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

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a new champion in the ongoing competition between lawmakers to distance themselves from Jack Abramoff.

Up until now, the lamest denial I'd heard was Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's (R-FL) "I wouldn't know the man if I tripped over him." This, however, is just one of many varieties of the "I wouldn't know Abramoff if..." excuse.

Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) stormed into the lead this weekend with the following: "I never met with (Abramoff) in my office."

He never met with him in his office. He was therefore safe from any undue influence. Feel better, Kansas?

Ryun, of course, is still trying to spin his way out of his purchase of the U.S. Family Network's townhouse for tens of thousands of dollars under market price, a story we broke in March. The U.S. Family Network was controlled by Abramoff's close ally Ed Buckham, who's reportedly in the Justice Department's sites. Kansans should be relieved to know that Ryun vows he never met with Buckham in his office, either.

Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) will be making an announcement at 4:30 today in the House office building.

CNN is reporting that he won't be resigning, and his spokeswoman Melanie Roussell only told us that the remarks will deal with "the events of this weekend." His remarks are not prepared, so no one knows quite what to expect.

Here's a little ironic twist that kicked off the jury selection for the trial of David Safavian, the White House official accused of illegally assisting Jack Abramoff.

As you may recall, the Washington Post published the first big piece outing Abramoff's misdeeds. So it was a surprise that the very first jury selectee called for consideration was a Post reporter. What are the odds?

Metro scribbler Del Quentin Wilber was asked if he had formed an opinion of Jack Abramoff. Wilber said he believed the Post's reporting on the man, and thought it was accurate and fair. That was more than enough, I'm sure, to get him bounced from the jury -- although a colleague who was there says the defense tried to get him out before he could be asked a single question.

I spoke briefly with Wilber from his Post office; he confirmed that he was the first picked, but didn't want to comment on the record. Good sport.

For those of you who missed yesterday's news, Texas Travis County Prosecutor Ronnie Earle's decision to bring his appeal of a dropped conspiracy charge all the way to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals means that Tom DeLay's trial is unlikely to begin until the fall.

By then, DeLay will have been out of power for almost a year. Rehashing his shenanigans for a jury will be a stroll down memory lane.

(Ed. Note: I originally erroneously stated that Earle's appeal was with the Texas Supreme Court.)

After an extensive investigation, U.S. News and World Report tells us it has identified the source of the bad ideas spewing out of the White House (see also Spying - Domestic; Torture; Detention - Indefinite; Tribunals - Military; Energy Task Force Documents, Hiding of). Its name is David Addington, a.k.a. "Keyser Soze" (no kidding).

Newsweek found him first, but U.S. News' lengthy takeout on the guy is, well -- Mary Matalin's gushing quotes aside, Addington can consider himself officially taken out.

We at TPMmuckraker have accused Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) of many things, but rest assured we'll never accuse him of being unable to take full advantage of his office.

Today's Roll Call had two gems on Doolittle, the man for whom Vice President Cheney is stumping today, on how he's tried to make the most of (or off) being a Congressman. It seems that before Doolittle thought of raiding his campaign till for personal perks, he tried to get the federal government to foot the bill.

Back in '91, only months after he'd first been elected, Doolittle started agitating for better lawmaker care at taxpayer expense:

Doolittle presented a list of proposals to the House Administration Committee in 1991 that called for Members to receive a per-diem stipend of at least $92 per day; for “a corps of staff to assist the members, to perform routine tasks such as rides to airports, pickups, deliveries, etc;” for “an additional automobile” for each Member to use in Washington, D.C.; and for the government to pay for the moving expenses of lawmakers and their families when they relocate to the nation’s capital....

The Californian’s 1991 list of proposals also called for House Administration to “authorize making fundraising phone calls from the office” and to “allow use of campaign funds to reimburse government for incidental non-government use of equipment such as automobiles, telephones, fax machines, and copy machines, etc., to pay for lunches in House Restaurant, and to pay for equipment, furniture, and decorations in House offices.”

Those proposals were never implemented, and Doolittle apparently never sought to resuscitate them. But his 1991 effort to garner a daily stipend for Members was only his first try on that issue.

In 1999, Doolittle tried again - and failed - to round up support from his colleagues for a per-diem plan. In that case he teamed up with then-House Administration Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) to push for giving Members $125 or $150 per day tax-free to cover living expenses. If the program had been in place in 1998, it would have meant essentially a $15,000 to $18,000 raise for lawmakers.

Doolittle and a handful of colleagues, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), made another effort in 2001 to initiate a per diem, this time advocating $165 for every day the House was in session. Once again, the plan was scuttled by House leaders from both parties worried about the public relations fallout from such a move.

So Doolittle never won his perks. But, fortunately for him, no legislation needs to be passed for him to raid his campaign fund. It paid for a babysitter, a nice little salary for his wife by way of a 15% cut of contributions, and some leftover for his aides. Roll Call also reports today that "[Doolittle's] two top aides, and the spouse of one of them, collectively took in more than $300,000 over five years this decade in consulting fees from Doolittle’s re-election campaign committee and his leadership political action committee."

As we reported back in April, one of those aides has continued to reap the benefits of Doolittle's office even after having left, via another fundraising consulting arrangement. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

The Feds have another big lawmaker in their crosshairs, we learned recently: prosecutors are looking into the dealings of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chair of the House appropriations committee, a longtime Defense porkbarreler and one of the most powerful men in Congress.

Hanging like a loose thread from the tails of stories about Lewis' troubles has been the name of his longtime aide, Letitia White. First as his "gatekeeper," then as a lobbyist for some of his closest corporate friends, White's otherwise unremarkable career reveals the kind of questionable activities that have reportedly drawn the Justice Department's interest: how powerful interests became closely linked in a multi-million-dollar cornucopia of wealth for all involved. Including White.

For over two decades White worked for Lewis, and was reportedly known as his "gatekeeper." His allies were her allies. For instance, Lewis fought for a decade on behalf of San Diego contractor General Atomics, forcing the Pentagon to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on GA's Predator UAV, which the generals didn't want.

In return, General Atomics donated generously to Lewis' campaign and PAC, and hosted at least one fundraiser for Lewis -- along with "Duke" Cunningham, now in jail for corruption, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).

Indeed, some of the sordid details of the Cunningham saga are echoed in GA's bruising Beltway tactics, particularly how defense contractors would work Cunningham over to force the Pentagon to heel. "His goal has always been to sidestep the regular procurement process," Aviation Week reported last year of Tom Cassidy, president of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the GA subsidiary which makes the Predator. "'He threatens general officers with congressional action if they don't pay attention to him,'" the publication quotes an anonymous former Air Force officer saying of the man.

In 2002, General Atomics paid for White and her husband to take a 10-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Italy, at a reported cost of nearly $8,500. It may have made an impression: White left Lewis' employ some months later, on Jan. 8, 2003, to work at the lobby shop of Lewis' old friend, Bill Lowery. (The feds are reportedly probing Lewis' ties to Lowery, his firm and his clients.) An old friend followed her: on Jan. 9, the very next day, she filed with Congress to lobby on behalf of General Atomics.

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TPMm Reader JS writes in:

I have been struck by how differently the alleged bribery of Rep. Jefferson has been handled than, say, the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal.

Is there even a precedent for a congressional office to be searched?

The FBI's raid of Jefferson's Congressional office is a remarkable development - without precedent, it seems. Here's Roll Call yesterday:

This is believed to be the first-ever FBI raid on a Congressional office.....

The FBI affidavit states that agents adopted “special procedures” to assure that “potentially politically sensitive, non-responsive items in the Office” would not be seized. The procedures included using FBI agents “who have no substantive role” in the investigation, referred to as “non-case agents.”

A “Filter Team” made up of lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Fraud Section, as well as an FBI special agent, will sift through any documents seized. If any are found to be non-germane to the probe, they will be returned to Jefferson’s office within 10 business days.

The “Filter Team” will also review the other documents to make sure they do not fall under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause — the Congressional privilege that protects lawmakers and staffers from being charged with criminal acts for conducting official legislative business. Jefferson’s lawyer will be given a list of documents that may meet that privilege, and prosecutors will not be informed of their contents. A federal judge will then review them for admissibility in any prosecution of Jefferson.

On the first point - whether Jefferson's case has been handled any differently from Cunningham's - I'd keep in mind that Cunningham gave in and pled guilty a mere five months after the FBI had opened their case. The FBI has been investigating Jefferson since March of 2005, and after flirting with the idea of a plea deal, Jefferson has clearly decided to fight prosecutors tooth and nail. If Duke had stood his ground, we might have eventually been treated to the same show.

Guess what? the Homeland Security Department has an NSA liaison in its intelligence shop who keeps a direct secure computer link to NSA's Ft. Meade headquarters. Since DHS has some pretty big domestic security responsibilities, Congress is wondering how much -- if any -- intel it got from the NSA's domestic call data-mining and surveillance operation, reports CQ's Jeff Stein.

The New Yorker's Sy Hersh brings news that the National Security Agency monitored the content of calls by U.S. persons. Interestingly, some of Hersh's details mesh with our earlier conjecture about how the FBI may be supporting the NSA's questionable call records-mining.

Through mining the vast database of domestic U.S. calls, the NSA would come up with individuals they wanted to listen in on. “After you hit something, you have to figure out what to do with it,” one Administration intelligence official told Hersh. Then it gets really interesting:

The next step, theoretically, could have been to get a suspect's name and go to the FISA court for a warrant to listen in. One problem, however, was the volume and the ambiguity of the data that had already been generated. ("There's too many calls and not enough judges in the world," the former senior intelligence official said.) The agency would also have had to reveal how far it had gone, and how many Americans were involved. And there was a risk that the court could shut down the program.

Instead, the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other. (emphasis added)

Earlier, we had mused on the fact that the Justice Department reported issuing approximately 21,000 fewer "National Security Letters," secret non-court-approved warrants for information, than the Washington Post had reported last November. In its report, DoJ specifically said it was not including requests for "subscriber information" -- that's when they ask a phone company for the identity of a person who has a particular phone number, or when they ask an ISP for the subscriber at a given IP address.

So, we concluded, there could be tens of thousands of NSLs related to the work NSA was doing, that Justice hasn't yet admitted.

Hersh doesn't make the connection between what the NSA was doing with the call data and the FBI's phantom NSLs -- and indeed it may not exist. But if the NSA were to engage in the kind of surveillance of U.S. persons that Hersh describes, it would make sense they'd ask the FBI for the kind of quasi-legal fig leaf that an NSL could provide. That would generate thousands of FBI requests for "subscriber information" which neither the FBI nor the NSA would like to see reported publicly.