Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Best Abramoff joke of the day?

Bob Ney (R-OH) still thinks he's running for reelection in November.

Okay, gallows humor, admittedly. But you do have to sort of wonder whether at some point the guy has to take stock of his situation and options. As near as I can tell either two or three men have made plea agreements in which they admit to bribing Ney and agree to testify against him in forthcoming testimony (Scanlon and Abramoff are two; it's not clear to me whether Kidan will be testifying directly against Ney.)

Now, everyone deserves their day in court. And perhaps a good lawyer can help Ney beat the rap at trial. But you've got to figure that in the context of a election campaign there's more than enough on the table already to make capital punishment a near certainty.

There's a lot of speculation right now about what's in and what's not in the criminal information -- the facts that Abramoff admitted to today, the ones that will be the basis of his plea agreement.

More than a few readers, lawyers of various sorts, express suspicions that so little new factual information is continued in the document. There's no mention of any members of Congress beside Rep. Ney (R-OH), against whom two others have already agreed to testify. Nor is there any mention of executive branch officials -- not even David Safavian, who's already under indictment in the case.

Others see this altogether differently. The 'information' is quite open-ended. (Note that page three refers to bribes to "public officials and their relatives" which seems to allude to possible indictments involving if not necessarily against spouses of members of Congress.) And note too that prosecutors don't have to provide exhaustive details about what they expect a defendant to testify to -- especially if some of it is the focus of a continuing investigation.

The question lingering in the background here, of course, is whether political officials at the DOJ have leaned on prosecutors to limit the scope of the investigation for political reasons.

For the moment, given all I've seen to date and heard, I'm not inclined to believe that that is happening. This seems more like the beginning of a long process. They go after Ney first and continue their investigation, with Abramoff's fate hanging in the balance, depending on how cooperative he chooses to be in providing information on coconspirators and sundry bad acts.

But who knows? We have to wait to see how it plays out.

Let us know what you think in this thread we just set up over at TPMcafe.

The Post now has up some further analysis of the Abramoff plea agreement and where things are likely to go from here on other congressional and executive branch officials.

Looking over the Abramoff deal what stands out most on first blush is what it doesn't contain. The criminal information refers to bribery of "public officials". But the facts set forth all relate to transactions we know about. And the only member of Congress referenced is Rep. Ney (R-OH), even if not explicitly by name, and one of his staffers.

We've published the actual document. So I'll be curious to see what our lawyer readers make of it. But from a layman's perspective, it really seems like the DOJ really has Ney nailed as he's ever going to get. Remember, both Scanlon and Kidan have already both agreed to testify against him. A 'criminal information' doesn't have to be exhaustive. But I'd figure they'd want more from Abramoff at this point than just Ney. So what more, if anything, has he agreed to give up to get this deal?

We've just posted the Abramoff 'criminal information' -- the facts admitted to that are the basis of the plea agreement -- to the TPM Document Collection. He's charged with conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.

TPM Reader LH considers the Abramoff Affair and another scandal from yesteryear. We join in the email in progress, after some preliminaries ...

There is a lesson to be learned from the "Abscam" investigations that should be applied to any examination of that constellation of events that fall under the heading of "The Abramoff Matter." (hereafter TAM). That lesson is that TAM exceeds the scope of the legal system and, specifically, the Justice Department. This is what "Abscam" taught us. If you recall "Abscam" was a DOJ sting operation that offered bribes to congressmen. It turned out that it was a very successful sting and several members of Congress were prosecuted. But then the operation was terminated although if anything was learned it was that there were more opportunities for success. It was terminated precisely because of its success. The DOJ determined that they might be able to unseat as much as a third of the sitting Congress if they continued. DOJ determined that if they did continue then what began as a law enforcement project could alter the political balance within the Legislative branch. The DOJ decided, rightly I believe, that it was not their place to fundamentally alter that political balance.

And so it will be with TAM. At some point TAM will become a potent enough matter to be profoundly political in nature and those involved in the legal system will have to withdraw. To do otherwise would be to improperly engage the legal system in a political contest and undermine the foundational premise of an independent judiciary. This is the tightrope that Fitzgerald is walking in the Plame matter. So long as he is pursuing the violation of a particular Federal statute he is on solid ground. But were he to find himself standing on the threshold of something that, if pursued, could alter the political balance of power then he would have to retreat. Otherwise he would fall into that political contest and improperly involve DOJ in the public arena of political combat.

It would be wise of those of us who are offended by the realities of TAM to resist the temptation to view TAM as a fundamentally legal matter. Rather we should debate it within the arena of political and social ethics. If we cannot win the contest on the basis of these ethical principles then no legal system can save us from ourselves.