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

So what was John Solomon's competition at the AP for their weekly contest?

Below is the full text of the internal Associated Press email lauding Solomon for his work on the Reid story. This text includes the long list of stories deemed insufficiently controversial to deserve the editors' plaudits - like, for example, coverage of a riot in Kabul.

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As Justin pointed out earlier, the defense contractor General Atomics has close ties to several figures under investigation by the FBI.

Not coincidentally, the company booked more trips for lawmakers and their staff than any other corporation the first half of this decade. $660,000 bought 86 trips. But what were those trips about?

Some of them were run of the mill trips to the company's headquarters in San Diego.

But in at least two of those cases, the company sent staffers to meet with officials from foreign governments (Turkey, Italy and Australia) who were considering buying General Atomics' Predator drone aircraft. According to General Atomics CEO Tom Cassidy, the staffers were there, essentially, as part of their sales team.

Cassidy is not at all shy about it. He told reporters from American RadioWorks that the purpose of a trip to Australia was "Trying to sell Predator Bs to Australia." Eight staffers were on the trip. Cassidy apparently found them helpful:

"They are useful and very helpful in fact, when you go down and talk to the government officials, to have congressional people go along and discuss the capabilities of Predator B with them."

Now, that sounds bad to me. But I'm continually surprised by what's common and what's not in Washington, and apparently this would fall into the "not" category. I spoke to Todd Bowers, Defense Investigator for the Project on Government Oversight and a former staffer for Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), who said "I’ve never heard of anything like this."

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Strange connections are still cropping up among players in the expanding Cunningham probe.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is the latest congressman to find himself under investigation in the scandal. One of his closest former aides, Letitia White, is also under scrutiny from federal prosecutors.

White left Lewis' staff in January 2003 -- and started working as a lobbyist the very next day. (Her lobby firm, Copeland Lowery & Jacquez, is also under investigation.) Less than a month later, she signed on Trident Systems Inc. as one of her first clients. Then later that same year, White and her husband purchased a house on Capitol Hill together with the owner of Trident and his wife.

Letitia and Richard White bought the house on 3rd Street SE -- just behind the Library of Congress -- with Nicholas Karangelen and his wife, Kathy McPartlan, in December 2003. The price was a flat million dollars -- no odd dollars, extra pennies on the end. Just a one and six zeroes.

Beyond that, it's a mystery. I could find no public record showing how much each couple paid. Neither couple lists the house as their primary residence. My calls to Letitia White and Karangelen went unreturned; McPartlan, whom I reached at home, told me, "I don't have any comment for you."

Of course, White is now a private citizen, not an elected official or a congressional staffer. She can buy a house with whomever she wants. It's only an illustration of the extraordinarily close relationship that a very influential defense lobbyist and former Hill staffer has with a client.

As White's client, Trident paid Copeland Lowery $360,000 from signing on in 2003 to the end of 2005. In at least one identifiable instance, White appears to have delivered for the company: in 2005, according to records kept by the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, White helped win Trident a $2 million earmark for a system of wireless beacons to mark targets in preparation for an attack.

Like I said, White can buy a house with anybody she wants. But I'm curious: if the couples don't live there, who does? Is it rented? And if so, by whom? And how much do they pay? Since federal investigators are now scrutinizing White's ties to key defense contractors, I think we can assume that they're asking those questions too.

There was a new FBI search warrant affidavit unsealed yesterday in the Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) case, which offered a little more in the way of damning evidence - but mostly it just heightens one of the central mysteries of the case for me.

Why didn't Jefferson hand over the $100,000 to the Vice President of Nigeria, like he'd promised?

Here's what we know.

On July 30, 2005, Jefferson met with Lori Mody, a businesswoman (and FBI informant). Following up on their earlier discussions about bribing the Vice President of Nigeria (now running for president), Atiku Abubakar, to grease a telecom deal in Nigeria, Mody transfered a leather briefcase to Jefferson in the parking lot of the Ritz-Carlton with $100,000 inside.

On July 31st, the FBI intercepted Jefferson's cell phone signal near Abubakar's house, according to the recently released affidavit.

On August 1st, Mody asked Jefferson whether he'd delivered "the package." He replied, "I gave him the African art that you gave me and he was very pleased."

So when the FBI raided Abubakar's home on August 3rd, they were expecting to find the leather briefcase with the $100,000. But instead the money turned up in Jefferson's freezer at his Washington home. And $10,000 of it was gone.

So what happened? Did Jefferson double-cross Mody? Or was it all a big misunderstanding?

The answer is important: it's the difference between a corrupt congressman and an incredibly corrupt congressman.

As Josh points out at TPM, the AP thought that John Solomon's reporting on Harry Reid was just swell. In the internal email sent out to AP staff announcing Solomon's award, this section jumped out at me:

The story and video won widespread play on the Web fronts and newspaper fronts, and stirred an enormous debate in the blogosphere, generating more than 10,000 postings and more than a dozen newspapers wrote editorials chastising Reid, including USA Today.

Hmm. Yes, that "enormous debate" in the blogosphere. As the author of eight of those 10,000 posts, I confess I'm surprised that it doesn't matter to editors at the AP that the debate was over the AP's reporting.

There's no such thing as bad publicity, apparently.

The Center for Public Integrity yesterday released a huge (and hugely disturbing) report on corporate-funded travel for federal lawmakers and staff.

Who was at the top of the list of corporate junket-givers? General Atomics, a name which should be familiar to our readers. As we have reported, it's enjoyed close ties to several figures under investigation by the FBI. The company spent over $660,000 on trips for 86 Capitol Hill staffers and lawmakers from 2000 to 2005.

TPMmuckraker fans already know two of those staffers: Letitia White, a former trusted aide to House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA) (now under investigation); and Nancy Lifset, a General Atomics frequent-flyer who held a day job in the offices of now-imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA). (In addition to flying the staffers around, GA also gave generously to both lawmakers' campaigns, and helped raise money for them.)

According to CPI's data, Lifset took more trips on General Atomics' dime than any other staffer, Medill News Service reports.

In addition to dropping big bucks to fly staffers around the world, General Atomics paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a lobby shop now under federal investigation: Copeland Lowery. As we reported, the firm employs Letitia White, and it has extraordinarily close ties to her former boss Lewis. Oh - White herself is also being investigated by the FBI, the New York Times reported last weekend.

If Lewis is under investigation, and Copeland Lowery is under investigation, and Letitia White is under investigation, does it follow that General Atomics -- which pumped so much money into Congress with this trio's help, in order to pump many millions back out -- is also a target of the probe? When we called the company, an aide to its spokesperson said the company had no comment.

The last day of testimony by defendant and former White House official David Safavian proved to be a slow-moving train of qualified admissions from the accused: no, he did not tell investigators important information about what he knew of Abramoff's dealings, although he would have if they had asked directly; no, he didn't read important documents closely that would have alerted him to problems, although he feels foolish now that he didn't. No, he didn't think anything odd about Abramoff emailing GSA-related inquiries to his home email address; he assumed Jack had "privacy issues."

No, he didn't have a particularly good grasp of government ethics rules at the time of his dealings with Abramoff. But he does now.

But Safavian wasn't equivocal about one decision he made, long ago: to be friends with the man who rose to become possibly the most corrupt lobbyist in the history of the profession.

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Washington Bids "Au Revoir" To DeLay Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's last day in Congress is Friday, and the soirees are aplenty. Tonight DeLay hosts his own appreciation dinner for his security detail. Friday, he will address the Capitol Police, and his wife Christine will help him host an open house in his offices. (Y'all stop by!)

But the real fete was Monday night, when the Texas Congressional delegation held a dinner in his honor -- in a French restaurant: Le Paradou, a posh "jacket preferred" French eatery. It was an odd choice, given DeLay's frequent excoriation of the French for their unwillingness to invade and occupy Iraq -- and his needling of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) for his knowledge of the language.

A spokeswoman for DeLay denied that the restaurant was French ("This is an American restaurant (last I checked the owner came here from France some 30 years ago) that serves French cuisine," she told AP), but she revealed that DeLay himself was French. (AP, The Hill)

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For the most part, we've made our way through the first trial of the Abramoff scandal without too much damage to Members of Congress. Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), of course, was a frequent topic, but few others were even touched. One of those touched was Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).

Here's what her case boils down to: Capito had a chief of staff who was a close friend of Neil Volz, a member of Team Abramoff. Her staffer, Mark Johnson, gladly used her name to run Volz a favor. But when the going got rough and Abramoff needed the Congresswoman herself to weigh in, Volz didn't even ask her because, he complained, she was too politically weak to risk getting caught shilling.

Fortunately, from Abramoff's emails released during David Safavian's trial, we can put the whole story together.

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Here's AP's latest report on David Safavian's testimony today. I'll have some observations up shortly, but this is the meat of it. Safavian floated his excuses for why he misled investigators, and the prosecuto, incredulous, poked at them:

[Under the prosecution's questioning] Safavian insisted he hadn't intentionally misled GSA and Senate officials.

Safavian also acknowledged that he told an FBI agent that he had advised Abramoff on two GSA properties in the fall of 2002, rather than as it actually happened in the weeks before he took a luxury-filled golf trip to Scotland that Abramoff arranged in August 2002.

"I was just mistaken about the time frame," Safavian testified.

With seeming disbelief, Zeidenberg asked if Safavian had forgotten that Abramoff first asked about one of the properties just eight days after Safavian joined GSA. And had he forgotten two dozen e-mails they exchanged about the properties in July 2002 and forgotten arranging and attending a meeting with Abramoff's representatives and GSA officials the day before he left on the trip, the prosecutor demanded.

Each time, Safavian insisted he had forgotten the dates and was not trying to conceal information from the agent.

Zeidenberg got Safavian to acknowledge that he did not know that the FBI agent already had copies of the July 2002 e-mails at the time of the interview.