Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Another part of the Duke Cunningham story that has me wondering.

In the charges filed against Duke Cunningham yesterday, "co-conspirator #3" is Thomas Kontogiannis. As you may remember from last summer, Kongtogiannis is the already-once-convicted-of-bribery fat cat who was in the mix buying Duke homes and swapping boats and all the rest of it. Page 5, item "d" says that Duke "used his public office and took other official action in a manner that would benefit" Kontogiannis. And that he did so because of all the money he gave Duke.

Okay, so clear enough. Kontogiannis was another guy who owned a piece of Duke and Duke pulled government strings for him.

So what was Duke doing for Kontogiannis?

Back on Oct. 19th 2000 Duke wrote a letter to a New York DA then investigating Kontogiannis, trying to get the guy to back off. But I think this is prior to the time frame in question.

What I keep coming back to is this passage from a September 24th article in the San Diego Union-Tribune ...

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.

Remember, Duke just pled guilty to accepting numerous bribes from Kontogiannis in exchanging for putting the power of his office at Kontogiannis's disposal.

What was Duke doing stopping in Athens to pick up Kontogiannis to take to Saudi on his trip to improve relations between the US and Saudi Arabia?

Sure, Duke's history. But this case goes beyond Duke Cunningham. There's more here.

"What the Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs. Then this becomes a different town," Grover Norquist, 1995.

(ed.note: cite National Journal, July 29, 1995. Tip from TPM Reader DG.)

Republicans must be purer than Caesar's wife?

From tomorrow's Times ...

Though some Republican officials said Democrats in Congress were equally guilty of questionable behavior, including lobbyist-paid trips and underreporting of campaign contributions, they acknowledged that Republicans, because they control the White House and Congress, are being held to a higher standard by many voters. They also expressed shock and embarrassment at the extent of Mr. Cunningham's wrongdoing, which the president described on Tuesday as "outrageous."

That's a new one.

Being held to a higher standard because they control the White House and Congress. Isn't it just that by every conceivable measure they have more people being investigated and on the way to the slammer? Does the Times buy into this mumbojumbo?

As I wrote earlier, one might argue that the reason for the imbalance -- with virtually all the corruption cases focusing on Republicans -- is that they have the White House and Congress. They have all the power and access; so they're the only ones in a position to sell it. I think that's a pretty generous read of the situation for the GOP; but one could so argue.

But this isn't a matter of holding anyone to a higher standard, something the Times must know. It's simply that the vast majority of the public corruption in Washington is being done by Republicans. Full stop. End of story.

We're getting various reports in of a courageous 'nice try' by Chris Matthews tonight on Hardball. Chris verifies that DC corruption is a bipartisan issue. We'll let you know when we see the transcript. And we hear that's nothing compared to this afternoon's Abrams Report on MSNBC. Apparently that transcript has the motherlode.

Even Rush goes after the ghost of Congresses past. Goes after Bob Torricelli.

Yes, I agree! The Torch should resign! What is he still doing in Congress?!?!?!

(ed.note: Thanks to eagle-eyed TPMer TF for braving the hot winds of Rushdom.)

TPM Reader JM from Florida strikes early in the TPM 'Nice Try' Brigade contest bagging a choice nice try from WaPo blogger Chris Cillizza of the new WaPo blog "The Fix".

On "The Fix" today Cillizza posted a "political scandal scorecard" and in the House of Reps he listed ...

Tom DeLay (R-TX) Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-LA) Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) Former Rep. Frank Ballance (D-NC)

Now, who, you might be asking, is Rep. Frank Ballance? Well, without him included the list might have seemed awfully weighted toward Republicans.

Cillizza's list was supposed to be about scandals in the "past year" and limited to those "members of Congress and governors currently in office."

Cillizza seemed to see there might be some problem with Ballance since he resigned from Congress a year and a half ago. And under Ballance's name he explained ...

Yes, we said we're limiting this list to current members, but this is a fairly recent case so we're making a small exception to the rule. Ballance left office in 2004 and pleaded guilty to charges of mishandling money controlled by his charitable foundation.

In the story Cillizza links to, we see that Ballance was elected in 2002 and resigned from Congress in the summer of 2004. In November 2004 he pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering.

But it gets better. From what I can gather from the article, Ballance's crimes weren't even committed when he was serving in Congress.

Quoting from the Post's article from November 10th, 2004 ...

The indictment alleged that Ballance channeled $2.3 million in state money from 1994 to 2003 to a nonprofit foundation he operated to help poor people fight drug and alcohol abuse. According to the indictment, more than $100,000 from the John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation went to Ballance's law firm; his church; his mother, Alice Eason Ballance; his daughter, Valerie Ballance; and his son, Garey Ballance.

Remember, Ballance entered Congress in 2003. So what this sounds like is that over the decade before he entered Congress Ballance diverted a hundred grand from his non-profit to various parties tied to him or family. So Ballance gets on the list for something he resigned from for in the 2004 and did before he even got to Congress. Pretty hard to distinguish those facts from DeLay, Doolittle, Jefferson, Ney and Cunningham -- each of whom is either under indictment or the target of an on-going criminal investigation, isn't it.

On this one you can see that Cillizza was really striving for Ballance and, well ... he achieved it.

Late Update: Former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland resigned from office around the same time Rep. Ballance bailed out of the House. No exception for him on Cillizza's list of scandal governors.

Would you like to join our 'Nice Try' brigade?

Let me explain.

There is one Democratic member of Congress who is currently the target of a Justice Department investigation, Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans. There are also various Democrats who received money from Jack Abramoff or his many clients.

But let's get real. The Abramoff story is overwhelmingly a Republican scandal. Abramoff's whole racket was as a paymaster and slush-funder for the DC GOP machine.

Then there are the half-a-dozen Republican members of Congress being investigated for criminal infractions arising out of the Abramoff investigation. Then there are all their staffers.

Then there is Abramoff-Norquist associate David Safavian, chief of procurement at OMB who was arrested and indicted for deceiving investigators in the Abramoff case.

Then there are the GOP capos who skimmed money off the Abramoff geyser or laundered money for him, folks like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed.

The Duke Cunningham scandal is a Republican scandal, which we'll soon see spreads into the Rumsfeld Defense Department.

The Abramoff scandal tracks into the Interior Department and the GSA.

Then there's Tom DeLay, remember him, former House Majority Leader, now under indictment in Texas. Set aside that he's also implicated in the Abramoff scandal and quite probably the Duke Cunningham scandal as well.

And then in the other body you've got Sen. Bill Frist who is at the center of a criminal investigation into his stock sales. Frist is actually sort of unique in that it's possible he may not be guilty.

Two Republican members of Congress are under indictment.

Prosecutors have already accused two of taking bribes.

These few examples only scratch the surface. And I've left aside the Fitzgerald investigation because it doesn't turn on money but pure old-fashioned abuse of power.

Yet, Republican media types have been leaning hard yesterday and today on reporters to push the bipartisan corruption line, even though the simple facts of the case simply give no basis for it whatsoever.

It's actually close to laughable.

The simple truth is that Democrats in Washington today just aren't in a position to be corrupt on any serious scale for a simple reason: public corruption is almost always about selling power. Got no power and you've just got nothing to sell. Any idiot can understand that.

The level of public corruption coming to the surface in Washington today is not unprecedented. But there's a pretty good argument that you have to go back more than a hundred years to find anything comparable. And it's almost entirely limited to one party, the Republican party, because it all grows out of the same political machine.

But Republicans are pushing their line. And lots of reporters, not wanting trouble, are doing their best to comply.

Like I said, it's almost laughable.

So let's laugh at them.

Find us the best quotes you can of reporters, pundits, commentators and whoever else trying to minimize the undeniable partisan dimension to the multiple and overlapping scandals breaking out all over Washington, DC. We'll post the top ten. Send them to the regular comments email with the headline "Nice Try Brigade".

TPM Reader PH is worried ...

So, the President is going to announce the beginning of a pull out from Iraq. Where does that leave the so-called flypaper strategy? President Bush has repeatedly justified the Iraq war by claiming: "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home" and "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

If we are getting out of Iraq, does that mean that he believes that the terrorists there have been eliminated? Or, has he decided to bring the fight back home to the United States? Or, is he hoping that the new Iraqi government and army will defend the United States from terrorism?

Good question, though Cheney et al. have wriggled out of more extreme inconsistencies and fooleries to be sure. Also that guy Bush they have working for them.

We'll be discussing more on this later. But on the Duke Cunningham matter, who helped him? Who cooperated? We know that the charges Duke pled guilty to yesterday listed four coconspirators. Those are the guys who paid him off. But who cooperated on the inside? At the Defense Department? Remember, this was all about securing Defense and intelligence I hear there's more here than just Duke.

More soon.

Brainstorming possible NRCC slogans.

Fully 99% of caucus faces no government accusations of accepting bribes!

You mean former Rep. Duke Cunningham!

It's like the Journal says today, what about Speaker Jim Wright!?!?