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More Bush Dirty Tricks?

In the wake of allegations that White House officials sought to discredit an ABC News reporter to cybergossip Matt Drudge, Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential campaign received an intriguing phone call Friday afternoon.

A man identifying himself as “Mr. Delgado” called the Gephardt campaign’s New Hampshire office. The caller asked whether the Democrat would be attending this week’s National Urban League conference in Pittsburgh, giving the impression that he was with the league.

Given the fact that the caller’s phone number had a “703” area code, the Gephardt aide grew a bit suspicious and decided to pass the phone number on to campaign advisers in D.C.

HOH later dialed the number and quickly found out that the caller was actually Tony Delgado, an aide on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, who was trying to dig up information on Gephardt’s travel plans.

“I kind of messed up and gave them a call,” Delgado said. He acknowledged failing to reveal his affiliation to Gephardt’s camp, but insisted that he had not suggested that he was with the league.

When asked whether he was instructed by higher-ups in the Bush campaign to dig up information on various candidates, he answered, “I was doing something and I need to …”

His voice trailed off, saying he would have to call back. He never did.

“Rule one in the opposition researcher’s handbook is, ‘Don’t use your direct line,’” cracked Gephardt spokesman Erik Smith.

But Smith was cheered by the fact that the Bushie fessed up. “Two and a half years into the Bush presidency, maybe the Responsibility Era has begun.”

Arrested Development. It turns out that there was at least one light moment between Reps. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.) during the tense standoff in the Ways and Means Committee library.

After Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) called the police, eyewitnesses say Tanner turned to Lewis, a hero of the civil rights struggle.

“You know John, I seem to recall that you’ve had a lot of experience being arrested,” Tanner said. “Do you have any advice for me?”

Lewis and the rest of the Democrats in the room broke up with laughter, and staffers on the panel are joking about seeking the Congressman’s counsel if things do not cool down.

“If I’m ever arrested in the future, I’ve asked John Lewis to give me a class on how to handle it,” Janice Mays, minority staff director for the Ways and Means panel, told HOH.

“Dean” Broder, Back on the Beat. The young whippersnapper reporters who cover Capitol Hill these days are likely to shudder when they look over their shoulders to find the legendary David Broder prowling the corridors again for The Washington Post come September.

Although the man known as “Dean Broder” has been the nation’s premier political correspondent since joining The Post in 1966, he has not covered the day-to-day Hill beat since his five-year tenure in the late 1950s with Congressional Quarterly.

Broder told HOH he’s excited by the prospect of spending the rest of the year covering Congress, though it’s important to note that he has made regular visits to the Hill during his time with The Post. “I don’t think I’ve become a stranger,” he said.

He will take over the beat from Jim VandeHei, who has been covering Congressional politics with Senate correspondent Helen Dewar and House correspondent Juliet Eilperin since moving over from the Wall Street Journal.

VandeHei is now heading out on the road to cover the presidential campaign for The Post, where Broder will join him in January along with top Post writers Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall.

In the meantime, the ever-humble Broder said, “I’ll take my cues from Helen and Juliet about where it will be helpful for me to be. I’ll be the third person.”

HOH thinks he’ll somehow find his way to the head of the pack — and the front page — fairly frequently.

Rahall’s Pain. A warrant for the arrest of Rep. Nick Rahall’s (D-W.Va.) 26-year-old son was issued by police officials in Annandale, Va., in connection with a home invasion robbery last week.

At the time the warrant was issued, Nick Rahall III was in custody in West Virginia on unrelated charges. Rahall and an accomplice allegedly held a 44-year-old man down and stole cash from him at 2 a.m. last Monday.

The Congressman released a statement late Friday suggesting that his son has deeper problems.

“Thank God nobody else was hurt,” said the Congressman. “I love my son and will continue to do all I can to help him overcome this battle he has been fighting for years. My son needs his family, everyone’s prayers, and God’s help during this difficult and private time.”

Anti-War, Anti-Dog? The presidential campaign has already gone to the dogs, with aides to Gephardt taking a bite out of ex- Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D).

Steve Elmendorf, senior adviser to the Gephardt campaign, circulated an e-mail last week suggesting that his candidate’s love of dogs helped him beat out Dean for at least one vote in New Hampshire.

Elmendorf was referring to a story by Jeff Zeleny of the Chicago Tribune, who visited New Hampshire and chatted up Marie Hughes, a high school English teacher.

Hughes fondly recalled the moment when Gephardt shook the paw of Argus, her 4-month-old Labradoodle. Dean, however, allegedly brushed off the pup during an earlier visit.

“He didn’t like our dog. He ignored him,” Hughes told the Tribune. “Someone who likes dogs surely would make a good president.”

That cheered Elmendorf, who was known for bringing his two whippets, KC and Cosmo, to the Capitol, and could certainly use any bit of good news at the Gephardt campaign.

“Zeleny reveals the truth — Howard Dean hates dogs!” cracked Elmendorf. “Dean was my second choice until I found out he was anti-dog.”

A Dean spokesman fired back, showing off photos of cute pets with a “Dogs for Dean” banner.

“Yeah, maybe the governor didn’t pet this dog,” the spokesman said. “But I was watching ‘Nick at Nite’ and Timmy said, ‘What’s that, Lassie? You think Gov. Dean’s health care plan is much more likely to pass Congress, so you’re going to vote for him?’ Swear to God.”

Sullivan’s Travails. Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) tried his best to turn a bizarre incident into a heroic act of courage.

After a vehicle (a BMW, for the record) in which he was a passenger crashed into a barrier-gate at the Capitol on Wednesday, the air bags deployed and Sullivan was left with serious injuries to his eyes and face.

But then on Thursday night, the injured Congressman decided to ignore the advice of his doctors, making a dramatic appearance in a wheelchair for a close vote on the GOP leadership’s bill to reform the Head Start program.

“Sullivan Casts Deciding Vote in House,” the Congressman’s office blared in a press release Friday morning. “Although doctors have ordered bed rest for Sullivan, Thursday’s vote was so close that he returned to the Capitol to cast the final vote.”

The release then went on to quote the reluctant hero: “The people of the First District of Oklahoma trust me to do my job. That’s exactly what I’m going to do in Washington — no matter how hard it may be at times.”

Cue the music as Sullivan added, “I want to thank everyone for their continued thoughts and prayers as I recover from my injuries.”

Studiously avoiding the hero role was Gephardt, who has missed many votes this year as he pursues his presidential campaign. He missed the vote on Head Start, which has been seen as a critical piece of legislation by top Democrats.

“You know your campaign is a wreck when you miss the chance to triumphantly walk onto the House floor and save millions of kids,” snapped one staffer to a rival presidential camp.

It’s likely, however, that the GOP leadership would have scared up another vote to secure victory if Gephardt had been around to tie it.

Gephardt’s office noted that the boss is a major supporter of Head Start and had been in D.C. voting earlier in the day. But he had a campaign event to attend, and it was “unclear that the bill was going to come up” when he departed.

Coll Her Anytime. Amy Coll, a former Senate aide now in the Bush administration, is returning to the Senate to join Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) press operation.

Coll will be reunited with Frist’s communications director, Bob Stevenson, and will serve as his deputy once again. Coll and Stevenson previously worked together on the Budget Committee, when it was chaired by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

After serving in the press shop of then- Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, Coll has most recently been helping new chief Josh Bolten in OMB’s Congressional liaison office.

Coll will be joining the Frist press shop in its tiny Capitol office, which is historic for being the spot where Mark Twain once had a desk as a Congressional correspondent.

Hanging on one of the walls is a banner celebrating the 1986 NBA championship of Stevenson’s beloved Boston Celtics. He recently scared up the courage to get the banner autographed by Magic Johnson, the longtime Celtics rival who was on Capitol Hill to promote funding for HIV/AIDS.

“He was so gracious and so free with his time,” Stevenson said of Johnson, who took the tweaking in stride.

Farewell Friends. Media types are mourning the deaths of John Aubuchon, former president of the National Press Club, and television producer Trevor Nelson.

Aubuchon, a former political correspondent for Maryland Public Television and other local outlets like WTOP Radio, died last week after bouts with cancer and pneumonia.

The funeral services will be 11 a.m. today at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Annapolis, Md., for the 57-year-old Aubuchon, who is survived by his wife.

Nelson, a brilliant 34-year-old producer for the CBS News program “60 Minutes,” died Thursday after a bout with meningitis. He leaves behind his wife, Maggie, and two infant sons. He was a terrific journalist with a bright future — and many friends whose grief is inexplicable.

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