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With one eye on the coveted House Majority Leader spot and another on reports he recently called an ethics reform effort "total crap," Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) took to Hardball tonight to say his piece.

"What I said was, it’s total crap, the idea we have to deal with an issue like this, when. . . we’ve got a war going on and we got all these other issues," Murtha told host Chris Matthews.

A Roll Call article today quoted Murtha saying of a Democratic ethics reform package, "Even though I think it’s total crap, I’ll vote for it and pass it because that’s what Nancy wants."

With Matthews, Murtha sounded a call for openness as the antidote to corruption. "Transparency. I think that’s the only way to stop it," said the 34-year House veteran, who earlier this year worked to help kill Democratic lobby reform efforts. "And I think the regulations that Nancy’s in favor of were very important. I don’t mean to imply that they aren’t."

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In an email to friends, convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff bemoaned his fate -- to spend the next several years of his life in a minimum security prison within visiting distance for his family.

"This nightmare has gone on for almost three years so far," Abramoff wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Associated Press, "and I expect we are not even half way through."

(It's not clear why the former GOP power broker, who faces at least nine years in prison, thought his "nightmare" might end in three years.)

Abramoff told friends that "unfortunately, things are going to get worse (starting today no doubt) before they get better," a reference to this first day of his imprisonment at the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md.

With all our coverage recently on the Republican robo call harrassment campaign, don't think we've forgotten about its predecessor, the 2002 New Hampshire phone jamming, when GOP operatives carried out a plan to jam Democratic GOTV operations.

Shaun Hansen, the telemarketer who carried out the jamming, has pled guilty. So that makes four conservative convictions and/or guilty pleas in the case.

That plea likely concludes the criminal investigation of the incident. The New Hampshire Democratic Party's lawsuit against the state Republican Party continues, however, and will go to trial December 4th.

Roll Call (sub. req.) reports this breaking news:

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) told a group of Democratic moderates on Tuesday that an ethics and lobbying reform bill being pushed by party leaders was “total crap,” but said that he would work to enact the legislation because Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) supports it.

Murtha and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are locked in a battle for the House Majority Leader post, and both men made presentations for to the Blue Dog Coalition on Tuesday in a bid for their votes.

“Even though I think it’s total crap, I’ll vote for it and pass it because that’s what Nancy wants,” Murtha told the Blue Dogs, according to three sources who were at the meeting. . . .

Murtha office’s did not comment for for this article.

Update: Read the full article here.

Late Update: While Murtha did not respond to Roll Call's requests for comment, at least two Democrats have since spoken on his behalf, explaining his words were misconstrued. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Democratic strategist Flavia Colgan have appeared on cable news shows to claim Murtha's words were taken out of context.

This was the year the robo call came into its own, as millions of voters around the country were bombarded with push polls and repetitive, misleading calls from the NRCC. But the tool, heralded by its practioners for its cheapness and effectiveness, may have simply angered too many voters.

In addition to calls for Congressional hearings on the use of robo calls, the robo call phenomenon has sparked state-level movements to pass legislation that would stifle the practice in future elections.

Today, the Missouri Attorney General announced that he's urging the state legislature to pass a law that would protect voters on the state's "No Call" list from automated political calls. In that, the state is emulating New Hampshire, where voters on the federal "Do Not Call" registry are protected for robo calls -- a protection that saved them from the NRCC's robo call onslaught after the state Attorney General stepped in to enforce the law.

Missouri wasn't hit by the NRCC's robo call harrassment campaign -- although voters did get the nasty push poll from the Common Sense group -- but things were bad enough there to prompt the AG to take immediate action.

This year's election no doubt left many citizens envious of states like Indiana (where automated calls are completely banned) and New Hampshire, where voters were spared a glut of calls. So it'll be interesting to see how many take action. Is there any movement in your state?

A bit of odd-named retro-muck has surfaced in the House leadership race: A 26-year-old FBI sting dubbed "ABSCAM."

The episode threatened to end the career of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who now seeks the position of House Majority Leader. He and his supporters brush off ABSCAM as old news, and accuse his opponents of lobbing baseless charges. "I am disconcerted that some are making headlines by resorting to unfounded allegations that occurred 26 years ago," Murtha himself said in a statement yesterday. "I thought we were above [that] type of Swift-boating attack."

But his detractors say it's evidence that Murtha is at best a backroom dealer, and proves he shouldn't be the face of a new, ethics-minded Congress.

But what was ABSCAM? How can anyone say it tainted Murtha -- especially since he was never charged with any crime?

ABSCAM was the media's name for an FBI undercover operation to catch corrupt lawmakers. Around 1980, agents and an informant met with several lawmakers posing as representatives of a fictional "sheik Abdul" to offer them $50,000 in cash for legislative favors. Murtha was one of the lawmakers who met with them.

Ultimately, six lawmakers went down on corruption charges stemming from the operation, nearly all of them Democrats. Murtha wasn't one of them -- but not, as Murtha implies, because his innocence was ever demonstrated.

You can see for yourself why that may have been hard to do. The American Spectator got ahold of the FBI's ABSCAM tape of its meeting with Murtha, and you can view it on the magazine's Web site. It's 53 minutes long, but a representative sample can be seen if you start at around 15:23 and watch for a few minutes.

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Very early this morning (by bloggers' standards), Jack Abramoff entered the Federal Prison Camp in Cumberland, Maryland, where he is likely to spend at least the next nine-and-a-half years of his life.

What will he do there? His meetings with investigators and prosecutors won't stop -- the prison was chosen because of its proximity to D.C., so he would be convenient for frequent visits from the Feds. The AP details what he'll be up to besides those visits:

Stephen Finger, executive assistant at the prison, said all inmates work while there. Incoming inmates such as Abramoff typically are assigned to menial jobs such as food service work. Finer said that inmates can work their way up from low-level jobs paying 12 cents an hour to better positions paying up to 40 cents an hour.

No doubt Abramoff will climb the ladder quickly.

C.I.A. Tells of Bush's Directive on the Handling of Detainees "The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged for the first time the existence of two classified documents, including a directive signed by President Bush, that have guided the agency’s interrogation and detention of terror suspects.

"The C.I.A. referred to the documents in a letter sent Friday from the agency’s associate general counsel, John L. McPherson, to lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union....

"The second document, according to the group, is a Justice Department legal analysis 'specifying interrogation methods that the C.I.A. may use against top Al Qaeda members.'” (NY Times)

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Lawyers for Democratic House candidate Christine Jennings threw down the gauntlet yesterday, asking a state court to secure electronic voting machines and data used in the election.

The move would preserve the equipment in Florida's Sarasota County for scrutiny by Jennings' legal team. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for this afternoon.

It's just the first step of what is likely to be a litigious aftermath to a close and ugly election (thanks in part to the NRCC's rampant robo calling in the district). The state began a recount and audit of the election yesterday. Once the audit and second recount is completed and the results certified on November 20th, the Jennings campaign has ten days to contest the results of the election if they still show Jennings down. Before the recounting began, she was down 386 votes.

The fight will center around the district's Sarasota County, where the electronic machines did not register a vote in the Congressional race for 18,000 voters (13%) -- what's called an "undervote." That's compared to only 2.53% of voters who did not vote in the race via absentee ballots.

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Here's something to keep an eye on in the new Congress.

There's convincing evidence out there that Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) unethically used his congressional staff to aid his re-election campaign. Will the House Ethics Committee do anything about it?

A couple of weeks ago, a reporter confronted Murphy with documents showing he'd violated ethics rules by having staffers work on his campaign. Murphy's outraged response indicates how seriously he takes the charge: he snatched the paper away from a local reporter -- with cameras rolling. After the election, he fired the whisteblowing staffer. She violated his office's policy forbidding contact with the press, he said.

So here's the question: Will the House ethics panel step in to investigate the matter? In the past two years, they have not initiated a probe of a single member who is not also the subject of a federal inquiry. Here's their chance to become useful again.