Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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"DHS to Base Grants on Risk" -- headline at the Washington Post website. Another memento of our up-is-down world.

I'm waiting for: "Fireman to prioritize buildings on fire."

"The sick to be first in line for medicine."

Actually ...

One thing that's clear when you look closely at the deal that came down today is that they take the investigation a lot closer to Tom DeLay than it seemed on first blush. Specifically, it refers to Tony Rudy (see pages 21 and 22), once a key DeLay staffer, then a colleague of Abramoff's and now a key player at Alexander Strategy Group -- Ed Buckham's shop.

(A lot of this story turns on how Rudy got from Team Abramoff over to Team Buckham, aka Alexander Strategy Group. But that's for another post.)

This from John Bresnahan in Roll Call (sub.req.) ...

According to the Abramoff plea document, a Congressional staffer is alleged to have performed a series of acts during a period extending from 1999 to January 2001 that benefited Abramoff’s clients, including derailing an Internet gambling bill and blocking postal rate increases for magazine publishers.

“Staffer A,” who is not named in the plea deal, is believed to be Rudy, DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff, according to media reports. In return for these actions, Rudy’s wife, Lisa, reportedly received $50,000 in 10 payments from a nonprofit group. That organization was not named in the plea agreement.

This particular reference is on page 13 of the plea agreement.

Will have more on this in our run-down of the day's events.

One thing I'm curious about is how today's Abramoff news is playing in districts and states of those who seem most likely to be the targets of the on-going investigation -- Ney, Burns, Doolittle, DeLay, etc. That's not an exhaustive list; and perhaps not each of those guys will get nailed. But you get the idea. If your congressman or senator looks like he's in hot water, let us know how the local media is playing the story.

Haaretz: "The police have prima facie evidence indicating that Austrian brothers Martin and James Schlaff were involved in transferring $3 million to members of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's family, possibly with the intention of bribing Sharon. The existence of this evidence was revealed for the first time in a document the police recently submitted to the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court. The document was made public Tuesday night by Channel 10 news."

Best Abramoff joke of the day?

Bob Ney (R-OH) still thinks he's running for reelection in November.

Okay, gallows humor, admittedly. But you do have to sort of wonder whether at some point the guy has to take stock of his situation and options. As near as I can tell either two or three men have made plea agreements in which they admit to bribing Ney and agree to testify against him in forthcoming testimony (Scanlon and Abramoff are two; it's not clear to me whether Kidan will be testifying directly against Ney.)

Now, everyone deserves their day in court. And perhaps a good lawyer can help Ney beat the rap at trial. But you've got to figure that in the context of a election campaign there's more than enough on the table already to make capital punishment a near certainty.

There's a lot of speculation right now about what's in and what's not in the criminal information -- the facts that Abramoff admitted to today, the ones that will be the basis of his plea agreement.

More than a few readers, lawyers of various sorts, express suspicions that so little new factual information is continued in the document. There's no mention of any members of Congress beside Rep. Ney (R-OH), against whom two others have already agreed to testify. Nor is there any mention of executive branch officials -- not even David Safavian, who's already under indictment in the case.

Others see this altogether differently. The 'information' is quite open-ended. (Note that page three refers to bribes to "public officials and their relatives" which seems to allude to possible indictments involving if not necessarily against spouses of members of Congress.) And note too that prosecutors don't have to provide exhaustive details about what they expect a defendant to testify to -- especially if some of it is the focus of a continuing investigation.

The question lingering in the background here, of course, is whether political officials at the DOJ have leaned on prosecutors to limit the scope of the investigation for political reasons.

For the moment, given all I've seen to date and heard, I'm not inclined to believe that that is happening. This seems more like the beginning of a long process. They go after Ney first and continue their investigation, with Abramoff's fate hanging in the balance, depending on how cooperative he chooses to be in providing information on coconspirators and sundry bad acts.

But who knows? We have to wait to see how it plays out.

Let us know what you think in this thread we just set up over at TPMcafe.

The Post now has up some further analysis of the Abramoff plea agreement and where things are likely to go from here on other congressional and executive branch officials.