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Heard on the Hill: Dirty Tricks?

The Ways and Means Committee’s war or words exploded again Wednesday morning as Republican aides accused Democratic staffer Tim Reif of sneaking into a GOP Conference meeting to spy on the enemy.

Reif, who focuses on trade issues for the panel’s minority and seems an unlikely instigator of a political dirty tricks campaign, insists it was an honest mistake. In any event, the episode shows just how little trust there is on both sides, especially in the wake of Friday’s dust-up that involved the Capitol Police being called to break up another Ways and Means fracas.

Just moments after today’s closed-door GOP Conference meeting in room 345 of the Cannon House Office Building ended, a Republican charged to HOH that Reif sat in on the strategy session for about 10 minutes before aides to Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) spotted him in the room.

“When he saw that we noticed him, he walked out quickly,” said a GOP aide, who added that Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was speaking at the time — which should have been a clear tip-off to Reif that he was not attending a Democratic meeting.

Dan Maffei, Democratic spokesman for Ways and Means, insisted to HOH that Reif identified himself to the doorkeeper as a staffer for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) on the way into the meeting. “The door guard obviously didn’t hear him,” Maffei said.

He added that Reif stayed for only about a minute when he figured out he was in the wrong room and left of his own volition.

“He saw DeLay and realized he was in the wrong place,” said Maffei. “It’s bizarre that the Republicans are so paranoid that they think we would send a spy in the caucus meeting.”

Maffei said Reif rarely goes to Democratic Caucus meetings but wanted to attend today’s because a Chile trade bill is coming to the House floor. He noted that Reif was used to heading to Cannon 345 for Democratic Caucus meetings, because the minority met in that room “before the Republicans kicked us out of there” for this Congress — and the party actually had a meeting there Monday.

Republicans, however, say they’ve been meeting in that room all year and Reif should have known better.

“Thought he was trying out for the part of James Bond but he ended up acting more like Inspector Clouseau,” said DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy. “This is one of the dumbest political acts since [Rep.] Pete Stark [D-Calif.] tried out his new vocabulary at Ways and Means.

“Clearly, the Democrats have run out of any legitimate ideas and have started wandering into Republican meetings to try to obtain some.”

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