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

As we noted in yesterday's Daily Muck, Roll Call has reported that the FBI wants to interview top House members in their probe of who leaked classified information on the NSA's domestic surveillance program to the New York Times.

Who? In particular, Roll Call notes, "those being targeted for interviews include GOP and Democratic leaders, as well as the chairmen and ranking member of the Intelligence committee."

That means Intel committee chair Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the panel's ranking member, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and presumeably House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Other "leaders" could include House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO), and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

The recent string of explosions on Capitol Hill have been nothing short of mesmerizing. The FBI raids a Democratic congressional office; the Republicans explode. Democratic factions explode at the party leadership. Democrats and Republicans explode at the Justice Department. ABC News drops a bombshell on House Speaker Dennis Hastert; Hastert explodes at ABC. The Justice Department explodes at ABC. The Justice Department explodes at Hastert.

The House has always been a volatile place, compared to the genteel Senate. But it's becoming apparent that these explosions aren't the usual sort -- measured eruptions calculated to generate maximum political leverage, i.e. outrage at the House cafeteria for serving "French" fries.

Instead, they look like a pot, once quietly simmering, suddenly boiling over. The House, it seems, is officially out of control. What caused this?

First, the stage was set: Republicans were already in their own chaos after having lost a charismatic leader (Tom DeLay) and the political chains which once tied them more or less uniformly to the White House. Add to that successive scandals, which have pushed poll numbers for some of their "safe" seats into the red zone -- or is it the blue zone? -- leading many in the party to worry they will lose control of the House.

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ABC: Hastert Probe Could "Wash Out" and "Be Nothing" ABC's Brian Ross went on the air last night to give further caveats to his story yesterday that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is "in the mix" of the Justice Department investigation of the Abramoff scandal.

"I think our story is accurate. We've gone back to our sources, and they believe what we reported was accurate as they knew it," the Washington Post quotes him as saying. "There may be a semantics issue here as to what constitutes being under investigation."

The story "could wash out and be nothing," Ross conceded. But "questions are being raised about the speaker of the House -- that's worthy of a lead story."

Dennis Hastert doesn't think so, of course, and has sent a threatening letter from his lawyer to the network. The Justice Department has also denied the story. Ross and ABC, meanwhile, reported that Hastert calls "a coincidence" the fact that Jack Abramoff hosted a fundraiser for the speaker one week before Hastert signed an unusual letter on behalf of the lobbyist's tribal clients. (WPost)

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From tonight's Hardball with Chris Matthews, as transcribed by Raw Story -- reporter David Shuster confirms Murray Waas' latest scoop:

[S]ources close to [Karl Rove] are now confirming a story first reported in the National Journal that Rove, who was a source for columnist Bob Novak, later had a separate conversation with Novak after the investigation began.

Former federal prosecutors are convinced Fitzgerald has explored whether Rove and Novak coordinated their testimony.

But today, a spokesman for Karl Rove said quote, "Karl Rove has never urged anyone, directly or indirectly, to withhold information from the special Counsel or to testify falsely. Circulating such speculation now is nothing short of irresponsible."

. . . Robert Novak was unavailable for comment.

AP reports:

If a prosecutor calls him as a witness, Vice President Dick Cheney probably can't avoid testifying in his former chief of staff's perjury trial, legal experts said Thursday. . . .

But former federal prosecutor Ty Cobb said Fitzgerald's revelation about using Cheney as a witness seems like an act of desperation. "You don't play that card unless you think you are in danger of being shut down," Cobb said. . . .

Fitzgerald's filing, Cobb said, was a signal to U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who has expressed concern about the amount of classified information the prosecutor may try to keep Libby from using in his defense.

"Now Fitzgerald's pitch is, 'This goes all the way up in the White House. Judge, don't shut me down,'" Cobb said.

The Washingtonenne politico-sex-blog scandal happened so long ago, we're surprised it hasn't been turned into a VH1 special yet. (Maybe it has -- we don't watch VH1 all that much anymore.)

But it's been resurrected, most recently in the pages of Legal Times, of all places. Why? One of her sex partners says he was inaccurately portrayed. So he's suing.

A quick refresher: in 2004, a twentysomething Hill staffer had been keeping a "secret" online diary of her sexual exploits with various Hill figures. Someone emailed the URL to Wonkette, who wrote about it ad nauseum. Washingtonienne was unmasked as Jessica Cutler, a staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH). She lost her job, found a book deal. Then, except for occasional stories about how she gets sexually entangled with her lawyers, she disappeared.

But one of the men Cutler wrote about, Robert Steinbuch, wants justice. And he's willing to have even more details of his private life entered into the public record in order to get it.

Steinbuch, a senior DeWine adviser (or, as Cutler described him, "this crazy hair-pulling, ass-smacking dude who wants to use handcuffs on me") is suing Cutler, not for violating his privacy, but to correct what he says are falsehoods in what she blogged.

As the paper reports:

It's hard to know why anyone would care to set the record straight about whether he is able to ejaculate with or without a condom or whether he likes to spank or be spanked. But [Steinbuch's lawyer, Jonathan] Rosen says that's exactly what Steinbuch intends to do.

“There are graphic and intimate details which are not true,” Steinbuch told Legal Times. “Those are facts that are going to be litigated.”

Now that's a trial I wouldn't mind sitting through.

President Bush has intervened in the constitutional catfight between House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Congress, and the FBI and the Justice Department. He ordered all materials seized by the FBI from their raid on Rep. William Jefferson's (D-LA) office to be sealed for 45 days.

The documents are currently held by the solicitor general, Paul Clement, AP reports. The solicitor general's official duties are to represent the U.S. Government in cases before the Supreme Court.

The New Republic's blog, the Plank, has more questions for presidential aspirant Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) about the $20,000 in campaign donations he recently returned to the Wyly brothers. In 2000, the duo funded a costly ad campaign smearing McCain's environmental record.

Hastert has struck back at ABC News for saying he is under investigation by the Justice Department in connection with the Abramoff trial. But the network appears not to be heeding him.

Hastert had his personal lawyer write an angry letter to ABC, accusing the network of "libel and defamation" for its "publication of. . . false information, after having actual knowledge of its falsity[.]" This is on top of his earlier demand that ABC retract its story.

ABC's apparent response? Bring it. The network published yet another story, this one not even about Hastert, that manages to mention one more time the allegation that the Feds are looking into the House Speaker.

National Journal's Murray Waas reports that Karl Rove was in fact columnist Robert Novak's source for learning Valerie Plame's identity, and that the two men, upon learning of a federal investigation, spoke and may have created a false cover story to hide the truth.

In other words, there's mounting evidence that Novak and Rove not only lied to the FBI and grand jury, but they conspired to obstruct justice. Waas explains, with greater finesse:

On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men. . . .

Rove and Novak, investigators suspect, might have devised a cover story to protect Rove because the grand jury testimony of both men appears to support Rove's contentions about how he learned about Plame.

Before the conversation, Waas notes, Novak's story was that White House officials had given him Plame's name and encouraged him to write about it. After news of the investigation was broken on Sept. 26, Novak's story flipped. "Nobody in the Bush administration called me to leak this," he said on Sept. 29.

Both men told investigators and the grand jury that in July 2003, Novak called Rove and asked him about an "unsubstantiated rumor" about Plame's identity, and Rove said he had heard the same thing.

According to Waas, the investigators are having a hard time swallowing the story. After all, why would a guy with 46 years' experience out a CIA operative based on himself and Rove hearing an "unsubstantiated rumor?"