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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

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?

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 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 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 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 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.

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.

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