Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

In these days of easy ethics, who will take a stand for corrupt Abramoff money? That and other news in today's Daily Muck.

As a political party, you can't run on corruption if you're not running for reform. But as near as I can tell there is no Democratic reform proposal in Congress. Maybe this or that representative or senator has some proposal, but nothing that the opposition party in any way, as a whole, has gotten behind.

So where's the plan?

How will we know that a reform plan goes far enough? When a lot of members of the Democratic caucus have to be dragged to it kicking and screaming.

I just set up this thread over at TPMCafe to discuss this. Tell us a few concrete, straightforward proposals that you think could go some real way to cleaning up today's Washington.

In the field I used to work in, Colonial American history, one of the perennial questions was why the colonies were plagued by chronic political instability -- particularly, why the colonial legislatures seemed so intractable, so hard to organize or discipline. That's at least what it seemed like when compared to the Parliament in London, the body upon which each of these mini-parliaments modeled themselves.

There are innumerable explanations. But one focuses on the lack of executive authority and, underlying that, the lack of patronage available to those trying to gain and wield power.

A modern version of this is playing out now in the House of Representatives, and this article in tomorrow's Washington Post shows some of the centrifugal forces that are released when an effective patronage system begins to break down.

One of the great questions of the last decade is how congressional Republicans managed to maintain such unprecedented party discipline. The standard answer is that that's how Tom DeLay earned his nickname 'The Hammer', by squashing anyone who threatened to get out of line. Only that's not really quite how the House GOP Caucus functioned. Notwithstanding the reputation DeLay liked to cultivate, he worked a lot more with Carrots than Sticks. And that means money. Lots and lots and lots of money. A lot of it unaccountable money; a lot of it 'don't ask where it came from' money; but lots and lots of money, and as long as you were there with the caucus on the important votes, a lot of it would be yours.

You can't understand the K Street Project or the sort of slush fund Jack Abramoff was running without understanding that Tom DeLay had built a very effective patronage machine -- one that organized a great deal of the money in the city in the hands of the political leadership.

Most people now think that the Abramoff indictments effectively end any realistic hope for DeLay to reclaim the leadership. So the question is whether you end up with DeLayism without DeLay -- the same money and machine, just under a new boss.

On the one hand, you have acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, who ants to push DeLay aside and claim the post for himself. But Blunt is a DeLay Man through and through, part of the machine in every way. On the other hand, you've got rebels who just don't think the GOP can get out from under these scandals without a real change in leadership and direction.

That's the fight the Post article talks about. But a big part of what's happening now isn't just which leadership slate takes over the House GOP Caucus. At a deeper level, the Abramoff scandal may do so much damage to the machine DeLay built -- by knocking out key leaders, exposing illegality and 'legal' corruption -- that whomever comes out on top may not be able to run the place with anything like the party discipline DeLay managed during his years in power.

What a guy ...

JTA: Pat Robertson announces that God struck down Ariel Sharon for dividing the Land of Israel.

Late Update: Now MediaMatters has the video clip of Robertson's most recent analysis of God's work in punitive cardiology.

The Post's Chris Cillizza has a post on a topic I've wanted to know more about for a while: Grassroots Interactive, one of the many paper companies Jack Abramoff apparently had on hand to steer money to. From there, well, who knows what happened to the money once it went through the GRI rinse? The outfit was founded in May 2003 and its registered agent in Maryland was Edward B. Miller.

Miller subsequently became Deputy Chief of Staff to Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). Apparently he's been cooperating with the DOJ investigation for more than a year.

This article from September suggests that of $2 million Tyco paid Abramoff to buck legislation that would have forced the company to pay taxes, $1.5 was diverted to entities like GRI, and then apparently used on other things beside helping Tyco stay one step ahead of the IRS.

In all the reporting on these stories the assumption is that Abramoff funnelled all this money, somehow or another, back to himself. And in the narrow sense of control of assets I'm sure that was often the case, at least for some period of time. But while Abramoff moved through many tens of millions of dollars quite a lot got pumped back into the DC Republican political machine.

Let's start with GRI. What happened to that money?

The Times has an assessment of Ariel Sharon's prognosis. And it is very, very bleak. The article notes that the blood thinners prescribed for Sharon's earlier stroke -- caused by a blood clot rather than a hemorrhage -- greatly complicate treating this second stroke. Because of the blood thinners, reports the Times, this second event is "likely to be devastating and nearly impossible to treat."

The author of the piece quotes Dr. Matthew E. Fink, chief of the Division of Stroke and Critical Care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, as saying that in a case like Sharon's the "likelihood of death is greater than 80 percent."

A bit more information about this suggestion by Andrea Mitchell that Christiane Amanpour was among those snooped by one of the president's warrantless NSA wiretaps.

As discussed earlier, John Aravosis first caught the remark on an NBC transcript.

Later, the passage in question was edited out of the transcript at the MSNBC website.

Now TVNewser has a statement of explanation from NBC ...

Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on 'NBC Nightly News' nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry.

This actually sounds like what I suspected. She asked the question. But either they hadn't intended to release the question on the transcript or someone hadn't thought through the implications of doing so.

Just to refresh everyone's memory, this was the exchange from Mitchell's interview with James Risen ...

MITCHELL: Do you have any information about reporters being swept up in this net?

RISEN: No, I don't. It's not clear to me. That's one of the questions we'll have to look into the future. Were there abuses of this program or not? I don't know the answer to that

MITCHELL: You don't have any information, for instance, that a very prominent journalist, Christiane Amanpour, might have been eavesdropped upon?

RISEN: No, no I hadn't heard that.

Despite the fact that it's framed as a question, Mitchell inevitably becomes in some sense a fact witness for the underlying claim. She legitimizes the question and strongly suggests she has at least some evidence that it is true.

Okay, so someone at NBC screwed up. Mistakes happen. But the bell can't be unrung.

In their response NBC confirms that they not only were but are in fact continuing to investigate whether Amanpour was in fact a target of one of these 'wiretaps'.

Now, that really puts this into altogether different territory.

You wouldn't just pull this Amanpour story out of your hat (this is a family website). To be even remotely credible, a claim like that would have to come from within the government.

Wouldn't it? I know I'm speculating. But think about it: who would be able to make such a claim and have enough credibility to make a major news organization take the suggestion seriously?