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

A lot of folks, including us, noticed a strange detail in one of the first articles about Brent Wilkes' poker-and-more parties.

"Another player was a CIA agent known as 'Nine Fingers,' so named because he lost one of his digits while on assignment," the San Diego Union-Tribune reported over a week ago in what appeared to be an almost throwaway bit of color.

The Mafia-esque moniker has attracted attention and jokes -- but little new information, until now: Newsweek magazine is the first to identify Nine Fingers as Brant Bassett, whom they also say is "a former Goss aide."

He may be a more central character in our story than the SDUT made him out to be.

Bassett is reported to have been a case officer with the CIA's Directorate of Operations, where Foggo worked. Their paths crossed a number of times over the years and they became friendly, I'm told, which isn't a stretch, given that two publications now put Bassett in poker games with Foggo and Wilkes.

An enduring mystery to this fiasco is why Porter Goss promoted "Dusty" Foggo to the very top of the CIA. Now, informed sources are speculating that Bassett may be the link that explains that mystery, at least in part. Bassett, a counsel and staff director for the Human Intelligence panel of Goss' House Intelligence Committee, had ample opportunity to introduce Goss and his close aide Patrick Murray to Foggo. Did he?

I gave Mr. Bassett a call a few days ago in the hopes he'd be willing to discuss the matter, but he didn't call me back. Newsweek reported that he didn't return their call, either.

Actually, the Post reported almost a year ago that Tom DeLay's staff knew Jack Abramoff arranged the famous Scotland golfing junket. The trip was officially sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), a conservative nonprofit.

What's new here are the emails, which seem so darn conspiratorial:

"Our financial disclosure forms from the England/Scotland trip are due tomorrow afternoon. ... I would appreciate if you would send me your information," a DeLay aide wrote Abramoff's firm.

The e-mails show Abramoff's team provided then-DeLay chief of staff Susan Hirschmann a final cost figure of $75,600 for the weeklong European trip taken by DeLay; his wife, Christine; Hirschmann; Hirschmann's husband; and Rudy.

The e-mails stated DeLay's office could attribute the figures to "the final bookkeeping efforts" by [NCPPR]. Despite the figure from Abramoff, DeLay's report to Congress put the cost lower, at just over $70,000.

[Abramoff's assistant, Susan Ralston] wrote she had a follow-up conversation with DeLay's office. Hirschmann wanted "a name" of someone at [NCPPR] who would attest to paying for the trip and was concerned whether the center's executive director, Amy Ridenour, knew about the costs.

"She (Hirschmann) just wants to make sure that if someone starts asking questions that Amy Ridenour knows about these s," Ralston wrote.


And yes, that Susan Ralston is the same one who's currently Karl Rove's assistant. Apparently she's good at preparing for when "someone starts asking questions."

For the past week, we at TPM and TPMmuckraker have been digging out details about Shirlington Limousine, the car service at the center of the scandal. So has the FBI. Tomorrow's Times reports that "F.B.I. agents have talked to Shirlington employees about driving Mr. Cunningham and prostitutes to hotel poker parties, and have interviewed women who work for escort services."

And it looks like we'll soon have help from Congress in getting more details about those very fishy Department of Homeland Security contracts that Shirlington was able to land:

On Friday, Republicans and Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security announced that they planned to investigate Shirlington Limousine's contract.

"The information we've obtained raises a number of serious questions, from the contracting process to possible security concerns," said Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the House subcommittee in charge of management and oversight at the Department of Homeland Security. "The appearance of a lack of background checks on contractors is another troubling personnel issue at D.H.S. that we are examining."

In a draft letter to the inspector general of homeland security, to be sent Monday, Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, asks why the department hired the limousine company and whether Shirlington's bid received preferential treatment. It seeks a list of official passengers.

Democrats on the committee said Friday that they plan to ask homeland security officials about the Shirlington contract in a May 18 hearing.

AP reports:

A federal judge refused on Friday to give I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby access to a wide range of information from several government agencies, saying he would not allow the former White House aide's trial in the CIA leak case to become a debate over the war in Iraq.

"You want to try the legitimacy of us going to war," U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton told lawyers for Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff. "I don't see how that will help us determine whether Mr. Libby lied when he talked to the FBI and went before the grand jury."

CIA Executive Director Kyle "Dusty" Foggo has told friends he'll resign his post next week, the Washington Post reports. Meanwhile, former NSA director Gen. Michael V. Hayden is widely rumored to be the White House's pick to replace Goss as CIA director. Time magazine has a profile. The Wall Street Journal confirms that Foggo is under "federal criminal investigation" for improperly awarding agency contracts. Meanwhile, no one seems to have an answer for why Goss resigned so abruptly -- without warning or explanation.

At TPMCafe, Larry Johnson adds his own insights to the fiasco.

The Washington Post connects Christopher Baker, owner of alleged prostitution transporter Shirlington Limousine, to alleged Cunningham briber Brent Wilkes, via onetime San Diego defense contractor Jerome Foster:

Baker's connection to Wilkes began in the late 1990s when he was introduced to the contractor by Jerome Foster, a San Diego businessman who was then a director of Shirlington Limousine, Foster said in an interview.

Foster said he met Baker at the Watergate Hotel when he hired Baker as a driver. Baker told Foster that he had had legal and money troubles, Foster said, and he agreed to serve as a mentor to the driver.

At the time, Foster said, he had Navy contracts, used the same lobbying firm as Wilkes and was discussing doing business with Wilkes. He said he has not seen either man in years and was "shocked" when he learned about Baker's contracts.

Foster said the Baker he knew was naive about business. "He wasn't an individual I would have thought could have gotten that kind of contract on his own," Foster said.

Wow.

In the course of our research into Christopher Baker, the owner of the limo company that allegedly ferried prostitutes to lawmakers, we've been confronted with a widening constellation of legal representation. And it's gotten more impressive as we've gone along.

First, there's Sandy Roberts, a business attorney who is Shirlington Limousine's original counsel. He didn't return our call.

And then there's Baker's personal criminal attorney, Bobby Stafford. He's the one who made a questionable denial to the San Diego Union-Tribune about what Baker may or may not have seen.

When we called Stafford today, he referred us to a third lawyer -- Michael York -- who is handling all media inquiries, Stafford's office told us.

It's not hard to figure why. York is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist:

After graduating from law school in 1978, he spent eight years at the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he and another reporter won a 1986 Pulitzer for exposing corruption within the University of Kentucky athletic program. In 1987, York moved to the Washington Post.


He went on to a career in law, where he's represented such heavy hitters as Phillip Morris. So far, has not returned our calls.

So it appears that Baker is in a number of good -- and increasingly expensive -- hands. Pretty impressive for a guy who just got out of bankruptcy.

The New Republic's Spencer Ackerman reporting:

According to a CIA spokesperson (who spoke on background: "we're not doing names today") Goss's resignation is "totally separate" from the controversy surrounding CIA Executive Director/former procurement official Dusty Foggo's longtime friendship with defense/intelligence contractor Brent Wilkes. . .

[A]s to what that has to do with Goss, "do not connect those," the spokesperson said. Is Foggo leaving CIA as well? "I have nothing for you on that.... Nothing for anybody. I mean, today's topic is Porter."

More rumors:

Foggo was a problem for Goss, sure, but he wasn't the only problem, I'm told. There were a few, and they got to be too much.

There's been a drumbeat for the past few weeks that Goss would be leaving -- and it was louder than the Goss-is-leaving drumbeat folks have heard for the past year, two sources said. The crescendo came in part because several of his close aides have found ways to leave the director's office in the last few weeks, or put out feelers to find something new. "The whole group was out fishing" for new jobs, a former CIA official told me, "and the whole world knew it."

Other problems added to his trouble: Two sources told me that the President's discreet and influential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board has been interviewing CIA officials and others over the past several weeks, as part of a larger investigation. My sources didn't know or wouldn't tell me what the panel was examining, only that "a lot" of the people it talked to "were unloading on the director."

We knew the CIA Inspector General was probing CIA #3 man Kyle "Dusty" Foggo's connection to Brent Wilkes and his contracts with the agency. But when CNN's John Roberts said maybe 20 minutes ago that Foggo was under investigation by the FBI, also, I think that's the first time that's been authoritatively reported. If it's accurate -- and I don't see why it wouldn't be -- that's big trouble.

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