Is Flake picking up momentum on PMA probe?

Five times Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has tried to get Congress to hold John Murtha, Pete Visclosky, and other PMA-connected members accountable for their corruption.  Five times, Democrats stonewalled Flake and refused to do so.  Now, however, Flake has picked up 25 Democrats for his sixth attempt at House-cleaning, and that has Nancy Pelosi worried:

A trickle of defections has Democratic House leaders wondering how long they can hold off calls for an investigation into the PMA Group and its ties to Pennsylvania Rep. John P. Murtha.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) got only 17 Democratic votes when he introduced a privileged resolution in February calling for an ethics investigation into “the relationship between earmark requests already made by members and the source and timing of past campaign contributions.”

But Flake has kept trying — the sixth version of his resolution comes up for a vote this week — and he’s picked up support from eight Democrats who voted against his initial resolution. …

“We are keeping our ear pretty close to the ground on this,” said a senior Democratic aide.

The aide noted that there has been “no groundswell of support” for Flake’s resolutions — and that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) remains dead set against an investigation. Still, he said, House Democrats — who took power promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington — “may only be one bad story away from seeing some big break.”

Flake may get some help in that “one bad story” from the New York Times, of all places:

Former PMA staff members familiar with the inquiry say prosecutors’ initial questions have focused on the possibility that Mr. Magliocchetti used straw campaign contributors — a Florida sommelier and a golf club executive, for example, appear to have given large sums in coordination with PMA — as a front to funnel illegal donations to friendly lawmakers, a felony that could carry a minimum sentence of five years.

More alarming to lawmakers and aides, however, is that prosecutors may turn their attention to the dinners at the Alpine and Capital Grille or other gifts they might have accepted from Mr. Magliocchetti — potential violations of longstanding Congressional ethics rules that could lead to more serious bribery charges if linked to official acts.

“All the combustibles are here for a very salacious set of allegations that could go far beyond his campaign finance problems,” said Stanley Brand, a veteran Washington criminal defense lawyer known for representing Democrats.

Why is Pelosi “dead set” against an Ethics Committee investigation?  Murtha had been one of her closest allies in the House.  He used his power to help her get to the Speakership, and in turn Pelosi has protected Murtha from trouble.  If Murtha goes, it will at the very least reflect badly on Pelosi, especially after her protection of Murtha from internal probes.

The PMA investigation may break without Pelosi.  The FBI has obviously picked up a strong scent from Magliochetti, and it’s not the aroma of steak from the Alpine Grill.  If the feds announce charges against corruptocrats like Murtha after years of obvious pork-barrel practices and years of Pelosi protection, expect this to be the Democratic Abramoff.  Some Democrats have already begun to prepare themselves for that possibility by defecting and supporting an internal probe, hoping to avoid getting caught in an anti-incumbent rage when the storm hits.

Murtha survived the Abscam scandal.  He won’t survive this one if the FBI begins rounding up Magliochetti and his subordinates.  And Pelosi may find herself out of leadership if the implosion leads to the loss of enough seats in the midterm elections to put the Democrats back in the minority.