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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Steve Chaggaris and Joanna Schubert of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.



Search And Destroy: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Wednesday that a day before the Texas Democrats ended their boycott last week, Texas Department of Safety captains were ordered to destroy all records of the search for the missing legislators.

The order, which was obtained by the Telegram under the Texas Open Records Act, was in an e-mail which said: "Captains: Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept." It was signed by L.C. Marshall, the commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service.

Democratic State Rep. Kevin Bailey, chairman of the House committee investigating the role of law enforcement in the issue, reacted strongly. "I'm appalled. It appears as though there is something to hide … The question is who was driving them so hard. I'm shocked that they would be destroying internal information."

The question of why the federal Homeland Security agency was brought into the search for the legislators - and by whom - has been referred to the deputy Inspector General of the agency. The department has refused to release tapes of transcripts of the conversations between DPS and the federal interdiction center, but has said they were told that a plane was missing and assumed there was a mechanical problem.

On Tuesday in Washington, Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge was asked by Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security why the information wasn't released. He said he'd review the matter but mainly pointed to the IG's investigation.

Like A 'Good Fellas' Wedding: And so it begins. President Bush kicks off his active role in the 2004 GOP fundraising juggernaut Wednesday night in Washington at a dinner for the Republican campaign committees. Roll Call reports that the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee could haul in as much as $18 million at the President's Dinner at the spanking-new D.C. Convention Center.

Roll Call says the NRCC will get about $5 million more than its Senate counterpart, the NRSC. By midday Tuesday, Roll Call reports that the NRCC had sold $11.4 million in tickets and the NRSC $6.4 million.

Traditionally, proceeds from the President's Dinner events have been split down the middle between the two committees. But in the post-McCain-Feingold world, where soft money contributions are prohibited, House Republicans were able to raise more than Senate Republicans. As one top House Republican told Roll Call, the old system of splitting the night's proceeds down-the-middle was "socialism … It's a whole new world now."

Details are also leaking out on several big-money fundraisers being scheduled for Bush's own re-election coffers.

The AP reports that Gov. George Pataki of New York has sent out invitations for a $2,000-a-person Manhattan fund-raising reception scheduled for June 23. If you want to be a general chairman of the event, Pataki told donors in a letter, you'll need to wrangle $200,000 in contributions. "Co-chairs" must agree to raise $100,000, "vice chairs" $50,000 and "members" $20,000.

"Since early money is so critical, we ask that you make your commitment now and begin fulfilling your pledge as soon as possible," Pataki wrote in a letter touting the "Bush-Cheney '04 New York Kickoff Reception." Anyone at the "member" fund-raising level or above gets both a photo with President Bush and an invitation for a post-reception dinner.

At the end of June, Mr. Bush will make a Florida cash run, with stops scheduled in Miami and Tampa. In 2000, Floridians gave the Bush and Cheney campaign $5.76 million, the St. Petersburg Times reports, which was third only to Texas and California. With the partisan juices raised by the 2000 recount, the doubling of the amount individuals can contribute to $2,000 and the fact that Jeb Bush, the president's brother, is governor, Florida is likely to provide a huge windfall again for Bush-Cheney.

NRA Forges Ahead: Just two days after a federal court suspended its ruling preventing groups like the National Rifle Association from running attack ads, the NRA has unveiled a new ad against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

In a ruling earlier this month, a three-judge federal panel barred groups such as the NRA from running ads that promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate at any time. But because of several appeals to the Supreme Court, the judges said Monday they'd stay their ruling until the Supreme Court weighs in, meaning the NRA can go about it's business as it did before the ruling.

"The gag is off for NRA," the association's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre told the Associated Press after the stay was issued.

The radio ad against Daschle will run in South Dakota and urges him to vote for a bill that would protect gun dealers from lawsuits. Daschle is up for re-election in 2004 and some prognosticators think it could be a close race.

While Daschle's office wouldn't comment directly on the bill, his spokesman Jay Carson told the AP that the senator supports "legal protection to gun manufacturers from criminal acts committed by third parties."

Daschle, he continued, wants a bill "that balances the legitimate desire to discourage frivolous lawsuits against responsible manufacturers and dealers and the need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children."

The NRA had originally planned a similar ad on the gun bill targeted at Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the co-sponsors of the campaign finance legislation that would have banned these types of ads. The group decided against running the ad, according to the AP, but is considering running ads targeting other senators on the legislation.

Only Strong Candidates Need Apply: South Carolina Democrats are in the market for a strong candidate since Sen. Fritz Hollings announced Tuesday that he might not seek re-election in 2004. According to the State newspaper, Hollings said he would not run for an eighth term if South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Joe Erwin could find a competitive replacement.

The 81-year-old Hollings, who was first elected to the Senate in 1966, said, "I've been trying my best for 10 years to find one that will run." Even though he told Erwin to look for another candidate, he hasn't decided to retire just yet. "It would depend who he would find," Hollings said.

Erwin may be looking for a new Democratic candidate, but he says he would prefer Hollings to run again. "The man has one of the greatest records in the United States Senate. He is still youthful and at the top of his game," Erwin told the State. "To lose his voice in the Senate … I'd rather not replace him." But, Erwin said, he has a responsibility to the Democratic Party to be prepared if Hollings decides to retire, so he has asked Democratic mayors and other party leaders to send him suggestions.

In the 1998 election, Hollings defeated former U.S. Rep Bob Inglis, R-S.C., 53 percent to 46 percent, but state Republican chairman Katon Dawson said he's "looking for a tough race." So far, the Republicans have a pool of at least five candidates who have either expressed an interest. The list includes Attorney General Charlie Condon, U.S. Rep Jim DeMint, former U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett, Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, and Charleston real estate developer Thomas Ravenel.

Hollings was governor of South Carolina from 1958 to 1962 and is the ranking Democratic member on the Commerce Committee. Dawson said, "I don't know if he's up to the task." He added, "Never will I say that he's getting too old. But no one in South Carolina better understands the amount of work and personal effort it takes to win."

Quote of the Day: "It's only $28.95. Come on. You can spring for that" - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., pushing a copy of her soon-to-be-released book on Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. (New York Post, via National Journal's Wake-Up Call!)

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