Washington Prowler

On a Jay Walk

Will AG Gonzales suggest who leaked? Also: Jim Ryun as stalking horse. John Boehner cracks the whips.

By 2.5.06

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GONZALES COMES OUT
After what is expected to be Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's coming out party on Monday, look for the media focus to turn to the House and Senate as the primary possible sources for the leaked NSA overseas monitoring program.

Gonzales is expected to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and make perhaps his most aggressive testimony since moving over to become Attorney General a year or so ago. In testimony that is being leaked to various outlets, Gonzales will push back hard against the likes of (unnamed) Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Ted Kennedy, all of whom have attempted to make political hay of a program that has been determined to be legal, and which was detailed to both Republican and Democrat Senators and House members as required by law.

If Gonzales's appearance before the Judiciary Committee accomplishes anything, the Bush Administration is hopeful it will refocus media attention on exactly who it was that made perhaps the most damaging leak of national security activity in more than 30 years.

"The problem is because it's classified, we can't detail just how damaging the NSA leaks have been," says a career Department of Justice attorney. "But they were, and the American public needs to understand what is at stake here."

According to other DOJ and FBI sources, the investigation into the leak has been focused on Capitol Hill, where a number of interviews have already taken place. In fact, the FBI is still considering asking the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and its staff to sign blanket waivers and releases that would allow a full investigation and disclosure of their interactions with reporters and others who might have used the NSA's activities for political purposes.

"There is no question that people are going to be looking at us," says a Senate Democratic Party leadership aide. "Never mind that it might be a Republican with a conscience who leaked it. People are going to assume that it was a Democratic staffer who did it for his or her boss, or that it was the Senator himself. The fact that in this case people assume that it was a Democrat shows how far we've slipped in the minds of the American public. That's our problem, and we can't really blame the Republicans."

RUN, RYUN, RUN
There is much talk that Rep. Jim Ryun of Kansas was the unwitting tool of supporters of Rep. John Boehner in the election last week to replace Republican House Leader Tom DeLay. Recall that on the first ballot, Rep. Roy Blunt -- the early favorite to unseat replace DeLay -- garnered 110 votes to Boehner's 79, Shadegg's 40, and two write-in votes for Ryun. But Ryun's write-in was part of a closely held strategy by the Boehner and Shadegg camps to ensure that Shadegg remained a viable option going into the second round. According to one House member, the word is that one Boehner supporter and one Shadegg supporter each wrote in Ryun's name on the first ballot.

Because the lowest vote-getter gets lopped off for the next round, Ryun was dropped and Shadegg, who was expected to be the third and only vote-getter, lived to fight on another ballot. Shadegg's initial presence allowed for a further softening of Blunt's support for the second round, before Shadegg himself pulled out and allowed his support to go entirely to Boehner. Boehner beat Blunt on the second ballot, 122-109.

According to members of Boehner's kitchen cabinet of advisers, who have met regularly for months to map out his return to leadership of the conference, Boehner's whip operation canvassed those members who had publicly endorsed Blunt early in the process.

"What became clear is that Blunt's support was strong on the first ballot, but after that, all bets were off, and we had an opportunity," says one of Boehner's advisers. "We heard from at least 20 members who had endorsed Blunt that it was only a promise of first round support. We didn't push these members too hard; we didn't want Blunt's people identifying our strategy. We wanted them to think they had a count on the second ballot that we knew they simply did not have."

In the end, the rap on Blunt -- that he wasn't as smart a whip counter as his predecessor, DeLay -- came back to haunt him again.

WHIPPED INTO SHAPE
There remains talk that Rep. Roy Blunt is not long for the House Whip post, though his exit might not occur until after the 2006 election. Look for some shakeup in Blunt's deputy whip contingent in the short-term. It's expected that both newly elected House Majority Leader John Boehner and members of the Republican House Study Committee will have a say in who steps into some of those positions for this session of the House.

The talk of changes took on greater volume after Boehner and Blunt held a long, private meeting -- no staff allowed -- in Blunt's Capitol office on Friday morning. Blunt, according to a leadership staffer, did not reveal what was discussed.

Boehner's staff is already mulling just what he needs to do to cement his position over the next eight months moving toward election day in November. "We want him to be solid as leader, with no risk of challenges by the old guard," says a Boehner staffer. "We want him to be leader for some time. He'll take care of working with the White House on the policies that will help that. We'll focus on the politics of the conference."

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