Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I loved the headline Will Bunch had on his blog this morning about the Dick Cheney's George Soros/Factcheck.com debacle, "Why George Soros is a billionaire -- and you're not!"

There's been endless speculation online over the last dozen hours or so about whether someone from Soros's shop had snatched up the domain on hearing the VP's goof or cut some deal with the owner of the site or perhaps owned it all along.

But apparently the Soros people had nothing to do with it.

This morning I spoke with Soros's senior aide and spokesman Michael Vachon. And he told me that they hadn't snatched up the domain or made a deal with anyone. In fact, they had no idea what happened.

However the site got redirected to Soros's site, he told me, it was something done by the owner of the domain and not by them. They were as surprised as everyone else.

Myself, I kind of preferred the fast-moving Soros cyber-coup theory that everyone's been going on. But they say it just ain't so.

When Dick met John. A short clip from the February 2001 prayer breakfast. In some ways, the photo is even more telling. So you can take your pick.

At Slate, Fred Kaplan thinks Dick Cheney got the better of John Edwards in large part because Edwards did not zing the Vice President for a long list of falsehoods he uttered through the course of the debate.

That's not the way I saw it.

But whether I'm right or Kaplan is, this is a very good example of how the debate itself is only the kick-off of the several day post-debate spin war.

True, perhaps Edwards didn't spell out how the vice president was lying through his teeth when he said: "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

But that shouldn't stop every Democrat under the sun from flogging the point at every opportunity over the next forty-eight hours. The truth is that Vice President Cheney has repeatedly suggested that the Iraqis may have played a role in 9/11.

In this article out this evening, the Post notes just two cases where he pressed the long-since-discredited claim that Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in early 2001. Making that point is, of course, on its face suggesting a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

A year ago September on Meet the Press he said that in invading Iraq we had "struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

And shortly before that he had this exchange with Russert ...

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think it’s not surprising that people make that connection.

MR. RUSSERT: But is there a connection?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didn’t have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we’ve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.

We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of ’93. And we’ve learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven.

Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in ’93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.

As I wrote at the time, in his discussion of the purported Iraqi tie to 9/11, Cheney provided the best explanation of why the Post found that 69% of Americans believed there was a connection. Why? Because government officials like Cheney keep lying to them about it.

Cheney's defenders may insist that he never outright claims there was a tie. But when Cheney says 'we don't know' presumably he's basing the veracity of that claim on the same principle by which he doesn't know that I can't bench press a thousand pounds.

In the absence of any appeal to common sense it's difficult to prove a negative.

But by dangling this 'we don't know' line repeatedly in front of viewers he was clearly trying to create the impression that the existence of a tie was an open question, despite the fact that at the time Cheney made his remarks US intelligence had found no credible evidence whatsoever of a connection. Moreover, the US had assembled a quite detailed and complete narrative of the people and networks involved in the attacks. And none of it involved any involvement by the Iraqis.

Time and again on this issue Cheney sought to deceive the American people. And tonight he denied ever having suggested there was a connection.

Purely on the basis of this evening's debate, Cheney has a mammoth credibility problem. Again and again he said things that were simply false. In the case of the Iraq-9/11 tie, I think there's no question but that he simply lied when he said he had never suggested there was a connection.

Yet Cheney is well-liked within the Washington establishment so it will be interesting to see whether the the big TV shows and major dailies are willing to call him on it.

It will be key for the Democrats to force the matter and tie it to the broader issue of the president's lack of credibility and fear of levelling with the American people.

Ryan Lizza brings you the inside scoop on the orders from BC04 central command on how surrogates should zig and zag.

And then there's another rather humorous screw-up. Cheney clearly wanted to send folks to factcheck.org; but he sent them to factcheck.com.

So close and yet so far.

Factcheck.com is George Soros's website.

Some guys are just lucky, I guess. Soros spends millions on the campaign. And Cheney sends him a blizzard of more free media.

Late Update: Now I'm hearing word from readers that during the debate itself factcheck.com was a dead URL. Nothing was posted on it. Only later did it redirect to GeorgeSoros.com. Perhaps the owner of the domain immediately redirected it? Or the Soros people sprung into action? One reader suggested to me that the Soros people must have found out that the domain wasn't being used and quickly snapped it up for their operation. But my admittedly out-of-date experience tells me that it takes a good deal longer for a domain assignment to propagate through the Internet. Perhaps I'm wrong on that last point. But I'm sure we'll hear the whole story soon enough.

As I noted earlier, I think the debate spin -- if the Dems are even remotely sensible -- will turn heavily on the great number of straight-up falsehoods Cheney told during the debate. But who knew the first one to be pegged would be so gratuitous and easy to nail?

In a rather churlish moment, Cheney told Edwards that the two of them had never met before tonight's debate, despite the fact the Edwards is a serving senator and Cheney's the body's presiding officer.

But as Atrios and no doubt many others have now pointed out, one can easily find a citation on the web of a prayer breakfast the two men attended together in February 2001. And the Dems are already circulating a picture from the event showing the two standing right next to each other.

There was less than no reason to get into the fairly irrelevant topic of whether the two guys have ever met before. But Cheney did. And right like that, smack in the face, what he said turns out to be false.

The key for Democrats will be to drive into Cheney's falsehoods on Iraq and terror. But this is a nice addition. And Cheney has provided Dems with plenty of grist.

Oh ye Dems. That is your meme. Spin forth, spin I tell you.

[I can already hear the Dems' snark line: "Dick Cheney says he'd never met John Edwards before last night? I bet he wishes he still never had."]

As I did last week, I flipped off the volume on the television after the debate ended so that I could put down some unmediated impressions before hearing the spin and CW in the process of formation.

I hesitate to say this. But my basic impression was that Edwards didn't strike a false note for the entire 90 minutes. And I say this having been critical of him in the past.

After I saw him at a Town Hall meeting in late January in New Hampshire, I described how I was wowed by him during the event itself but then found myself not long after feeling the whole thing was somehow light and insubstantial.

Going into this debate I worried that I might see the same things. Specifically, I was concerned that everything else notwithstanding, Cheney might just outclass him on at least the perception of heft and seriousness.

But I didn't see that. Not at all. And the sharp on his feet quality I ascribed to Cheney late this afternoon didn't seem particularly evident.

Let me review some running impressions of the debate itself.

I thought Cheney started very weak and that Edwards started just as strong. Cheney recovered after not too long; but Edwards remained clean and on-message.

One thing I also noticed is that Cheney didn't look very good or even very healthy. Something like that can simply be a matter of bad make-up or unflattering lighting. So I'm not making any assumptions about Cheney's health based on what I saw. But the physical contrast between the two men was unmistakable from the outset.

Another point that I believe will ripple over the next few days is that Vice President Cheney told a number of just straight-up falsehoods during the foreign policy portion of the debate. And that creates lots of grist for Democrats in the on-going debate spin war.

I didn't take close notes and I don't have a transcript available. But there was the time when the VP said he'd never suggested Saddam was connected to 9/11 -- which will come back to haunt him. And there were a number of other Iraq, WMD and 9/11-whoppers.

Then there was the time when he said that a major reason for the decline of suicide bombings in Israel is that Saddam is no longer paying those $25,000 bounties to the families of the bombers.

That's got to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. No one believes that. And I'm sure he'll be ridiculed endlessly for saying it.

There were other moments when he tried out really silly number and word games. In response to Edwards' claim that the US has sustained 90% of the coalition fatalities in Iraq, for instance, Cheney insisted that Edwards wasn't telling the truth because he wasn't including all the Iraqi soldiers and police officers who are of course now dying in their hundreds. So Cheney said the number is only 50%.

If you want to change the definition of 'the coalition' that everyone has used for the last two years I guess this may be technically true. But it struck me as silly and drove home the President's and the Vice President's unwillingness to look reality in the face and level with the public.

The essential truth is that for whatever reasons we don't have many allies with us in Iraq and the overwhelming number of casualties are Americans. Word games don't change that.

Two other final points on Cheney.

Despite what we saw last week, and the lesson the debate prep folks must have taken from it, I thought that about a third of the way through the debate Edwards started to get under Cheney's skin. The VP seemed mad. And not in a flattering way.

The basic reason, I think, was the same as in President Bush's case. He didn't like hearing the fusillade of criticism about Iraq and the war on terror. There were no grimaces and rolling eyes like in the president's case. But something about him turned sour and snide. And, again, not in a way that helped him land any punches on Edwards or Kerry.

The final point is that in the final half hour or so of the encounter Cheney seemed to grow somehow philosophical in his responses. And I don't mean that in an altogether uncomplimentary way. I thought that was the case in his answer about dividing the country and in a couple other answers that I'm not remembering at the moment. He seemed to be honestly airing the question and thinking them over, tossing out this idea or that, but not with any particular energy or verve.

The problem was that had I been one of the Bush Cheney strategists I would be thinking, "How does this answer hurt John Kerry or help the president? What is Cheney talking about?" He seemed just disengaged somehow.

I don't usually think much of the sort of comment that I'm about to make. But there was a moment during this 'philosophical' phase of Cheney's performance when I couldn't help but think: 'I just don't know if this guy's heart is really in it. I'm not sure they really want to win.' He was listless. It was like Cheney checked out of the debate about a half hour before Edwards did.

So that's Cheney. Now to Edwards.

As I said at the outset, I thought Edwards struck pretty much every note right. I'm not saying he was the best debater ever or that it was a bravura performance. But every answer seemed well-crafted and on point. He went right to Cheney's and Bush's weakest points on the issues of credibility and honesty about the war.

He also did the one thing that was most important for him to do in this whole exercise: he shored up his boss on the issues of vulnerability left open from the last debate, the ones the Bush-Cheney team has been hitting on ever since. Again and again, he pressed the point about Kerry's strength and resolution and sought to disentangle whatever messiness was left over from the 'global test' issue.

He followed the one dictate that was absolutely key for him: he was there to defend John Kerry. It wasn't about him. It was about his boss.

On foreign policy I thought he more than held his own with the VP. He made sharp and focused attacks and never got caught flat-footed by a man who has literally decades more foreign policy experience than he does. On domestic policy he was solid; and that provided a telling contrast to Cheney who seemed bored or lost on the issue.

Those again are my initial thoughts. Certainly we'll be returning to this topic over the next couple days. On balance I think Edwards held the momentum Kerry created last week and advanced the arguments of competence and honesty that worked against the president. Equally important, I thought Cheney's efforts to land punches against Kerry were only marginally effective at best. A friend who called me while I was writing this told me that he thought Cheney scored points attacking Kerry's foreign policy record reaching back to the 1970s. But I didn't think Cheney knocked those issues that effectively or with enough consistency.

The task for Democrats over the next forty-eight hours is to bang home with hammering detail and repetition just how many things Vice President Cheney said during the debate that were just flat-out false and to make the case that this is part and parcel of a general pattern of denial about what's happening in Iraq and failure, on so many fronts, to level with the American public.

I think the Kerry folks are pretty happy with what they saw; I doubt the Bush-Cheney folks are feeling the same way.

Same drill as last week, comments on the debate to follow shortly.

This is classic. From what one can gather from this late piece in the Post, the White House is having a hard time figuring out who to smear as a liar over the Bremer debacle.

In this morning's Post a "senior defense official" denied that Bremer had ever pressed for more troops in Iraq, as the former administrator claimed he had in various speeches (at least not until two weeks before the end of his tenure and then to secure the borders.)

The claim that Bremer was lying, however, only seemed to last about half a news cycle because in the follow-up piece that went online at 4:41 PM a Bush campaign spokesman, Brian Jones, confirmed that Bremer had in fact requested more troops.

The specific remark was a bit oblique, but clear enough: "Ambassador Bremer differed with the commanders in the field. That is his right, but the president has always said that he will listen to his commanders on the ground and give them the support they need for victory."

This later zig in the party line also effectively cuts off at the knees the regime-change dead-enders who spent the day zagging, or rather arguing that Bremer was only talking about the delay in the arrival of the 4th Infantry Division. (This sorry excuse is ably noted here by Andrew Sullivan.)

Once Bremer arrived on the scene, the delay in the arrival of the 4th ID wasn't a matter of policy but logistics. If the issue was one of policy disagreements between Bremer and the military commanders on the ground that means that he couldn't have been talking simply about the absence of the 4th ID during the early stages of the occupation.

Who would have thought that a crew that's done such a bang up job in Iraq would have so much trouble organizing a smear and damage control operation?

Allow me a few comments about tonight's debate.

I find this encounter much harder to predict than Kerry-Bush.

Both these guys -- Edwards and Cheney -- are very sharp on their feet rhetorically. But their styles and strengths are wholly different. Edwards is affable and engaging. He has the common touch. But he can also come off as a bit light. Cheney is sharp and can manage an uncannily reassuring and reasoned approach that belies his actual views and impulses. He also says a lot of things that aren't true and the whole baring your incisors as a debating tactic can be a downer in this feel-good era.

What Edwards should keep squarely in mind is that this debate isn't about John Edwards or Dick Cheney. Views of both of them are close to irrelevant. This is a proxy debate between John Kerry and George Bush. It's about defending Kerry and taking the fight to the president. Everything else is a distraction.

I'm sure the campaign strategists have thought through all sorts of good angles for Edwards to pursue. But what I'd like to see is the following.

The real vulnerability now for the Bush-Cheney team is the perception (very much based on reality) that they lied the country into war and even more that they're not being straight with the public now about what's happening in Iraq. More than anything, that was President Bush's undoing in the first debate. Not only were his answers on Iraq wobbly. But getting hit on the issue was, I think, what really got under his skin.

As I said above, this debate isn't about Dick Cheney. Yet Cheney has been the most foward-leaning in his deceptive comments (TPM secret decoder ring: 'biggest liar') on WMD, the phantom Iraq-al Qaida tie, the post-war situation in Iraq and just about everything else. So he is uniquely ill-situated to defend the White House on these grounds.

There's plenty of fresh ammunition this week -- even the material in the New York Times article on the Iraqi nuclear program, though most of that had appeared earlier elsewhere.

Cheney's awfully quick on his feet. But if Edwards zeroes in on this stuff, I think Cheney will have a hard time not either completely abandoning some of his previous positions or repeating some ridiculous whoppers that will provide plenty of grist for the inter-debate spin war on from tomorrow through Friday evening.