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

The Washington Post's Charles Babcock and Renae Merle break news tonight on how MZM Inc.'s Mitchell Wade spun a $40,000 Pentagon contract into over $170 million in work, using bribery, personal favors to lawmakers and Defense officials, lavish recruiting practices, strongarm practices and hiring big-name principals.

Wade has confessed to felony charges of bribery and corruption in connection to the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal.

Wade's tactics made him a power player within the Defense world, the Post team reports. Here's how he was perceived by Pentagon employees:

According to excerpts of e-mails collected by a Pentagon employee and provided to The Washington Post, one contract official inaccurately thought Wade was a former undersecretary of defense. Another wrote that "Mitch Wade is a force to be reckonned (sic) with . . . he has a lot of perceived power that can slow us down . . . maybe even grind us to a halt."

For a long time, details about just what Mitchell Wade's company was doing for their $170 million have been very difficult to come by. Now that ball of yarn is unraveling, and the more we learn, the more we want to know.

More soon.

So where are we with this lobbying reform thing?

Lobbyists are openly gloating in the Post that they've fought off any meaningful reform - that's where.

Earlier, we noted today's San Diego Union-Tribune piece on Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). The basic charge underlying the piece is that Brent Wilkes, a crooked defense contractor, paid $14,400 to Doolittle. Doolittle then went to bat for Wilkes, ultimately delivering $37 million in earmarks for a technology the Pentagon didn't want.

In other words, you could make a case that this was old-fashioned bribery, the Duke Cunningham variety, in which a Congressman personally benefits from an interested party in return for an official favor.

The money we're talking about here was paid to Doolittle's wife's consulting company. And the more you look at that arrangement, the more it's clear that this $14,400 is just the tip of the iceberg. There was a lot more money coming into Julie Doolittle. We just don't know how much.

Let's break it down.

Julie Doolittle has a consulting firm called Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions. Two of her clients are her husband's leadership PAC and campaign, for which she does fundraising. She gets a 15% commission on contributions. Doolittle's hilarious justification for paying her on commission is that she has to work for her money, "because if you don't raise any money you don't get paid." So we're supposed to think of this little arrangement as a high-minded application of free market principles. Keep in mind that Doolittle is in a securely Republican district and that he sits on the Appropriations Committee. This is not a man who's been in danger of losing his seat; fundraising is not much of a task. According to the SDUT- and I find this hard to believe - he outraised his last opponent by $935,907 to $2,300.

So this was in effect free money. Doolittle was in a very strong position to raise funds. By his own admission, his wife even got a cut of contributions resulting from his fundraising calls - all she had to do was bring him the list.

And let's not forget here that Abramoff, his associates and clients gave Doolittle some $140,000 in contributions since 1999. How much did Julie Doolittle get of that?

But it gets fishier.

Doolittle has said that he is not his wife's major client. But the SDUT reports that she's gotten $180,000 in commissions since late 2001 - so she brings in around $60,000 a year from just his business, even though he's supposedly a minor client. Neither Doolittle nor his wife will say who those other clients are, and as Josh points out, of the only other three that we know about, two are Jack Abramoff's restaurant and charity, and the other is connected to Ed Buckham, another player in the Abramoff scandal.

So all of Julie Doolittle's other business we know about just points to a more direct means of paying the Doolittles.

Buckham, in addition to working closely with Abramoff, was Wilkes' lobbyist. And according to the SDUT, Julie Doolittle was working in Buckham's office when Doolittle met Wilkes. She was doing "bookkeeping" for one of Buckham's non-profits there. It's never been reported how much she was paid for this. Buckham's firm Alexander Strategy Group paid Tom DeLay's wife Christine $3,200/month for her work for them. How much was Julie Doolittle getting?

Also never reported is how much Abramoff paid Julie Doolittle. You might call it suspicious that one of her jobs for Abramoff was planning an event that never occurred.

It's pretty amazing to think of what a jack of all trades this Julie Doolittle is. She did fundraising for Doolittle, bookkeeping for Buckham, and "public relations and other event planning services" for Abramoff. It almost seems like the job description was an afterthought, wouldn't you say?

The more you look into this, the more it stinks, stinks, stinks. Just how much money was Julie Doolittle getting from Wilkes, Buckham, and Abramoff? And how much longer can Doolittle get away with not telling?

You knew that we'd gone a little too long without any new muck on Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA). Well, today's San Diego Union-Tribune delivers.

Through his wife, Doolittle pocketed nearly $15,000 from his campaign contributions from Brent Wilkes, a key figure in the Cunningham bribery scandal, the SDUT is reporting this morning.

From his seat on the Appropriations Committee, Doolittle helped steer $37 million in contracts to one of Wilkes' companies for a technology the Pentagon never asked for -- in return, Doolittle got a hefty amount in contributions: $118,000 from Wilkes and his associates between 2002 and 2005. That's more than Wilkes steered toward any other member of Congress, including Cunningham.

Doolittle is also under investigation for his connections to the Abramoff scandal. And it's beginning to look like it's going to be a really close call on which scandal ends up worse for Doolittle - Abramoff or Cunningham. More soon.

Some days it's hard to catch a break.

Just ask former GOP operative James Tobin, recently convicted on charges stemming from a scheme to jam the NH Democratic party's phones in 2002. On Friday, Tobin's lawyers argued to have his harrassment conviction thrown out -- but the judge has so far declined to do so.

As you recall, on the eve of the 2002 election Tobin and other New Hampshire GOP campaign workers jammed the state Democratic party and the local firemen's union get-out-the-vote phones.

Three men, including Tobin, have already been convicted. A fourth has yet to be indicted -- federal prosecutors have said they know just the fellow who deserves it, but so far haven't named him.

This morning, the Washington Post reports conclusively that Secret Service personnel did not falsely portray themselves as journalists while doing advance work in a Mississippi town Bush was set to visit. An earlier article from a local paper suggested this was the case.

No, it was instead "two government employees" who first impersonated journalists from FOX News, and then impersonated the Secret Service.

Jerry Akins, the Mississippean who was the butt of the joke, had told the Biloxi Sun-Herald two days ago that he had "assumed" the two men were Secret Service, after they showed him "blue porcelain lapel pins" and a third man confirmed they were "with the Presidential entourage."

Akins' recollection seems to have improved since then. As he tells the Post now, the two men said they were Secret Service:

"[A]fter everything was over with, [the two "journalists"] approached us and they were laughing, and they said: 'You know, we really weren't with Fox. We're government, Secret Service men.'"

Now, impersonating a journalist is highly unethical and puts working journalists in jeopardy. But impersonating a federal officer -- a Secret Service agent -- is, I believe, a federal offense.

The Post quotes a White House spokesperson who assures us the administration "will discipline two government employees who masqueraded as journalists[.]" What will it do if they did in fact pose as Secret Service members?

Tom DeLay's replacement as House Majority Leader has spent nearly six months on privately-funded trips over the past six years.

According to a new study by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) flew 45 times on corporate jets whose owners had business before Congress.

The Washington Post reports further:

Boehner accepted 42 privately sponsored trips from January 2000 to December 2005. That put him on the road to other countries and "golfing hotspots," often with his wife, Debbie, for about half a year, "only nine days of which he listed as being 'at personal expense,' " the center said.

However, to travel in the manner of a Fortune 100 CEO, Boehner had to forego earning a bucket of frequent flyer miles with his favorite commercial airlines -- a "personal expense" the CPI study doesn't include.

Remember, those miles aren't just redeemable for air travel anymore. You can get spa treatments, luggage`-- even Starbucks gift cards. That's not easy to give up!

The Defense Department built a giant database of "geospatial" information, including data on churches, mosques, schools and other locations in the United States, Knight Ridder reports tonight from its Washington bureau.

The work was performed by MZM Inc., the company once owned by Mitchell Wade, who has admitted to several felony counts of bribery and conspiracy in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandal.

The Pentagon built the database at its Counterintelligence Field Activities office, known as CIFA, which has made headlines for recording protest activities by U.S. citizens. Its mission is to protect defense facilities against foreign terrorists and spies.

As we reported on March 7th, crooked defense contractor Mitchell Wade's MZM, Inc. got three contracts from the White House for "intelligence services" in 2004. That seemed odd to us, since this was with the Executive Office of the President, i.e. the White House complex, whose budget requirements generally reflect the logistical needs of a large office. What "intelligence services" did they want that couldn't be fulfilled by the various intelligence and security agencies designed to provide them?

One question in particular stood out: how common is this? Just how many contracts has the White House given out for "intelligence services?"

The answer? Four. And three were to Mitchell Wade's MZM.

Our search of the Federal Procurement Data System, going back to the beginning of the Bush administration, returns only one other contractor who got a contract for "Intelligence Services" from the White House.

That one went to Pushkin Operational Consultants, Inc. (POC), a small contractor based in Pembroke Pines, Florida owned by Matthew Pushkin. POC's contract for $247,060 was signed August 13th, 2004 and lasted through May 31st of 2005. The only other indication of the nature of the contract is that POC classifies its industry as "Administrative Management and General Management Consulting Services."

Several factors suggest that POC may have been working with MZM on the same project. Wade's contracts with the White House, for instance, worth a total of $254,437, started about the same time as Pushkin's - all in the Summer of '04. And one of Wade's 3 contracts also ended the same day as Pushkin's - May 31st, 2005.

Making their collaboration more likely, POC's business, like MZM's, was information systems. The Federal Procurement Data System shows that POC's other work (3 contracts worth $687,140.13) was for the Federal Technology Service, a government agency that provides IT and telecommunications services to various federal agencies.

He did not return our calls seeking comment.

So what does this tell us?

MZM's intelligence work for the White House, which began in the summer of 2004 and ended on July 22nd, 2005, just after Wade's involvement in the Cunningham scandal broke, was close to unprecedented. The Bush White has a history of 'stovepiping' intelligence and generally going outside proper channels in the field of intelligence. Given Wade's status as a convicted felon, his unique role as an intelligence contractor directly to the White House certainly raises questions.

As we've been telling you, Wade's company, MZM, was involved in some pretty shady stuff. Just what was this contract for? Was it related to the Iranian Democratization Foundation Wade established shortly before he received the contract? And how did MZM, whose owner is known to have bribed at least one congressman to obtain contracts, land this contract?

In Gautier, MS, U.S. Secret Service agents posed as FOX journalists when doing advance security surveillance in preparation for a presidential visit, the Biloxi Sun-Herald newspaper reports. They sure fooled local homeowner Jerry Akins!

Akins said he saw no problem with what happened and the government agents laughed about their fooling him. In the long run, he said, he'd rather have had a visit from the president than be on a segment of Fox News, anyway.

Oh, ha ha. Ashton Kutcher would be proud.

Update: Reader WV points out no one could positively identify the men as Secret Service, and there is a chance they could be volunteers, White House staff, or some other civilian component of the president's entourage.