Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

As weve noted here

As we've noted here at TPM a few times now, one of the questions coming out of the investigation into those pilfered Democratic Judiciary Committee staff memos is whether the GOP staffers in question shared the memos with colleagues at the Justice Department or the White House.

We've now looked over the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms report on the matter issued last week. And it seems clear that his investigators were prevented from finding out whether or not this happened because of their lack of subpoena and other standard law enforcement powers.

For instance, if you look at pages 21-22 of the report (we've uploaded these sections to the TPM Document Collection), you see that Jason Lundell -- the little gizmocrat who first discovered he could get access to the memos -- was also responsible for "speaking with the Department of Justice Legislative Affairs and Legal Policy representatives."

So he worked in a liaison capacity with the people who run the judicial appointments at Justice.

It turns out there's a footnote to that sentence I just quoted.

And when you go to the bottom of the page you see that footnote reads: "As of the time this report is being completed, the Department of Justice still has under consideration investigators' request to interview the employee who Mr. Lundell reports having contacts with."

Now, they spent more than a couple days working on this report. So I think that's gentle and generous way of saying that the Justice Department declined to make this person available for an interview.

Then if you hop down to pages 48-49, you'll see that in his final interview with investigators, Manuel Miranda -- the guy at the center of all this -- for the first time mentioned that a backup disk of the documents had just come into his possession and that he got it from "a friend of his from outside the Senate" who had made the backup for him. This friend had just recently reminded him that the backup existed.

Now, here's the key.

The report says Miranda "declined to give investigators the name of the friend stating that he did not want to prolong the investigation. He also refused to give investigators the names of his White House legislative contacts for the same reason."

I bet Martha Stewart wishes she'd known about this right of non-prolongation, don't you?

In any case, all humor aside, it seems pretty clear that the Senate investigators found possible trails leading to both the White House and the Justice Department. But they were blocked from pursuing them.

That doesn't mean that anything untoward happened, only that the Senate investigators lacked the standard array of investigative tools available to law enforcement investigators. So we just don't know whether Miranda, Lundell or possibly others shared the memos with people at Justice or the White House. Because in any meaningful sense, the question simply hasn't been investigated.

The White House is

The White House is worried about the Plame investigation. But I'll bet this poll -- or their own internal ones that match it -- is what has their attention.

According to a Miami Herald poll released this morning, John Kerry is beating the president 49% to 43% among registered voters in Florida, with Ralph Nader picking up 3%.

That's bad news for the White House.

It will be difficult for John Kerry to win this election without winning Florida. But it will be all but impossible for the president to win without winning there.

I think most political professionals would agree that the significant number here isn't Kerry's relatively strong 49%, but Bush's pretty poor reelect number of 43%.

Incumbent presidents, the known quantity in a national election, tend to get what they poll. That's one reason why the 1996 presidential election turned out closer than many expected. Clinton was polling around 49% with Bob Dole trailing far behind him.

But if you hadn't decided to vote for Bill Clinton after watching him for four years on the job, there was probably a reason. And the undecideds broke heavily for Dole, thus making the final margin seem closer than the polls suggested.

Let's of course do the standard disclaimer: these are early numbers which are likely to change. After all, if John Kerry ended up beating President Bush by six points in Florida I suspect that would mean that he'd crushed the president nationwide. I don't expect that to happen. But if the Kerry campaign can make the Bush campaign fight hard for what is at least marginally their home turf, that's a big deal in itself which could have ripple effects in Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania and other states across the country.

Its clear that the

It's clear that the coalescing Bush administration position on those 9/11-image-laced ads is that the president couldn't 'ignore' 9/11 in the campaign.

Really heart-rending all the tough binds history puts this president in, isn't it?

In any case, this is really a head-fake on what people are really saying.

Nobody denies or doubts that 9/11 and the president's and the nation's reaction to it are going to be central to this campaign. It could hardly be otherwise. It's a major national catastrophe that happened on his watch. And what he did before and after are fair game for both sides.

But there's discussing 9/11 and there's discussing it. And I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that using images of dead bodies being pulled out of the wreckage in a campaign commercial is a tad over the line.

If he's looking for emotive images that show his crisis leadership in action, why not show a clip from the speech to the nation he gave just after the attacks? That was a challenge virtually everyone, myself included, thought he rose to with great merit and grace.

In other words, the point isn't that 9/11 shouldn't be discussed -- as though there were anyway it wouldn't be -- only that it shouldn't be exploited in the crudest ways imaginable.

Remember that a GOP insider told The Hill a couple weeks ago that there is a "real possibility ... we could see President Bush giving his acceptance speech at Ground Zero. It’s clearly a venue they’re considering.”

Let's be clear. The White House hasn't said they're going to do this. And we don't have any direct knowledge that they're considering it. But the idea is apparently being widely discussed in Republican circles.

I mean, the question isn't whether that would be a crass use of the 9/11 tragedies for political gain. The question is whether it's possible to imagine anything more crass. Isn't ground zero something like a graveyard?

What could be worse? The president addressing the crowd wearing a pelt from a recently executed Guantanamo prisoner? Personally executing Saddam on stage with a scimitar?

Not to be flippant, but could anything be more crass than accepting a presidential nomination on ground that is still mixed with the bodies of thousands of Americans?

Lincoln dedicated a cemetery at Gettysburg; he didn't hold the 1864 Republican convention there.

I know it probably seems like I'm piling on here. And perhaps I am. But this seems like such a compact example of the sort of hyper-politicization of this national tragedy that is one of the main reasons Democrats are so energized this year and eager to drive the president from office. People miss the point of this if they view it in isolation. I think the danger for the White House is that this plays to suspicions held by a not-insubstantial part of the electorate that they've been using this as a political lever from the start.

Just saw Mary Matalin

Just saw Mary Matalin on Meet the Press arguing that Vice-President Cheney isn't a political liability to the president. He's just taken a lot of attacks from Democrats; and doesn't fight back apparently.

"He's not Mr. Rapid Response," said Matalin.

Really? That burn campaign against Joe Wilson got off the ground pretty quickly, didn't it? And the Plame hit came out of the Vice President's office.

It was all pretty quick.

Credit where credit is due.

Late Update: About noon now, I'm watching ABC's This Week show, and like watching Meet the Press, it's reminding me why I seldom watch these shows anymore. They're both terrible. Now there's a panel with Matthew Dowd and Tad Devine, chief strategists for the Bush and Kerry, respectively.

The 'commentators' are George Will and Cokie Roberts. And thus your balance, one rep of Washington Movement conservatism and another of the capital's supercilious center. Will thinks the Bush commercials with the firefighters corpse at ground zero is great. And, guess what, Cokie thinks they're swell too.

So it's Tad Devine against three folks who think the ads are great. Then they move to deciding whether the president's attacks on Kerry are good. And they think those are good too.

Let the opposition research

Let the opposition research begin!

The Daily Telegraph, the conservative British daily, has a piece out in the Sunday paper right out of RNC-central: "Revealed: how 'war hero' Kerry tried to put off Vietnam military duty."

The 'charge', if you can call it that, is that before entering the military, John Kerry asked for a 12 month deferment to continue some sort of academic study in Paris. When his request was denied, he enlisted in the Navy.

In the words of the Telegraph: "The revelation appears to undercut Sen Kerry's carefully-cultivated image as a man who willingly served his country in a dangerous war - in supposed contrast to President Bush, who served in the Texas National Guard and thus avoided being sent to Vietnam."

An unnamed 'Republican strategist' chimes in: "I've not heard this before. This undercuts Kerry's complaints about Bush and it continues to pose questions as to his credibility among ordinary Vietnam veterans."

It's not completely clear from the article whether this is true or whether it's in any way disputed. The factoid comes from a 1970s article which appeared in the Harvard Crimson. And the Kerry campaign, according to the article, declined comment.

So assuming this is all true, it's hard to imagine what the response would be aside from, Are you kidding?

To the best of my recollection Kerry says that he had doubts about Vietnam before he ever entered the Navy. So I'm not sure this contradicts anything; and to say it puts his service on a par with the president's, who used his father's political connections to jump to the front of the line for a position in a Guard unit he knew would never be sent into combat, gives 'laughable' a bad name.

Certainly, we're going to see a lot more of this. The article helpfully notes that GOP oppo reserachers working for the president are investigating whether the wounds Kerry sustained in the war were really so bad after all.

It's true that since Kerry has made a big deal of his service that it's open for scrutiny.

But, frankly, I hope they keep going on this angle because the more they push on this front the more it will push the president's service record back to the center of attention. The contrast, on so many levels, is terrible for the president -- a running political wound which hits on all the patterns of skating through on family connections, letting others do his dirty work, and having connected friends clean up his messes.

All that is necessary is that Democrats push back hard on this stuff.

Along those lines, and we'll be saying more about this, David Bossie and Floyd Brown are back in the mix. And they're after Kerry too with a new independent expenditure ad lambasting him as an effete Massachusetts liberal.

Bossie, you'll remember, is the Republican hate freak who provided much of the dark comedy of the Clinton-hating years playing the role of second-string Wile E. Coyete to Bill Clinton's Road Runner.

Bossie's pal, Floyd Brown, first made a splash helping along the democratic process by putting together the 1988 Willie Horton ad -- which was, not particularly convincingly, disavowed by the president's father.

By 1992 Brown was back in the mix running an anti-Clinton Gennifer Flowers ad with a 900 number viewers could call for steamy details.

Along the way the two were publishing classics like Prince Albert: the Life and Lies of Al Gore (2000) and Slick Willie: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton (1992) and between the two of them managing to be involved in every twist and turn of the anti-Clinton shenanigans from their 1992 'investigations' in Arkansas, through various Whitewater and Paula Jones dirty tricks, through Bossie's telling role as 'Chief Investigator' for Dan Burton's Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

There's much more of course -- and you can follow their role as semi-hapless bad-actors in the books of Sid Blumenthal, Joe Conason, Gene Lyons, and Jeff Toobin. But if I go into any more detail at the moment my head will surely explode and then I won't be able to finish this post and there will also be a big mess on my desk.

In any case, now they're in the hunt for John Kerry, starting with the new ad you can see at their website. Go take a look, to get a taste of what's coming down the pike.

Discussing it with the

Discussing it with the people <$NoAd$>...

I will continue to speak about the effects of 9/11 on our country and my presidency ... How this administration handled that day as well as the war on terror is worthy of discussion and I look forward to discussing that with the American people.

George W. Bush
March 6th, 2004


The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks won't accept strict conditions set by the White House for the panel's interviews with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, commission members said Tuesday.

The White House wants the interviews to be limited to one hour, with the questioners limited to the panel's chairman and vice chairman.

Detroit Free Press
March 3rd, 2004


When hypocrisy outruns mockery ...

Lest we miss any

Lest we miss any opportunity to give the White House a hard time over Friday's disappointing employment report, let's not overlook this important detail.

None of those 21,000 new jobs came from the private sector. They were all the result of increased government sector hiring.

Bush 2004: Dirigisme in Times of Change!

Atrios is spot on

Atrios is spot on when he says that the headline of this New York Times article is ridiculous on its face.

The headline of the article discussing the fallout from yesterday's job report is: "Job Data Provides Ammunition for Two Sides in Presidential Race."

Ammunition for both sides? Gimme a break.

You can certainly debate the mixed signals coming out of the economy as a whole. But there's just no way in the world that job report (which reported a meager 21,000 jobs, almost all from the public sector) wasn't bad news for the White House.

How'd they come up with that headline?

Late Update: Oh the infamy! The shame!

A reader notes that the Washington Times headline was: "Job Slump Puts Bush in Bad Light" and Fox News runs the headline as "Jobs Report Doesn't Do Bush Any Favors."

So long trying for false balance that you just fall off the edge?

The shame! The Infamy! Oh the Humanity!

[ed.note: this post originally began "Atrios is dead right when he says..." But a number of readers who use the RSS feed wrote in noting their brief moment of panic when they saw the RSS headline "Atrios is dead." Thus the change.]

The Posts Mike Allen

The Post's Mike Allen seems to have gotten a bit more off the record on the 5th Amendment question than he did at the gaggle.

"White House officials," he writes at the end of his piece in tomorrow's paper, "said that neither Bush nor Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had forbidden aides called by the grand jury from invoking the Fifth Amendment."

The Times also has a less-detailed piece. But they do add that "lawyers [involved in the case] said that they believed, however, that the prosecutors were nearing a turning point when they would decide whether to charge anyone with a crime or drop the case."

Finally, Newsday, which broke the story yesterday about the subpoenas, adds a hint about what that weird addition of the guest list for Gerald Ford's birthday party might be about.

In two words, Andrea Mitchell, who may have been there with her husband Alan Greenspan.

Final point.

Lawyers note that having your lawyer send the message that you will take the fifth can often get you out of a grand jury appearance altogether or at least be the opening gambit in a negotiation with a prosecutor. So there's probably various levels of wiggle room on this one.

Are we blocking an

Are we blocking an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza until after the November election?

This is the last graf in an article running on the Associated Press wire ...

Earlier this week, Dov Weisglass, a senior Sharon aide, discussed the proposed withdrawal with top U.S. officials. The Maariv daily said Friday that Weisglass was told the Bush administration would not like to see a withdrawal before the U.S. election because of concerns of growing instability in Gaza. However, Sharon adviser Assaf Shariv said Friday that no dates for a possible withdrawal were raised during the meetings with U.S. officials.


A couple points. I'm pretty sure <$Ad$>there's no English language edition of Maariv. So I'd really be curious to find out precisely what this article in Maariv said, not just this clipped reference.

Secondly, there are a host of legitimate issues about how this disengagement might take place -- not least of which is whether it's done unilaterally or through some sort of bilateral agreement. So there are various reasons we might want them to hold their horses. One might even speculate that the Israelis are using supposed US domestic political concerns as an excuse to delay action in Gaza.

But if the administration is pushing back turmoil in the Middle East to game the election, we should know more about that.

Late Update: This article in the Israeli daily Haaretz adds credence to the conclusion that that is precisely what's happening.

Here are two key grafs from the Haaretz article ...

Also Friday, security sources said that, bowing to White House pressure Israel intends to wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November before uprooting the Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The security sources said Sharon recognized the Bush administration's concern that implementing his unilateral pullout plan during the U.S. campaign could cause political problems by fuelling instability in Palestinian areas.


This should get more attention in the American press.

LiveWire