Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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The National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new Harold Ford attack site up called FancyFord.com.

Now, I always try to be cautious about imputing racist overtones to political attacks. Dems are all over the place this year accusing various politicians of having their PACs or charities subsidize their personal expenses. So that's certainly fair game. But take a look at FancyFord.com. You've got the picture of the fancy hotel suite, the shmance dinner, the Playboy Bunnies, the gold filigree. The message is pretty clear: Harold Ford is an uppity black man.

I think Atrios is probably right too: the creators of the site are saying Ford is basically a pimp, a black guy livin' large and probably doing white women too. If I had the volume on on my computer I'd actually be surprised if they didn't have the Shaft soundtrack playing in the background.

I guess Sen. Liddy Dole (head of the NRSC this cycle) thinks she's going to need to plug the racist vote hard to keep Ford out of the senate.

Look at the site. Tell us what you think.

We've set up this thread to discuss the site over at TPMCafe.

Salon Scoop: Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) reprimanded for role in Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal.


On Tuesday I reported this odd fact that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) -- i.e., the administrative designation for the White House -- signed three contracts with Cunningham conspirator Mitchell Wade's company to provide 'intelligence services.'

Remember too that this was shortly after Wade registered a non-profit called the 'Iranian Democratization Foundation.'

All of this was happening in the summer of 2004. And by that time the EOP had already gotten in a decent amount of trouble running its own intelligence operations.

What am I talking about? Well the Office of the Vice President is housed within EOP. And Cheney's office had been running all sorts of shenanigans through the Pentagon, particularly through Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans.

Was this a way to do some reprise of the earlier Iraq-related operations, but off the books, or at least further distanced from possible congressional or journalistic scrutiny?

Given all we know now about Mitchell Wade those three contracts stick out like a sore thumb. Even with the White House's penchant for secrecy at all times and in all places, there should really be some pressure for them to provide some explanation of what those contracts were for.

More on the Thomas Kontogiannis front.

We noted this last summer. But in addition to having cut a deal with prosecutors to plea guilty to misdemeanor fraud charges in a New York public school bid-rigging scandal back in 2002, the FBI arrested Kontogiannis and an employee at the US Embassy in Athens a decade earlier for accepting bribes to provide phony US visas.

Kontogiannis got 5 years probation in the visa fraud case and then managed to avoid prison again in the bid-rigging case.

AP: "Gov. Ernie Fletcher was taken to the hospital Thursday for emergency treatment of a life-threatening blood clot somewhere between his upper arm and his jugular vein."

Another piece of the puzzle.

Remember Thomas Kontogiannis? He's the larger than life twice-convicted Greek-born real estate developer who is better known in Duke Cunningham's plea agreement as co-conspirator #3.

If you look through the Duke files, Kontogiannis' role was mainly as a pass through for large sums of money. Yes, he gave bribes and of course he was involved in a boat transaction with Duke. But in the Cunningham corruption club that was almost a rite of passage.

Now, from the records, one of things that Kontogiannis wanted from Duke was some help trying to beat the rap (and later get a pardon for) a bid-rigging scandal back in New York. And for a long time I'd always sort of figured that Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade were the real players in this story, with Kontogiannis just added in for comic relief and -- as someone who controlled a mortgage company -- someone who could easily move money around.

But I'm hearing it may not be that simple.

Consider this. Mitch Wade was in naval intelligence before he left to work in the fraud and public corruption sector. Brent Wilkes -- and we're going to be hearing a lot more about this -- was deep into the darker regions of the intel world. Both of their scams were the same, plying the government contracting biz deep in the classified realm where scrutiny and oversight is minimal at best.

Now you have the third player Thomas Kontogiannis (#4 was Kontogiannis' nephew. So I'll consider him an extension of his uncle.). Given the background and habits of the other two, is this guy really just a real estate developer from Long Island?

Consider this passage from a piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune that I excerpted back in November ...

In a previously undisclosed link between Cunningham and Kontogiannis, the developer accompanied the congressman to Saudi Arabia last year. A Saudi-American businessman flew Cunningham to Saudi Arabia twice last year aboard a private jet. On the second trip, the jet stopped in Athens to pick up Kontogiannis, a native of Greece with businesses interests in several countries. Ziyad Abduljawad, founder and chairman of San Diego-based PLC Land Co., paid for Cunningham's two trips to Saudi Arabia, each at a cost of more than $10,000. Cunningham has described Abduljawad as an acquaintance who shares his interest in improving U.S.-Saudi relations.

Kontogiannis "went as a friend of Duke's," said Harmony Allen, Cunningham's chief of staff. "That's the extent of it. Duke asked him to go as a friend. I'm not sure if (Kontogiannis) had a special interest (in visiting) Saudi Arabia or not."

It was unclear who paid for Kontogiannis' trip.

What's that about? Cunningham going to Saudi to smooth the edges of the clash of civilizations? Brings Kontogiannis along to help with the outreach?

Just how did Kontogiannis get into the mix with Wilkes and Wade? What's Kontogiannis's real line of work?

Musgrave event follow-up.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan has run a follow-up story on the Musgrave event and the response from the Marine Corps, or the apparent one.

The first five grafs of the piece tell the tale ...

The uniformed troops who appeared at the Larimer County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner last weekend did not violate military code, said a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps Headquarters' public affairs office.

"I don't think there's any trouble to be had," said the spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, citing protocol. "It's a touchy issue because lots of honorees are being invited to things like this. It's a shame people are trying to turn it into more than that." Organizations from both parties have been asking military members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to attend their events to be honored, and the Marine Corps will turn down those requests if the troops are expected to speak, act in an official capacity to assist with the event or endorse a party or candidate, the spokeswoman said.

Strictly being honored at an event, however, is not against regulations, she said.

Officials at the Pentagon deferred to the Marine Corps for a ruling on the appearances.

Now, needless to say, I'm not in a position to interpret DOD regs. But here is a link to one version of the regulations.

I've spoken to a number of vets and active duty military who say that the training they got always made very clear that this sort of activity was prohibited. What's more, look at the regs yourself. They seem pretty clear on their face. And, if you read them, the whole point of the regs, as they're structured, is that having active duty military appearing in uniform as participants at partisan political events is tantamount to an endorsement.

Three other points about the spokeswoman's statement strike me as suspicious. One is the inherently engaged nature of the response. She doesn't state policy; she spins.

Second, she can't be identified? Military spokepersons in some contexts won't give their names. But this context? I find that odd.

Third, and most important, the spokesperson ducks the principal issue: appearing in uniform. It's the essence of the issue. And she dodges it.

This whole story needs more attention.

John Bresnahan has a very important piece behind the firewall at Roll Call today, both because of the story itself and because of much more it points to.

The story is about our friend Brent Wilkes -- Duke Cunningham's core contracting crook. And the question is just when Pentagon officials knew he was dirty. Remember, authorities swooped in very quickly on the Cunningham case and managed to have him indicted and out of Congress only a few months after the crooked house story first broke. That was pretty quick.

Now Bresnahan reveals that as far back as 2000 the Defense Criminal Investigative Service was investigating Wilkes. In fact, they went so far as to conclude he had probably committed a crime and referred his case to the Justice Department for prosecution.

The US Attorney in San Diego declined to pursue the case. Why, we don't know.

Now, there are a couple different issues in play here. On the one hand, obviously if they had tagged Wilkes back in 2000 the taxpayers would have saved a lot of money and we would have avoided one of the biggest corruption scandals in years. But I suspect there may be more in play here.

People in the defense and intel world knew Brent Wilkes was dirty. But in the years since 2000 he just went from success to success, bagging millions on dollars in contracts. Keep an eye an out for the possibility that Wilkes may not have been getting a lot of these edgy spook contracts in spite of the fact that he was dirty, but because of it.