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Here just after midnight

Here just after midnight I was trying to read tomorrow's papers to see if anyone had much more light to shed on the revelations of the weekend. And all I can think to say is that this mess gives new meaning to the phrase 'train wreck'.

Here in the Post, for instance, you have Floyd Abrams, Miller's one-time and maybe still lawyer, coming pretty close to calling Miller a liar, twice.

Look at this passage closely ...

According to the Times story, one of Miller's lawyers, Floyd Abrams, was authorized in the summer of 2004 to talk to Libby's lawyer, Joseph A. Tate, about whether Libby, who had signed a paper waiver, "really wanted her to testify." The story said that "Tate had said she was free to testify," but Abrams added that "Tate also passed along some information about Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony: that he had not told Ms. Miller the name or undercover status of Mr. Wilson's wife."

With that information, the Times said, Miller concluded that Libby was sending her a message that he did not want her to testify. The newspaper added that "Mr. Tate called Ms. Miller's interpretation 'outrageous.' "

Yesterday, Bennett would not say that Tate was trying to steer Miller's testimony, but that he thought it "complicated things" and that "Judy felt she did not have the clear personal waiver she needed."

In an interview yesterday, Abrams declined to endorse Miller's account that Libby did not want her to testify unless she was going to exonerate him. "That's Judy's interpretation," Abrams said. Tate "certainly asked me what Judy would say, but that's an entirely proper question."

Abrams also minimized Miller's assertion that another source may have given her the name "Valerie Flame," as she recorded it in the same notebook used for her first interview of Libby. Abrams said others may have mentioned Plame only "in passing. . . . The central and essentially only figure who had information was Libby."

Remember, this isn't just another player in the case. This is her lawyer. Nobody expects him to lie for her. But he doesn't have to say anything.

I know using the word 'lie' here may seem overdone. And certainly Abrams is careful to phrase his words in such a way so as not to explicitly say she is being untruthful. But these are not minor points in her story that he is contradicting. They are close to the two most significant ones -- first, just why she initially refused and then agreed to talk, and, second, whether there are other mystery sources out there who could be the source of Plame's name.

On both points he is taking it upon himself to contradict her account publicly.

And one other point along these lines. In evaluating all that happened here, the Miller denouement, the actions of Times management and everything else, pay close attention to the never-quite-explained hand off of the case from Abrams to Bennett. I trust I won't be shocking anyone too greatly if I say that the claim in the Times' piece that Bennett's representation began after he and Miller "bumped" into each other on Capitol Hill isn't quite the whole truth.

Not until tonight did

Not until tonight did I closely read through the Times article on the Miller fiasco. And I have to ask: Was I the only one who found the reporting extraordinarily thin?

I'm not trying to criticize the reporters, or not necessarily them. But the piece read to me as though the reporters had been allowed to interview Times management and employees on the record -- and that was about it. I didn't get a sense that the piece was based on a lot of reporting outside the Times building itself and its Washington bureau. After all, how many other people are there in Washington the Times reporters could have interviewed on background? Miller's colleagues, FBI agents, various lawyers around the case, people at the State Department, the Pentagon, the possibilities are not much short of endless.

I can't know what Van Natta, Liptak and Levy did or who they talked to. And I can only imagine the cross-cutting pressures they were working under. But I didn't see much signs of that kind of reporting in the piece I read.

Of course, the piece is already pretty lengthy. And it reveals a number of important new facts about the story -- which I'll discuss in a moment. But it leaves an inevitable question: Is this it? The article leaves a slew of questions conspicuously unanswered -- about the paper, about Miller, about the case. Who's assigning follow-up articles? Look at the piece in detail and Miller and Jill Abramson seem to be calling each other liars. That, or there's a mystery 'editor' loose at the Times.

All that aside, what does it tell us? Several things, as near as I can see, and in no particular order. Miller seems to lie repeatedly in her statements both to the Times and, as she relates what she said, to the Grand Jury. She's still not cooperating with the Times. Sulzberger and Keller went down this whole path while knowing virtually nothing about the situation Miller was in or what she had done. She kept them almost entirely in the dark. And they didn't protest. Keller, meanwhile, concedes he either wouldn't or couldn't control Miller. That squares with a general impression that Keller was passive in the face of Sulzberger's recklessness and poor judgment.

Hopefully Pat Fitzgerald has a decent idea of what happened and what's happening here. Because I think our information is thin and more incomplete than we realize. Miller's still holding out for whatever reason, good or bad. The fire burning at the Times hasn't been brought under control let alone extinguished. And remember, Miller's just one part of this story.

Kevin Drum has three

Kevin Drum has three really good posts on the Judy Miller portion of the Plame finale.

In one post he reminds of John Bolton's man Fred Fleitz as a very probable background player in the drama. And he rightly points to the significance of Miller's having been told by someone -- just who is almost a secondary matter -- the name 'Plame' rather than simply told that Joe Wilson's wife worked as a clandestine operative at CIA.

In the second he doubts the now-popular notion that Miller's attorney Bob Bennett hoodwinked Fitzgerald by getting him to agree to limit his questions to her conversations with Libby.

This last one explains why Miller's claim not to remember who identified Wilson's wife as "Plame" is obviously false.

Writing in Time Mike

Writing in Time, Mike Allen says the White House is planning to right the sinking Miers' nomination by moving from what they call the "biographical phase" to the "accomplishment phase". But reading Allen's short piece suggests that the entertainment-cum-schadenfreude phase may have only just begun.

For one thing we have Karl Rove telling James Dobson that other much-beloved female conservatives rejected consideration "because the process has become so vicious." The prospect of picturing Karl Rove bemoaning the vicious turn of the American political scene is almost enough to make you overlook the fact that the claim is almost certainly a lie.

In any case, the White House spin team is going to get things back on track by talking about "Miers' experience dealing with such real-world issues as the Voting Rights Act when she was a Dallas city council member and Native American tribal sovereignty when she was chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission."

Says one White Houser: "As the focus becomes less on who she's not and more on who she is, that's a better place to be."

So things will look better when interest moves from her not being a qualified candidate for the Court to her being an unqualified candidate.

Quite a lot is

Quite a lot is contained in these five grafs from the Times mega-piece on the Judy Miller tale ...

In two interviews, Ms. Miller generally would not discuss her interactions with editors, elaborate on the written account of her grand jury testimony or allow reporters to review her notes.

On July 30, 2003, Mr. Keller became executive editor after his predecessor, Howell Raines, was dismissed after a fabrication scandal involving a young reporter named Jayson Blair.

Within a few weeks, in one of his first personnel moves, Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues. Even so, Mr. Keller said, "she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm."

Although criticism of Ms. Miller's Iraq coverage mounted, Mr. Keller waited until May 26, 2004, to publish an editors' note that criticized some of the paper's coverage of the run-up to the war.

The note said the paper's articles on unconventional weapons were credulous. It did not name any reporters and said the failures were institutional. Five of the six articles called into question were written or co-written by Ms. Miller.

It's late so just a few observations.

First, how do the events <$NoAd$> leading to Raines' dismissal compare to those only alluded to in their outlines here?

My recollection is that the accepted brief leading to Raines' dismissal was that he oversaw an organizational culture in which the fabulist Blair was allowed to flourish and go undetected because excuses were so often made for him and warning signs of his misdeeds were overlooked or ignored.

Sound familiar?

The only editorial accountability imposed on Miller was that she not write on Iraq or unconventional weapons. And yet, Keller concedes, she seemed to self-assign her way back into the same territory. I don't know what examples Keller has in mind. But a good place to start is Miller's inexplicable coverage of the UN Oil-for-Food scandal as recently as this past summer.

Not only is the whole Oil-for-Food story by definition about Iraq, it is also far more deeply tied to the weapons back story than it appears to on the surface. One need only note that the purported documents which gave birth to the most inflammatory charges were 'discovered' by Ahmed Chalabi.

So it seems that Miller was literally out of (editorial) control at the Times not only after the WMD stories but after they were discredited as well.

Ive been out for

I've been out for most of the day enjoying the city with my wife. And I haven't yet had the intestinal fortitude to dive into the Times lengthy and multiple treatment of its role in the Plame Affair. But a lot of attention in the blogs already seems to be focusing on this passage in Judy Miller's apologia ...

Mr. Fitzgerald asked about a notation I made on the first page of my notes about this July 8 meeting, "Former Hill staffer."

My recollection, I told him, was that Mr. Libby wanted to modify our prior understanding that I would attribute information from him to a "senior administration official." When the subject turned to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Libby requested that he be identified only as a "former Hill staffer." I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.

Did Mr. Libby explain this request? Mr. Fitzgerald asked. No, I don't recall, I replied. But I said I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson.

I got an email about this. And I've read around the blogs to see other responses. So I thought about <$NoAd$> writing a post trying to give some background about whether this is a normal or accepted practice among reporters.

The first part of an answer is to say, no, I would never agree to that sort of sourcing or those sorts of ground rules. And I can't imagine that many other journalists would either. But I think the more revealing detail is that I do not think I've ever even been asked.

I'm certainly not what you'd call a veteran reporter. But I've been doing this for a living for about eight years and I've reported on a number of quite sensitive intelligence and national security stories in which the revelation of the sources of particular pieces of information could have had very immediate real-world implications. And just off the top of my head, thinking it over this evening, I can't come up with a memory of a situation in which a source has asked me to identify them in this way. And by 'this way' I mean in a fashion that is technically accurately but intentionally and willfully misleading to readers.

What happens very often is that you get in wrestling matches with sources over specificity -- with the reporter always wanting more detail and the source usually wanting to keep things as vague as possible.

Occasionally you will end up with formulations that amount to little more than 'said a human being in Washington who was knowledgeable about this subject.'

That's never a satisfactory solution; but occasionally it's unavoidable. And behind it is almost always -- from my experience at least -- a frustrated calculus the reporter has made that the information is illuminating and revealing enough of the truth of the story to justify not being able to give your readers a very clear idea just where you got it.

These are cases where the reader has to have a lot of trust in the journalist; and the journalist has to be really honest with him or herself.

For instance, such vague sourcing would seldom be justified where the information was subjective description or opinion. Blind quotes of one person trashing another seldom make for good journalism. And if they're used they should always come with at least a reasonably specific return address. Otherwise you're just laundering vituperation or calumny.

The cases where I've agreed to very vague identification of a source have mostly been cases where a particular piece of factual information was known only to a very small number or just a handful of people (think intel and national security reporting) and where providing even very limited description would be tantamount to exposing the source.

Like I said, in those cases you make a judgment about whether the information is probative enough to justify withholding from readers even very general information about its source.

I could spin out numerous hypotheticals. And this is probably already more information than most folks want. But in this case it certainly seems as though the tacit bargain between Miller and Libby was that Libby would provide Miller with information in exchange for her assistance in deceiving her readers. And that violates the rule or principle that amounts to the Occam's Razor of journalistic ethics -- fundamental honesty with your readers.

TPM Reader NT poses

TPM Reader NT poses an interesting question. What did Harriet Miers know about the White House plan to bulldoze Joe Wilson and reveal his wife's identity?

Even more interesting, what does she know about what the president knew?

As we all know, the cognitive gears of official Washington have ground to a virtual halt waiting to hear just what prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is going to spring in the next two weeks. Karl Rove went back before the grand jury this morning for one final attempt to slip the noose. And we're also told that Fitzgerald's investigation has now ventured back well before Joe Wilson's Times OpEd piece was published on July 6th, 2003.

Now, let's line up Miers' timeline with that one.

On June 27th, 2003 Ari Fleischer announced that President Bush was promoting Miers to the post of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Prior to that she served as the president's staff secretary.

According to a March 24th, 2003 profile in Texas Lawyer, Miers' position gave her "more one-on-one contact with the president than nearly any other staff member in the West Wing" and made her "the ultimate gatekeeper for what crosses the desk of the nation's commander in chief."

From everything we know, the Joe Wilson matter provoked intense concern within the White House well before he went public on July 6th. It seems pretty likely the president would have heard or read something about what was going on. But proving it is another matter entirely.

Given her role at the White House at the time, Miers would seem uniquely placed to give some read on just what he knew and when he knew. Indeed, what she knew and when she knew it.

Has anyone asked her about this topic? Has she appeared before the Fitzgerald grand jury? Has she been asked whether she's appeared before the Fitzgerald grand jury?

As some of you

As some of you may have noticed, we've gotten into a long-distance back and forth with the campaign manager of Mark Green (R), sitting US congressman and now candidate for Governor of Wisconsin.

Earlier this month I posted a roster of congressional staffers given tickets for a WWF event at the Abramoff skybox back in October 2000. One of the names on the list was Mark Graul, who was then Green's Chief of Staff and is now his campaign manager.

A Wisconsin political newsletter Wispolitics.com (which is available only to subscribers, unfortunately) followed up with Graul and asked him what the deal was. Graul jocularly denied he ever went to the event.

As Wispolitics.com reported it ...

Graul admits to being a former pro wrestling enthusiast but says he hasn't been to a match since the early '80s, when he saw The Crusher take on Baron Von Raschke at the Mecca in Milwaukee. "I did not go (to the WWF Raw is War)," says Graul, who was in Wisconsin at the time of the event. "I never went to a WWF event in D.C., don't recall ever being asked to go to the event, and I've never met Jack Abramoff in my life. He could come up and punch me in the face and I wouldn't know. I don't know why I'm on that list."

But said Graul, "I cannot claim I was never a fan of WWF.'' He then rattled off the names of favorites Koko B. Ware and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. "But when they made Hulk Hogan into Hollywood Hogan and turned him into a bad guy, I lost interest," he said.

A few days after that we followed up.

We noted that we had no way of knowing whether Graul actually showed up at the skybox, only that Preston Gates emails (Abramoff's firm at the time) show him being given tickets to attend. Moreover, those emails describe him repeatedly getting, or at least requesting tickets, to events. No fewer than six times by our count over the course of 2000, the last year Abramoff was at the firm. The events ranged from basketball games to more professional wrestling to a concert by Limp Bizkit.

Wispolitics.com again got in touch with Graul. And this is what they heard ...

While Graul says he knows Jennifer Calvert, the Abramoff staffer Marshall identifies as getting the tickets for Graul, he says he never asked her or anyone else for freebies. "I never asked for tickets to anything when I was in Washington," he said.

As further evidence, Graul offers that he moved back to Wisconsin after getting married in May 2000, and was rarely in Washington on weekends. The NBA All-Star game was held in Washington on Feb. 11, 2001, after Graul said he moved from the D.C. area.

And, he said, mosh pits are not his style. "If you ask anybody who knows me well, the idea of me at a Limp Bizkit concert is pretty funny," said Graul. "I couldn't name one song by any of those people, if they even have songs."

Graul said he did attend a Wizards-Milwaukee Bucks game while in Washington, which he said was well-attended by many Hill staffers from Wisconsin, but said he couldn't recall how the tickets came to him. "I can't remember. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I have no clue if that was with Jennifer or not. I never asked for tickets for anything. Oftentimes people who had tickets would offer them."

Here, as you can see, we're into sorta kinda non-denial denials of several sorts. He never 'asked' for tickets? Was he given them anyway? As for Limp Bizkit, maybe he's not a fan, but did he go to the concert in the Abramoff skybox? It's really not a hard question to answer.

(In case you're wondering, I've tried to contact Graul myself. But he hasn't gotten back to me.)

As you can see, with the Wizards-Bucks game he concedes he was there, but goes for what you might call the limited, modified Woodstock response. As in, yeah, I got some. But those were crazy days. And I don't remember how I got it or who I got it from.

It seems possible that Graul's memory might be a bit better with the Wizards-Bucks game because in the letter in question, Calvert specifically says she planned to host him at the event in person.

Now, it's been suggested that maybe Graul didn't go to all these events himself. Maybe he requested them for junior members of the staff or even allowed them to put in the requests in his name. In at least one of the emails, Calvert seems to make it pretty clear the request came directly from Graul.

"I got a request from Mark Graul, COS for Rep. Green, for tickets for the NBA all star game and the dunk contest that is apparently going to be at the MCI Center in early February," she wrote Abramoff and his assistant Susan Ralston on November 28th, 2000. "Can we honor his request?"

I tried to contact Calvert herself, who left Preston Gates a couple months later for Washington Strategies, to find out what the story was. But she hasn't returned my call.

Sheesh It never rains

Sheesh! It never rains but it pours. A criminal referral in the Armstrong Williams goofball propaganda case?

AP: "Investigators at the Education Department have contacted the U.S. attorney's office regarding the Bush administration's hiring of commentator Armstrong Williams to promote its agenda."