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

Despite attempts by some Republicans to soften reform efforts, Rep. Bob Ney - that's Rep. #1 to you and me - is pushing for a hard line.

The House Republicans have been steadily dialing back expectations for lobbying reform since January, but there seemed like there was one measure they could all agree on: cutting off pensions to former House members convicted of a crime.

Apparently such a measure seemed needlessly draconian to Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI). But Rep. Bob Ney (OH), seeing an irresistible opportunity to seize the mantle of ethics reform, intervened.

From Roll Call:

What in the world was House Administration Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) thinking? During his panel's markup of lobby reform legislation last week, Ehlers was all ginned up to offer an amendment that would have weakened the bill so that pension benefits would be denied to Members convicted of public corruption charges only during their period of imprisonment. Once out of jail - voila! - their retirement pay would resume.

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The Hotline on Call is an outstanding blog with good information and seasoned reporters. But yesterday they made a comment that struck me as a bit too forgiving towards the Republican National Committee.

In an post explaining why Republicans at the national level probably didn't know about the New Hampshire GOP's jamming of phones used by Democratic volunteers to get out the vote, the Hotline blog wrote:

. . .[T]he Republican National Committee, out of perhaps commendable (and perhaps foolhardly) loyalty to one of their own, has paid for Mr. [James] Tobin's legal bills.

Tobin was a regional political director for the RNC-affiliated National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at the time he assisted with the phone jamming.

But his bills have been significant -- they now top $2.5 million, according to news accounts. Tobin is receiving the services of a team of lawyers from Williams & Connolly, among the whitest-of-the-white-shoe firms D.C. has to offer.

In an election year that could see the GOP lose several seats in Congress, that's a lot of money to divert to the legal defense of a campaign worker who engaged in patently undemocratic behavior. It's hard to look at that figure and not wonder if there's a political calculation behind it.

The Lie of the Mobile Labs

A secret team of experts dispatched by the Pentagon reported conclusively that two trailers captured in the early days of the Iraq war could not have been used as "biological laboratories," but the Bush administration repeated the false claim for more than a year, the Washington Post reports this morning. They give a great timeline.

The CIA wouldn't talk to the Post's Joby Warrick for the story. Also mum: former CIA director and Medal of Freedom recipient George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, who continued to push his analysts' trumped-up mobile labs theory as "plausible" even after David Kay's Iraq Survey Group debunked the myth -- a second time -- a year after the secret group filed its report.

We assume this was all "in the public interest." (Washington Post)

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In a prepared statement, Republican National Committee chief Ken Mehlman responds to brewing storm over New Hampshire phone jamming scandal:

"As White House political director during the 2002 election cycle, my staff and I regularly communicated with competitive Congressional campaigns and Republican Party organizations. One of the most competitive was the Senate race in New Hampshire and throughout the election season and Election Day, Alicia Davis, my deputy responsible for the Northeast, frequently communicated with the New Hampshire State Party, the RNC and others.

"To be clear, none of my conversations nor the conversations of my staff, involved discussion of the phone-jamming incident. While I have profound policy disagreements with Chairman Dean, I have always tried to maintain what he and I discussed when we were first elected: keep it to the issues."

Two points to the Hotline for picking Alicia Davis as Tobin's frequent Election Day conversationalist.

Was Jack Abramoff involved somehow in the New Hampshire phone jamming? New details discovered by strengthen the case.

It's been widely reported that two of Abramoff's tribal clients made contributions to the New Hampshire Republican State Committee shortly before Election Day. The contributions had been reported to total $10,000 - but the tribes actually gave at least $15,000, according to records obtained by

And now there are new details that show that two of Abramoff's business associates, Michael Scanlon and Ralph Reed, had both hired GOP Marketplace, the consulting firm hired to do the jamming, to do election work during the same year. According to a source close to the case, GOP Marketplace's work for Scanlon had related to the Lousiana Coushatta's election for tribal chairman. The Coushatta were an Abramoff client.

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AP reports:

A Republican Party official and Jack Abramoff's lobbying team bluntly discussed using large political donations as a way to pressure lawmakers into securing federal money for a tribal client, according to e-mails gathered by prosecutors.

The e-mails detail how Abramoff's team worked to leverage assistance from the White House, Congress and the GOP to get a reluctant federal agency and a single Republican congressional aide to stop blocking school construction money for the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. The e-mails were obtained by The Associated Press.

Abramoff's team ultimately prevailed when the congressional aide was overruled, several lawmakers pressured an Interior Department agency and Congress itself set aside the money for the tribe. Lawmakers who helped got thousands of dollars in fresh donations from Abramoff's team.

Who at the White House was talking with political operative James Tobin on the day of the New Hampshire phone jamming, Paul asked earlier? The Hotline on Call's Marc Ambinder puts his money on Alicia Davis.

During the 2002 elections Davis was northeast regional director in the White House's political office, Ambinder says, so she would be the logical person for Tobin to coordinate with. In a phone conversation, Ambinder said he had also spoken with knowledgeable insiders in the past who had confirmed his suspicions.

What does Davis say about all this? That's what we'd like to know. Davis left the White House in 2004 to work for the Republican National Committee; after the election she took an appointee slot at the Commerce Department, according to CongressDaily. Commerce told us she left "four or five months ago" for the RNC. The RNC political office in D.C. confirmed she worked there, "but not out of this office."

The AP, in their story on calls to the White House, noted one call in particular, a 17 minute call from Jayne Millerick, then a GOP strategist working on the 2002 election. This was with the same number at the White House's Office of Political Affairs that James Tobin called so frequently.

The AP simply noted the call, and reported Millerick as saying that she "did not recall the subject" and that she hadn't learned of the plot until after the election.

But details from the phone records analyized by the Senate Majority Project suggest that Millerick was fully aware of the plot to jam the New Hampshire Democratic Party's phone lines and seriously concerned about its legality on the day of the jamming. If that's true, it suggests that the jamming was definitely on her mind when she phoned the White House on the afternoon of the crime. That call lasted from 2:59 PM to 3:16 PM.

Millerick made a run of calls on the day of the jamming that suggest that she was looking for legal advice:

At 10:32 AM on Election Day, for example, Millerick phoned the law firm of Nixon Peabody. It's been previously reported that former NH GOP chair John Dowd had ordered the jamming stopped after receiving legal advice from a lawyer named David Vicinanzo on Election Day morning. Nixon Peabody is Vicinanzo's firm.

Immediately following the call to that law firm, Jayne Millerick placed three calls to David Horan, a criminal defense attorney.

When contacted by phone by, Millerick again asserted that she'd known nothing about the jamming until after the election. When asked about the calls to these lawyers, she said that she wanted to review the records before commenting. She has not replied since receiving the records.

Late Update: We've posted the call analysis for you to see here. Millerick's calls to the lawyers are on page 2, and her call to the White House is on page 4.

Late Late Update: Millerick says the calls were to find Republican lawyers to watch the polls.

You've probably never heard of Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY). He's a freshman congressman. And he's got a problem letting go.

Today, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the lawmaker is refusing to return a $500 contribution from Tony Rudy, a former staffer from Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) office who has pleaded guilty to felony charges of bribery and conspiracy.

Previously, Davis has refused to return $11,000 from Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), and $30,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC, whose fishy finances won the former majority leader an indictment.

"I just don't think Geoff gets it," Bob Doyle, the spokesman for Davis' Dem challenger, told the paper.