TPM News

Apparently all that talk of cooler heads on Capitol Hill considering the FBI's raid of Jefferson's Congressional office this weekend wasn't worth much.

Day One of Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner's "Reckless Justice" hearings was today. And after calling the decision to authorize the raids "profoundly disturbing," Sensenbrenner went on to explain his plans for the hearings:

Representative Sensenbrenner said that ... he would call Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and F.B.I. officials to testify. He also said the committee was considering drafting legislation that would specifically protect materials used in making laws.


Huh. The FBI and Justice Department are in talks with the House counsel over how to handle searches of Congressional offices, and meanwhile Sensenbrenner is talking about legislating his way through the problem. Don't you think that might irk some people at the FBI and DoJ?

Like I said last week, this fight is going to last for a while.

Last night, I pointed out the shortcomings of John Solomon's piece on Sen. Harry Reid (R-NV). Despite all that, I have to give Solomon a little credit for at least acknowledging in the second paragraph of his piece a key countervailing fact - that Reid was pushing and ultimately voted for a position counter to what the Nevada Athletic Commission wanted.

But this was apparently too even-handed for CNN.

Here's the second paragraph from the longer version of Solomon's story that ran off the wire:

Reid, D-Nev., took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 as he was pressing legislation to increase government oversight of the sport, including the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority. (emphasis mine)


And here's the version of that paragraph as edited by CNN:

The Nevada senator took the free seats for Las Vegas fights between 2003 and 2005 from the Nevada Athletic Commission as he pressed legislation to increase federal oversight of boxing, including the creation of a government commission.


Do you see what's missing? The fact that Reid voted against the party he was allegedly influenced by apparently isn't worthy of mention.

Thanks to TPMm Reader G for the tip.

Late Update: Actually, this change came from the AP.

Well, we've finally gotten to the good part of the David Safavian trial. Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH) former chief of staff Neil Volz took the stand this morning and testified about the help Safavian gave Team Abramoff while Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration.

From the AP's rendering of this morning's testimony, Volz doesn't seem to be dishing anything we didn't already know from Abramoff's email correspondence with Safavian. We knew that Abramoff used Reps. Ney, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Don Young (R-AK), and Steven LaTourette (R-OH) for favors. It's nice to get the extra detail that Team Abramoff called Safavian a "champion" because "he could get inside information." But it doesn't seem like Volz is a particularly dangerous witness for Safavian. The government's case still rests on those emails.

The real fireworks should come when Safavian's lawyer gets a chance to come at Volz. She went after him in a big way in her opening statements ("Neil Volz is crawling out of jail on David Safavian's back"). Justin will be there this afternoon to see how she does in pulling apart the government's case.

Under heightened public scrutiny, the House and Senate both passed versions of ethics reform legislation. Now, the competing bills move out from under the spotlight and into a quiet, closed room on Capitol Hill, where a handful of senators and congressmen will decide what language will actually make it into the final version of the bill.

You know who was pointedly not invited by leadership to participate in this vital process? Two senior senators involved in writing a good portion of the Senate bill, who had pushed for stronger measures. (They were rebuffed.) The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus opines:

Guess who's not coming to conference: The chairman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and ranking Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the subject with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Collins and Lieberman had backed much tougher lobbying reform -- especially an independent ethics enforcement office -- than the Senate ultimately passed. No wonder Senate leaders didn't want them anywhere near the conference.


You know who did make the cut? Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). "[I]f you think [Stevens] will be a champion of lobbying reform," Marcus cracks, "I've got a bridge to nowhere to sell you."

"This is the way the push for lobbying reform ends, not with a bang but a maneuver -- indecipherable to outsiders but quietly effective," concludes Marcus.

U.S. News and World Report says that some Republicans are fretting that Democrat Francine Busby may win the special Congressional election to replace now-imprisoned Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- and that may be a sign that House control will be going to the Democrats in November:

Staffers from the National Republican Congressional Committee are quietly telling GOP House members to prepare for a possible loss in the June 6 special election to fill the seat of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now in prison for taking bribes. The Southern California district is heavily Republican, but some GOP insiders believe that Democrat Francine Busby will defeat former GOP Rep. Brian Bilbray and go on to win a full term in November. More alarming some worry that a Bilbray defeat could signal the GOP's loss of control of the House. The NRCC has already pumped $3.1 million into the race. "It is becoming more and more likely," says one GOP strategist, "that Bilbray will squeak out a victory." But another longtime Republican operative isn't so sure. "This is a district we should never lose," he says. "It's the stink of Cunningham, and the Bush problem."


One thing is for sure: If Busby wins, it will mean that despite what polls and pundits say, ethics are a serious concern for voters -- and incumbents sidestep the issue at their peril.

House Leaders Face Down Dissent in Ranks over Jefferson Raid More signs of a spreading breakdown of order in the House: leaders are losing face, big time. House Republicans are publicly grumbling about Speaker Dennis Hastert's (IL) opposition to the FBI raid of cold-storage expert Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) office. He's made the party look like it's protecting its own rear, not the Constitution, some say. Meanwhile, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has reportedly been forced to swallow a squishy compromise with the Congressional Black Caucus -- she will refrain from calling on Jefferson to resign his Ways and Means committee seat, and the CBC will stop criticizing her for attacking one of its members. (Roll Call, Roll Call)

Read More →

If at first you don't succeed...

Back in February, the AP's John Solomon ran a lengthy piece detailing alleged contacts between Jack Abramoff's team at Greenberg Traurig and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). As Josh pointed out, although the article concentrated on the fact that Team Abramoff was lobbying Reid on behalf of sweatshop owners in the Northern Marianas, Solomon failed to note that Reid actually voted against the legislation Abramoff was pushing.

Well, Solomon has written a new piece purporting to illustrate still more of Reid's ethical improprieties. He's managed to actually make a weaker case than in his last story.

Here's the central allegation:

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three professional boxing matches while that state agency was trying to influence him on federal regulation of boxing.


That sounds pretty bad.

Only, there is an exception for gifts from governmental agencies (like the Nevada Athletic Commission) in the Senate ethics rules. So there is nothing untoward about Reid having accepted the free tickets.

But it would still seem pretty bad if Reid had accepted the tickets and then stumped shamelessly for the commission.

Only, he didn't. As was the case with Abramoff and the Marianas, Reid voted against the peddler's interest. As Solomon admits in the piece, Reid was advocating "the creation of a federal boxing commission that Nevada's agency feared might usurp its authority." Reid never changed his position. And this was a dramatically uncontroversial piece of legislation largely preoccupied with ensuring the safety of boxers by creating the United States Boxing Administration. It passed the Senate unanimously.

Now, Solomon puts all these facts in his piece. So he's not covering up a key piece of information like he did last time. He seems to realize that he doesn't have any real story. So Solomon argues that Reid, out of an abundance of caution, should have paid for the tickets to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Read More →

In a piece filled with precious, precious details about Brent "Boom shaka laka" Wilkes (e.g. that he stayed in the King Kamehameha Suite at the Royal Hawaiian resort, that he's a former linebacker, and that he tends to break into show tunes) Newsweek reports that the FBI is investigating Wilkes' ties to Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Tom DeLay (R-TX):

According to published reports and congressional and law-enforcement sources who did not want to be identified discussing a sensitive investigation, the Feds are also reviewing Wilkes's ties to other powerful House leaders. Former GOP majority leader Tom DeLay, Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter and Appropriations Committee chairman Jerry Lewis all reportedly had dealings with Wilkes. None has been accused of any wrongdoing; a spokesman for Lewis said the congressman had not seen Wilkes for 10 years. Hunter's spokesman said his boss urged the Pentagon to ignore congressional pressure on contracting, and DeLay's lawyer had no immediate comment.


It's certainly no surprise that the feds would be looking at Hunter and DeLay (the investigation of Lewis has been widely reported). Hunter, as we noted before, sometimes tag-teamed with Duke Cunningham to make sure that Wilkes got his contracts. And DeLay was a frequent flier on Air Wilkes, taking his corporate jet at least three times.

For those trying to keep score at home, this would be the third ongoing investigation of DeLay: 1) He's being prosecuted in Texas for laundering corporate contributions, 2) Two of his former aides have pled guilty in the Abramoff investigation, and a third is in big trouble, and 3) His ties to Brent Wilkes are now occupying investigators. It looks like he has a very busy retirement ahead of him.

The San Diego Union-Tribune regales us this morning with details from poker parties hosted by alleged Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes in the Watergate hotel. CIA spooks puffing on Cuban cigars, a congressman handing out mini-pistols disguised as Montblanc pens, bottles of scotch and Mercedes limos -- it sounds like quite a scene.

TPMLivewire