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

The ACLU has posted to the web FBI documents detailing its surveillance of a nonviolent peace group in Pittsburgh, PA. A representative sample, dated Nov. 29, 2002:

The Thomas Merton Center. . . is a left-wing organization advocating, among many political causes, pacifism.

TMC holds daily leaflet distribution activities in downtown Pittsburgh and is currently focused on its opposition to the potential war with Iraq.

The report is about as outrageous as any Communists-under-the-floorboards dispatch from the Hoover era. But the real outrage is that it was written just a year out from the 9/11 attacks. Remember, tips were still pouring in about possible terrorist activities from all sources. We were still heeding warnings of a shadowy enemy who could strike at any time.

Amid that climate of immediate fear, at least one FBI special agent was assigned to spending several hours surveilling a political group, taking notes, and typing up reports on what he or she saw.

With Washington's ops centers and situation rooms still reeling with the very real concern of another terrorist attack, how could someone assign an agent several hours of watching (and writing about) a nonviolent political group? How many leads could that agent have run down, if political surveillance was not the priority of his or her superiors?

Then I saw an email from reader MM -- and keep in mind, this is all before my first coffee of the day -- which quoted RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman's latest note to supporters:

"Our President has no more basic responsibility than to protect the American people and fight terrorists who want to kill us. . . . Democrat leaders never miss an opportunity to put politics before our nation's security. Make your voice heard. Tell Democrat leaders to stop playing politics with national security."

I couldn't help but wonder: if an FBI agent got assigned to tail Ken Mehlman, what would the report read like?

Tax Cheats Making Millions off Federal Government

Over 3,800 companies won contracts with the federal government despite owing a total of $1.4 billion in taxes, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee revealed yesterday.

It takes a special sort of CEO to get the government as a client even though he owes it money. But, as the panel pointed out, it takes a truly rare individual who will then use his profits to buy himself a fancy car, a new boat, or a million-dollar property. (USA Today)

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Yesterday, Roll Call had a story that Justice Department investigators had gone down to the House and Senate to pull certain lawmakers' financial disclosure records. A number of those members we knew to be in trouble - Abramoff investigation luminaries like Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). No surprises there - although it makes it that much harder for them to claim that rumor of their investigation is just a liberal conspiracy. (Burns' spokesman gets a brownie point for some excellent spin here - saying the DoJ poring over Burns' records is "good news for us," since the earlier Burns is investigated, the earlier he'll be cleared.) A number of Burns' aides, a DeLay aide, and a Doolittle aide also came up - again, no surprise there.

But, according to the piece, there was a handful of lawmakers that didn't make sense. They were: Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), as well as Del. Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa). What was the DoJ looking for? Paul Kane, the reporter at Roll Call, didn't have a good reason, and neither did any of those lawmakers' offices.

But it's actually not so mysterious.

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The "Evil Twin" defense? One big misunderstanding? Claude Allen's lawyers are going to have to work harder than that.

The Washington Post reported today that Claude Allen admitted that he was committing fraudulent returns when he was initially caught by a store manager. They cited a "charging document."

Well, we have the charging document here. Read it for yourself. It makes for a pretty devastating case against Allen, since he was caught on video making the returns - and this can be matched up with his credit card records.

On Claude's admission, the document reads "Allen had receipts from previous purchases at Target stores and admitted to Agent Schomburg [a "Target loss prevention manager," according to the Post] that he was committing fraudulent returns."

Seems pretty clear to me.

Well, it appears that we'll have to wait a little later for our first trial of the Abramoff scandal. The trial date for David Safavian, the administration official indicted for lying about his ties to Abramoff, has been pushed back from April 3rd to April 18th. So says the Grand Ole Docket.

For quite awhile, Grover Norquist has stood blithely in the eye of the hurricane as his pals Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed have been swept up in bad publicity. Maybe that's changing. As we noted below, the Senate Finance Committee is ramping up their investigation of Abramoff's sham charities. They will no doubt be giving Grover's Americans for Tax Reform a hard look.

And today CREW filed a complaint with the IRS - pointing out that it's not exactly in ATR's mission statement to be a money-laundering operation for Jack Abramoff. Ask not for whom the bell tolls? Oh, but if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that Grover will NOT go easily.

For those eager for all the gruesome details, we have a rundown of Grover's shenanigans with Abramoff here.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has in the past taken a hard line against unethical shenanigans by public officials -- which is why we were shocked to learn from Vanity Fair that he had assisted corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff in hatcheting a senior administration official, for the benefit of Abramoff's clients.

Over at TPM, Josh asked readers to send in their favorite Mehlman specimens of bamboozlement. Here they are.

Mehlman has long been clear that people like him should be taken to task. From the "His Own Advice is His Best Advice" Category:

On public trust: "The public trust is more important than party, which is why the first solution to the problem is rooting out those who have done wrong without regard to party or ideology....Public service is a sacred trust, and we cannot allow it to be sullied by anyone . . . Democrat or Republican."

On the evils of power: "One of the oldest lessons in history is that power corrupts....And if we are to learn from that particular lesson of history, then we must take a stand, right here, right now, against corruption."

Agreed on all points. But when the hit piece on Sen. Harry Reid (R-NV) came down from the AP, Mehlman was the first to wag the finger:

"You can say, 'I'm going to politically posture,' or you can say, 'This is about people who did wrong things and are being held accountable,'" he said.

"But it's hypocritical to say, 'This is a Republican scandal,' when the things Republicans are accused of doing are also things (Reid) apparently did," Mehlman continued.

"I'm not going to play guilt-by-association, but if you do play guilt-by-association, the fact that you're more guilty than the people you're accusing is going to come back to haunt you."

Yes, indeed. Finally, there's this finest of specimens of Abramoff ignorance from Mehlman, who shared a Sabbath dinner with him:

"Abramoff is someone who we don't know a lot about. . . We know what we read in the paper." Or in magazines like Vanity Fair, presumably.

Roll Call newspaper notes this morning that the Senate Finance Committee's got its hands on new documents relating to disgraced superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. It's a part of the story worth keeping an eye on, for a couple reasons.

The committee is probing Jack's ties to nonprofits, as well as the involvement and knowledge of Jack's employers, lobby firms Greenberg Traurig and Preston Gates and Ellis, in his corruption. To date, those firms have largely dodged the bullet, pleading ignorance of Jack's misdeeds. But scandal-watchers say that's hard to swallow. We'll be following up on that in the future (if the Finance Committee doesn't beat us to it.)

Also worth noting: the Finance Committee is chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who's in the habit of keeping talented investigators on his staff. If he sets them on the Abramoff case in earnest, there's no telling what they will unearth.

That said, Grassley isn't committing to public hearings, which means he may want to keep some of the good stuff under wraps. That's understandable -- all roads from Jack lead eventually to lawmakers' offices. Who wants to be the guy whose committee hearings bring down a colleague, even if he's tainted? Here's to hoping they'll let the sun shine in.

Ronnie Earle's DeLay Subpoenas Thrown Out

Ronnie Earle, the Travis County prosecutor in Texas who indicted Tom DeLay on money laundering charges, has been engaged in a litigation war with DeLay's attorneys ever since that indictment. Yesterday, DeLay's side won one battle when an appeals court ruled that Earle should have stopped issuing subpoenas back in December - the case was halted then in order to hear an appeal on one of the disputed charges against DeLay.

So all those subpoenas issued over the past few months - to DeLay's various and sundry associates, to associates of crooked defense contractor Brent Wilkes - are null and void. This doesn't mean that Earle can't go back and subpoena these people later after the appeals process is sorted out, but it does mean that there will be no more news from his investigation until March 22nd, when the appeals court will hear arguments on that disputed charge against DeLay. (Houston Chronicle, AP)

Katherine Harris Speculation Update

No one knows quite what her major announcement this week will be - whether she'll drop out of the race for Senate or not, but here's a fresh suggestion that seems to be credible. From the Times:

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Over on, Josh observes a bizarre twist to the case of sticky-fingered White House aide Claude Allen: he may have an evil twin, who used his identity in his scam:

As you know, we've been following the bizarre case of Claude Allen, former top advisor to President Bush who was arrested a few days ago and booked and charges stemming from a lengthy shoplifting spree.

Now, here late this evening I got an email from TPM Reader WH who directed my attention to today's All Things Considered on NPR in which Michele Norris interviews Michael Fletcher, a reporter with the Post who's been covering the story.

Now, right at about 1:40 into the interview comes this exchange ...

Norris: We should note something, Michael. Apparently Claude Allen has a twin brother?

Fletcher: Yes, he does. He has an identical twin brother who even close friends can’t tell them apart when they see them. And people have seen him and close friends say that Mr. Allen has indicated to them that maybe his brother holds the key to this entire puzzling affair.

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