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OK all you conspiracy minded Democrats — what was Ralph Nader doing at the Capitol Hill Club yesterday? [IMGCAP(1)]

Yes, that Capitol Hill Club, located right next to Republican National Committee headquarters and the site of so many GOP fundraisers. And yes, that Ralph Nader, who some

Democrats believe spoiled then-Vice President Al Gore’s bid for the White House back in 2000. Nader, who is running for president again this year, recently picked up the endorsement of the Reform Party and is scrambling to get on the ballot in a number of states heading into the fall campaign.

So what was Nader up to? Was it a secret meeting with Republicans to cook up ways to sink presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in November?

Turns out Nader was speaking to a bunch of National Security Agency employees on third-party politics, according to Kevin Zeese, spokesman for Nader’s presidential campaign. The speech was part of a three-day seminar for the NSA executives put on by Alan L. Freed Associates of Alexandria, Va. The seminar covered the presidency, judiciary and the media, and Nader was one of more than a dozen speakers set to address the forum.

But Zeese said he and his boss knew there might be some questions if anyone from the Fourth Estate (or the Democratic Party) saw them going into the Republican haunt.

“Somebody is going to think you’re going in there to get a payoff,” Zeese jokingly told Nader as they walked into the Capitol Hill Club Tuesday, he later related to HOH. “But don’t worry — he is not being inducted into the Republican Party.”

Okay, well what about Nader and the NSA? That’s a weird mix.

“He’s done this for years,” said Zeese of Nader’s involvement with the agency’s annual seminar. Nader even provided copies of some of his recent books for the NSA types to peruse before he came over.

Ralph Nader and the NSA — it’s all making sense now.

It’s Nice to Have Friends. The Washington lobbying community welcomed Brian Gaston to his new post as chief of staff for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) by throwing him a party last night.

The reception took place at the offices of the lobbying form C2 Group LLC, and was co-hosted by PepsiCo, which also rents space in the same suite.

The list of lobbyists who helped put on the event reads like a “Who’s Who” of well-connected Republican influence peddlers. An invite for the party listed as sponsors Nick Calio of Citigroup, Lee Culpepper of the National Restaurant Association, Susan Hirschmann of Williams & Jensen, Gregg Hartley of Cassidy & Associates, Kerry Knott of Comcast Corp., Mark Isakowitz of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, Tony Rudy of the Alexander Strategy Group and Leigh Ann Pusey of the American Insurance Association, among others.

A lot of these folks worked at one time or another with Gaston during his more than two decades on Capitol Hill and are delighted to see one of their own take over the top spot in Blunt’s shop. Gaston, who was Blunt’s policy director, moved up to chief of staff last month. He replaced David Hebert, who has since joined Alston & Bird’s Washington office.

“After 21 years on the Hill and more legislative battles than I can count, I’m glad anyone will return my call, much less throw me a party,” said Gaston. “I’m lucky to have learned the tricks of the trade with many of these pros, and I’m grateful for their friendship — and hospitality.”

Like HOH says, it’s nice to have friends.

Hey, Only We Can Slam Those Guys. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) got help from an unlikely source recently after a Nevada newspaper bashed Hagel’s proposal to bring back the military draft.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) laid into the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week after the paper ran an editorial that harshly criticized Hagel for his support for a new compulsory draft. The Nebraska Republican thinks bringing back the draft, which was abolished in 1973, may be necessary to fight the “War on Terror.”

The Review-Journal suggested that if Hagel “was that dedicated to seeing millionaires in uniform, Sen. Hagel, of course, is free to volunteer.”

The Review-Journal added: “It is not moral to force free people to do things against their will.”

Reid didn’t care for his hometown paper’s roughing up of Hagel. “Your April 27 editorial ‘Bring back the draft?’ was dead wrong to impugn the courage of U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.,” Reid wrote.

“Sen. Chuck Hagel has already served his country in combat. He went to Vietnam in 1968 along with his younger brother, Tom. They served side by side as infantry squad leaders with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division. Chuck earned many military decorations and honors, including two Purple Hearts.”

Reid added: “Chuck Hagel is a war hero. He fought for your right to disagree with him. Hopefully you can exercise that right without attacking him personally.”

Dolphin-safe Capitol? The Capitol Police debuted their new horse-mounted patrol last week, and the Capitol police chief used the event to raise the possibility that Capitol Hill may soon see another mammal at work on security issues.

While HOH loves the names of the new patrol ponies — Liberty, Freedom, Tribute, Patriot, Honor and Justice — and is happy that Chief Terrance Gainer came up with the concept for the patrol in the first place, he made another suggestion that we find interesting.

During a ceremony unveiling the new horse force, Gainer said he had some ideas for using the Upper Senate Park, next to the Russell Senate Office Building, in case of emergency, although Gainer’s plans may need some fine tuning.

“I noticed today while that this park would be a perfect place for helicopters to land,” joked Gainer, “I might have to suggest to the appropriators that we consider a dolphinmounted patrol in the water fountain, just to be safe.”

Goodbye, Felix. This has nothing to do with politics really, but HOH is deeply saddened by the news that actor Tony Randall passed away Monday at the age of 84.

Randall, in addition to his numerous stage and movie roles, played the character Felix Unger, a fussy hypochondriacal neat freak, in the TV show “The Odd Couple.” Working opposite Jack Klugman, who played Oscar Madison, an incredibly messy, gambling-addicted sportswriter, the two helped make the show one of the best sitcoms in TV history. HOH salutes you.

Megan Van Diver contributed to this report.

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