They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

Journalists and pundits have been speculating on the legality of the NSA's aggressive effort to acquire and store U.S. phone records.

At least one expert -- Michael Copps, the maverick senior Democratic commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission -- thinks it's worth a formal review.

"[T]he FCC should initiate an inquiry into whether the phone companies' involvement violated Section 222 or any other provisions of the Communications Act," he announced in a public statement today. "We need to be certain that the companies over which the FCC has public interest oversight have not gone -- or been asked to go -- to a place where they should not be."

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Unfortunately, Copps doesn't have the power to start an investigation on his own. Only FCC chair Kevin Martin can do that. My call to his spokesperson wasn't immediately returned.

Reading back through Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) statement this afternoon, it's apparent that he has resigned himself to the fact that he will be indicted. And rather than wait around until the U.S. Attorney's Office actually does it, he's decided to make his big speech beforehand.

It's hard to draw any other conclusion than that from a line like:

No one wants to be indicted. I certainly do not and I certainly do not want anyone - a family member or close associate - to be indicted. But I am prepared to answer these charges formally when and if the time comes.

As far as fiery big speeches go, Jefferson went a lot farther than just saying that he'd be exonerated. He called Brett Pfeffer and Vernon Jackson, two business associates of his who've pled guilty to bribing him, liars and said that he prays "that God will forgive them." He implied that the government's charges were racially motivated, comparing the case against him to past prosecutions of African American members of Congress, Rep. Harold Ford, Sr. of Tennessee and Rep. Floyd Flake of New York, both of whom were cleared of the charges against them.

So I think it's safe to say that we'll have at least one representative running for re-election this November while under indictment. It remains to be seen whether Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) will be the second.

Well, apparently Rep. William Jefferson's "major announcement" wasn't so major after all.

According to Melanie Roussell, Jefferson's spokeswoman, Jefferson said that he will "not be resigning," and is "going to continue to serve as long as the public supports him." Update: Here's the full text of Jefferson's statement:

My attorneys tell me that it is not in my best interest to speak about the criminal investigation at this time. But I feel compelled to make a statement because I believe that my constituents are entitled to hear some response to the spate of recent publicity about me, and I have an obligation to think about your interests, as well.

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Apparently Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) will be making a major announcement in a matter of minutes. We just called his communications director, Melanie Roussell, who said that it would begin soon - but she wouldn't say what the announcement was....

The Washington Post went front page today with Rep. Alan Mollohan's (D-WV) ethical troubles, and boy, he doesn't do himself one bit of good.

Mollohan's troubles mostly stem from his habit of engaging in real estate deals with the beneficiaries of his many, many earmarks. He bought a farm, for instance, with an old friend soon after landing him an earmark. And he bought beachfront property with a woman who runs one of his nonprofits - a nonprofit which (you guessed it) relies on Mollohan's earmarked largesse.

Well, gee, he says, I guess I should have thought twice about that:

In an interview, Mollohan said he is unapologetic and proud of the thousands of jobs he has brought to West Virginia [the earmarks] and that, legally speaking, everything he has done to secure them is "squeaky clean." But he acknowledged that his actions might look incriminating and that he may have had an ethical "blind spot" that prevented him from questioning whether he, as a government official and vice chairman of the ethics panel, should have invested with such close associates.

"I would have done things differently," he said as he drove through West Virginia's northern panhandle. "It puts you in a position where people could say there's something untoward going on."

The House ethics committee warns lawmakers to avoid exactly those kinds of situations. Its Web site admonishes federal officials not to accept favors or benefits "in circumstances that might create the appearance of influencing the performance of official duties."

You can just imagine the Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum rolling his eyes as he wrote that last paragraph. "Blind spot?" Jeez.

And it looks like it's going to continue to get worse for Mollohan before it gets better. The original complaint that kicked off the Mollohan investigation, from the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, alleged that he'd misreported his assets and debts on his disclosure form. No, no, no, said Mollohan. But now, according to the Post, Mollohan will be amending his disclosure filings to reflect misstatements. Unfortunately for Mollohan, that won't make the problem go away - such a misstatement could still be charged as a crime.

Meanwhile, the investigation continues apace. One of Mollohan's nonprofits was recently subpoenaed - and two more are likely to follow.

Oh, and one more thing. "Mollohan promises a report soon that will explain how he so quickly became a multimillionaire." Can't wait.

There's a race on in the District of Columbia's U.S. Attorney's Office - who's the more dangerous cooperator: Jack Abramoff or Mitchell Wade?

Abramoff, you've heard plenty about. But it's time to start giving Mitch Wade his due. He brought down Duke Cunningham, supplying prosecutors with most of the information in Duke's plea agreement. And we have Wade to thank for hookergate, since he was the one who told investigators that Brent Wilkes was supplying Duke and possibly others with prostitutes. It's likely that Wade, continuing to dish on his old pal Brent Wilkes, was also behind the recent widening of the Cunningham investigation to other members of the Appropriations Committee.

Well, it looks like there's a lot more where that came from. In a recent filing, prosecutors and Wade's attorney have asked to postpone the preparation for Wade's sentencing - he pled guilty back in February - because his cooperation is ongoing. In fact, it's likely to "continue for quite some time," according to prosecutors. As a result, they don't even want to set a sentencing date when they meet with the judge as scheduled on August 21. If they get their wish, it's unlikely that Wade will be sentenced until next year. And that gives him plenty of time to do all he can to lighten his sentence.

I think the smart money is on Mitchell Wade.

From ABC News:

NSA whistleblower Russ Tice says he will tell Congress Wednesday of "probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts" involving the agency's former director, Gen. Michael Hayden, President Bush's nominee to run the CIA.

Tice, a former technical intelligence specialist at NSA who first went public on ABC News, says he has been asked to testify Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In a letter to the committee, Tice says the alleged illegal acts involved "very highly sensitive intelligence programs and operations known as Special Access Programs (SAPs)."

Read the letter here.

We spend a lot of time here at TPMmuckraker digging into Brent Wilkes' doings. And yet, despite all the seamy details, there just hasn't been that one thing that really brings the man alive for me. Oh, but my wait is over.

Turns out that Wilkes had a habit of shouting "catch phrases such as 'boom shaka laka' and 'yeah baby' whenever good news arrived." What good news? Well, you'd think that Duke Cunningham pushing through a multimillion dollar earmark would be an occasion for a "BOOM shaka laka!" And you can be sure that Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) were all good for a "Yeah baby!" on a number of occasions.

What's more:

In May 2004, Wilkes' employees threw him a surprise party on his 50th birthday.

About 200 people attended the event, which included batting cages, a mechanical bull, a steel drum band, jousting and a dunk tank.

Banners with Wilkes' favorite sayings, such as "God loves a working man," "Boom Shaka Laka," and "Happy 50th ... Yeah Baby!" were in view.

Ah, California, land of ethically challenged congressmen.

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning on another California rep and another questionable real estate deal. No, this one doesn't feature a crooked defense contractor.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), it turns out, is quite the real estate mogul. Only it seems he has something of an unfair advantage over the average investor. Being a member of Congress, he has the power to earmark funds for transportation projects that just happen to run near his investments:

Last year, [Calvert] and a partner paid $550,000 for a dusty four-acre parcel just south of March Air Reserve Base. Less than a year later, without even cutting the weeds or carting off old septic tank parts that littered the ground, they sold the land for almost $1 million....

During the time he owned the land, Calvert used the legislative process known as earmarking to secure $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles from the property, and an additional $1.5 million to support commercial development of the area around the airfield.

A map of Calvert's recent real estate holdings and those of his partner shows many of them near the transportation projects he has supported with federal appropriations. And improvements to the transportation infrastructure have contributed to the area's explosive growth, according to development experts.

There's been some speculation that White House adviser Karl Rove cancelled his scheduled appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. AEI spokesman Andrew Pappas assures me this morning that's not the case -- "it's still on," he said.

Rove's speech is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Although registration has been closed for since Friday afternoon, Pappas told me, the event will be broadcast on C-SPAN.