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A tough time kicking

A tough time kicking the 9/11 habit?

We join this morning's gaggle already in <$NoAd$>session ...

QUESTION: Director Tenet also said that part of the problem he was having was they had gaps in the intelligence, they had gaps in what they knew about Iraq, and for that reason he feared surprises. MR. McCLELLAN: That he feared what?

QUESTION: He feared surprises from Iraq. In other words, the unpredictability of the intel, itself, created that threat. Did the President share that view, as well? MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that Dr. Kay and Director Tenet and others have pointed out the need for the Iraqi Survey Group to complete its work, that there is a lot of work still to do. We are learning more, but it's important that they do as thorough a job as possible, and gather as many facts as possible so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible. Then we can -- and the President has made it very clear -- then we can have as complete a picture as possible so that we can compare what we are learning on the ground with what we knew before the war. But we already know that what we have learned on the ground since the war only reconfirms what we knew before the war, that Iraq was a gathering threat and that the decision that the President of the United States made was the right decision.

QUESTION: -- prove that? What do you mean?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Dr. Kay has pointed out in his testimony, Helen, that it was possibly more dangerous than we thought. QUESTION: All these countries that do have nuclear weapons, they're not a threat at all? But the intent, and you're a mind-reader as to what was going to happen? It wouldn't hold up in court. MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I know that you do not feel that we are safer because we removed Saddam Hussein from power. I think most people believe the world is safer and better because we removed Saddam Hussein from power. QUESTION: A lot of people are dead, thousands. MR. McCLELLAN: And the President remembers those who lost their lives on September 11th. That taught us that we are living in a different -- QUESTION: They had nothing to do with September 11th, the Iraqis. MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I beg to differ. September 11th taught us that we are living in a dangerous new world. September 11th -- QUESTION: So you attack somebody who is innocent? MR. McCLELLAN: September 11th taught us that we must confront gathering threats before it's too late. September 11th changed the equation. And this President -- and this President's highest responsibility is protecting the American people. And he will not wait and rely on the good intentions of Saddam Hussein, given his history, to confront that threat. Saddam Hussein had the choice, and Saddam Hussein continued to defy the international community.

[The following comes later in the Q&A]

QUESTION: I guess what I'm asking here is how long has the United States known of the nuclear weapons fire sale being run out of Pakistan and -- MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, like I said, there's a lot of -- there are a number of success stories in the intelligence community that often go unseen or unreported or are not reported until quite some time after the fact. You heard from Director Tenet -- QUESTION: Well, tell us. MR. McCLELLAN: -- you heard from Director Tenet, in terms of what he said on Pakistan. And you've seen, by the actions of the government of Pakistan, that they are committed to stopping proliferation.

QUESTION: It just raises a question. The United States went to war against a leader that we said had these weapons, turned out not to. We're confronting North Korea over what we think are their weapons. Libya is an issue. And, yet, on Pakistan, it sounds as if we've known for a while that they were running this black market on nuclear weapons and haven't done anything. MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I don't think it raises the question you are asking. I think it shows that we're confronting threats around the world in a number of different ways. And weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a high priority for this administration. That's one reason why the President is going to be announcing this commission, to do a broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities related to weapons of mass destruction. But Iraq, remember -- we pointed out -- was unique, given Saddam Hussein's history and given the events of September 11th.

The tragedy of addiction ...

A few follow-up points

A few follow-up points on yesterday's UPI story on possible Plame-related indictments in Dick Cheney's office.

The first thing to notice is that, as near as I can tell, the story has not been picked up by any other news organization. Moreover, from the rough read one gets from Google News, the UPI Story only seems to have run on the website of only one news organization.

Several other news organizations have been and continue to sit on this story -- though why, for good reasons or not good reasons, I'm not sure.

Yesterday I talked with an emissary from neoconland who pushed back heavily on the story, at least as regards John Hannah. No mention of Libby. But Hannah, this person insisted, is simply not a target of the investigation.

Let me add another point. There are lots of people I know (of many political persuasions) who aren't surprised Libby would be involved in this and won't be shedding a tear if he gets brought down by it. But they feel the opposite on both counts about Hannah.

None of this means Hannah is or isn't in the clear. I'm just trying to give you a feel for the reaction to the mention of his name as a potential target of this investigation.

Another topic to keep an eye on: just why did John Ashcroft get out of the way of this investigation when he did? There's a story there.

Sistani dodged a bullet

Sistani dodged a bullet today. And so did we.

According to this late report from Reuters: "Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has survived an assassination bid when gunmen opened fire on his entourage in the sacred streets of Najaf."

The key players and factions are jockeying for position, awaiting our departure.

Theres been plenty of

There's been plenty of chatter over recent days that some indictments were coming down the pike in the Plame matter. <$NoAd$> Now UPI's Richard Sale seems to have the goods.

This from a story just out ...

Federal law enforcement officials said that they have developed hard evidence of possible criminal misconduct by two employees of Vice President Dick Cheney's office related to the unlawful exposure of a CIA officer's identity last year.

The investigation, which is continuing, could lead to indictments, a Justice Department official said.

According to these sources, John Hannah and Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby were the two Cheney employees.

"We believe that Hannah was the major player in this," one federal law enforcement officer said.

Calls to the vice president's office were not returned. Hannah and Libby did not return calls.

The strategy of the FBI is to make clear to Hannah "that he faces a real possibility of doing jail time," as a way to pressure him to name superiors, one federal law enforcement official said.

This is, to put it mildly, awfully big news if it bears out.

We're sitting on some other key developments in the case which we're hoping to post late this afternoon or this evening.

Im tied up for

I'm tied up for most of the rest of the afternoon taking care of some editorial responsibilities. But take a good look at Kevin Drum's discussion of the "torn document" upon which hangs President Bush's case on the Air National Guard matter. Believe me, you'll want to see this.

Now for a bit

Now for a bit more on the Plame matter.

We've known for some time that the CIA nudged the Department of Justice to look into the Plame matter for some time before an investigation was finally launched in late September of last year.

Now we have a few more details.

On September 30th of last year Rep. John Conyers, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the CIA requesting a description of what contacts the Agency had had with Justice about the Plame matter prior to the commencement of the investigation.

Then last Friday, January 30th, the CIA responded in a letter we've just added to the TPM Document Collection.

According to the letter the CIA first contacted Justice by phone on July 24th, 2003. They followed up on July 30th, 2003 with a letter advising them of a possible violation of criminal law and informing them that they had opened their own investigation.

The folks at the CIA seem not to have gotten an altogether satisfactory response to the July 30th letter because they again sent the letter, by fax, on September 5th, 2003.

Then on September 16, 2003 they contacted Justice yet again to inform them that they (i.e., CIA) had completed their investigation. They provided a memo summarizing their findings and requested that the FBI begin a criminal investigation of the matter.

Finally on September 29th, Justice notified the CIA that they had in fact begun an investigation.

Why did it take so long? Why did the CIA have to press so hard?

See the letter for yourself.

Much more on this to come.

Were trying to make

We're trying to make our way through all the various versions of the Bush-Air National Guard story and come to some conclusions about which theories and explanations are credible and which are not.

We'll report back when we find out more. But for the moment, here's some more information to add to the mix.

Phil Carter is a former Army officer, who's spent some time in the Guard. And he has a blog. Today Phil has a detailed post explaining what a number of readers told me yesterday: namely, that even if President Bush's attendence records have gotten lost, torn up, or even spontaneously combusted, his service during the time in question should be verifiable through one or more other records.

Those include payment records, IRS records documenting withholdings from those payments, and retirement 'points' earned for attendence.

One or more of these records should allow the president to clear this matter up.

Phil has more details. Definitely take a look.

Plenty of Joe-mentum just

Plenty of Joe-mentum, just all in the wrong direction.

A few other thoughts.

I've been mulling for several days why President Bush suddenly seems so wobbly both in the polls and also with those who have heretofore remained steadfastly loyal. I discuss what I came up with in my new column in Wednesday's edition of The Hill. A quick hint: Immigration reform, Mars mission, prescription drug shenanigans -- they've taken a toll.

Also take a look at Jonathan Alter's new piece on Kerry's onslaught on the military service issue. I've gotten a number of emails over the last few days from Republicans asking, with a genuine disbelief and incomprehension, how it is that the questions about President Bush's military service record are coming up now after they were 'dealt with' in 2000.

As Spencer Ackerman discusses ably in this piece in the new New Republic, they weren't really dealt with at all. Or rather, the national media never really got to the bottom of what happened. Certainly they didn't devote even a fraction of the attention to it that was lavished on Bill Clinton's awkward history with the selective service in 1992 and 1996.

But there is something different here. And the difference is that the Democrats have decided to go on the offensive -- and this is a version of preemption that Dems may, and should, warm to. After Clark had some stumbles with the issue, Kerry has been hitting it for a couple weeks. And the recent round of coverage on it would never have emerged had Terry McAullife not forced it into the news cycle over the weekend.

Perhaps it takes a vet like Kerry to fix on the importance of maintaining the initiative at all times. Now, let's see if he remembers about unity of command.

And one more point about the president's military service. I'm told that pay records -- for which the records are apparently much better kept -- might be able to settle the matter of what President Bush was doing during his sojourn in Alabama. We'll get into that more later.

A few thoughts on

A few thoughts on the Bush AWOL issue.

Ed Gillespie, RNC Chairman, accused DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe of leveling a "demonstrably false and malicious charge that would be slanderous under any ordinary circumstance" when he accused the president of going AWOL while he was serving in the Air National Guard in the early 1970s. The charges made McAuliffe into the "John Wilkes Booth of character assassination" in Gillespie's words.

Now, interestingly, today's Washington Post says that administration officials are telling reporters that "former senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who is president of the New School University, [is] the sort of nonpartisan statesman they are seeking" for the new Iraqi WMD commission.

But those officials may need to rethink their praise for the other Senator Kerrey since back in November 2000 he told the Boston Globe that then-candidate Bush "need[ed] to explain where he was when he was supposed to be fulfilling his military obligation. If he is elected president, how will he be able to deal as commander in chief with someone who goes AWOL, when he did the same thing?"

Presumably, Gillespie will confer with his colleagues at the White House and work that one out.

Does that mean that Kerrey is out for the commission? Or maybe that McAuliffe is now eligible? Who knows?

In any case, back to the president's record from back in the day.

In an excellent sum-up piece in The New Republic this week Spencer Ackerman summarizes the key period of delinquency ...

Less than two years after finishing his initial pilot's training, Bush was offered a job in Alabama with the 1972 Senate campaign of former U.S. Postmaster General Winton Blount. Bush asked Guard officials in May of that year if he could fulfill his continuing duty obligations by serving with a mail squadron based in Montgomery, but they turned him down, noting the unit's lax drilling schedule. Bush left Texas anyway--with his Guard responsibilities unresolved--joining the campaign in Alabama that month. In August, he failed to take his annual flight physical, which meant losing his flight status. A month later, he requested and received permission to perform his fall Guard duty with the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery before returning to Houston's Ellington Air Force Base after the election. But he apparently never showed up: The Globe investigation found that Ellington had no record of Bush performing service in Alabama. In fact, the 187th's commander--Bush's commander--William Turnipseed told the paper, "Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not. I had been in Texas, done my flight training there. If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered." His memory was corroborated by Bush's discharge papers, which showed neither any service in Alabama nor any training by Lieutenant Bush at all after May 1972.

Bush was supposed to return to Houston after Blount's losing race. But, by May 1973, his commanding officers in Texas noticed that they could not write his annual performance evaluation for the simple reason that Bush wasn't there. "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report"--May 1, 1972, to April 30, 1973--his evaluation reads. This was a serious charge: Delinquent guardsmen could be inducted into the Army ...

Now, over the course of the day I've gotten a number of letters from current and former members of the Guard in various states who've told me that this was the standard policy. One tells me that he himself processed one deliquent guardsman on to active duty and on to Vietnam.

Now, these are just e-mails over the transom. In themselves, they don't settle the issue. But clearly many guys who were lucky enough to get a slot in the Guard, but screwed up once they were there, found themselves shipped off to Vietnam. (That appears to have been the prescribed punishment -- though we're trying to track down if there were any relevant emendations -- for those who "failed to serve satisfactorily" in the Guard under Executive Order 10984 of 1961.)

A lot of those guys must be out there -- at least the ones who weren't killed during their service. A lot of the commanding officers who blew the whistle on them must be out there too. It would be interesting to do some reporting and find some guys who didn't get cut any slack and got shipped off. Seems like a national news organization could shed some light on that question with a little reporting.

When I look at

When I look at the federal investigation being launched into the Janet Jackson boob incident, I realize what I like about this administration: they believe in accountability.

And speaking of accountability, the signs from the president's 'independent' inquiry aren't looking too good either.

According to this article on the front page of today's Post (I've started reading the paper paper again) the president seems inclined to take full advantage of his self-appointed power to appoint all the members of the commission (safe Dems, Republican ringers and militant Iraq hawks). And while there's no mention that the panel will be given any brief to look at White House's use of intelligence data, it will be instructed to look at CIA's intelligence shortcomings on Iran, North Korea, Libya and India -- perhaps they'll take another look at that whole Pearl Harbor thing too.

When we actually eyeball the executive order I fully expect we'll see it contains instructions to get to the bottom of why Joe Wilson has been making so many press appearances.

This commission may not quite fail the laugh test. But, boy, is it lousy with giggles. When do some of the press bigs call out this Potemkin Panel for the joke that it seems likely to be?