The Note: On the Right Side of the Lord

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4

NEWS SUMMARY

Anyone can read the Abramoff indictment, call Fred Wertheimer for a cheap quote, look through the windows of Signatures for metaphors, throw around the word "superlobbyist," and slap together a story about What Happened and What It All Means.

As the superthinker Rich Galen told the Associated Press, ""You don't have to be a political genius to sniff the smell of blood in the water."

But the 20th century one-word assuredness of "plastics" has given way to the 21st century two-word query "what's next?," and so we asked our Googling monkeys to sift through all the data and tell us what they believe the forward looking questions are.

What they came up with:

1. As Butch and Sundance would ask: who are these FBI agents and prosecutors with the temerity to investigate (mostly) Republican corruption in this era of single-party rule?

2. What is the range of rhetoric and policy proposals the White House is now considering on ethics for inclusion in the State of the Union?

3. Who are the swing votes in the House Conference in determining if DeLay survives as Leader?

4. Who are the members of the Republican congressional leadership who think lobbying reform legislation should be enacted because it is the right thing for America, and who are the ones who are interested in pursuing it because they are trying to solve a political problem?

5. How naïve does a Googling monkey have to be to ask the previous question?

6. Will all this help or hurt John McCain's chances of being president?

7. Who will ink the first real book deal?

8. How many members of the House Conference have read this New Year's Eve Washington Post story about the murky international funding of a DeLay charity, seemingly courtesy of Abramoff? LINK

9. (When) will DeLay's reelection campaign donate to charity the roughly $15,000 it received from Abramoff between 1995 and 2003? (tick tock)

10. What are the implications of Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher's definition of "excessive"? (At the presser, she said Abramoff gave "excessive meals and entertainment" to public officials.)

11. Will history record that yesterday was worse for Chairman Ney or Mr. DeLay?

12. Will New York Times management recognize how great Anne Kornblut is and act accordingly?

13. Did Abramoff get anything real for his clients?

14. Who will history record had a better day yesterday, Rep. Emanuel or Abbe Lowell?

15. Will Scott McClellan go still further later today, or pull back?

16. Will the President maintain his position that Mr. DeLay looks innocent until proven otherwise?

17. If Patrick Fitzgerald is jealous, what will he do about it?

18. How much would you wager, with even money, on the proposition that Ralph Reed will be the next lieutenant governor of Georgia?

19. How soon will Jeff Birnbaum write the story about Members of Congress lawyering up?

20. Who in the Bush Administration has the best handle on how much executive branch officials will be caught up in all this?

ABC News' White House troops report that Scott McClellan, at his off-camera gaggle this morning, responded to repeated questions by saying that the President does not recall ever meeting Abramoff, but that the lobbyist was invited to three Hannukah parties at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and that the men might have met there. The White House is checking to see who in the highest levels of the Administration had contact with Abramoff and will make that information public.

In addition, an amount of money TBD (at this writing) that was received by the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee from Abramoff, his wife, and their associated tribal interests, is expected to be donated to the American Heart Association.

The impact of the tragic mining story out of West Virginia on the amount of morning network television coverage of the Abramoff story is probably not completely measurable, but despite all the talk of "biggest scandal to rock Washington in decades," it could not possibly compete for time with the compelling and easily told drama that unfolded overnight in West Virginia.

Jack Abramoff is expected to appear with his lawyers before Judge Paul Huck in Miami, FL this afternoon to formally plead guilty to two of six charges brought against him.

In your non-Abramoff must-read Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe reports that although President Bush recently signed an anti detainee torture bill last month, a top senior official commented that the President "may have to waive the law's restrictions to carry out his responsibilities to protect national security." LINK

Stand by for Hill reaction on this one, including from Senator McCain, who the Globe couldn't reach.

President Bush is participating in a briefing this morning at the Pentagon with Secretary Rumsfeld, General Pace and others. The President will be updated on Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader war on terrorism, per Scott McClellan.

After the briefing, President Bush will make a statement on the war on terror and Iraq and Afghanistan. That is scheduled for 11:35 am ET.

At his 2:35 pm ET Heritage Foundation speech, "Vice President Cheney will take on recent Bush Administration critics on the war on terror, per a senior administration official, and will talk about the policy decisions the White House is making to meet threats. He will address the Patriot Act and the recent stories on the NSA and wiretapping," reports ABC's Karen Travers.

"The Vice President will talk about his recent trip to the Middle East and the progress that he saw in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where he attended the opening session of the parliament," adds Travers.

ABC's Jason Ryan reports, "The grand jury which is hearing the ongoing CIA leak investigation is scheduled to meet at 9:30 am ET. As usual we don't know who will be testifying or if Fitzgerald will be present."

Some of the Alito-related press conferences today:

10:00 am ET: NOW President Kim Gandy and others on efforts to block Samuel Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court

10:00 am ET: Italian Americans for Judge Samuel Alito, Jr kickoff of a regional tour of events in support of the nomination

11:00 am ET: People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice release reports on the nomination

Gov. Pataki (R-NY) delivers his final State of the State address at 1:00 pm ET in Albany, NY.

Gov. Schwarzenegger (R-CA) will visit the 68th Street School in Los Angeles, CA at 6:15 pm ET to discuss education and after-school program funding.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann (R-PA) is expected to launch his gubernatorial campaign in Pittsburgh, PA at 6:00 pm ET. LINK

Abramoff: analysis:

The Washington Post's Birnbaum and Balz: "So far, the public has not identified corruption as solely a Republican problem. . . . But Republicans worry about two possibilities. The first is that Abramoff, known for his close ties to DeLay, mostly implicates Republicans as a result of his plea agreement. . . . Beyond that is a fear that the scandal and attention it could draw in the months before the election might further sour the public on Washington and Congress. As the party in power, Republicans know they stand to lose more if voters take retribution in November." LINK

In an AP news analysis looking at the ways in which the Abramoff plea may rock the GOP boat, Tom Raum has AEI's Norm Ornstein saying the scandal will disproportionately affect Republicans because they are the majority party and because Abramoff is a conservative Republican. LINK

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times wraps yesterday's events with a handful of anonymous laments by scaredy-cat staffers. LINK

Abramoff: the numbers:

So just how many members of Congress may be implicated by Jack Abramoff's decision to provide information to investigators?

Wall Street Journal: ". . .could implicate 60 lawmakers"

New York Times: "a dozen lawmakers"

Washington Post: ". . .about half a dozen House and Senate members"

USA Today: ". . .at least 12 lawmakers"

New York Post: ". . . as many as 20 Congress members and staffers"

Abramoff: the politics:

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calling on House Republicans to elect a permanent replacement for Congressman Tom DeLay (R-TX) as House Majority Leader while current House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced that he will donate to charity the tens of thousands of dollars that he has received from Abramoff's Indian tribe clients. LINK

"'Unequivocally, the House Republicans need to select a new majority leader in late January or early February,' said Gingrich, who cited revelations in the Washington Post that a public advocacy group organized by DeLay associates had been largely financed by Russian energy interests."

The Los Angeles Times looks at the GOP's image problem, and reports that Senate Republicans will soon introduce ethics reform legislation to combat this "black eye" on the party. LINK

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank Notes that the lobbyist's "old friends and beneficiaries only piled on" yesterday: 'Self-serving and fraudulent,' charged" Ney, aka 'Representative #1' in court papers. 'Outrageous,' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan." LINK

Abramoff: news of day:

From the Washington Post's Schmidt and Grimaldi: "In court papers, prosecutors refer to only one congressman: Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-OH). But Abramoff, who built a political alliance with House Republicans, including former majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, has agreed to provide information and testimony about half a dozen House and Senate members, officials familiar with the inquiry said. He also is to provide evidence about congressional staffers, Interior Department workers and other executive branch officials, and other lobbyists." LINK

More Schmidt and Grimaldi: "Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) and other legislators involved with Indian issues are among those being investigated, sources said."

And still more: "Prosecutors are continuing to investigate two of DeLay's top former deputies, [Tony] Rudy and Edwin A. Buckham. Rudy is under investigation for assistance he allegedly provided Abramoff's lobbying clients while he was working for DeLay. Payments from Abramoff clients and associates to Liberty Consulting -- a political firm founded by Rudy's wife, Lisa -- are also under review by the Justice Department. Rudy did not return calls seeking comment yesterday."

Bloomberg's Forsythe and Sallant report that Abramoff's guilty plea "pushed the federal investigation of the lobbyist deep into" DeLay's office by "implicating one of his top ex-staffers." LINK

"People close to the investigation identified the "Staffer A" mentioned on page 13 of Abramoff's 15-page plea agreement as DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy. While a member of DeLay's staff, Rudy helped Abramoff stop a measure that would have prohibited Internet gambling, according to the government. In return, Rudy's wife was paid $50,000 through a non-profit group, the government says. DeLay himself isn't named in the agreement."

The Bloomberg duo have Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut saying by e-mail that Abramoff's "guilty plea and his close association with Tom DeLay underscore the need for a new majority leader in the Republican Party.''

In a must-read bit of reporting, the Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins, David Rogers and Anne Marie Squeo report that Abramoff "says he has information that could implicate 60 lawmakers."

The Wall Street Journal trio see increased pressure on DeLay to step aside as majority leader (with Republican Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa saying the party would be "insane" not to move ahead with new elections). But the Journal's news page isn't sure whether the scandal will have a sharp partisan impact in the November given that "some Democrats also had dealings with Mr. Abramoff."

The accompanying Wall Street Journal graphic identifies the "key lawmakers" in the scandal as Republicans Ney, DeLay, and Burns as well as Democrats Dorgan and Reid.

In her nuts-and-bolts New York Times story, Anne Kornblut writes that Abramoff's testimony "appears to be drawing an ever-tighter ring of evidence around the former House Republican majority leader, Tom DeLay, and other senior Congressional Republicans." LINK

USA Today's Drinkard and Johnson cite two federal sources who say at least 12 Congressmen and their offices are involved. LINK

Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe gives a good overview of the charges against Abramoff. LINK

NBC's Lisa Myers gave mention to six lawmakers who may be implicated when Abramoff reveals all to investigators: Republicans Ney, DeLay, Doolittle, and Burns and Democrats Reid and Dorgan.

Roll Call leads with the Abramoff/DeLay connection. LINK

The Washington Times wraps up their Abramoff front-pager with a bipartisan list of lawmakers who have either returned money received from Abramoff or given it to charities. LINK

The Hill has Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) saying: "It certainly takes things up a notch." LINK

Abramoff: editorials:

In an editorial chastising the House and Senate ethics committees for not doing more, the Washington Post ed board excoriates Ney thusly: "If the allegations are true, Mr. Ney ought to be not only ashamed but also embarrassed at how cheaply he and his staff could be bought." LINK

Abramoff: how it's playing at home:

Including all the proper caveats that Rep. Ney continues to maintain his innocence, the Columbus Dispatch has some excellent reporting today including this nugget: "The Dispatch has learned that if Ney is indicted, Ohio Republican leaders will call on him to resign and not seek re-election this year."

". . . when asked whether there was enough evidence to charge Representative 1, a Justice Department official said, 'See you at the next round,'" write Jack Torry and Jonathan Riskind of the Columbus Dispatch under a headline that reads, "Lobbyist admits he gave Ney bribes: Congressman denies accusations but soon may be indicted himself" LINK

More from the Dispatch duo: "Yesterday's court filings include a new revelation by Abramoff that during a 2003 taxpayer-funded trip to Russia, Ney met with Abramoff clients and agreed to help one of their relatives obtain a visa to travel to the United States."

"Abramoff also contradicts a key Ney defense of the Scotland visit. Ney has maintained that Abramoff told him the $100,000 trip would be financed by a nonprofit organization, which is legal under House rules. But Abramoff said he can testify that he told Ney before the trip that one of his clients would pay some of the bill."

And here's a handy link to a graphic detailing the allegations against Ney. LINK

A profile of Congressman No. 1, Mr. Freedom Fries, Ohio's Rep. Bob Ney: LINK

Noelle Straub of the Billings Gazette reminds readers that the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have identified Sen. Burns as one of four lawmakers "under federal investigation" in the Abramoff case. LINK

"Burns spokesman James Pendleton said the senator has twice hired lawyers to help Burns with regard to the ongoing probe into Abramoff and influence-peddling, but neither lawyer was a criminal defense attorney brought in specifically to handle an investigation into the senator and his staff."

"Burns was in Montana on Tuesday. Pendleton said the senator could not be reached for an interview," writes Straub.

Nevada's Senators appear unworried, reports the Las Vegas Review Journal. LINK

"Reid said at a news conference in Carson City that he has 'not a thing' to be worried about as far as Abramoff. 'I've never been in the same room with the man as far as I know,' he said."

"Likewise, Ensign said neither he nor his aides have been contacted by authorities, 'and I would not expect us to be.'"

The Houston Chronicle reports that just hours after Abramoff made his plea, the Texas district attorney's office issued subpoenas attempting to find further links between Abramoff and Rep. DeLay. LINK

Bennett Roth of the Houston Chronicle focuses on Abramoff's "key accomplice," former DeLay aide Tony Rudy. LINK

Congressman Eric Cantor (R-VA), the chief deputy Republican Whip in the House, will "turn over to a Richmond charity roughly $10,000 in political donations from Abramoff and Abramoff's wife, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. LINK

Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) has collected "$36,000 from two of Abramoff's Indian clients -- third most among Democrats -- and sees their cash as no different from the $148,000 he received from eight other tribes not connected to Abramoff. He said he doesn't intend to return the money."

Abramoff: the money:

The New York Times also covers the numbers game, detailing the millions Abramoff bilked from his clients. LINK

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

Yesterday we told you about the advertising campaign of the pro-Alito forces.

Today, the coalition of anti-Alito forces under the banner of "IndependentCourt.org" has released its second TV ad in the Alito nomination process. The ad has little to do with any of the hot-button issues of abortion or privacy but instead goes after what the anti-Alito group sees as his "troubling record on breaking his word to the US Senate," according to one of the organizers of the effort.

The ad focuses on Alito's initial refusal to recuse himself from the Vanguard case and then claims he has offered three different explanations for his actions and concludes by asking this ominous sounding question, "Shouldn't we be able to trust Supreme Court nominees to keep their word?"

The ad will run on national cable and targeted states. Another tv ad will likely follow into a split rotation. The group will not reveal the size of the ad buy.

IndpendentCourt.Org is also starting radio ads in Louisiana and Arkansas as well.

Bush agenda:

With the debate over the Patriot Act and Bush's anti-terror policies heating up, the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei writes that the President and his aides "plan to accuse Democrats of jeopardizing national security to further their political agenda, a tack that worked well for the White House in the 2002 and 2004 elections. But the political environment is different now, with Bush less popular and Democrats better organized in opposition. Moreover, key Republicans are also raising objections to Bush's broad interpretation of presidential power." LINK

The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller on the President's continued commitment to getting the Patriot Act renewed. LINK

The Washington Times has Sen. Russ Feingold calling Bush's White House meetings about the Patriot Act "staged meetings with hand-picked participants." LINK

Politics of spying:

"The National Security Agency acted on its own authority, without a formal directive from President Bush, to expand its domestic surveillance operations in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to declassified documents released Tuesday," reports the New York Times. LINK

The paper goes on to report on Rep. Pelosi's (D-CA) concern about the NSA's broad spying, and the agency's defense of its actions under the Reagan-era intelligence directive E.O. 12333 without ever delving into the question of what, precisely, E.O. 12333 allows.

The Washington Post's Dafna Linzer on the same. LINK

GOP agenda:

Per the Washington Times' Amy Fagan: "A House Democratic aide said Democrats have been alerted to expect votes Feb. 1 on both the spending cuts and the Patriot Act." LINK

Per the Wall Street Journal's Joi Preciphs, "Congress is expected to take steps when it reconvenes this month to shore up private pensions, but almost half the workers in private industry won't benefit since their employers offer no retirement plans."

The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy reports that "glitches" in the administration of the new prescription drug benefit are "forcing thousands of people to get by on short doses or pay out-of-pocket for their drugs."

Politics of Iraq:

David Sanger of the New York Times previews Thursday's White House meeting of the minds. Former secretaries of state and defense have been invited to hear from General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad, powwow with the President, and maybe –just maybe—offer some advice on what to do next in Iraq. LINK

Politics of national security:

The Justice Department will soon ask all federal trial judges to dismiss suits brought by detainees at Guantanamo. LINK

The economy:

USA Today reports that the Fed's expected raise in interest rates on January 31 may be the last in a series of hikes intended to ward off inflation. LINK

2008: Republicans:

Seen as a potential 2008 presidential candidate, the DNC has requested records from Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee under the Freedom of Information Act. Huckabee acknowledged the request and declined, citing the high costs and added that Democrats would probably want the money to go to education and health care rather than "wild fishing expeditions." LINK

After an 11-day trip to Utah with his family Gov. Romney diverts out of Massachusetts and down to Georgia for a GOP event called the "Sportsmen Challenge," reports the Boston Herald. LINK

2006:

The New York Observer's Ben Smith blogs on Sen. Al D'Amato's beef with Bill Weld. LINK

You can see the NY1 News clip here: LINK

The Houston Chronicle reports that regardless of her party label, Strayhorn supporters remain strong. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle delivers the huge news that Steve Schmidt of the Cheney staff and Alito effort will soon be headed to the West Coast to manage Gov. Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign. LINK

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Gov. Schwarzenegger will propose a $4.3 billion increase in education spending for next fiscal year. The article goes on to Note that this is a change from last year when Schwarzenegger "insisted the problem with California schools wasn't funding." LINK

The Los Angeles Times writes up the new education funding as a gubernatorial fence mending effort. LINK

The San Francisco Chronicle outlines the importance of Gov. Schwarzenegger's upcoming State of the State address, scheduled for Thursday. LINK

Political potpourri:

Peter Carlson profiles the DLC's Marshall Wittmann for the Washington Post's Style section. LINK

Bruce Reed, the DLC's president who hired the former McCain aide says, "Marshall is one of the most effective critics of the Bush Administration. We thought a guy with that mind should be on our side and not the other side. And he's an awful lot of fun to have around."

Julie Mason of the Houston Chronicle focuses on Scott McClellan's political stance when it comes to mother or the President. LINK