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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Okay, enough Alan Keyes for the moment. Let's go back to a golden oldie from yesteryear, the GOP phone-jamming stunt from 2002.

You'll remember that this was the case in which the New Hampshire Republican Party hired an outfit called GOP Marketplace to arrange for a barrage of hang-up calls to phone banks doing get-out-the-vote work for the Dems, thus putting them out of commission for most of election day morning.

Well, in the background this case has been plugging along. And two folks -- the executive director of the state party, Chuck McGee and Allen Raymond, head of the now-defunct GOP Marketplace -- have pled guilty to federal charges in the case.

A lingering question coming out of the investigation though is the identity of this "official in a national political organization" who played a role in putting the whole scam together.

Now, a little while back I got a tip about who this person was, a certain someone involved in the Bush-Cheney reelection effort. I can't tell you a lot about the person other than that he has very poor phone etiquette.

I called this person several times, told him who I was and who I was with, and that I'd like to ask him some questions about the phone-jamming case. Try as I might, though, he never returned my calls, which struck me as somewhat rude. But what could I do?

I wasn't sure where else to go with that story and I had a convention to cover and other matters that needed attending to. But now it seems the Manchester Union Leader has comfirmed the involvement of the person in question.

Saith the Union Leader today: "We can’t tell you who it is or whether he broke any laws, but we can tell you the person questioned by the feds has a significant role in the Bush-Cheney campaign."

Perhaps some of the national outlets should start poking around on this one?

Not a happy day for the New Jersey Democratic Party. I don't know any more than I read in the papers on this one. But it don't look good.

Thank God it's not a swing state anymore ...

Perhaps Obama can work in some version of this clever quip <$NoAd$>once used by now-Sen. Chris Dodd. This from a piece in the New York Times, dated October 28th, 1980 and sent along this afternoon by a friend ...

Connecticut's most spirited race, appropriately, is also the most significant. It is a contest for the Senate between Representative Chris Dodd, a Democrat, and James Buckley, the Republican who sat in the Senate from 1970 to 1976 as a Conservative from New York. Mr. Dodd mocks him with a reminder that each state elects two senators, not each senator two states.


Of course, it's difficult for Obama to keep up when it comes to getting laughs at the expense of Keyes' outsider status. Keyes is far, far ahead of him.

When CNN's Candy Crowley asked Keyes why his out-of-state run in Illinois was any different from that of Hillary Clinton in New York, he pointed out the as-yet-unexplored 9/11 connection ...

Well, I think I have addressed the issue of the very deep differences between what I am doing and Hillary Clinton. She used the state of New York as a platform for her own personal ambition. I had no thought of coming to Illinois to run until the people here in the state party decided there was a need. Just as people faced with a flood, or people in the case of 9/11, would call on folks, firefighters and others to help them deal with the crisis that they were faced with. The people in Illinois have called on me to help deal with what they regard as a crisis.


Alan Keyes: Ambassador, Talk Show Host, First-Responder ...

This endorsement of Alan Keyes by a prominent Illinois Republican is so deeply feeble that I'm not certain it counts as an endorsement. But former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson tells the Sun-Times: ""I'd be inclined to vote Republican. His views are very conservative. Some of his positions would make me uncomfortable as a voter. I'm willing to give him a chance to tell the people of Illinois what his views are. I have not endorsed him."

Okay, I guess on second thought we can say definitively that that was not an endorsement. But I'm going to let it in anyway.

Meanwhile, yesterday Keyes gave a Chicago television station an impromptu performance of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', which you can see here.

It's actually not bad, makes me think he may have missed his true calling. Of course, Keyes isn't in Maryland any more, or Kansas for that matter. So, if he's offering renditions of appropriate-to-the-moment tunes, I think I would have suggested Otis Redding's classic 'Mr. Pitiful." But of course I wasn't there.

And finally we have one of the first verbal clashes between the two men. Keyes is insisting that Obama agree to meet him in no less than six debates, as he had apparently agreed to do with departed-nominee Jack Ryan.

Obama says he'll debate Keyes two or three times, not six.

To which Keyes responded: "So let's see. Before I came on the scene, Barack Obama thought of himself as if he was in the same class as Lincoln and Douglas in the critical drama of American life. And now he realizes that he's not in that class. Well, I think that the state of Illinois remains in that class. . . . And I think that it is a disservice to the people of this state to allow him to cower in timidity, and before the real historic challenge that is before us in this campaign."

Obama replied, pretty cleverly I thought, that the six debate offer was "a special for in-state residents."

And then Keyes with this marvelous piece of ridiculousness: "OK. So a guy from out of state steps into the ring, and Barack Obama wants to get out of the ring. I don't know, because you see when he goes into the Senate of the United States, if he should get there, he's not going to find one person from out of state standing there. He's going to find 98 people from out of state. . . . If he's not ready for me, he's not ready for the Senate of the United States."

From the Post editorial page ...<$NoAd$>

Ahmed Chalabi played a prominent role in convincing many people in Washington of the threat Saddam Hussein posed to this country, and his Iraqi National Congress received U.S. intelligence resources and funding to help overthrow the Baathist regime. The American administration in Iraq played a role both in appointing him to the Iraqi Governing Council and, later, in limiting his influence. As many remember, Mr. Chalabi sat behind Laura Bush this year during the president's State of the Union speech. If he is a fraudster, then those who supported him must be held accountable for doing so. If he is not, then the United States has an obligation to insist, publicly, that he not become the new Iraq's first political prisoner.


Held accountable?

Do the folks at the editorial page need to take a look in the mirror on this one?

I just saw a preview of a study that finds the Swift Boat ads quite effective among independents in raising doubts about John Kerry's war record. And that suggests that Karl Rove will want to send more money toward the group running the ad.

This of course is only the beginning. The temperature will get much higher in the next couple months since, as Charlie Cook, aptly argues this week, President Bush is in the process of losing this election unless there's a major change in the dynamic of the race.

I've gotten quite a few responses to my discussion of the priorities and interests involved in whether journalists should be compelled to disclose confidential conversations with White House officials who may or may not have leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Most of them critical, some supportive.

I suspect that the journalists in question -- for the moment, Matt Cooper of Time -- will run through their appeals and lose. As a matter of law, as I wrote earlier, I think I agree with that, though I also support journalists' refusing to comply and accepting the consequences.

I expect to have more to say about the various issues involved in this case. But before we get tangled in debate over journalistic ethics here and see Matt Cooper become the only person to serve a day in jail over this, let's draw back and see the big picture.

President Bush could have settled this matter in a flash a long time ago and spared the country a destructive exploration of the limits of journalistic confidences before the law. He still could.

Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, has now freed at least two journalists from their obligation of confidentiality to him. Presumably, in at least those two cases, he has nothing to hide.

There must be others still relying on a confidence who do have something to hide.

President Bush could make it known either implicitly or explicitly that he wants to get to the bottom of this mystery and that anyone who is asked should free journalists in the way Libby has. If they don't feel they can do so -- which is certainly their right, working in the White House doesn't mean you lose your right to defend yourself -- they should take a leave of absence from their job or quit.

When I mentioned this possibility some time ago, many readers said this was wrong as it compromised the rights of possible targets of prosecution. But I don't think that's a problem here. Everyone has a right to defend themselves in a criminal probe. But there's no constitutional right to work at the White House.

Needless to say, I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. But let's not lose sight of the president's passivity and indifference to this probe. He's dragging the country through this. And the reason, I think, is obvious. He doesn't want the probe to succeed.

I truly wonder sometimes about the New York Times. Judith Miller was not the only reporter to be bamboozled by Ahmed Chalabi. But her case was one of the most long-standing, thorough-going and troubling -- and it has never been fully or adequately addressed.

Today, Miller writes about the Volcker investigation into alleged corruption in the UN's oil-for-food program. And Chalabi, though not mentioned by name in the article, is at the center of that story.

The investigation, you'll remember, has several layers. Two key questions are a) whether the former regime skimmed money off the funds generated by the program (a given, and something that was known before the war) and b) whether the regime used oil-for-food funds to give bribes and kickbacks to various diplomats, politicians and international luminaries, including Benon Sevan, the head of the UN office that administered the program.

The second, far more inflammatory charge is the heart of the matter. Indeed, it is the accusation that got the whole series of investigations at the UN, on Capitol Hill and in Iraq under way. And that charge stems entirely from a series of documents discovered by members of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress.

We've noted earlier Chalabi's rather suspicious unwillingness to allow anyone who can even remotely be considered an independent observer to review these documents to determine their authenticity -- something which, given Chalabi's track record, is rather more than a matter of passing concern. And Miller's article reveals that Volcker still hasn't gotten to see them.

According to the Times, he has still "not yet received the original list of oil vouchers supposedly awarded to diplomats and United Nations officials, which was published by an Iraqi newspaper several months ago. Nor had he determined how his panel would vet such documents to see if they were forgeries."

Perhaps it's difficult at the moment for Chalabi to produce the documents and verify their authenticity given that he is apparently holed up in Tehran on the run from counterfeiting charges in Iraq. But then irony is no defense and he's had plenty of time already.

Miller repeats the charges against Sevan, as well as his denial. But she would have done better to note the highly dubious source of the original allegations.

I've had a number of readers write in today noting the news that two reporters were threatened with jail time by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for not revealing what they know about administration officials who may have leaked the name of Valerie Plame.

Most have wanted to know my reaction.

As this story in the Washington Post notes, "Newly released court orders show U.S. District Court Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan two weeks ago ordered Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Tim Russert of NBC to appear before a grand jury and tell whether they knew that White House sources provided the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media."

Cooper refused and the judge ordered him sent to jail. He is now out on bond pending an appeal to a higher court. Russert apparently agreed to testify after jail was put on the table.

As you likely know, I've taken a great interest in this case -- both in the Wilson/Plame matter and the underlying issue of the discredited charges about uranium sales from Niger to Iraq.

I have to tell you that I have a lot more respect for Cooper's actions in this matter than Russert's.

I guess it would be possible to argue that given the potentially criminal nature of the leak, that that crime -- and the bad act behind it -- freed the reporter of the obligation to protect his source's confidentiality. I don't think I agree with that in this case. But I could see that argument being made.

Yet, if that were the principle at stake, I don't see why a jail threat should have been necessray to bring it into play. If that's how Russert felt, he could have talked to the grand jury from the beginning. But clearly he didn't.

It seems like he just didn't want to spend any time in jail, which is human, but not honorable.

Cooper, on the other hand, is putting himself on the line, taking a courageous stand in a situation that all journalists know they might one day find themselves but hope they never will.

I know many readers will likely see my position here as contradictory, a hyocrisy, given how much emphasis I have given to getting to the bottom of this matter. Perhaps some will suggest that my own work as a journalist makes me biased, that I'm letting that bias cloud my view of this case, or speaking out of a sort of professional tribal loyalty.

Perhaps they're right.

All I can say is that finding out who revealed Plame's name is not the only interest at stake here. Or, just as we do not knock down every right or procedural norm to get a conviction of a guilty party in a court trial, so too should we not do the same to get to the bottom of this mystery.

I think that the confidences of journalists play a role not unlike that of defense attorneys. They protect the interests of various bad actors. But they are an essential part of a system that, overall, produces good results.

Some time back in Slate, Mike Kinsley, in characteristic fashion, elegantly summarized this argument, only to suggest that it really may not apply here, or at least not in an absolute fashion ...

It is no solution to say, as some do, that it is journalist's job to protect the identity of his or her sources and it is the government's job to expose them. This isn't a game. There is no invisible hand to guarantee that the struggle of competing forces will achieve the correct balance. Journalists ought to be concerned about national security, and government officials ought to be concerned about the First Amendment. When these interests conflict, those involved ought to have an obligation to strike the balance for themselves. Or they should have it.

The purpose of protecting the identity of leakers is to encourage future leaks. Leaks to journalists, and the fear of leaks, can be an important restraint on misbehavior by powerful institutions and people. This serves the public interest. But there is no public interest in leaks that harm national security, or leaks that violate the law, or leaks intended to harm blameless individuals. There is no reason to want more of these kinds of leaks. So, there is no reason to protect the identity of such bad-faith leakers.


I'm not sure I have a good response to this argument, or at least not a crisp one.

The best I can do is to say that I'm not sure that the line between bad-faith and good-faith leaks is necessarily so clear as to make this argument work in practice. I guess I have some confidence that the correct balance between the competing forces Kinsley notes will sometimes have to be found in the tension between the judge's ability to impose jail time and the reporter's ability to endure it.

But I'll mull the matter more and see if my opinion changes.

Having said that, I also agree with the court ruling that says that the 1st Amendment does not grant an absolute shield for journalists seeking to avoid testifying before grand juries -- not just that that is the law but that it should be the law. And that means that journalists must in some cases be willing to go to jail to protect a source, even if the source isn't particularly deserving of protection.

Perhaps this seems like another contradiction. But I don't see it that way. I don't see any conflict between believing that the state has a right to demand answers from a journalist in certain highly restricted cases and also believing that the journalist may have an ethical right or obligation to deny that demand, so long as he or she is willing to accept the consequences. I simply don't see where journalists, as a group, can get off with an absolute protection against getting hauled before grand juries. They're too ramshackle and unregulated a bunch to get the protections the law provides to doctors and psychologists. And even those are not absolute.

This is just one of the perils of the profession, just as doctors arguably have an obligation to risk exposing themselves to certain contagious diseases in order to heal the sick.

Of course, all of this leaves rather a mystery about why Fitzgerald is picking on Cooper and Russert, while not putting the same screws to Robert Novak -- the man who clearly could give the most salient and probative testimony in this case and who, let's be frank, most deserves to be put in this position.

He, after all, is the one who actually chose to report the leak and become the hand-maiden of the bad act.

So many disputes about John Kerry's military service record that even the 'wingers can't sort them all out ...

Deborah Orin, 8/5/04, New York Post: "The book, by Vietnam vet John O'Neill who served with Kerry, adds: 'What [Kerry's] fellow Swiftees concluded was that Kerry had a very high regard for his own wellbeing and very little nerve for facing serious combat.'

Luiza Ch. Savage, 5/5/04, New York Sun: "Mr. O'Neill did not serve with Mr. Kerry, but took over his boat several months after Mr. Kerry left Vietnam."

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