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

The desperate search for someone, anyone to oppose Katherine Harris for the Republican nomination has failed.

I noticed in the NCTimes Cunningham piece today that Brent Wilkes, the alleged Cunningham briber at the center of Hookergate, has traded up in legal representation, from his original San Diego-based lawyer.

He's now represented by Nancy Luque, a tough former federal prosecutor who's now a high-priced D.C.defense attorney. (Wilkes' company is reportedly near-defunct, but he recently borrowed $1.5 million against his house in February.)

Here's how Washingtonian magazine described Luque in 2004:

There is no more loyal defender of her clients than Luque, a vivacious native Californian. In the best tradition of criminal lawyers like Clarence Darrow, one of her heroes, Luque loves to fight for the underdog and the unpopular cause. She represented convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and, more recently, Muslim individuals and organizations in Northern Virginia accused by the Justice Department of helping fund alleged terrorist organizations. You don't hire Luque for just a case—once she’s on your side, it's usually for life.

Did Wilkes choose her for her credentials? No doubt. But it can't hurt that she's a "California native," like he is -- and the two attended San Diego State University together. (No word yet on whether they knew each other.)

The latest from the crack security experts at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.: a sanitation worker found a White House staff schedule for the President's trip to Florida Tuesday "long hours" before he left:

The documents details the exact arrival and departure time for Air Force One, Marine One and the back up choppers, Nighthawk 2 and Three.

It lists every passenger on board each aircraft, from the President to military attaché with nuclear football. It offers the order of vehicles in the President's motorcade.

See portions of the schedule here.

This thing is huge -- that's the word from Rick Gwin, the Pentagon's top investigator into the massive fraud perpetrated by former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and his unindicted co-conspirators. He spoke with the North County Times yesterday:

"This is much bigger and wider than just Randy 'Duke' Cunningham," he said. "All that has just not come out yet, but it won't be much longer and then you will know just how widespread this is."

He also complained that Duke -- now serving an eight-year-and-ten-month prison term -- isn't helping like he should:

"In my opinion, he has not been cooperative and I have not gotten any information from him to further develop other targets," Gwin said in a telephone interview from his office in Mission Viejo. I was hoping that from a jail cell, he might become more cooperative, but we just don't have the cooperation that I think we should have."

For those of you contest entrants looking for the latest speculation:

A Bush loyalist told the Daily News: "There are a bunch of visits, (but) he didn't get into the West Wing very often."

So the smart money's keeping its guesses in the "bunch" range.

I wrote yesterday about how former MZM executive James C. King, a onetime aide to former NSA chief Michael Hayden, participated in two campaign "straw donor" scams on behalf of his company, according to government records. Basically, he wrote checks to candidates at the direction of MZM head Mitchell Wade, and Wade immediately reimbursed him in cash.

I wondered, if King was considered a lawbreaker, why had he apparently escaped punishment? I called oft-quoted political finance expert Brett Kappel, or Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, and put it to him.

Read More →

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), dead man running.

Ney might think that he's master of his own destiny, but Republican leaders have been somewhat, er, equivocal in their support of late. And it may just be a matter of time before he goes the way of Tom DeLay. Let the nudging begin!

The ultimate decision might be up to Ney but that doesn't mean GOP leaders aren't actively considering the possibility that he will be indicted and that they may need to push him out the door.

Several leadership sources said that no one in the leadership has approached Ney yet, although they are paying close attention to the situation.

"This is really up to [Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH)]," said a senior Republican aide. "He's a member of the Ohio delegation, and it would be on him to go to Ney if anyone does."

The aide expected that Hastert and Boehner would "hold some discussions" regarding Ney, possibly as early as Tuesday, although it was unclear if and when any member of the GOP hierarchy will raise this issue directly with Ney.

That hesitation could disappear quickly if Ney was indicted and his campaign appeared to be unwinnable.

"If the Democrats are going to use the indictment against him, and his polling numbers plummet, and we're in danger of losing the seat, then he should absolutely step down for the good of the party," said a Republican leadership aide, who cautioned that the situation would have to deteriorate significantly before that would occur.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said his boss is "not going to engage in hypotheticals" about what he would do if he were indicted.

Read More →

We've found another curious link between an old Goss staffer and the expanding Wilkes/Cunningham/Foggo scandal.

We've been hearing a lot about this guy "Nine Fingers," a CIA veteran who was a regular at Brent Wilkes' poker parties. On Sunday, Newsweek identified him as Brant Bassett, who had a career at the CIA before he went to work as a staffer for then-chairman Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) at the House Intelligence Committee in 2000.

Well, now here's another weird thing about Bassett: Just before he went to work for Goss at the committee, Brent Wilkes cut him a check for $5000. It's right there on his financial disclosure forms. In fact, his forms actually show two payments -- but it seems he may have reported the same check twice.

What was the money for? Even Brant didn't seem completely sure. First he called it an "honorarium," then he crossed that out on the disclosure form and wrote "consulting fee."

Our calls to Bassett, Wilkes' lawyer and to the committee weren't immediately returned.

Update: Harper's blog has more on Nine Fingers and Wilkes. "Bassett and Wilkes know each other and have ties that go beyond the merely social," Ken Silverstein writes.

So tomorrow's the day. After stonewalling for months, the Secret Service has been ordered to turn over their records of Jack Abramoff's visits to the White House by May 10.

So what's the final tally going to be? Come on, take a guess - you can play at home. The TPMmuckraker reader who nails it first will be rewarded with the envy of the blogosphere and his/her choice of TPMm memorabilia (which ranges from mug to T-shirt). Just to be clear on the rules: we'll go by Abramoff's total recorded entrances to the White House - and if no one guesses the exact number, we'll go with the closest. Write us at with the subject line "Abramoff Visits the White House." The entry deadline will be when the Secret Service releases the records, which could be at any time tomorrow.

To aid you in your guesswork, you can consult the newest addition to our reference section.

Really, it's anyone's guess at this point. Last week Scott McClellan hinted that the records will not have records of all of Abramoff's White House visits, but no one has been able to decode precisely what he means. When I spoke to Christopher Farrell of Judicial Watch, the organization that filed the suit to release the records, he expressed surprise at McClellan's hedging. "We're operating under the idea that we're getting a complete accounting," he told me. "I would expect that the Secret Service has complete and accurate records that show entries and exits to White House."

I've been trying for a week to get the Secret Service to explain McClellan's comments - since McClellan invited the press to "talk to the Secret Service" for an explanation - but none of my calls have been returned. So it'll have to wait until tomorrow.