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Last week, we noted House Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) sweet real estate deal - a deal that, as many TPM readers pointed out, Tammany Hall pol George Washington Plunkitt would have dismissed as " honest graft." "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em," Hastert might say.

Simply put, Hastert bought up a chunk of farmland, pushed to fund a highway near the area, and then cashed out three months after the funding was secured. An age-old scam.

Only in this day and age, Hastert won't own up to it. His spokesman is laughably arguing that the highway is "too far away [from the land] to have an effect."

This is remote farmland that will now be about five miles from a major highway. To be generous, that's a ten minute drive. I'm no expert, but it seems to me (born and raised in North Atlanta) a truism of suburban real estate that accessibility to an interstate or major road affects land value. The area does by all accounts seem to be experiencing a real estate boom (it's apparently the second fastest growing county in the U.S.), but it's absurd to argue that the effect of the highway on the property's value is negligible. What Hastert's flack is saying basically amounts to arguing that location doesn't have an effect on real estate values. Plunkitt would never have insulted his public with such a line.

And according to yesterday's Chicago Tribune, there's even more honest graft coming Denny's way. For tax reasons, Hastert and his business partners used the profits from the sale to buy more property -- property "just south" of the land they just sold. So in about a year, Hastert will get to cash in again on land that's appreciated because of his highway.

Maybe by then Hastert will have a better set of talking points.

OK, to appreciate this, you have to be reminded of the context.

The Department of Homeland Security gave a multimillion dollar contract to a limousine company (Shirlington) owned by an ex-con with a rap sheet a mile long, even though his company had a spotty record of service and shouldn't have qualifed for the HUBZone status necessary to bid on the contract. And the company seems to have had a definite inside line on winning the contract.

And as we reported Friday, DHS finally turned up the only Congressional letter of recommendation for the company -- from a felon who reportedly indulged in prostitutes provided by the limo company's ex-con owner. This after a DHS official showed up before a House hearing last week and swore they'd looked everywhere and simply could find no record of any such letter -- no copy, no record, no one could even remember receiving such a thing.

And here's their explanation for how that happened:

A department spokesman said the letter was discovered in a folder by an administrative assistant who had read news reports Friday morning about its disappearance.

"She says, 'Oh, I get those kinds of letters all the time, I just throw them in a folder," said DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie. "So she starts looking through the folders and finds this letter."


Maybe the Admin Assistant was responsible for hiring Shirlington too?

There was a time I indulged in covering every move Katherine Harris made. I've tried to cut down -- once you get hooked on Harris stories, it's hard to kick the habit -- but this one's too good to pass up.

As part of going cold-turkey on Harris anecdotes, I avoided a piece last week about an aide rushing through the Capitol toward the House gallery with a pair of her shoes. She apparently needed a particular pair of heels. (It could not be confirmed if she was barefoot on the House floor.)

Today, Roll Call gives us more backstory to the incident:

The tale begins at the shoeshine stand near the Rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building. An eyewitness there said a young blonde guy walked up looking for a pair of shoes that apparently had been dropped off to be shined.

“What kind of shoes?” the employee asked. “Women’s shoes,” the young man replied, provoking a quizzical look from the woman working the shoeshine stand. The aide explained he was looking for a pair of shoes belonging to “Congresswoman Katherine Harris,” our informant said.

He took the shoes and rushed toward the Capitol, where, along the way, he was spotted by a reporter for the Kansas City Star who reported on the newspaper’s Web log that he saw a “strapping young man” hurrying across the Capitol complex “holding a stylish pair of mid-heel blue-and-white ladies’ shoes.”


But that's just the half of it. Meanwhile, on the other side of town:

[A]nother Harris aide, a staff assistant, was driving the Congresswoman’s brown convertible BMW over to the Capitol to pick up the tow-headed shoe carrier. And, of course, the staff assistant got rear-ended on the way over to the House.

As if that weren’t enough, after he picked up the shoe carrier, who we are told is an intern, the aide who was driving got pulled over by a Capitol Police officer and was given a $40 ticket for “distracted driving.”


Apparently, that's not the only bare-feet-related hijink Harris has been involved in: "Last month, if you recall, we reported that one of our spies spotted a well-dressed but shoeless Harris standing in front of her house on Sixth Street Northeast peering through the mail slot, shouting, 'Let me in!'"

Corporate Cash Shifting toward Democrats

In a development that is supposedly good news for the Democratic Party, corporate interests have decided the party's candidates may soon have enough proximity to power to justify a raise in rates. The Wall Street Journal reports a number of corporate groups have upped giving to Dems by something like 10 percent of their total largesse for this round of elections.

What's more, high-powered lobbying firms -- until recently exclusive GOP redoubts -- are now signing up Democrats to help fight their clients' battles:

The Federalist Group is a corporate lobbying shop founded by Republicans soon after the party took over Congress in 1994. In its first eight years, the firm only hired Republicans, including former aides to onetime House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and President Bush.

Four lobbyists recently hired by the firm, beginning earlier this year, are Democrats, including a former House member from Louisiana and a health-care aide to liberal icon Edward Kennedy, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts.
(WSJ)

In other muck. . .

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The New York Times is still capable of bravery.

Eric Lipton's piece in today's paper is evidence of this. In it, he "outs" over 90 former Homeland Security officials who left the Bush administration, mostly to cash in on their experience with lucrative lobbying gigs, cushy seats on corporate boards and other velvety-soft landing spots, in many cases earning multiples of what they made in government.

It's a good story. And a big one: because homeland security is such a new field, and it's had so much money dumped on it, Washington got turned upside down for a few years by people trying to make their millions on the phenomenon. And DHS has seen such incredible turnover, a huge chunk of its institutional memory now resides in the plush offices of private consulting firms, tech companies and lobby groups.

That means the men and women who were once charged with protecting you (and you can see how well that's worked out) are now facilitating the transfer of billions of dollars to private pockets.

I covered DHS for two-plus years, and I watched it happen. Many reporters did. The story's been practically crying out to be written. But no one (to my knowledge) has had the guts to do it comprehensively until now.

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One day after an official swore under oath that the Department of Homeland Security had no record of a letter from Randy "Duke" Cunningham pushing her agency to do business with the scandal-linked Shirlington Limo company, the department reversed course and released the letter.

(Click here for full size image of the letter.)



Republicans on the House Homeland Security committee went ballistic. "The Department of Homeland Security has a lot to explain," a press release quoted chairman Peter King (R-NY) as saying. "Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, it now turns out that the Department had the Cunningham letter all along. This is yet another example of DHS incompetence-and I think it may have been more than just bad record-keeping."

"This letter certainly puts the Department's credibility on the line, and raises further questions about political manipulation in the contracting process," the release quotes Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) as saying.

Duke Cunningham, of course, is serving out an eight year-plus prison sentence for taking bribes. Federal investigators have been told that Shirlington ferried Duke around town, as well as prostitutes which serviced him.

"[Shirlington owner Christopher Baker] has been of service to me and other Members of Congress over the years," Cunningham wrote in the letter, dated January 16, 2004. "Please be advised of my full support of his wish to provide transportation services for the Department of Homeland Security."

Oh, Brian Doyle. Former deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Accused kiddie sex freak.

Even when you were talking with a 14-year-old girl (or so you believed) whom you met in an online sex chat room, you didn't stop thinking about our nation's security.

Prosecutors have released documents relating to their case (some of which we've posted - see below), including a transcript of an April 4 phone call between Doyle and "Ashlynn," in reality an undercover agent:

BD: . . . [I]t's a little busy. I'm um, I'm dealing with this reporter in San Francisco who's doing a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle on the Counter man (inaudible) program. [ed: he's likely referring to the counter-MANPADS systems the department is considering, to protect aircraft against shoulder-fired missiles.] Those are the shoulder fired missiles. Uh, that you can either, can shoot at a plane and the system is being developed to counter the (inaudible) laser systesm, so. . . It's a very kind of a, tricky story to try to deal with because there is a lot of politics involved in it and you kinda have to be careful of what you say as much as uh, (inaudible) and also how you say it, if you know what I mean?

Agent: Well, sounds pretty important right?

BD: Well it's very (inaudible), very, very tight. So uh, you know, once, once this thing comes to publication I'll be much more comfortable I think. Uh, get that out of the way.


Eternal vigiliance, and all that.

We've got his interrogation transcript and his arrest report, so there's lots to amaze and disgust. Listen disbelievingly while Doyle explains that even though he was telling "Ashlynn" about the sexual dreams he had about her, he wasn't actually into sex with 14-year-old girls! Shock yourself with the Florida Sheriff's merciless criticism of Doyle's spelling. Learn of his acute fondness for Celtic imagery.

Breaking up is hard to do. . . via Roll Call:

Under siege by a federal probe into their lobbying activities, the Democratic partners in the firm Copeland Lowery Jacquez Denton & White are separating themselves from the GOP portion of the shop that has come under scrutiny for its ties to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.).

James Copeland and Lynn Jacquez are taking their clients and creating a separate partnership from the other three name partners, two of whom — former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-Calif.) and former Lewis aide Letitia White — have been in the media spotlight for weeks regarding the federal probe into the appropriations earmark industry.


My ma would call this "gettin' while the gettin's good."

By the looks of this AP report, it looks like the Safavian jurors have decided on three counts, and are still debating two:

The judge provided jurors with guidance on how to weigh a key piece of evidence in the last two of five criminal charges against Safavian, the former chief of staff at the General Services Administration. His trial is the first to arise in the Abramoff influence peddling scandal.

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