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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

There seems to have been some unclarity on this point. So let me follow up on the previous post about the article in today's Repubblica. Repubblica, apparently, now says that the motive behind the forgeries was money. Certainly, individual players did their part for cash. But the question is, what were the aims of those who organized the whole plot, the whole hoax? Who hatched the plan? Given the history of the case and all my reporting on it, I find highly implausible the claim that those people were motivated by financial gain alone. But for the governments involved, it is a convenient theory since it walls the act off from larger political implications.

Interesting news out of Italy.

I'm told Monday's edition of the Italian daily La Repubblica has an article on Niger forgeries. And this one says the culprits are Rocco Martino, the Italian woman who works in the Niger embassy in Rome and the SISMI operative Martino named as his ultimate source. The motive, says Repubblica, was money.

I've never named the SISMI colonel whom Martino said he (indirectly) got the documents from. But now Repubblica has. So I will too: his name is Antonio Nucera.

(You see I've linked the story above. I haven't read the Italian original. I've only had the contents related to me. So let me put that small caveat to the entire post.)

My experience with this case, going back almost two years now, is that whenever damaging new information was about to come out on the forgery mystery, the Italian government-cum-intelligence agencies put out substantial new information about what happened mixed with disinformation aimed at throwing people off their trail. And when I say 'their trail', I mean the complicity of Italian intelligence in the documents hoax itself.

This fits in very well with that pattern.

Could this latest story be true? Anything could be. But I'd be highly, highly skeptical.

What I can confirm is that Antonio Nucera, the SISMI colonel, was the SISMI operative whom Martino identified from beginning as the source of the documents.

More shortly.

There's another part of Martin Walker's article I should note ...

There is one line of inquiry with an American connection that Fitzgerald would have found it difficult to ignore. This is the claim that a mid-ranking Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, held talks with some Italian intelligence and defense officials in Rome in late 2001. Franklin has since been arrested on charges of passing classified information to staff of the pro-Israel lobby group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Franklin has reportedly reached a plea bargain with his prosecutor, Paul McNulty, and it would be odd if McNulty and Fitzgerald had not conferred to see if their inquiries connected.


I reported on these meetings for much of last year. And to my knowledge the most detailed account, particularly of the US government's knowledge of the meetings and reactions is in this article I wrote with two colleagues at the Washington Monthly.

US government cables showed an on-going tussle between different parts of the executive branch with the CIA and the State Department repeatedly pressing the White House, specifically then Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, to take some action over the meetings Michael Ledeen was then organizing in Rome with members of Italian intelligence, Pentagon employees working under Doug Feith and various Middle Eastern exile groups.

See the piece for more details.

Okay, there's clearly something to this. Martin Walker of UPI is now reporting that ...

that NATO sources have confirmed to United Press International that Fitzgerald's team of investigators has sought and obtained documentation on the forgeries from the Italian government. Fitzgerald's team has been given the full, and as yet unpublished report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the affair, which started when an Italian journalist obtained documents that appeared to show officials of the government of Niger helping to supply the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with Yellowcake uranium. This claim, which made its way into President Bush's State of the Union address in January, 2003, was based on falsified documents from Niger and was later withdrawn by the White House.


Now, some of you have pointed out in your emails that this is the Moonie UPI and don't know what to think of it on that basis. But whatever you think of UPI, Martin Walker is Martin Walker and he brings his own credibility with him.

So what is this Italian report? A blockbuster dossier or a cursory recitation of known facts? Unlike some other recent reports, Walker doesn't say. Fitzgerald's interest in obtaining such a dossier is big news in itself certainly, whatever specifics might have been obtained. But what's in it? What might Fitzgerald have discovered?

My reporting on this from Italian sources has always suggested that the Italian government had been much, much less than aggressive in its pursuit of the facts in this story. Certainly, that was the case with the separate judicial inquiry in Rome.

An even more interesting question is how the Italians might have dealt with what they found since at least some factions within SISMI, Italian military intelligence, are almost certainly implicated in the documents affair.

Rocco Martino is the Italian 'security consultant' who attempted to sell the documents to journalist Elisabetta Burba in October of 2002. When I interviewed Martino in New York last year he named a SISMI colonel and a female Italian national who works at the Nigerien embassy in Rome as his sources for the documents. The SISMI colonel proved, shall we say, unwilling to be interviewed. But in a separate interview the woman, who is herself a longtime SISMI asset, eventually conceded her role in the transaction.

More to come later.

Blind pol walking, from the Post: "Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was given considerable information about his stake in his family's hospital company, according to records that are at odds with his past statements that he did not know what was in his stock holdings. Managers of the trusts that Frist once described as "totally blind," regularly informed him when they added new shares of HCA Inc. or other assets to his holdings, according to the documents."

Here's a nut to crack, a small part of the ever-widening and occasionally enlightening Fitzgerald investigation guessing game.

It's been variously reported and rumored that Patrick Fitzgerald has either cooperated with, received critical information from or even taken over Paul McNulty's Franklin/AIPAC investigation in Northern Virginia.

My reporting and intuition tells me there's real reason for skepticism on each of those counts. Yet I hear versions of these claims and allegations from more and more seemingly knowledgable sources. So I'm trying to keep an open mind.

Now comes information that President Bush will nominate McNulty, currently the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to be Deputy Attorney General. That's the post that was going to go to Timothy Flanigan before he withdrew his nomination over his connections to Jack Abramoff.

Now, if McNulty had been cooperating with or become a participant or enabler of some sort of Fitzgerald's investigation, he's not the first person you'd figure President Bush would be appointing to the number two spot at DOJ -- especially when you consider that Al Gonzales will almost certainly have to recuse himself from any consideration of the entire Plame case. If something is a afoot between Fitzgerald and McNulty, what went into the appointment? Who came up with the idea?

I don't know which of these scenarios is closest to the mark. And these are very strange times -- most anything is possible. But there's something here that doesn't fit.

If silence is a virtue, bloggers are all vice. With that in mind I don't think I have too much to add to the new round of revelations, confessions and reflections issuing forth from the NY Times other than to say that we finally seem to be getting a candid and unvarnished discussion and accounting for what happened, either in the paper's own pages (like Public Editor Calame's piece today, sub. req.) or nearly so (as in the now-widely-published Keller memo).

The central matter here is that Judy Miller appears to have been fully honest neither with her readers nor with her employers and editors. And for reasons perhaps better described by novelists and psychologists than journo-ethicists, those supervisors became both her victims and her accomplices, abetting and covering up those sins for years.

Let me just add one other question that might be added to this debate. And that is whether there is some degree to which the Times' (and other similarly situated papers, but very few) role as privileged recipient of 'official' leaks might have played a role in landing the paper in this mess.

Consider the very different records of the Times and the Washington bureau of Knight-Ridder in covering the WMD story.

Leaks come in many flavors. But we can chart two broad categories. In one falls leaks rooted in individual motivations of conscience, cattiness or revenge, dogged reporting or long-standing relationships between sources and reporters. In another are those leaks best termed 'official', in which the government itself decides to put out a story, but does so through leaks rather than officially. The latter variety is fraught with danger.

The New York Times is one of an extraordinarily small number of news outlets (probably fewer than you have fingers on one hand) that gets those calls. And with respect to my friends at the Times, you routinely find articles in the paper that began with just that sort of unique and privileged acccess -- and in far too many cases, ended there. We seem now to be moving quickly toward the consensus opinion that Judy Miller was the proverbial bad apple. But the WMD fiasco isn't the only mess the Times has found itself in in the last decade. Nor was she alone responsible for that one. And I think this broader institutional problem for elite news outlets -- being the go-to recipients for 'official' leaks -- deserves more attention.

Yesterday I mentioned that Larry Littwin had been released from a gag order and was now free to testify at the Miers' confirmation hearings (for some context, see this post). I asked Tracy Schmaler, spokesperson for the minority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, whether any decision had been made on whether to call Littwin to testify. She told me that "the committee is aware of the allegations [regarding Miers' and Littwin] and is conducting its own investigation."

Knight-Ridder ...

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers collected more than 10 times the market value for a small slice of family-owned land in a large Superfund pollution cleanup site in Dallas where the state wanted to build a highway off-ramp.

The windfall came after a judge who received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Miers' law firm appointed a close professional associate of Miers and an outspoken property-rights activist to the three-person panel that determined how much the state should pay.


Kerik?

There is a flood of articles appearing now on the conclusion of the Fitzgerald investigation and the accompanying guessing game about just how it will end. But with so much at stake right now and so many of the leaks with very immediate tactical significance, reading these articles can become less a matter of the taste of the dish than trying to figure the ingredients and recipe behind it.

Like this article on Scooter Libby in Friday's Los Angeles Times.

According to the article, Libby was something only slightly less than obsessed with Joe Wilson. Not only was he part of the original operation to push back against Wilson and discredit him. As the article describes it, long after the Plame matter had evolved into a full-fledged criminal probe by an outside investigator, Libby continued compiling detailed records of Wilson's public statements. He marked up a copy of Wilson's book highlighting what he regarded as false or anti-Cheney passages. And even though he was already at the center of an investigation he continued to recommend mounting new anti-Wilson press operations well into 2004.

That possibility only ended in April 2004, says the article, when Dan Bartlett ordered White House staff to stop engaging Wilson, figuring that more White House attacks on Wilson would only bring more press focus to his charges.

Now, I don't doubt that there's a good deal of truth in this story. Indeed, the point in what I'm about to say is not to cast doubt on the accuracy of anything in it. But if you read the LAT story closely you see that the authors were able to interview multiple White House staffers (seemingly all or most former ones) and were apparently provided with a sheaf of documents illustrating Libby's near-obsessive Wilson-monitoring.

If I read the article right it seems they were provided with a copy of this dossier ...

The result was a packet that included excerpts from press clips and television transcripts of Wilson's statements that were divided into categories, such as "political ties" or "WMD."

The compendium used boldfaced type to call attention to certain comments by Wilson, such as one in the Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa student newspaper, in which Wilson was quoted as calling Cheney "a lying son of a bitch." It also highlighted Wilson's answers to questions from television journalists about his work with Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.

The intensity with which Libby reacted to Wilson had many senior White House staffers puzzled, and few agreed with his counterattack plan or its rationale, former aides said.


So, a lot of access to former White House staffers in on key meetings and actual documentary evidence of what Scooter was up to, what his efforts produced. That sort of access ain't easy to come by and it's seldom accidental.

This certainly seems like an attempt to pin this whole thing on Libby.

Leaks like that won't affect Fitzgerald; they're not intended to. They're aimed at shaping perceptions of indictments if they come down. If Libby and Rove are indicted, then, yes Rove got caught up in it. And it shouldn't have happened. But the whole unfortunate mess was spawned by the bitter Libby-Wilson antagonsim. It wasn't something that involved the whole White House team, not something characteristic of how it functions.

That would be the argument.

And it's one everyone should have their eyes out for, since the key players in the White House appear to have decided that Libby is already a fatality in this battle.

Before leaving you, one other point to consider. Note Bartlett's alleged instructions to back off from Wilson in April 2004. Keep that in mind when considering possible coordination between the White House and the majority staff on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence while it was finishing up the Iraq WMD report in the summer of 2004. We'll return to that subject later.

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