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

We mentioned in the Daily Muck this morning that the FBI is investigating top Air Force officials for improperly steering a $49 million publicity contract to a buddy. Turns out the buddy has some interesting qualifications.

Ed Shipley is the former Navy man who "won" the contract, even though his bid was $25 million higher than the rest. But he was clearly the best man for the job, as our colleagues at reveal: from 1988 to 1992, Shipley produced and directed Richard Simmons' "Sweatin' to the Oldies" videos.

Here's a curious strategy for you: While the GOP is battered by a massive ethics scandal in the House intelligence committee, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) is planning to give that panel's top Democratic post to a guy with a checkered ethics background.

That's right: Pelosi wants to replace House Intel Committee Ranking Member Jane Harman (CA) with Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), who "was forced to surrender his job as a federal judge after being indicted in 1981 on bribery charges," as the LA Times reports it. He beat the rap, but "was impeached in 1988 by the House for conspiracy and making false statement" in connection to the case.

Why, it's almost as bad as giving the Democrat's top seat on the House ethics committee to a fellow who's been funnelling half a billion dollars to his friends and pet charities.

(Hat tip to Steve Clemons, Laura Rozen)

After the reams of bad press the Republican National Committee's gotten for covering millions in legal bills for anti-democratic felons, Ed Gillespie, the RNC's former chair, is attempting to fall on his sword and take the blame.

But he keeps missing.

The more he tries to explain that he alone is to blame for the decision, the more it becomes apparent that he had at least tacit approval from the White House.

Here's his latest:

The former chairman of the Republican National Committee remembers telling someone at the White House that he had decided to have the RNC pay the legal defense bills for convicted phone-jamming conspirator James Tobin, but he can’t remember who.

Ed Gillespie told the New Hampshire Union Leader yesterday he informed the White House after he decided to authorize payment.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Gillespie told its reporter that he had “informed the White House, without seeking formal approval, before authorizing the payments.”

Gillespie told the Union Leader the two accounts were “consistent” because he decided to authorize the payments before telling the White House and actually authorized the payments after telling the White House....

Gillespie yesterday told the Union Leader he could not remember who at the White House he informed of his decision to pick up Tobin’s legal bills.

“I’m not going to guess,” he said. “It was years ago, but as a matter of routine, I would have told somebody over there.”

If someone at the White House had expressed displeasure with his decision, Gillespie said, “It was too late. I had made the decision and they were not involved in it.” [Emphasis added.]

So here's the whole story as Gillespie tells it. He made an arbitrary decision that the RNC would cover Tobin's legal bills. Why? Because "it's the custom, not written anywhere, that you covered your people." - (N.B. according to Ken Mehlman, the RNC has since revoked this honorable, unwritten custom: "consulting contracts now explicitly declare that independent contractors must be prepared to pay their own legal costs in civil and criminal cases.") Having made that decision, he then informed someone at the White House, he can't remember who, that he was going to abide by this unwritten rule. But this was just a heads up, a courtesy, not a dialogue. It was non-negotiable.

Sound funny to you?

Okay, we've had a lot of fun with the Department of Homeland Security's justifications for hiring Shirlington Limousine Company, the outfit at the center of Hookergate which DHS awarded a $22 million contract to ferry its people around. But there's just one more tidbit I gotta throw out there.

According to DHS, hiring Shirlington was a good idea because in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency, the fleet of executive limos they drive can help get top DHS officials to safety.

In bureaucrat-speak: "[the sedans] provide an additional transportation capacity in the event of a Continuity of Operations (COOP) or other emergent situation[.]"

A "COOP situation" is any event which triggers the department's "Continuity of Operations Plan." Those plans used to be for responding to a Soviet nuclear attack, but have since been adapted to handle all manner of dirty bombings, 9/11-style plane hijackings, chem-bio attacks, and other major emergencies.

So if you were worried about how DHS was keeping its operations running, don't! They're betting Shirlington Limo will provide the limos to get them to their secret bunkers before the lethal gas/crumbling buildings/terrorist bullets get them.

Update: An earlier version of this post implied the limousines belonged to Shirlington. Studying the contract, it appears DHS leases the limos directly; Shirlington merely provides the drivers.

Top Air Force brass said to be under FBI probe The U.S. Air Force's highest-ranking officer and his predecessor are the subjects of an FBI investigation into the handling of a $49.9 million dollar contract for the Thunderbirds, an air demonstration squadron, ABC News reported on Thursday. The network quoted law enforcement officials as saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating allegations that Gen. Michael Moseley and Gen. John Jumper helped to steer a Thunderbird contract to a friend, retired Air Force Gen. Hal Hornburg. (Reuters)

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From the AP:

Lawmakers railed against security gaps at the Homeland Security Department on Thursday, demanding to know why a man now charged with sex offenses had access to classified information and a convicted felon's limousine company was paid millions of dollars to chauffeur top officials.

Two Homeland Security officials and the associate director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management who sat through two hours of grilling largely portrayed the department as victim to a few bad employees and constraining contracting rules.

We'll have the transcript for you as soon as it's available.

I spoke with Marc Ash yesterday - he's the Executive Director of, and the editor who's been working with Jason Leopold on his stories about how Bush adviser Karl Rove has been indicted; that Rove privately told President Bush he would be resigning; and that Fitzgerald met with Rove's lawyer for 15 hours last Friday.

Leopold's stories were long received with silence from both the mainstream and alternative press; as the days go by and no indictment has been forthcoming, what coverage has emerged has been questioning, if not derisive, about Truthout's coverage.

Truthout and Ash have stood by Leopold's reporting. Relying as he does almost completely on anonymous sources, I wondered if Leopold shared his sources' identities with his editor. So I asked Ash if he knew the identities of Leopold's sources. "I do," he told me. Have you spoken with any of them? "I have," Ash said. "I work with Jason on all sourcing, on all of his pieces, prior to publication."

Keeping an editor in the loop on the identities of confidential sources helps ensure reporters don't make up "sources" out of whole cloth -- which some have come close to accusing Leopold of doing for these stories. It's not a foolproof safeguard -- serial fabricator Steven Glass found ways around the practice (for a time) at The New Republic. But it helps, if only by staking two more reputations -- Ash's and's -- on Leopold's reporting.

Here's government efficiency for you: At the Department of Homeland Security, it costs at least $200 to process a voucher for an $8 cab ride.

So says DHS official Elaine Duke. She uses the factoid to bolster her argument that it's smart for her agency's officials to use limos on contract instead of calling for taxis whenever they leave their office:

The use of taxi service requires the submission and processing of a local travel voucher in order for the traveler to claim reimbursement. This 'back office' processing is conservatively estimated to cost at least $200 per voucher[.]

That's your national security budget at work!

The Department of Homeland Security came up with some answers to Congressional questions about its contract with Shirlington Limousine Company, the checkered-past outfit that's alleged to have played a key role moving lawmakers and prostitutes around on behalf of Brent Wilkes and his poker parties. Everything's fine, they say. Nothing to see here. Move along.

A quick grain of salt: the response was written by Elaine Duke, the DHS Chief Procurement Officer, which runs the agency's contracting operations. She was deputy CPO when the office gave Shirlington the contract. So her answers can be fairly expected to tilt towards vindication. An inspector general's investigation, it ain't.

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Here's a mind-blower: a key lawmaker involved in formulating the GOP's immigration bill said "it was the White House that had requested two controversial felony provisions in the bill the House passed last winter," the AP reports.

But -- wait. Didn't the GOP insist that the Democrats wanted to make undocumented immigration a felony? (The answer is yes.)