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The Daily Muck

How does the senator explain it? Here's the exchange between Santorum and WTAE-TV reporter Jim Parsons, who broke the story:

Parsons: "Why are you paying a lobbyist, Rob Bickhart, to run that charity of yours?"

Santorum: "Well, first of all, he's not a lobbyist, No. 1."

Parsons: "Well, he's a principal in a lobbying firm."

Santorum: "No, he's a principal in a public affairs firm, a government relations firm. And he does a whole bunch of other things."

Mm. I bet he does. (WTAE-TV)

Idaho's Craig Gives Away Wilkes Cash

Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig (R) gave charities over $40,000 in campaign donations he received from crooked contractors involved in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

He's giving away $30,000 which came from Brent Wilkes' ADCS, Inc. Craig fought unsuccessfully for earmarks in a appropriations bill which would require the Pentagon to contract with ADCS. The Pentagon had not requested the earmark, and its Inspector General had faulted ADCS' work in an investigation two years prior. (Idaho Statesman)

Check in Hand, Norquist Accompanies Indian Chief to White House

In 2001, just days after his organization received a $25,000 check from the tribe, GOP strategist and Janis Joplin fanatic Grover Norquist accompanied Kickapoo Indian chief Raul Garza to an exclusive meeting with President Bush, the New York Times reports this morning.

Norquist was closely tied to Abramoff, as well as Ralph Reed and other players in the Abramoff saga. Last spring, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tried to force Norquist to turn over financial records for his group, Americans for Tax Reform, which presumeably would have reflected the Kickapoo donation; Grover blew him off. At the time, it was understood the committee was probing whether a different Indian tribe, the Mississippi Choctaw, had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to ATR in exchange for similar favors. The Choctaw were Abramoff clients, by the way.

The Kickapoos were not Abramoff clients, although the lobbyist was said to have courted them. (New York Times)

Interestingly, Kickapoo chief Garza was the fellow smiling and shaking hands with Bush in the only public photo to date of Bush and Abramoff in the same room. Abramoff's blurry head appears to float on Bush's left shoulder.

Flying the Too-Friendly Skies

Reps. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Michael Oxley (R-OH) and Don Young (R-AK), along with Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (TN) were the top active lawmakers flying on corporate-owned jets from 2001 to 2005. Lawmakers must reimburse companies the price of a first-class ticket, even though that covers only a portion of the cost of flying in a private company plane. Blunt ran up over $125,000 in reimbursements; Frist's was nearly $70,000.

However, the most frequent corporate flyer was former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), who reimbursed corporations over $300,000 for use of their planes. Now that he has donned his hairshirt and started his Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, he's probably riding Greyhound. Right? (The Tennessean)

White House Taps Novice for Sensitive Homeland Security Post

The Bush administration has appointed 28-year-old Douglas Hoelscher to be executive director for the Homeland Security Advisory Committee, an amalgam of 20 panels of outside experts and officials who advise the administration on homeland security matters.

Hoelscher is said to have no management experience. He came to the White House in 2001 as a $30,000-a-year scheduler.

(I've written variations on this joke so many times it's not funny anymore, so -- if you're feeling up to it -- insert your own punch line here: ___________________________!) (GovExec)

Please, Mr. Abramoff, Pimp My Ride!

Back in his big-pimpin days, Abramoff rolled strong in a blinged-out BMW 745li, the New York Times reports. The ride sported a $20,000 flip-down video monitor, a juiced-up, hands-free cell phone system, a top-of-the-line radar detector, $7,000 backseat tables and more.

Blissfully unaware of street culture, the Times fails to note the make or dimensions of Jack's rims. As he was a man of distinction, we suspect he was riding on Oasis Ludacris SP6 24-inch spinners. (New York Times)

DeLay: Abramoff's VF Interview Clears Me

Lawyers for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) say the recent Vanity Fair interview with Abramoff proves the former majority leader wasn't bribed or coerced by the disgraced lobbyist. "I didn't spend a lot of time lobbying Tom for things, because the things I worked on were usually consistent with the conservative philosophy, and I knew Tom would be supportive," VF quoted Abramoff as saying.

I don't mean to say Abramoff played a little loose with the truth about his relationship with DeLay, but he also told the magazine he and Tom sat around talking about opera and philosophy. You decide. (Houston Chronicle)

Iraq Contractor Fined $10M for Fraud

A jury penalized Alexandria, VA-based Custer Battles LLC $10 million for 37 counts of fraud. The company inflated invoices, delivered shoddy products and ran the whole operation through a series of shell companies in the Cayman Islands.

The case was brought by two whistleblowers from inside Custer Battles. (USA Today, New York Times)

Covered Yesterday

Congress delays ethics reform. (Roll Call)

Florida Papers: Harris is in, no she's out, no she's in. . . (Herald Tribune, Boca Raton News, St. Petersberg Times)

Steelers owner may challenge Harris for FL GOP Senate nod. (Palm Beach Post)

Key GOP campaign finance chief quits firm, PACs. (The Record)