the USFN for a second. Ryun's spokeswoman told the AP that "Ryun 'was not specifically lobbied by USFN' and that the group has not made any contributions to his campaign."

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As we mentioned yesterday, Howard Kaloogian, of Turkish Baghdad fame, founded Move America Forward. They're a nonprofit and tax exempt 501(c)3 organization - and so required to be non-partisan. There are a number of organizations that push that line, but look at Move America Forward's past work and you can see that they push it more than most.

Because they're a non-profit, Move America Forward has to file publicly accessible disclosures, called 990s, with the IRS. We've posted their 2004 disclosure here. Take a look. We'd like to know, especially from TPMM readers who are experts on non-profits - how does it look to you?

It looks like MZM was in the Department of Homeland Security, and may still be there. Here's why:

As we reported last week, Mitchell Wade's MZM held a contract with the Pentagon's homeland defense office to provide "watchstanders."

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that the office of Paul McHale, Asst. Sec. of Defense for Homeland Defense, has no "operations centers" -- the 24/7 intelligence monitoring centers where watchstanders monitor intelligence feeds and sound alarms when big stuff happens. (McHale's office held the MZM contract we reported.)

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Ryun Denies He Got Deal on House

Following up on a story broken by some website that shall not be named, the AP reports that Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) says his purchase of the U.S. Family Network's townhouse was on the up and up. See our reporting for what it's all about. More on this later. And read TPM for Josh's thoughts on the AP's theft. (AP, TPMM, TPMM, TPM)

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There's no reason to wait around until Howard Kaloogian produces a photo that shows the Baghdad he found during his trip to Iraq, which "is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be."

You can look for yourself through the photos from the trip made available on Move America Forward's website. Let's see, is it this one, of Camp Victory, where the truth tellers stayed?



Or is it this one, of the bombed out Republican Guard palace, hosted on Truth Tour participant Mark Williams' site?



Maybe not. Keep looking.

Ed. Note: Thanks to TPM Reader CJ for the tip.

Late Update: See TPM for what Kaloogian came up with.

Looks like while Howard Kaloogian was touring Iraq with the truth, his partner at Moving America Forward was signing contracts.

Sal Russo, who's the chief strategist for Move America Forward as well as the chief strategist for Kaloogian's campaign, is also one of the principals of Russo, Marsh, and Rogers, a big-hitting GOP consulting firm. Move America Forward operates out of the firm's offices.

On July 9th, 2005, Kaloogian and his five talk radio hosts went over to Iraq on their trip sponsored by Move America Forward. On July 13th, an item appeared in Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter, which reports on the PR industry, that Sal Russo's firm had picked up a contract to "to get 'free media' to promote the interests of the Kurds in the post-Hussein Iraq." And that business also extended to the U.S. market - Russo, Marsh, and Rogers were hired to produce ads stateside. The Wall Street Journal described it as a "political-advertising contract with the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq" to produce "advertisements that run in the U.S. seeking investment in Kurdistan."

"I just returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq," begins GOP candidate Howard Kaloogian's Web essay on his experiences visiting troops in the country. The page, part of his campaign Web site, includes photographs and captions which illustrate his point: the situation in Iraq is "absolutely counter" to what the "old-line media" reports.

His web page, like his argument, is loosely knit. And when independent researchers yesterday tugged at one string -- the veracity of a photo caption -- the rest of it has begun to unravel.

A bit of checking revealed Kaloogian did not "just return" from his trip, but in fact got back to California in July 2005. "I talk about my trip that way," Kaloogian told me when we spoke late this afternoon. "I speak to groups that way -- I didn't mean I did it this week. That was my trip last year. . . I took my vacation time to go to Iraq." He wrote the piece late last year, he said, when he launched his candidacy for convicted felon Randy "Duke" Cunningham's old House seat.

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Hotline is reporting:

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) punched a U.S. Capitol Police officer today after he mistakenly pursued her for failing to pass through a metal detector.

Howard Kaloogian's "Truth Tour" to Iraq in July, 2005 was sponsored by Move America Forward, a non-profit, "non-partisan" outfit that Kaloogian founded. You might have never heard of them before, but you certainly know their work. It includes:

-- Producing a series of TV ads late last year that claimed Iraq did in fact have WMDs;

-- Shuttling pro-war protestors to Crawford to counter Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey" as part of their "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour;

-- a campaign supporting John Bolton's contentious nomination" for UN ambassador - including financing the ad campaign in Ohio that attacked Sen. George Voinivich (R-OH) for not backing Bolton;

-- backing U.S. detention policies at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by selling 'I [Heart] Gitmo' bumper stickers."

The "Truth Tour" sent five conservative radio-talk-show hosts to U.S. military bases in Baghdad for "a week of upbeat broadcasts."

And according to the WSJ, the group grew out of the successful 2003 recall effort in California.

The Kaloogian for Congress campaign is no longer making the candidate available for interviews or making comments on the Iraq photo fiasco.

Which is too bad, because we have a few questions. For instance, the page featuring the photo includes text by Kaloogian beginning, "I just got back from Iraq." Yet he appears to have gone there in July 2005 -- several months before he entered the House race, or created the Web site. Was this an oversight akin to the bad Baghdad pic?

And who exactly snapped the photo, anyway? And who approved its use?

We may yet find out, but not from the Kaloogian campaign. Calvin Collins, campaign manager for Howard Kaloogian's bid for Randy "Duke" Cunningham's old House seat, said that the Kaloogian was not available to be interviewed, and no one else was speaking on his behalf. "No one is giving any comments," Collins told me.

It's pretty clear there wasn't just one wrong step here, but a series of doozies. Coming in the middle of a highly-charged debate over what the ground truth in Iraq is, Kaloogian's already facing accusations he's deliberately making this stuff up to support his argument that Baghdad is calm. Why won't he come clean and explain how it all happened?

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