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

"Cardinals" Try to Rein In Earmarks

House appropriations chiefs are doing the reform dance -- limiting the number of earmarks a lawmaker can insert to ten. That's less than half of 25, the average number of earmarks per legislator in recent years. That's still 4,350 earmarks too many.

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We've known for a while that Mitchell Wade's bribery scheme won him contracts with the Pentagon.

But now we've discovered that Wade's company, MZM Inc., had at least one contract with an intelligence office inside the Department of Energy, according to a document obtained by

Wade pleaded guilty two weeks ago to several felony counts of bribery and conspiracy. He was a key player in the corruption scandal of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), who took $2.4 million from contractors, MZM's Wade foremost among them, in exchange for government contracts.

To date, MZM's involvement with the Energy Department has not been reported.

But an invoice we obtained shows MZM performed "support services" to the agency's Office of Counterintelligence.

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As you know, Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-KS) Senate intelligence committee has been sitting on the "phase two" of its inquiry into WMD Iraqi intel for two years now -- the part that's supposed to look into whether the White House overstated the intelligence when making its case for war.

Roberts popped his head up two days ago to say his team was "making progress" on the report -- an odd announcement for a couple reasons. First, the matter's been out of sight and mind for most Americans; with the situation in Iraq worsening and the president's poll numbers plummeting, why bring back an old nightmare?

Second -- it's been two years, chief. Everybody knows if it was up to Roberts this would have been dropped long ago. Who is he kidding?

Here's the scuttlebutt: Democrats on the committee were preparing to make public complaints about Roberts' continued foot-dragging, and the chairman made the announcement as a pre-emptory strike. (Big surprise, the Dems wouldn't call back to confirm. Neither would Roberts' office.)

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So it looks like we're going to have one more round of journalists fighting subpoenas in the Plame case. The Times reports today that Scooter Libby's attorneys have subpoenaed Judy Miller and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, Matt Cooper of Time, and Tim Russert of NBC. According to the Times, Miller's lawyer will be fighting her subpoena.

Lost in all of the reporting about former domestic policy advisor Claude Allen's trouble with the law is his remarkable political career, which got going with his work as spokesman for Sen. Jesse Helms' re-election campaign in 1984 and reached its height with his position as the abstinence czar in the Department of Health and Human Services during Bush's first term. Much more on that later in the day.

But back in 1984, when Allen was still a freshfaced GOPer, he hadn't quite mastered the art of understatement, code-speak and spin that a right-wing operative needs to do his work. During the campaign in '84, a reporter from the Greensboro News-Record called to ask him about Helms' strategy; he replied that Helms' opponent was vulnerable because of his links "with the queers." He went on:

We could expound on and undertake a campaign against Jim Hunt's [Helms' opponent] connections with the homosexuals, the labor union connection, the radical feminist connection, the socialist connection.... We could go back and do the same thing with the queers.

Now, Allen went up for a judgeship in 2003, and during the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Feingold (D-WI) used the opportunity to ask him about this little indiscretion. Allen's defense? This may sound familiar - it was all a big misunderstanding. He'd been misquoted:

"I said, 'I'd been on the campaign for two years and I have seen a lot of very strange, abnormal, out-of-the-ordinary individuals and groups working across the campaign, sir.'

And, in fact, I did use the word queer. I used the word queer, in my mind, I think at the time, in the dictionary, it was described as odd, out of the ordinary, unusual. I did not use the word as a pejorative; I did not use the word to denigrate any individual or any group.

More later on Allen's political career.

Over on, Josh noted that the administration is being pushed to hire former Congressman Fred Thompson, whose gravitas and experience could stabilize a White House that's begun to list sharply.

Thompson's gravitas and experience are already in use, however -- on the hit television series Law and Order, where he plays District Attorney Arthur Branch. And as was noted previously, one of the Law and Order shows (Criminal Intent) is going to be investigating the brutal murder of a Secret Service agent, which spreads into an investigation of the Abramoff affair, although it's TV so they don't call it the Abramoff affair.

Conflict of interest? Thompson doesn't actually act on Criminal Intent, so any information discovered in the course of shooting the show (photos of TV-Abramoff and TV-Bush?) probably aren't relevant. And he would not have to TV-recuse himself from any TV-prosecution that might touch the TV-White House.

But he's got one possible disqualifier: Having become accustomed to Law and Order's "ripped from the headlines" scripts, Thompson is probably used to working with material that's more closely based on reality than the stuff the White House reads off of, most days. Could he make the transition?

Jefferson, Bloody but Unbowed

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) may be under federal investigation for swapping favors for African telecommunications companies in exchange for stock and jobs for his family members. But he's carrying about his business as normal, Roll Call assures us. (Jefferson has said he is "disappointed and somewhat perplexed" by the allegations.)

In the last few weeks, Jefferson has held a fundraiser at the DNC, spoken at press conferences, even led a congressional delegation to his home district, the paper reports. (Roll Call)

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On FOX News Channel's Hannity and Colmes, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) tells America she's not just staying in her Senate race, she's staking millions from her personal fortune on it.

"I'm in this race, and I'm going to win," she tells host Sean Hannity, who interviewed the Congresswoman sans his liberal sidekick, Alan Colmes.

Raising the image of her father's death -- "Sean, you were there that day," she tells Hannity -- Harris says, "he gave us a legacy of living a life of integrity."

Harris said she was putting everything - her future, her reputation, "my father's name" and "legacy," $10 million of her inheritance, into her campaign.

Harris hired a top-gun lawyer two weeks ago, after she was named as a recipient of illegal campaign donations from MZM Inc. CEO Mitchell Wade, who has pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy. Harris attempted to insert a funding earmark that would benefit MZM -- but she missed the deadline to get it included in the appropriations bill.

On H&C, Harris says she is spending her complete inheritance on the race in order to create "a referendum on reform and ethics."

Of Wade's contributions, Harris says "I didn't [know]" they were illegal. "He was a bad guy."

Do you remember back in January when there was all that hysteria about that Jack Abramoff character? The House Republicans rushed to the microphones (beating the Democrats by a couple of days) in order to present their lobbying reform plan. Speaker Dennis Hastert said serious things like:

I think we need to tighten even further the gift rules. A Member of Congress should be able to accept a ball cap or a t-shirt from the proud students at a local middle school, but he or she doesn't need to be taken to lunch or dinner by a lobbyist... I think members can probably function very well in this town without having to go out lunch with a lobbyist or to dinner with a lobbyist. They can pay for it for themselves, they have means to be able to do that, if that's what we have to do.

How times have changed. Now the Abramoff investigation seems to be in a lull, the public is concentrating on other things, and so today the House Republicans revealed their new and improved lobbying reform proposal. No more talk of banning gifts and meals - now the tough measure is that lobbyists would be responsible for disclosing them. And they've hit on the genius stroke of using this opportunity to go after 527 organizations, political groups like MoveOn that have been very effective for the Democrats (and for Republicans - think Swift Boat Vets - though less so). As the AP puts it, "More recently, Republicans strategists have expressed concern about the efforts by Soros and others to boost Democratic prospects in the congressional midterm elections."

So they've done away with one of the pillars of their reform effort they made so much noise about in January and tacked on a measure that's a transparently political gambit. Crafty. Let's see if that's noticed in any of the papers' coverage tomorrow morning.

As I mentioned yesterday, the pressure's building on Grover Norquist, an even more significant player in the Republican machine than Jack Abramoff.

But I didn't go into detail on how he collected his fees for laundering money for Jack's tribal clients (why the laundering? Because Ralph Reed didn't want it to be known who he was working for). Norquist's non-profit, Americans for Tax Reform, made a pretty penny on the transactions - at least $60,000 that we know of.

There's one transaction that's particularly sketchy, and which Norquist has never adequately explained. In early 2000, Abramoff was trying to funnel money to Reed in order for him to start one of his anti-gambling jihads down in Alabama - the Mississippi Choctaw were footing the bill. The Choctaw's money went to Reed (through ATR) in three payments of $300,000. Of the first $300,000, Abramoff wrote Reed in an email, "I need to give Grover something for helping, so the first transfer will be a bit lighter." ATR then wrote a check for $275,000 - so $25,000 was Grover's fee. But it seems Abramoff thought that fee would apply for the total of the money funneled through ATR, so when Grover took another $25,000 off the second payment of $300,000, Abramoff wrote to himself in an email, "Grover kept another $ 25K!" If Abramoff wasn't totally expecting Grover to keep this money, it's hard to believe that the Indians were.

When Time asked him about this last year, Norquist vaguely replied that he had permission: "He says a Choctaw representative--he can't remember who-- instructed him on two occasions to keep $ 25,000 of the money for his group."

If the CREW complaint results in an IRS investigation, and the Senate Finance Committee really starts asking questions in their investigation of Abramoff's shenanigans with non-profits, Norquist is going to have to sharpen up his answers. From the pieces out today, it appears that he's decided to hunker down and wait out the storm following the complaint. Usually talkative, he didn't respond to requests for comment, although ATR has promised an "official" reaction later. Can't wait.