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Heard on the Hill: Burned By Burns?

Republican and Democratic offices on Capitol Hill are buzzing about a widely circulated e-mail that suggests freshman Rep. Max Burns’ (R-Ga.) office is in turmoil.

Chris Ingram, who was fired from his post as the Congressman’s chief of staff last week, revealed in the Tuesday e-mail to friends that the dismissal came amid a bitter dispute over whether Burns is raising enough money for his tight re-election race.

And in a phone interview Wednesday morning, Ingram went so far as to charge that he may seek legal action against Burns and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) for forcing him out of his federal job for political reasons.

Tuesday’s e-mail, which has been forwarded all over the Hill and K Street, kicked off the controversy by airing some dirty GOP laundry.

In defending his performance, Ingram charged that Burns, who is one of the Democrats’ top targets next year, is taking his tough re-election battle too lightly.

“As many of you know, Max faces a tough reelection campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee apparently felt Max’s fundraising was not up to par,” wrote Ingram. “Throughout the last year I have done everything possible to reinforce to him the importance and personal commitment needed for successful fundraising, but like many Members of Congress, he just doesn’t like to do it.

“I truly believe my dismissal was a misplaced attempt at redirecting accountability.”

In the phone interview, Ingram told HOH he had no choice but to reveal what really happened.

“My intention is not to hand the Democrats a weapon,” he said. “But if the truth about the situation with Max hurts, that’s something for him to worry about. He could have prevented this — step one by not letting the NRCC run his Congressional office.”

Ingram added that he’s “exploring” his legal options based on the fact that he was told that Reynolds wanted him removed for political reasons.

“[Burns] told me several times last week that this was not his decision,” said Ingram. “It was made by Chairman Reynolds” and other NRCC officials.

Ingram believes such action may be a violation of federal law. “I think they should familiarize themselves with Chapter 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 601, dealing with ‘Deprivation of Employment Or Other Benefit For Political Contribution,’” he said. “I have been fired from a federal position for campaign reasons. It’s pretty cut and dry that it’s a violation of the law.”

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti laughed off Ingram’s allegations about potential legal ramifications.

“I think this is better-suited for News of the Weird just because it’s so absurd,” said Forti.

As for the claim that Reynolds ordered the firing, Forti responded, “It’s imagination as well.”

Forti also disputed Ingram’s assertion that the committee is disappointed with the freshman’s fundraising.

Noting that Burns had more than $300,000 in cash on hand at the end of June, Forti said, “For a freshman, that’s a solid number.”

Burns spokeswoman Jaillene Erickson said, “Chris Ingram is no longer serving as chief of staff. Max’s policy is to not discuss personnel issues.”

Through the end of the latest Federal Election Commission reporting period in June, Burns had raised $417,000 for his re-election bid and almost $310,000 left in reserve.

Burns was elected to the Democratic-leaning 12th district in 2002, winning easily against a flawed Democratic nominee. This cycle he is considered a top target for Democrats, who have touted the 12th district as one of a handful nationwide where a Democratic challenger had raised more than $200,000 through the end of June.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow (D), one of two announced challengers to Burns, got off to a fast fundraising start this year, but his pace slowed considerably in the second quarter.

As of March 31, Barrow had raised $205,000, just as much as Burns, and he showed more cash on hand than the freshman incumbent. However, Barrow reported raising just $66,000 in the second quarter of the year and ended June with $233,000 in the bank.

In his e-mail, Ingram — a former associate of GOP pollster Frank Luntz — touts his own public relations company, 411 Communications.

But one GOP strategist noted of the slam on Reynolds: “I’m sure Mr. Ingram’s future will be successful now that he’s attacked a member of leadership.”

Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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