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

As Josh reported over at TPM last night, we're finding some odd connections between Brent Wilkes, owner of San Diego, CA-based ADCS Inc., and the Virginia-based Shirlington Limousine Company, which he is reported to have hired to ferry hookers to and from his "hospitality suites" in various Washington D.C. hotels, where he entertained congressmen and others.

The main tie seems to be the persona of Jerome Foster, another San Diego-based defense contractor, who sat on the board of Shirlington Limo from its inception in the early 1990s until 2000. As Josh explains it, the two are connected through a third man, former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-CA):

If you've followed the Wilkes story, you know that the guy who taught Wilkes how Washington works and has been in the mix with him ever since is former Rep. Bill Lowery (R-CA). Wilkes first spent quality time with Lowery back in the 1980s when one of Wilkes' jobs was to take Lowery on trips down to Central America to hang with Kyle "Dusty" Foggo and the Contras.

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"It's highly unlikely she can succeed. . . the tea leaves are pretty easy to read at this point." - Former FL GOP Chief Al Cardenas, speaking yesterday to a reporter about Harris' chances of winning

"I never give up. I never give in. I will not quit. In the U.S. Senate, I will fight for Florida and for you with all my heart." - Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL), in new TV ad released yesterday

It takes a thief...

Last week we learned that Jack Abramoff keeps busy between visits with prosecutors by hitting the beach - well, now it seems that his buddy Michael Scanlon has found his own way to keep busy when he's not dishing on Members of Congress.

From Roll Call:

In the irony-on-steroids category, guess who was defending his graduate thesis on Congressional ethics Monday? Cover your eyes and guess, then sit down for the answer.

It was Michael Scanlon. Yes, that Michael Scanlon, the one who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. His topic, as Scanlon himself confirmed, was an "evaluative history of the House ethics process."....

Our source says Scanlon got up and gave a roughly one-sentence introduction of his thesis before taking questions from the four faculty members and nine other students in the room. He says Scanlon talked about the House ethics committee and argued that the "system now is not broken, but functioning in the same manner it has since its creation."

Scanlon essentially argued that the House ethics process is "political in nature" and that Members were never expected to do a very good job at policing each other, the source says.

Asked why he was now getting his master's degree at such a precarious moment in his life (precarious being an understatement), [Scanlon] said he actually finished classes at [Johns Hopkins University] six years ago but never got around to arguing his thesis.

"It was just a loose end in my life," he said.

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Ah, the Shirlington Limousine Service.

I dismissed the angle at first, despite the curious details surfacing about the car company which ferried the hookers to Wilkes' parties, and also brought Cunningham to the hookers, according to reports. Also noted: the company owner has a 62-page rap sheet; he had a contract with the Department of Homeland Security, and one with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Also, he had tax problems.

That was all interesting, I thought. But it diverts us from the crux of the story: Who got the hookers? Who had sex with hookers? Who paid for the hookers?

I'm now reconsidering my conviction. Why? Shirlington Limo appears to connect a growing list of high-powered Washington elites to the world of crime. On the one hand, the company's contracts with sensitive agencies, and comments by company owner Chris Baker, imply it has connections with power brokers. On the other, Baker's rap sheet and tax complications point to his more-than-passing familiarity with the underworld.

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Despite the all-but-certain federal indictment hanging over his head, Abramoff money-and-favors recipient Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) is expected to win his congressional primary, being held today. His competitor, James Broadbelt Harris, is an unknown who hasn't campaigned -- he hasn't even filed with the FEC, which indicates he has raised less than $5,000, CQ's Greg Giroux tells me.

I called Giroux to get his take on the election. While he expects Ney to win, he said, he's curious about what kind of "protest vote" Republicans in the district will cast for Harris, reacting to Ney's ethical troubles.

"I'd be surprised if Harris got more than 20 or 25 percent," Giroux told me. "That would be a sign that there is a chunk of the Republican base that's disenchanted with the incumbent."

"If Ney gets in the 80s -- and he very well may -- that'd show that at least Republican voters are behind him, and they weren't willing to look at this alternative candidate," Giroux said.

What do we know about Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the highest-ranking CIA official to admit he attended poker parties thrown by crooked contractor Brent Wilkes? Thanks to a handful of enterprising journos, we know a surprising amount about the guy, whom the CIA insisted was undercover until late last year. Those facts help draw a line through history that leads Foggo -- and others -- from the jungles of Central America to the posh hotel suites where Wilkes did his questionable entertaining.

(A quick shout out to the San Diego Union Tribune, Laura Rozen and Jason Vest, whose work forms the basis for this post.)

In November 2004, newly-installed CIA chief Porter Goss reached down into the ranks of long-serving middle managers at the CIA to make Foggo the Executive Director of the agency. Thus the lifelong friend of Cunningham briber Wilkes found himself in charge of running day-to-day operations for the $5 billion spy outfit.

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Last week we rolled out a new feature called the Midterm Muck Project; it's a list of races where ethics and/or corruption will be a defining issue. We'll be following these this fall as part of TPM's broader Election 2006 project. In part, we're doing this to see how much ethics really does play a role this November; but also, we'll want to be on these races to catch incumbents when they try to spin their way out of trouble.

I had a preliminary list, but asked readers to send in more examples of ethically challenged Members that might be worth our attention.

And after combing through the entries, we've added two more to the tally: Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) and Rep. JD Hayworth (R-AZ).

Now, if your entry didn't make the cut, don't despair. We can still be convinced. But we want evidence that not only does your rep have serious ethical problems, but also that those problems will have a significant impact on the campaign. We will be watching mostly close races, but we're more than happy to make exceptions for rarities like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), who is polling strongly despite his very considerable muckiness.

Again, to help, send in your rep's name, a brief description of the muck, and, if possible, a link to a supporting article.

Here's our running tally:

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The CIA confirmed to the Wall Street Journal what we knew already from multiple eyewitness accounts: Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's #3 official, attended Wilkes' poker parties at hotel suites around Washington, D.C. where prostitutes allegedly entertained.

But that's it, the agency says. He never saw any hookers -- at least not while they were playing cards.

"If he attended occasional card games with friends over the years, Mr. Foggo insists they were that and nothing more," CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise-Dyck told the WSJ:

She said Mr. Foggo says he never witnessed any prostitutes at the games and that any allegation to the contrary would be "false, outrageous and irresponsible."

Good to have that on the record. Foggo's an interesting character -- with ties to Wilkes that go back more than 30 years, and have stretched as far as Central America and the Middle East. More on the two later.