Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

They sorta buried it, probably because they didn't feel their sourcing was strong enough to make it their lede. But the Daily News suggests Fitzgerald's got a cooperating witness inside the White House.

Like so many articles in these final days before the story is told, or at least begun, Tuesday's Post piece by VandeHei and Pincus suggests volumes but says frustratingly little.

Three points stand out.

First is the suggestion, noted several times through the piece, that Fitzgerald's investigation reaches back into Cheney's running battles with the CIA. Remember, Fitzgerald got two judges (Hogan and Tatel) to give him extraordinary latitude to pursue this case. To get that latitude he provided the appeals court with what the Times earlier called "secret evidence ... that neither the reporters nor their lawyers were allowed to see."

Agree with Fitzgerald's zealousness or not, he seems to have persuaded those judges that he was after more than lawyerly dissections of who uttered which phrase when and why in the conversation between Karl Rove and Matt Cooper. This looks like the outlines of what he told them he was after. At least it's our best hint so far.

Second point: Fitzgerald's office, for the first time I can remember, made an on-the-record statement about the conclusion of the investigation. The detail was mundane -- where the announcements would be made (in DC, not Chicago). But it's hard to figure why you say something like that unless some announcement is imminent.

Third point: look at this graf from the piece ...

The special prosecutor has personally interviewed numerous officials from the CIA, White House and State Department. In the process, he and his investigative team have talked to a number of Cheney aides, including Mary Matalin, his former strategist; Catherine Martin, his former communications adviser; and Jennifer Millerwise, his former spokeswoman. In the case of Millerwise, she talked with the prosecutor more than two years ago but never appeared before the grand jury, according to a person familiar with her situation.

This bucket of facts is dropped into the piece with no terribly clear explanation. And that's a lot of information about Jennifer Millerwise, isn't it?

She was Cheney's Press Secretary from 2001 to 2003. She then went to work on Bush-Cheney 2004. Then in January 2005 she was appointed Director of Public Affairs for the CIA. She had apparently also worked for then-incoming CIA-Director Porter Goss on Capitol Hill. And her installation appears to have been part of Goss's effort to install Republican operatives in key positions at the Agency. Douglas Jehl, in the Times last January, called her appointment "the latest in a series of former Republican aides to be installed by Mr. Goss in senior positions at the C.I.A."

What it means I do not know. But, in articles like these, threads like those are usually meant to be pulled.

More on the Veep's office, Wilson, Plame and the CIA, soon out from the Post.

President Bush refuses to say whether there will be consequences for those who leaked Plame's identity. "There's a serious investigation. I'm not going to prejudge the outcome of the investigation."

I've been mulling over the New York Times dimension of the Plame story for the last day or so. And one thing seems more and more clear to me. This isn't a judgment made on particular reporting, more a sense or just intuition. So let me just briefly share it with you.

I think there's a whole part of the Times' story that we're not yet aware of. Let me try an analogy. If my memory is correct, when astronomers plot the location of black holes in space, they can't see them directly. It's impossible. No light escapes from them; so there's nothing to see. You can tell where they are by plotting the effects of their gravitational pull on nearby stars and celestial bodies.

There's something similar happening here.

When you read the Times Sunday article plus Miller's apologia, there's too much there that is simply inexplicable in terms of what we already know. Going into this mess Miller's reputation was already severely checkered and her journalistic judgment very much in question. And yet Sulzberger and Keller (the first in the van, the second following with an odd passivity) staked the reputation of the Times itself on her and went along for this whole ride without even getting the most basic information from her about what had happened?

Simple poor judgment doesn't explain that for me. Something else is up.

Now, I know it seems like I'm hinting ominously about some deep dark secret. Really, I have no idea what it is. But there's a whole piece to this puzzle, probably the most telling one, that we haven't yet seen.

More on Judy Miller's special embed agreement, from Frank Foer's piece in New York magazine from the summer of 2004 ...

According to Pomeroy, as well as an editor at the Times, Miller had helped negotiate her own embedding agreement with the Pentagon—an agreement so sensitive that, according to one Times editor, Rumsfeld himself signed off on it. Although she never fully acknowledged the specific terms of that arrangement in her articles, they were as stringent as any conditions imposed on any reporter in Iraq. “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored,” Pomeroy told me. “The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Before she filed her copy, it would be censored by a colonel who often read the article in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. (When reporters attended tactical meetings with battlefield commanders, they faced similar restrictions.)

As Miller covered MET Alpha, it became increasingly clear that she had ceased to respect the boundaries between being an observer and a participant. And as an embedded reporter she went even further, several sources say. While traveling with MET Alpha, according to Pomeroy and one other witness, she wore a military uniform.

When Colonel Richard McPhee ordered MET Alpha to pull back from a search mission and regroup in the town of Talil, Miller disagreed vehemently with the decision—and let her opinions be loudly known. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz reprinted a note in which she told public-affairs officers that she would write negatively about his decision if McPhee didn’t back down. What’s more, Kurtz reported that Miller complained to her friend Major General David Petraeus. Even though McPhee’s unit fell outside the general’s line of command, Petraeus’s rank gave his recommendation serious heft. According to Kurtz, in an account that was later denied, “McPhee rescinded his withdrawal order after Petraeus advised him to do so.”

Miller guarded her exclusive access with ferocity. When the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman overlapped in the unit for a day, Miller instructed its members that they couldn’t talk with him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” (One other witness confirms this account.)

More soon.

Okay, this squares what I've heard from various sources over the last 24 hours.

Jim Miklaszewski on the NBC Nightly News blog says no one at the Pentagon, the DIA or the CIA knows anything about Judy Miller ever having a security clearance, as she appeared to claim in her tell-not-very-much piece in the Times.

As one Pentagon reporter pointed out to me, embedded reporters will frequently get tactical information that's classified -- troop locations, battle plans, etc. But that's information with a very short shelf-life. And knowledgeable sources doubt that anyone with Miller's background would confuse that sort of access with the much more specific meaning of getting a security clearance.

That leaves two possibilities. What I'd have to call the less interesting of the two is that Miller was either speaking imprecisely or self-aggrandizingly and she really had no more access than any other embedded reporter in the field who, in the nature of things, listens in on plans of action, locations, etc.

The second possibility is that Miller was given some special status or special clearance that was, shall we say, off-the-books, a special status few at the Pentagon or the CIA seem to know about or are willing now to admit knowing about.

But look at the passage in Miller's piece in question ...

In my grand jury testimony, Mr. Fitzgerald repeatedly turned to the subject of how Mr. Libby handled classified information with me. He asked, for example, whether I had discussed my security status with Mr. Libby. During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment "embedded" with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I had discussed classified information with Mr. Libby. I said I believed so, but could not be sure. He asked how Mr. Libby treated classified information. I said, Very carefully.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me to examine a series of documents. Though I could not identify them with certainty, I said that some seemed familiar, and that they might be excerpts from the National Intelligence Estimate of Iraq's weapons. Mr. Fitzgerald asked whether Mr. Libby had shown any of the documents to me. I said no, I didn't think so. I thought I remembered him at one point reading from a piece of paper he pulled from his pocket.

I told Mr. Fitzgerald that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq. At the same time, I told the grand jury I thought that at our July 8 meeting I might have expressed frustration to Mr. Libby that I was not permitted to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked me if I knew whether I was cleared to discuss classified information at the time of my meetings with Mr. Libby. I said I did not know.

Needless to say, everything here comes through Miller's (perhaps distorted) account of what happened in the grand jury room. But in her account, at least, Fitzgerald seems to have been aware of some special status she enjoyed and made it a point of repeated questioning.

Meanwhile, Rawstory.com reports, as you'd expect, that Miller's attorney Bob Bennett worked closely with her on writing the piece. And it's hard for me to see where an attorney as shrewd and alert as Bennett would have allowed Miller to just whip something like this up out of thin air. After all, she's in enough trouble already.

Perhaps this was just puffery on her part. But something seems to be at the heart of this.

A number of Times' subscribers from outside New York and DC wrote in to me over the weekend asking if I knew why the paper's big Plame-Miller package wasn't included in their editions of the paper. This appears to be the answer.

The Journal (sub.req.) got Miller on the phone Sunday, briefly ...

Despite giving a lengthy first-person account, Ms. Miller left some pivotal questions unanswered. For instance, she didn't disclose whether she was asked by Mr. Fitzgerald in her first grand-jury appearance about meeting with Mr. Libby in June 2003. Her failure to disclose that meeting led to her second testimony before the grand jury after some of her notes were found. But neither her account nor the Times story discusses how the notes were found and what set off a search for them.

In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Ms. Miller said she discovered the June 2003 notes in her office after being prompted to seek out answers to another question Mr. Fitzgerald had asked her. "There was an open question about something, and I said I would go back and look and see if there was anything in my notes that would address that question," she said yesterday.

She said she found the notebook in her office. She reiterated that she couldn't recall who told her the name that she transcribed as "Valerie Flame." "I don't remember who told me the name," she said, growing agitated. "I wasn't writing a story, remember?" Asked if the other source was Mr. Rove, she replied, "I'm not going to discuss anyone else that I talked to."

When did she know she wasn't writing a story exactly?