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Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) former chief of staff, Mike Slanker, has reportedly been subpoenaed by the Senate Ethics Committee in connection with a probe into Ensign's affair and subsequent severance payments.

Slanker has been a consultant to Connecticut senatorial candidate Linda McMahon's campaign. A spokesman for the campaign confirmed to the Hartford Courant that Slanker received the subpoena.

As we reported last week, the Senate Ethics Committee has begun to send out subpoenas to key players in the scandal -- a sign that the probe is heating up.

Slanker had worked on Ensign's campaign and was the political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee when Ensign was its chair.

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On a conference call with reporters just now, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) talked about why he is endorsing Rep. Joe Sestak's (D-PA) challenge in the Democratic primary against Sen. Arlen Specter, who switched form the Republicans to the Dems in April -- and said that the integrity of the political system is an issue in the race.

Sestak said that when word had first got out that he would be running against Specter in the primary, Frank approached him and said, "Joe, I would love to support you."

Frank laid out the reasons he was for Sestak, citing his record on issues such as national security and the economy. "I also think frankly that this is important for the integrity of the political system," said Frank. "Sen. Specter has a very distinguished political career but he made it clear that he ad left the party he had been in for along time solely because he didn't think he could be re-elected in that party, and he changed his views on a number of issues."

I asked Frank whether he meant that President Obama, Vice President Biden and other Democrats were damaging the party's credibility by supporting Specter. "I think they are mistaken," said Frank. "I think - I understand the impulse, it is that we want to encourage converts, and I understand that. I do think though in this case, given the strength of a candidate like Joe Sestak, that they're making a mistake."

"I understand why he would want to focus on getting to the 60th vote," Frank later added. "I understand that, but it doesn't bind the rest of us."

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The New York Times sheds light on the hot new tactic for lawmakers who want to get around Congressional ethics rules that ban corporate-financed travel. Just use a non-profit group -- which aren't subject to the ban -- as a pass through for corporate money.

That's how it seems to have worked when Republican congressmen James Sensenbrenner and Tom Price traveled to Liechtenstein in February to learn about its banking system -- as well as to visit a ski resort and tour the Prince of Lichtenstein's wine cellar.

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The stated goal of Tea Party: The Documentary Film (a movie made by tea partiers, for tea partiers) is to reveal the heart of the movement, "to share the story with those on the outside who are looking to understand its true nature."

In that, it fails. The tea partiers it follows -- a pastor/Revolutionary War re-enactor, a black Libertarian, a health insurance agent, a urologist and a Tea Party organizer -- talk about protecting their freedoms. But which freedoms?

The confusion may be a product of the film's production. The movie has a plotline of sorts, following the partiers on their way (both physically and philosophically) to the 9/12 march, but it also takes us on wild, nonsensical tangents and relies heavily on the montage.

We're taken to a restaurant in Georgia called the Right Wing Tavern, where "The Kennedy" sandwich features a dip "for drowning." We watch a Revolutionary War re-enactor struggle for a full minute to buckle his seatbelt before he takes off toward a tea party.

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Readers in 45 countries across the world woke up to the same editorial in their newspaper this morning. In an effort led by The Guardian newspaper in England, editorial pages across the world called on world leaders to "take decisive action" on climate change at the Copenhagen summit this week.

From the editorial:

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

Full text after the jump.

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After Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) threw down the gauntlet on the public option, political observers and liberal critics had no shortage of theories. Lieberman was rebelling against the liberal base. Lieberman harbors animosity about 2006. Lieberman is an egotist and wants the spotlight. Any or all of these theories might be true, but they obscured the more important, strategic rationale for his decision: With a 60 member caucus, and little to no Republican support, every Democrat has a pocket veto of the health care bill. Lieberman's explicit threat to use his veto was, in effect, checkmate on the public option in the Senate, and created breathing room for other public option skeptics to create the bloc that is now negotiating away the public option entirely.

"I think we all came to a similar conclusion. He came to the timing of his announcement, I think, pretty much on his own," conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told me of Lieberman's threat.

So you all sort of knew where each other stood?

"Yes of course. We continued to talk about it. Each of us had a problem, to one degree or another, with the public option."

I asked, "Did you see it as helpful to your own negotiating on the public option?"

"I don't think it hurt," Nelson said.

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Did Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the Homeland Security committee, hold hearings on identity theft with the goal of scaring credit-card companies into making political donations? That charge is at the heart of a set of issues being investigated by the House Ethics committee, reports the Washington Post.

Last March, Thompson held hearings on whether credit-card companies should be forced to bolster security in order to protect customers from identity theft -- something the companies oppose.

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A new Rasmussen poll suggests that the Tea Party movement is far and away more popular than the Republican Party it seeks to influence -- so much so that if it were a full-fledged political party, it would overtake the GOP on the generic Congressional ballot.

The question was phrased as follows: "Okay, suppose the Tea Party Movement organized itself as a political party. When thinking about the next election for Congress, would you vote for the Republican candidate from your district, the Democratic candidate from your district, or the Tea Party candidate from your district?"

The results: Democratic 36%, Tea Party 23%, Republican 18%.

The pollster's analysis makes clear that for multiple reasons an actual political party would be unlikely to stay viable -- but the potential exists for the Tea Party crowd to gain traction within the existing institutions, such as taking over the GOP. "In practical terms, it is unlikely that a true third-party option would perform as well as the polling data indicates," the analysis says. "The rules of the election process -- written by Republicans and Democrats -- provide substantial advantages for the two established major parties. The more conventional route in the United States is for a potential third-party force to overtake one of the existing parties."

Administration To Slash Bailout Cost Estimate The Obama administration is set to cut the estimated cost of the TARP bailout program, to at least $200 billion less than the $341 billion estimate in August, and is looking at using some of the savings for new job creation efforts. The lowered cost has come from fast repayments by big banks, and less spending on some rescue programs than was originally thought.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama and Vice President Biden will receive the presidential daily briefing at 9:45 a.m. ET, and the economic daily briefing at 10:15 a.m. ET. Obama will meet with senior advisers at 10:45 a.m. ET. Obama and Biden will meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at 11:30 a.m. ET, and they will have a working lunch at 12:15 p.m. ET. Obama and Biden will meet at 3:30 p.m. ET with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. AT 7:30 p.m. ET, the President and First Lady will host a holiday reception for members of Congress.

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