Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Eh, small world, small conspiracy.

This news has been out for a few weeks and I just hadn't noticed. But the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund is being headed up by none other than Mel Sembler, the Cheney-fan and the big-ticket GOP fundraiser from Florida who was the US Ambassador to Italy when all the secret meetings took place and when the forged uranium papers showed up at the US Embassy in October 2002.

Since I've reported on this story for almost two years and am still writing a series on it, I need to say explicitly that I've never seen any evidence tying Sembler to any bad acts related to the forgeries. So the 'conspiracy' crack is mainly a jest. But there's a lot that's still really murky about what was happening at the US Embassy in Rome after 9/11 with the forgeries and other matters. That was on Sembler's watch. And Libby's bad acts stem from the whole forgeries bamboozlement. (Whacking Wilson was part of the larger White House effort to keep the forgeries scam covered up -- a cover up that's still underway.)

So Sembler just seems like a pretty big part of this story to be collecting money for the one person under indictment for their role in it.

Let me follow up on the post below about those "hospitality suite[s] with several bedrooms" that arch-contracts-hustler Brent Wilkes was running around downtown Washington. I probably should have been a bit more explicit about this last evening but the wording the reporters for the Union-Tribune used was almost certainly code for some sort of legislative love shack Wilkes used to lubricate the pay-for-play operation that made him and his pals so much cash before Duke brought the whole movable feast down on their heads. It may match up with reports about fast times down at the marina on the various Dukeboats.

I guess the folks who run the new Hotline blog just have bawdier minds than I do. Or, really, that can't be it. So I guess I was just too focused on the CIA material in yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune piece on the relationship between Duke Cunningham and uber-contracts-grifter Brent Wilkes to notice this brief passage ...

Wilkes befriended other legislators, too. He ran a hospitality suite, with several bedrooms, in Washington – first in the Watergate Hotel and then in the Westin Grand near Capitol Hill.

Boy, that's good stuff. After all, what possible need could congressmen and senators and their staffers have for access to private hotel suites near the Capitol registered in someone else's name? What was this, the private dancer annex of Signatures?

When I saw that Tom DeLay is now clocking in down deep in Danger Will Robinson territory -- 36% reelect -- in his own district, I was curious what Paul Begala thought about it. He grew up in DeLay's district, actually went to High School in The Hammer's hometown of Sugarland. Paul just posted his thoughts on The Hammer's fall, with a little hometown perspective, over at TPMCafe.

That is an unfortunate number for Mr. DeLay. According to Gallup, his reelect number in his own district -- Texas 22nd -- is down to 36%.

49% says they're more likely to vote for the Democratic challenger.

52% of DeLay's constituents have an 'unfavorable' impression of him.

Those numbers aren't insurmountable for a pol more than willing to go thermonuclear on anyone who runs against him. But they ain't good. Not good at all.

Does the Duke Cunningham opera buffa have a tie to the CIA?

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. But let's run through it.

As you know, co-conspirator #1 in the Duke case is Mr. Brent Wilkes of San Diego. Wilkes is commonly referred to as a 'defense contractor'. His real line of work, though, seems a bit different. Wilkes' specialized in finding companies or products for which the DoD had little or no use and then lathering up a few members of Congress so they'd force the Pentagon to buy his junk.

Wilkes even rented a share of a private jet pretty much for the sole purpose of flying Duke and Tom DeLay and a few other Reps. around the country.

Good work if you can get it; and Wilkes got a lot of it.

But this piece in yesterday's San Diego Union-Tribune -- not exactly a liberal paper, though they contributed as much as any media outlet to Duke's undoing -- notes that Wilkes, who seems to be an inveterate schemer is the long-time, close personal friend of a guy named Kyle Dustin "Dusty" Foggo. And he turns out to be the number three man today at the CIA, specifically, the Agency's Executive Director.

When former Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) became CIA Director last year he promoted a bunch of new people. And Foggo was one of them.

In an article from a year ago Walter Pincus (in which Foggo is referred to only by his nickname because he had not yet gone 'public') wrote that ...

Three retired officials noted that Dusty had maintained a close relationship in recent years with several Republican staff members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence whom Goss, the panel's former chairman, has brought to the agency as his top assistants.

Dusty is also a critic of a controversial new pay-for-performance compensation reform plan that was put together by A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, who served as executive director under former CIA director George J. Tenet.

Now, I know we're juggling serveral balls here. But, remember, House Intel is a committee Duke sits on and it's where Duke got a lot of the juice that made him so valuable to the defense/intel contractors like Wilkes and Mitch Wade that owned him.

So, you know, small world.

But then I saw this piece in Government Executive magazine by meddlesome investigative reporter (and I mean that in the best Scooby Doo sense of the word) Jason Vest, which begins ...

Federal investigators in San Diego have made it clear that while just-resigned Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham pled guilty last week to taking bribes from defense contractors, their public corruption probe will not stop at Cunningham. Numerous current and retired CIA officials say they will not be surprised if the investigation touches the CIA in general, and its third-ranking official in particular.

Vest says that Foggo is also tight with Duke's other pal, Mitchell Wade.

This may bear watching.

Late Update: Turns out Laura Rozen was on to the Wilkes-Foggo connection last week. See her post here.

Just to give a bit of context to the DeLay news below, quite a lot depends on how soon he can get his trial scheduled. To save his career, DeLay doesn't just need to beat this charge, he has to beat it quickly -- almost certainly by the end of next month or very soon after.

That's because in January there are probably going to be leadership elections in the House GOP caucus forced ahead by rebels who want to close the book on the DeLay era.

For the moment, Rep. Blunt (R-MO) is basically keeping the Majority Leader's seat warm for DeLay. If DeLay could get cleared and back in charge quickly he could possibly hold on. If it goes past a certain point, though, he's damaged goods and he'd unable to win back his post even if he were cleared of all charges later in the year.

So can DeLay get to trial anywhere near that quickly?

It's hard for me to see how. The clearest indication I could find was in the Houston Chronicle which said today that the judge in the case "told DeLay's lawyers last month that if he upheld either of the indictments, he would be unable to hold a trial for DeLay before early next year."

That sounds to me like a pretty tight squeeze. And I suspect it means that DeLay is finished. A small symbolic victory in getting the one indictment tossed. But not enough to survive.

Split decision for DeLay -- Judge throws out conspiracy charge, but tells the BugMan he must stand trial for money-laundering.

(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader TF for keeping us posted.)

If you unwrap the Duke Cunningham story and peel back how each of the different players came together, a lot of it comes down to one guy: San Diego defense contractor Brent Wilkes (aka co-conspirator #1). Today the San Diego Union-Tribune has a profile of him, his long history with Duke and fellow San Diego Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).

Money talks; wireless screams.

From the Post ...

Hours after New Orleans officials announced Tuesday that they would deploy a city-owned, wireless Internet network in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, regional phone giant BellSouth Corp. withdrew an offer to donate one of its damaged buildings that would have housed new police headquarters, city officials said yesterday.

According to the officials, the head of BellSouth's Louisiana operations, Bill Oliver, angrily rescinded the offer of the building in a conversation with New Orleans homeland security director Terry Ebbert, who oversees the roughly 1,650-member police force.

City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city. Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition. Some states have laws prohibiting them.

Monopolies of the New Gilded Age.